Have forensic website sleuths blown The Secret Footballer's cover?

With almost 50,000 copies sold, I Am The Secret Footballer was second only to the perennially popular Match Magazine annual as the biggest-selling football book of 2012.

A spin-off from the Guardian newspaper column of the same name, I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game sold 15,000 more copies than Steven Gerrard's My Liverpool Story and enjoyed almost double the sales of Wayne Rooney's My Decade in the Premier League.

Part of that success clearly stemmed from the kind of revelations the author felt safe to share from behind his cloak of anonymity, detailing the pressures and pleasures that come with being young and loaded.

There are some serious messages, emphasising how a life of luxury cars and expensive jewellery funded by enormous salaries cannot always be a shield against corrosive self-doubt.  The Secret Footballer himself claims to have suffered from depression.

On the other hand, tossing in the spicy details of an unnamed former teammate's intimate liaison with another player's wife in an hotel pool and a few tales of booze and drugs and probably didn't hinder sales, it has to be said.

But the big selling point was the author's ability to convince the readers of his veracity as a real footballer, rather than the product of some journalist's fevered imagination, as was once suspected.

Yet his closely guarded identity is under threat after a group of analytical readers announced that they had worked out who The Secret Footballer really is and outed him -- as the former Reading and Stoke City footballer Dave Kitson.

This is the conclusion reached by subscribers to the website www.whoisthesecretfootballer.co.uk who pored through the book for clues and came up with a list of 41 pieces of personal information that might identify the author.

These range from the very basic, identifying him, for instance, as 'English' and 'married' and 'not a goalkeeper' to the more specific, such as the 'subject of a deadline-day transfer' and 'involved in a last-day relegation battle'.

The detail of that relegation battle, in which the author's team were relegated by 'a goal going in at the other end of the country in the dying minutes of the final game of the season' in what would be his last game for that club -- at least until he returned on loan -- points strongly towards Kitson.

He played his last game for Reading ahead of a transfer to Stoke City in a 4-0 win at Derby on May 11, 2008 that was not enough to keep them in the Premier League on account of Fulham's late goal at Portsmouth on the same afternoon, which enabled the London club to survive on goal difference at Reading's expense.

Some of the site's subscribers were enormously excited when The Secret Footballer was interviewed by Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5Live, claiming that the voice was unmistakeably Kitson's -- only for the presenter to insist that it was actually that of an actor.

This in turn sparked a new debate over whether an actor posing as The Secret Footballer in a supposedly live interview would have thrown in quite so many stutters and pauses and ums and ahs as Derbyshire's did.

Kitson is now at Sheffield United, who have declined to comment on the basis that whether or not he is The Secret Footballer is none of their business.

Buy I Am the Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game direct from Amazon



Rise in ebooks claims a casualty as DB Publishing boss decides to abandon print for digital

It is still hard to imagine a day when sports books in their traditional printed form do not exist but with the growing popularity of ebooks comes a warning that such an eventuality may not be as far-fetched as it might once have seemed.

The rise of the ebook has been blamed for the decision taken by one long-standing publisher to abandon print books altogether and concentrate solely on the ebook market.

DB Publishing, the Derby-based concern that began life 30 years ago as Breedon Books, has closed down after managing director Steve Caron took the "difficult decision" to focus his attention solely on DB's digital offshoot, JMD Media.

Caron said: “Our intention had been to sell ebooks alongside our printed publications. But the e-book market has grown so much that it got to a point where it was affecting demand for conventional books.”

The closure comes despite DB transferring hundreds of its titles to ebooks, making them available to readers to download to devices such as the Kindle, iPad and Kobo.

DB took the place of Breedon Books in 2009 after the latter, founded in 1982 by Derby journalist Anton Rippon, went into administration.

Breedon was well known for The Complete Record series, which catalogued the complete history -- including results, scorers, line-ups and attendances for every game and biographies of every player -- for a large number of Football League and Premier League clubs.  Rippon had sold the concern in 2003.

