20150310

Beyond the Test arena: wonderful stories and astute analysis from frontiers of cricket

NEW CRICKET BOOK

  • New book offers fascinating insight into cricket outside elite

  • Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts highlights passion for game

  • Comes as ICC plan to cut back World Cup


Jon Culley

As much as gloating or despairing over England's woeful World Cup performance has been the dominant talking point in cricket these last few days, there should be no overlooking the development that has befuddled onlookers even more perhaps than Eoin Morgan and company failing to score 276 runs to beat little Bangladesh on a flat wicket in Adelaide.

The International Cricket Council, with total disregard, apparently, for the excitement generated by participation of Ireland and Afghanistan, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates in the current tournament, wants to cut the number of teams in the next World Cup in 2019 from 14 to 10.

Coming at a time when the trend in major sports around the world is to expand and explore new frontiers -- Luis Figo, a candidate to be the next President of FIFA, wants the football World Cup finals enlarged from 32 to 40 or even 48 teams -- the ICC's plan has been dismissed in some quarters as "bonkers".

That was the word used by Martin Crowe, a member of the successful New Zealand side of the 1980s, in a column he now writes for the ESPN Cricinfo website.   There are plenty who share his sentiment, although the interests of cricket's lesser nations could do with a few more.

Cricket as a world game is in the grip of a self-interested elite, among whom much of the power now resides with the so-called 'big three' of India, Australia and - whisper it - England.

At Test level, the highest level of the game, there are only 10 participating nations, and even though World Cups pique the interest of the media every four years, not too much is written about cricket elsewhere and few cricket followers have much knowledge or understanding of the game outside the established powers.  Yet there are 106 members of the ICC.
Picture of ex New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe
ICC plan 'bonkers'
 - Martin Crowe

An attempt to put this right is made by the authors of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts (Pitch Publishing), a collection of essays that will leave the reader much better informed as to the state of the game in its far flung reaches.

It has a narrow focus in that it is limited to only 10 nations from the 96 that do not play at the top level but they are a carefully chosen 10, comprising the four so-called 'minnows' at the current World Cup, plus two whose fortunes have faded after earlier success in Kenya and the Netherlands, two who can be identified as 'on the up' in Papua New Guinea and Nepal, plus China and the USA, the two most obvious nations with vast potential for growth.

The chapters on each are written by five journalists - Tim Wigmore, who contributes four, Peter Miller (three), Sahil Dutta, Tim Brooks and Gideon Haigh, who allowed the publishers to reproduce an article he wrote about Papua New Guinea for The Nightwatchman quarterly in 2013 and who also wrote the foreword.

There are inspirational stories on many levels, not least the one Wigmore recounts in his essay on Afghanistan, in which a young man carrying an AK47 as he watched a game returns to take part at a later date without his weapon, explaining that as he was playing cricket he did not need it.  Even the Taliban, despite their opposition to most things rooted in Western values, approve of cricket.  Just as in Ireland, where the team drew players from both sides of the border even at the height of the troubles, cricket is a force for unity.

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There are cautionary tales, too, such as that of the Netherlands, whom many would probably still have supposed to be, along with Ireland, the top cricket-playing nation outside the established Test nations but where cricket's popularity is in sharp decline.  Ireland beat England in a World T20 match in 2009 and defeated Bangladesh in a one-day international the following year but did not qualify for the 2015 World Cup, losing their ODI status with the ICC as a result.  Cricket did not feature among the top 20 pastimes in the Netherlands in a recent poll and fewer than 6,000 Dutch people now play the game. Scotland, by comparison, has an estimated 60,000 active cricketers.

In a recent review, Gideon Haigh, while admitting that his assessment was not entirely without bias, declared Second XI to be "one of the more important and timely cricket books to be published in a long while."  There are plenty who would agree.

Buy Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts from Amazon or Waterstones.

More reading on new cricket books:

Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours: David Tossell's latest among new titles from Pitch Publishing

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20150309

Warriors on Horseback: bravery in the saddle from the champions to the also-rans

HORSE RACING BOOK

  • New book looks at the lure of a life in racing

  • Why jockeys willingly risk life and limb

  • How most riders make only a modest income



Jon Culley

As the horse racing world decamps to Cheltenham for the intensely competitive yet spectacularly beautiful National Hunt Festival, with the richest prizes of the year on offer for the stars of the saddle to pursue, John Carter's latest book considers the life of the majority of Britain's 450 professional riders, those who chase the dream of kicking home the winner of a Gold Cup or a Champion Hurdle but for whom the day-to-day realities are a long way from glamorous face of jump racing on view this week.

Warriors on Horseback: The Inside Story of the Professional Jockey is unashamed in its admiration for all of those men and women who, in the author's words, place themselves "in mortal danger every day".

A P McCoy, riding at his final Festival before retiring next month, is reckoned to be worth in excess of £12 million after winning a staggering 19 consecutive jockeys' championships, shortly to become 20.  He had paid a heavy price in broken bones - ankle, tibia, fibula, both wrists, several vertebrae, both shoulder blades, both collar bones and both cheekbones -- and many would say he has earned every penny.
The champion: A P McCoy

But, Carter argues, McCoy's list of mishaps is not unusual.  Falling from a horse travelling at in excess of 30 miles per hour is not something for which the human body was designed and every rider expects from time to time to be leaving the track in an ambulance.  On any given day, 10 per cent of those 450 jockeys will be out of action through injury.  There has been concern in rugby union lately over the number of players suffering concussion; in jump racing, the frequency of concussion injuries is six times rugby's rate.

