You never knew football could be quite like this

A great book is a great book, no matter the subject. So why do sports books often get such a bad name? Sports editor Hayden Meikle - who answers his own question by acknowledging the sports book market has more dross than most - names the 12 sports books you simply must read.

THE MIRACLE OF CASTEL DI SANGRO
Joe McGinniss
Published: 1999.
Sport: Football.

Sample: ''In that moment, Rezza's eyes fell upon me. Actually, the old man's eyes do not so much `fall' upon one as jump at the object of his attention. He was smoking a cigar that was at least nine inches long. He himself could not have been more than five foot six and was slightly stooped and had a large round belly. But no images of Santa Claus formed in my mind. Rezza's bristly gray hair was cropped short as that of a prison guard, his face was more square than round, and his lips formed a line as thin and steely as a garrote.''

The setting: The tiny Italian town of Castel di Sangro in the summer of 1996.

The protagonists: The players and management of Castel Di Sangro, a professional football team climbing from obscurity to Serie B (second division), and American writer McGinniss.

Why it is brilliant: Think of every stereotype you have about Italian football - passionate, violent, eccentric and occasionally corrupt - and you will find it in here. McGinniss writes well but his greatest gift (or stroke of luck) was identifying this specific club as one worthy of monitoring for a season. Unforgettable characters appear and all sorts of bizarre things happen. The result is a fascinating glimpse into ''calcio'' and how things work at the grassroots in that country.

Don't just take my word for it: ''An engaging tale well worth telling, rich in comic incidents, delightful characters and dramatic surprises.'' - New York Times.

The aftermath: Castel di Sangro was quickly - and predictably - relegated from Serie B, then relegated from C1, then became defunct. A replacement club with a similar name was formed. McGinniss caused a massive stir when he researched and wrote The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, a controversial book on the former vice-presidential candidate.