1 October 2014

Rugby star Gareth Thomas's autobiography Proud on longlist for 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year

The autobiography of Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas – the former captain of Wales and the British Lions and the highest-profile sportsman in the UK to come out as gay – is among 15 titles on the longlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award 2014.

Thomas’s book Proud, published last month, tells the full story of his struggle with his sexuality, which he kept from his now ex-wife Jemma and teammates through much of his career, and how several times he contemplated taking his own life before deciding to make his homosexuality public in 2009.

Biographies and autobiographies dominate the list, from which will be selected the 26th winner of the award, the most valuable and prestigious prize in sports literature.

Mike Tyson‘s no-holds-barred Undisputed Truth is among them, alongside Alone, the story of the tragically short life of John Curry, the figure skater who had 20 million Britons glued to their TV sets as he changed the perception of ice skating from marginal sport to high art, written by Bill Jones, author of The Ghost Runner, a wonderfully crafted book about the athlete John Tarrant, who became a sensation in the 1950s by gatecrashing races from which he was barred because expenses paid to him as a teenage boxer led to him being labelled as a ‘professional’ athlete.

Football life stories include Matt Dickinson’s Bobby Moore: The Man in Full and Stewart Taylor‘s Stuck in a Moment, the poignant story of Paul Vaessen, the former Arsenal striker who achieved fleeting fame on the back of one famous goal against Juventus in Turin but whose career was ended early by injury and who subsequently died as a drug addict.

Olympic gold-medallist Nicole Cooke, the first British cyclist to have been ranked World No.1, makes it with her autobiography The Breakaway, as does Paul Reese for The Three Degrees, the story of the West Bromwich Albion footballers Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson, who did so much to further the drive against racism in football.

The longlist in full (alphabetically by author’s surname):

The Breakaway: My Story, by Nicole Cooke (Simon & Schuster).
Bobby Moore: The Man in Full,  by Matt Dickinson (Yellow Jersey Press).
An American Caddie in St. Andrews: Growing Up, Girls and Looping on the Old Course, by Oliver Horovitz (Elliott & Thompson).
Played in London: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play, by Simon Inglis (English Heritage).
Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry, by Bill Jones (Bloomsbury).
Run or Die: The Inspirational Memoir of the World's Greatest Ultra-Runner, by Kilian Jornet (Viking).
Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, by Anna Krien (Yellow Jersey Press).
In Search of Duncan Ferguson: The Life and Crimes of a Footballing Enigma, by Alan Pattullo (Mainstream Publishing).
The Incredible Adventures of the Unstoppable Keeper, by Lutz Pfannenstiel (Vision Sports Publishing Ltd).
The Three Degrees: The Men Who Changed British Football Forever, by Paul Rees (Constable).
Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, by Rob Steen (Bloomsbury).
Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen, by Stewart Taylor (GCR Books).
Proud: My Autobiography, by Gareth Thomas (Ebury Press).
Undisputed Truth: My Autobiography, by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman (HarperSport).
Love Game: A History of Tennis, from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon, by Elizabeth Wilson (Serpent’s Tail)

William Hill spokesman and co-founder of the Award, Graham Sharpe, said: “There is something for everyone on this year’s longlist; from the inspirational, surprising and sometimes troubling stories behind some of our best-known sporting stars, to masterful social history and the more unusual subjects of ultra-running and golf-caddying. This diverse range of topics is testament to the fact that sports-writing is in rude health.

“I am also very pleased to see that three of the 15 longlisted titles are written by women – a first for a William Hill longlist – though I’d like to see an even greater share of voice for female writers in the future”.

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize. As well as a £25,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a free £2,500 William Hill bet, a hand-bound copy of their book, and a day at the races.

The judging panel for this year’s Award consists of: retired professional footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the Award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

The shortlist will be announced on October 24 October. The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday November 27.


