19 April 2014

Sol Campbell and the Old Harrovian: an unlikely team proves to be a winning combination

Having spent a career in defiance of professional football's stereotypes, Sol Campbell was never likely to put his name to a conventional biography.  So when it came to choosing the right person to turn his life story into words in print, the former Tottenham, Arsenal and England centre half naturally made a left-field decision.

Most players plump for a football writer, either someone they know or who at least comes with the recommendation of a publisher or agent, sometimes a teammate.  And there would have been many who admired his ability as a player who would have found his enigmatic nature an irresistible challenge.

But Campbell did not go down that route.  Indeed, even as his playing career moved towards a conclusion he was not convinced he even wanted to tell his story at all.  But then he met Simon Astaire.

They are an unlikely combination.  Astaire is from a background almost as diametrically opposed to the East End-born Campbell's as is possible. The Harrow-educated son of a wealthy stockbroker, he left school to become an agent, publicist and media advisor with a client list that included Hollywood stars and members of the British Royal Family.  Nowadays he writes novels, drawing on his experiences at school and in life, that explore the darker sides of wealth and celebrity.  But he had one thing in common with Campbell: football.  Astaire, as it happens, is a Tottenham fan.

They happened upon each other in an Italian restaurant, La Delizia, on Chelsea Manor Street in west London, just off the King's Road, near where they both live.  It consists of one long room with tables along each wall, not a place in which to hide away in a corner, so when Astaire, sipping his latte on one side of the room, had his attention drawn towards the figure sitting at a table on the other, chatting to the owner, he could not fail to recognise who it was.

"On the day we met we were the only two customers," Astaire said. "I was sitting on one side of the restaurant, he on the other. I recognised him, obviously. The owner, Michele, introduced us."

"I'd always been a football fan," he added. "I was the only boy at Harrow who took Shoot magazine. Nowadays, all the public schoolboys go to Stamford Bridge or wherever but in those days they were all rugby types.  Football was a game for oiks and I was looked upon as a pariah.

"But I had been brought up with football.  My grandfather had been a Tottenham fan and my uncle, Jarvis Astaire, was a sports impresario who used to run Wembley Stadium, so I got to see all the big games there."

They chatted. Astaire even asked him why he had left Tottenham for Arsenal, which remained a controversial issue for Tottenham fans even though, by then, Campbell was playing for Portsmouth and was about to embark on his ill-fated move to Notts County, having fallen for the con-men who duped Sven-Goran Eriksson (his take on that episode makes informative reading).  But for this new acquaintance to gain his trust took some time.

"He is fundamentally shy," Astaire said. "Very few of the people I spoke to about him spoke as if they knew him, even Lee Dixon, who used to change next to him. Thierry Henry says he did, but he was one of very few. To me, that's what makes him an interesting character.

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"But if he was slow to open up, eventually he never stopped talking.  It was as if he wanted to release everything he had inside."

That happened only after many conversations, during which Campbell rejected the notion of Astaire writing a book about him several times before he at last announced that he was ready.  After that the chapters in his life, along with the issues surrounding them and the observations Campbell wanted to make, began to emerge in detail.

The one that provoked the biggest headlines, naturally, was the assertion he makes, in the chapter covering his England career, that had he not been black he would have been captain of the national side for perhaps 10 years or more.

It was a statement controversial enough for Astaire to need an assurance from Campbell that he definitely meant what he had said. "I asked him about that and he was very clear, so I couldn't not put it in," he said. "I quoted him exactly as he said it, because he thought if he had been a different colour he would have been England captain for 10 years. He fundamentally believes that."

The claim was a debating point for several days, in print, on radio phone-ins and television shows, But, as Astaire is keen to stress, there is much more to Campbell's story than the disappointment of wearing the England captain's armband only a handful of times in his 73-cap career.  Indeed, given his reputation for reticence when confronted with a probing interviewer, it is remarkable how successful Astaire has been in persuading Campbell to share thoughts and feelings he had previously kept largely to himself.

Astaire wanted to know as much about what happened to him off the field as on it, about the character he was when not wearing a football shirt, about his upbringing in what is now the borough of Newham, a deprived area of inner-city east London, the youngest of 12 children, struggling for the attention of a father not inclined towards shows of affection.  The parts of the story that he enjoyed most, therefore, were those in which Campbell revealed his innermost thoughts.

The most compelling among them, he felt, was the one he called Lost Weekend, the episode in which Campbell walked out of Highbury at half-time during a midweek game against West Ham, unable to continue as a catalogue of stresses took their toll, the racist and homophobic abuse, and the effect on him and his recently widowed mother when his brother, John, was sent to prison for assaulting a fellow student who had accused Sol of being gay.  His form on the field began to suffer and an error-strewn first half against West Ham left him emotionally at rock bottom.

