29 July 2014

Simon & Schuster re-release three classics from acclaimed sports writer Donald McRae

Fans of the Guardian writer Donald McRae will be delighted to discover that three of his classic sports books have been reissued by Simon & Schuster.

Dark Trade, originally published by Mainstream, established McRae as a sports writer of distinction when it won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 1996.

Written over a five-year period, it was based on a series of encounters with boxers, including Mike Tyson, James "Lights Out" Toney, Oscar de la Hoya, Roy Jones Jr, Michael Watson and Chris Eubank. Nine out of the 10 publishers to whom he submitted his proposal rejected it before Mainstream saw its potential.

Two years later, by which time the South African-born McRae had given up his office job in London to write full time, he was shortlisted for the William Hill prize again for Winter Colours, also published by Mainstream.

In Winter Colours, McRae explored the place occupied by rugby union in the culture of the different countries in which it is played, inspired by his meetings with James Small, the winger who was part of the South Africa team that was part of one of sport's great iconic moments at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in 1995, when they won the World Cup in the presence of Nelson Mandela.

The third classic reissue is In Black and White, William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2002, which tells the story of the friendship between Jesse Owens and Joe Louis, Olympic gold medallist and World champion boxer, black American icons born into an era when their country was still riven by poverty and racial divisions.

All three have been updated with new chapters and stylish cover designs.

McRae returns to boxing next year with a new book entitled A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith, which tells the story of an American boxer who not only managed to managed to conceal his homosexuality while pursuing a successful career in the fight game but also spoke out against apartheid in South Africa in the 70s.

Buy Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Winter Colours: The Changing Seasons of Rugby from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

Buy In Black and White: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Joe Louis from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Donald McRae has also written about the London sex trade in Nothing Personal, the extraordinary race between four heart surgeons to carry out the first heart transplant in Every Second Counts and the great 1920s American lawyer Clarence Darrow in The Old Devil. Find out more.

He collaborated with Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton on her autobiography Between the Lines and wrote a personal memoir of growing up in the South Africa of apartheid, Under Our Skin.

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27 July 2014

From the author of Britain's Lost Cricket Grounds, a celebration of the golden era of cricket festivals

Cricket festivals were once as much a part of the English sporting summer as Test matches, Wimbledon and the Epsom Derby.
  
They were the chance for the cricket counties to venture from their metropolitan headquarters into the shires, where club grounds would dress themselves up to welcome the stars of the county and international circuits.

Chris Arnot, author of the wonderfully nostalgic Britain's Lost Cricket Grounds, has now written an equally engaging tour of the country's rich cricket heritage that puts the spotlight on that cherished era.

In his introduction to Britain's Lost Cricket Festivals, the Warwickshire-based journalist notes that as recently as 1961 there were 64 cricket festivals in the county fixture schedule, an average of three per county.

By 2001 this had dwindled to 16; today there are fewer still.  Cheltenham and Scarborough continue, and there has been a revival of county cricket in Chesterfield, which Derbyshire deserted between 1998 and 2006.  Other outgrounds survive, and there are other mini-festivals, but with a different structure to the Championship and more exacting standards for facilities, most of the genuine cricket weeks of old have gone.

Unlike Arnot's disappearing grounds, some bulldozed in name of progress and turned into shopping centres, others left to the tumbleweed, the homes of the lost, lamented festivals for the most part still exist, as public parks or local cricket clubs, and he spent a memorable summer in 2013 exploring as many as he could pull in.

"I started in March at Stourbridge in Worcestershire and ended in Scarborough in August, visiting grounds all over the country.  I was lucky in that it was a glorious weather.  It's probably the best summer I've ever had," he said.

Arnot unearths some new tales and revisits some much-loved old ones.  No cricketing yarns about Buxton, for example, could fail to include the famous snow storm of Monday, June 2, 1975, which halted play between Derbyshire and Lancashire and produced one of the most extraordinary matches of the century.

Cheltenham College hosts the annual Cheltenham
Festival in Gloucestershire
When play resumed on the Tuesday, Derbyshire had to bat on an uncovered pitch into which the snow had melted. Replying to the 477 for five declared posted by Lancashire in the heat of the Saturday, Derbyshire were bowled out for 87 and 42. Such was the hazardous nature of the pitch, the Derbyshire batsman Ashley Harvey-Walker, Arnot relates, took guard after handing umpire Dickie Bird his false teeth.

"It was at Buxton, too, that John Arlott confounded the locals, having turned up to commentate on a Sunday League game without his fabled briefcase full of claret, by asking if the pavilion bar possessed a bottle of good red," he said. "The First XI captain, Peter Cockram, had to tell him they only drank beer but took pity on him and spent the opening overs of the ground's first-ever John Player League game scouring the local branch of Victoria Wines for a decent claret."

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Arnot tells another wonderful tale passed on to him by Mike Turner, the former Leicestershire player and later secretary-manager, of the county side's visits to the Bath Grounds at Ashby de la Zouch.

"The ground adjoined the gardens of the nearby Royal Hotel, which was owned by a posh chap called Richard Derrington-Fenning," he said. "He wore a pin-striped suit and drove a yellow Rolls-Royce and provided hospitality for the players in the form of a four-course lunch so lavish they had to had extend the 40-minute break to an hour.  He always advised people to choose the monkey gland steak, whatever that was."

Arnot's tour opened his eyes to the pleasures of Cheltenham and Chesterfield and what he had missed as a cricket fan of urban roots.