23 September 2014

New e-book taster brings together some classic Cloughie stories

Nottingham Forest and Derby fans have been paying tribute to the memory of Brian Clough in the last few days, 10 years on from his death at the age of 69 on September 20, 2003.  

Supporters set aside their differences joined in a minute's applause when the East Midlands rivals met at the City Ground while at Forest's match with Fulham last week, the players entered the field with a guard of honour made up of Forest season ticket holders, all dressed in the green sweatshirt that was the great manager's matchday uniform.

Hundreds of Forest fans at the Capital One Cup match against Tottenham wore green sweatshirts provided by the competition sponsors, who are based in Nottingham.

Everyone who encountered Cloughie seems to have a favourite story about him, among them the Midlands journalist Dave Armitage, who gathered together 150 of them -- some of his own and a great many shared by others -- in a book cleverly titled 150 BC and had enough left over to follow up with a second volume, Clough Confidential.

Both are now available as Kindle e-books.  Alternatively, readers can sample a flavour of both books in Clough Gold, which draws on both in a collection of 50 stories as a taste of the entertainment on offer in the full versions.

Armitage has been covering football in the Midlands since the 1980s and was still a young and inexperienced reporter when he set foot in Clough's office at the City Ground for the first time.  Subsequently, he became on good enough terms with the maverick manager to be invited to his home in Derbyshire, although not on the occasion of one his own personal Clough stories.

That was the time he surprised Clough with an unusual gift of a couple of packets of seeds.  They were for a variety of sweet pea named 'Brian Clough' that he had spotted at the Shrewsbury Flower Show.  The young Armitage feared the gift might bring him only ridicule but in fact it was accepted graciously and gratefully by Clough, who recalled being asked some years earlier for permission to use his name and how beautiful the blooms were.

Months later, Clough spotted Armitage in the City Ground car park and hailed him in customary style. "Hey, shithouse," he said. "My missus was talking about you this morning.  You know those sweet peas you gave me.  She's grown them all up the back of our house and they are absolutely beautiful.

"She said 'You ought to ask that nice young man around to come and see them now they're out.'

"'Hey', I told her, 'I'm not having shithouse reporters up at my house'.  But thanks very much anyway!"

Clough Gold is available from Amazon as a Kindle e-book

Buy 150 BC from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Clough Confidential from Amazon or Waterstones.


9 September 2014

FA Cup memories recreate the experience of bygone eras on and off the field

Books that fall into the category of football nostalgia can sometimes become a little tedious, particularly if the author is simply banging on about how the game was better in 'his' time and it is clear that his view of the past comes with a filter for the bad bits.

Readers might be forgiven for expecting Matthew Eastley's two-volume offering to be more of the same, a lament for a lost era by a writer who finds it impossible to see any virtue in the football of today.

But to suggest that Eastley's look back on the FA Cup finals in the 60s and 70s -- there is another about the 80s on the way -- amounts merely to an outpouring of discontent at the decline of a football institution would do his work an enormous disservice.

A corporate journalist by profession, and a lifelong Charlton Athletic fan, Eastley has told the story of two decades of Cup finals not by rehashing the well-worn details of what happened on the field but by revisiting each match through the memories of supporters who were there and for whom the occasion remains a highlight of their lives.

It is true that there is an element of 'things were better then' in his tone.  He notes that the FA Cup once occupied such a special place in the national psyche that people would dress up just to watch the final on the television and clearly feels a little sad that this is no longer the case. "In 1974, just after we had acquired our first colour television, my grandfather came over wearing a suit and tie, because it was FA Cup final day," he says.

You can't dispute Eastley's assertion that the Cup final stopped the nation, an event regarded as so important in the calendar that it would probably need war to break out for it not to be the lead story on the teatime television news.  Nor can you quibble with the fact that nowadays the teatime news is done and dusted almost before the Cup final gets under way, the traditional 3pm kick-off time seemingly consigned to history in the interests of TV scheduling.

