20101130

Beware of the Dog lands Bookie prize for rugby tough guy Moore


A sporting life with a darker side has again found favour with the judging panel for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, who have awarded the richest prize for sports writing to the ex-England and British Lions rugby star Brian Moore.

The former hooker, known as ‘Pit Bull’ in his playing days in the 1990s, scooped the £22,000 award for his harrowing, soul-baring autobiography Beware of the Dog: Rugby's Hardman Reveals All.

Two years ago, the William Hill judges went for former England cricketer Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography, Coming Back to Me, which broke new ground in the sports book genre by discussing the depression that ended the Somerset batsman’s international career.

Moore’s memoirs are equally raw and revealing, in the most deeply personal and painful sense, bringing to light for the first time the sexual abuse he suffered as a boy at the hands of a trusted friend of his adoptive parents.

Beware of the Dog beat off competition from a strong field that included Andre Agassi‘s autobiography Open, the widely-acclaimed fishing-and-more memoir, Blood Knots, by Luke Jennings, and Duncan Hamilton’s A Last English Summer, with which the author was attempting to win an unprecedented  hat-trick of 'Bookie' prizes.

Moore was reduced to tears when he was presented with the award by broadcaster John Inverdale at the Waterstone’s store in Piccadilly, London.

"No rugby victory ever brought me to tears,” he said. “I'm astonished to have won having seen the quality of the authors.”

Bounce, Matthew Syed’s study of how champions are made, and Trautmann’s Journey, which details the story of the legendary Manchester City goalkeeper’s association with the Hitler Youth and support for the Nazi regime, were also deemed less worthy of the prize than Moore’s exploration of his troubled past.

Moore, who spent 17 years as a solicitor, has clearly gained from his more recent experience as a Daily Telegraph journalist, which has equipped him with the skills to write Beware of the Dog himself.  By contrast, Agassi’s confessional effort was ghosted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer, J R Moehringer.

The rugby tough guy has described the writing as cathartic, helping him at least to begin to address the inner demons that drove him to relish violent conflict on the field as well as wreaking havoc in his private life.

His story begins at its most damaging moment, with a graphic account of his sexual abuse at the age of 10, on a school trip, by a teacher friend of his Methodist step-parents. He also describes the feelings of rejection he experienced when he learned that he had been given up by his blood mother and suggests that the self-destructive, nasty streak to which he freely admits probably has its root in those two events.

There is much in the book, too, about the rugby career that brought 64 England caps as well as three Grand Slams.  But it is the gritty honesty with which he recounts his private pain that sets Beware of the Dog apart.

Graham Sharpe, the long-time media face of bookmakers William Hill and co-founder of the prize, was unstinting in his praise for Moore’s tour de force.

“As a trained solicitor and a lover of opera, fine wine and Shakespeare, Brian Moore in no ordinary sportsman,” Sharpe said. “So it follows that this is no ordinary book. Candid and rigorous, it's a uniquely engaging book and a fascinating exploration of what lies beneath the tough exterior of one of England's greatest rugby players".

Waterstone's sports buyer Joe Browes added: "For a memoir to lift itself above the rest, the author must give something of themselves to the writing, as Marcus Trescothick did when he won the William Hill award.

“Moore displays the same honesty that made Trescothick's book so memorable and he thoroughly deserves this prize.”

Publishers Simon & Schuster responded to the news by  bringing forward paperback publication of Beware of the Dog to next week, two months ahead of the planned date in February next year.

The book reveals that Moore's years as a player were undermined by self-doubt and that acts of violence on the pitch were committed with a certain relish. In it, he further explains that retirement added a sense of loss to the other complications in his character and that he is still battling to an extent with his inner torment, although his third marriage is thankfully a happy one and his media career is flourishing.

Moore’s acceptance comments paid tribute to the support he has received from many friends in helping him through difficult times in his career and personal life.

"More than anything the fact that I'm still around to tell the story is a testament to people who helped me at times when I didn't necessarily deserve help,” he said.

