27 November 2014

Controversial Night Games is 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year

Night Games, a controversial investigation into the ritual abuse of women embedded in Australian sport, has been named the winner of the 26th William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, the richest and most prestigious literary sports writing prize in the world.


Described by the judges as a ‘painstaking, intelligent, but above all, open-minded examination of an immensely complicated area’, Night Games follows the trial of an Australian Rules footballer player accused of rape, the outcome of which led author Anna Krien to consider what she describes as the ‘grey area’ of sexual consent.

Alyson Rudd, the Times journalist who is one of the judges of the annual award, commented: Night Games is not about English football but its relevance to the game is all too clear in the context of the conviction for rape of the Sheffield United player Ched Evans. Anna Krien seeks to understand why some sportsmen treat sex as a warped kind of sport in itself and women with little or no respect. Hopefully, if such men read her book they would be horrified at the repercussions of such behaviour.”

Krien was announced as the winner of the 2014 award by judge and broadcaster John Inverdaleat a lunchtime ceremony at BAFTA in central London. A multiple award-winning journalist, born and living in Australia, Krien is only the second woman in the award’s history to scoop what has become known as the ‘Bookie Prize’.

William Hill spokesman and co-founder of the Award, Graham Sharpe, said: “Despite the challenging nature of its subject matter, Anna Krien’s book is balanced yet fearless, and as compelling and involving as any previous winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

"Quite possibly, only a woman could have written it in as personal and perceptive a manner. Anna is the second woman to have won the Award, following Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, and she had to beat one of the strongest, most varied line-ups in our 26-year history. It remains disappointing that on average, under 10 per cent of the books submitted each year are written by women, and we hope that Anna's success will encourage many more women to write about sport.”

As well as a £26,000 cheque, Krien was awarded a William Hill bet worth £2,500, a leather hand-bound copy of her book, and an exclusive day at the races. She joins an illustrious list of past winners, including Nick Hornby, Duncan Hamilton, Donald McRae and Paul Kimmage.

In taking the winning prize, Krien triumphed over a strong shortlist that included two other titles looking at the macho culture in sport: Gareth Thomas’s autobiography, Proud, which documents the challenges he faced keeping his sexuality a secret while playing at the top of his profession, and Alone by Bill Jones, the biography of iconic figure skater John Curry, looking at the Olympian’s battle to change the muscular face of men’s skating through his sensual performances. 

Other titles on the shortlist included: Floodlights and Touchlines, a sweeping history of spectator sport by journalist and academic Rob Steen; the autobiography of endurance runner Kilian Jornet, Run or Die; a sporting history of the capital, Played in London, by Simon Inglis; and Bobby Moore: The Man in Full,  a biography of the England footballing legend, by Times chief sports writer Matt Dickinson.

The judging panel for this year’s award consisted of retired footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Clarke Carlisle, broadcaster and writer John Inverdale, broadcaster Danny Kelly, award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney,  and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop, John Gaustad, returned as chairman of the judging panel.

Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport by Anna Krien is published by Yellow Jersey Press. Buy now from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Read more about Anna Krien's book.

The shortlist in full

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26 November 2014

Macho world of Australian sport: William Hill prize contender makes disturbing reading

Anna Krien's Night Games is easily the most controversial contender for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014, because while sport, albeit in Australia, does provides the backdrop, it is as much a book about the sexual abuse of women.

The starting point is the trial of a Australian rules footballer accused of rape following a party to celebrate the Melbourne club Collingwood's victory over city rivals St Kilda in the 2010 AFL Grand Final.  Except that the player concerned, given the pseudonym 'Justin Dyer' by the author, is not a member of the victorious team. In reality he is little more than a hanger-on, drawn into the spotlight after the complainant, whom Anna Krien calls 'Sarah Wesley', claims to have been raped in a hotel bedroom by two very high profile Collingwood players.  The incident with Dyer took place in an alleyway later.

Dyer was initially called as a witness, only to find himself on trial after the charges against the two stars were dropped.  Eventually, he is acquitted, the court unable to decide on the key element required for a guilty verdict, whether his sex with Wesley was or was not consensual.