Yet he has gone way beyond writing a book that is merely a feature-length grumble.  He has taken the Cup finals of both decades and constructed a back story for each one, based on countless hours of interviews with fans and extensive research, interweaving the fans' stories, some of them joyful, some deeply poignant, with the action from the game and all manner of other material, from snippets of family history to the music that was topping the charts.

The end result is fascinating and engagingly readable, a piece of social history as well as a football book and a credit to the author's journalistic skills.

From Barry Stobart to Neil Young: When the FA Cup Really Mattered: Volume 1 - The 1960s, by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing).  Buy from Amazon , Waterstones or WHSmith.

From Ronnie Radford to Roger Osborne: When the FA Cup Really Mattered: Volume 2 - The 1970s, by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.


1 September 2014

Pietersen in profile: a dispassionate view ahead of the controversial star's own version of events

Kevin Pietersen's autobiography is due out next month, with a promise to reveal the detail of his parting of the ways with the England cricket team, until now shackled by the confidentiality clause that accompanied his dismissal.  Its impending publication has been a long time in the public domain, allowing rival publishers to offer something by way of competition.

More often than not, such spoilers are barely worthy of mention, old material rehashed in haste by a writer with no sources of information beyond a pile of newspaper cuttings or, these days, whatever he can turn up on Google.

Simon Wilde's book, On Pietersen: The Making of KP, is considerably better than that, being not so much a biography as an appraisal, in the form of a series of essays, by the Sunday Times cricket correspondent, who has reported on Pietersen's career in its entirety, certainly since he first crossed England's radar, and has diligently gone back to many of the coaches and fellow players who worked with the South African-born star in the days when a future with the Three Lions tattooed on his arm was not even a dream.

Each essay has a theme, some relating to aspects of Pietersen's character, others to his cricket in technical terms, such as his weakness against left-arm spin or his invention of new shots.  The format enables Wilde to cover all the significant moments in Pietersen's career and relate them to others.  It works very well.

No cricketer in recent times has intrigued and infuriated to the same degree as Pietersen and Wilde makes an honest attempt to understand the complexities of his personality.  It is a balanced account that acknowledges that he could be a divisive and disruptive presence but which also offers sympathy for him and a regret that he would ultimately prove too difficult for England to manage.

Simon Wilde is the author of several excellent cricket books, including objective portraits of Ian Botham and Shane Warne.

Buy On Pietersen: The Making of KP (Simon & Schuster) from AmazonWaterstones or WHSmith.


5 August 2014

United fans await Ferguson verdict on David Moyes in best-selling bio's paperback update

Sir Alex Ferguson can expect to earn himself another sizeable supplement to his pension when the paperback version of his record-breaking autobiography appears in the shops ready for the Christmas market.

The hardback edition was the best selling print book of 2013 with UK outlets, its sales of 803,084 copies in less than 10 weeks beating the Dan Brown novel Inferno.

Sales of 115,000 in the first week on the shelves set another record, for the fastest selling non-fiction book, knocking cook book queen Delia Smith off that particular perch.

Ferguson would have pocketed at least £1 million from last year's sales alone, even assuming he was on no better than the standard royalty arrangement with his publisher.

The former Manchester United manager's personal account of his fall-outs with Roy Keane, David Beckham and other ex-United players provided a major selling point for the book, along with his views on rival managers such as Arsene Wenger.

And there is more in the paperback, which is updated to include his take on United's first year since his retirement and the brief, ill-fated tenure of David Moyes, who succeeded Ferguson at Old Trafford on his own recommendation.

The paperback is due to be published on October 23 with Ferguson due to attend a launch event hosted by publishers Hodder & Stoughton at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on Sunday, October 26, when he will discuss the highlights of a career which brought him 38 trophies in 26 years at Old Trafford, in the company of actor and lifelong Manchester United supporter, James Nesbitt.

Meanwhile, a biography of Louis van Gaal, the latest United manager, has been published in English by Ebury Press.