“But they managed to stick with me and I hope in some way I have done them justice with the way I have covered them in the book."

For details of how to buy Beware of the Dog: Rugby's Hard Man Reveals All, simply follow the link.

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20101125

Sports Books for Christmas

Part Two -- A Quintet on Cricket


Between now and December 25th, The Sports Bookshelf will provide a regular selection of sports books that might tickle your fancy or interest a son, daughter, friend or partner as you weigh up what to put under the tree this Christmas.  Click on the title or the picture to buy securely from Amazon.

Thanks, Johnners: An Affectionate Tribute to a Broadcasting Legend


Brian Johnston died in 1994 but to scores of Test Match Special listeners it is his name that comes to mind at the mention of TMS, even now.  Jonathan Agnew salutes his unique place in the history of the BBC’s iconic cricket commentary show in a warm and witty homage to a man alongside whom he worked for only three years but whose informal, mischievous style made Agnew the broadcaster he is today.  Those three precious years also produced the most famous moment in TMS history when Agnew’s description of the way Ian Botham “didn’t quite get his leg over” as he was dismissed ‘hit-wicket’ reduced Johnners to uncontrollable giggles.  That incident alone gets a whole chapter.

A Last English Summer

Duncan Hamilton’s roaming diary of the 2009 cricket season in England has been shortlisted for William Hill Sports Book of the Year, an award the author has captured twice in the last three years.  Hamilton, a self-confessed sentimentalist, worries about the state of the game, the diminishment of its core values, the assaults on its integrity and in particular the damage he sees as being done by Twenty20.  Nonetheless, he finds much to celebrate in an evocative journey and the quality of his prose, rich with anecdote and brilliant observation, sets him apart among modern writers about cricket.

Start the Car: The World According to Bumble

If Duncan Hamilton would sooner share a swimming pool with a couple of hungry sharks than spend an evening watching Twenty20 cricket, David Lloyd is an unapologetic fan of the shortest form of the game. He doesn’t see it as proper cricket -- rather “a form of entertainment using cricket equipment” -- but does see it as a lifeline for the sport he loves, and laments England’s failure to see the potential of their own invention before others had stolen their thunder.  Bumble’s argument in favour is among the more serious bits of Start The Car, in which the many less serious bits are probably what made it the summer’s best selling cricket book.


W.G. Grace Ate My Pedalo: A Curious Cricket Compendium

Alan Tyers, irreverent columnist for the Wisden Cricketer Magazine, combines with illustrator and cartoonist Beach in a wonderful piece of spoofery, presenting stories with the full flavour of 2010 in the format and style of a Victorian periodical. Tyers lampoons anyone and everyone, sparing few of the game’s principal characters, historical or contemporary, in the funniest cricket book of the year, interspersing stories with headlines such as “WG Grace: My Pedalo Shame” and “Barmy Army Invades Prussia” with adverts for “Warne’s World Renowned Barnet Bazaar and Wiggery” and “Boycott’s Finest Sticks of Rhubarb”.


The Victory Tests: England v Australia 1945

Historian Mark Rowe delves into every available archive source to present a vivid picture of the 1945 Victory Test series, a confrontation between England and Australia that drew massive crowds eager to celebrate sport for sport’s sake after the years of conflict.  Because the Ashes were not at stake, the series has attracted less attention than it merits, given than England had a largely full strength side and the team of Australian servicemen included Lindsay Hassett and Keith Miller.  The result was a 2-2 draw, with the mostly unknown Aussies playing above themselves. Miller, the Royal Australian Air Force pilot, is acknowledged as a fine cricketer but Rowe controversially questions Miller’s reputation as a war hero.

To buy any of these titles from Amazon, simply click on the links.

Sports Books for Christmas: Part One - Five on Football

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20101123

Trescothick recognised for helping to raise mental health awareness


Former England cricketer Marcus Trescothick has been awarded the Making a Difference award at the Mind Mental Health Media Awards 2010 in recognition of his decision to write and speak publicly about his personal experience of depression. 

