FROM Eric The Eel to the rise of Spanish football, our guide offers a wide range of great reading
SCHOOL’S out, summer is here after a fashion, and it’s time to choose a relaxing read for the holidays. There is always a glut of sports books for the Christmas market, but this summer, in part because of the Olympics, publishers have done their best to fill various gaps in the markets.
Our strictly subjective selection includes several volumes with their focus sharply on London 2012, but there is also a wealth of material from across the sporting spectrum. In no particular order, here are our top 20:
The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC: Athens to London 1894-2012
by David Miller
At A hefty 650-odd pages, this large hardback may not be one for the beach at Ibiza, but if you want to be well informed about the history of the modern Olympics, look no further. Both summer and winter Games are covered, with the former, sensibly, getting roughly double the space.
As the title suggests, this is also an account of the organisation which runs the Games, which means the inclusion of less immediately compelling chapters about leading IOC officials down the years – and photo captions such as ‘Maria Therese Samaranch, elegant and dutiful wife of the seventh President’. This is no mere hagiography, though: the chapter about fifth IOC president Avery Brundage, for example, is titled ‘Wayward Fanaticist’.
It’s a book to dip into rather than read from front to back, and it is tempting just to browse it for the many excellent illustrations. But as a one-volume guide to the greatest show on earth, it’s hard to beat.
A Lifetime of Training For Just Ten Seconds: Olympians In Their Own Words
by Richard Wittr
The title of this book of quotations comes from one of Jesse Owens’ best-known sayings, but while the American is undeniably one of the Olympic greats, that particular quote gives a misleadingly downbeat impression of the contents. Some of the quotes are critical, of course, but others are uplifting and inspiring, none more so than one from Oscar Pistorius: “I’m not disabled. I just don’t have any legs.”
That comes from a chapter titled Overcoming Adversity. Other chapter headings include Nationalism, Racial Discrimination, Voices Of Dissent, and the disappointingly brief and unsexy Sex Rears Its Olympic Head.
The subjects are arranged alphabetically, and the total of 29 different topics is too many. The explanations appended to many quotes are also excessive: when a quotation of no more than a few words requires a couple of paragraphs’ explanation to put it in context, it probably should be ditched.
Having said that, over the course of its almost 200 pages the book does create a composite picture of the Olympics through the eyes of some of its leading participants. But a page or two at a time will do, so it’s suited more to a short bath than a long train journey.
Running The Race: Eric Liddell, Olympic champion and missionary
by John W Keddie
(EP Books, £8.99)
First published five years ago, this account of the great Scot’s life and work has been updated to include new information throughout, and also has an additional chapter on the author’s journey to China, where Liddell spent much of his life, for the Beijing Olympics of 2008. The subtitle sums the book up: it begins with a comprehensive account of the sprinter’s sporting career on the track and also as a rugby player, goes on to examine his life as a missionary, and ends with his tragic death in a Japanese internment camp.
Non-Christians might feel inclined to shy away from a book which places so much emphasis on Liddell’s faith, but that would be a mistake. Nothing was more important to Liddell, and Keddie shows how it informed every aspect of his character. Running The Race also includes scores of little-known photographs of its subject, both in action and with his family, and has a useful appendix detailing Liddell’s track record during his peak years as an athlete, 1921-25. One to read on the West Sands at St Andrews.
The Olympics’ Strangest Moments
by Geoff Tibballs
AN ALTERNATIVE, episodic history of the modern Games, this is part of a series of Strangest . . . . books, and like many of its companions it’s a bit of a misnomer. Yes, some well-known curiosities are in there, such as the strangely compelling stories of the gymnast with the wooden leg, and, from closer to the present, of Eric The Eel, who swam as if he had wooden legs. And arms. And torso.