Dutch football commentator Maarten Meijer's book reveals that Van Gaal's tactical philosophy places team ahead of players and that his reputation as a fierce disciplinarian is not misplaced, explaining that the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach, who took the Netherlands to third place at the Brazil World Cup this year, has standards for behaviour and attitude that players deviate from at their peril.

Meijer has also written books on Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat and is a writer with broad interests. He has degrees in both science and philosophy and a doctorate in Russian literature, has lived and worked in both New York and Moscow and since 2000, married and with four children, has been based in Korea, where he teaches philosophy.

Buy My Autobiography, by Sir Alex Ferguson from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Pre-order the paperback version.

Buy Louis van Gaal: The Autobiography from AmazonWaterstones or WHSmith.


1 August 2014

Punk Football: How fans reclaimed football clubs for the people that made them

In a couple of weeks time, FC United of Manchester, the club set up by disillusioned Manchester United fans in the wake of the Glazer family's Old Trafford takeover, will embark on their 10th competitive season. Once famously dismissed as a bunch of 'attention-seekers' by Sir Alex Ferguson, they are poised also to give up their nomadic existence of the past decade and move into their own home.

A £5.7 million 5,000-seat stadium is nearing completion in the New Moston area of Manchester which will bring to an end the days of groundsharing.  Once Broadhurst Park opens its doors this autumn, playing home fixtures at Bury's Gigg Lane and Stalybridge Celtic's Bower Fold will be consigned to history.

Along with AFC Wimbledon, the club formed by supporters disenfranchised when their club moved to Milton Keynes, FC United are the high profile flag bearers of a movement popularly known as 'punk football'.

They are clubs run not by Russian oligarchs or Arab sheikhs, or in Manchester United's case by American sports entrepreneurs who had to load the club with debt to facilitate their takeover, but by the fans for the fans.

Punk football became the moniker for fan ownership not because the people in charge are anarchists with mohican haircuts and safety pins through their noses but because, just as the original punk rock was do-it-yourself music, clubs such as FC United and AFC Wimbledon and several others besides represent DIY football.

It is a concept that has become the subject of an extensively researched and well-written book by freelance writer and blogger Jim Keoghan and recently published by Pitch Publishing.

Buy This Book


In Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football, Keoghan explores the history of punk football from its birth in the 1990s, when fans of Northampton Town rose up in the face of prospective extinction to form the first supporters' trust, raising money to save the club and taking a place on the Board with the aim of ensuring that its future was built on a democratic and financially prudent platform.

He charts how the Northampton example inspired others to follow suit and how supporters' trusts proliferated over the next decade, with some even taking majority control, as happened at Exeter City, Brentford and York City, before AFC Wimbledon demonstrated that not only could fans band together to save existing clubs, they could actually create new ones.

There are interesting chapters, too, on how the supporters of Swansea City demonstrated that even at Premier League level it is possible for fans to have a major say in the running of their club and on the history of supporter involvement in the running of football clubs in Europe, particularly in Spain and Germany, where punk football has been a phenomenon for much longer.

Yet Keoghan does not gloss over the failures, looking at where the model did not work so well, such as Stockport County, Brentford and York City, and at the sorry story of Notts County, where the supporters' trust formed to salvage the club from one financial disaster in 2002 unwittingly created another when they were duped, along with Sven-Goran Eriksson and others, into falling for the false charms of Munto Finance.

The examples of AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester, though, stand as testimony to what can be achieved.

Romantics among FC United fans wanted their permanent home to be in Newton Heath, the district of Manchester in which the Old Trafford club has its roots.  That dream died when local government funding cuts forced Manchester City Council to withdraw vital support.

But the ground taking shape at New Moston will be a fine addition to the Manchester sporting landscape and an inspiration to everyone who wants to claim back football for the fans and follow the punk football ideal.

Buy Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football, by Jim Keoghan from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.


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.


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."

Buy This Book


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.


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.


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.