The awards by Britain’s leading mental health charity identify the most effective portrayals of mental distress and reporting of mental health in broadcast and new media.  The Making a Difference award is presented to someone who has made a genuine impact on the way that mental health is viewed.

Trescothick, who continues to play cricket as captain of Somerset, was recognised for his involvement with the BBC’s Inside Sport documentary investigating depression amongst sportsmen, and for his candid autobiography Coming Back To Me, detailing what it is like to live with the condition.

He retired from international cricket because of his illness but has made efforts to raise awareness of mental health problems in the media, helping bring mental health to the attention of sports fans.

Trescothick said: “It means so much to have won Mind’s Making a Difference award. One of the worst things about having a mental health problem is feeling that you are alone and so to be recognised for helping to raise awareness, which will hopefully help others going through the same thing not to feel so isolated, is just the best feeling.”

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: “Marcus's decision to speak publicly about his experience of depression brought mental health problems to the attention of a generation of young people. He is an excellent role model who is an inspiration for young men experiencing mental distress and his actions have no doubt helped many to come forward and seek help.”

Follow this link to buy Coming Back To Me: The Autobiography of Marcus Trescothick

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20101117

The pleasures and indignations of forthright Frith


David Frith has probably put too many backs up and exposed too many raw truths to be held in quite the same affection among cricket writers as, say, Neville Cardus, or John Arlott.  His love for the game runs no less deep; indeed, his life has been one of slavish devotion to the game. Yet there has rarely been a mist of sentimentality obscuring his view.


As he explains in his preface to this collection of his writings, Frith’s ambition was “to share the pleasure and excitement as well as the recurring indignation at the bruises inflicted on cricket by the greedy and uncaring”.


The pieces in Frith on Cricket, chosen by the author, include some extracts from 30 or more books but draw heavily from his magazine and newspaper writing, much of which will have been long forgotten.


The advantage this provides lies not only in offering Frith’s admirers access to work with which they may not be familiar but also in the unpolished honesty of the work, written under the pressure of deadlines and before hindsight can come into play.


It is not that he has not written well in admiration when he has felt it justified -- his eulogy on Ray Lindwall and Neil Harvey, for example, is beautifully crafted -- but it is his forthright, damning pieces that resonate the loudest.


His opposition to the boycotting of South Africa, which he felt exposed hypocrisies in virtually all corners of the game, was consistently well argued, as is his support for technological aids for umpires.


And he never lets convention blunt his criticism, even when the targets are his journalistic colleagues, whom he rounded on almost as a collective over the “dirt in pocket” affair in which the England captain, Michael Atherton, was effectively accused of ball-tampering in 1994.


Frith wrote in Wisden Cricket Monthly that “the avidity with which the majority of English cricket writers fell upon the England captain made one’s stomach turn.”  He said that they demanded Atherton’s resignation “without a shred of unquestionable evidence of misdemeanour” and went on to suggest some of his fellow writers would “be bent on savaging their prey further” after Atherton, hitting back, made reference to ‘the gutter press’.


Spanning more than half a century, beginning with the high school essay in which he set out his intention to become a journalist, Frith on Cricket leads the reader through a history of the game during that period from a viewpoint that seldom fails to stimulate.


Frith on Cricket is published by Great Northern Books, whose other cricket titles include Sweet Summers: The Classic Cricket Writing of JM Kilburn and Play Cricket The Right Way, the new issue of Geoff Boycott’s classic coaching book.


First published in 1976, Boycott’s instructional manual, in which the acknowledged master of technique covers all the game’s disciplines, has been updated for 2010 with new illustrations and sections on new skills, such as the spin bowler’s ‘doosra’ delivery and the batsman’s ‘switch hit'.


Frith on Cricket

Geoff Boycott: Play Cricket the Right Way


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20101115

Zoning in on where motor racing takes the mind


Sebastian Vettel’s timing could not have been better.  With the Formula One drivers’ championship still open to four contenders as the cars lined up on the grid for the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, Vettel produced the perfect drive at the perfect moment.

