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Your sports book of the year

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Tom Fordyce | 08:30 UK time, Friday, 27 November 2009

At a boozy central London bash on Thursday afternoon, Duncan Hamilton's fine biography of Bodyline bowler Harold Larwood became the 21st winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

Hamilton has form - his book on Brian Clough, Provided You Don't Kiss Me, won 'The Bookie' two years ago - but he was still shocked to become only the second two-time winner in the award's history.

"I said to my wife that I wasn't going to win," he told me afterwards. "I'm absolutely stunned. I thought the standard of the entries was too high, so I probably owe her an apology. Also, I worked on it every day of our honeymoon, including the wedding day itself..."

It's been a big year for sports books. Over 150 were entered for this year's award (a new record) which the judges - broadcasters Danny Kelly and John Inverdale, sportswriters Hugh McIlvanney and Alyson Rudd, and SportsPages bookshop founder John Gaustad - whittled down first to an official long-list of 13, and then a final shortlist of six.

Wise though these sporting sages undoubtedly are, it's clearly a game of opinions. Gaustad revealed that each of the judges had a different favourite from that shortlist, and that many hours of late-night argument were required for agreement to finally reached.

Which leads us to the public vote. What's been your favourite sports read of the year? We'll call it The Bloggie. If it lacks in history or prize money, it'll make up for it in audience interaction.

larwood595335getty.jpgHarold Larwood was used to spearhead England's attack during the Bodyline series

We'll open the debate up with the other William Hill nominations. The five runners-up to Hamilton were as follows:

* 'Feet of the Chameleon' by Ian Hawkey (definitive story of African football)
* Rick Broadbent's 'Ring of Fire' (inside line on Valentino Rossi and MotoGP)
* John Daniell's 'Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary' (Kiwi journeyman lifts lid on playing pro in France)
*Nicolas Clee's 'Eclipse' (Seabiscuitesque yarn of equine superstardom)
* Graham Joyce's 'Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular' (humorous memoirs of a hapless no.1)

Next, the others selected for the long-list. Now, in the interests of BBC openness, I have to flag up the fact that two of the authors may be particularly familiar to users to this site. So, as the old phrase goes, let me make it quite clear that other sports books are also available.

* Philippe Auclair: 'Cantona: The Rebel who would be King'
* Tom Fordyce and Ben Dirs: 'We Could Be Heroes'
* Jon Henderson: 'The life of Fred Perry'
* Jon Hotten: 'The Years of the Locust'
* Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski: 'Why England Lose - And Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained'
* Kevin Mitchell: 'Jacob's Beach: The Mob, The Garden and the Golden Age of Boxing'
* Lynne Truss: 'Get Her Off The Pitch: How Sport took over my Life'

On Thursday I opened the debate up on my Twitter page. Among others, that threw up Simon Shaw's 'The Hard Yards' (nominated by jamiefox1), Dave Jones's autobiography 'No Smoke, No Fire' (from richardroper) and Barney Ronay's 'The Manager' (joemewis).

That's only a start, mind you. Dive in with your own selections and well-argued reasons and we'll see what floats to the top. Happy reading.


  • Comment number 1.

    Tom, great blog again.

    Now, I know that I may be entered for the 'Tom Fordyce brown-noser of the year' award for this comment, but honestly I think it was a crime that yours and Dirsy's book 'We could be heros' did not scoop the top prize! It is a quality book that had me glued to its pages and laughing out loud inappropriately in public places.

    Now to be fair, I have merely read the title of Duncan Hamilton's book, but to be sure it was not half as entertaining as yours!

    When is the next instalment out?

  • Comment number 2.

    I have to agree Tom it was fantastic. Its a book that kept me laughing from London to Leeds and back again- the journey would have been very boring without it! Both you and Ben deserve mucho credit for this and despite not winning its certainly something to be proud of.I'm first in line for the next book!

  • Comment number 3.

    Blood over Water by David and James Livingstone.