Astaire describes Campbell's escape via Eurostar to Brussels, where he stays with a female friend in whom he knows he can confide, going to ground until David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman, manages to track him down, without the knowledge of the English media, who report even on the following Sunday that Arsenal know nothing of his whereabouts.

This is the section where the author uses his novelistic approach to best effect.  "For me, this is the most fascinating part of the story," Astaire said. "It is something that anyone who has ever run away can identify with.  It is all about fame and how, as it is always said, the higher you climb the bigger your fall."

By the end of the project, Astaire was no less fascinated with Campbell than at the beginning. He would like to write more, similar biographies.

"I had always been intrigued by Sol Campbell and found him to be a multi-layered character, a complex personality who is difficult to get to know and who is easily misunderstood," he said.

"I have read a few football biographies and not many of them impress me because they tend to be formulaic and focus on playing careers.

"But sports people are now much more open about their lives and we will see that in the future, in their biographies, that they can be incredibly honest and that's what is fascinating to the reader."

Sol Campbell: The Authorised Biography, by Simon Astaire (Spellbinding Media) is available from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith.


12 April 2014

The Six Sixes Ball Mystery: a gripping whodunnit wrapped up in a cricket story

It is common to talk about legends in sport, whether in reference to great performers or the deeds they perform. But we use the word loosely sometimes and forget its original definition, as preserved in the Oxford English Dictionary: 'A traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but not authenticated.'

The story of cricket's most famous over, the one bowled by Malcolm Nash of Glamorgan at the St Helen's Ground in Swansea on August 31, 1968, has passed into cricket legend. It was the one in which Garry Sobers, then of Nottinghamshire, hit all six balls for six, a feat since repeated by four other batsman but at the time unprecedented.

Of course, there is no doubt at all that the iconic moment happened.  It is historical and authentic. Apart from all the eye witnesses present, and the official scorers, there is an any case footage in the BBC archives, the event filmed by chance as a camera crew underwent a training exercise.

But like all good legends, the story has been subject to exaggeration. In the most embellished versions, the great West Indian all-rounder's first two blows resulted in the ball being lost, either hit beyond the confines of the ground or into the crowd and not thrown back. In truth, it was only the last hit -- launched, in the words of commentator Wilf Wooller, 'way down to Swansea' - that propelled the ball out of the ground.

Poetic licence, you might say. But there was a more serious part of the story, a postscript, that was not authenticated.  It concerned an auction that took place at the South Kensington salerooms of Christie's in November, 2006.  Featured in the catalogue was the Six Sixes ball, which was being sold by Jose Miller, a former secretary of the Nottinghamshire Supporters' Association, to raise money for alterations needed to her house because of a medical condition.  The ball came with a certificate of its provenance signed by Sobers himself, so Christie's had no reason to doubt it was the real thing.  However, as journalist and broadcaster Grahame Lloyd explains in a skilfully crafted and highly absorbing book, they should have.

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Lloyd's story begins with a mysterious phone call as he was writing Six of the Best: Cricket's Most Famous Over, which was to mark the 40th anniversary of the pummeling dished out to the unfortunate Nash on that momentous August day.  It was a call that contained a warning that were he to pursue a particular line of enquiry, specifically about the ball itself, it would not be welcome.

He did not know quite what to make of the call.  As far as he was aware, the ball had been sold at auction in 2006 on behalf of its owner, the aforementioned Jose (pronounced 'Josie') Miller. He had already checked that part of the story.

Over the next few months, however, the nature of the mystery call began to make more sense.  A cutting from The Independent on Sunday newspaper, a copy of a Glamorgan members' newsletter, and another warning, this time delivered to his fellow broadcaster, Peter Walker, pointed towards an unpalatable but unavoidable conclusion.  The ball that had changed hands at Christie's in 2006 -- for an eye-watering £26,400 -- was a fake.

Taken over by a journalist's instinct to expose wrongdoing, Lloyd spent 18 months trying to establish the truth, in particular who knew that the ball that came under the Christie's hammer was an imposter.  No one is nailed conclusively as being party to any kind of deliberate fraud, but there are question marks, certainly, over some of the parties involved.

With a cover that hints at intrigue and melodrama, reminiscent of the style that once might have adorned the latest novel by Agatha Christie, Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery promises a gripping yarn and delivers, even if ultimately there is no villain, at least not of the kind that Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot would have unveiled.

It is the tale of a quest for truth, however, and given that piecing together the strands of evidence is as essential to a good mystery as the denouement, Lloyd's investigation into what really happened to the real Six Sixes ball is a triumph.

Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery, by Grahame Lloyd (Celluloid) is available from Amazon , Waterstones and WHSmith.