"I grew up watching cricket at Edgbaston -- I was born in Birmingham and never knew any better -- but on an average county day now it is a huge ground with vast areas of empty seats and the players hidden away in their changing rooms," Arnot said.

"There is so much more of an intimate feel to the outgrounds, the spectators are closer to the players, it feels more of an occasion.

"You can understand why counties want to maximise their headquarters grounds, having in many cases spent a lot of money on providing their players with reliable pitches and state-of-the-art facilities.

"But festivals can be such pleasurable occasions and I hope I've conveyed a sense of that in the book."

Britain's Lost Cricket Festivals: The Idyllic Club Grounds that Will Never Again Host the World's Best Players, by Chris Arnot (Aurum Press) is available from Amazon, WaterstonesWHSmith and other retailers.

Also by Chris Arnot: Britain's Lost Cricket Grounds. Read more.

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12 June 2014

Brazil 2014: A selection of World Cup books to read as the drama builds on the field

The World Cup that begins in Brazil today has triggered a run of new World Cup books and the re-release of a few classics.  Here is the Sports Bookshelf's choice of titles worth a look.

And Gazza Misses the Final, by Rob Smyth and Scott Murray (Constable) £8.99

This is a history of memorable World Cup matches, but revisited and recorded from an entirely new perspective, faithfully reported in the style of the modern internet phenomenon: the minute-by-minute online report.

Minute-by-minute is increasingly becoming a staple of football websites with large enough resources to have a man on the ground (or in front of a TV monitor) for the matches that matter, and of the websites run by the traditional news sources - local and national newspapers.

In a way it is a throwback to the ball-by-ball reports that newspapers carried in the pre-internet days when apart from Sports Report on BBC radio they were the only source of real detail when it came to what happened on the field.  The  Saturday football editions -- the Green Uns and the Pink Uns that were printed and on the streets even as the crowds were still dispersing -- were hugely popular for that very reason.

The modern has added elements. As well as the essentials of who passed to whom and who scored, there was colour, context, humour, irreverence.  To be read, moreover, within seconds of the action being described.

Minute-by-minute specialists began to appear and this new take on the World Cup is the work of two of the best, Rob Smyth and Scott Murray, who have cleverly used the skills they developed writing their sharp and witty match day blogs for the Guardian in a unique re-assessment of the World Cup's greatest games.

In 22 matches they regard as classics in World Cup history, they relay the build-up then follow the action from first kick to last as if they were watching live, not knowing how the game might unfold.

Smyth and Murray managed to obtain full 90 minute tapes of all except one of the games selected  -- "for the other one we had to rely on a radio commentary in Portuguese" -- and watched them from start to finish, making notes along the way, then watched again.  "We got a feel for the circumstances surrounding the game by researching what was written in the build-up, which was sometimes not what you would imagine now, knowing what happened," he said.

A good example was England's quarter-final against West Germany in Mexico in 1970, when the British press were so confident that England, the defending champions, would reassert their superiority that a young Hugh McIlvanney, citing England's nine wins in 11 matches against West Germany in a piece for The Observer, said that the Germans needed "to overcome more omens than Julius Caesar on assassination day" to deny England a place in the semi-finals.

"What you find too is that in match reports written after a match has finished, the result inevitably informs the tone and detail, which means bits of action that cease to be relevant are omitted," Smyth said.

It is a terrific, fast-moving read that brings the action vividly back to life, in some cases revealing forgotten moments that might have reshaped history -- David Platt's disallowed goal in the England-West Germany semi-final in 1990, for instance -- and providing some thought-provoking evidence that some of the received wisdom in World Cup history does not necessarily tally with events as they happened.

Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

Rob Smyth has been busy too co-authoring another interesting offering, Danish Dynamite: The Story of Football's Greatest Cult Team (Bloomsbury) £12.99. It is a story about a team that never won the World Cup, but made an enormous impact nonetheless, at the 1986 finals, when the team that brought together such brilliant individuals as Michael Laudrup, Preben Elkjear, Morten Olsen and Frank Arnesen captured the imagination of so may fans.  Collectively they were known as Danish Dynamite.

Their impact was short but explosive. First they waged an incredible 'group of death' campaign in which they beat Scotland (1-0), the intimidating Uruguayans (6-1) and the strongly fancied West Germany (2-0). But at the first knock-out stage they crashed to earth just as dramatically, thumped 5-1 by Spain, for whom Emilio Butragueno scored four times.  It had been Spain who shattered Danish dreams at the European championships two years earlier, beating them in the semi-finals, on penalties.

It was a performance typical of Denmark, whose players loved to be seen as the most laid-back in the tournament off the field but magnificently dynamic on it. They acquired a live-fast, play-hard and party-hard image in which they appeared to revel and even their red and white kit, the unique design of which is replicated on the book cover, acquired a cult status.

Danish Dynamite, co-written by Smyth and fellow journalists Lars Eriksen and Mike Gibbons, tells the full story.  Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

I Think Therefore I Play, by Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato (BackPage Press) £9.99

If Denmark were a cult team, then Andrea Pirlo is a cult player, the orchestral director of the Italian team on the field. A winner in Germany in 2006, the Juventus star says he will retire from international football after the Brazil tournament so this will be his third and last World Cup finals.

