Chasing Shadows: who was the real Peter Roebuck and what happened to make him fall to his death from a hotel window?


On the shortlist:

Chasing Shadows: The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck.

by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge (Hardie Grant)

Review by Jon Culley

Peter Roebuck: Journalist and  former cricketer was being  questioned by police
Peter Roebuck: Journalist was
 being questioned by police
On November 12, 2011, Peter Roebuck returned to his hotel in Cape Town, having watched Australia humbled by South Africa in an extraordinary Test match at Newlands, which he had been reporting for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

According to witnesses, Roebuck, a brilliant writer and commentator but as an individual something of an enigma, was reportedly in good spirits.  Waiting for him in the lobby of the hotel, however, were two police officers.

They were investigating an accusation of sexual assault made against Roebuck by a Zimbabwean man whom he had supposedly met at the same hotel a few days earlier.

The officers accompanied Roebuck to his sixth-floor room to talk to him about the allegation. During the course of the interview, the 55-year-old Cambridge-educated former Somerset captain fell to his death from a window.  The officers said that he had committed suicide but many questions remain unanswered about what happened in the room and in the preceding days.

Australian journalists Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge have attempted to fill in some of the gaps. Given that the real Roebuck was a mystery to many even close acquaintances, they have not done a bad job, although they still do not manage to penetrate far beneath the surface of his character.

Feud with Viv Richards and Ian Botham 

Roebuck's stance over Viv Richards and Joel Garner caused a rift at Somerset
Roebuck's stance over Viv Richards and
Joel Garner caused a rift at Somerset
The book covers Roebuck's career with Somerset, for whom he scored more than 25,000 runs, which provided controversy enough in the feud with Viv Richards and Ian Botham that developed following Roebuck's role in the county's decision not to renew the contracts of either Richards or Joel Garner, which prompted Botham to leave for Worcestershire.

Most interest, inevitably, will focus on the nature of Roebuck's private life and his work with disadvantaged young African men.

In 2001 he was convicted of common assault following allegations that he caned three such men who were living at his home in Taunton, after which he became increasingly estranged from the country of his birth.  An Australian citizen, he subsequently divided his time between homes in Sydney and Pietermaritzburg, where he provided shelter and education for many of the young men, mostly Zimbabweans, who he set out to help.

Lane -- a colleague at ABC for many years -- and his co-author have assembled an impressive cast of character witnesses, including ex-cricketers Mike Atherton, Jonathan Agnew, Steve Waugh, Ian Chappell and Rahul Dravid, his broadcasting colleague Jim Maxwell, and the journalist Matthew Engel.

They reproduce, too, in graphic detail, the testimony of his Cape Town accuser, Gondo Itai, which was included somewhat controversially while the Roebuck family's lawyers were still pushing for an open inquest to take place, the only ruling at that time on cause of death having taken place in private.

An unlikely romance

Peter Roebuck in his playing days
Peter Roebuck in his playing days
The most moving and illuminating chapter, though, concerns Roebuck's two-year romance with Julia Horne, a young Australian woman, the daughter of a prominent author and academic, whose recounting of their relationship is handled with great sensitivity by the authors and shows a side to Roebuck many might not have guessed existed.

The only love of Roebuck's life, it seems, Julia met him in Sydney in 1981 when she was studying at the University of New South Wales. It took him two years to invite her to dinner, after which he returned to England to continue his career. They wrote to one another often, Roebuck apparently eager for the relationship to continue, explaining his wish to settle down.

For a while, when he was next in Australia, they blossomed as a couple.  But complications were never far from the surface with Roebuck and after Horne made a return visit to England during the cricket season, the relationship ended.  He had made a decision, for one reason or another, to withdraw into the closed world he occupied previously.

The book has not been immune to criticism.  Some feel there is a lack of attention to cricket itself, to the way Roebuck played, to the players he admired and what that might have said about him, and also to his writing, the character of which is said to have changed the way the game was presented, particularly in Australia, making other writers feel more free to express themselves, and taking cricket journalism to a new level.

There is no arguing with the depth of the authors' research, however, and if fails ultimately to reach as deeply into Roebuck's psyche as they doubtless hoped they could, the book offers as much as anyone was able to unravel even among those closest to him.