Also by Grahame Lloyd: Six of the Best: Cricket's Most Famous Over (Kindle edition)


8 April 2014

The Masters 1996: How ruthless Faldo hunted down the floundering Shark

The history of the US Masters is a catalogue of great sporting moments. Think of Gary Player's victory from eight shots off the pace going into the final day in 1978, the great Jack Nicklaus charge to win in 1986, Augusta's own Larry Hogan Mize winning a sudden-death play-off in 1987, Tiger Woods announcing himself to the world with a stunning victory by 12 shots in 1997; or, more recently, Bubba Watson's amazing shot out of the trees on to the green at the second extra hole in 2012, setting up an extraordinary win. 

There are many more. But none, perhaps, to match the drama of 1996, the year of what was labelled as one of the greatest chokes in the history of sport, let alone golf, when Greg Norman, The Great White Shark, had a six-shot lead going into the final round, bigger than anyone had enjoyed since the Masters was first contested, yet somehow contrived to let it slip away.

As disaster stalked him through every step, Norman shot a 78 against Nick Faldo's 67, his seemingly impregnable lead turned into a five-shot deficit.  By the time it was all over, a crowd that had expected to witness a joyous victory parade to celebrate Norman's 16-year quest for the right to wear the green jacket instead resembled mourners at a funeral, afraid to look him in the eye as he passed them on the fairway or stepped up on to the green.

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Faldo sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th, which in other circumstances would have been a glorious crowning moment.  But even Faldo, a man with a reputation for cold, ruthless professionalism, a man with troubles of his own as he negotiated an expensive, high-profile divorce, could not detach himself from his opponent's pain.  On retrieving his ball from the cup, he gathered the Shark in a hug and, as if he were an executioner suddenly filled with remorse, apologised for winning.

It is an iconic moment that has revisited in a new book by the golf writer Andy Farrell, who analyses the final round hole by hole in Faldo/Norman: The 1996 Masters - A Duel That Defined an Era.

Norman's emotional turmoil is lived out again as Farrell peers into the psyche of both players, already well established adversaries in a long-standing rivalry.  His portraits of the pair are accompanied by first-hand accounts from the day and the opinons of expert witnesses, exploring every nuance of the unfolding action.

Faldo/Norman: The 1996 Masters - A Duel That Defined an Era (Elliott & Thompson) is available from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith.


4 April 2014

The invincible AP McCoy - journalist McClean crafts a high-class story of a high-class jockey

It says much about the extraordinary ability that jump jockey AP McCoy brings to his trade that his decision to partner Double Seven in tomorrow's Grand National at Aintree saw the eight-year-old's price with the bookies come down so sharply it seemed he could even be the favourite by the time the horses go to post.

Trained in Ireland by Martin Brassil, who won the National at his first attempt with Numbersixvalverde in 2006, Double Seven could have been backed at 50-1 at the end of January. His odds had shrunk to 25-1 this time last week, but such was the run of money that poured in after 18-times champion jockey McCoy was confirmed as the rider there were some bookmakers offering as little as 12-1 by Thursday evening.

Since he rode his first winner at the age of 17 back in 1992, McCoy has come home in front more than 4,000 times, an unprecedented total.   He became champion National Hunt jockey in 1995-96 and has won the title every year since. With three weeks to go in this year's championship he is 60 winners clear of his nearest rival.

He has a great story to tell and tells it very well, with the help of the noted Irish racing journalist Donn McClean, in an autobiography updated to include his 2010 Grand National win on Don't Push It -- like Double Seven owned by J P McManus -- which broke his duck in the Aintree spectacular at the 15th attempt, and the tragic outcome of the 2012 race when Synchronised, on whom he had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, parted company with McCoy at Becher's Brook with neither horse nor jockey hurt only to suffer fatal injuries in a subsequent fall after continuing in the race riderless.

Steve Dennis, in a review in the Racing Post, applauded the book because "it deals rewardingly with the man rather than with the career."

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"It helps, of course, that Donn McClean is a superlative writer," he continued. "This book reads as though it has been crafted for craft’s sake rather than dashed together in the face of a Christmas deadline.

"This is no deathless page-turner because we know what happens in the end (McCoy conquers the world, sorry for the spoiler) but the object of the exercise is illustration and in this respect McClean is something of an artist.”

It is the third time that McCoy has told his story, which Malachy Clerkin, writing in the Irish Times, feared was a little excessive, but was pleasantly surprised by the time he had finished McClean's version.

"The only reason he could justify having a third go at it would be if he had something to say about himself that he hadn’t said before," Clerkin wrote. "Thankfully, this is indeed the case. He takes his time in getting there, but by the end of this excellent book we do have some idea of what it is that drives McCoy, of where the madness comes from."

My Autobiography, by AP McCoy (Orion) is available from Amazon, WHSmith and Waterstones.


12 March 2014

50th anniversary book recalls the legend of Arkle, the greatest Cheltenham Gold Cup winner

This week's Cheltenham Festival marks the 50th anniversary of the first Gold Cup victory achieved in a hat-trick of wins by the brilliant Irish steeplechaser, Arkle, a horse widely acknowledged as the greatest ever to race under National Hunt rules.