Football's laddish dressing room culture tends to suppress intelligent thought, particularly in the English leagues.  Older fans will remember the rumours that surrounded Graeme le Saux after he revealed he preferred to read the Guardian rather drool over Page Three of The Sun, sparking suggestions that he must be gay. And then there was Eric Cantona, condemned but ultimately excused for his karate kick on an Crystal Palace fan but whose metaphorical allusion to seagulls and trawlers was interpreted as the ramblings of a crackpot.

Pirlo plays practical jokes on teammates but sees no reason to fall back on banal cliches to describe events in his career. His autobiography, first published in Italy in 2011, is informative, insightful, gently humorous and illuminated with language as cultured as his performances on the field.

For example -- just one of many -- he describes his feelings as he prepared to take his penalty in the shoot-out that decided the 2006 final. "My thoughts were all over the place, drunken ideas at the wheel of fairground dodgems," he wrote.  The post match demeanour in defeat of Antonio Conte, his head coach at Juventus, he likened to "an inner torment without a start or end point, a song on some kind of loop where you can't tell what's the first verse and what's the last, you can only make out the chorus."

Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, by Alex Bellos (Bloomsbury) £9.99

The Alex Bellos classic Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, first published in 2002, is reissued to coincide with football's return to the spiritual home of the beautiful game.  The original chapters have postscripts and there is a new chapter to update the story, plus new notes and appendices, the most poignant of which records the death in 2011 of the 1982 Brazil captain Socrates, who wrote the preface to the original book and whose contribution as a Bellos contact brings much clarity to what is myth and reality in Brazilian football.

Bellos wrote the book during his five years as the Guardian newspaper's correspondent in South America, during which time he was based in the Brazilian capital, Rio de Janeiro.  The deep knowledge of the country he acquired included an appreciation of how football both shaped and reflected the nation's character.

It examines football's place at the centre of Brazilian society, where the game somehow maintains aspects of its beauty despite the violence and corruption with which it co-exists, how its humility rubs shoulders with obscene excesses, making it a mirror of life at so many levels in a country notable for its extremes.

Bellos in essence wrote a series of essays, about the characters and events that have defined the history of football in Brazil, that together tell the story of Brazilian football and its domination of the greatest tournament in the world.

In turn it is a depressing story and an uplifting one, where the great players are feted as gods and even those of more modest talent enjoy the respect of their peers.  Yet in some cases their status is no more than a commodity for export, like coffee or cotton, as greedy clubs and agents seek to exploit the demand for Brazilian players abroad.

It begins with a tale of three Brazilian players whose placement in European football takes them to the most unlikely of destinations, signing for a team in the Faroe Islands, a remote corner of the globe as far from Brazil in all kinds of senses as can be imagined. They have to work as well as play and Bellos discovers they are required when not training to rise at dawn to unload fishing boats in the local harbour, in the icy depths of winter.  Yet they consider themselves fortunate.

Bellos unearths some wonderful stories and tells them with humour, warmth and humanity.

Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The Boy in Brazil: Living, Loving and Learning in the Land of Football, by Seth Burkett (Floodlit Dreams) £9.99

According to one of the notes Alex Bellos has added by way of update to Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, the number of Brazilian footballers who were transferred abroad in 2012 amounted to 1,429. It was not an untypical year.  Footballers have become a significant Brazilian export.

It makes Seth Burkett's story stand out even more, a rare and unlikely tale of a journey made in the opposite direction.

Brought up in a village just outside Stamford in Lincolnshire, Burkett's dream had been to play for Peterborough United. They released him when he was only 10, after which he was taken on by Northampton Town, only to be disappointed again at 14.  By the age of 18, however, he was playing for Esporte Clube Sorriso, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, 3,000 miles north-west of Rio de Janeiro, almost at the very heart of the South American continent.

He ended up there because one of those thousands of Brazilians who had headed for Europe in search of fame and wealth in football somehow arrived in Stamford.  Anderson da Silva, who achieved success as an agent rather than a player, organised a 16-day trip to his homeland for the Unibond League club Stamford's Under-18 team, whose number included Seth Burkett.  It was while he was on tour that Burkett was spotted by a scout and invited to join the Sorriso club, an offer he could hardly refuse and which turned him for a while into something of a celebrity

By remarkable coincidence, Burkett's great, great uncle, the former Arsenal goalkeeper Charlie Williams, had been one of the English trailblazers of football in Brazil in the early 1900s as manager of Flumenense, which made Seth's return a century later even more extraordinary.

It was an experience he decided to write about in a memoir that was ultimately published by the author and journalist, Ian Ridley, to whom Burkett had sent the manuscript, hoping simply for feedback. Ridley was so taken with the charm and honesty of Burkett's writing that he published it.

Buy from Amazon, or Waterstones.

Also recommended:

Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty, by Ben Lyttleton (Bantam Press) £14.99

Penalties are part of football, a pretty unremarkable part at that. A free shot at goal that either provides a team with a just reward or passes by as an opportunity missed.  At a World Cup a penalty in open play may decide a match but only in the same way that a penalty might decide another important match; it is simply one of the many ways to score a goal.  But when there are five penalties taken one after the other, as a tie-breaker, those kicks from 12 yards acquire an altogether different status.  Suddenly they are imbued with a mystique that no other part of the game can match, particularly for England, particularly in World Cups, where they are usually an instrument of national agony.

