Top 20 summer reads for sports fans

Jimmy Connors' autobiography ' an enjoyable read, entitled 'The Outsider' ' froths with anger. Picture: Getty
Jimmy Connors' autobiography ' an enjoyable read, entitled 'The Outsider' ' froths with anger. Picture: Getty
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Cycling, football and tennis to the fore in our pick of 20 books to read in the sun – and there’s a cricketing tale with a twist to savour

Summer’s here and the time is right to reflect on books published during the first half of the year. The imminent Ashes series and the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia have ensured that there has been no let-up following the Olympics-dominated 12 months that was 2012, and the same will be true next year, when the Commonwealth games will provide the stage for further achievement, as well as inspiration to put pen to paper and finger to keyboard.

Here is a selection of titles to consider perusing in these long hazy days of summer, between Test matches, and – if you are quick – before the football season starts up again. The Tour de France is now an established part of the summer for even casual sports fans, hence the appearance of several cycling books, while the pace slows down considerably for a collection of stories written by a selection of writers, about playing cricket for a team called the Authors XI.

It is a novel take on what we have come to expect. Rather than sportspeople turning to the written word to chronicle their achievements, here are writers becoming sportspeople, and thus they have to deal with all that entails, including the disappointment that comes with below-par performances. It captures an enduring truth that even the best writers about sport would rather be out there, walking the walk.

Craig Bellamy: GoodFella

Craig Bellamy with Oliver Holt

Trinity Mirror Sport Media, £18.99

You have to hand it to Bellamy. Unlike the autobiographies of many sports stars, the former Celtic player’s agenda is clearly not trying to ensure he comes across as any more loveable. It’s some feat on Bellamy’s part that he is still so hard to like despite chronicling his admirable patronage – and funding – of a not-for-profit football academy in Sierra Leone.

There is no varnishing of notorious incidents like the one when he beats up Liverpool team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club on a training camp trip to the Algarve. Bellamy’s eye-brow raising account begins: “Ginge was a nice enough lad”. Nevertheless, he still got the eight-iron treatment. Celtic fans will find something of interest in his recollections of his short stay at the club in 2005.

Murrayball: How to Gatecrash the Golden Era

Hugh MacDonald

BackPage Press, £0.99
(exclusive to Amazon)

A compelling, novella-sized account of the Scot’s rise to greatness on the tennis stage through the eyes of a Scottish sports journalist who has reported on many of Murray’s triumphs. In just 10,000 words we are taken on a journey that begins in Dunblane – not with Murray as a child, but as the returning hero, after his back-to-back Olympics and US Open triumphs.

The author does then delve into the Scot’s upbringing and offers excellent insight about the Murray family’s dynamics. Broken down into bite-sized chunks, with intriguing subtitles such as ‘the pizza box’ and ‘the watch’, this ebook format is ideally suited for dipping into at the change of ends.

Glory In Gothenburg

Richard Gordon

Black & White Publishing, £14.99

Ahead of the 30th anniversary of Aberdeen’s greatest triumph, when they beat Real Madrid to lift the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, broadcaster and journalist Richard Gordon resolved to track down the squad of players who achieved legendary status on that sodden evening. It wasn’t always so easy. Man mountain centre-half Doug Rougvie had somehow fallen off the radar, but Gordon finds him – and then deletes the swear words as Rougvie reflects on the triumph in his own inimitable style.

The book gains from Gordon’s first-hand experiences, for he was among the thousands who travelled to Sweden to watch the game. Alex Ferguson is the only one who declines to be interviewed, but it says something that you barely miss his input – though he is, as you would imagine, much talked about by his former players.

Memoirs Of A Hard Man: The Danny Malloy Story

Danny Malloy & Andy Malloy

Vertical Editions, £11.99

Does what it says on the tin, really. These are the memories of the former Dundee and Cardiff City centre-half, who among many claims to fame, scored a remarkable 14 own goals for the Welsh club. Almost as remarkable is the fact Malloy, from Stirlingshire, was sent off on only one occasion – in a reserve outing at Brechin. This is despite once knocking Brian Clough out cold during a game.

More positively, the book was published in the week Cardiff City returned to the top league in England. Which was apt, given that Malloy was the last man to lead the club into the top tier, when he skippered Cardiff to promotion just over 50 years ago. He is still revered in the Welsh capital today. This is a timely tale told by the subject’s son, Andy.

Rangers FC, 
We Don’t Do Walking Away

Lisa Gray

Black & White Publishing, £7.99

Many questions were thrown up by Rangers being forced to spend an unprecedented first season outside the top division, including: who will be the writer who commits his or her self to chronicling their adventures? Lisa Gray was the answer, and she provides a very readable account of Rangers’ trips to places such as Montrose, Peterhead and Elgin.