Yet the average Flat race jockey -- and they're in the better paid part of the business -- makes only £30,000 a year.

Add to that the daily necessity of rising before dawn to work the horses on the gallops, the constant battle to remain muscularly strong yet with the body weight of a child, and the hours spent on the motorways and it is no wonder that Carter asks why they do it.

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It is the answer to that question he pursues through a series of interviews, some with famous names such as Frankie Dettori, Martyn Dwyer, Steve Smith-Eccles, Bob Champion and the leading female rider, Hayley Turner, and many more with the lesser-known figures who pass through the weighing rooms each day, the foot soldiers who make up the numbers.

What he discovers is that the majority of jockeys, even those who never rise above the status of journeymen in their profession, love racing and the adrenaline rush that comes with competitive race riding almost to the point of addiction.

Buy Warriors on Horseback: The Inside Story of the Professional Jockey, published by Bloomsbury, from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The Cheltenham Festival takes place from Tuesday March 10 to Friday March 13.

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20150305

Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours: David Tossell's latest among new titles from Pitch Publishing

NEW IN CRICKET BOOKS


  • Tossell turns his attention to England cricket team of the 1980s

  • A new biography of Barry Richards from Andrew Murtagh

  • Dan Whiting's follow-up to Cricket Banter


Jon Culley

Rarely does a year pass without the name of David Tossell appearing on the shortlist for one of sport's literary prizes.

The 53-year-old author and journalist has been nominated five times at the British Sports Book Awards for books on cricket, football and rugby, as well as being on the shortlist twice for the MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year.

The Great English Final, which looked at the 1953 FA Cup final, the Matthews final, in the context of Britain's post-War recovery, made the shortlist in the best football book category at the British Sports Book Awards last year.

This year he returns to cricket with the publication this week of Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours: The England Cricket Team in the 1980s.

It was a tumultuous decade, one in which England enjoyed the highs of three Ashes victories and reached a World Cup final yet twice suffered the humiliation of 5-0 series defeats against the West Indies and managed to work their way through 10 different captains, including four in one series.

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Off the field, it was a time of tabloid scandals, notably embroiling two of those captains as Ian Botham, who began the decade establishing cricketing immortality in the summer of 1981, was suspended for smoking marijuana and Mike Gatting was sacked after an alleged dalliance with a barmaid.

For Gatting, in particular, it was an extraordinary decade, involving a famous Ashes win in Australia, an infamous row with an umpire in Pakistan and a decision he would later regret to lead one of the decade's two England rebel tours, which resulted in a three-year ban from playing in Tests.
Gatting fires off in Faisalabad

Experienced journalist Tossell, at one time executive sports editor of the Today newspaper, has interviewed many of the principal characters and Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours tells the story.

Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours is published by Pitch Publishing, who have simultaneously released two more cricket titles as part of their spring output.

Andrew Murtagh, the former Hampshire cricketer and uncle of Middlesex fast bowler Tim, has written a biography of the man he regarded as the best cricketer he ever played with or against, the brilliant South African who scored more than 28,000 first-class runs, including 80 centuries, but took part in only one Test series before South African was banned from international sport over apartheid.

Sundial in the Shade: The Story of Barry Richards, the Genius Lost to Test Cricket tells the story of the batsman who formed one of county cricket's most prolific opening partnerships alongside the West Indian Gordon Greenidge during his 10 years with Hampshire, where he made 15,600 of his first-class aggregate.   It is a life overshadowed by personal tragedy and controversy and one defined by the frustration that he could never achieve the international success that would have surely come his way.


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Murtagh is the author of two previous cricket biographies, of George Chesterton, which was shortlisted for MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year,  and of Tom Graveney.

The third offering from Pitch released this week is the story of a controversial figure from the Edwardian era, who became England's youngest Test player when he was selected at 19 years and 32 days to play against South Africa Johannesburg in January 1906.

A Flick of the Fingers: The Chequered Life and Career of Jack Crawford is Michael Burns's biography of a player who was regarded as perhaps the finest schoolboy cricketer of all time, who made his debut for Surrey aged 17 and completed the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a season before he was 20.

Short-sighted, he played always in spectacles yet was a ferocious hitter, a skilful medium pace bowler and a forthright character whose outspokenness at being given a weakened team to captain in a match against the touring Australians in 1909 resulted ultimately in him being banished by the county, whereupon he emigrated to Australia.  There he enhanced a reputation for fast scoring that would have made him a hot property in today's game.

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Representing an Australian XI on tour in New Zealand, he hit 45 fours and 14 sixes in an innings of 354 that included a staggering partnership with Victor Trumper that added 298 runs in just 69 minutes.

More controversy dogged Crawford, who married but then deserted a teenage girl he met in Adelaide and left Australia for New Zealand after a row over money.  He returned to England after the First World War, made his peace with Surrey, re-married and ultimately faded into obscurity, but not before playing two of the most remarkable innings of his life.

