With the recent release of Kevin Petersen and Roy Keane’s eagerly awaited autobiographies and the strong performance of sports books in recent years, I have put together a list of some great sporting tales that may interest those who may have run dry of new inspiration.
Williams Hill’s inovative sponsorship of the Sportsbook of the Year, and some big hitters publishing strong titles in recent years, has meant that sporting books are no longer considered the lightweight fodder for Christmas stockings or the forwarding of personality/celebrity cults alone. Whether novels based on real people and events, such as The Damned United, or exposees of Lance Armstrong from determined sports journalists, analysis of great sportsmen and woman or coaching explorations and manuals, the sportsbook is a far more complex beast than it has been given credit for.
Over the past 30 years or so I have devoured a large number of literary sports works, the writing has been mixed but a number of them have had long term influence on other sportsmen, writers and readers. The list below contains a wide range of sports, styles and era’s. In addition I have added a few remarks as to the strengths of the book and the reasons it may appeal.
The Subject is Winning – Skip Rozin with Daley Thompson.
This little known book by American journalist Rozin is a unique look behind the scenes of both an event and a remarkable individual. Daley Thompson cooperated fully with the attempt and contributed sections of his own. The book works in three very strong ways. It is a story of the most important phase in Thompson’s career, the phase from being merely one of the leaders at his event, to being a phenomenon. The background research and inciteful interviews with the subject offer a valuable incentive to those interested in what it takes to make this leap.
The Art of Captaincy – Mike Brearley
Brearley is famed for having “a degree in people” and this book gives a strong insight into why he remains a legendary captain of the English cricket team. The book is not a mere biography or an instruction manual. It uses the authors skills and personality to enlighten the readers knowledge of all areas of the responsibility involved in captaining a team in a pressured environment but also relates them to the issues faced by anyone attempting to lead in almost any other circumstance.
This book has achieved a status similar to the author, it is said to be the bible of the recent England captains who have turned around the fortunes of the side. During the late eighties and nineties it was difficult to find but has been given a new lease of life since Nasser Hussain revealed in had aided him in his re building of the team from its lowest ebb. The modern forward to the book is by acclaimed film director Sam Mendes whose own contribution is a very interesting read in itself.
Racing Through the Dark – David Millar
Millar’s career has reached its second conclusion. It would seem highly likely that either a new book or an updated edition of this remarkable story will be released soon. The original however remains one of the best self penned biographical sportsbooks of recent times. The candour of the revelations still seems raw to the reader and as the areas in which Millar concentrates are not always the obvious ones the book does not seem a pedestrian chronological account like many do.
Running Free – Sebastian Coe with David Miller.
Despite its age this account of the early life and career, of the UK’s favourite sporting Lord, offers a brilliant insight into the changing days between amateur and professional athletics as well as one of the most talented athletes to grace a track. No politics or London 2012 distractions, just running, training and coaching insights from Seb himself, all fitted into a easy structure and digestible pieces by experienced sports journalist Miller.
The section regarding the pioneering efforts of Seb’s father Peter, and others such as Dr Ghandi, reveal much that is still of use today . Some of the perspectives offered on the promotion of athletics and the perils that may face the sport offer a clue to how perceptive Seb was even at this early stage of his career and how much he would have to offer later.
Nobody ever says Thankyou – Jonathan Wilson
This exceptional Brian Clough biography can make difficult reading at times. Instead of the many eulogies or tribute type works, many of which are excellent and offer wonderful views of his brighter side, this is a finely researched and crafted book that attempts a deaper analysis of Clough as a man and manager. The alchohol theme runs strongly through the pages and can re focus some of the most famous Clough moments through a different lens. Yet overall it gives a strong account of the iconic career as both player and manager as well as offering a balanced and unbiased view.
Open – Andre Agassi
Some say you should not meet your heroes, if that is true then maybe you should not read their books either. This is a gut wrenching account of modern sport. The dedication, the pain, the insecurities and, in many places, the damage done to an individual from an almost abusive upbringing through the sporting and commercial pressures and laterly from the fears of life. No description of this book can do it justice. If you are a sports or tennis fan it should be read. I cannot assure you that it will be enjoyed, but it will be difficult if not impossible to complete.
Winning Ugly – Brad Gilbert & Steve Jamison
This is a cross between a career autobiography, of former top ten player Gilbert, and an out and out manual on how the less talented or “worse player” can win any individual game. Gilbert went on to putting much of it into practise as a coach and in the hands of the sublimly talented Andre Agassi many of these tactics were seen as the opposite of ugly.
For anyone with an interest in the psychology of one on one sport, mid games, gamesmanship and what could be described as the dark arts, then you should look no further.
Beyond A Boundary – CLR James
A remarkable combination of social history, political discourse and cricketing tales that seem to flow through the history of the Carribean and West Indies. The exploration of such deeply important matters as race and history through the influence and impact of cricket is beautifully written and demands that the reader see the entire picture, not simply the anecdotal cricketing tales that are told with warmth and passion, including the almost unbelievable attitudes displayed by almost all parties through the 1940’s 50’s and beyond.
As an enormous fan of the 1970’s and 80’s Windies teams, the background to their coming as a force is instructive and when added to our knowledge of the next chapter is even more challenging.
So whether you are a player, coach, fan or a combination of the three, these reads will add to your knowledge bank of the sporting world. Sometimes brutally honest and not how we picture the life of sporting legends. Sometimes simply well written, well researched and contributing to the genre whether deliberately or as a by product of writing what they wished to write. I hope they prove as enjoyable and informing to you as they have been to me.