Arkle, trained in County Meath by the late Tom Dreaper, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times (1964, 1965 and 1966) and the Hennessy Gold Cup twice as well as the King George VI Chase, the Whitbread Gold Cup and the Irish Grand National.

Despite regularly conceding vast weight to rivals in handicaps, he was beaten only four times in 26 steeplechases. It would doubtless have been more had he not been injured in the 1966 'King George' at Kempton Park, after which he was retired, at the age of only nine years.

He was ranked by the Timeform organisation as the best steeplechaser of all time, with a rating of 212 – 20 pounds superior to the current jumping superstar Sprinter Sacre. Kauto Star, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2007 and 2008, was rated a mere 191.

Peter O'Sullevan, the great BBC commentator, who celebrated his 96th birthday earlier this month, described him as “the best we’ve seen for a long time” as he described the finish of the 1964 race, when he sprinted away from Mill House, the defending champion and previously unbeaten, after the final fence.

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That moment and other great memories are described in Sean Magee's Arkle: The Story of the World’s Greatest Steeplechaser, which has been re-released in a 50th anniversary edition.

Mill House himself had been seen as the best since Golden Miller won five Gold Cups in the 1930s but in the 1964 race was made to look relatively ordinary by Arkle, who had been beaten by Mill House in Newbury’s Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup the previous autumn after a mid-race jumping mistake, which led bookmakers to make Mill House favourite.

Magee's story recalled that it seemed Mill House would prevail again as his jockey, Willie Robinson, established a lead in a four-horse race that Arkle did not appear to be reducing as the rivals approached the third-last fence.

But Arkle’s jockey Pat Taaffe unleashed his mount's speed at just the right moment and as they arrived at the second-last they were almost upsides.  At the final obstacle, Arkle was in front for the first time and though Mill House tried to battle back, Arkle found another gear and finished so strongly up the hill to the winning post he broke the course record time by four seconds.

The following year he beat Mill House again, this time by 20 lengths and came home in 1966 as the shortest-priced Gold Cup favourite ever, at odds of 1-10.  With Mill House absent this time, Arkle won by a staggering 30 lengths.

Arkle: The Story of the World's Greatest Steeplechaser 50th Anniversary Edition, by Sean Magee, is published by Racing Post Books.

Buy from Amazon, WHSmith or Waterstones.


7 March 2014

Ian Redford: A tragic end to a tragic life for the Scottish footballer only weeks after telling his harrowing story

Ian Herbert wrote a moving column in The Independent the other day reflecting on the life and premature death of the footballer Ian Redford, who played for six clubs in Scotland and, in England, for Ipswich Town.  He made more than 200 appearances for Rangers and scored the winning goal for Dundee United against Borussia Monchengladbach in the semi final of the Uefa Cup semi final in 1987.

Redford, who struggled with depression after the end of his playing career, was found dead in a woodland area near his home in Irvine, Ayrshire, in January this year.  He was 53.

Last autumn, his autobiography, entitled Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, was published by Black and White Publishing, a Scottish publisher specialising in books about Scotland or Scottish people.  He had written every word himself.

The first draft, he recalled in his introduction, ran to more than 200,000 words, such was his drive to set down every detail. It was, he said, an enormously cathartic process, enabling him to express in words many of the feelings until then he had been inclined to suppress.

It was in places a pretty harrowing tale.  Redford's life, in many ways, was been a triumph in the face of adversity.  Born with a genetic defect that rendered him completely deaf in one ear while still a small child and with a level of hearing in the other that declined as he grew older, he was warned to avoid contact sports for fear of making his condition worse.

He ignored the advice and against the odds was able to forge a pretty successful career, despite his handicap.  He was never able to participate fully in the dressing room banter that is often key to being accepted into a team. On the field, where keen hearing is not so vital as good vision but an important tool nonetheless, he had to work particularly hard.

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If that were not enough, Redford carried with him the indelible memory of a childhood tragedy, having lost his younger brother, Douglas, to leukemia.  Ian was only 12 at the time, his grief made all the more difficult to bear because his parents had always kept from him the full seriousness of his brother's illness.  It shattered what might have been an idyllic upbringing on the family farm in Perth.

In his book, Redford was clear that the guilt, anger and sense of betrayal he suffered contributed to the dark days later in life when he battled against depression and struggled to keep a drink problem under control.

Yet, after a period working as a players' agent and playing some golf, he seemed to be settled into a new life organising fishing and shooting holidays in Scotland.  He was married with three children, one of whom, also called Ian, plays golf professionally.

It was hoped that giving voice to his feelings about all that had happened to him in his book, published only a few weeks before his death, would have helped him sustain his apparent recovery.  Sadly, this seems not to have been the case.