On a lighter note -- much lighter if his first book is anything to go by -- Dan Whiting returns with Characters of Cricket (The History Press), which is his first solo effort after he and Liam Kenna combined their talents and a wide circle of friends in the game to produce Cricket Banter.

Where Cricket Banter enabled Whiting and Kenna to expand on the eye for a funny story that has made their blog The Middle Stump (www.themiddlestump.co.uk) so popular, with hits in excess of half a million, Characters of Cricket is a series of portraits of some of the game's more interesting participants, the mavericks who refused to allow their individuality, sometimes their eccentricity, to be swallowed up by the demands of a team game.

Such characters are increasingly hard to find with the game these days embracing much more professional disciplines than once was the case, but Whiting can name a few even from the most recent generation, including England's recently-retired off-spinner Graeme Swann and the flame-haired former Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset fast bowler Steve Kirby.

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Whiting is a keen advocate of moves to raise awareness of skin cancer, especially the danger it poses to cricketers, and having recently survived a scare himself he has pledged to donate a portion of the book’s royalties to Melanoma UK, a skin cancer charity.

He is also organising Pushing the Boundaries, a charity fundraising event on Friday, April 10, at the Walker Cricket Ground in Southgate, at which the guests will include the aforementioned Kirby along with Middlesex players Tim Murtagh and John Simpson and the county's managing director of cricket, the former England fast bowler now selector, Angus Fraser.

Cricket Banter is also available from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

For more information...

See Andrew Murtagh's page at Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

See David Tossell's books at Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith






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20150226

The special relationship: how football and the media have grown together

  • New book studies a history of mutually beneficial co-existence
  • What football owes to Sky and Sky owes to football
  • How one of game's great traditions came about to suit the press
  • Why women's game should feel let down by football and the media

As Sky were committing themselves to paying £4.2 billion as their share of the latest record-breaking deal to show the Premier League, for every armchair football fan relishing the prospect of even more world-class players flooding to these shores for their entertainment, there were others wondering how much more perversion of the game's traditions might result from television's ever-tightening grip.
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Yet, as Roger Domeneghetti reveals in his fascinating new book, From the Back Page to the Front Room, football has been bowing to the wishes of the media since the century before last.

Take the 3pm Saturday afternoon kick-off, possibly the most cherished of all the traditions, the tinkering with which has been the subject of endless gripes since the first satellite dish appeared on a south-facing UK wall in 1989.

That tradition, believe it or not, began at the behest of the media, when evening newspaper editors in the 1880s lobbied for a uniform 3pm kick-off time to aid the production of their booming Saturday night Football Specials.

From the Back Page to the Front Room is a history of football and the media that explains that while at times their relationship has been turbulent it has for the most part been mutually beneficial almost since the game began.

Speaking to The Sports Bookshelf, Domeneghetti said that the bidding wars that attract such interest when TV rights are up for grabs are, in fact, nothing new.

"You could think this was a new phenomenon but it happened initially with radio and then with the cinema newsreels," he said. "The newsreel companies fought for the rights for football just the same.  Obviously the sums involved were a lot less, but the companies nonetheless saw football as something of value to fight over.


  • Buy From the Back Page to the Front Room from Amazon


"From the beginnings of the media industry, sport has been seen as a way of selling content and a way of selling technology.  It was all very well inventing a radio, for example, but you needed something on the radio to listen to.

"Radio, TV and newspapers have all found a lot of success on the back of sport in general but through football in particular.

"And it has been a mutually conducive relationship. Just as football was important to newspapers in selling their Saturday night editions, so newspapers were important to football in those initial years of the Football League as a means of communicating and promoting the game.

"It has always been a relationship to benefit both parties. I'm not sure Rupert Murdoch's success would have happened on the scale it has if he had not won the football rights.   Likewise the money Sky gave to football was vitally important in kicking on from the low point of the 1980s and post-Hillsborough to become the very different and much more modern entertainment product it is today."
Football drove satellite TV boom

Domeneghetti, a journalist since the 1990s and currently North-East football correspondent for the Morning Star, set about writing From the Back Page to the Front Room largely because it was the kind of book he would have been keen to read had it existed already.

"It occurred to me that while there were a lot of histories of the media, such as the Andrew Marr book My Trade, a lot of books about the history of football and also some books about sports media, there wasn't a book that looked at the relationship between football and the media," he said.

"Yet sport has played a key part in the development of all media -- newspapers, radio, television, satellite television and now the internet.  It was the kind of book I wanted to read, so I thought I'd try to write it myself."

Domeneghetti combines his football writing with lecturing in journalism and the sociology of sport and his interest in football's influence on society as well as its position in the media industry shines through in the text.   The depth in which he explores each part of the story makes the reader's experience a little like being escorted through a museum of football and media history with a personal guide ready to provide extra background information to go with every exhibit, or to put it into the context of the day.  Interviews with prominent figures in both the game and the media industry, including Greg Dyke, Henry Winter, Jacqui Oatley, Jonathan Wilson and Hope Powell, further enhance the tour.

There is so much detail, in fact, that it is hard to imagine that anyone, no matter how deeply involved with the football media industry, could fail to learn something new.  Little wonder that one reviewer suggested it should be adopted as a definitive textbook for media students, and not just those with an interest in sport.