Caron said that JMD Media will sell titles that have been transferred from the printed books sold by DB Publishing.

DB's recent publications include Jim Read's biography of the late Justin Fashanu, who was the first professional footballer to go public over his homosexuality.



After Clough fallout, The Damned United author David Peace turns his novelist's eye to Shankly

Controversial author David Peace, who generated both anger and acclaim with his fictional account of Brian Clough's torrid 44 days as Leeds United manager, is to place another football legend at the heart of a novel.

Almost six years after his dark portrayal of Clough's imagined inner torment in The Damned United, Peace has turned his attention to a man whose greatness he makes no attempt to deny, the former Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly.

Red or Dead, to be published by Faber in August -- a month ahead of the centenary of Shankly's birth -- will focus on how Shankly, who had previously managed Carlisle United, Workington, Grimsby Town and Huddersfield Town, emerged from relative obscurity to transform then down-at-heel Liverpool into the team that would dominate English football and conquer Europe.

It will dwell, too, on Shankly's life after Liverpool, following his surprise decision to retire in 1974, which to an extent was a rather sad time, in which he struggled to let go of the club he had handed over to Bob Paisley, his trusted lieutenant, and was told ultimately to stay away, his regular appearances at Melwood considered unhelpful.

"I have written about corruption, I've written about crime, I've written about bad men and I've written about the demons," Peace said, in the Faber press release announcing the book. "But now I've had enough of the bad men and the demons. Now I want to write about a good man. And a saint. A Red Saint.

"Bill Shankly was not just a great football manager. Bill Shankly was one of the greatest men who ever lived. And the supporters of Liverpool Football Club, and the people of Liverpool the city, know that and remember him.

"But many people outside of football, outside of Liverpool, do not know or do not remember him. And now – more than ever – it's time everybody knew about Bill Shankly. About what he achieved, about what he believed. And how he led his life. Not for himself, for other people."

Red or Dead promises to be a very different book from The Damned United, which echoed the stark prose style of Peace's Red Riding series, novels about police corruption against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders.

David Peace
The Damned United was roundly condemned by the Clough family, who felt its depiction of Brian as ruthless, obsessional and foul-mouthed was unfair, particularly on a man no longer around to defend himself.  Others, notably his biographer, Pat Murphy, complained that it was full of inaccuracies that made the Clough portrayed by Martin Sheen in the film version almost unrecognisable from the real person.

The family were particularly vexed by scenes that suggested Clough was a whisky-drinking chain smoker who was once so anxious about the outcome of an important match when he was Derby manager that he spent its entirety cowering in the dressing room.  They argued that his heavy drinking days came much later in his life, that he had given up smoking and that the idea of him deserting his post on the touchline for a critical match was too ludicrous even to contemplate.

Johnny Giles, one of the Leeds players Clough inherited from his predecessor, Don Revie, sued Peace for libel over the way he was depicted in the story and won.

Now 45, Yorkshire-born Peace now lives in Tokyo, where he has been writing his Tokyo Trilogy, another series of dark novels, about crime and corruption in post-War Japan.  The third volume, following on from Tokyo Year Zero and Occupied City, will be published after Red or Dead.

Click on these links for more information about the The Damned Utd book and the DVD

Other novels by David Peace:

Red Riding: 1974
Red Riding: 1977
Red Riding: 1980
Red Riding: 1983

Tokyo Year Zero (Tokyo Trilogy 1)
Occupied City (Tokyo Trilogy 2)



Neville's Red and tales of The Didi Man among pick of the year's football autobiographies

It is easy to deride football biographies and many reviewers do so with justification, although they sometimes forget that the target audience may be have chosen mindful of fans more concerned with reading a paean to their favourite superstar than any masterpiece of insightful sports literature.

Neither the picture-driven Steven Gerrard: My Liverpool Story nor the easy-reading Wayne Rooney: My Decade in the Premier League is likely to find itself in contention for any awards, yet between them they sold almost 59,000 copies in 2012, according to Nielsen BookScan, which made them the two most successful books in the football biography sector.