With pre-race points leader Fernando Alonso unable to finish in the first four, which would have denied Vettel the title, the 23-year-old German became the youngest F1 champion, his victory putting him in front for the only time in the championship.

By consensus, he drove a superb race.  But did he find himself in the zone? 

It is not a phrase often recognised as carrying profound meaning.  Indeed, in most sports it would convey nothing more than a sense of focus or concentration, a basic prerequisite to success.

In motor racing, however, to be in the zone is to reach an almost mystical place, or a state of mind in any event, in which the driver and car effectively become one entity, the occupant of the cockpit as much part of the machine as the vehicle is an extension of its pilot.

It is a phenomenon that first prompted wide discussion after Ayrton Senna described his qualifying laps for the Monaco Grand Prix in 1988 and spoke about something akin to an out-of-body experience, in which his McLaren-Honda car went faster and faster until the Brazilian began to believe he was above the car, looking down at himself at the wheel.

It transpired he was not the first to have encountered such feelings during a race or qualifying but it was only after Senna had vocalised the experience in such startling terms that others admitted that they too had known disturbing moments similar to the one Senna described.

The phenomenon is explored by the motor racing writer Clyde Brolin in a book entitled Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone, in which more than 100 interviewees -- not all of them racing drivers -- explain what they understand the phrase to mean and how their experiences compare with Senna’s.

Senna risked ridicule with his public admission, or at least the murmured suspicion that he was slightly bonkers.  Yet many of those quizzed by Brolin could recall moments in their cars when normal conscious thought processes gave way to something else.

Jenson Button, for example, said that he sometimes would drive a qualifying lap in which he could later remember not a single detail, whereas normally he would be able to replay the lap in his mind in exact detail. Usually, the laps in question were especially quick.

And Vettel described moments when everything about the way the car was set up was perfect but that there was something extra. “That’s the magic and it can make a big difference… it is the best feeling in driving. You are always fighting to reach this.”

Brolin touches on a number of possible explanations, or theories about explanations, for the phenomenon, from the neurological and the technical to the astro-physical or spiritual.
He does not attempt to resolve the question by offering his own answer.  Then again, so far there really isn’t one.

Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone.  Click on the link to reach the Amazon website for details on how to buy.

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20101111

Sports Books for Christmas

Part One -- Five on Football


Between now and December 25th, The Sports Bookshelf will provide a regular selection of sports books that might tickle your fancy or interest a son, daughter, friend or partner as you weigh up what to put under the tree this Christmas.  Click on the title or the picture to buy securely from Amazon.


John Giles: A Football Man - My Autobiography

Johnny Giles, brilliant midfield craftsman of the Don Revie era at Leeds United, hits back at what he considers the myth of ‘Dirty Leeds’, suggesting that the image of the club has been tainted by repeated distortions of the truth, the worst of which have come about since David Peace’s fact-into-fiction account, The Damned United, was turned into a film, which Giles described as “a misinterpretation of the misinterpretation of the book”.  Those Leeds supporters of a certain age who have to scratch their heads to remember Giles as the sly psychopath of recent reinvention will see this as a welcome revision.



Kenny Dalglish charts his 33-year love affair with Liverpool Football Club in a second tranche of autobiographical recollections, as told to his ghostwriter, the Daily Telegraph football correspondent Henry Winter, who was congratulated by one reviewer for “discarding the needless pomposity prevalent in his [newspaper] writing” and not interfering with Dalglish’s voice, which Winter may or may not take as a compliment.   Must-have reading for Liverpool fans.


George Best & Me: Waggy's Tale: GEORGE by the Man Who Knew Him BEST

Fresh tales of the Fifth Beatle as Malcolm Wagner, who was Best’s closest friend, minder and Mr Fixit during the glory years and beyond, shares his personal memories of life with George.   Known also as the Village Barber -- his hairdressing business was nextdoor to Best’s boutique -- Wagner was the central character in the Best entourage known as ‘the Chaps’ and his stories from the glitzy and the murkier sides of Manchester nightlife in the 1960s and 70s -- from the 24-hour drinking club run by Thin Lizzie star Phil Lynott’s mum to Best’s relationship with the infamous Quality Street Gang -- will appeal to Life on Mars fans as well as Manchester United supporters.