"I wanted to produce a book that non-academic people could read and enjoy and get something from and that academic people could look at and recognise as well researched and could add something to the subject," Domeneghetti said.
Author Nick Hornby

As well as charting the relationship between football and newspapers in the past and with radio and television in the modern era, the author looks at such diverse areas of the media as the fanzine explosion and the men's magazine market.  There is even a chapter on football comics.

Football literature and the influence of Nick Hornby's groundbreaking Fever Pitch comes under the microscope in a chapter on the changing nature of books about the game, in which Domeneghetti asks why it took so long for the intelligent analysis with which we are so familiar now to find willing publishers.  The answer to that question comes broadly within the spectrum of social change, in which football and football coverage by the media, the author argues, has had a key role.

Fever Pitch changed the books market, and to a certain extent even the perception of football across English society, in the way that it allowed middle class fans, largely ignored previously as the media remained wedded to the notion that football was a working class pursuit, to acquire some ownership rights of their own by opening the way to intelligent discussion of the game across a whole range of publications that might once have seen football as too trivial to be worthy of their attention.

Domeneghetti argues that, far from being trivial, football has been and will continue to be hugely important to the British culture and that of all the nations in which it is played. Much can be learned about a country, he says, from the way its media covers football and sport in general.

"If you want to understand a country there is probably no better way than looking at its coverage of sport," he said. "It will tell you how strong is that country's sense of nationalism, what its attitudes are to race, to women, to homosexuality, all manner of things, through the prism of football.  Not many other things can you do that with, I would have thought."
Media starved women's football of publicity

Nowhere is this theory more strongly supported than in the book's chapter on women in football, which demonstrates how prevailing attitudes towards women across society are reflected in and perhaps magnified by football, from the Football Association's effective banning of organised women's football soon after World War I -- in spite of, or perhaps because of its enormous popularity while the country's menfolk were otherwise engaged -- to the barriers faced by female football journalists and broadcasters.

Liberally sprinkled with footnotes, and with a comprehensive bibliography and a well-organised index, From the Back Page to the Front Room has the feel of an academic textbook.  Yet Domeneghetti's style is light and accessible and quite apart from anything else it is a good read.

Buy From the Back Page to the Front Room from Amazon.

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20150205

New biography aims to give former Everton and Sheffield Wednesday manager Harry Catterick overdue recognition


  • Goodison Park legend lived in shadow of Merseyside rival Bill Shankly
  • Top-flight record better than Bill Nicholson, Matt Busby and Don Revie
  • Author granted exclusive access to lost manuscript


After the headlines that accompanied Roy Keane's autobiography and the debate that followed Matt Dickinson's unvarnished appraisal of the life of Bobby Moore, the long-overdue biography of Harry Catterick that appeared in 2014 may have gone unnoticed by many football fans.

That it did will not have surprised Catterick's admirers. Catterick, the manager of Everton during the first of their two golden eras in the second half of the 20th century, can almost be regarded as one of football's forgotten greats.

In the game's history, the managerial giants of Catterick's era  tend to be remembered as Bill Nicholson of Tottenham, Matt Busby of Manchester United, latterly Don Revie at Leeds and, of course, Catterick's rival from across Stanley Park, Bill Shankly.

Yet during the 1960s, when he led Sheffield Wednesday to second place in the First Division (behind Nicholson's Spurs) and then guided Everton to two League titles, no manager won more points in the top flight than Catterick. He also led Everton to success in the 1966 FA Cup final against Wednesday.

Rob Sawyer, who was born just as Everton were about to win the 1969-70 First Division championship, seeks to set the record straight and give Catterick greater recognition in a well-researched life story. Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great coincides with the 30th anniversary of Catterick's premature death from a heart attack, aged only 65.

The author draws on many insightful interviews and, fascinatingly, a manuscript Catterick began to write in 1963, after his first Everton title, when he had the idea of penning an autobiography not as some exercise in vanity but because he wanted there to be a record of his life. His idea was that it would be published only after his death. It never was but the manuscript remained in the family and Sawyer has been able to reproduce many extracts from it.

In the eyes of some people, as Sawyer writes in his introduction, Catterick could be demanding and ruthless, secretive and introverted; to others he was an erudite visionary, sometimes surprisingly kind and thoughtful.  He was a man of whom opinions varied widely.

Yet it  was the way he was perceived by the media, inevitably, that determined many assessments of his character, and probably explains why Catterick's career attracted only muted acclaim.

Whereas others revelled in having the press hanging on their every word, Catterick disliked being in the spotlight to the extent that, when television began to take a serious interest in the game and the BBC launched Match of the Day in 1964, he wanted their cameras banned, at least from Goodison Park.
Former Everton manager Harry Catterick


He distrusted most journalists, with whom he was often stand-offish and reluctant to open his door, and whom he would sometimes set out deliberately to mislead, as Sawyer relates in a story passed on by Mike Ellis, who covered the Merseyside beat for The Sun during the height of Catterick's reign.

Ellis recalls taking a phone call from Catterick as the transfer deadline approached in March 1967 and was somewhat surprised when the Everton manager offered him a scoop. 'Liverpool are going to sign Howard Kendall from Preston tomorrow,' Catterick said. 'Now you've got that on your own.'