Read Ian Herbert's column from The Independent

Buy Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head: My Autobiography, by Ian Redford, from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

3 March 2014

After 75 years, tennis great Rod Laver at last admits he has a story worth telling


Given that barely a sniff of success is justification for an autobiography in today's commercially-driven world, it is extraordinary that one of tennis's all-time great players has taken until his 75th year to get around to telling his story.

Rod Laver: A Memoir, published in Australia last year by Pan Macmillan, is due to appear in UK book shops in June this year.

The publisher described the book as an inspiring story of how the diminutive, left-handed, red-headed country boy became one of Australia's greatest sporting champions, a dominant force in world tennis for almost two decades.  Among more than 200 singles titles Laver won -- a record unsurpassed -- was the unique achievement of winning the Grand Slam twice, in 1962 and 1969.

Laver's nature was always to be modest, however, which might explain why he never felt compelled to remind everyone of what he had done in a full autobiography.  A humble man, he said he an interview only last year that he still regrets his behaviour at the US Open in 1969, when he jumped the net in his moment of triumph, forgetting first to shake the hand of his opponent, Tony Roche.

The Rockhampton Rocket, as he became known, lived from his mid-20s in California, having married an American girl, but has become a regular visitor to the Australian Open in Melbourne, where the centre court is named in his honour.

Asked why he had decided, 37 years after his retirement from the full-time circuit, finally to commit his memories to print, he said simply that "it seemed like the right time."

Reviewers of the book in Australia were particularly fascinated with the stories Laver tells of what for him were the wilderness years between the two Grand Slams, when the majority of leading players chose to join the professional circuit and were barred from playing in the Grand Slam tournaments as tennis clung to its amateur traditions.

During that time Laver was US professional champion three times as well as winning the French pro title in 1967, during which year he won his fourth UK title at the Wembley Pro tournament, which was held at what was then called the Empire Pool (now the Wembley Arena) on a wooden surface erected on top of a drained swimming pool.

In between those 'majors' the circuit was far from glamorous, the pros moving from one venue to another, spending almost as much time on the road as on the court, staying in modest hotels in small towns, playing on portable courts that had to be adapted for use in ice rinks and basketball courts, yet still managing to play scintillating tennis and paving the way for the huge rewards the current leading players enjoy.

The 2014 crop of tennis books also includes a number of titles from New Chapter Press, whose managing partners include the former US Tennis Association executive Randy Walker.

And another tennis veteran, the now 82-year-old coach Nick Bolletieri, tells his life story in Changing The Game, in which among other things he discusses his 10 champions, eight wives and seven children.  It is due out in April.

On a slightly more niche note, in July the US tennis writer Sandra Harwitt, who contributes to ESPN's tennis coverage and writes also for the Miami Herald, offers The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Time, which includes features and biographies of such figures from the circuit as former Wimbledon champion Dick Savitt, fellow American stars Harold Solomon and Brian Gottfried and the "Flying Dutchman", Tom Okker.

An updated version of The Bud Collins History of Tennis is also due in the summer.

John Barrett's epic Wimbledon: The Official History, which was updated only last year - 12 years after its first re-release in 2001 as an updated version of the 1986 celebration of 100 Wimbledons -  undergoes another revision to take account of Andy Murray's historic Wimbledon triumph, with Vision Sports Publishing setting a September publication date.

John Blake Publishing, meanwhile, has three biographies in its catalogue.  In May, look out for former News of the World journalist Tina Campanella's biography of Laura Robson, and Novak Djokovic: The Sporting Statesman, by Chris Bowers.

Bowers, who has written biographies of Roger Federer and, in the political arena, of deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, writes about Djokovic both as a tennis player and an iconic figure in Serbia's quest to establish its identity after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

In June, Tom Oldfield's biography of Rafa Nadal is re-issued in updated form.

Kevin Mitchell, the Guardian and Observer sports writer who has written some critically acclaimed books about boxing, turns his attention to tennis in Break Point: The Inside Story of Modern Tennis, which focuses on the all-powerful quartet of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray at a time when their grip on the men's game is threatened by a new generation of hungry young stars.  Published by John Murray, it is due to hit the shelves in May.

Last but not least, John McPhee's Levels of the Game, an extraordinary work that examined human behaviour, race, politics and the social divisions in America through the prism of a single tennis match, between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, is published in Britain for the first time by Aurum Press in June.

Levels of the Game was hailed as the best tennis book ever written and 'the height of American sports journalism' when it was first published in the United States in 1970.

For details of these titles and more tennis books, visit Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.


24 February 2014

New book from award-winning Trueman biographer Chris Waters among cricket highlights for the year ahead


The highlights of 2014's new crop of cricket books will surely include the second contribution to the chronicles of the game to be offered up by Chris Waters, whose debut work on Fred Trueman won numerous awards.