At least the 19,000 who parted with money for the paperback edition of Gary Neville's autobiography Red (23,000 if you include sales of the hardback version) had something to read.  Not only that, they had something to talk about too as the former Manchester United and England full back revealed exactly why the punditry career on which he was about to embark was right up his street.

Neville is a revelation: an English footballer with opinions that have not been sanitised by some faceless PR machine intent on rinsing out every ounce of colour. Were he German, Italian or Dutch, Neville's forthright views would be unremarkable. Think Jurgen Klinsmann, Gianluca Vialli, Ruud Gullit (indeed any number of Dutchmen) -- players who think for themselves and have no qualms about setting themselves apart as individuals.  To do so here, to step outside the intellectual base level of dressing room banter and bland post-match answers to correspondingly bland questions, is to risk ridicule.

It is why so many English footballers can appear to be shallow, one-dimensional -- even thick -- when in most cases they certainly are not.  Neville is the antidote.  He addresses issues in the game and assesses players and managers as he sees them, particularly the five England managers in whose teams he played.  And he makes no concessions to reputation or sensitivities.

The only disappointment is that he does not reveal much about David Beckham, the player to whom he was always supposed to be as close as any at Manchester United. Clearly Neville is also a man of honour and discretion, at least when it comes to his mates.

Of the books published for the first time in 2012, it is good to see the Fabrice Muamba autobiography, I'm Still Standing, occupying a high position in the charts after selling 18,000 copies in less than two months.

Neville Southall's engaging Binman Chronicles was another big seller, along with the paperback reissue of A Life Too Short, the heart-rending story of the German national team goalkeeper, Robert Enke, who stepped in front of a train while in the grip of depression.

Perhaps the surprise among the top 10 football biographies of 2012 is The Didi Man, penned by the former Bayern Munich, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester City midfielder, Dietmar Hamann.  Then again maybe not to anyone who has read his warm, witty, perceptive and human story.

Hamann's analyses of the managers for whom he worked are genuinely  illuminating, offering verdicts that often challenge perceived wisdom, while his recollections of the bizarre turn his life took after the breakdown of his marriage, when he took to drink and gambling and lost £288,000 in one night -- not in some swish casino but alone in his house, watching a faraway Test match because he could not sleep -- are gripping.

Interestingly he tells that story with no trace of bitterness, emphasising instead his belief that footballers should grow up and cope with their problems, just the same as anyone else.  He points to the death of Gary Speed and the outpouring of emotions that followed not in some sentimental way but to express a fear that some footballers, blinded to reality by the unreal world they inhabit, might be tempted to indulge in self-pity, forgetting the pressures and uncertainties that shadow the lives of people beyond their cosseted circumstances with no hope ever of aspiring to the wealth and privilege they enjoy.  It is a singular view from an intelligent man with opinions he is willing to express.  But then again, he is German.

The top 12 best selling football biographies and autobiographies of 2012:

1, Steven Gerrard: My Liverpool Story (Headline)
2, Wayne Rooney: My Decade in the Premier League (Harper Sport)
3, Red: My Autobiographyby Gary Neville (PB) (Corgi)
4, Fabrice Muamba: I'm Still Standing (TrinityMirror)
5, A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, by Ronald Reng (PB) (Yellow Jersey)
6, Neville Southall: The Binman Chronicles (De Coubertin)
7, Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning: The Biography. by Guillem Balague (Orion)
8, Scholes: My Story, by Paul Scholes (PB) (Simon & Schuster)
9, The Didi Man, by Dietmar Hamann (Headline) (to be released in paperback next month)
10, Scholes: My Story, by Paul Scholes (HB) (Simon & Schuster)
11, Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top: A Biographyby Philippe Auclair (Macmillan)
12, Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You: The Biography,  by Jonathan Wilson (PB) (Phoenix)

Thanks to Nielsen BookScan.

Click on the links for more information or to buy.