Ellis wrote the story, under the headline 'Shankly swoops for Kendall' only to discover the following lunchtime, as he listened to his car radio, that the promising young half-back had joined Everton.
It was a coup for Catterick, and he wanted to make the most of it, eager for the world to think he had pipped Shankly to one of the country's hottest prospects. In truth, Catterick knew that Preston were unwilling to sell to Liverpool anyway, having already allowed Peter Thompson to move to Anfield.

It was therefore Ellis, not Shankly, who suffered the biggest embarrassment.  "I nearly crashed the car, I was furious," he said. "I drove straight to Bellefield (Everton's training ground) to have it out with 'Catt' and -- surprise, surprise -- he wasn't available."

The story is an indication, too, of Catterick's intense rivalry with Shankly, who would often mock Catterick's demeanour by referring to him as 'Happy Harry', an ironic nod to his seemingly permanent miserable expression, although in a passage in his own manuscript, Catterick insisted that their relationship was misrepresented. "We could never be pals as we were on opposite sides but there was never any animosity as such," he wrote.

Catterick's methods may have been unconventional, his attitude unapologetic, but his team, built around the 'Holy Trinity' of Kendall, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball, played with a wonderful combination of exhilarating skill and steely resolve. They were a great side in a glorious era and this book is a fitting tribute to their manager's achievement in leading them to such success.

Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great, by Rob Sawyer, is published by De Coubertin Books.

Buy here from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

De Coubertin is a small publisher based in London yet with a special interest in Merseyside football.  Previous titles include autobiographies by Howard Kendall and Neville Southall, the comprehensively detailed Everton Encyclopedia and the similarly high quality Liverpool Encyclopedia.


More reading:

Neville Southall tells the story of his life in football

More football biographies:

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

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

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20150127

Lost manuscript behind Scream: The Tyson Tapes is fitting legacy from the tortured career of tragic boxing writer Jonathan Rendall

New Boxing Books

  • Journalist covered career of world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson
  • Manuscript found in bin bag of Rendall's possessions after his death
  • Focus on Tyson's early years with trainer Cus D'Amato
  • Brilliant debut book This Bloody Mary republished

Among several noteworthy boxing books published in recent weeks, two stand out, not least for the poignancy of their appearance two years after the tragically premature death of the author. 

Jonathan Rendall was a writer of rare talent, who struggled with journalistic disciplines but who was capable of delivering prose of such brilliance that at times he was compared to Damon Runyan and Hunter S Thompson.  Tom Stoppard and Tom Wolfe were fans of his work.

He was at his peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he wrote at different times for the the Independent on Sunday, The Times, the Observer and the short-lived Sunday Correspondent, mainly about boxing, sometimes about gambling and drinking, subjects which offer a fair insight into the life he led.  For a period, he also managed the former world featherweight boxing champion, Colin 'Sweet C' McMillan.

Friends would testify that his life was turbulent, to say the least, punctuated by wild swings in his fortunes and mood.  Yet he managed to have published three books before, in January 2013, he was found dead at his home in Ipswich, where he lived alone, aged only 48.  The circumstances could not be fully explained, although the coroner's verdict was one of natural causes.

The first of those books, This Bloody Mary Is the Last Thing I Own, in which he reflected on his time in boxing at the point he decided to quit the sport, wrote won him Somerset Maugham Award in 1998.  It was republished my Faber & Faber in paperback November last year.

Mike Tyson
(picture courtesy of YouTube)
Rendall also wrote Twelve Grand, a project in which he was given that amount of money by the publishers Yellow Jersey on the sole condition that he used it only for gambling and wrote about the experience, whether he won or lost.  Naturally, all of it slipped through his hands, but the upshot was another extraordinary piece of work.  Also, following his own whim as an adopted child, taken into care after only 38 days, he set out to find his real mother and produced a deeply moving account of his quest, Garden Hopping, published in 2006.

Now there is a fourth, Scream: The Tyson Tapes, published posthumously by Short Books, the manuscript for which was discovered in a bin bag of possessions retrieved from his home after his death.   It was not until after his funeral that it came to light.

Rendall had been commissioned in 2005 to write a biography of Tyson, having followed his career closely during his years with the Sunday Correspondent and the Independent on Sunday, and paid an advance.  The book was due to be published in 2007 but never appeared.  Ultimately his publisher ran out of patience and gave up on the project, although a search of the Amazon website for Scream: The Real Mike Tyson will still bring up the proposed cover illustration and the publication date, accompanied by the notation 'currently unavailable'.

If he never finished, though, Rendall did make a start, interviewing people who knew Tyson during the early years of his career, from the time he was adopted by Cus D’Amato, who had trained the former world champion of Floyd Patterson, and his partner Camille Ewald, who took him from the gang-ridden streets of Brooklyn, out of reform school and into the rarified setting of D'Amato's mansion, becoming his legal guardians.  Scream: The Tyson Tapes is the record of those interviews.

Rendall talked among others to Teddy Atlas and Kevin Rooney, who worked for D'Amato and were closely involved in training Tyson, and to Jay Bright and Steve Lott, who were his cornermen.  Richard Williams, who knew Randall as a fellow journalist and who wrote an evocative tribute to him in the Observer, has edited the manuscript on behalf of the publishers.  He discovered that Rendall had interspersed their recollections with passages written as he imagined Tyson would have told his own story, producing a unique account of his rise to fame.