While the novelty might have quickly worn off for some journalists, Gray, who covers football for the Press Association, remained admirably resolute in her task, and she is rewarded by such rich colour as manager Ally McCoist – the man who provided the book’s title – being taken on a tour of the Annan Athletic social club by the chairman when he should be giving his team their pre-match talk. A valuable account of a genuinely ground-breaking season.

Court Confidential: Inside The World 
Of Tennis

Neil Harman

Robson Press, £20.00

Harman, who once reported on tennis for The Scotsman, gives an insider’s view of what goes on behind the scenes on the tennis tour, with his observations and insights having been given an extra oomph due to Andy Murray’s US Open success.

It isn’t all glamour, that’s clear, but it’s also plain to see that there are many worse jobs in the world than reporting on tennis for The Times, though Harman is careful to ensure that we know that he knows he is very fortunate. Surprisingly given what seems to be his close relationship with nearly all the top names, the author details a falling-out with Murray’s predecessor as British No 1, Tim Henman.

Swim, Bike, Run: Our Triathlon Story

Alistair Brownlee & Jonathan Brownlee

Viking, £20.00

The incredible brothers add another string to their bow by authoring their own book – with the help of BBC sports writer Tom Fordyce. It re-tells the story of last year’s Olympic success, when Alistair won gold and Jonathan earned bronze in the triathlon event, held in Hyde Park.

Even watching was enough to make you feel exhausted. The book discovers why two intelligent boys have decided to put themselves through such pain in pursuit of sporting excellence and is good on their up-bringing, splashing through the puddles in Yorkshire. Provides an authentic account of what it takes to be great – despite not, until last year, being high profile.

The Authors XI:
A Season Of English Cricket From Hackney 
To Hambledon

The Authors CC

Bloomsbury Publishing, £16.99

As THE title suggests, this is a lyrical study underlining again why cricket can stir the soul, and while that has been done many times before – it is often said that cricket, more than any other sport, lends itself to the most elegant prose – this collection comes with a twist.

The group of writers who make up the batting order are replicating what such celebrated wordsmiths as PG Wodehouse and AA Milne did over a century ago, by forming a cricket team made up entirely of writers and authors. This is a collection of ruminations on their progress, playing against teams such as Barkby and Kirby Portland. There is of course plenty of opportunity to veer off at tangents, hence the discussion on cricket and class, by Anthony McGowan, and cricket and memory, by William Fiennes. The majority hit the spot like a crisply-struck cover drive.

The Outsider: 
My Autobiography

Jimmy Connors

Bantam Press, £10.99

Hearing and seeing him speak on television now, it’s sometimes hard to equate Connors with the enfant terrible of the tennis world, who we know shook up the establishment in tandem with mortal enemy John McEnroe. Well, let this autobiography help remind you what he was like, as it froths with anger.

Time has not mellowed Connors, and neither have three hip replacements. There are some rather crude revelations about the spell when he was engaged to Chris Evert in the early 1970s. But in the main, this is an enjoyable and forceful reminder of the street-fighter with the racket in his hand, who didn’t let 
his poor beginnings in a working class family in East St Louis stop him reaching the top – even if there were countless 
fall-outs on the way.

Behind the Lions: Playing rugby for the British and Irish Lions

Stephen Jones, Tom English, Nick Cain and David Barnes

Birlinn, £19.99

Another self-explanatory titled book – as well as a wonderfully simple and effective concept. Four writers from the four Home Nations making up the Lions have gathered together a priceless store of material comprising many accounts, the majority of which are first-hand, of Lions tours stretching back to the first campaign, in 1888.

The spread of players is refreshingly equal, which is more than can be said of the current Lions team, or others in recent times. For Scots, it is reassuring to be reminded of times when the Scottish rugby team did contribute in a significant way to the team’s success – not that success is ever a given on long, arduous trips to fierce rugby strongholds in the southern hemisphere.

Tour de France 100: A Photographic History of the World’s Greatest Race

Richard Moore

Velopress, £30.00

THIS is a beautiful photographic book that would grace any coffee table. Broken up into chapters that cover 12 different eras of the Tour, from its origins in 1903 up to and beyond the Lance Armstrong years, each chapter is accompanied by glorious photographs depicting the race in all its glory and gore.

The black-and-white pictures are particularly compelling, and the 1950s is perhaps the highlight, when stars emerged, including Fausto Coppi and Hugo Koblet (the ‘pédaleur de charme’, who carried a comb and bottle of eau de cologne in the rear pocket of his jersey).

The Cycling Anthology: 2: Tour De France Edition

Edited by 
Ellis Bacon & 
Lionel Birnie

Peloton Publishing, £7.99

An outstanding collection of 14 essays by leading cycling writers, including Ned Boulting, Richard Williams and William Fotheringham, this second anthology, after an initial volume at the end of last year, is dedicated to the 100th Tour de France. A beautifully produced and designed pocket-sized book, its contributions range from Williams on the elusive climbing specialist, Charly Gaul, who lived as a hermit after retiring, to Brendan Gallagher on the perils of covering the Tour as a journalist, and Dan Lloyd on his experience of riding the Tour in 2010.