Please Don't Go: Big John's Journey Back to Life

The story of former Arsenal, Celtic and Wales striker John Hartson’s remarkable battle against cancer has won plaudits not only for its harrowing candour but also for the quality of the narrative, which intersperses the player’s account with the thoughts of his then-pregnant wife, Sarah, and extracts from a diary kept by his sister, Victoria.  In this respect, Please Don’t Go clearly benefits from the skill of ghostwriter Rachel Murphy, a former Daily Mirror journalist who also runs a thriving community website in Kent, www.tonbridgepeople.co.uk.



Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era

If Manchester City become Premier League champions, most football fans would take it as confirmation that football success always comes to those with the richest owners or most generous bank managers.  But is that necessarily the case? Pay As You Play attempts to measure the correlation between success and transfer spending by converting all Premier League transfer fees since 1992 to current-day prices using a price index based on ‘football inflation’ figures.  The findings suggest which managers have excelled in the transfer market, which clubs punched above their financial weight and which players proved good or bad value for money.


Sports Books for Christmas: Part Two - A Quintet on Cricket

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20101107

Sydenham's League champions the best of all time


Here’s an interesting poser.  Were you to canvass the opinions of 100 of the greatest players in cricket history, from the late Sir Alec Bedser to Shane Warne, and ask them to name which players from the last 100 years or so would merit selection for an all-time world XI, which England cricketer do you suppose would win the most votes?

The answer might surprise you a little, as it possibly did journalist Richard Sydenham, who has had the patience and staying power to track down 100 players willing to name their best XI and then painstakingly record and classify their choices in a new book.

In a League of Their Own: 100 Cricket Legends Select Their World XI lists 108 different nominees for places in these 100 fantasy elites, of whom 25 were England players.  Only Australia, with 30, had a stronger representation.

So which of the 25 was the most popular choice?  Ian Botham? Geoffrey Boycott? Or, going back a little further, perhaps Len Hutton?

In fact, it was none of those.  Neither was it Jack Hobbs, Denis Compton or Jim Laker.   And it certainly wasn’t Andrew Flintoff or Kevin Pietersen.

No, the man who made it into 34 of the 100 teams selected -- with 13 more votes than his nearest challenger among England players and eight more than his closest pursuer in his own specialist position -- was wicketkeeper Alan Knott.

Interestingly, Knott earned his place in the all-time XI without the support of any of the 15 Australians among Sydenham’s 100.  Their vote tended to be split between Ian Healy, Rod Marsh, Adam Gilchrist and Don Tallon.  Gilchrist polled 26 votes, although only four from fellow Aussies.

The next most popular England player was Hutton, with 21 nominations, followed by Botham (18), Hobbs (14), Laker (12), Compton, Godfrey Evans and Sydney (S.F.) Barnes (10 each), Fred Trueman (9) and Aled Bedser (7).

Flintoff earned one vote -- from South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis -- while Pietersen apparently did not impress anyone, at least not enough to displace another choice.

Sport is all about opinions and comparing notes on the relative merits of players down the years is an enduring pastime.  Sydenham admits that his idea is hardly new, but he is probably right to claim that no one has documented the chosen best XIs of 100 players who would qualify to be nominated themselves.

He admits it took him years to complete the task. “The reasons are varied,” he said. “Several publishers initially rejected the project and it took time to reach hard-to-contact players -- and there are other commitments in one’s life that make it hard for an author to dedicate himself to a book that is not backed by a publisher.”

In Sydenham’s case, the latter comment is particularly pertinent.  Whereas some journalists might devote days off to writing books, in his branch of the profession -- working as an agency writer for Reuters and Associated Press -- days off can be little more than an aspiration, especially during a busy cricket season.

