L.A. Aztecs Jersey, Toffs, £49.99 ($78.92)
The holiday shopping season has arrived. If you -- or someone you know -- is a soccer fan, and you're looking for gifts, relax: we're here to help.
From books and tchotchkes all the way to replica jerseys and more: we have it here. We don't just tell you what to get; we'll also tell you where to get it.
Ready? It's all there after the jump.
Books make for awesome gifts, in my opinion. They're reasonably priced, and unlike clothes, they never go out of fashion. Even better: there's been an explosion of great new books about soccer. Here are some choices. Links point to Amazon.
This is a solid guide to 101 (get it?) of the world's notable soccer clubs. To Dempsey's credit, he doesn't just focus on Europe; he includes South American clubs, Mexican clubs, and yes, MLS clubs -- even the New York Red Bulls. By necessity, this isn't a comprehensive guide; instead, it's meant to whet the appetite.
Who's it for: People who are new to soccer; folks who don't have a club team they follow, and would like one. Might also be good for soccer fans who want capsule facts about other clubs, without engaging in a deep dive.
You're thinking: sports autobiography. Meaning: an endless parade of clichés, rife with vapid musings about the world.
You'd be mistaken. Ibrahimović might've enlisted the writing talents of David Lagercrantz and Ruth Urbom, but this is clearly Zlatan telling his story and using Lagercrantz and Urbom as his amanuensis. It's a searing, gripping story, in which Ibrahimović spares no one, least of all himself, in the telling. Unlike Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, who seem to have sacrificed their humanity on the altars of Sales™ and Marketing™, Ibrahimović has embraced his, in all its messiness. In the process, he led nearly every club he played with to a title, and became the only player to score for six different teams in the Champions' League.
Who's it for: Anyone who's interested in an entertaining autobiography.
When the Premier League began play in 1992, it wasn't the juggernaut it is today. It was considered a backwater, where foreign players went to "retire". In other words: it had the same reputation that MLS is working so hard to shed.
Goldblatt, a noted soccer historian, narrates how the Premier League managed to become the dominant soccer league, and how soccer went from a sport largely regarded as a working-class diversion in England to the centerpiece of British entertainment. It is a fantastic story, both in its substance and its style.
Who's it for: Fans of Premier League teams; students of soccer history; people who want to know why the Premier League matters.
Peace is best known for writing The Damned Utd, a fictionalized account of Brian Clough's disastrous 44-day tenure as manager of Leeds United. That book became a film featuring Michael Sheen as Clough. Clough, a charismatic, idiosyncratic figure, is widely considered one of the greatest English managers ever.
Here, Peace tackles another iconic British manager: Bill Shankly of Liverpool. It is a gripping story, made even more hypnotic by how Peace styles his prose -- in a sing-song, prose poetic style. Because of that, it can be a difficult read at times; it helped me to read it aloud. Nevertheless, it is a finely crafted book, one I highly recommend.
Who's it for: Liverpool fans, especially. If you liked Fever Pitch, this might appeal to you.
American soccer is a history of dreams crashing into nightmares. No one crafted that history better than the late David Wangerin, who died tragically young two years ago at 50. This is David on that history:
American Soccer has no Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey; no Yankee pinstripes or Boston Gardens; no Casey at the Bat or Monday Night Football. But it most certainly has a history, ill-preserved and half-forgotten though it may be. Ever since I discovered the curious path the game has traced across the country’s sporting landscape, I have wanted to chronicle it, to tell the story as best I can.
Soccer in a Football World is simply a masterpiece, mixing careful historiographical research with popular history. If you wondered what came before MLS and the NASL, this is the book to get.
Who's it for: the soccer nerd you know that rocks a t-shirt with the L.A. Aztecs logo, or a flat-brim from Mitchell and Ness with the Bethlehem Steel crest.
- The aforementioned The Damned Utd;
- Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby, assuming you or the person you're gifting hasn't read it yet.
- Inverting the Pyramid, by Jonathan Wilson. The new edition is well worth the price.
- The Ball is Round, by David Goldblatt. A massive history of soccer around the world.
- Distant Corners, by David Wangerin. This is the companion volume to Soccer in a Football World. It is much more of a history work.
Maybe you're more into games. There are three soccer games that matter: EA Sports' FIFA series, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series, and Sports Interactive Football Manager series.
FIFA, you probably know about. Aside from the World Cup, it's probably the biggest reason soccer has skyrocketed in popularity in America. By my lights, since the World Cup only happens every four years, it's probably more responsible for that popularity. It's available on both Xbox and Playstation, as well as PC. If you don't know which game to purchase, FIFA is the safe choice; everyone knows it, it's fairly easy to pick up, and it's got every player you've heard of, and all the ones you going to hear of, plus some you won't.
