Fire in Babylon beats off strong field to win prestigious Cricket Society-MCC book of the year award for 2016

Simon Lister pictured at Lord's after receiving his award for Fire in Babylon
Simon Lister pictured at Lord's after
receiving his award for Fire in Babylon
Cricket writer and BBC TV news producer Simon Lister has won the prestigious Cricket Society and MCC Book of the Year award for 2016 with Fire in Babylon: How the West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet.

In what chair of judges Vic Marks hailed as an exceptional year for cricket writing and research, Lister beat off a strong field that included two books about WG Grace and one providing a definitive story of cricket’s County Championship.

Lister received certificates and a £3000 award in front of a large audience in the Long Room at Lord's, which was packed with MCC and Cricket Society members and officers, authors and their publishers and guest cricketing journalists and writers.

Those books that made the shortlist but missed out on the top prize were:

Fire in Babylon is published by Yellow Jersey. A delighted Lister paid personal tribute to another of this year’s shortlisted authors, whom he felt deserved some credit for his win.

“I wouldn’t be here now without Stephen Chalke," Lister said. "Stephen published my first book Supercat nearly a decade ago now and he’s stuck with me through thick and thin.”

Supercat, the authorised biography of former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, was shortlisted for the Cricket Society and MCC Book of the Year in 2008.

Marks commented in detail on each of the six finalists and complimented Lister's book for its broad canvas of “social history, Rastafarianism and rebel tours.”

Lister does a fine job of describing and understanding the dominance of the West Indies cricket team in the 1970s and 1980s and the effect it had on the people of the region, and on the immigrant Caribbean population in London, for whom the team gave them an identity.

Fire in Babylon made the shortlist for the 2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year, won by David Goldblatt with a football title, The Game of Our Lives.

Veteran sports writer Patrick Collins, a five times' winner of the Sports Journalists’ Association Sports Writer of the Year award, gave a keynote address, in which he recalled days spent with former cricket writing greats John Woodcock and John Arlott, who advised him “we take sport too seriously, and life too lightly.”

The competition, run by the Cricket Society since 1970 and in partnership with MCC since 2009, is for books nominated by members of the two organisations rather than publishers and is therefore highly regarded by writers and publishers.

The final six titles on the shortlist were whittled down from 17 nominations by a panel of judges that comprised David Kynaston and Stephen Fay from the MCC and John Symons and Chris Lowe from the Cricket Society in addition to Marks, the former Somerset and England player who now writes for the Guardian and Observer newspapers and is part of the BBC's Test Match Special team.

The Cricket Society – www.cricketsociety.com and Twitter @CricketSociety –  encourages a love of cricket through playing, watching, reading and listening.  It supports young cricketers, makes annual awards, holds regular meetings, publishes an acclaimed journal and has a cricket team.

MCC is the custodian of the Laws and Spirit of Cricket, stands as an innovative independent voice in world cricket, and is a passionate promoter of the game.  It is also the world’s most active cricket-playing club and the owner of Lord’s.

Buy Fire in Babylon from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

More reading:

Field of Shadows wins 2015 Cricket Society-MCC Book of the Year

The Great Tamasha is 2014 Cricket Society-MCC winner

Gideon Haigh's portrait of Shane Warne is 2013 Cricket Society-MCC Book of the Year



Fifty years on: England's World Cup triumph in 1966 dominates 2016's new football books

No prizes for guessing the dominant theme among football books due to appear on the shelves in 2016, when the state of English football comes under the spotlight not only because of the European championships due to take place in France in the summer but because half a century has now passed since the most glorious of all the nation's summers, when England won the World Cup.
Captain Bobby Moore receives the Jules Rimet Trophy from Her Majesty the Queen at Wembley in 1966
Captain Bobby Moore receives the Jules Rimet Trophy
from Her Majesty the Queen at Wembley in 1966

A rash of titles marks the 50th anniversary, some a celebration, others a lament, given that the national team has won nothing since.

Definitely leaning towards the latter category, Henry Winter’s Fifty Years of Hurt, an analysis illuminated by interviews with some of the biggest names in English football, is due to be published by Transworld under the Bantam imprint in June.

Winter, who recently moved from the Daily Telegraph to The Times and is generally seen as the English media's foremost football commentator, describes Fifty Years of Hurt as "a journey into a national obsession."

"I've travelled everywhere from Wembley to LA to try to understand why England keep failing," Winter says. "It's not just penalties. I talk to players and managers about how much England means to them and how to end the years of hurt. I'm delighted that Transworld have given me the opportunity to tell such an important story.”