Football writer Ben Lyttleton probably goes into it all far too deeply in Twelve Yards but must be applauded for his efforts to identify all the factors that go into the perfect penalty.  He spoke to many of the protagonists in some of football's greatest shoot-out dramas and also provides some impressive statistical analysis, revealing among other things that more penalties are successfully converted by players faced with a chance to win a game than are converted when to miss means elimination, that 30 degrees is the optimum angle from which to run in and take a kick and that a goalkeeper should seek to delay the kicker for between 1.7 and 4.5 seconds to maximise the chance of a penalty being missed.  Every England player should have a copy by the bed in his hotel room.

Buy from Amazon , Waterstones or WHSmith.

Brazil Futebol: Football to the Rhythm of the Samba Beat, by Keir Radnedge (Carlton Books) £14.99

Widely-respected world soccer expert Keir Radnedge presents a well-crafted and lavishly illustrated history of more than a century of football in Brazil that captures the essence of the world's premier football nation.  Radnedge begins his story in the 1870s when the Scottish expatriate Thomas Donohue first introduced the game to the native Brazilians and goes on to detail the unprecedented success of the national team, the great players that have worn the famous colours and what the passion for football brings to the nation.

Buy from Amazon , Waterstones or WHSmith.

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23 May 2014

All the winners at the British Sports Book Awards 2014 - now vote for your favourite

The maverick tennis champion Jimmy Connors, rugby star Simon Halliday and established writers Michael Calvin, Brough Scott and James Astill were among the winners at the British Sports Book Awards 2014, along with new names Tim Lewis and Harriet Tuckey.  

Their successes were announced during an event held at Lord’s Cricket Ground and hosted by Test Match Special’s, Jonathan Agnew.

The Connors story, The Outsider, is the second tennis book to win in the biography section in the 12-year history of the awards, following Andre Agassi's autobiography Open in 2010.

Harriet Tuckey's Everest: The First Ascent, which won the judges' vote for the new Outstanding General Sports Writing category, is the first book from the world of mountaineering to be honoured. Tim Lewis was named New Writer of the Year for his story of the Rwanda national cycling team, Land of Second Chances.

All eight individual category winners will now be put to an online public vote to determine the overall British Sports Book of the Year, sponsored by The Times. Go to the official website, www.britishsportsbookawards.co.uk, to register your vote. The winner will be announced in June.

These were the category winners:

Football Book of the Year 

The Nowhere Men: The Unknown Story of Football's True Talent Spotters, by Mike Calvin (Century)

Fleet Street veteran Mike Calvin, who was shortlisted for the 2011 award with Family: Life, Death and Football after he spent a year effectively as an embedded correspondent with Millwall FC, is a deserved winner for Nowhere Men, based on an idea suggested to him by Millwall's chief scout, in which he spends 15 months on the road with members of the vast army of football talent scouts.

These are the men and women who devote their lives to discovering the next potential superstar, some standing on windswept touchlines, others taking their seats in swanky stadiums with the rich and famous, yet whose identities are known often only to each other and to football's inner circle. Calvin is a fly on the wall, privy to confidential conversations, closely guarded information and eyebrow-raising stories, while discovering the insecurities and fears and listening in on the grumbles and whinges of arguably the most important people in the game.

Biography/Autobiography of the Year

The Outsider: A Memoir, by Jimmy Connors (Bantam Press)

Jimmy Connors won few awards for popularity during his tennis career, having taken by storm a sport often seen as elitist in the United States, driven by the anger that took root in him the day he looked on in horror as an eight-year-old boy, watching his mother, grandmother and grandfather beaten up in a public park in crime-ridden East St Louis.

The trauma never left him and he never allowed it to, resisting any temptation to turn himself into a cosseted member of the tennis establishment, forming few friendships, forever remaining the outsider.  His mother encouraged him to believe it was him against the world and it was an attitude that served him well on course as he won his eight Grand Slam titles, cheered on by fans who took to him as an anti-hero.  It makes for a powerful story.

Cricket Book of the Year

The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India , by James Astill (Wisden Sports Writing)

Already the winner of the MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year and the Cricket Writers' Club Book of the Year, James Astill's book completes a memorable hat-trick.

Astill explores the growth of cricket in India, looking at the success of the Indian teams in international cricket and more recently the creation of the cash-rich Indian Premier League, the enormously hyped and hugely popular Twenty20 competition, and presents it as a symbol of the change in the nation itself.  As a journalist with a deep knowledge of politics and economics, and a cricket fanatic to boot, Astill draws on his knowledge of all three and has in effect written a history of contemporary India through cricket, explaining how the game is the glue that binds together the country's 1.2 billion people and at the same time is modern India in microcosm, dominated by politics, riddled with intrigue, beset by corruption, cynicism and vast inequalities, and driven by the desire for wealth and power.

New Writer of the Year

Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda's Cycling Team, by Tim Lewis (Yellow Jersey)

Tim Lewis, a staff writer for the Guardian and Observer, tells a story about the unlikely development of a competitive cycling team in Rwanda and a project that reached fulfilment when Adrien Niyonshuti, who had seen many members of his family killed in the 1994 genocide in his native country, completed the course in the men's mountain bike race at the London Olympics in 2012, finishing in 39th place.

The book explores what happens when well-meaning people from advanced western nations attempt to impose their technology, their training techniques, and their values on people they little understand, with a cast that includes several people, for different reasons, who are pursuing second chances. Among them are the pioneering mountain bike designer, Tom Ritchey, and the one-time prominent Tour de France rider Jock Boyer, who pursued a western agenda, using hi-tech training methods, in trying to produce a team capable of competing in major road races around the world but came up against riders who wanted no more than to earn enough money from racing to buy a plot of land and build a house in order to support their family.

