November marks the kick-off of the FIFA World Cup 2022, which this year will be held in Qatar. Given the host country’s skewed human rights record, the choice of location has led many to question football’s priorities. As a result, the tournament and discussions about it have become highly politicised; much has been made, for instance, of Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s comments that LGBT fans should ‘respect the culture’ of the host nation, and of Denmark’s choice to play in an all-black ‘protest’ kit in memory of the migrant workers who died constructing the stadiums. Here are some Biteback books to provide background information and reflect on the political dimension to the game.
When Footballers Were Skint: A Journey in Search of the Soul of Football, by Jon Henderson
Before 1961, English footballers’ wages were capped at £20 a week. As a result, the game was a million miles from the lavish, wealthy beast it is now. It’s unlikely that a Qatar World Cup would ever have happened back then. This is the perfect book to open up discussions on how much the game and its priorities have evolved over the years.
Blood and Circuses: A Football Journey Through Europe’s Rebel Republics, by Robert O'Connor
Setting out on an odyssey through the conflict zones of eastern Europe, Robert O’Connor explores how football matches became acts of resistance and social rebuilding after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s food for thought on playing the game under a politically oppressive state and on the importance of resistance, much like Denmark’s protest kit.
Vince: The Autobiography of Vince Hilaire, by Vince Hilaire and Tom Maslona
A trailblazer in the professional game, Vince outlines the difficulties he faced as a young black player making his way in football in the 1970s and the dread he felt playing at certain grounds, as many players – and fans – might feel going to Qatar.
Kicking Back, by Nedum Onuoha
Kicking Back looks at how the sport’s modern authorities have let minorities down. Whilst discussions about Qatar have focused more on LGBT repressions than racism, there are clear parallels to draw.
Sacré Bleu: Zidane to Mbappé – A football journey, by Matthew Spiro
On a lighter note, get to know the French team a little better as Spiro takes you through the struggles the French national side went through in the twenty years between its two most recent World Cup wins.