The Billionaires Club: The Unstoppable Rise of Football’s Super-Rich Owners (Bloomsbury)
Hardback released August 2017.
Winner: Coutts Football Book of the Year, 2018 Sports Book of the Years Awards.
Once upon a time football was run by modest local businessmen. Today it is the plaything of billionaire oligarchs, staggeringly wealthy from oil and gas, from royalty, or from murkier sources. But who are these new masters of the universe? Where did all their money come from? And what do they want with our beautiful game?
While almost cloaked in secrecy, the billionaire owner has to raise his head above the bunker when it comes to football ownership – a rare Achilles heel that allows access to worlds normally off limits journalists and outsiders.
I criss-crosses the world – from Dhaka to Doha, from China to Crewe, from St Louis to London, from Bangkok to Belgium – to profile this new elite, their network of money and their influence that defies geographic boundaries.
The Billionaires Club is part history of club ownership, part in-depth investigation into the money and influence that connects the super-rich around the globe, and part travel book as I follow the ever-shifting trail around the globe in an attempt to reveal the real force behind modern-day football.
At its heart The Billionaires Club is a football book, about some of the biggest clubs in the world. But it is also about something bigger: the world around us, the global economy, where the world is headed and how football has become an essential cog in this machine.
Praise for The Billionaires Club:
“A sprawling, but fascinating, exposé of why billionaires are so keen to bankroll £200,000-a-week sportsmen … the business-minded and the football crazy — and there are many who are both, as this book proves — will find it hard to resist.” – Sunday Times
“Both surprising and insightful …The book does a fine job of examining just why rich men choose to plough oodles of money into football.” – FourFourTwo
“An extraordinary journey across football’s heartlands to try and discover the motivations and backstories behind the men who have hijacked the game.” – Irish Examiner, Sport Books of the Year.
“A fascinating read for the many football fans interested in the developments off the pitch.” – Financial Times
“The best analysis yet of the biggest story in football.” – Ken Early, Irish Times & Second Captains podcast
“The Billionaires Club should be thought of as a football bestiary for our times, a brilliantly researched catalogue of the exotic, the evil and the egregious. From the Tuna barons of South East Asia to the ice cold oligarchs of the post-Soviet tundra, from Wall Street bankers to the sheiks of the gulf’s micro kingdom, James Montague relentlessly exposes the political and economic motivations that have led them all to football, and tracks the consequences of their self-regarding and poisonous presence. The first rule of politics is know your enemy; those who want to stop the catastrophic rise of the one percent in the game are in James Montague’s debt.” – David Goldblatt, author of The Ball is Round
“The working man’s ballet is now a playground and a platform for super-rich owners, authoritarian states willing to buy themselves power and a veneer of respectability – and downright criminals. This is the 21st century football writer’s conundrum: how to investigate this transformation and expose wrongdoings without being spat out by the system. In the end, in most cases, the balancing act turns out to be a Faustian pact. James Montague has had the courage to tear up that tacit contract, by which silence is rewarded with access – and a job. This is not just a ‘good’ book (even if it is that too): it is also a brave and necessary one.” – Philippe Auclair, France Football
You can buy The Billionaires Club here.
Thirty One Nil: On the Road with Football’s Outsiders (Bloomsbury)
Paperback released May 2015
Winner: TalkSport Football Book of the Year, 2015 British Sports Book of the Year awards.
In a tiny, decaying aluminium smelting town in southern Tajikistan, a short drive from a raging war zone, Afghanistan take on Palestine in the first Asian qualifier for 2014’s World Cup in Brazil. Every player on both teams is risking something by playing: their careers, their families, even their lives. Yet, along with thousands of other footballers backed by millions of supporters, they all dream of snatching one of the precious 32 places at the finals; and so begins a three-year epic struggle – long before the usual suspects start their higher-profile qualifying campaigns under the spotlight.
Named after the greatest victory (and defeat) that the World Cup qualifiers have ever seen (Australia’s 31-0 victory over American Samoa), Thirty-One Nil is the story of how footballers from all corners of the globe begin their journey chasing a place at the World Cup Finals. It celebrates the part-time priests, princes and hopeless chancers who dream of making it to Brazil, in defiance of the staggering odds stacked against them. It tells the story of teams who have struggled for their very existence through political and social turmoil, from which they will very occasionally emerge into international stardom.
From the endlessly humiliated San Marino to lowly Haiti; from war-torn Lebanon to the oppressed and fleet-footed players of Eritrea, in Thirty-One Nil James Montague gets intimately and often dangerously close to some of the world’s most extraordinary teams, and tells their exceptional stories.