Chasing Shadows: The The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck, by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge (Hardie Grant)

Buy from Amazon or WH Smith

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Also shortlisted: Oliver Kay's Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty - lost genius of Manchester United's golden generation

And then there were seven - full details of the shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2016

William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2016: The full longlist



Adrian Doherty - the story of the lost genius who was tipped to be the brightest star of Manchester United's golden generation


On the shortlist:

Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty - Football's Lost Genius.

By Oliver Kay (Quercus)

Review by Jon Culley

Tales of rising stars robbed of the chance to fulfil their potential are not new but Oliver Kay's story of the fame that fate denied to Adrian Doherty stands out from the crowd.

Doherty, a former apprentice at Manchester United, was a genuine phenomenon, even among a clutch of young players as gifted as those United were nurturing in the late 1980s.

The names that would become known as United's golden generation - Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers - were united in their awe of him, a player whose natural ball skills were allied to lightning pace and a fearless attitude that belied his rather shy persona.

Sir Alex Ferguson knew within 15 minutes of first setting eyes on him that he wanted to sign him.  He offered him a five-year contract before he was 17, a show of faith in an unproven player that was without precedent.

Adrian Doherty was possibly the most talented young footballer any of them could remember, before or since.

Ferguson's masterplan

Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs
He became part of Ferguson's masterplan for United, part of the team he envisaged would grow up to be English football's dominant force. During the 1989-90 season when Ferguson's job was supposedly on the line, a United team featuring Adrian Doherty on one wing and Giggs on the other reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup with Docherty their star.

He was due to have made his senior debut in March 1991 on the same day as Giggs, against Everton at Old Trafford.  Instead, he was sitting in the Main Stand, nursing a knee injury sustained in an A-team match. The knee was sore and he feared he might be out of action for a few weeks.

In fact, it was the beginning of the end for a career that had barely begun.  Two years later, aged only 20, after rehabilitation programmes and surgery and a number of attempted comebacks, United let him go.

After his football career ended, he naturally faded from view, only for his name to re-emerge in tragic circumstances. On May 7, 2000, he fell into a canal in Holland.  A month later, the day before his 27th birthday, he died.

Kay's interest with his story began a decade or so later, when Doherty's name came up while he was researching a feature about Giggs to mark the 20th anniversary of the Welshman's debut.  He admits it became an obsession.

A unique personality

Adrian Doherty
Adrian Doherty
He soon discovered that Doherty could not be more unlike what some would imagine to be a typical footballer. He was a young man whose approach to life set him apart, an individual who was not only a brilliantly gifted player, but a unique personality, at least among his football contemporaries.

Brought up in Strabane in Northern Ireland, a town described as being on the frontline of the Troubles, Doherty was different, a non-conformist, a boy for whom football was just one of many fascinations.

He played the guitar, read books and wrote poetry.  He wanted to be a musician as much as to be a footballer. Famously, while he was playing in United's A team, he would give away his complimentary match tickets for the senior team and instead catch a bus into Manchester city centre, not to buy clothes or play snooker, the ways in which his teammates might spend their spare time, but to stand on a street corner, strumming his guitar and singing Bob Dylan songs.

Kay visited the family in Strabane.  They were unhappy about several aspects of the way he was treated at United both before and after his injury but did not want to be drawn into a war of words.  They were reluctant to become involved but in time agreed, on condition that in his book Kay leaned towards celebrating Adrian's life, rather than raging against injustice.

He respected their wishes.  The somewhat sordid tales of how apprentices were treated at the club in that time and the shortcomings in the way United dealt with his injury are rightly explored but with others as witnesses.

A tragic accident

The Derry Journal's report of Doherty's death
The Derry Journal's report of Doherty's death
Yet we learn as well that Doherty's years after football were happy ones.  In terms of a career, it was a life without structure but he continued to play music and write and dream and follow his adventurous whims.

When he died, predictable rumours did the rounds.  He had been in Amsterdam, the stories said, and had fallen into a canal late at night. Assumptions were made, with no basis in fact, that drink or drugs were involved.

In fact, as Kay established by checking with Dutch police reports rather than trusting speculation, Doherty had tumbled into a canal not in Amsterdam but in The Hague, where he had taken a job with a furniture manufacturer.