In fact, by the time he had interviewed the 100th of his chosen “legends”, some selections had lain so long in his notes he felt obliged to check they were still valid.  Indeed, Knott would have had 35 votes had Botham, whom Sydenham interviewed on a TV gantry at Edgbaston during a Test match, not changed his mind two years after making his original choice and gone for Gilchrist instead.

Sydenham ultimately found his publisher in Derby Books, which continues to maintain a catalogue similar to its predecessor, Breedon Books, which went into administration a year ago.  Breedon, founded in 1982, built its name on taking up good ideas for niche audiences as well as projects with wider appeal.

If cricket fans are a niche audience, a League of Their Own certainly falls into the former category but given an impressive list of participating “greats” it surely qualifies on the second count, too.

For information on how to buy In a League of Their Own: 100 Cricket Legends Select Their World XI simply follow the link.

Richard Sydenham is also the author of In the Line of Fire: The Great Opening Batsmen of Test Cricket, and worked with Mushtaq Mohammad on his autobiography, Inside Out.

He has also written an as-yet unpublished biography of the movie career of Steve McQueen.

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20101102

Agassi's Open secret makes biography a prize contender


There is a lot to be said for a good collaborator, which may explain why Open, the soul-baring autobiography of American tennis star Andre Agassi, is in line for a second award in Britain.

Open, which was voted Best Biography’ at the British Sports Book awards in March, has made the shortlist of six for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2010.

It is a strong story, one in which Agassi confesses not only to using the recreational drug, crystal meth, and lying about it to avoid being banned from his sport, but to hating tennis after being forced into it by a controlling father, so much so that he likened much of his early life and career to being imprisoned in an existence over which he had no control.

Agassi chose his own ‘ghost’ but none of the tennis writers of his acquaintance fitted the bill, apparently.  Instead, he contacted John Moehringer Jnr, better known by his byline, JR Moehringer, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist whose own memoir about growing up fatherless in suburban New York, The Tender Bar, captivated the winner of eight Grand Slam tournaments to the extent that he allowed himself to read only a few pages in one session, rather than finish in too quickly.

Moehringer, then working for the Los Angeles Times, was reluctant at first, having spoken to colleagues whose own experience of working with sports stars had been unfulfilling, but Agassi was insistent and,  in time, the journalist became so absorbed in the project he moved to Las Vegas, Agassi's home town.  Naturally, he taped every interview with his subject. At the end, he had some 250 hours of material.

The product of their relationship is a book that carries the stamp of an accomplished writer but which also drills deeply into Agassi’s mind in a way that has clearly enthralled tennis fans but has also through its psychological insights found a wider audience.

The William Hill list also includes Duncan Hamilton’s musings on English cricket, A Last English Summer, with which he is in contention to complete a hat-trick of William Hill awards following the success of Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, which detailed his reporter-manager relationship with the late Brian Clough, and his superb biography of Bodyline fast bowler Harold Larwood.

The other titles in the final six are Trautmann’s Journey, Catrine Clay’s story of the Hitler Youth member and Nazi soldier turned legendary English footballer, Bert Trautmann, Beware of the Dog, the autobiography of England and British Lions rugby star, Brian Moore, Blood Knots by Luke Jennings, the first book with an angling theme to reach the shortlist, and Matthew Syed's Bounce, which challenges the belief that champions are born, not made.

The winner will be announced in a lunchtime ceremony at Waterstones in Piccadilly, London, on November 30th, broadcast live on the Gabby Logan Show on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Charged with deciding who scoops the £22,000 first prize are broadcasters John Inverdale and Danny Kelly, journalists Hugh McIlvanney and Alyson Rudd, and Graham Sharpe, who is media director for William Hill. They make up the judging panel under the chairmanship of John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and one-time owner of the deeply-missed Sportspages bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London.

Click on the links for details of how to buy any of the six shortlisted titles.

Open: An Autobiography
A Last English Summer
Blood Knots
Beware of the Dog: Rugby's Hard Man Reveals All
Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend
Bounce: How Champions are Made

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