Donald McRae 'triple' still on as A Man's World makes shortlist of six for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2015

Donald McRae's chance to become the first triple winner of William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award remains intact after the shortlist for 27th edition of the richest and longest-running prize for sportswriting was revealed.

The author and Guardian journalist, who has twice won the prize for books with boxing at their heart, returns to the subject with A Man's World, his biography of the US boxer Emile Griffith, who became a world champion while fighting deep-seated prejudices on two counts, not only as a black man but because he was gay at a time when the American Medical Association still regarded homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder.

McRae -- who ghosted Steven Gerrard's bestselling autobiography My Story -- won previously in 1996 with Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing and in 2002 for In Black and White: The Untold Story of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens.

The only other double winner of the William Hill prize is Duncan Hamilton.

Three football books are among the five titles attempting to deny a McRae hat-trick.

Michael Calvin, who helped rugby star Gareth Thomas win this year's Cross Sports Book of the Year with his co-writing of Thomas's autobiography, Proud, makes the shortlist with Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager.

Also in contention is Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire, written by Martin Fletcher, who survived the 1985 disaster but numbered his father, brother, uncle and grandfather among the 56 who died at Bradford City's Valley Parade ground.

Third in the football trio is David Goldblatt’s The Game of Our Lives, an in-depth look at the modern English football world, how it became the huge business it is and how it reflects Britain's wider society.

Cricket is represented by Simon Lister’s Fire in Babylon, which explores how a game once associated with British Colonialism became an icon of West Indian independence.

Completing the list is Speed Kings, in which Andy Bull tells the story of how four unknown Americans from disparate backgrounds teamed up to win the bobsleigh gold medal at the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics.

The award's co-founder, William Hill veteran Graham Sharpe, reached for a boxing analogy to describe the contest.

“Five brave writers are stepping into the ring with Donald McRae but the outcome is far from certain," he said. "These books represent non-fiction writing at its best, with truly exceptional writers casting light on stories of triumph and tragedy from the world of sport. Our judges have a tough job ahead of them.”

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable sportswriting prize. As well as a £27,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a free £2,500 William Hill bet and a day at the races.

Making up this year's judging panel are: retired player 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. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the Award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday November 27.

The six titles in the running to be crowned the winner of the £27,000 prize are as follows (alphabetically by author surname):

  • Speed Kings, by Andy Bull (Bantam Press). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.
  • Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager, by Michael Calvin (Century). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.
  • Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire, by Martin Fletcher (Bloomsbury). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.
  • The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football, by David Goldblatt (Viking). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones orWHSmith.
  • Fire in Babylon: How a West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet, by Simon Lister (Yellow Jersey). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.
  • A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith, by Donald McRae (Simon & Schuster). Buy from Amazon , Waterstones or WHSmith.


Donald McRae in running to be first writer to win William Hill Sports Book of the Year for third time as 2015 longlist is unveiled

Donald McRae, the Guardian writer who is one of only two authors to have won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award twice, is in contention to take sports writing's richest literary prize for a third time.

A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith (Simon & Schuster) is named on a longlist of 14 titles for the 2015 edition of the award, the winner of which will be revealed in November.

In A Man's World, McRae tells the story of the American boxer who became world champion in both welterweight and middleweight divisions during a 19-year career but was also gay at a time when homosexuality was a crime in all but one of the American states and still classified by the American Medical Association as a 'psychiatric disorder'.

McRae's ability to draw the reader into the story is particularly strong in his recounting of the rivalry between Griffith and Benny "Kid" Paret, the Cuban fighter against whom he battled for the world welterweight crown three times, winning once and losing once in 1961 but winning again in April of the following year when Paret used the Hispanic term for 'faggot' to insult Griffith at the weigh-in, then took such a hammering in the ring that he died in hospital 10 days later.

The South African-born McRae won the William Hill prize in 1996 with Dark Trade, the journey into the murky world of professional boxing that established him as a writer of note, and again in 2002 with In Black and White, about the friendship between Olympic champion Jesse Owens and another boxing world champion, Joe Louis, two black American icons who rose above poverty and racial divisions.

Also on the list is another boxing writer, Mark Turley, whose intriguing book, Journeymen: The Other Side of the Boxing Business (Pitch Publishing), is deservedly recognised.  Turley's subjects are not the headline-making winners but the considerable cast of fighters who make their living from losing, the men whose job is simply to be in the opposite corner to potential future stars, well paid but with no purpose other than to be beaten as latest box-office prospect sharpens his skills on the way to the top of the bill.

