Kimmage's skills give voice to a brave young man in a bleak yet uplifting story

William Hill Sports Book of the Year award -- the contenders

The winner of the 2011 William Hill Sports Book of the Year will be revealed tomorrow.  For the last week, The Sports Bookshelf has been presenting a run-down of the seven titles on the short list. Today:

Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson (Simon & Schuster)


It was March 15, 2005. Matt Hampson, a 20-year-old tight-head prop from the Leicester Tigers club, was taking part in a training session with an England Under-21 team that included Ben Foden, Toby Flood and James Haskell. The forwards were in full, contested scrum practice. Not unusually, as 16 hefty men confront each other in a shoving match, the scrum would collapse from time to time.

Thankfully, despite the risks inherent, the players normally pick themselves up unscathed and resume practice. On this occasion, however, it was different.

By some freak of physics, the full force of this collapse ended up being borne by Matt Hampson’s neck. In an instant, he suffered a dislocation that trapped his spinal chord.  He was saved from dying on the field because Tony Spreadbury, the referee supervising the session, happened also to be a paramedic, but the damage already done had paralysed Hampson from the neck down.

Paul Kimmage, the Sunday Times journalist, visited Hampson as he recuperated. His brilliant piece -- headlined ‘One Tragic Day’ -- won him the Sports Journalists’ Association interviewer of the year award for the third year in succession.  They struck up a friendship and now Kimmage has told Hampson’s full story, in all its harrowing detail, from the build-up to the fateful day, the drama of the accident itself, the incredibly long rehabilitation, to his struggle to adjust to what passes for him as a normal life.

The result has been hailed as a story that reveals the true hellishness of personal disaster on the scale that befell Hampson as well as the astonishing capacity of one human being to make the best of what little he had left -- in a physical sense -- and to do so without seeking pity.

Hampson now lives in a converted barn in a Leicestershire village, custom made for him by his father, Phil.  He has a ventilator attached to him by a pipe that breathes for him 21,600 times in every 24 hour period.  Yet he manages to pursue a life in which he offers help, advice and support to other victims of serious injury and disability, in particular in a sports context, through his charity The Matt Hampson Foundation (http://www.matthampsonfoundation.org/)


"Engage is a book that will make you laugh, make you cry, make you gasp: it’s the full emotional rollercoaster. I read the 395 pages in two days."
-- Rachel Simmonite, therugbyblog.co.uk Read more…

“Despite this young man’s remarkable character, Engage’s honest, unblinking approach to the scale of his disaster makes this book much bleaker (and better) than just an uplifting triumph-over-adversity tale…a genuinely outstanding book.”
-- Brian Schofield, the Sunday Times. Read more…

"It is typical of Hampson that he treats the very worst experiences as some loony endurance course. The full black humour of his situation unfolds in his autobiography, a hellish, inspiring and often hilarious account of his struggle.”
-- Elizabeth Grice, Daily Telegraph. Read more…


Paul Kimmage, a former professional cyclist, has already won one William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award for Rough Ride, which exposed drug use in his sport and made his name as a writer.   He also won acclaim for writing the autobiographical Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino on behalf of the Republic of Ireland footballer.

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The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize. As well as a £23,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a £2,000 William Hill bet, a hand-bound copy of their book, and a day at the races. 

The judging panel for this year’s award consists of broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; broadcaster Danny Kelly; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop. 

The winner will be announced at a lunchtime reception at Waterstone’s Piccadilly (London), Europe’s largest bookstore, on Monday 28th November.


The shortlist in full:
1. Among the Fans: From Ashes to the Arrows, a Year of Watching the Watchers by Patrick Collins (Wisden Sports Writing)
2. Into The Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight by Alexander Fiske-Harrison (Profile Books)
3. The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop by Bill Jones (Mainstream Publishing)
4. Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson by Paul Kimmage (Simon & Schuster)
6. A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng (Yellow Jersey Press)
7. 32 Programmes by Dave Roberts (Bantam Press)

Buy Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson direct from Amazon 

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