Horse Racing Book of the Year

Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius, by Brough Scott (Racing Post Books)

Shortlisted also for best biography, Brough Scott's brilliant portrait of the late Henry Cecil will stand for years to come as one of the finest horse racing books written, as befits the man who became known as the sport's greatest trainer. It is a shame that author and subject ultimately fell out over it, Cecil taking exception to aspects both of his own depiction in the book and what he described as the "needless focus on my private life."

Given that Cecil led a full and colourful life, especially in his younger days, was married three times and fought an incredibly courageous and long battle with cancer, a disease that claimed the life of his twin brother, it is hardly something that could be glossed over.  In any case, Scott handles the darker moments of Cecil's life with the utmost sensitivity, proving again that he is a writer of the highest calibre. Without them, the story would not stand scrutiny as a worthwhile biography.

Outstanding General Sports Writing

Everest - The First Ascent: The untold story of Griffith Pugh, the man who made it possible, by Harriet Tuckey (Rider Books)

This new prize went to a remarkable book, which is ostensibly about mountaineering but has a sub-plot that sets it apart as something much more.  It begins in a thronged lecture hall at the Royal Geographical Society in London in 1993, at an event organised to celebrate the conquest of Mount Everest, held in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, on whose coronation day in 1953 the first successful ascent was announced.  The guests include an old man in a wheelchair accompanied by his wife and daughter, who is charged with pushing his chair.  Among the speeches, lauding the roles played by the famous names, Sir John Hunt, the expedition leader, and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to the summit, the expedition doctor, Dr Michael Ward, announces that he wants to talk about a man he regards as the unsung hero of Everest.  After a suitably dramatic pause, he names the man he feels deserves on such an auspicious night to be given overdue recognition as Dr Griffith Pugh.

The woman in charge of the wheelchair, whose occupant had been left to watch from the back of hall for fear of obstructing the entrance of Her Majesty, is taken aback.  The unsung hero is her father, a man she knew only as a remote and irascible parent, yet whose contribution to the Everest expedition in the view of Dr Ward had been the most important of all, his ground-breaking research and the revolutionary ideas introduced as a result making the difference between failure and success.  The daughter pushing the wheelchair was Harriet Tuckey, on whom this moment of unexpected revelation had such a lasting impact that in time she resolved that her father's work, which can still be seen today in the training programmes of athletes, cyclists and swimmers as well as climbers, had to be recorded for posterity.  Everest: The First Ascent, is his and her story.

Rugby Book of the Year

City Centre: High Ball to High Finance, by Simon Halliday (Matador)

Simon Halliday's candid autobiography reveals the secrets from Twickenham's corridors of power seen from the perspective of an England rugby international, giving his take on the battle for control of the Rugby Football Union and England's descent from World Cup heroes to zeroes after the pinnacle of 2003, criticising the game's rulers for driving Sir Clive Woodward out of the game.

In his second career as a city trader he gives a first-hand account of the fateful morning in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering a global financial crisis.
His analysis of the merger of the Swiss banking giants UBS and SBC and the behaviour of Credit Suisse is as astute as his commentary on Bath's all conquering rugby team of the 1980s, under the guidance of the brilliant coach, Jack Rowell.  Halliday talks honestly and unashamedly about key people in his playing and business careers in a book as open as his personality.

Illustrated Book of the Year

Incredible Waves: An Appreciation of Perfect Surf, by Chris Power (Orca Publications)

The sport of surfing has no man-made stadiums or racetracks. Its proving grounds are a small number of classic reef and point breaks scattered across the world’s oceans with names like Pipeline, Cloudbreak, The Superbank, Teahupoo, Uluwatu, Desert Point, Skeleton Bay and Apocalypse.

Incredible Waves is a stunning coffee-table book of photographs that capture the beauty and majesty of these awesome aquatic arenas – waves which are as dangerous as they are enticing, for photographers as well as surfers.  Interspersed with the thoughts of some of surfing's most dedicated devotees, it is a book to inspire new ways of looking at waves and surf photography.   Chris Power, the former editor of leading European surf magazine Carve, shares some of the secrets behind his stunning images.

The award for Best Publicity Campaign went to Karen Geary and Rebecca Monday at Hodder, who were responsible for driving the huge success of Sir Alex Ferguson's simply-titled My Autobiography.  The Retailer of the Year was won by Waterstones.

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13 May 2014

After his Trueman triumph, Chris Waters tells the story of history's most famous bowling analysis

When cricket writer Chris Waters delivered the manuscript for Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography to his publisher three years ago, he told friends his first book would also be his last, echoing the words of countless writers before him. The journey from first thoughts to final page can be long and arduous, so grueling sometimes that many vow never to go there again.

A modest man, not inclined to blow his own trumpet, Waters wasn't sure whether he had done a good job or otherwise.  The reviews, however, were highly complimentary. Indeed, Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography won a hat-trick of awards: Wisden Book of the Year, MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year and British Sports Book Awards Cricket Book of the Year.

The thousands of readers who shared the enthusiasm of the award judges will be delighted to learn that Trueman was not his last book.  The second is due out next month.

10 for 10: Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket's Greatest Bowling Feat is probably the book that would have marked his literary debut had he not been commissioned to do Trueman first.

He can trace the idea for it back to an assignment handed to him in his day job as a cricket journalist some 14 years ago.