It was the kind of case that has become somewhat commonplace in Australia, typically involving Aussie rules or rugby league players. In the space of a decade prior to the publication of Krien's book in Australia, there had been more than 20 such trials involving more than 50 players.  As Krien watches from the back of the court, she considers the relationship between sport, power and sex and in particular the moments at which they collide, as they clearly did during Collingwood's post-victory party in 2010.

The book is on one level a narrative account of Dyer's trial but on another a discourse on the subject of sexual negotiation and consent, looking at the circumstances in which the empowering bonds between sportsmen that are so fundamental to their success on the field turn sinister off it, and at the minefield of ambiguity that can occur when the objectives and motivations of the women who become involved in sexual encounters with testosterone-fuelled males at their moment of triumph are misinterpreted.

The book has its weaknesses.  The question of why the case against the two Collingwood stars is dropped is not pursued; nor does Krien seek to explain why the appetite for sexual conquest at the moment of victory is not shared by all players.

Its strengths, however, are many.  There is a fearlessness, for example, in the way Krien probes into areas of sporting culture to which sports writers would find it difficult to tackle, given the dynamic of their relationship with clubs and players.  What she finds makes disturbing reading.

It is an objective work, too.  Readers expecting a portrayal of all women as victims and all men as evil sexual predators will be disappointed in the way Krien resists following a prejudiced agenda. She confesses even that she found Dyer, the accused, a more appealing character than Wesley, the accuser.

Equally, though, there is no sense that in trying to find an explanation for why some sportsmen behave in an abhorrent way towards women she in any way seeks to justify it.  She will find favour with neither side at the extremes of the debate into which she enters, which is what makes Night Games an outstanding work.

The winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for 2014 will be revealed tomorrow (November 27), when the successful author will receive among other things a cash prize of £26,000,

Buy Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark heart of Sport, by Anna Krien (Yellow Jersey) from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The full shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014

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Bobby Moore: The Man in Full
Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry
Played in London: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play
Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport


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21 November 2014

Steen and Inglis strike two heavyweight blows for well researched sporting history

Racy tales of scandal and skulduggery and journeys into troubled souls have tended to tick the judges' boxes for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in recent years, so it is encouraging to see that the 2014 shortlist contains two hefty tomes of thoroughly well researched sporting history.

The reason for their presence there is easily explained: both are exceptional pieces of work with an appeal that goes well beyond mere academic interest.

Rob Steen's Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport weighs in at 531 pages of fairly dense type with only one pause for illustrations, which makes it at first glance a daunting prospect.  Yet it has been hailed for the author's lightness of touch in tackling a subject of epic proportions, taking his readers on a journey from gladiatorial Rome to the present day that is heavy on detail yet with many diverting anecdotes.

Played in London: Charting the History of a City at Play, Simon Inglis's latest contribution to a series of works on sports history by English Heritage, is simply sumptuous, a lavishly illustrated, beautifully written and staggeringly comprehensive history of sport in London and of the places it has been played, with a particular emphasis on sporting architecture, from stadiums to swimming baths, pavilions to boathouses.

Steen, a former Guardian and Sunday Times sportswriter who is now a senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, is the author of a dozen books and many research publications and Floodlights and Touchlines is his most ambitious project.

His decision to give the book a thematic structure was a wise one.  Where a chronology might have challenged the reader's stamina, Steen chooses to break down his history into 10 chapters, each looking at a different aspect of the way sport has evolved.  Gambling, governance, professionalism, players' rights, internationalism, politics, race and sexuality all come under Steen's analytical spotlight, as well as -- of course -- the part played in sport's history by the most important participants of all, the spectators.

Steen's knowledge of sport is immense and his grasp of its significance impressive and enlightening, his appreciation of social and political context giving deeper texture to the story. He understands the dramatic qualities of sport and why so many of us find it so engrossing and explains it all in a compelling narrative that is destined to make this work a classic.

