Controversial Night Games by Anna Krien is 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year

Night Games, a controversial investigation into the ritual abuse of women embedded in Australian sport, has been named the winner of the 26th William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, the richest and most prestigious literary sports writing prize in the world.

Described by the judges as a ‘painstaking, intelligent, but above all, open-minded examination of an immensely complicated area’, Night Games follows the trial of an Australian Rules footballer player accused of rape, the outcome of which led author Anna Krien to consider what she describes as the ‘grey area’ of sexual consent.

Alyson Rudd, the Times journalist who is one of the judges of the annual award, commented: Night Games is not about English football but its relevance to the game is all too clear in the context of the conviction for rape of the Sheffield United player Ched Evans. Anna Krien seeks to understand why some sportsmen treat sex as a warped kind of sport in itself and women with little or no respect. Hopefully, if such men read her book they would be horrified at the repercussions of such behaviour.”

Krien was announced as the winner of the 2014 award by judge and broadcaster John Inverdaleat a lunchtime ceremony at BAFTA in central London. A multiple award-winning journalist, born and living in Australia, Krien is only the second woman in the award’s history to scoop what has become known as the ‘Bookie Prize’.

William Hill spokesman and co-founder of the Award, Graham Sharpe, said: “Despite the challenging nature of its subject matter, Anna Krien’s book is balanced yet fearless, and as compelling and involving as any previous winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

"Quite possibly, only a woman could have written it in as personal and perceptive a manner. Anna is the second woman to have won the Award, following Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, and she had to beat one of the strongest, most varied line-ups in our 26-year history. It remains disappointing that on average, under 10 per cent of the books submitted each year are written by women, and we hope that Anna's success will encourage many more women to write about sport.”

As well as a £26,000 cheque, Krien was awarded a William Hill bet worth £2,500, a leather hand-bound copy of her book, and an exclusive day at the races. She joins an illustrious list of past winners, including Nick Hornby, Duncan Hamilton, Donald McRae and Paul Kimmage.

In taking the winning prize, Krien triumphed over a strong shortlist that included two other titles looking at the macho culture in sport: Gareth Thomas’s autobiography, Proud, which documents the challenges he faced keeping his sexuality a secret while playing at the top of his profession, and Alone by Bill Jones, the biography of iconic figure skater John Curry, looking at the Olympian’s battle to change the muscular face of men’s skating through his sensual performances. 

Other titles on the shortlist included: Floodlights and Touchlines, a sweeping history of spectator sport by journalist and academic Rob Steen; the autobiography of endurance runner Kilian Jornet, Run or Die; a sporting history of the capital, Played in London, by Simon Inglis; and Bobby Moore: The Man in Full,  a biography of the England footballing legend, by Times chief sports writer Matt Dickinson.

The judging panel for this year’s award consisted of retired footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Clarke Carlisle, broadcaster and writer John Inverdale, broadcaster Danny Kelly, award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney,  and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop, John Gaustad, returned as chairman of the judging panel.

Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport by Anna Krien is published by Yellow Jersey Press. Buy now from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Read more about Anna Krien's book.

The shortlist in full



Macho world of Australian sport: William Hill prize contender makes disturbing reading


Anna Krien's Night Games is easily the most controversial contender for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014, because while sport, albeit in Australia, does provides the backdrop, it is as much a book about the sexual abuse of women.

The starting point is the trial of a Australian rules footballer accused of rape following a party to celebrate the Melbourne club Collingwood's victory over city rivals St Kilda in the 2010 AFL Grand Final.  Except that the player concerned, given the pseudonym 'Justin Dyer' by the author, is not a member of the victorious team. In reality he is little more than a hanger-on, drawn into the spotlight after the complainant, whom Anna Krien calls 'Sarah Wesley', claims to have been raped in a hotel bedroom by two very high profile Collingwood players.  The incident with Dyer took place in an alleyway later.

Dyer was initially called as a witness, only to find himself on trial after the charges against the two stars were dropped.  Eventually, he is acquitted, the court unable to decide on the key element required for a guilty verdict, whether his sex with Wesley was or was not consensual.