Along with the FIFA series, there is Pro Evolution Soccer (or PES, as it's known by its devotees). Crafted by Japanese games maker Konami, it's best considered as the Windows to FIFA's Mac. Where FIFA is full of polish and individual glitz, emphasizing the kinds of spectacular goals featured in YouTube highlight reels set to throbbing Eurotechno, PES is more austere, focusing on team interplay and tactical deployment.
You should know that PES has much fewer licenses. The genius of PES lies in its tactical interplay and teamwork. Goals are much harder to score, but the scoring is more true-to-life; you can't simply take seven defenders on, pirouette, and volley home. Here, the formations, and when you deploy them, matter, much more so than in FIFA. Life FIFA, PES is available for both Xbox and Playstation, as well as PC.
Let's say, though, that none of that interests you. You're the kind of fan that's read Inverting the Pyramid cover-to-cover, highlighting key passages. You idly doodle formations in your notes during meetings. For you, there's Football Manager. Available for PC, Mac, and Linux on Steam, this game is astonishing in its depth; you control everything, from ticket sales to transfer dealings. It can be daunting, frankly, when you first launch it. If that gives you pause, the handheld version is much simpler; you can play it on Android and iOS, as well as the PS Vita.
Your parter loves soccer; so much so, that on your third date, she gave you a withering glare as you mildly praised her favorite team's arch rivals. She then proceeded to tick off the myriad ways in which they were wholly unworthy of any praise, let alone yours.
You've since atoned for your faux pas; still, you'd like to commemorate that love in some way. You think about buying her a jersey, but they're expensive, and she can't wear one to work. That's where shirts come in. You can get a t-shirt, or if you really want to class it up, go for a "retro" shirt, Mitchell-and-Ness-style.
If it's a t-shirt you're looking for, your best bets are Ultras and Who Are Ya. Both sites have a wide variety of shirts to pick from, for both club and country. Surprise her with a shirt featuring a club legend, or one displaying a past badge. While you're at it, get one for yourself; don't make them matching, though, unless that's the kind of thing you go for. Other options: World Football Clothing and Nummer Zehn; while the options are fewer in number, the quality remains superb for both shops.
You say you're going retro? In that case, you've got two options. The first is Toffs. They were first to the mark in selling retro shirts, and they still have the widest variety on hand. You can find shirts for Premier League teams; if you're aiming for more of a hipster vibe, you can pick from a variety of NASL shirts.
The other retailer to check out is Campo Retro. Campo Retro shirts are based more on archetype; instead of specific club shirts, you're instead looking at various styles, and pairing them with colors. This is a better option if you're looking for a shirt that can do double duty as business casual wear. They also sell retro shirts for specific clubs, supplied by Score Draw. Worth remembering: if you want a retro shirt from Score Draw, Campo Retro is your only option, since Score Draw themselves don't ship internationally.
Both Toffs and Campo Retro are based in the United Kingdom, so keep the exchange rate in mind. A £20 shirt is actually $31.57, for instance.
Other options here are Live Breathe Futbol, Bumpy Pitch, and 3Nil FC.
JERSEYS and STOCKING STUFFERS
Every Saturday, you trudge into your favorite soccer bar, wiping sleep from your eyes. Around you, people sit and stand, wearing the jerseys of their favorite clubs. You're not; you'd like to change that. You could go to Dick's Sporting Goods, or Modell's; but odds are the selection is sparse. Unless you're a fan of Barcelona, Manchester United, or Real Madrid, you're probably not going to find your team's jersey there.
Or you could use the Internet for what it was meant for: as a way to purchase seemingly hard-to-find goods.
You have a number of options here. The big beasts are World Soccer Shop, Kitbag, and Soccer.com. The third, especially, has America's largest warehouse of soccer equipment and replicas. If neither WSS or Kitbag have it, odds are Soccer.com does. If you're a member of the American Outlaws, you have a discount code for 10%, but the holiday season means all three will be running sales.
Beyond the sites above, there are two others you should check out. The first is New York's Upper 90 Soccer. The legendary soccer supplier has three stores (in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island); it also has a fairly robust online selection. If you need to try something on, Upper 90 is the way to go; they've got sublime customer service, and their staff play and coach the game.
Then there's Classic Football Shirts. Based in the UK, this store literally has it all: from brand new jerseys, to obscure club equipment for lower division Italian teams. Next to Upper 90, CFS are my favorite soccer retailers. They've got excellent customer service, and have been known to go above and beyond in sourcing gifts.
Hopefully, this guide answers any questions you might have. If you still have some, drop us a line on Twitter, and we'll do our best to answer them.
Have a wonderful holiday season!