Simon Inglis shares with Steen an enormous fascination with sporting heritage, with a particular interest in where sport has taken place.  His books on the football stadiums of Britain and Europe have become definitive works, blending the history of the game with the evolution of its architecture. He also wrote a wonderful biography of Archibald Leitch, the architect responsible for turning Highbury, Old Trafford, Anfield and Craven Cottage into stadium that would become established in football's iconic landmarks.

Played in London extends way beyond football to explore pretty much every sport ever played in any organised way within the boundaries of the capital, from archery and athletics to speedway and squash, seeking out what remains and what has disappeared among the vast number of grandstands and pavilions, gymnasiums and sports halls, boathouses, swimming pools, cricket, football and rugby fields and even skateparks that have helped London establish and maintain its reputation as one of the world's great sporting cities.

Inglis takes the reader back in time as far as bull and bear baiting and cockfighting in the 16th century to explain the origins of streets such as Bear Gardens in Southwark and Cockpit Steps in Westminster, and explains how Pall Mall was once a section of St James's Park set aside for the French lawn game of Paille Maille, a variation on croquet.

The wonderful photography, meanwhile, brings back to life some of the great landmarks now disappeared from the city's sporting skyline, notably the lamented White City stadium, originally constructed for the 1908 Olympics, that would play host to so many famous occasions in athletics, greyhound racing, speedway, boxing and football and the demolition of which in 1985 was an act of vandalism against not only London's cultural heritage but that of the whole country.

Inglis's knowledge of and fascination with sporting architecture is unrivalled and his text is rich in detail, while the wealth of eyecatching illustrations brings every page to life.  Played in London follows on from similar volumes on sport in Manchester - also written by Inglis -- Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Tyne and Wear in the Played in Britain series.  A masterful piece of work, it is an absorbing and richly evocative history of sport in the great city and will be the definitive reference work for anyone wishing to embark on a tour of the capital's sporting heritage.

The winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for 2014 will be revealed next Thursday (November 27), when the successful author will receive among other things a cash prize of £26,000,

To buy Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, go to Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Likewise, buy Played in London: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The full shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014

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15 November 2014

Bookie prize contender Proud named on longlist for British Sports Book Awards 2015

Organisers of the British Sports Book Awards have revealed a longlist for the autobiography category for the 2015 awards.

It is a 10-book selection that somewhat bows towards the market, with the pre-Christmas bestsellers well represented, among them the controversial autumn blockbusters from former Manchester United captain Roy Keane and exiled England cricketer Kevin Pietersen.

The hugely popular autobiography of motorcyclist Guy Martin and the just-released life story of Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar also make the list, along with those of cyclists Nicola Cooke and Chris Froome, footballer Rio Ferdinand and golfer Ian Poulter.

From the world of rugby, the autobiographies of former Ireland and Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll and Welsh star Gareth Thomas, whose life story Proud is also on the shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, to be announced later this month.

Proud was ghosted by Michael Calvin, who won last year's overall Book of the Year award for The Nowhere Men, his fascinating story of the world of football's talent scouts.

Now in its 13th year, the British Sports Book Awards recognises the best sports writing across a number of categories.  As well as the autobiography of the year there will also be awards for the biography of the year and for the best books from the fields of football, cricket, rugby, horse racing and cycling, plus prizes for best illustrated book and a special category that rewards the best new writer.

The winners of all awards will be announced at a prestigious ceremony at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London next May, hosted by Jonathan Agnew.

The complete longlist for the 2015 autobiography of the year is as follows:

The Breakaway: My Story, by Nicole Cooke (Simon & Schuster)
#2sides: My Autobiography, by Rio Ferdinand (Blink Publishing)
The Climb, by Chris Froome (Penguin)
The Second Half, by Roy Keane with Roddy Doyle (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Guy Martin: My Autobiography, by Guy Martin (Virgin Books)
The Test: My Autobiography, by Brian O’Driscoll (Penguin)
KP: The Autobiography, by Kevin Petersen (Sphere)
No Limits: My Autobiography, by Ian Poulter (Quercus)
Playing it My Way: My Autobiography, by Sachin Tendulkar (Hodder & Stoughton)
Proud: My Autobiography, by Gareth Thomas (Ebury)

Buy sports books from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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11 November 2014

Will tragic tale of Olympic champion John Curry scoop top prize this time for writer Bill Jones?