It is a long way from the book he had been commissioned to deliver but adds something substantial and original to the Tyson archive, nonetheless.

Buy This Bloody Mary Is the Last Thing I Own from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Scream: The Tyson Tapes from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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20150121

Kevin Pietersen and Geoffrey Boycott: Two cricketers, two eras, two giant egos

  • Five publishers battled for KP's guaranteed best seller
  • Boycott's cancer fight catalyst for new autobiography
  • Pietersen's focus was on airing his grievances
  • Yorkshire batsman opens up as never before

Reviews

Books shop sports sections used to bulge with cricket biographies. These days, few see the light of day with the larger publishers if they do not scream 'guaranteed best seller.' That was clearly the case with two that did find a place in mainstream catalogues in 2014.

After all the claims and counter-claims that surrounded his jettisoning from England's cricket teams, Kevin Pietersen's autobiography was always going to fly off the shelves as the South African-born batsman -- the most exciting star in the English game since Ian Botham -- took the opportunity to tell his side of the biggest cricket story since Botham's chequered career was making front page headlines in the 1980s.

It was no wonder there were five publishers competing for the right to publish his story, Little, Brown eventually winning the bidding war for the book, which was published under the Sphere imprint in time for the Christmas market.

Geoffrey Boycott has not picked up a cricket bat in anger -- at least not in terms of playing the game for a living -- since Yorkshire declined to offer him a new contract in September 1986, when Pietersen was perhaps picking one up for the first time as a six-year-old boy in Pietermaritzburg.

Yet his outspoken punditry has enabled him to stay at the forefront of the game, and his survival after developing throat cancer ensured that his first biography for 27 years would have plenty of material for Simon & Schuster to be confident of success.

Here, The Sports Bookshelf takes a close look at Boycott's The Corridor of Certainty and Pietersen's KP: The Autobiography.

The Corridor of Certainty: My Life Beyond Cricket, by Geoffrey Boycott (Simon & Schuster)

An autobiography needs to provide a shock or two to catch a headline-writer's eye and Boycott delivers his in the opening paragraph, which contains an apology.  Recounting how many enemies he has made during his life in cricket, he admits that his forthright manner "sometimes rubbed people up the wrong way."

"For that I am sorry," he writes.  Contrition is not what we have come to expect from Geoffrey, although some have suggested that he rather underestimates how many noses he has put out of joint.  As one reviewer put it, were to he replace 'sometimes' with 'always' in his confessional opening sentence, it might be more accurate.

Boycott's first autobiography, published in 1987, contained few if any apologies, outlining as it did his position in the civil war that tore Yorkshire cricket apart during the 1970s and 1980s and why he was right.

Now he looks back from a different perspective, a mellower and more rounded one perhaps, as a 74-year old cancer survivor.  The Yorkshire controversies -- and his decision to exile himself from Test cricket between 1974 and 1977 -- are revisited, but now with an acknowledgment that he made mistakes and an admission that he has regrets, not least the 18 years in which he was estranged from Fred Trueman, the teammate he had idolised as a boy yet with whom he did not speak between 1983 and 2001.
Yorkshire and England batsman Geoff Boycott

The chapters on his emotional response to his cancer diagnosis and on the gruelling treatment he endured in order to overcome the disease come early in the book.  Boycott describes the experience in such candid, personal terms it is impossible not to be moved.

It is Boycott opening up as never before and we learn about the effect on his life of marrying Rachael, with whom he had an on-off relationship spanning 40 years, and his joy at enjoying in his senior years the experience of fatherhood, with the arrival of their daughter, Emma.

There is a strong chapter too on his admiration for and friendship with Brian Clough, an unlikely coming together of two super-egos that led to an enduring friendship.  Clough loved cricket and admired Boycott for his skill and professionalism, while Boycott followed football closely and saw in Clough a man of maverick characteristics with which he could empathise.

The glaring omission from the book is anything at all on his conviction for assaulting a former lover in France in 1998, for which he was given a suspended jail sentence.

As for Boycott being a changed man, humbled by having confronted the possibility of dying, rest assured he has not yet become a self-effacing model of modesty.  Even in the darkest moments of his illness, when fear dominated his thoughts, he reminds himself how famous he is.

The day before his first visit to a specialist, aware that there was something wrong and able to think of little else, he and Rachael hosted a lunch at their home for members of the touring Indian cricket team, Boycott noting that Suarev Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid "wanted to watch films of me batting".  Rachael, meanwhile, had arranged for a local restaurant to provide the food only to discover it was Pakistani rather than Indian, much to her embarrassment.  Boycott, though, was able to reassure her.  Any fears that the Indian team might be 'nobbled' by their fiercest rivals could be discounted, he said, because "all the waiters were far more interested in being in Geoffrey Boycott's house and having photographs with me."

Boycott fans would find it disturbing to find that the iconic Yorkshireman had changed beyond recognition, however, and this updated memoir, pulled together nicely by Nick Hoult of the Daily Telegraph, has plenty to commend it.