The longlist, which will be whittled down further before the shortlist is announced on October 27, has a strong football content, as is to be expected.

These include Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager (Century), which is based on a series of interviews conducted by award-winning journalist Michael Calvin, which reveal how even the fierce heat of the media spotlight does not always reveal the full, devastating effect of trying to handle the pressures of being the man in charge.

The Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup (Simon & Schuster), by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert, makes the list, deservedly so after the fine work painstakingly carried out by the authors in exposing corruption at the highest level of football.

There is a place, too, for Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire (Bloomsbury), in which survivor Martin Fletcher, who lost several family members in the Valley Parade inferno in 1985, not only recalls the horror of that May afternoon but raises many unanswered questions about what happened and why.

David Goldblatt, whose global history of football, The Ball is Round, won enormous acclaim when it was published in 2006, can expect to be in the running with The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football (Viking), in which the football writer and sociologist turns his analytical attention to the last two decades at home and how football has developed in time with the social, economic and political changes of the post-Thatcherite era.

A diverse field this year includes titles on cycling, bobsleigh, running, cricket and even chess.

Another Guardian regular, Andy Bull, makes the list with Speed Kings (Bantam Press), his the story of the disparate group of outsiders who formed the United States team that became bobsleigh champions at the 1932 Winter Olympics.

My Fight/Your Fight (Century) is the hard-hitting autobiography of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) champion Ronda Rousey, while A King in Hiding (Icon) tells the story of Fahim, an eight year old refugee who became a world chess champion after settling in his new home of Paris.

Runner: A Short Story About a Long Run (Aurum Press) is endurance athlete Lizzy Hawker's tale about the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a grueling 8,600 metres of ascent and descent over 158 kilometres of the most challenging terrain, which the London-born runner has won an incredible five times.

Chess has rarely been in the public eye since the great rivalry between the Russian giants Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov in the 1980s and 90s and before that through the political symbolism attached to American Bobby Fischer's defeat of Russia's Boris Spassky to win the world championship in 1972.  It has caught the attention now through the story of Mohammad Fahim, a child refugee from Bangladesh who lived as an illegal immigrant in Paris yet despite all the barriers before him became world under-13 student chess champion.  A King in Hiding (Icon), translated from the French publication written by author Sophie le Callannec and chess coach Xavier Parmentier, tells Fahim's story.

Simon Lister does a fine job in Fire in Babylon (Yellow Jersey) of describing and understanding the dominance of the West Indies cricket team in the 1970s and 1980s and the effect it had on the people of the region, while Richard Moore delves into another great sporting passion of the Caribbean in The Bolt Supremacy: Inside the Jamaican Sprint Factory (Yellow Jersey).

In King's of the Road: A Journey into the Heart of British Cycling (Aurum Press), cycling journalist Robert Dineen delivers a personal take on the ups and downs in the history of British cycling, interviewing many of the most influential figures in the evolution of the sport in this country and interweaving his own experiences on the club cycling scene.

Finally, John Carlin, who has written some fine books about sport and politics in Spain and South Africa, makes the line-up with Chase Your Shadow: The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, a superb account of the complexities and contradictions not only in the character of the champion paralympic athlete convicted of killing his girlfriend but in the South African nation.

The full William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2015 longlist is as follows:

  • The Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup, by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert (Simon & Schuster) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • Speed Kings, by Andy Bull (Bantam Press) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager, by Michael Calvin (Century) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • Chase Your Shadow: The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, by John Carlin (Atlantic Books) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • Kings of the Road: A Journey into the Heart of British Cycling, by Robert Dineen (Aurum Press) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • A King in Hiding: How a Child Refugee Became a World Chess Champion, by Fahim, Sophie Le Callennec, Xavier Parmentier and Barbara Mellor (translator) (Icon) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire, by Martin Fletcher (Bloomsbury) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football, by David Goldblatt (Viking) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • Runner: A Short Story About A Long Run, by Lizzy Hawker (Aurum Press) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • Fire in Babylon, by Simon Lister (Yellow Jersey) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith, by Donald McRae (Simon & Schuster) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • The Bolt Supremacy, by Richard Moore (Yellow Jersey) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • My Fight/Your Fight: The Official Ronda Rousey Autobiography, by Ronda Rousey and Maria Burns Ortiz (Century) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith
  • Journeymen: The Other Side of the Boxing Business, by Mark Turley (Pitch) Buy from: Amazon  Waterstones  WHSmith