The Wiggins effect - Bradley's the new Beckham as My Time flies off the shelves

Tour de France winner, Olympic time-trial champion, BBC Sports Personality of the Year -- not to mention the small matter of a knighthood -- Bradley Wiggins swept all before him in 2012.

It might not come as a major surprise, therefore, that the Wiggins autobiography, My Time, blew the opposition completely off the track in book sales for 2012.

Published by Random House under the Yellow Jersey imprint, My Time did not appear in the bookstores until November 8 yet end-of-year sales figures compiled by Nielsen BookScan were almost 230,000, most of those rung up in the six weeks or so leading up to Christmas.

To put that number in perspective, My Time's sales accounted for almost a quarter of sales for the whole sports autobiography sector in 2012.  Indeed, if the resurgence in sales enjoyed by the earlier Wiggins life story, In Pursuit of Glory, is taken into account, Britain's all-time greatest cyclist cornered more than a quarter of that market.

According to Nielsen, only five sports autobiographies have sold more copies all told than My Time since they began collating statistics from book retailers in 1988.  That list is headed with more than half a million copies sold by the David Beckham autobiography My Side, which stormed the Christmas market in 2003.

My Side is the only title to have passed the 200,000 mark faster than My Time, which is another indication of the impact Wiggins has made with the British public.

Some critics have argued that My Time lacks depth and emotion compared with In Pursuit of Glory but speed of production was always going to be a critical issue as publishers sought to ride the Olympic wave and William Fotheringham, the cycling journalist and author who helped Wiggins turn his reflections into words on a page, should be applauded for meeting what must have been a daunting deadline.

The same can be said of Rick Broadbent, the athletics writer entrusted with ghosting the Jessica Ennis autobiography, which also took advantage of the book-buying public's appetite for reliving the highs of London 2012.

Unbelievable, released by Hodder and Stoughton on the same day as the Wiggins memoir and Seb Coe's autobiograpphy, also from Hodder, overtook Tom Daley's My Story as the second most popular sports biography but the golden girl of the heptathlon still did not come close to Wiggins, with almost four copies of My Time sold for every one of the Ennis tale.

Coe's book, Running My Life, nudged ahead of William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner The Secret Race as the fourth biggest seller of 2012 in the biography section.  Indeed, with In Pursuit of Glory's figures placing it 10th on the list and Victoria Pendleton's Between the Lines in seventh, six of the top 10 had an Olympic theme.

My Time: An Autobiography, by Bradley Wiggins
Unbelievable: From My Childhood Dreams to Winning Olympic Gold, by Jessica Ennis
My Story, by Tom Daley
Running My Life - The Autobiography, by Seb Coe
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs, by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
Between the Lines: My Autobiography, by Victoria Pendleton
In Pursuit of Glory: The Autobiography, by Bradley Wiggins

Click on the links for more information or to buy.



Sports book readers taking to digital age as boom in e-books makes up for slump in print sales

Sales of printed books fell by nearly 5 per cent last year with a corresponding rise in e-book downloads as more readers embraced the idea of getting their reading fix via the digital format.

With e-readers flying off the shelves in the run-up to Christmas, data from Neilsen BookScan pointed to a decline of £74m in sales of conventional books.

The Bookseller reckoned that physical book sales in the final week of 2012 were down 70 per cent compared with the last week of 2011.

E-books now account for around 14 per cent of the total market, a rise of five per cent on last year, although the trend towards selling e-books at a fraction of the printed book price led to a fall in the total value of the book market in 2011.

Novels remain the big sellers in the digital market, led by E L James's erotic '50 Shades' trilogy, which sold close to 11 million copies in 2012 for £47.3 million, displacing J K Rowling’s 2007 record of £42.6m.

According to the Daily Telegraph, e-readers and tablets such as the Nook, the iPad Mini and Kindle Fire, which can also play films and TV programmes, enjoyed a 45 per cent increase in sales compared with last Christmas, at John Lewis stores.

E-books are gaining popularity in the sports book market.  Among the top 20 bestselling sports titles currently listed by Amazon, 12 are in digital format.