KP: The Autobiography of Kevin Pietersen, by Kevin Pietersen  (Sphere)

Accustomed to failure in the 1990s, English cricket fans could have been forgiven for getting a little giddy when the Test team rose to the top of the world rankings and inflicted three innings defeats on Australia in one series.

But beneath this success there lay an undercurrent of bullying, a "contagiously sour and infectiously dour" head coach in Andy Flower and a clique spearheaded by the "Big Cheese" in wicket-keeper Matt Prior.

These are the words of Kevin Pietersen, the flamboyant batsman whom the media placed on a pedestal previously occupied by Sir Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff.  Within the dressing room, though -- at least in some parts of it -- he felt he was held in much lower esteem.

Pietersen's hard-hitting autobiography, ghost-written by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, has rocked the cricket establishment.   Out of contract with both England and Surrey, Pietersen was able to lift the lid on such matters as Textgate, the Twitter parody account 'KP Genius', his reintegration into the England set-up and his 'sacking' by England after last winter's Ashes whitewash, without fear of punishment.

He admits he was often naive and sometimes stupid, but insists he should not be cast as the villain, despite having been the common denominator in most of the recent controversies engulfing the England and Wales Cricket Board.

It appears throughout the book that Pietersen's biggest demon is within himself. Although he does discuss his troubles against left-arm spin, he tends to reflect on his performances in terms of whether or not he was "feeling right" at the crease rather than the threat posed by opposing bowlers.

Pietersen thrives when he is allowed to express himself and play naturally and believes he and Flower clashed because the Zimbabwean resented this carefree approach.  He says Flower "took all the fun out of playing for England", although given that he inspired the side to such great success it is hard to imagine his players hated their work that much.

Pietersen is fiercely critical of the ECB for not managing his schedule, despite complicating matters himself by participating in the Indian Premier League, the virtues of which he extols.  He slams the ECB and his former teammates for decrying it, yet acknowledges that he succeeded in winning lavish contracts year after year where his colleagues mostly failed.  It is no wonder that they may have resented him talking about his experiences there.
England outcast Kevin Pietersen

He was convinced teammates were contributing to the 'KP Genius' Twitter account, which he took to be ridiculing him.  The players have denied any involvement, although one can easily imagine they would have revelled in the indignation and outrage the account provoked.

He seems at his most thin-skinned in the accusations he levels at Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann -- aided by 'Big Cheese' Prior -- whom he alleges would bully fielders who dropped catches or made misfields.  Yet for a bowler to explode with rage at a fielder reacting slowly or failing to stop a second run is hardly an unusual occurrence.

Pietersen's claim that this created an 'atmosphere of fear' is again not reflected by results, at least not until they dipped as his England career came towards its end.

While eloquently presented, the focus of the book is less on Pietersen's career than those individuals he perceives to have wronged him.  Yet he maintains he is not bitter.  He reiterates his love of playing for England and still says he would "jump at the chance" of a return.  After this explosive tale, it is hard to see the selectors falling over themselves to make that call.

Buy The Corridor of Certainty from Amazon , Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy KP: The Autobiography from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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20141222

Some entertainment for Christmas with a serious side in The A-Z of Football Hates

Review

Here are a couple of fun titles for the festive season, although neither deserves to be passed over as a mere Christmas frippery.

At first glance, The A-Z of Football Hates could easily be dismissed as such, as one of those easy-read gift items that book shops like to group around the pay point in the hope of tempting impulse buys.

In fact, while there is plenty of fun to be had in Richard Foster's eclectic collection of things that irritate him about the national game, the author dissects each by way of reasoned critique rather than unstructured rant or sepia-tinted rambling. The writing has a light touch and a sense of humour but there is research to back up the arguments, too.

The Definitive Guide to Everything that is Rotten in the Beautiful Game, to give the full subtitle, is as broad in its scope as you would hope for from something claiming to be definitive.

Subjects range from the trivial, such as haircuts, coloured boots and Mexican waves, to the rather more serious, such as the damage done by greedy agents and delusional owners and everything that is wrong about Qatar 2022.

The book is enhanced, too, by contributions from others, which means the author's is not the only voice heard.

These include broadcasters Ian Darke and Pat Nevin, journalist Matt Dickinson, St George's Park chairman David Sheepshanks, the sagely William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe and several supporters.

Nevin talks with personal insight about his hatred for ‘Hatred’, having seen plenty of it while growing up in Glasgow and playing on Merseyside.

If Foster's book is fun with a serious side, Little Bit Silverware (Haynes Publishing) is purely fun.  This is the 2013-14 season as told by the brilliant Twitter parody account @wengerknowsbest, which captures the Frenchman's vocal mannerisms with uncanny accuracy in observations that could almost belong to the man himself, even the most hilarious ones.  Hard to put down.

The A-Z of Football Hates: The Definitive Guide to Everything that is Rotten in the Beautiful Game, by Richard Foster, is published by Amberley Publishing.

Buy it here from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

Buy Little Bit Silverware from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

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20141217

Pitch Publishing showing the way for enterprising sports book publishers

It has not been the worst of years for the sports section of the publishing business.  In the lead-in to Christmas, the autobiography of motorcycle racer, TV presenter and all-round speed freak Guy Martin is at around 10th in the list of general best sellers -- ahead of Russell Brand and John Cleese and keeping company with Jamie Oliver's latest must-have cook book -- and of the two sports blockbusters of 2014 Roy Keane has blown Kevin Pietersen out of the water to claim a place in the top 20.

