Pitch perfect: books, music, art and more about football

With the Qatar World Cup imminent, our critics offer up cultural highlights – from a damning tale of homophobia to David Peace’s Damned Utd – about the ‘beautiful game’


People stream out of every corner of a smoky city in Going to the Match, a 1953 painting by the renowned master of matchstick figures LS Lowry. Everyone seems compelled by a magnetic attraction, approaching the football ground as if it contains the holy grail or a UFO. And Lowry shows us why this game looms so large in their lives. What else have they got? Grey chimneys hang in the milky air above a landscape of dreary toil. The dearth of colour is shocking. But the crowd are all individuals: women and men, workers and clerks, all inspired by the common passion that turns a Saturday afternoon into a supercharged special time. This is why football became the people’s sport. Jonathan Jones

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Justin Fashanu.
Justin Fashanu. Photograph: /Allsport

Much has, and will, be written concerning Qatar’s human rights record, particularly in terms of the freedoms of LGBTQ+ people and their treatment by the state. For that reason, a look back at Britain’s own complicated relationship with football and homophobia feels timely – and the 2017 documentary, Forbidden Games: The Justin Fashanu Story, shines a spotlight on the first man to publicly weather the storm of it all. A remarkable patchwork of Black footballing history, political gossip and transracial adoption, this film will make you mourn Britain’s first £1m Black footballer, who died aged just 37. Jason Okundaye

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JXL remix of the Elvis classic A Little Less Conversation.

For somebody who isn’t overly fussed about football, a World Cup is much more about feeling and atmosphere than it is about genuinely rooting for any one team. Nonetheless, when I think of the beautiful game, my mind instantly goes to the 2002 JXL remix of the Elvis classic A Little Less Conversation. For ever synonymous with Nike’s big-budget “secret tournament” advert, the song is as light and nimble on its feet as the endless big-name stars the ad showcased, uniting pitch and dancefloor in giddy, sweaty euphorics. It’s a formative World Cup memory for millennials – I’d take it over World in Motion or Sweet Caroline any day. Jenessa Williams

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Corneliu Porumboiu, right, with Laurențiu Ginghină in Infinite Football.
Corneliu Porumboiu, right, with Laurențiu Ginghină in Infinite Football. Photograph: MK2 Films

Corneliu Porumboiu’s delightfully deadpan film Infinite Football understands that the beautiful game is about more than the movement of a ball across a field. Ironically, however, this fact has eluded its amusingly sadsack star, Laurentiu Ginghină. A mid-level Romanian bureaucrat, he spends his spare time frowning owlishly at a whiteboard on which he outlines ever more hilariously impractical ways to reform the sport, from octagonal pitches to seven-player teams to the construction of a wall on the halfway line. But the profound truth at work here is not that football is a matter of life or death, it’s that life and death are a matter of football: when Ginghină dreams, in increasingly erratic, unenforceable ways, about “perfecting” the game, really he’s dreaming about perfecting the world. Jessica Kiang

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The Damned Utd by David Peace.

In 1974, the great manager Brian Clough lasted just 44 days in charge at Leeds United (even fewer than Liz Truss had as prime minister). Even so, the repercussions of his short tenure have been felt ever since. Not least because the author David Peace immortalised this brutal chapter in footballing history so well in The Damned Utd. His novel takes us deep inside the head of “the boss” as he berates his own players for their thuggish, cheating ways. Those players (understandably enough) revolt against him and the hitherto all-conquering Leeds race down the table. The football was disastrous, but the resulting novel is intense, thrilling and unforgettable. Sam Jordison


Jonathan Jones , Sam Jordison, Jessica Kiang, Jason Okundaye and Jenessa Williams

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