Three years after his first book was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, Yorkshire writer Bill Jones is again a contender for the richest prize in sports literature.

Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry is one of seven contenders for the £26,000 cash prize that comes with the title of William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014.

Jones, a former Yorkshire Evening Press journalist who became an award-winning documentary maker during 27 years with Granada Television, has put together the full story previously untold of Britain's 1976 Olympic figure skating champion, who died at the age of only 44 after contracting Aids.

Painstakingly researched over three years, it is a moving story about a man who was a deeply troubled and ultimately tragic figure but also a book that pays proper tribute to a competitor of enormous artistic talent and an extraordinary drive to be the best.

Jones reveals that Curry turned to skating only after his father, a factory owner in Birmingham who had been a prisoner of war in World War Two, refused to countenance his son training as a ballet dancer, which had been his wish as a boy growing up.

When Curry senior died when John was 16, an alcoholic found dead in a London hotel in an apparent suicide, the budding star of the ice reacted to the family tragedy as a moment of liberation.  He soon moved to London, taking up skating full time and signing up for ballet lessons as well.

His first major success came at the British Championships in 1970, by which time he had accepted his homosexuality and had an affair with a Swiss skating coach, despite encountering hostility in the skating world, which at that time favoured athleticism and masculinity as the qualities to be celebrated among male skaters and regarded Curry, whose strengths were his grace and musicality, as an effeminate who damaged the image of the sport.

He might have been driven out, but instead found a supporter in Carlo Fassi, the Italian coach who had already been successful with the women skaters Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill.   Fassi was much less interested in Curry's sexuality than in his potential to win championships, and it was under Fassi's guidance in 1976 that Curry swept to the European, World and Olympic titles in the space of three months.

The euphoria of winning Olympic Gold in Innsbruck was punctured within 48 hours, however, when an interview appeared in the International Herald Tribune in which he admitted he was gay.  Curry was praised for his courage in going public about his sexuality at a time when such a declaration was without precedent among sportsmen yet claimed there had been no intention on his part to come out and that his trust had been betrayed, insisting that the comments he made about the barriers he had faced to be successful in a homophobic world were off the record.

Taunts about his sexual orientation followed, most painfully when he turned up to receive an award at a sports writers' Christmas bash only for the comic hired to provide some light-hearted entertainment to introduce him as "the fairy for the tree."

Curry remained in Britain to develop the John Curry Theatre of Skating but in his rage for perfection would frequently fall out with his skaters and the venture collapsed within less than a year, at which point Curry flew to New York, where he would remain for much of the next 14 years.

His relationships included one with the British actor, Alan Bates, but it was the many casual and sometimes violent affairs he conducted while living in New York's West Village that would prove his downfall.  Given the number of friends that developed Aids as the disease swept unchecked through America's gay community it was almost inevitable that he too would succumb.

In 1991, he returned to England alone, penniless and sick and went home to his mother's house in the Midlands, where Rita Curry would look after him until he died three years later, having taken the brave decision to go public about his illness.  Alan Bates was among those who visited him in the hours before he passed away.

Bill Jones was rightly hailed for producing a compelling narrative in The Ghost Runner, the story of the athlete John Tarrant, ludicrously denied a potentially successful career by petty officialdom, which was shortlisted for the William Hill prize in 2011.  The book saw Jones voted Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards in 2012.

In Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry he tackles a much bigger story, given the status Curry enjoyed as one of the country's sporting stars, and does it exceptionally well, drawing on hours of remarkably candid interviews, notably with Curry's mother and with his brother, Andrew, and on unfettered access to the skater's personal letters and other material he left behind.

Its place on the shortlist, from which the winner will be chosen ahead of the presentation ceremony on London on November 27, is richly deserved.

Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry, by Bill Jones, is published by Bloomsbury.  Buy it here from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Shortlist announced for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014

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26 October 2014

Bobby Moore: new biography delves beyond the veneer of England's World Cup superhero

In the eyes of his most fervent admirers, Bobby Moore enjoys the status of a deity, his greatness only enhanced by the passage of time and what feels like a forever diminishing likelihood that another England captain will reach the pinnacle Moore attained at Wembley on 30 July, 1966.

