20151213

Books for Christmas: A Sports Bookshelf selection of gift idea for the sports fan

What can be recommended as a Christmas stocking filler from 2015's crop of sports books?

Given the whiff of corruption rising pungently from the upper echelons of athletics and football, this may not be a good Christmas to celebrate the glories of contemporary sport.  As an antidote to unwelcome scandals, there is always the memory of more innocent days to fall back on and this year there are several absorbing diversions.

Football romantics, particularly those with ties in Nottingham and Manchester, have a couple of gems to take them back.

Evocative of a wonderful moment in the history of the English game is I Believe In Miracles: The Remarkable Story of Brian Clough's European Cup-winning Team (Headline), a superb reconstruction by Daniel Taylor of the rise, in the late 1970s, of Nottingham Forest from Midland mediocrities to double European Cup winners under a manager of unconventional genius, Brian Clough.

Taylor's interviews with many of the principal characters vividly recreate the mood of the times and the extraordinary chemistry that developed between Clough, his assistant Peter Taylor and a group of players no one could have predicted would be capable of such high achievement.  Inevitably, given the wealth of Clough anecdotes passed on down the years, there are many familiar stories, yet by putting them in context Taylor has given them a new freshness and perspective. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith.

In Forever Boys: The Days of Citizens and Heroes (Wisden Sports Writing), veteran sports writer James Lawton tracks down members of the Manchester City team that shone fleetingly, but brilliantly, under the maverick management of Malcolm Allison in the late 1960s. The rich language that characterised Lawton's columns in The Independent adds an extra element to the pleasure of reliving a golden era that may have been eclipsed by the modern Manchester City but was infinitely more joyful. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith. Read more...

Heady days of more recent vintage are also reprised in Amy Lawrence's Invincible: Inside Arsenal's Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season(Penguin), in which the Observer football writer brilliantly captures the team dynamic behind the Gunners' unbeaten 2003-04 season. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or http://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/invincible-inside-arsenals-unbeaten-2003-2004-season/9780241970492.

If the focus of those titles is too narrow, then there is a wonderfully illustrated celebration of what every young fan wished to find in his Christmas stocking compiled by Ian Preece and Doug Cheeseman entitled The Heyday Of The Football Annual (Constable). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

And it would be a cold heart that was not charmed by Bryony Hill's beautifully written and lovingly told story of the life of her groundbreaking husband, Jimmy -- now, sadly, stricken with Alzheimer's disease -- in My Gentleman Jim (Book Guild). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Back in the present, Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager (Century), Michael Calvin's exploration of the physical and emotional extremes endured by the modern football manager, and The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football (Penguin), David Goldblatt's dissertation on the growth of the Premier League as a barometer of Britain's social, economic and cultural evolution, both make compelling reading.

Buy Living on the Volcano from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy The Game of Our Lives from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The Game of Our Lives was named William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2015 among a field that included Living on the Volcano and Simon Lister's excellent Fire in Babylon: How the West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet (Yellow Jersey), which also set sport in a social context.
Lister specifically looks at how the West Indian cricket team of the 1970s, built around cavalier batsmen and fearsome fast bowlers, helped the Caribbean community in London to develop a collective identity and pride in their roots. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Among other cricket books, Richard Tomlinson's Amazing Grace: The Man Who was W.G. (Little, Brown)-- published to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of W G Grace and the 150th anniversary of his first-class debut -- is written in an elegantly easy style and brings welcome perspective to a story prone to exaggeration.  Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

The traditions of English cricket are celebrated meanwhile in the sumptuously expansive Summer's Crown: The Story of Cricket's County Championship (Fairfield Books), a magnificently illustrated and elegantly written history of the County Championship, by Stephen Chalke, a worthy winner of the Cricket Writers' Club Book of the Year award for 2015. Buy from Amazon or Waterstones.

Boxing gems include A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith (Simon & Schuster), in which Donald McRae describes how Emile Griffith, a black and secretly gay boxer in 1950s America, overcame colour prejudice and homophobia to become world champion, and Journeymen: The Other Side of the Boxing Business, in which Mark Turley offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of boxing's professional losers, who make a living out of stepping into the ring merely to be notches on the belt of up-and-coming stars.

Buy A Man's World from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Journeymen from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Away from the mainstream, Speed Kings (Bantam) - another commended by the William Hill judges -- is a splendid read in which Andy Bull reveals how the eccentric members of America's gold-medal-winning 1932 Olympic bobsleigh team could have stepped from the pages of a Scott Fitzgerald novel. Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

And Lizzy Hawker, Britain's five-times winner of the 100-mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, tells an inspirational tale in Runner: A Short Story about a Long Run (Aurum). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Also recommended:  Richard Moore’s The Bolt Supremacy: Inside Jamaica's Sprint Factory (Yellow Jersey), Raphael Honigstein's Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World (Yellow Jersey), Eibar the Brave: The Extraordinary Rise of la Liga's Smallest Team (Pitch) by Euan McTear and Winner: My Racing Life, by AP McCoy (Orion).

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