The Yorkshire Post journalist, whose authorised biography of Fred Trueman won both the MCC/Cricket Society and Wisden book of the year prizes, as well as best cricket book at the British Sports Book Awards, has turned his attention this time to Hedley Verity, another outstanding figure in Yorkshire's heritage of great bowlers.

10 for 10: Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket's Greatest Bowling Feat builds a life story of the Yorkshire and England left-arm spinner, who died in 1943 from wounds sustained on the battlefield in Sicily, around the extraordinary world record bowling analysis he achieved against Nottinghamshire at Yorkshire's home ground, Headingley, in July, 1932.  It will be published by Wisden in June.

Continuing the Yorkshire theme, Geoffrey Boycott is due to add more chapters to his own life story in September, when Simon & Schuster publish Corridor of Certainty, which is not his first work of autobiography but after a gap of 17 years includes much new material.

In that time Boycott received a suspended prison sentence for assault against a former girlfriend handed down by a French court and developed throat cancer, for which he was treated successfully.  As well as those topics, Boycott discusses his many interests beyond cricket and some of the friendships he forged, one of which led him to write a moving chapter on the late Brian Clough, his fellow Yorkshireman.

Of course, he has much to say about cricket, and there are forthright opinions on Kevin Pietersen and the England captain, Alastair Cook, among others.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war in 1914, The History Press catalogue includes The Final Over: The Cricketers of 1914, by Christopher Sandford, due out in August, while Wisden on The Great War: The lives of Cricket's Fallen, 1914-1918, by Andrew Renshaw, has a May publication date.

Also with a wartime flavour, Dan Waddell's Field of Shadows: The English Cricket Tour of Nazi Germany 1937 (Bantam, May) tells the story of how Felix Menzel, a cricket fanatic in a country where the game was regarded in some quarters as s symbol of decadence and privilege, assembled a team and somehow obtained permission from the repressive Nazi regime to invite an English team, the Gentlemen of Worcestershire, to play them on German soil.

Chris Arnot, who delivered a fine piece of cricket nostalgia in 2011 with Britain's Lost Cricket Grounds, follows up with Britain's Lost Cricket Festivals (Aurum, May), in which he explores a non-corporate cricketing age in which the county circuit was illuminated by a series of festival weeks at traditional club grounds around the country, where spectators could enjoy the idyllic experience of watching some of the world's best players in some of the most picturesque and homely surroundings.

An intriguing title due to appear in July is Court and Bowled: Tales of Cricket and The Law (Wildy, Simmons and Hill), in which James Wilson explores instances where cricket or cricketers has been central to a legal action, building on the fact that the first recorded reference to a game called cricket (or 'creckett', as it was written) came in a court case in 1598, brought over a land ownership dispute in Guildford, Surrey.

No year of note in cricket literature would be complete without something from the elegantly astute Gideon Haigh, the Australian journalist widely regarded as the finest writer on the game currently plying his trade.  His observations on the the just-completed back-to-back series between England and Australia, entitled Ashes to Ashes (Simon & Schuster), is due in the shops this week.

Already out is 150 Years of Lancashire Cricket: 1864-2014, the official celebration of Lancashire cricket club's 150th anniversary written by the Rev Malcolm Lorimer, Graham Hardcastle, Paul Edwards and Andrew Searle (Max Books)

Also coming in 2014:

Playfair Cricket Annual 2014 (Headline) and Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2014 (John Wisden & Co), (both April 10), Lord's First Bicentenary, by Philip Barker (Amberley Publishing, May), A Majestic Innings: Writings on Cricket by C L R James (reissue; Aurum, June) and Batting for Berlin, by Andre Leslie (Finch Publishing, August).

For more information or to pre-order any of the titles, visit Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.


14 February 2014

More chapters in the Lance Armstrong story and some different takes on the Tour de France


The boom in cycling books has been a feature of recent years in the sports books market, their popularity fuelled by a mix of success stories and shame.

On the one hand, the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Chris Hoy have taken British cycling to a new level in terms of achievement on the road and track.

On the other, the doping revelations that engulfed seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong have placed cycling at the heart of a scandal unprecedented in the sporting world.

The Wiggins autobiography My Time was the biggest selling sports book of 2012, while the William Hill Sports Book of the Year for 2012 was Tyler Hamilton's The Secret Race, based on the Grand Jury evidence that exposed Armstrong as the biggest drug cheat of all time.

The Armstrong story spawned another William Hill contender last year in Seven Deadly Sins, in which journalist David Walsh's detailed his dogged pursuit of the truth, and will rumble on in 2014.

New York Times journalist Juliet Macur brings her perspective to the story in Cycle of Lies (William Collins), based on interviews with key players in the Armstrong drama and broadening the story to expose more corruption at all levels of cycling. Cycle of Lies is due out in March.