Some, therefore, have not welcomed Matt Dickinson's new biography of their hero with particular enthusiasm, given the sides of Moore he revealed.

Rob Shepherd, the Mail Online football columnist, took exception even with the choice of cover picture:

"The image makes England’s original golden boy look more like an east London gangster of the Sixties than an icon of whom Pele said was the best, and most handsome, English footballer he had ever seen or played against." 

Throughout his playing career and the life that followed, one that was terminated all too prematurely by cancer, Moore's inherent modesty and reserve enabled him to build and maintain an aura of benign mystery, almost an other-worldliness.  After his death, more than 21 years ago, his supporters, whether driven by sentimentality or in the case of those to whom he was close a sense that they were privy to secrets Moore did not want shared, saw no reason to disturb that aura.

Yet Dickinson was not alone in wondering to what extent the legend that grew around Moore, one that is reflected in the almost gushingly extravagant inscription beneath his statue at Wembley Stadium, concealed a different story, not necessarily sinister but one that would reveal him in greater depth.  The words of a fellow Times journalist, Matthew Syed, rang true when he wrote about Moore as an 'implausible caricature' in which 'authenticity has been obscured by sentimentality'.

Dickinson spent several years seeking to find answers and enjoyed the co-operation of many of those who came closest to knowing the real Moore, not least his widow, Stephanie.  He spoke to friends and business associates, close acquaintances from the entertainment world, among them Kenny Lynch and Jimmy Tarbuck, to journalists who witnessed his career and to many former team-mates and others from within football.  He acknowledges in particular the substantial input from Harry Redknapp, Frank Lampard senior and Rodney Marsh.

The character that emerges is one that some might find hard to recognise.  Far from being a paragon of professionalism, at least not by today's standards, Moore was a heavy drinker who, on away trips, frequently led team-mates astray in breaking pre-match curfews in search of booze and who, on nights out nearer home, had a peaked cap to hand in the glove box of his Jaguar so that policemen who might spot him at the wheel in the early hours would assume he was a chauffeur.

Moore's commitment on the field could not be questioned. His own version of professionalism, moreover, insisted that after a particularly heavy night he served penance on the training field the next day, wrapping himself in bin bags under his tracksuit and pounding out the miles like some manic Michelin Man as he sweated off his excesses.  Yet his lifestyle would never be tolerated in today's game.

There are stories, too, of Moore's tempestuous relationship with Ron Greenwood, his manager at West Ham, with whom he squabbled over money and who denied him the chance to play for Brian Clough at Derby for almost double his wages at Upton Park.

Moore's disastrous ventures into business have been well chronicled.  Less well known were his links with the East End underworld, which makes Rob Shepherd's observation about the cover picture slightly ironic.

As a high-profile figure who enjoyed a night out, it was inevitable that some dubious characters would cross Moore's path.  When Del Simmons, one of his partners in the disastrous Woolston Hall country club project, was forced to withdraw after surviving an apparent attempt on his life, Moore could hardly be blamed.  But his wisdom in buying the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel, in which Ronnie Kray had murdered a rival gangster by shooting him in the head, was questionable, not least because Moore's partner in the venture was the brother of a witness to the killing.

Yet none of this is presented by Dickinson in a sensationalist way.  He promises, in his prologue, that he had no intention of "pulling Moore down from his pedestal" merely to "humanise" a man few people could really claim to know.  He is true to his word.  Although he admits to a suspicion that the depth of character he was hoping to reveal perhaps simply did not exist, his narrative is not judgmental at any point, leaving the reader to make up his mind.

Far from diminishing Moore's reputation, in fact the book only enhances it, showing him to be a person of enormous courage and dignity, not only in the way he twice confronted the dreadful disease that would eventually kill him, yet one who was not a caricature but a human being with quite reassuring flaws.

Bobby Moore: The Man in Full, published by Yellow Jersey, has been shortlisted for the 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, the winner of which will be announced next month.