It was the kind of case that has become somewhat commonplace in Australia, typically involving Aussie rules or rugby league players. In the space of a decade prior to the publication of Krien's book in Australia, there had been more than 20 such trials involving more than 50 players.  As Krien watches from the back of the court, she considers the relationship between sport, power and sex and in particular the moments at which they collide, as they clearly did during Collingwood's post-victory party in 2010.

The book is on one level a narrative account of Dyer's trial but on another a discourse on the subject of sexual negotiation and consent, looking at the circumstances in which the empowering bonds between sportsmen that are so fundamental to their success on the field turn sinister off it, and at the minefield of ambiguity that can occur when the objectives and motivations of the women who become involved in sexual encounters with testosterone-fuelled males at their moment of triumph are misinterpreted.

The book has its weaknesses.  The question of why the case against the two Collingwood stars is dropped is not pursued; nor does Krien seek to explain why the appetite for sexual conquest at the moment of victory is not shared by all players.

Its strengths, however, are many.  There is a fearlessness, for example, in the way Krien probes into areas of sporting culture to which sports writers would find it difficult to tackle, given the dynamic of their relationship with clubs and players.  What she finds makes disturbing reading.

It is an objective work, too.  Readers expecting a portrayal of all women as victims and all men as evil sexual predators will be disappointed in the way Krien resists following a prejudiced agenda. She confesses even that she found Dyer, the accused, a more appealing character than Wesley, the accuser.

Equally, though, there is no sense that in trying to find an explanation for why some sportsmen behave in an abhorrent way towards women she in any way seeks to justify it.  She will find favour with neither side at the extremes of the debate into which she enters, which is what makes Night Games an outstanding work.

The winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for 2014 will be revealed tomorrow (November 27), when the successful author will receive among other things a cash prize of £26,000,

Buy Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark heart of Sport, by Anna Krien (Yellow Jersey) from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The full shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014

Read more about...

Bobby Moore: The Man in Full
Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry
Played in London: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play
Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport



Rob Steen and Simon Inglis strike two heavyweight blows for well researched sporting history

Racy tales of scandal and skulduggery and journeys into troubled souls have tended to tick the judges' boxes for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in recent years, so it is encouraging to see that the 2014 shortlist contains two hefty tomes of thoroughly well researched sporting history.

The reason for their presence there is easily explained: both are exceptional pieces of work with an appeal that goes well beyond mere academic interest.

Rob Steen's Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport weighs in at 531 pages of fairly dense type with only one pause for illustrations, which makes it at first glance a daunting prospect.  Yet it has been hailed for the author's lightness of touch in tackling a subject of epic proportions, taking his readers on a journey from gladiatorial Rome to the present day that is heavy on detail yet with many diverting anecdotes.

Played in London: Charting the History of a City at Play, Simon Inglis's latest contribution to a series of works on sports history by English Heritage, is simply sumptuous, a lavishly illustrated, beautifully written and staggeringly comprehensive history of sport in London and of the places it has been played, with a particular emphasis on sporting architecture, from stadiums to swimming baths, pavilions to boathouses.

Steen, a former Guardian and Sunday Times sportswriter who is now a senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, is the author of a dozen books and many research publications and Floodlights and Touchlines is his most ambitious project.

His decision to give the book a thematic structure was a wise one.  Where a chronology might have challenged the reader's stamina, Steen chooses to break down his history into 10 chapters, each looking at a different aspect of the way sport has evolved.  Gambling, governance, professionalism, players' rights, internationalism, politics, race and sexuality all come under Steen's analytical spotlight, as well as -- of course -- the part played in sport's history by the most important participants of all, the spectators.

Steen's knowledge of sport is immense and his grasp of its significance impressive and enlightening, his appreciation of social and political context giving deeper texture to the story. He understands the dramatic qualities of sport and why so many of us find it so engrossing and explains it all in a compelling narrative that is destined to make this work a classic.

