20191205

Hamilton takes William Hill prize for a third time with brilliant biography of the venerated cricket and music scribe Neville Cardus

Judges declare themselves 'bowled over' by Hamilton's work


Duncan Hamilton won the award twice before, in 2007 and 2009
Duncan Hamilton won the award
twice before, in 2007 and 2009
Duncan Hamilton has won the 2019 William Hill Sports Book of the Year with his book The Great Romantic: Cricket and the Golden Age of Neville Cardus.

By winning the £30,000 award, presented by judge Mark Lawson at the Horseguards Hotel,  Hamilton became the first person to have won the award three times.

The Newcastle-born writer, who spent his journalistic career in Nottingham and Leeds, was previously successful with Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough in 2007 and Harold Larwood: The Authorized Biography in 2009.

Cardus, the venerated cricket writer and music journalist, changed the way in which sport was reported and introduced poise and eloquence into what had traditionally been a prosaic experience for both journalist and fan.

Alyson Rudd, Chair of Judges, said: “The judges were bowled over by the quality of the writing and the way in which Hamilton brings to life the characters that defined cricket between the two world wars.

"The author explains that Neville Cardus was unknowable but this book does a very fine job indeed of guiding us through his career and motivations.”

In The Great Romantic, Duncan Hamilton demonstrates how Cardus popularised cricket by appealing, in Cardus’ words, to people who ‘didn’t know a leg-break from the pavilion cat at Lord’s’.

Cardus, whose observations appeared in the pages of what was then the Manchester Guardian, became a star in his own right with exquisite phrase-making, disdain for statistics and a penchant for literary and musical allusions.

However behind the rhapsody in blue skies, green grass and colourful characters, this richly evocative biography finds that Cardus’s mother was a sex worker, he never knew his father and he received negligible education. Infatuations with younger women ran parallel to a decidedly unromantic marriage. And, astonishingly, this supreme stylist’s aversion to factual accuracy led to his reporting on a match he didn’t attend.

Yet Cardus also belied his impoverished origins to prosper in another class-conscious profession, becoming a music critic of international renown. In this definitive biography, Duncan Hamilton casts light on the enigmatic character and immense achievements of a remarkable all-rounder.

Hamilton beat off a strong field to take the prize, including another two-time previous winner in Donald McRae.

The other shortlisted books were (in alphabetical order): 

The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey To Edge of Human Endurance – Adharanand Finn (Faber & Faber)
In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles - Donald McRae (Hodder & Stoughton)
Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race – Lara Prior-Palmer (Penguin Random House)
Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump – Rick Reilly (Headline Publishing Group)
Position of Trust: A Football Dream Betrayed – Andy Woodward (Hodder & Stoughton).

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, first awarded in 1989 to True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny by Daniel Topolski and Patrick Robinson, is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize.

The Great Romantic is the sixth cricket book to win the award and the first to do so since Hamilton’s book Harold Larwood won in 2009.

With Times sportswriter and novelist Rudd as Chair, the judging panel consisted of: journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson; retired professional footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; Olympic medallist and Chair of UK Sport Katherine Grainger; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale and the broadcaster Danny Kelly.

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