Shortlist announced for William Hill Sports Book of the Year

Buy Bobby Moore: The Man in Full from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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24 October 2014

Shortlist announced for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014

The shortlist for the 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award was announced today.

After deliberating over the 15 titles named on the longlist at the end of last month, the judges have whittled the field down to seven.  The winner will be announced on November 27.  The shortlisted titles are:

Bobby Moore: The Man in Full, by Matt Dickinson (Yellow Jersey Press), in which Times journalist Dickinson explores the sometimes dark personal story behind the sporting success of the World Cup captain.

Played in London: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play, by Simon Inglis (English Heritage), in which the author combines his rich knowledge of sport and architecture in a fascinating and wonderfully illustrated history of sport in the capital through the places it has been played.

Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry, by Bill Jones (Bloomsbury). Writer and documentary maker Bill Jones charts the brilliant, troubled and tragically short life of Olympic skating champion John Curry.

Run or Die, by Kilian Jornet (Viking). The autobiography of Spanish endurance athlete and 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Kilian Jornet, which began mountain hiking when he was only 18 months old and ultimately became the fastest person to run up and down Mt Kilimanjaro.

Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, by Anna Krien (Yellow Jersey Press), in which the Australian writer takes the high-profile rape trial of a young Australian Rules player as the starting point for a wider examination of the murkier recesses of sport.

Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, by Rob Steen (Bloomsbury).  The writer, a sports journalist and university lecturer, explores the intrinsic place in culture occupied by spectator sports in a thematic history of professional sport.

Proud: My Autobiography, by Gareth Thomas and Michael Calvin (Ebury Press).  The story of Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas, the first professional rugby player to declare himself to be gay while playing, sensitively ghosted by Independent on Sunday journalist Michael Calvin.

Calvin himself won the 2014 British Sports Book Awards book of the year title with The Nowhere Men, his journey into the world of football's hidden army of talent scouts.

Simon Inglis, Rob Steen and Bill Jones have previously been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award.

William Hill spokesman and co-founder of the award, Graham Sharpe, said: “In this year’s rich and varied shortlist lie compelling explorations of the personal struggles and triumphs of some of our most esteemed sporting figures, an enquiry into the dark side of sporting culture and not one, but two fascinating social histories.

"The quality of writing speaks for itself – it’s an extremely exciting time in sports-writing.”

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable sports-writing prize. As well as a £26,000 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 comprises: retired player and former chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd.

The chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop, the once much-loved haunt of sports book lovers.

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

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22 October 2014

Impressive cast of top authors appearing at four-day London Festival of Sports Writing

Lord's cricket ground this week hosts an event the organisers hope will become an important annual fixture on the sports books calendar as the home of cricket stages the London Festival of Sports Writing for the second time.

A host of authors will take part in four days of fascinating conversation over a series of talks, panel discussions, book signings and masterclasses.
Top-of-the-bill Roy Keane's appearance on Saturday evening, when he will be discussing his hard-hitting new autobiography, The Second Half, with co-author Roddy Doyle has already sold out, but there plenty of other opportunities to listen to other authors talking about their work.

Brian Moore, the former England and Lions hooker, appears on tomorrow's programme with the Mail on Sunday's Alison Kervin to discuss his latest book, What Goes on Tour Stays on Tour, due out next month, a memoir that happily promises not to live up to its title.

Moore, now a columnist and pundit, won the 2010 William Hill Sports Book of the Year for Beware of the Dog.

Also tomorrow, Sunday Times journalist Simon Wilde, author of On Pietersen, a fine, objective account of the career of Kevin Pietersen published just ahead of KP's own story, takes part in a three-way chat with the Daily Telegraph's Nick Hoult and The Sun's John Etheridge in the company of Wisden editor Lawrence Booth, of which the subject, naturally enough, will be English cricket's greatest enigma.  A question and answer session with the audience follows.
An exciting programme on Friday includes several Festival highlights, among them an appearance by the former Wales and Lions captain Gareth Thomas, the first professional rugby player to announce that he was gay, who will talk about his autobiography Proud in conversation with Independent on Sunday sports writer Michael Calvin, who has already won praise for his sensitive handling of Thomas's story in his collaboration on the book.

