Saturday, 2 November 2013

A sporting chance of success

It's just turned November and in the sports book industry that means only one thing: the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

I love a sports book. If that fact wasn't reflected fully during my initial year-long challenge, it's probably because I was deliberately trying to broaden my literary tastes and select books more diverse than what I might normally have chosen. In fact, the few I did read (Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular, Lennie, Mankind, The Best After-Dinner Sports Tales, Penguins Stopped Play, The Beautiful Game, Jelleyman's Thrown a Wobbly and Wodehouse at The Wicket) were generally among my lowest rated.

Actually, looking back, the likes of Netherland, Even Money, Sex, Bowls & Rock & Roll, Crossfire and Outliers all contained strong sporting themes, so perhaps I didn't stray as far from the path as I thought I had. Regardless, there is less than a month to go until the winner of this year's award is announced, and I've just realised that I haven't read any of them.

I'm not just talking about the six shortlisted books either. There were 17 titles on the longlist, and I'm struggling to reconcile how none of them have thus far made it into my bookcase.

It's a bookcase that already contains 95 sports books (it didn't take me that long to count), excluding reference books. Even taking into account that 15 to 20 are related to Charlton that were mostly accumulated during my time at the club, it's a lot more than I thought I owned and, having just checked, contains almost 50 per cent of the previous 25 winners of the Sports Book of the Year award since 1989.

Unfortunately, going back to review them all would take forever and require thousands of words. I might go into detail about those I'm particular passionate at a later date if the mood strikes me, but while I'm on the subject, it's probably worth a few recommendations.

Going on the contents of my bookcase alone, if you haven't read Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby; A Season on the Brink, by John Feinstein; Provided You Don't Kiss Me, by Duncan Hamilton, My Father and other Working-Class Heroes, by Gary Imlach; The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro, by Joe McGinniss (provided you can stomach the Americanisms); and Friday Night Lights, by HG Bissinger, then you're missing out.

The first chapter of Hurricane, by Bill Borrows, is also absolutely brilliant (the rest of it is perfectly fine but struggles to match the opening), while the personal nature of this blog means I should also mention Stamping Grounds, by Charlie Connelly, for which I was chief photographer and in the pages of which I feature, and Many Miles... , by the same author, which I helped to edit and lay out.

At this point, I should also probably declare a personal interest in the 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, in that I know one of the shortlisted authors - Ed Hawkins, who has been nominated for Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld (Bloomsbury). That I haven't read it already reflects poorly on me, although it's understandably taking me a while to get past the startling omission of any punctuation whatsoever in the title.

Anyway, the winner will be announced on November 27th, so good luck Ed. Until then, if you're keen to read some more recommendations about sporting books, look no further than this list (and the knowledgeable comments underneath) of the best 10 sports books you've never heard of.

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