In May, Michael Barry, who supported Armstrong as part of the US Postal Team, describes his part in the scandal in Shadows on the Road (Faber & Faber).  Barry retired from professional cycling in 2012, shortly before testifying against Armstrong as part of the US Anti-Doping Agency investigation.

Barry accepted a six-month suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs while riding for US Postal, along with the stripping of all his results between May 2003 and July 2006.

In July, Emma O'Reilly, the Irish-born masseuse who became Armstrong's confidante and ultimately his whistle blower, will hit the book stands with Race to Truth (Bantam Press), in which she details not only what she saw as an insider in the Armstrong camp but the years of bullying and lies she endured as attempts were made to destroy her reputation and credibility.

The same month sees a reissued and updated version of A Clean Break (Bloomsbury), written by Christophe Bassons, the French rider driven to quit the sport after his stand against drugs led him to be shunned by fellow riders and confronted by Armstrong, who told him to leave the tour.

Also in July, Nicole Cooke, the Great Britain rider who in 2012 became the first to win Olympic and world road race titles in the same year, goes into print with The Breakaway (Simon & Schuster), which promises to continue where she left off in the damning speech she delivered when she retired in early 2013, when she attacked Armstrong, Hamilton and every other rider who owed their success to drugs for cheating legions of honest, clean competitors out of the glory and prizes that should have been theirs.

Thankfully, 2014 is not all about Lance Armstrong.  There are plenty of titles coming up that celebrate the more glorious aspects of competitive cycling and underline why the sport enjoys such enormous popularity.

Richard Moore, whose six cycling books so far include portraits of David Millar and Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford as well as the acclaimed Slaying The Badger, which focussed on the epic 1986 Tour de France, adds another in June when HarperSport published Étape: The Untold Stories of the Tour de France's Defining Stages, in which each chapter focuses on a single rider in a single stage that became a defining moment in the history of the world's greatest cycling race.

Armstrong's part in the history of the Tour cannot, of course, be airbrushed out, and such a book would be incomplete without the American's emotionally charged win in Limoges in 1995 or his dramatic, drug-fuelled victory eight years later at Luz Ardiden.  Moore revisits too Chris Boardman’s famous debut in 1994, Mark Cavendish’s best and worst stages, as well as iconic stages featuring giants of the sport: Eddy Merckx’s toughest Tour, Bernard Hinault’s journey through hell, Greg LeMond’s return from near-death, and the tragic Marco Pantani’s domination of the most controversial race in Tour history.

The Tour features elsewhere in Marguerite Lazell's updated Complete History of the Tour de France (Carlton Books), due out in April, as well as an updated Tour de France: The History, the Legends, the Riders, by Graeme Fife (Mainstream, September) and a fresh edition of Mapping Le Tour, by Ellis Bacon (Collins, May), a history illustrated with full page maps of the routes of all 100 races so far.

In April, Max Leonard looks at the Tour from a different angle in Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France (Yellow Jersey), which tells the absurd and inspirational stories of the last placed riders in the Tour de France, from the former wearer of the yellow jersey who tasted life at the other end of the bunch, to the breakaway leader who stopped for a bottle wine and then cycled the wrong way, and the day the fastest finisher of all time, Mark Cavendish, became the slowest.

Yellow Jersey's catalogue also includes Geronimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy, by Tim Moore, in which travel writer Moore, whose account of riding the Tour de France route, French Revolutions, won huge acclaim, retraces the tracks of the eight riders (from 81 starters) who managed to complete the 1914 Giro d'Italia, which has subsequently become recognised as the hardest bike race in history.  For good measure, he does so on a 100-year-old bike.

Alasdair Fotheringham, brother of the prolific William, follows up his biography of Federico Bahamontes (The Eagle of Toledo) with Reckless: The Life and Times of Luis Ocana (Bloomsbury, May). Ocana. who died in mysterious circumstances at the age of only 48, became Spain's second Tour de France winner in 1973, Bahamontes having been the first, in 1959.  Fotheringham doubles as cycling correspondent and Spain correspondent for The Independent.

Also from Bloomsbury, look out in March for Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World's Fastest Cyclists, in which Michael Hutchinson, the professional cyclist turned writer, explains how training, nutrition, psychology and many other factors play a part in the quest for speed, and for The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races, in which Peter Cossins tells the story of the five legendary races -- the so-called 'Monuments' -- that are the sport’s equivalent of golf’s majors or the grand slams in tennis. Milan–Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris­–Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Tour of Lombardy.

Biographies to anticipate include Battle Scars (Hardie Grant), by the popular Australian rider Stuart O'Grady, and Chris Boardman's life story Triumphs and Turbulence (Ebury), due out in June.

Look for more information and details of how to pre-order any of these books at Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.