Also on Friday, Times journalist Matt Dickinson sits down with former West Ham and England footballer Sir Trevor Brooking to talk about Bobby Moore, England's World Cup-winning captain, who is the subject of a superb biography by Dickinson, entitled Bobby Moore: The Man in Full.  Brooking has recently published his own autobiography, My Life in Football.
They will be followed on stage by Observer football writer and Arsenal fan Amy Lawrence in the company of former Arsenal vice chairman David Dein and central defender Sol Campbell, who will talk about the so-called Invincibles, the Arsenal team of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires that went unbeaten throughout the 2003-04 season.  Amy's book Invincible: Inside Arsenal's Unbeaten 2003-04 Season is published tomorrow.

Apart from Keane and Doyle, Saturday's programme includes what promises to be a fascinating discussion between the Dutch journalist Hugo Borst, writer and broadcaster Gabrielle Marcotti and Dutch football expert David Winner on the subject of the Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, about whom Borst wrote a best-selling biography.

The Festival concludes on Sunday with a day devoted to cycling, which has seen an explosion in literature in the last few years.  Speakers and panellists include Emma O'Reilly, former masseur to disgraced Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong and the former World and Olympic champion Nicole Cooke, whose autobiography, The Breakaway, lifted the lid on a host of dirty tricks, underhand dealings, self-serving officials and, most vehemently, the drug cheats she encountered in her career.

The London Sports Writing Festival at Lord’s, which takes place this week from Thursday October 23 to Sunday October 26, is jointly hosted by David Luxton Associates and Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), in partnership with the London Evening Standard.

For full details of the Festival programme, with details on how to buy tickets, visit www.londonsportswritingfestival.com. 

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16 October 2014

Stuck in a Moment: tragic story of Arsenal star Paul Vaessen brilliantly told in new biography

Football is not short of poignant tales of players struck down by injury in their prime, potential unfulfilled, dreams left slowly to evaporate.  Yet it is difficult to imagine one quite so desperately sad as the story of Paul Vaessen, which is retold with great feeling and skill by Stewart Taylor in a brilliant biography.

In a career that comprised only 39 first-team appearances, Vaessen scored nine goals for Arsenal, but one of them ensured him a permanent place in the club's history, when he came on as substitute in a European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final against Juventus in Turin and scored the goal, with two minutes remaining, that put Arsenal into the final, 2-1 on aggregate.  It was the first time the Italian team had lost at home to a British opponent.  Vaessen was an 18-year-old forward suddenly with the world at his feet.

Scarcely two years later, after three operations, a knee ligament injured suffered in a north London derby forced him to retire, not yet 21.   It was a crippling blow in more than one sense.  He would always have physical pain but it was the mental anguish that took its toll.  Feeling abandoned and forgotten, he turned to drugs and alcohol, slipping into a life of petty crime and addiction that destroyed his life and the lives of people around him.

He survived a stabbing in 1985, knifed in a side street off the Old Kent Road.  He lost a considerable amount of blood and doctors had to restart his heart twice on the operating table, yet he was so addicted he walked out of the hospital, still attached to a drip, a catheter and a colostomy bag, in search of another fix.  In the hospital, he worked out how he could bypass the pump controlling the hourly dose of morphine he was receiving for pain and give himself a six-hour hit in one go.

Afterwards, though he was rarely off drugs for long, he spent seven years with his girlfriend, Debbie, with whom he had a son.  They married, but eventually she left him and his life spiralled steadily downwards, his addiction regularly landing him in court because of the crimes he committed in order to fund it.  He moved to Hampshire, finding work as a paint sprayer and meeting another girl, Sally, with whom he had another son, but that relationship collapsed as well.  He had hoped to begin a new career as a physiotherapist but his plan to go to college never happened.  At around the same time, he had to give up work because of the pain from his knee and if ever he needed an excuse to numb himself with drugs and alcohol he felt he had one then.