Simon Inglis shares with Steen an enormous fascination with sporting heritage, with a particular interest in where sport has taken place.  His books on the football stadiums of Britain and Europe have become definitive works, blending the history of the game with the evolution of its architecture. He also wrote a wonderful biography of Archibald Leitch, the architect responsible for turning Highbury, Old Trafford, Anfield and Craven Cottage into stadium that would become established in football's iconic landmarks.

Played in London extends way beyond football to explore pretty much every sport ever played in any organised way within the boundaries of the capital, from archery and athletics to speedway and squash, seeking out what remains and what has disappeared among the vast number of grandstands and pavilions, gymnasiums and sports halls, boathouses, swimming pools, cricket, football and rugby fields and even skateparks that have helped London establish and maintain its reputation as one of the world's great sporting cities.

Inglis takes the reader back in time as far as bull and bear baiting and cockfighting in the 16th century to explain the origins of streets such as Bear Gardens in Southwark and Cockpit Steps in Westminster, and explains how Pall Mall was once a section of St James's Park set aside for the French lawn game of Paille Maille, a variation on croquet.

The wonderful photography, meanwhile, brings back to life some of the great landmarks now disappeared from the city's sporting skyline, notably the lamented White City stadium, originally constructed for the 1908 Olympics, that would play host to so many famous occasions in athletics, greyhound racing, speedway, boxing and football and the demolition of which in 1985 was an act of vandalism against not only London's cultural heritage but that of the whole country.

Inglis's knowledge of and fascination with sporting architecture is unrivalled and his text is rich in detail, while the wealth of eyecatching illustrations brings every page to life.  Played in London follows on from similar volumes on sport in Manchester - also written by Inglis -- Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Tyne and Wear in the Played in Britain series.  A masterful piece of work, it is an absorbing and richly evocative history of sport in the great city and will be the definitive reference work for anyone wishing to embark on a tour of the capital's sporting heritage.

The winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for 2014 will be revealed next Thursday (November 27), when the successful author will receive among other things a cash prize of £26,000,

To buy Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, go to Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Likewise, buy Played in London: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The full shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014



Bookie prize contender Proud named on longlist for British Sports Book Awards 2015

Organisers of the British Sports Book Awards have revealed a longlist for the autobiography category for the 2015 awards.

It is a 10-book selection that somewhat bows towards the market, with the pre-Christmas bestsellers well represented, among them the controversial autumn blockbusters from former Manchester United captain Roy Keane and exiled England cricketer Kevin Pietersen.

The hugely popular autobiography of motorcyclist Guy Martin and the just-released life story of Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar also make the list, along with those of cyclists Nicola Cooke and Chris Froome, footballer Rio Ferdinand and golfer Ian Poulter.

From the world of rugby, the autobiographies of former Ireland and Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll and Welsh star Gareth Thomas, whose life story Proud is also on the shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, to be announced later this month.

Proud was ghosted by Michael Calvin, who won last year's overall Book of the Year award for The Nowhere Men, his fascinating story of the world of football's talent scouts.

Now in its 13th year, the British Sports Book Awards recognises the best sports writing across a number of categories.  As well as the autobiography of the year there will also be awards for the biography of the year and for the best books from the fields of football, cricket, rugby, horse racing and cycling, plus prizes for best illustrated book and a special category that rewards the best new writer.

The winners of all awards will be announced at a prestigious ceremony at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London next May, hosted by Jonathan Agnew.

The complete longlist for the 2015 autobiography of the year is as follows:

The Breakaway: My Story, by Nicole Cooke (Simon & Schuster)
#2sides: My Autobiography, by Rio Ferdinand (Blink Publishing)
The Climb, by Chris Froome (Penguin)
The Second Half, by Roy Keane with Roddy Doyle (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Guy Martin: My Autobiography, by Guy Martin (Virgin Books)
The Test: My Autobiography, by Brian O’Driscoll (Penguin)
KP: The Autobiography, by Kevin Petersen (Sphere)
No Limits: My Autobiography, by Ian Poulter (Quercus)
Playing it My Way: My Autobiography, by Sachin Tendulkar (Hodder & Stoughton)
Proud: My Autobiography, by Gareth Thomas (Ebury)

Buy sports books from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.



