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 Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey
Dreamed up ahead of the 2006 World Cup by the duo of Weiland and Wilsey, this collection of 32 essays on that year's qualifiers written by both locals and worldly fans of the game, is a perfect place for those looking to get deeper into the soul of the sport ahead of this year's cup. While not all of the 32 teams are in play this year, this broad survey of the sport by writers like Dave Eggers, James Surowiecki, Nick Hornby, Eric Schlosser, Henning Mankell and Jorge Castaneda is the sort of book you can flip through as you happen to turn on the television and see that there's a match going on between Spain and the Netherlands, as there will be on June 13. "This book is always on my desk," says Vescey.