He moved again, to stay with his brother, Leon, in Bristol.  It was there, in August 2001, he was found dead in the bathroom of the house they shared, the victim of an accidental overdose, aged only 39.

It was 21 years since the most famous night of his life, the one that would forever be his legacy, the moment from which he would never escape.  Had he lived, it would doubtless have been talked about today, on what would have been his 53rd birthday.

The author, who has been writing, mainly about Arsenal, since the mid-90s, spent five years in research, spending much time with Paul Vaessen's mother, Maureen, whose courage and resilience shines through and without whose co-operation the story would not have been complete.  Other family members confided in him too, as did many of Paul's friends as well as former team-mates and coaches.  Tony Adams, who battled his own addictions, provided a foreword as heartfelt as any you could read.

Taylor handles their input, some of it deeply personal and harrowing, with considerable sensitivity and he can be proud of the end result.  Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014.

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10 October 2014

Keane story nudging ahead of Pietersen in battle of the sports biography big hitters

You have to hand it to Roy Keane, he has done his best to steal a few headlines from Kevin Pietersen after the two most controversial sports books of the year appeared in the shops on the same day this week.

After sitting back and allowing KP the first round of media calls ahead of the publication of KP: The Autobiography,  Keane made the most of his chance with a powerful response at the launch of Roy Keane: The Second Half.

Both books are already selling in thousands, with online retailer Amazon this afternoon placing them at second and third in their bestsellers chart, with Keane nudging just in front of the former England cricketer.  Only Awful Auntie, a children's novel written by David Walliams, is currently attracting more sales.

Keane's big selling point is his scrap with Sir Alex Ferguson, from whom he famously parted on bitter terms after 12 years of enormous success at Old Trafford and who he claims fed deliberate lies to the media in order to discredit him. Indeed, he admitted that his first book, written with Eamonn Dunphy in 2002 and updated a year later, might have been as much as he wanted to say about his career had not Ferguson attacked him in the former Manchester United manager's own autobiography last year.

"We had our disagreements and I departed," Keane said at the launch of his book in Dublin. "I have no problems with that, it's fine.

“It was the way it was handled, the statements and stuff coming out about me. I'm pretty sure I know the source. I know the source of where it was coming from.

“Obviously Ferguson had friends in the media. He was pals with them and he put little snippets about me out there. It was lies, basic lies. So I had to come out and say 'Listen' -- and now is the time. I had to bide my time and I've waited long enough.”

He specifically accused Ferguson of rounding on the very players who had brought him wealth and enhanced his fame.

“For Alex Ferguson, not just to criticise myself, but other players who were part of a team that brought some good days to lots of supporters, for him to criticise that when you think of what he made out of it – he made millions of pounds out of it, he's got his statues, he's got his stand named after him.

"I said at the time, I wasn't too bothered about myself, but to criticise people who brought him success was just ridiculous.

“The stuff that has been said to me over the years, even from ex-team-mates, is a pack of lies, just lies and lies and lies and sometimes you just say, 'Listen, I have got to get up and say something myself and defend myself a little bit', and hopefully the book will reflect that.”

Keane's ghost, although hardly an invisble one, is the Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist, Roddy Doyle, who spoke about what was an unusual assignment for a writer with no connection with sport.

"I wondered what could I bring to the job," he said. "There’s no doubt at all that we like listening to Roy, we like what he says, but we also like the way he says it. I thought the challenge might be to make the book seem like almost a monologue, a theatrical monologue. I wasn’t writing a profile of him, I wasn’t trying to catch him out in any way, I always felt I was kind of an amplifier for him.

“And I felt my outsider status could be an advantage, I could ask questions that would be obvious to lay people, but ones that a sports journalist might bypass. So, in a way I thought that weakness would be a strength.

Asked if he had found Keane to be a fascinating subject, Doyle said: “Not fascinating, no. But interesting. And what I really liked, as a story teller, I wanted it to be more than just a book with anecdotes, I wanted to have a bit more than that. I think his readiness to openly acknowledge errors that were made, and learn from him, yeah, it was great. I thought business students should be reading this.”

Roy Keane: The Second Half,  is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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