Praise for Thirty One Nil:
“The Indiana Jones of soccer journalism.” – Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated
“Thirty-One Nil is well worthy of entry to the canon of great football reportage.” – The Independent
“A gripping tale . . . Montague’s book is a tale of dreaming despite the odds, and its strength lies in the many compelling individuals featured in its pages.” – South China Morning Post
“A compelling, exciting book . . . let Thirty-One Nil take you on an emotional journey that rekindles your love of international football.” – These Football Times
“As heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.” – FourFourTwo
“A vibrant, at times emotional, chronicle.” – Independent on Sunday
“Vibrant and colourful . . . Thirty-One Nil is a brilliant read.” – Back Page Football
Just before publication CNN ran a six part serialisation of Thirty One Nil. You can read it here.
You can also buy Thirty One Nil here.
When Friday Comes: Football, War and Revolution in the Middle East (de Coubertin)
Revised paperback released May 2013
Winner: Best New Writer at the 2009 British Sports Book of the Year awards.
For seven years, James Montague travelled to every country in the Middle East uncovering stories of the beautiful game’s survival and resurgence. Whilst the region has often been divided, football is the Middle East’s great uniting thread. When Friday Comes will take you to every corner of the Middle East where football thrives and where the game played an important, sometimes crucial, part in the Arab Spring. But, more importantly, the Middle East and its extreme wealth also provides a window on this rising power, and how football in the rest of the world could be changed forever.
Praise for When Friday Comes:
“You don’t have to be a football fan to like this. When Friday Comes takes the reader on a fascinating journey that teaches as much about the Middle East as about wannabe West Ham fans in Israel” – ESPN
“Funny, exciting and thrilling, with tragedy at every turn, it’s a deep but rewarding read” – Jonathan Wilson, FourFourTwo Book of the Month.
“In a world that demonises the “Arab street”, Montague gives us a glimpse of just how playful and human it can be” – David Goldblatt, The Independent
“A courageous, amusing and informative work” – Daily Telegraph
“Hugely entertaining . . . one of the most fascinating sports books of 2008” – Richard Moore, Scotland on Sunday
You can buy When Friday Comes here.
Ultras: How Egypt’s Football Fans Toppled a Dictator (de Coubertin Short Books)
E-book released September 2013
In January 2011 millions of Egyptians took part in mass protests that ended the iron rule of its military dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Football supporters across the country set aside their differences and played an instrumental role in the demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s deposition. A year later elements allegedly loyal to the old regime took a terrible revenge when they massacred supporters during a match played in Port Said, killing 72 Al Ahly supporters in an incident that shocked the world.
James Montague is the only western journalist to be given full unrestricted access to the Ahlawy; a passionate but largely obscure group of Al Ahly fans when he first met them in 2007, they went on to play a vital role in the Egyptian revolution.
In Ultras, Montague takes up the Ahlawy’s story from when they numbered just a few hundred committed Al Ahly fans, through to the mass protests on Tahrir Square, which helped depose Murbarak, the horrors of Port Said, the World Club Championships in Japan, and beyond. He joins up the dots between the Ahlawy’s rise, the revolution and their slaughter.
In this moving and dramatic work, Montague demonstrates how the dividing line between football and politics is paper thin, and how a hitherto unknown group of fans played a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of a nation.
Ultras is extracted from the revised edition of When Friday Comes. You can by the e-book of Ultras here.
When Friday Comes: Football in the War Zone (Mainstream)
First edition released August 2008
While religion often violently divides the Middle East, the countries of the world’s most explosive region share one thing – a deep and obsessive love of the beautiful game. James Montague travelled there for three years, observing the region’s cultures and politics through the prism of football and interviewing all the major teams along the way. He soon realised that to understand the game there is to understand its people. For as much as football forms an unlikely common thread between different countries, the sport also reflects what is unique in the national characters of those who play, support and organise it.
When Friday Comes is an insightful and humorous account of Montague’s journey, during which he gets stoned with the Yemeni FA, harangues Iran’s Deputy President at the World Cup, has a gun pulled on him by genocidal Lebanese football fans, encounters a rioting group of fanatical young Jews singing ‘I’m West Ham ’til I Die’ in mockney English and was made to strip and then dance for the Iraqi national team.
This is a compelling travel memoir that will enlighten, surprise and entertain football fans everywhere.
Out of print.