"It was while I was working on the Nottingham Evening Post back in 2000," he told The Sports Bookshelf. "A chap called Frank Shipston, a former Nottinghamshire player, had just become the oldest surviving county cricketer at the age of 94 and I was asked to go along to interview him.

"It was while I was researching his career -- and he only played 49 games -- that I found that one of the matches he played for Notts was the one in which Hedley Verity, the Yorkshire spin bowler, had taken all 10 wickets for 10 runs at Headingley in 1932.

"I had always been taken with the 10 for 10, which I had seen in Wisden, in the records section, as a child, and it had stuck with me.   There were other bowlers who had taken all 10 wickets in an innings -- in fact, it wasn't the only time Verity did it -- but to me there was something magical, almost perfect about 10 for 10. Perhaps it was the symmetry of the numbers; it seemed like the ultimate bowling analysis.

Verity was one of Yorkshire and England's greatest cricketers. In a career that ran from 1930 to 1939, he took 1,956 wickets at an average of 14.90. He was chiefly responsible for England's only Ashes victory at Lord's in the 20th century, when his 15 wickets helped to win the 1934 Test -- 14 of them captured in a single day.  No one dismissed the legendary Australian batsman Don Bradman more times in Test cricket than Verity, who claimed his wicket on eight occasions.

"I interviewed Frank Shipston, wrote a piece for the paper and that was that," Waters continued. "But it came to mind again five years later, by which time I was working for the Yorkshire Post, when there was a Hedley Verity exhibition on at Headingley to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.

"His son, Douglas, brought over a number of items of memorabilia from his home in North Wales, including the 10 for 10 ball.  I saw the ball and introduced myself to Douglas and when I said I had been thinking about writing at length about his father's feat he only encouraged me in thinking it was a good idea.

"I began researching, at the Yorkshire Post, looking at the old papers, the reports from 1932, which added some wonderful colour to the story and I just thought 'yes - there is a book in that.'

"After I'd written a piece for the paper about the exhibition, a guy wrote to me and said he had seen the 10 for 10 and I drove over to see him at his home on the Lancashire border.

"So I had it in mind to do this book before the Trueman one was offered to me."

Although this great feat of bowling, better than anything that had gone before and not remotely threatened since, is the book's centrepiece, Waters sets the scene and describes the aftermath, tracking Verity's early life and the years that followed, from his upbringing in Leeds, the son of a coal merchant, to his premature death in combat in Italy, as a captain in the Green Howards, the Yorkshire Regiment that was part of the Eighth Army invasion.  He also provides biographical background on the other participants in the match, and where their careers took them subsequently.

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"I started the book with my meeting with Frank Shipston, the personal connection I had with the story and why it has fascinated me," he said.  "So I write about Verity's life and career up to the date of the match, which is quite early on in his career. He had only been playing for two years.

"And then there is the match, with some chapters afterwards on the rest of his career and his death in the War, in Italy, to put it into context."

Verity had volunteered for the army, driven by a patriotic instinct and a staunch conviction that the war was a just one, that Hitler had to be stopped. "He believed the war had to be fought," Waters said. "On the 1933-34 tour of India, he had met Colonel Arnold Shaw of the Green Howards in Madras at a post-Test party, and when he saw him again at Headingley in 1938 he said he really wanted to get involved.

"Colonel Shaw said to get in touch with him again when war was declared and in the meantime gave him a lot of military handbooks, from which Verity started studying assiduously how to prepare for war.

"He died in 1943.  The story endures in many ways because of his tragic death, even 70 years on.  I actually found that writing about it was very moving.  It was such a sad end and he was a great guy by all accounts."

But Waters does not let Verity's tragic demise dominate the story, which is, after all, about a moment of spectacular brilliance on the cricket field.

"It is a fascinating story," he says.  "Although he did it in the days of uncovered pitches, no one else has come anyway near the record.  No one has ever even threatened it.  It is one of the most phenomenal things, to my mind, in the history of the game, one of the most romantic and remarkable records.

"It was a match between the second and third placed teams, massive rivals in county cricket, a bit of a title decider.  Harold Larwood and Bill Voce led the Nottinghamshire attack, in the summer before the Bodyline tour.

"Notts batted first, batted all day for 234 runs in 130 overs.  The irony was that it was a really dull start and all the writers complained that Notts were killing the game, that they always did this against Yorkshire.  It was a really soporific start to this incredible game.

"Yorkshire replied with 163-9 and then there was a massive storm. Brian Sellers declared 71 runs behind.  Notts batted again and were 44-0. Then the sun came out, Verity took 10 for 10 and they were all out for 67.  Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire openers, then knocked off the 139 runs needed to win with ease.  It was just incredible.
Hedley Verity

"Frank Shipston opened the batting and joint top-scored in the innings.  He was the second victim.  He remembered that Verity wasn't spinning the ball much but just enough to take the edge."

Waters does not claim to have written a definitive biography, not in the way that his Trueman book cut through the many myths surrounding the legendary fast bowler to present a much more credible assessment of his real character, but makes worthwhile additions to what is already known and recorded about Verity's life.

"It is a long time since anything was written about him so I wanted to bring his life up to date," Waters said.  "A lot has happened since the last book, there have been exhibitions and things, adding a little more to the story.  I got to know his son very well and he helped me illuminate a bit of the man.