Clare Balding's My Animals and Other Family is the largest-selling e-book among Amazon's current bestsellers, closely followed by the Bradley Wiggins autobiography My Time.  Both have been selling well in printed form too.

The same titles top the WH Smith sports chart.  Indeed, they are outselling all non-fiction e-books with Smiths, pushing Miranda Hart into third place.

E-book popularity is not necessarily a reflection of what the book-buying public is going for in the traditional format.  For example, veteran producer Peter Baxter's collection of Test Match Special anecdotes Can Anyone Hear Me? and former Leicestershire and England wicketkeeper Paul Nixon's autobiography Keeping Quiet have attracted a healthy number of digital readers but do not figure among the top 100 bestsellers in printed editions, although the current prices of the Kindle editions surely has a lot to do with that.  Can Anyone Hear Me? is retailing in Kindle format at 99p compared with £16.99 in hardback!

Amazon's current top 10 bestselling ebooks are listed in the right-hand column of this page.

Visit the Kindle bestsellers page at The Sports Bookshelf Shop



The best sports books of 2012 -- a Sports Bookshelf selection

As we welcome 2013 and a whole new raft of sports literature, time to reflect on the best of 2012, or at least those that appealed most to The Sports Bookshelf.

Not surprisingly, the short and longlists from the William Hill Sports Book of the Year awards are well represented, most prominently by the winner of that prize, the extraordinary exposé of chemical cheating that helped bring down one of sport's biggest names in the cyclist Lance Armstrong.

In the words of the judges, The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France won the William Hill prize for self-confessed doper Tyler Hamilton because it 'fundamentally changed the sport it described' but it stands as a great read, too, irrespective of the impact of its content.

Skilfully crafted by the journalist Daniel Coyle, Hamilton's account of his time alongside Armstrong in the US Postal Team has the style and suspense of an espionage novel as Hamilton, who was right at the heart of the most sophisticated and long-running programme of organised dishonesty in the history of all sports, describes the extraordinary life of subterfuge that Armstrong and his cohort pursued to put themselves on top of their sport and protect the secrets of how they did it.

Drugs in cycling is not a new theme but no book before The Secret Race explored it in such detail or with such devastating consequences.

Richard Moore has written a number of fine books on cycling but The Dirtiest Race in History is not one of them.  The focus of his investigative spotlight instead is the other arena damaged by the curse of drugs, that of athletics.

The race in question is the 1988 Olympic 100 metres final, won by the subsequently disqualified Ben Johnson.  Until Armstrong's catalogue of misdeeds was exposed, Johnson was the highest profile cheat in the history of competition and Moore, reasonably enough, chose an Olympic year to dig deeper into the scandal than any previous research had gone, drawing upon countless interviews and a meticulous exploration of the story and its background.

He could never hope to match Hamilton's impact. Moreover, in a year determined to celebrate all that is good about the Olympics, he was seeking to appeal to a potential audience perhaps less interested in the dark side of the Games than he might have anticipated.  Yet there is much to commend it, not least in the questions raised over the legitimacy of the test that brought about Johnson's downfall.

The Dirtiest Race in History is from the Wisden Sports Writing series also responsible for We'll Get 'Em in Sequins, Max Davidson's clever and amusing dissertation on manliness, viewed through the lives of iconic Yorkshire cricketers, and for Martin Kelner's lovely romp through the history of sport on television, Sit Down and Cheer.

Kelner -- whose Screen Break column for The Guardian has sadly fallen foul of the paper's latest round of cost cutting -- is a naturally witty writer who often needs to resort to little more than his sense of humour to engage the reader.  Sit Down and Cheer has more to it than that, with input from many of those involved in bringing sport to our screens as it charts the evolution of sport on television, which is, after all, how the majority of fans get their fix.  Yet it is no less funny and entertaining for that.