Pre-order Fifty Years of Hurt, by Henry Winter (Bantam)

Relive 1966 as if it were now

Winter's book will be jostling for shelf space with a host of other World Cup titles, the first of which appears later this month when Pitch Publishing releases 66: the World Cup in Real Time, by Ian Passingham.

This book is a fascinating attempt to take the reader back in time 50 years to relive the 1966 finals and the build-up as if they were happening today, telling the story in newspaper-style reports, not only revisiting the matches themselves but what was happening off the field too.

There are some familiar themes, with tales of players breaking curfews, football's first-ever drug-testing programme, the England WAGS of the day and FIFA coming under fire.  All are skilfully put together by Sun journalist Passingham, who draws on his 30 years' experience in newspapers to give the reports a real authenticity.

Look out also for The Boys of '66 - The Unseen Story Behind England's World Cup Glory, due to be published by Penguin in April.  Written by John Rowlinson, the book takes a story of which everyone knows the ending back to its beginning and the long road followed by manager Alf Ramsey to build the team that walked out on to the Wembley turf on that historic July afternoon.  In just over three years Ramsey selected no fewer than 50 players before arriving at his final XI.  This book charts the chequered path to eventual victory, assesses both the players who made the final squad and those who lost out.

Rowlinson is a former journalist and television executive who enjoyed a long career with BBC TV Sport, where he was responsible for World Cup, Wimbledon and Olympic coverage among other events, and later became Director of Television at the All England Club, before joining the Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games as Head of Broadcast for London 2012.

Geoff Hurst's hat-trick stole the headlines on the day of the final itself and, as captain, Hurst's West Ham teammate Bobby Moore became a football icon the moment he received the Jules Rimet Trophy from Her Majesty the Queen.

Yet the player who did more than any to win the World Cup for England was undoubtedly the brilliant Bobby Charlton, the attacking midfielder from Manchester United, who shares his own personal memories of the tournament and everything that surrounded it in 1966: My World Cup Story, to be published in in June by Yellow Jersey.

How 1966 changed football and changed the nation

Still with the World Cup anniversary as the point of reference, in Four Lions, to be published in May by Head of Zeus, the cultural historian Colin Schindler explores the changing landscape of postwar England through the careers of four iconic England football captains: Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Gary Lineker and David Beckham.

Schindler argues that in England, more than any other nation, the man with the captain's armband has symbolic significance in that he embodies the nation beyond just football.  The four lions he has selected embody half a century of change: Wright smoked a pipe and had a side parting; Moore, the hero of '66, exuded the cool of his era but never found a role beyond football; the savvy, telegenic Lineker hung up his boots to become the face of BBC football; while in the tattooed body of Beckham can be read the impact of commercialisation, corporate sponsorship and the cult of celebrity.

Also in May, financial journalist and football fan Peter Chapman looks back to the World Cup year in a broader socio-economic and cultural context in Out of Time: 1966 and the End of Old-Fashioned Britain (Wisden Sports Writing).

Chapman, whose previous books include The Goalkeeper's History of Britain as well as a history of the Lehman Brothers, grew up in north London and was 18 in 1966.  He paints a vivid and beautifully written picture of how life was in Britain in the 60s and the impact that summer had on British society.

Look out too for 1966 and Not All That (Repeater Books), a collection of new writing and newspaper reporting from the tournament, both in the English and foreign press, that aims to bring new perspective to the 1966 World Cup and the evolution of the game in the last 50 years.

And Steve Mingle, who has written a number of books on Manchester City, takes a different angle in When England Ruled the World: 1966-1970 (Pitch Publishing), out in June, which looks at the impact of England's success on football at club and international level in the years that followed.

The English missionaries who gave football to the world

Away from the 1966 theme, April sees the publication by Simon and Schuster of Mister: The Men Who Gave The World The Game, in which the popular Times football writer Rory Smith examines how the countries that became the dominant powers in world football in many cases owe their success to the pioneering work of English football coaches inspired by the growing popularity of the game in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to travel abroad, men who became known not as 'coach' or 'boss' but 'the mister' as they spread the gospel of football to far flung countries around the globe.

Also in April, Trinity Mirror Sports Media publishes former Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy’s long-overdue autobiography, plus Two Tribes: Liverpool, Everton and a City on the Brink (Bantam), in which Times writer Tony Evans goes back to 1985-86, in which the combined achievements of Liverpool and Everton brought back pride to a city shamed by the Heysel Stadium disaster.