    This is not only the best sports book I've ever read, but one of the best non fiction books I've ever read.

    In 2003 the Oxford and Cambride boat race finished with the closest winning margin ever. In the Oxford boat was James livingstone, younger brother, and in the Cambridge boat was David Livingstone, older brother. To compound the rivalry, David's schoolfriend Matt Smith was with his younger brother in the Oxford boat, whilst the younger Smith sibling one of James' schoolfriends, was with him in the Cambridge boat. Two sets of siblings, all formerly good schoolfriends, split across the sides in one of the oldest sporting rivalries.

    Not only is this the story of one of the greatest races, but it is the story of brothers desperately struggling with their relationships, dealing with feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, betrayal and bitterness. It is the story of how sport can bind, but also how it can divide. It is a story about family, and it is a story about sport that we an all relate to. Not because we all went to an elite university (we obviously all didn't), and not because we all row (we don't), but because these sportsmen are struggling to reconcile their love and dedication to their teammates, with their love and dedication to their families, friends, and lovers, and still keep their head above water at work.

    Inspirational, funny, heart rending, and a stark warning to all who take sport seriously. This deserves more than a niche market of those who like rowing.

  • Comment number 4.

    A brilliant orange: the neurotic genius of dutch football

    The best football book i've read by a long way. Nice short book which discusses total football and holland's inability win a penalty shootouts

  • Comment number 5.

    I guess this one has more of an appeal for liverpool fans but
    "Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout" by Simon Hughes
    was a good read, especially with the insisghts from players who were not ever associated with Liverpool FC such as Andy Gray, Francis Lee...

  • Comment number 6.

    Should be in any Xmas Stocking (if you're into Football, that is)

    Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics: A History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson

    'A masterful work, It's all deliciously nerdy - a cross between a coaching manual and a social history - and if its publication helps foster a flowering of interest in the tactical and analytical side of the game in this country, it could be the best thing to have happened to English football in years.****' (TIME OUT - Book of the Week )

    'Facts and stats, plus anecdotes, interviews and Wilson's deft touch with football-speak, give colour to a subject that can be a little dry and all-too confusing for those watching (and often those picking the side).' (GQ )

    'For a detailed analysis of how a single striker became the norm throughout football, you had better read Jonathan Wilson's excellent new book about tactics.' (Patrick Barclay SUNDAY TELEGRAPH )

    '[A] fascinating history of tactics, a book that is guaranteed to enhance your football watching; your team may still lose, but you'll have a far better idea why they did.' (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY )

    'This must surely go down as one of the most revelatory sports books of the year, as well as one of the best, who would have thought that a book charting the history of football tactics and strategy, from the 1870s to the present day, could be so engrossing and entertaining.' (SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY )

    'Absorbing and informative' (GUARDIAN ON-LINE )

    'A gloriously readable, eccentric and informative trawl through the changing tactical mindsets and formations that have helped shape the beautiful game.' (METRO )

    'You will never read a more entertaining or erudite history of tactics' (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH - Christmas Books )

    'This is a masterful piece of research and lives up to the claim to be nothing less than "a history of football tactics"... Facinating' (SCOTSMAN - Books of the Year )

    'a fascinating analysis of the way the game has evolved tactically from the 1970s until the last season... as a summary of the first 140 years of football tactical history, it is hard to imagine a more readable or thorough effort.' (IRISH EXAMINER )

  • Comment number 7.

    phatblob, rastevo11 - glad you enjoyed it.

    Nice tip Ian White.

    ValderHAM - always funny to think that other nations apart from England think they're the worst at penalties...

    phil_clarke - hadn't heard of that one - nice tip-off.

    extant - good work with the reviews son, but didn't that book come out in 2008? No matter how good it is - and your reviews indicate it is - it might struggle to get the nod for the best sports book of 2009. PS Did you just have those reviews to hand?

  • Comment number 8.