9 February 2014

Biographer Patrick Barclay: 'I wish I'd been able to meet Herbert Chapman'

Given that the post-Christmas weeks are for good reason a quiet period in sports book publishing, the timing for the release of the first major biography of Herbert Chapman in the first week of January will have struck many as curious.

The January 6 publication date for Patrick Barclay's life of one of the great pioneers of English football was not a random choice, however.  It marked the 80th anniversary of Chapman's premature death, at the height of his powers, when a cold he had picked up during a trip home to his native South Yorkshire turned with frightening speed into pneumonia, to which he succumbed in scarcely more than 48 hours.

Chapman was not quite 56.   It was 1934 and he had since 1925 been the manager of Arsenal, having earned recognition in the game for winning the League title twice and the FA Cup with Huddersfield Town before being tempted by an offer from the Highbury hierarchy to double his salary. By the early 1930s, Chapman had transformed Arsenal.  Threatened with relegation and without a major trophy in their history when he took charge, the Gunners won the FA Cup in 1929-30, followed by the First Division championship in 1930-31 and again in 1932-33.

His death came on the day of a game, ironically against Sheffield United, the team he had favoured as he grew up. In a subdued atmosphere at Highbury, Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw, although ultimately they were not diverted from their purpose and not only did they retain the title in 1933-34, they won it again the following year.

Chapman's successes set him apart, yet it was not so much the fact of his achievement as how it came about that was his legacy to the game.  He was the first to insist that the manager, rather than directors or committee men, should be in charge of selection, and the first to appreciate that teams might be better served by planning their tactics in advance.

With the encouragement of Charlie Buchan, whom he had signed from Sunderland, he honed the 'WM' formation, replacing the traditional 2-3-5 with 3-2-2-3, partially to counter a change in the offside law and partly to facilitate the counter-attacking style that Chapman effectively invented and which became Arsenal's hallmark.



Writing in BACKPASS magazine, Barclay explained that his biographies of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, both of which won critical acclaim, suffered from the continuing success of his subjects, which meant they were soon in need of revision and updating.

Barclay's literary agent, David Luxton, asked him if he would fancy taking on a third book, to which he replied: "Yes, as long as it is about a dead man.

"The story of Mourinho, especially, was compiled with research on his early life on one side of the desk and a growing pile of newspaper cuttings on the other," Barclay said. "The yearning was for a project less organic.  And yet the subject had to matter to a large number of people. Luxton -- bless him -- came up with the idea of Herbert Chapman."

Barclay found his research so rewarding, he confesses, that he began after a while to wish Chapman were not dead, so that he might meet him in person.

"I'm not being sentimental in saying that the writing soon lost any commercial motive and became a labour of love.  There were times when, after only my late mother, Chapman was the human being whose reincarnation I craved...a hopeless impulse to meet him born of a mixture of affection and curiosity."

The reviews include this appreciation from David Lister, writing in The Independent.

'Patrick Barclay, the Evening Standard’s football columnist, and football correspondent of The Independent in its early days, has approached the subject with a mixture of passion and assiduous research. He has the sportswriter’s unfailing tendency to crave the widest possible context (I’m not sure I need to know that when Chapman was a toddler in Sheffield, Billy the Kid and Jesse James were being shot in America) but when he applies the wider context to the evolution of football and to how the Britain of the time shaped the Chapman family, the results are extraordinarily rewarding. Barclay traces the first half century of the game so evocatively that one can almost believe he was at some of those early matches, and reminds us of the oddities of those days. I hadn’t realised that even as late as the 1927 Arsenal vs Cardiff Wembley cup final, the referee wore a bow-tie.

He is fascinating on football and the First World War, the Footballers’ Battalion (surely worth a book in itself) and the poignant last words of one fallen soldier to his comrade: “Goodbye, Mac. Best of luck, special love to my sweetheart Mary Jane and best regards to the lads at Orient.”

Such vignettes put this book above the normal sports biography. Barclay does indeed trace Chapman’s life from would-be mining engineer to footballer, then visionary manager with a penchant for plus-fours, at the same time an official in his church, a strange mixture of elitist and collectivist. He loved signing supreme talents but insisted no player be paid more than another. He improved life for the fans, modernising the Arsenal ground, and commissioning the famous art deco design for the stands, encouraging Jewish supporters and giving to Jewish charities. There remains an element of mystery as to what drove him (just as there does with today’s managers) but this book succeeds in being about more than Chapman. Barclay vividly and brilliantly conjures up a forgotten sporting age.'

The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman: The Story of One of Football's Most Influential Figures, by Patrick Barclay (W&N), can be purchased here from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Chapman's own thoughts on the game, Chapman on Football, a collection of his columns from the Sunday Express, has been reprinted by GCR Books (available from Amazon and WHSmith) and in facsimile form by Robert Blatchford Publishing (Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith).

To find out more about BACKPASS magazine, visit www.backpassmagazine.co.uk