"He was a man who was spotless, really, quite dull from a biographical point of view.  But to me the real joy of the book is the fascination of the colour around the match.  Cricket writers at the time covered the games in huge detail, so there was a lot of colourful stuff written. You almost get a ball-by-ball account."

There are numerous photographs that enhance the written description, including one that shows that the game was played against a backdrop not exactly fitting for such a momentous day in cricket history.   The end from which Verity was bowling when he took the 10 wickets was out of public use following a fire a few months earlier, which had resulted in the double-fronted Rugby Stand, the predecessor of the current structure standing between the cricket field and the Leeds Rhinos rugby stadium, being demolished.

"The new Rugby Stand was actually being built at the time," Waters said. "It was a chaotic scene with rubble everywhere. There was a cement mixer close to the boundary's edge.  Essentially, this great moment in cricket history, this bowling feat never surpassed, was performed to the backdrop of a building site."

Buy 10 for 10: Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket's Greatest Bowling Feat from WH Smith. Also available via this site from Amazon and Waterstones by clicking on the link.

Also by Chris Waters: Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography (available from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith)

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10 May 2014

The Great Tamasha wins MCC-Cricket Society Book of the Year award for James Astill

Political journalist James Astill has won the 2014 MCC-Cricket Society book of the year award for The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern india.

Essentially, it is story of how cricket became Indianised, first via the increasing success of India in international cricket and more recently with the creation of the cash-rich Indian Premier League, the enormously hyped and hugely popular Twenty20 competition, which has seen the powerbase in the world game shift from London to Delhi.

But The Great Tamasha, published by Bloomsbury, is a book that goes beyond sport to present a history of contemporary India, explaining how cricket in India, with all of its politics and intrigue, offers a picture of the country in microcosm, beset by corruption, cynicism and vast inequalities, and driven by a shameless fight for wealth and power.

Astill, the political editor of The Economist, spent a number of years as the magazine’s bureau chief in Delhi. He has a deep and intimate knowledge of south Asia and is also a cricket fanatic, which made him almost uniquely qualified to write a book of this nature.   The title makes use of the Hindi word 'tamasha', which means entertainment or show.

The author's research was extensive.  He interviewed practically all of the main players in Indian cricket, the tycoons, ex-players and Bollywood stars, as well as the power brokers, including the now discredited and exiled founder of the IPL, Lalit Modi.  But he also spent time in city slums and impoverished rural villages, discovering that despite the concentration of the game's huge wealth in the hands of the often corrupt and self-appointed cricketing elite, enthusiasm for the game among ordinary Indians, the financially and socially oppressed, remains massive.

Jason Burke, reviewing The Great Tamasha for The Observer, said the book was "An engaging history of cricket that serves as perceptive allegory for the state of the subcontinent today."

In The Daily Telegraph, Tom Fort wrote that it is "a clear-sighted and superbly researched study of cricket in India."

The MCC-Cricket Society judges for the 2014 competition were chaired by Vic Marks, the former Somerset and England bowler and The Observer's cricket correspondent. The panel comprised Marks, John Symons and Chris Lowe, who were the judges nominated by the Cricket Society, with David Kynaston and Stephen Fay, representing the MCC.

The shortlisted books, along with The Great Tamasha, were:

The Authors XI - A Season of English Cricket from Hackney to Hambledon, by The Authors Cricket Club (Bloomsbury); Lost In The Long Grass, by John Barclay (Fairfield Books); The Real Jeeves: The Cricketer Who Gave His Life For His Country and His Name to a Legend, by Brian Halford (Pitch Publishing); Bradmans War: How the 1948 Invincibles Turned the Cricket Pitch into a Battlefield, by Malcolm Knox (The Robson Press); and The Little Wonder: The Remarkable History of Wisden, by Robert Winder (John Wisden & Co).

The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India is available from Amazon , Waterstones and WHSmith.

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6 May 2014

Strong fields for British Sports Book Awards leave judges to make tough choices

Some tough decisions face the judges charged with naming the winners at the British Sports Book Awards for 2014, due to be announced later this month, after the organisers announced one of the strongest shortlist line-ups in the 12-year history.

Across all nine categories there are outstanding contenders.  The category Autobiography/Biography of the Year includes footballer Dennis Bergkamp's Stillness and Speed and The Outsider, by double Wimbledon and five-times US Open tennis champion Jimmy Connors, as well as former Premier League referee Mark Halsey's controversial Added Time.

The Football category includes Guillem Balague’s biography of Lionel Messi, entitled simply Messi, Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga and The Nowhere Men, Michael Calvin's tribute to football's essential army of talent spotting scouts.

In the Cricket category, Rob Winder's The Little Wonder: A History of Wisden is up against, among otheers, James Astill’s story of cricket and corruption in India, The Great Tamasha.

Ronan O’Gara’s autobiography and Calon, Owen Sheers’ journey into the heart of Welsh rugby are among those titles under consideration in the rugby category.

The Horse Racing shortlist includes the William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner, Doped, Jamie Reid's real-life thriller of horse nobbling, and the self-published Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring, by Simon Nott.  Brough Scott's acclaimed portrait of Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius, is shortlisted in both the Horse Racing and Biography categories.

There are also two awards celebrating the best of sports writing – Outstanding Sports Writing, in which with Ned Boulting's On The Road Bike and Fore! by John Hopkins are contenders, and New Writer of the Year, which includes The Land of Second Chances, by Tim Lewis, and footballer Clarke Carlisle’s autobiography, You Don’t Know Me But…

The winners of the awards will be announced at a ceremony to be held at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, on Wednesday, May 21, hosted by the BBC cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew.