    I was going to say Blood Over Water too, but Ian has beat me to it. I went to university with Dave, and remember it first hand... It was agonising watching at the finish line, and sent the Oxford 7 seat (Henry) temporarily near enough blind! It's a cracking read and well worth it even if you know nothing about rowing.

  • Comment number 9.

    Can't comment on any of the other books but Simon Kuper is a superb sports journalist in a field where 90% of the english journalists specialise in stating the obvious and writing banal articles, only straying of the action to repeat "facts" which circulate about the character of the sportsmen. Simon Kuper (and Matthew Engel) of the FT are two of the more interesting journalists in the field. Read Read Read

  • Comment number 10.

    I've read three books this year...

    The Bible
    Catch 22
    The Twits

    None was so wise, so witty or so ridiculous as "We Could Be Heroes"

    Awards mean nothing boys.

    They only end up as door stops...

    I'm sure you'll both end up at the bottom of a lot of peoples stockings this christmas....

  • Comment number 11.

    Tom, my reading choices lately have been restricted to the Brothers Grim and Hans Christian Anderson, both fine storytellers and satisfy and fuel the imaginations my two daughters perfectly. But I needed a page turner that I could dip in and out of, which was funny insightful and kept me from losing my mind in the children’s story book ground hog day my reading life has become, "We Could be Heroes" gave me that escape. So if you're like me and spend your weekends dressed as a pirate or shark and need a literary escape, then there's nothing more enjoyable and witty than “We Could Be Heroes”. Thanks to both you and Ben for saving my mind....

  • Comment number 12.

    Thank you BBC sort for all the news. We all can watch the matches live at now. Enjoy them guys

  • Comment number 13.

    I thought Trescothicks win last year was more about sports hacks with depression voting for him rather than a good read winning. I will read this one though as the Clough book was very good. Sid Wadels 'Bellies and Bullseyes' should have won last year. Now that is very funny.

  • Comment number 14.

    "You Can Have Chips"-the autobiography of Steve Wignall is an exceptional read.It is informative and really lets you into the world of the professional footballer and manager outside the top divisions.Nice to see a well written and fascinating book.Well done Steve.

  • Comment number 15.

    I would just like to throw in a nomination for Harry Thompson's "Penguins stopped play.", an account of an amateur cricket teams world tours. Mr Thompson was a writer for Have I Got News For You and the wit and humour of his writing is fantastic. Any cricket fan will read his description of two new types of shot, the norton and the nedge, with a smile of recollection, and even non-sports fans will love the travel aspects and the humour. I gave a copy to a friend, a German raised in Istanbul, and even she found it hilarious, despite absolutely no knowledge of or interest in the game. There are also some very poignant moments, in particular at the end when Harry Thompsons widow describes his losing fight with cancer. There is also a lot to reflect on on the attitudes of the Englishman abroad, in particular in former colonies. This is done so skillfully you find you think on it without even realising that Mr Thompson was making a serious point.
    Overall this is an incredible book. It is a biography of a sports team like no other, intelligently written, very very funny and, like all good comedy, it has a very serious side. It is certainly the best sports book I have ever encountered and quite possibly one of the best books I have read, full stop.I would encourage anyone and everyone to read it.

  • Comment number 16.


    Thanks for the blog, and, not able to read the books this year; been to busy!

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 17.

    I would second what Ian White has said about Blood Over Water. This isn't just an enjoyable read for the armchair sportsfan, but the best book I've ever read. About anything.

    As a former casual rower myself I'd be the first to admit that rowing is a sport that can rarely aspire to the emotional impact of other sports - it can, in fact, be truly dull to watch - but when it does (think Redgrave etc.) the unspoken commitment between the oarsmen is humbling. Blood over Water brings that home. By counterpoising the historic adversity of the Boat Race crews with the deep bond that exists between the brothers, coupled with a race over 4.5 miles that had them separated at the end by less than one foot - well it had me more than once in tears.


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