Tracking down secondhand books is not what it used to be. The days of rummaging in dusty stores and phoning endless lists of shops in other towns are long gone. Now you can find pretty much any book online. Of course, that doesn’t mean they will be cheap.
What follows is a guide to the five hardest to find football books. Remember, though, that this changes all the time. These books are out of print but all it takes is someone’s collection to end up at a used book store and a copy could find its way online for $25. Alternatively, someone might realise they’re offering one of few copies and price theirs based on its rarity. My advice is to use JustBooks to get a sense of what’s out there.
With that out of the way, here’s the top five:
1. The Modern T-Formation with Man-in-motion (1941) by Clark Shaughnessy, Ralph Jones, and George Halas,
It’s no exaggeration to say that Clark Shaughnessy’s innovations changed football forever and shaped its development in ways that are still significant today. A long-time coach, he innovated on both sides of the ball and his work on the T Formation (three running backs in a line behind the QB, forming a T shape) was particularly significant.
In 1935, Shaughnessy met Bears owner George Halas and shared his ideas on the T Formation. The men later published their thoughts in this book, written with Ralph Jones – the Bears’ first coach after Halas stepped down from the role in 1930 and a man who had made significant strides with the formation himself. The book is viewed as a seminal publication and it’s basically impossible to find today. If you see one, snap it up immediately!
2. Pro Football, its ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ (1934) by Harry Addison March
Unlike Shaughnessy’s book, you can at least find copies of this classic for sale. It will cost you, though. Anything under $400 (£315) is a good price for this account of the early years of pro football, written by one of its first historians. March grew up in Canton, Ohio, where the NFL was founded in 1920. He watched plenty of pro games and wrote about them here, apparently from memory, leading to a book full of inaccuracies. Many of these were repeated by other writers and became football lore for years. Nevertheless, despite the fact that many critics have said this is essentially a “historical novel”, it remains a sought-after title.
3. Finding the Winning Edge (1997) by Bill Walsh, with Brian Billick and James Peterson
I’ve covered the story behind this book at length in my review. However, here’s the short version: in the mid-1990s, legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh set out to write a book explaining all he knew about coaching and running a team. Just 36,000 copies were printed and, though the book has gone on to become revered among coaches, Walsh was dissatisfied with it. Perhaps that’s why it’s never been reprinted. A steady supply of secondhand copies are available but they are expensive. Prices occasionally fall as low as $220 (£170) but they can be double that at times. One to keep an eye on before buying.
4. The Origins and Development of Professional Football, 1890-1920 (1997) by Marc Maltby
This book grew out of Marc Maltby’s Ohio University dissertation and is considered one of the most significant works of football history. Writing about the three decades before the founding of the NFL and the early emergence of professional teams during those years, Maltby filled a gap in football history. The result is a book that sits at number 38 on the Pro Football Journal’s list of the Top 100 Pro Football Books of All-Time. Quite an accolade for a little-known academic text. Few copies were printed, however, so expect to pay somewhere around $150 (£120) if you want one.
5. The $1 League (1987) by Jim Byrne
As I’ve mentioned, the prices of these books change frequently and this one seems to be having an expensive phase. This might be because of a new wave of interest generated by Jeff Pearlman’s Football for a Buck or it could just be a coincidence. Either way, Jim Byrne’s 1987 look at the demise of the USFL will set you back around $100 (£80).
If you know of any classic football books that are more expensive than these five, please let me know in the comments.
Photo: Thrift Books Trading