Humour of a different kind is central to Clare Balding's memoir of childhood, My Animals and Other Family.  The radio and television presenter's early life was dominated by various pets - largely dogs - and the horses her father trained at the racing stables that doubled as the family home, visited from time to time by The Queen among other patrons.  Strictly speaking it isn't a sports book -- Balding's career behind a microphone will doubtless provide a sequel -- but the fact that the equine characters include Mill Reef and other stars of the track gives it authenticity of a kind.

When Simon Jordan, the former mobile phone entrepreneur and chairman of Crystal Palace, published the story of his 10 disastrous years at Selhurst Park, it was difficult to imagine it could possibly have a claim to be the football book of the year.  Jordan, famous for his unnaturally tanned skin and unfeasibly blond hair, at one time seemed to represent much of what there was to dislike about football but his story, Be Careful What You Wish For, deserved its place on the William Hill shortlist.

Jordan employs a ready fund of clichés and at times you may find yourself cringing at his behaviour but there are some jaw-dropping tales of what serves as acceptable business practice in a football world populated by sharp agents and officials of questionable competence.

Yet, for all the praise bestowed on Be Careful What You Wish For by the bookie prize panel, the Sports Bookshelf would place it no higher than third among the best football books of 2012.

Of greater literary merit, certainly, are Anthony Clavane's Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here and Duncan Hamilton's The Footballer Who Could Fly.

Clavane, whose brilliant Promised Land was Best Football Book at the 2011 British Sports Book Awards, developed the theme of Jews in football that was central to Promised Land by embarking on a history of Jewish involvement in English football from east London parks in the late 19th century to the boardrooms of the present day, each of the 11 chapters focusing on a key individual.  Clavane tells some fascinating stories and reveals himself again to be a fine writer.

The same can be said of Duncan Hamilton, already an award-winner several times over, who intertwines the development of football in his lifetime with poignant memories of his struggle to forge a close bond with his father when all they had in common was a love of the game.

Although he has been accused at times of being a little too much the misty-eyed nostalgic, Hamilton is capable of delivering a wonderful turn of phrase and The Footballer Who Could Fly recreates the age of Jackie Milburn as vividly as the modern world of Lionel Messi.

Also recommended is Life's a Pitch, an engaging collection of essays by assembled by Michael Calvin, who asked 18 football writers to reveal the secret which professionalism demands they keep to themselves while going about their daily business, namely the club with which their personal allegiance lies.

Rory Smith, John Cross, Martin Lipton, Ian Ridley, Janine Self and Jonathan Wilson are among those who consented to shed the cloak of impartiality.  Their confessions have provided many an entertaining hour.

Greatly enjoyable, too, was El Clasico, a detailed study of the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona in which Barcelona-based journalist Richard Fitzpatrick delves deep into the history and background to arguably the world's most intense, most keenly felt football enmity, explaining all its social and political dimensions.

Cricket rarely fails to serve up a gem or two.  David Warner's The Sweetest Rose is among them, written to mark the 150th anniversary of the formation of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, on January 8, 1863.

Warner is the doyen of the Yorkshire press box, who has been recording the fortunes of the county of the white rose on a daily basis -- at least in the summer months -- since he became cricket correspondent of the Bradford Telegraph and Argus in 1975.

No one is thus more qualified to chart the colourful and often stormy history of the world's most famous cricket club than Warner and he does so diligently, faithfully and even-handedly, recording the great matches, the great deeds and the great characters, from Lord Hawke to Michael Vaughan and all those in between -- Wilfred Rhodes, Len Hutton, Fred Trueman and, of course, Geoffrey Boycott, to name but four. It is a fine record that will endure among the definitive works on Yorkshire cricket.

The Sports Bookshelf was also taken with Gentlemen and Players, in which Charles Williams, also known as Lord Williams of Elvel and, on cricket scorecards in the 1950s, CCP Williams, recalls the decline and eventual death of amateurism in cricket.

Williams, educated at Westminster School and Oxford University, had a successful career in business and later became an eminent biographer of 20th century political leaders and cricketers.  Before that, he represented Oxford University and Essex at cricket as an amateur and appeared in one of the last Gentlemen versus Players matches.