Away from the mega-sellers, though, turning a worthwhile profit from a sports book remains a tough challenge, regardless of the quality of the writing.  The big publishing houses have seldom been more cautious about investing in a sports title with many showing little interest in anything that doesn't shout 'guaranteed best seller'.

Yet there is one company that remains a beacon of hope for sports authors aspiring or established. Pitch Publishing, the Worthing-based outfit established in 2002, has 120 titles on offer to anyone looking for a Christmas gift for an avid sports book fan with another bumper catalogue anticipated in 2015.

So what is the secret of their success in a climate in which other publishers are feeling the pitch and reining in their ambitions?

Busy director Paul Camillin, who somehow finds time for a parallel life as Head of Media for Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club, does not deny that these are difficult days in the publishing business but has a more optimistic outlook than many.

"Publishing is always hard work and we've had to adapt to new challenges but there is a good market for good books," Camillin said.

"We can't pay big advances, we have to keep our overheads low and we rely on a loyal band of freelance editors, designers and proofreaders but we have been successful.

"The key ingredients include maintaining good relationships with the major retailers - the high street stores and the supermarkets -- and accepting that Amazon exists."

The online retail giant has transformed bookselling in a way that is often seen as to the detriment of the trade, driving down prices and making profitability even harder to attain, but Camillin sees no point in fighting it.

"Amazon has been there as long as we have, so we have made sure our business model works with it," he said.

"And Amazon can work in your favour, too. You can have a book that Waterstones and WH Smith don't touch that explodes on Amazon and they may then decide they want it on their shelves."

He says that care has to be taken in judging a title's potential.  While there are some books Pitch knows will sell in good numbers, with others there is a need to tread carefully.  He stresses too that authors need to recognise that handing over the manuscript is not the end of their involvement.

"You have to guard against being gung-ho. You need to be prepared, for example, to start with a modest print run and test the water with some titles.

"Also you need authors willing to publicise their work, to lean on every contact, to market themselves with newspapers and radio stations because reviews, publicity and making your book visible are absolutely vital."

Pitch ensures too that readers who prefer their books to be in electronic format are catered for too, with titles available as downloadable ebooks.  The Kindle revolution is seen as a positive as well, rather than a threat.

"The medium of delivery may change," Camillin says, "but people will always want to read and I believe there will always be a market for good books."

A glance through Pitch's catalogue reveals that focussing on small but enthusiastic audiences is a key element of their success, recognising, for example, the loyalty of football fans to their own clubs.

Pitch publish the growing 'Got, Not Got' series, the football nostalgia concept that began life as a blog, evolved into a book and subsequently a growing catalogue of sequels, jointly compiled by Derek Hammond and Gary Silke.

The original Got, Not Got: The A-Z of Lost Football Culture, Treasures and Pleasures appeared in 2011, a wonderful, lavishly illustrated collection of football memories and memorabilia.  A second volume followed in 2013 and, this year, an explosion of individual club titles, following the same theme, which will stir personal memories for fans of Derby, Coventry, Leicester , Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Norwich City and West Ham.  More are in the pipeline for next year.

For more information, go to Derek's page on Amazon or visit Waterstones or WHSmith.

Pitch have found another winning formula with a series of books, again aimed at the fans of individual clubs, based on great matches or defining moments in the their team's history.

There are 'Match of My Life' titles on Southampton, Stoke, Wolves, Brighton, Sunderland , Sheffield United, Derby and Liverpool among others, as well as Jon Spurling's excellent Red Letter Days: Fourteen Dramatic Events That Shook Arsenal.

Scottish football is well represented in the Pitch catalogue, too, with recent publications including Unthinkable, which charts the rise of Raith Rovers in the 1980s and 90s from the lowest tier of the Scottish professional game to beating Celtic in the final of the Scottish League Cup, and A Season with the Honest Men, a fly-on-the-wall account of a year in the life of Ayr United FC.

Away from football, Pitch has released a couple of interesting boxing titles this year including Mark Turley's Journeymen, which looks at a different side of the fight game, focusing on the boxers whose role is effectively to make up the numbers, turning up as opponents for young fighters on the way up, stepping into the ring to provide a solid workout but with the clear understanding that it is the hot prospect in the opposite corner who will leave with a win under his belt.

Tris Dixon also ventures into the shadows of the boxing world in The Road to Nowhere, this time in America, tracking down a fascinating collection of former fighters, from could-have-been contenders who vanished from view to one-time star names who had their moment in the spotlight but were ultimately left behind, and revealing where life took them next.

Pitch titles were nominated for three prizes at the British Sports Book awards in 2014.

Can't Sleep, Can't Train, Can't Stop won more plaudits for triathlete Andy Holgate after his success with Can't Swim, Can't Ride, Can't Run.

The Great English Final: 1953, Cup, Coronation and Stanley Matthews added to David Tossell's impressive back catalogue.

The Sergio Torres Story, written with the help of South American football writer Juan Manuel Lopez, tracks the improbable journey made by Crawley Town's Sergio Torres from a brick factory in Argentina to playing at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.

Click on any of the highlighted titles for more information and to buy.

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