Domestique: The Real-life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro

Charly Wegelius with Tom Southam

Ebury Press, £16.99

This book tells the story of life in the peloton. For over a decade Wegelius, born in Britain to a Finnish father, plied his trade as one of the sport’s domestiques, or team helpers, an unglamorous, unsentimental and largely thankless job that entails self-sacrifice and subsuming personal ambitions for those of the team leader. Wegelius, an intelligent and eloquent witness to a turbulent period in the sport, describes the harsh reality of life as a journeyman pro, which in 2005 saw him accepting payment to help his Italian professional colleagues rather than Great Britain, whom he was representing – a decision that led to him (and his ghost writer, Southam) being banned for life from the GB team.

Hunger: Sean Kelly: The Autobiography

Sean Kelly

Peloton Publishing, £18.99

The long-awaited self-penned story of the Irish cycling legend turned Eurosport commentator. Kelly dominated the one-day Classics in the 1980s, earning comparisons with the great Eddy Merckx as he held the world No 1 ranking and won monuments including Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, as well as the green jersey at the Tour de France on four occasions. Hunger is Kelly’s story of growing up in rural Ireland, his friendship and rivalry with fellow Irishman Stephen Roche, the races he won, and the ones he lost.

Ta Ra Fergie

Pete Molyneux & Paul Molyneux

The History Press, £9.99

Remember that banner from back in 1989, when Alex Ferguson’s trophyless reign at Old Trafford looked set to be heading for the rocks? “3 years of excuses and it’s still crap, ta ra Fergie” is what one brassed off fan decided to scrawl across a bed sheet and bring to a game. Rather than be embarrassed, Pete Molyneux, for it was he, has written a book about it, explaining why he felt it had reached the point that fans wanted to say ‘ta ra’ to someone who eventually only called it a day at the club a few shorts weeks ago.

The Wizard: The Life of Stanley Matthews

Jon Henderson

Yellow Jersey Press, £18.99

Although a name everyone knows, how much are we are aware of the actual man? This biography aims to delve deeper than any book has before about a winger who played for Morton during the Second World War – something else that is little known.

There are some genuine moments of revelation concerning Matthews’ second wife, who was once an agent for Czechoslovakia’s secret police. But as it has to be with Matthews, football is the thing, and there is plenty of that – including the famous 1953 FA Cup final – in a career that lasted until he was in his fifties. Beat that, Ryan Giggs.

Mastermind: How Dave Brailsford 
Re-invented the Wheel

Richard Moore

BackPage Press, £2.99 
(exclusive to Amazon)

Mastermind is part of the 90 Minutes Shorts series spawned by Back Page Press, the Glasgow publishing house, which also includes Murrayball. This 
e-book about the man who has led the revolution in British cycling looks at how Brailsford, in his own words, “just rocked up” and became such a major player in the cycling world. Through interviews with some of those closest to Brailsford – including Tony Blair’s old spin doctor, Alastair Campbell – Moore analyses some of the key moments in his career; fascinating on the crisis that engulfed the sport last year when Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles, and Brailsford felt the heat as members of his team were implicated, and even considered resigning.

Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius

Brough Scott

Racing Post, £20.00

SIR Henry Cecil may not exactly have been complimentary when this title was published, but then the trainer was a fiercely private man and hated any of the spotlight being shone on his personal life. Scott can be proud of his work. Sir Henry sadly passed away this year after a battle with cancer, but he was where he deserved to be – at the very top of his sport. The incredible Frankel had a lot to do with that, but before the best horse in the world came into his care, Cecil had 
already bounced back from the doldrums in remarkable fashion. A fascinating insight into a true gentleman of the turf and the big names he made.

Neil Warnock: 
The Gaffer

Neil Warnock

Headline, £16.99

You aren’t allowed to sit on the fence where Neil Warnock is concerned – you either like him or loathe him. Somewhere between those two camps is respect, and he certainly commands that given his vast knowledge of the game. Warnock – who tried and failed to revive sleeping giant Leeds United last year – has managed at almost every level of football, and he has seen the job change and evolve with each passing year. The demands of the highly-strung modern player, the intricacies of working with directors, and the only constant of football – winning and losing. . . he’s got an opinion on them all.

My Story So Far
Louis Smith

Orion, £16.99

YOU may remember that Louis Smith was a silver medal-winning gymnast at the Olympics? The reason it’s worth mentioning is that the Team GB poster boy has crammed in so many appearances on chat shows, quiz shows and cha-cha-chas on Strictly that his heroics in London seem like many moons ago. A book was inevitable, and at the age of 24, a tad predictable that he’s opted for My Story So Far, but it’s an interesting story. Diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, gymnastics were the making of him.