Later in the year, look out for Ring of Fire (Bantam), the latest instalment of Simon Hughes’ decade-by-decade retelling of the Liverpool story through the eyes of the players.  After Red Machine revisited the 1980s and Men in White Suits recalled the teams and players of the 1990s, Ring of Fire, due out in August, takes the story forward into the 21st century.

Other autumn highlights include Angels With Dirty Faces (Orion), Jonathan Wilson’s history of the Argentina national team, and The Wenger Revolution: Twenty Years of Arsenal (Bloomsbury), in which Amy Lawrence, author of Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-04 Season, combines with club photographer Stuart MacFarlane and manager Arsene Wenger to produce a sumptuous record of Arsenal’s last two decades.

Books featured on The Sports Bookshelf are also available from Waterstones and WHSmith.



Steven Gerrard autobiography puts Donald McRae in line for another award

Donald McRae, twice winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize, is an early favourite to be among the winners at the 2016 Cross Sports Book Awards.

The South African-born writer, whose interviews in The Guardian newspaper are always worth reading, collaborated with former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard on his autobiography, My Story.

The book is notable for some frank opinions on colleagues and opponents, referees and managers, but also for Gerrard's ability to look inside himself and describe how he was affected by the ups and downs of his career.

After completing the book, published after the player said his farewells to Liverpool before moving to conclude his career in America, McRae commented: "Gerrard leads us through every exhilarating high and bruising low of his 27 years at Liverpool. It is a career full of contrast and drama.

“There is depth and pathos, too, because Steven Gerrard is a one-club man who joined the Liverpool academy at the age of eight. While English football has turned itself inside out, undergoing enormous upheaval, often fuelled by greed and selfishness, Gerrard has stayed constant.

“Many of the goals are incredible while the biggest games are riveting. His very public long goodbye is often painful, always moving. But the grittier, far more private details are the most powerful."

My Story has been installed 5-2 favourite with bookmakers Bet365 to take the prize in the autobiography section after the release of a longlist in this category.

Second favourite at 3-1 is Winner: My Racing Life, the autobiography of just-retired 20-times champion jockey, AP McCoy, written with the help of best-selling writer and broadcaster, Charlie Connelly.

Last in the Tin Bath, the autobiography of former cricketer, umpire and England coach David 'Bumble' Lloyd, which was ghosted by sports journalist Richard Gibson, is third favourite at 7-2.

Also among the contenders are Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce's Big Sam, former Formula One world champion Nigel Mansell's Staying on Track and another life story from the world of motor racing, Formula One and Beyond, by controversial administrator Max Mosley, the former president of the sport's governing body, the FIA.

The list will be reduced to a shortlist of six titles in the spring and the winner announced on 1 June, along with the other winners in 12 categories, including football, rugby, cricket and cycling books of the year.

The full longlist for Autobiography of the Year 2016:

My Story, by Steven Gerrard (Penguin)
Staying on Track: The Autobiography,  by Nigel Mansell (Simon & Schuster)
Last in the Tin Bath: The Autobiography, by David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd (Simon & Schuster)
Where Am I?: My Autobiography, by Phil Tufnell (Headline)
Bomb: My Autobiography, by Adam Jones (Headline)
Big Sam: My Autobiography, by Sam Allardyce (Headline)
Formula One and Beyond: The Autobiography, by Max Mosley (Simon & Schuster)
Second Innings: My Sporting Life, by Andrew Flintoff (Hodder & Stoughton)
Carry Me Home: My Autobiography, by Ben Cohen (Ebury)
Interesting: My Autobiography, by Steve Davis (Ebury)
Winner: My Racing Life, by A.P. McCoy (Orion)
The World of Cycling According to G, by Geraint Thomas (Quercus)

All these titles are also available from Waterstones and WHSmith



Books for Christmas: A Sports Bookshelf selection of gift idea for the sports fan

What can be recommended as a Christmas stocking filler from 2015's crop of sports books?

Given the whiff of corruption rising pungently from the upper echelons of athletics and football, this may not be a good Christmas to celebrate the glories of contemporary sport.  As an antidote to unwelcome scandals, there is always the memory of more innocent days to fall back on and this year there are several absorbing diversions.

Football romantics, particularly those with ties in Nottingham and Manchester, have a couple of gems to take them back.

