There's about a week left till Christmas. You -- or someone you love -- is a diehard soccer fan. You've scoured their bookshelf; Fever Pitch is out of the question. You've gazed upon their DVD and Blu-Ray rack; no dice. They've got jerseys -- definitely a New York City shirt, probably one for another team they follow.
What do you do?
What you do is read this. This is the 2015 HRB Holiday Gift Guide. We're here to help. You're welcome.
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. I've read all of these books; nothing's here that I don't recommend.
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.
I am Zlatan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with David Lagercrantz and Ruth Urbom
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.
The Game of Our Lives, David Goldblatt
I get asked about MLS' place in the world a lot. Is Don Garber nuts for saying it'll be a "top league" by 2022? Can MLS ever be a top league? How can it compete with the Premier league?
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.
Das Reboot, Raphael Hönigstein
Sunil Gulati began his pursuit of Jurgen Klinsmann as Supreme Overlord of the U.S. men's national team immediately after Klinsmann led the host Germans to the 2006 World Cup semifinals. Four years later, the only subject that might divide American soccer fandom more than Klinsmann's tenure is promotion and relegation.
Hönigstein paints a fantastic picture of how the Deutscher Fussball Bund overhauled itself, and went from an embarrassing group stage exit in the 2004 European Championships to lifting a fourth World Cup a decade later. The conventional wisdom is that Klinsmann was its supreme architect; the truth, as ever, is far more nuanced.
Who's it for: Fans of the USMNT, of course. Also: anyone interested on how a powerful institution managed a difficult renewal progress in order to find more success.
Soccer in a Football World, David Wangerin
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 three 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.
This book is simply a masterpiece, mixing careful historiographical research with popular history. It's easy to think American soccer began with MLS; to a certain degree, the league is perfectly happy if you think that. Nothing is further from the truth. To me, being a fan means that you're grounded in the history of the sport. This book makes that possible.
You know about FIFA 16. You probably know about Pro Evolution Soccer. You -- or the soccer fan in your life -- probably has one, if not both. Odds are, they have FIFA; if they don't have PES, you should get it for them. What the game lacks in licensing, it more than makes up in actual gameplay. It's legitimately tough to play. This comparative review by Luke Plunkett describes what you get in each game excellently. Read it.
With that in mind: there comes a time where you've got to take the next step as a soccer gamer. That's where Football Manager comes in. FM, as fans like calling it, is likely the deepest, most complex sports simulation game around. It's meant for people who dream of being the next Guardiola, not the next Messi.
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. You're conversant with the subtle differences between a diamond and an empty-bucket 4-4-2, never mind 4-3-3 and 3-5-2.
You want FM. There's three versions: a mobile phone version, a tablet-optimized version, and the full megillah. Get all three. If you've never played FM, start out with the phone version, and work your way up. Be advised: the phone version does not include MLS. If you want to see if you can lead NYCFC better than Jason Kreis could, you'll have to spring for either the tablet or computer versions.
Real talk: I have an awful, awful weakness for soccer-themed clothing. At one point, I think I owned something like 400 jerseys. Yeah, you read that right. I'm not proud of it. Don't be me. With that in mind, we're going to break this down into a few sections.
If you want to purchase a jersey, there's a variety of places you can do that online. Soccer.com is the giant here -- they're the supplier and backend for World Soccer Shop, MLS Gear, and a bunch of other places. You can also try Kitbag; they've got a far smaller selection, but occasionally get things that Soccer.com doesn't. My preference, however, was for Subside Sports. They routinely have the kind of jerseys you cannot find anywhere else -- Dynamo Dresden, Heracles Almelo, Independiente Santa Fe, you name it.
Let's say you want to shop local, though. This being New York, you're in luck. It's home to Upper 90 Soccer, which is probably my favorite soccer store, full stop. There's three area locations: Manhattan, at 93rd & Amsterdam, Brooklyn, and Hicksville, out in Long Island. The customer service is fantastic, they give a discount to members of the Third Rail supporters group on NYCFC gear, and you can pick up online orders in the store.
Finally, if you want to go old-school, there's no better option than Classic Football Shirts. Their selection is absolutely immense. Though they're based in England, they ship worldwide.
Let's talk about throwbacks. If you're looking for something a bit more wearable than a jersey, you want a throwback. Your best option is TOFFS. TOFFS, which stands for The Old Fashioned Football Shirt, basically jumpstarted the market. They're based in the UK, but ship around the world. TOFFS sells scarves and t-shirts in addition to throwbacks. Notably, their North American selection, particularly the NASL selection, is strong. I've got a few shirts, and they are insanely well made.
It's an excellent time to be an American soccer fan, especially if you like clothes. If it's t-shirts you're looking for, Who Are Ya Designs and Ultras have the widest selection by far. My preference is for Ultras; I like the way their shirts feel, especially compared to Who Are Ya, which can be hit or miss.
Bumpy Pitch has some decent shirts as well. They've recently revamped their selection, so I'd expect it to increase, though not in time for Christmas. There's better options, though; two to check out are Nummer Zehn and World Football Clothing. I'm a huge fan of Nummer Zehn; their t-shirts are some of the best made I've ever seen.
My favorite, though, is Clean Sheet Co. Clean Sheet started out as a side gig for designer M. Willis, and it exploded. Willis is best known for his 32 t-shirt collection for the World Cup. He's currently doing a 50-state project, and he's done some other fascinating designs. Check it out. Full disclosure: Willis went to high school with my partner.
3Nil FC and Live Breathe Futbol are something else entirely: they're lifestyle brands. I prefer LBF, and own several of their products. I think LBF has a wider selection, but both make quality products, and you can't go wrong with them.
So, that's it. Hopefully, this guide helps resolve any decisions you may left. With a week left till Christmas, it's now crunch-time, so you shouldn't delay any further.