It had happened early in the morning and there was no trace of drugs or alcohol in his body. He had simply had an accident, probably as he made his way to work.  Perhaps he was distracted by a daydream. No one knows.

Forever Young is a painstakingly researched and outstandingly well written book, with a sad end and some dark moments along the way.  Yet in a way it is an uplifting one, the story of a carefree and likeable young man, a free spirit with a zest for life who took adversity in his stride and enriched the lives of those around him.  Oliver Kay tells it with sensitivity and skill.

Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty - Football's Lost Genius, by Oliver Kay (Quercus)

Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith

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(Photo of Ryan Giggs by Gordon Flood CC BY-SA 2.0)



And then there were seven - shortlist revealed for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2016

The shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award – the world’s richest and longest-running prize for sports writing – has been revealed following the deliberations of the judging panel, who have whittled down a longlist of 17 to a shortlist of seven.

Six sports are represented on the list, the majority sharing a common theme in that they dig deep into the psyche of their subjects, showing how their strengths and weaknesses helped and hindered them in the pursuit of their dreams.

This is demonstrated in two memoirs set against the backdrop of the sea - Barbarian Days, by journalist William Finnegan, and Find a Way, by swimmer Diana Nyad.

Barbarian Days, surfing’s first appearance in the 'Bookie Prize' field and already a Pulitzer Prize-winner, tells the story of a restless young man whose sport both anchors him and takes him around the world as he becomes an adult.

Diana Nyad’s memoir is a testimony to the indomitability of the human spirit: a world class swimmer at a very young age, Nyad first attempted to swim the 100 miles between Havana, Cuba and the coast of Florida without a shark cage aged 28 and achieved the feat - the first person to complete the treacherous crossing - over three decades later, aged 64.

Oliver Kay’s Forever Young investigates the short life of eccentric football prodigy Adrian Doherty, who was offered a five-year contract with Manchester United on his 17th birthday, yet died in unexplained circumstances having never realised his true potential.

The unpredictable character of former cricketer, writer and broadcaster Peter Roebuck, another figure who died tragically young, comes under the microscope in Tim Lane and Elliott Cartledge’s Chasing Shadows.

Rick Broadbent is on the shortlist for the third time with Endurance, which looks at the life of Olympic track legend Emil Zátopek. The greatest runner of his generation, Zátopek’s character was sorely tested as he fell from favour with his country’s Communist rulers, suffering countless indignities before coming in from the cold following Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.

Rounding off the list are Rory Smith’s Mister, which looks at how pioneer Englishmen helped export football to the world, and Christopher McGrath’s Mr Darley’s Arabian, which tells the story of horse racing by following the bloodline of twenty-five thoroughbreds, from a colt bought from Bedouin tribesmen over 300 years ago, to the modern champion, Frankel.

The seven titles in the running to be crowned the winner of the £28,000 prize are:

  • Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek, by Rick Broadbent (Wisden). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan (Corsair). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
  • Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius, by Oliver Kay (Quercus). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
  • Chasing Shadows: The Life & Death of Peter Roebuck, by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge (Hardie Grant Books). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
  • Mr Darley’s Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life – A History of Racing in 25 Horses, by Christopher McGrath (John Murray), Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
  • Find a Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life, by Diana Nyad (Macmillan). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
  • Mister: The Men Who Taught the World How to Beat England at Their Own Game, by Rory Smith (Simon & Schuster). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith

William Hill spokesman, judges' chair and co-founder of the award, Graham Sharpe, said:

“From an incredibly strong longlist a ‘Magnificent Seven’ of sporting books go forward, but from here on in the race is wide open.

"What is striking in this year’s selection is how the authors uncover the inner sportsman and sportswoman, revealing their hidden souls and proving that they are not just great athletes but also complex, driven people. These are brilliant, revelatory stories that our panel of experts will have a tough time judging.”

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world’s longest established and most valuable sports writing prize. As well as a £28,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a free £2,500 William Hill bet, and a day at the races.

The judging panel comprises journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson; ex-player and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and The Times columnist and author, Alyson Rudd.

Graham Sharpe succeeds the late John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop, as chairman.  John retired following the 2015 Award and sadly passed away earlier this year.

The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday November 24.

More reading:

Longlist announced for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2016