Will tragic tale of Olympic champion John Curry scoop top prize this time for writer Bill Jones?

Three years after his first book was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, Yorkshire writer Bill Jones is again a contender for the richest prize in sports literature.

Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry is one of seven contenders for the £26,000 cash prize that comes with the title of William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014.

Jones, a former Yorkshire Evening Press journalist who became an award-winning documentary maker during 27 years with Granada Television, has put together the full story previously untold of Britain's 1976 Olympic figure skating champion, who died at the age of only 44 after contracting Aids.

Painstakingly researched over three years, it is a moving story about a man who was a deeply troubled and ultimately tragic figure but also a book that pays proper tribute to a competitor of enormous artistic talent and an extraordinary drive to be the best.

Jones reveals that Curry turned to skating only after his father, a factory owner in Birmingham who had been a prisoner of war in World War Two, refused to countenance his son training as a ballet dancer, which had been his wish as a boy growing up.

When Curry senior died when John was 16, an alcoholic found dead in a London hotel in an apparent suicide, the budding star of the ice reacted to the family tragedy as a moment of liberation.  He soon moved to London, taking up skating full time and signing up for ballet lessons as well.

His first major success came at the British Championships in 1970, by which time he had accepted his homosexuality and had an affair with a Swiss skating coach, despite encountering hostility in the skating world, which at that time favoured athleticism and masculinity as the qualities to be celebrated among male skaters and regarded Curry, whose strengths were his grace and musicality, as an effeminate who damaged the image of the sport.

He might have been driven out, but instead found a supporter in Carlo Fassi, the Italian coach who had already been successful with the women skaters Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill.   Fassi was much less interested in Curry's sexuality than in his potential to win championships, and it was under Fassi's guidance in 1976 that Curry swept to the European, World and Olympic titles in the space of three months.

The euphoria of winning Olympic Gold in Innsbruck was punctured within 48 hours, however, when an interview appeared in the International Herald Tribune in which he admitted he was gay.  Curry was praised for his courage in going public about his sexuality at a time when such a declaration was without precedent among sportsmen yet claimed there had been no intention on his part to come out and that his trust had been betrayed, insisting that the comments he made about the barriers he had faced to be successful in a homophobic world were off the record.

Taunts about his sexual orientation followed, most painfully when he turned up to receive an award at a sports writers' Christmas bash only for the comic hired to provide some light-hearted entertainment to introduce him as "the fairy for the tree."

Curry remained in Britain to develop the John Curry Theatre of Skating but in his rage for perfection would frequently fall out with his skaters and the venture collapsed within less than a year, at which point Curry flew to New York, where he would remain for much of the next 14 years.

His relationships included one with the British actor, Alan Bates, but it was the many casual and sometimes violent affairs he conducted while living in New York's West Village that would prove his downfall.  Given the number of friends that developed Aids as the disease swept unchecked through America's gay community it was almost inevitable that he too would succumb.

In 1991, he returned to England alone, penniless and sick and went home to his mother's house in the Midlands, where Rita Curry would look after him until he died three years later, having taken the brave decision to go public about his illness.  Alan Bates was among those who visited him in the hours before he passed away.

Bill Jones was rightly hailed for producing a compelling narrative in The Ghost Runner, the story of the athlete John Tarrant, ludicrously denied a potentially successful career by petty officialdom, which was shortlisted for the William Hill prize in 2011.  The book saw Jones voted Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards in 2012.

In Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry he tackles a much bigger story, given the status Curry enjoyed as one of the country's sporting stars, and does it exceptionally well, drawing on hours of remarkably candid interviews, notably with Curry's mother and with his brother, Andrew, and on unfettered access to the skater's personal letters and other material he left behind.

Its place on the shortlist, from which the winner will be chosen ahead of the presentation ceremony on London on November 27, is richly deserved.

Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry, by Bill Jones, is published by Bloomsbury.  Buy it here from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Shortlist announced for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014