Former New York Times sports columnist George Vescey made a career of covering people and places off the beaten path. As national correspondent for the New York Times, he spent weeks in Appalachia in the 1970s talking with coal miners and their families. As a religion reporter, he interviewed the Dalai Lama. And when he first started covering the World Cup, beginning at the 1982 tournament in Spain (at which Italy took down Germany in the final match), it was still out of the ordinary for an American sports writer to take interest in the international game.
World Cup soccer brought him some unforgettable experiences: "When you see lightly clad Brazilian women dancing down the Rambla in Barcelona to a Samba beat, you tend to remember," Vescey says. Now, as he turns 75 just before this year's knock-out stage begins, his book Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer, traces his timeline through the sport, beginning as a teenager in Queens through the Klinsmann era with the U.S. national team.
On a Saturday morning phone call from his home office in New York, Vescey listed off 10 great soccer books anyone who finds themselves falling in love with the Beautiful Game should investigate. So if you're off to the beach between matches, away from radio, TV, or cell service, bring along Fever Pitch, Among the Thugs, or Soccer in Sun and Shadow, or any of the others on this list to maintain your soccer high.
The Simplest Game, by Paul Gardner
"It was written a while back but it's a lovely book about what soccer means. It's about the deeper level of the English fan," says Vescey. Sure, Gardner's book originally came out in 1976, with an update for the 1990s, but it's a definitive look at soccer from the perspective of the purist, going back to the 1930s and taking readers through the game's evolution into a more modern version beginning in the 1950s and 1960s. More manual than literature it's a true primer for readers looking to examine tactics, the origins of country-specific playing styles, and a sense of the game on the verge of a new century.