The individual category winners will then be put to an online public vote to determine the overall British Sports Book of the Year.

The shortlists in full (click on the titles for buying information from Amazon)

Autobiography/Biography

The Outsider: A Memoir, by Jimmy Connors (Harper)
Swim, Bike, Run: Our Triathlon Story, by Alastair Brownlee and Jonathan Brownlee (Viking)
Running: The Autobiography, by Ronnie O'Sullivan (Orion)
Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius, by Brough Scott (Racing Post Books)
Driving Ambition - My Autobiography, by Andrew Strauss (Hodder & Stoughton)
Dreams Do Come True, by Katherine Grainger (Andre Deutsch)
Stillness and Speed, by Dennis Bergkamp (Simon & Schuster)
Added Time: Surviving Cancer, Death Threats and the Premier League, by Mark Halsey with Ian Ridley (Floodlit Dreams)

Football

The Wizard: The Life of Stanley Matthews, by Jon Henderson (Yellow Jersey)
The Nowhere Men: The Unknown Story of Football's True Talent Spotters, by Michael Calvin (Century)
Sir Walter Winterbottom: The Father of Modern English Football, by Graham Morse (John Blake Publishing)
Messi, by Guillem Balague (Orion)
I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, by Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Penguin)
Keith Gillespie: How Not to be a Football Millionaire, by Keith Gillespie and Daniel McDonnell (Trinity Mirror Sport Media)
The Great English Final, by David Tossell (Pitch Publishing)
Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid, by Sid Lowe (Yellow Jersey)

Cricket

The Little Wonder: The Remarkable History of Wisden, by Robert Winder (Wisden)
The Trundlers, by Harry Pearson (Little, Brown)
Lost in the Long Grass, by John Barclay (Fairfield Books)
The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India, by James Astill (Wisden Sports Writing)
Bradman's War, by Malcolm Knox (The Robson Press)
A Guide to Cricket, by Tony Laughton (Christopher Saunders Publishing)

Horse Racing

Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius, by Brough Scott (Racing Post Books)
Skint Mob!: Tales from the Betting Ring by Simon Nott (Simon Nott Publications)
Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National's Biggest Upset, by David Owen (Wisden Sports Writing)
Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang, by Jamie Reid (Racing Post Books)
Arkle: The Legend of 'Himself', by Anne Holland (The O'Brien Press)

Illustrated

Wimbledon 2013, by Neil Harman (Vision Sports Publishing)
The Pain and the Glory (Team Sky Giro & Tour Diary), by Team Sky, Dave Brailsford and Chris Froome (HarperSport)
Incredible Waves: An Appreciation of Perfect Surf, by Chris Power (Orca Publications)
David Beckham, by David Beckham (Headline)
Seventy-Seven: My Road to Wimbledon Glory, by Andy Murray (Headline)
8000m: Climbing the World's Highest Mountains, by Alan Hinkes (Cicerone Press)

New Writer

You Don't Know Me, but ...: A Footballer's Life, by Clark Carlisle (Simon & Schuster)
The Sergio Torres Story: From the Brick Factory to the Theatre of Dreams, by Sergio Torres (Pitch Publishing)
The Race Against Time, by Edward Pickering (Corgi)
Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and...Me: Mike Yates Tells His Story, with Keith Miller (Independent Publishing Network)
Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda's Cycling Team, by Tim Lewis (Yellow Jersey)
Fat Man to Green Man: From Unfit to Ultramarathon,  by Ira Rainey (Tangent Books)

Rugby

Unguarded, by Ronan O'Gara (Transworld Ireland)
White Gold: England's Journey to Rugby World Cup Glory, by Peter Burns (Arena Sport)
The Mud the Beer and the Rugby, by John Collier  (Tales of the Vale)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Rise and Fall of Pontypool RFC, by Nick Bishop and Alun Carter (Mainstream)
City Centre: High Ball to High Finance, by Simon Halliday (Matador)
Calon: A Journey to the Heart of Welsh Rugby, by Owen Sheers (Faber & Faber)

Outstanding General Sports Writing

Pushing the Limits, by Casey Stoner (Orion)
On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation's Cycling Soul, by Ned Boulting (Yellow Jersey)
Fore!: The Best of John Hopkins on Golf, by John Hopkins (Elliott & Thompson)
Everest - The First Ascent: The untold story of Griffith Pugh, the man who made it possible, by Harriet Tuckey (Rider)
Can't Sleep, Can't Train, Can't Stop: More Misadventures in Triathlon, by Andy Holgate (Pitch Publishing)
An American Caddie in St. Andrews: Growing Up, Girls, and Looping on the Old Course, by Oliver Horovitz (Gotham Books)

Publicity Campaign

Anna Pallai (Faber & Faber) for Red or Dead, by David Peace
Laura Lees & Orlando Mowbray (HarperCollins) for Undisputed Truth: My Autobiography, by Mike Tyson
Karen Geary & Rebecca Mundy  (Hodder) for Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography, by Alex Ferguson
Louise Court (Yellow Jersey Press) for The Sports Gene: Talent, Practice and the Truth About Success,  by David Epstein
Julia Murday (Penguin Books) for I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, by Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Helen Mockridge (Simon & Schuster) for Stillness and Speed: My Story, by Dennis Bergkamp

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