Hyperbole and football are no strangers, so the title of Mihir Bose's guide to events unfolding in South Africa, The World Cup: All You Need to Know (Endeavour, £12.99), is unsurprising. But actually, Mihir, there is one thing that would have been good to know: who's in the squads? For, while the quadrennial extravaganza is obviously a juicy marketing opportunity for publishers, they need to go to press some weeks before countries announce their final line-ups. That still leaves plenty to chew on, though, and Bose takes a traditional approach, with an Anglocentric potted history of the tournament, a group-by-group analysis of the 32 finalists and a survey of the stadiums. It was produced in conjunction with the picture agency Getty Images, and is all rather fact-lite, majoring instead on sizeable photographs. The 2010 Fifa World Cup: Official Book (Carlton, £10.99), by Keir Radnedge, has rather more in the way of stats and in-depth analysis, and has its merits as a large-format, keep-by-the-TV guide.
Brian Glanville takes a longer view of the tournament. He first wrote a history of the World Cup in the early 1970s, and has updated it every four years since. Trenchant in his views, international in his outlook, Glanville was one of the first to elevate football writing to a minor art; for style and effortless erudition he has no equal, and is especially strong on the Cup's first half-century or so. But entries for later years are more perfunctory, and it's a bit cheeky to title the new edition The Story of the World Cup: The Essential Companion to South Africa 2010 (Faber, £12.99) on the strength of a brief preface to this year's event. Those keener to read about the more recent action might prefer The World Cup: The Complete History by Terry Crouch with James Corbett (Aurum, £16.99). The prose is less polished but the stats package is superior, and it devotes more than 400 of its 648 pages to Spain 1982 and onwards.
Of accounts based on individual World Cups, Pete Davies' fly-on-the-wall view of England's brave but ultimately ill-starred Italia '90 campaign, washed with Gazza's tears, stands out. Originally published as All Played Out, it has been reissued as One Night in Turin (Yellow Jersey, £8.99) to tie in with the recently released documentary film it inspired. Davies, granted access to the England camp that would be unheard of now, produced a passionate, pulsating book that reads as freshly now as it did 20 years ago. (Four years later, Nick Hornby might have produced something as memorable; the author of the seminal Fever Pitch had been commissioned to follow England's fortunes at the 1994 tournament in the US, but somebody forgot to tell the team, who failed to qualify.)
Players also offer an inside view in Three Lions Versus the World (Mainstream, £12.99). Mark Pougatch has done a tremendous job of tracking down participants in every World Cup finals England have played in, starting with Brazil in 1950, where the goalkeeper Bert Williams remembers the first meal without affection: "It was a bowl of olive oil with a piece of bacon floating in it." Equally stomach- churning is Terry Butcher's account of playing on with nine stitches after a clash of heads during an Italia '90 qualifier: "It didn't hurt at all when I headed [the ball]. It just squelched."
Four years earlier in Mexico, the midfielder Steve Hodge supplied the fateful back-pass that led to Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal for Argentina, and England's exit. His diary of a largely fulfilling career, The Man With Maradona's Shirt (Orion, £18.99) – they swapped after the game – doesn't contain any headline-making revelations, but indicates that it is possible to play for a long time at the top level and remain a modest, grounded human being.
The nation's travelling fans get a voice in Mark Perryman's Ingerland (Pocket Books, £6.99), a welcome antidote to the knuckle-dragging, hooligan-glorifying thick-lit genre. And a real gem is England 'Til I Die edited by David Lane (Legends, £12.99), a compilation of reminiscences from English fandom abroad, warts and all. The embarrassment of one bunch of fans in Bologna, who, having solemnly listened to an older couple advising them of the cultural delights on offer, bump into them the next day when exiting a porn cinema, has the ring of cringeworthy truth.
And finally, More Than Just a Game by Chuck Korr and Marvin Close (HarperCollins, £7.99) is the utterly compelling story of how Nelson Mandela and his fellow political prisoners on Robben Island during the Apartheid era helped maintain their resolve by organising football leagues. It's a reminder of how far the Rainbow Nation has progressed since, and that whatever happens on the pitches of South Africa over the course of the next month, they will not be the most meaningful games to have been played in that country.Reuse content