Far from penning a lament for some lost golden age, Williams has produced a notable social history in which he points up the hypocrisy of the amateur era and hails the advance of professionalism as essentially good for the game.

Somewhat unheralded when it appeared on the shelves in October, the biography of the year is undoubtedly Gideon Haigh's On Warne, which is the wonderful Australian cricket writer's view on the life and times and complexities of Shane Warne, the brilliant spin bowler and at his peak one of the best known sportsmen on the planet.  Anything written by Haigh is a pleasure to read; this combines elegance with considerable wisdom and insight.
In the days mourning his woefully premature passing, it is of some small consolation to recall that the writer and broadcaster Christopher Martin-Jenkins managed to add a personal memoir to the vast number of words he wrote about cricket to a life cut tragically short by cancer on New Year's Day.

CMJ -- A Cricketing Life, which was published in April, revealed much more of himself than might have been expected of a man with a natural reserve.  There is plenty about cricket and many strong but well thought-out opinions, the expression of which was fundamental to his devotion to the game, but also a good deal about the upbringing and his private life behind one of Test Match Special's best-loved voices, some details of which shattered a few misconceptions.

Away from cricket,  no list of the best sports books of 2012 should fail to include That Near-Death Thing, Rick Broadbent's fine study of the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races through the compelling stories of four riders, nor Touching Distance, the extraordinary story of Olympic rower James Cracknell's voyage of recovery from a serious, personality-changing brain injury suffered in 2010 when he was hit by the wing mirror of a truck while undertaking an endurance challenge in Arizona.

Those with a taste for the adventurous, meanwhile, should try Nick Hurst's Sugong: The Life of a Shaolin Master, a gripping tale in which the author, having quit his job in advertising to train in martial arts in Malaysia, ends up writing in effect a biography of his grand master, whose life story could have been the plot for a thriller, spiced with political strife, gangland feuds and fraught love affairs.

Among the welter of Olympic books, special mention should be made of My Time, the full story of the growing up and competitive life of Bradley Wiggins -- now 'Sir' Bradley, of course -- in his own words, and of Yorkshire's Olympic Heroes, by Nick Westby of the Yorkshire Post newspaper, who quite rightly decided that the astonishing medal haul acquired by that one county -- including a staggering seven golds -- should be celebrated with a book of its own.

With two silvers and three bronzes for good measure, Yorkshire -- the county of Jessica Ennis, Nicola Adams and the Brownlee brothers among others -- would have finished 12th in the medals table had it been an independent country, a status for which many of its residents believe it has been qualified for years.

Click on the titles for more information or to buy

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle (Bantam Press)
The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final , by Richard Moore (Wisden Sports Writing)
Sit Down and Cheer: A History of Sport on TV , by Martin Kelner (Wisden Sports Writing)
My Animals and Other Family
Be Careful What You Wish For, by Simon Jordan (Yellow Jersey)
Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?: The Story of English Football's Forgotten Tribe, by Anthony Clavane (Quercus)
The Footballer Who Could Fly, by Duncan Hamilton (Century)
Life's a Pitch, edited by Michael Calvin (Integr8 Books)
El Clasico: Barcelona v Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry, by Richard Fitzpatrick (Bloomsbury)
The Sweetest Rose: 150 Years of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, by David Warner (Great Northern Books)
Gentlemen & Players: The Death of Amateurism in Cricket by Charles Williams (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)
On Warne, by Gideon Haigh (Simon & Schuster)
CMJ: A Cricketing Life, by Christopher Martin-Jenkins (Simon & Schuster)
That Near Death Thing: Inside the Most Dangerous Race in the World, by Rick Broadbent (Orion)
Touching Distance, by James Cracknell and Beverley Turner (Century)
Sugong: The Life of a Shaolin Grandmaster, by Nick Hurst (SportsBooks)
My Time: An Autobiography, by Bradley Wiggins (Yellow Jersey)
Yorkshire's Olympic Heroes, by Nick Westby (Great Northern Books)