Evocative of a wonderful moment in the history of the English game is I Believe In Miracles: The Remarkable Story of Brian Clough's European Cup-winning Team (Headline), a superb reconstruction by Daniel Taylor of the rise, in the late 1970s, of Nottingham Forest from Midland mediocrities to double European Cup winners under a manager of unconventional genius, Brian Clough.

Taylor's interviews with many of the principal characters vividly recreate the mood of the times and the extraordinary chemistry that developed between Clough, his assistant Peter Taylor and a group of players no one could have predicted would be capable of such high achievement.  Inevitably, given the wealth of Clough anecdotes passed on down the years, there are many familiar stories, yet by putting them in context Taylor has given them a new freshness and perspective. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith.

In Forever Boys: The Days of Citizens and Heroes (Wisden Sports Writing), veteran sports writer James Lawton tracks down members of the Manchester City team that shone fleetingly, but brilliantly, under the maverick management of Malcolm Allison in the late 1960s. The rich language that characterised Lawton's columns in The Independent adds an extra element to the pleasure of reliving a golden era that may have been eclipsed by the modern Manchester City but was infinitely more joyful. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith. Read more...

Heady days of more recent vintage are also reprised in Amy Lawrence's Invincible: Inside Arsenal's Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season(Penguin), in which the Observer football writer brilliantly captures the team dynamic behind the Gunners' unbeaten 2003-04 season. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or http://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/invincible-inside-arsenals-unbeaten-2003-2004-season/9780241970492.

If the focus of those titles is too narrow, then there is a wonderfully illustrated celebration of what every young fan wished to find in his Christmas stocking compiled by Ian Preece and Doug Cheeseman entitled The Heyday Of The Football Annual (Constable). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

And it would be a cold heart that was not charmed by Bryony Hill's beautifully written and lovingly told story of the life of her groundbreaking husband, Jimmy -- now, sadly, stricken with Alzheimer's disease -- in My Gentleman Jim (Book Guild). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Back in the present, Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager (Century), Michael Calvin's exploration of the physical and emotional extremes endured by the modern football manager, and The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football (Penguin), David Goldblatt's dissertation on the growth of the Premier League as a barometer of Britain's social, economic and cultural evolution, both make compelling reading.

Buy Living on the Volcano from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy The Game of Our Lives from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The Game of Our Lives was named William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2015 among a field that included Living on the Volcano and Simon Lister's excellent Fire in Babylon: How the West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet (Yellow Jersey), which also set sport in a social context.
Lister specifically looks at how the West Indian cricket team of the 1970s, built around cavalier batsmen and fearsome fast bowlers, helped the Caribbean community in London to develop a collective identity and pride in their roots. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Among other cricket books, Richard Tomlinson's Amazing Grace: The Man Who was W.G. (Little, Brown)-- published to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of W G Grace and the 150th anniversary of his first-class debut -- is written in an elegantly easy style and brings welcome perspective to a story prone to exaggeration.  Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The traditions of English cricket are celebrated meanwhile in the sumptuously expansive Summer's Crown: The Story of Cricket's County Championship (Fairfield Books), a magnificently illustrated and elegantly written history of the County Championship, by Stephen Chalke, a worthy winner of the Cricket Writers' Club Book of the Year award for 2015. Buy from Amazon or Waterstones.

Boxing gems include A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith (Simon & Schuster), in which Donald McRae describes how Emile Griffith, a black and secretly gay boxer in 1950s America, overcame colour prejudice and homophobia to become world champion, and Journeymen: The Other Side of the Boxing Business, in which Mark Turley offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of boxing's professional losers, who make a living out of stepping into the ring merely to be notches on the belt of up-and-coming stars.

Buy A Man's World from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Journeymen from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Away from the mainstream, Speed Kings (Bantam) - another commended by the William Hill judges -- is a splendid read in which Andy Bull reveals how the eccentric members of America's gold-medal-winning 1932 Olympic bobsleigh team could have stepped from the pages of a Scott Fitzgerald novel. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

And Lizzy Hawker, Britain's five-times winner of the 100-mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, tells an inspirational tale in Runner: A Short Story about a Long Run (Aurum). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Also recommended:  Richard Moore’s The Bolt Supremacy: Inside Jamaica's Sprint Factory (Yellow Jersey), Raphael Honigstein's Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World (Yellow Jersey), Eibar the Brave: The Extraordinary Rise of la Liga's Smallest Team (Pitch) by Euan McTear and Winner: My Racing Life, by AP McCoy (Orion).