But some of the other episodes call out for a different adjective. Tommy Smith and John Carlos giving the Black Power salute in 1968, for example, wasn’t strange in the slightest. Nor was Betty Robinson, subject of the chapter called ‘The First Woman Track Champion’. Historic would be the right word for them, and for several other competitors whose stories are recounted here,
At its best, though, The Oympics’ Strangest Moments whets the appetite for more information about some of the remarkable characters it deals with. Another one to read in the bath, a chapter or two at a time.
Monty: An Autobiography
by Colin Montgomerie
This has been the talk of the golfing world in recent weeks, though for reasons that have proved a tad embarrassing to the winning Ryder Cup captain. Colin Montgomerie’s intended references to fellow Scot Paul Lawrie have appeared as Peter Lawrie, the Irish professional, leading to an apology being offered to the 1999 Open champion and a second print run in the offing.
This isn’t Monty’s first autobiography and he’d already offered his musings on the Ryder Cup straight after leading the Europeans to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010. But he offers some interesting thoughts about what the future might hold for him, admitting he’s now targeting a ‘Senior Grand Slam’ after hinting not so long ago that he might play very little over-50s golf when he becomes eligble in a year’s time.
The 100 Greatest Golfers Ever
by Andy Farrell
(Elliot and Thompson
Golf writer Andy Farrell recently picked up the inaugural Golf Book of the Year in the British Sports Book Awards for his attempt to pick out the leading lights in the Royal & Ancient game over the years.
The candidates have been selected from the early Scottish professionals who pioneered the game, such as Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tommy, through the 20th century golden greats such as Bobby Jones, Babe Zaharias, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros, to the modern era of Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam, and the young pretenders of Yani Tseng and Rory McIlroy.
Sensibly, Farrell didn’t try to rank them from 1 to 100 as that would be an impossible task. But he does offer his top ten in his conclusion.
Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal
by Daniel Friebe
(Ebury Press, £8.99,
published in paperback 19 July)
Eddy Merckx was known as the Cannibal on account of his voracious appetite for winning. No race was too big or too small, and Friebe tells of his determination to win an intermediate sprint during the 1970 Giro d’Italia, with the prize a case of Chianti. Merckx was beaten by a home rider and, “black with rage”, yelled at him: “You rotten scumbag – that Chianti’s mine!” That night Merckx visited the Italian in his hotel room and left with half a case of Chianti.
Friebe’s biography of ‘the Cannibal’ is a beautifully written, brilliantly vivid portrait not just of Merckx, but also his era and his ‘victims’, whose stories of thwarted ambition are poignant and fascinating.
The Dirtiest Race in History
by Richard Moore
(Wisden Sports Writing,
IT HAS been called the Olympics’ ‘JFK’ moment. In 1988 it took only 9.79 seconds to establish who was the fastest man in the world, but the fall-out from the dirtiest race in history has consumed us for considerably longer. Richard Moore’s latest book sees him tackle a complicated subject, one which lets him employ his trademark investigative skills to strike at sport’s dark heart.
Ben Johnson enjoyed his status as gold medal winner for only two days before testing positive for an anabolic steroid, stanozolol. Almost 25 years later, he remains the last word in sporting pariahs. But it isn’t that simple.
In total six of the eight participants would become embroiled in drugs scandals, sooner or later. Moore’s rigorous search for answers reads like a stylishly-written thriller and includes some colourful witnesses to a race which still holds its charge to this day.
Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World
by Graham Hunter
(Back Page Press, £12.99)
Graham Hunter has been living the dream for over ten years now, covering the ups and sometimes downs at a club who have come to re-define how football is played in recent years.
This engaging and authoritatively-written book focuses on the development of both a style of football and a way of thinking, tracing its origins back to the time of Johan Cruyff, who played for the side in the Seventies and took over manager in the late Eighties. Hunter also includes some genuinely revealing sections on just how close Rangers came to securing Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta on loan when Alex McLeish was manager. That possibility seems even more outlandish now, of course. This book tells the behind-the-scenes story of what happens when things go right at a football club.
The Road to Lisbon
by Martin Greig and Charles McGarry
Fictional accounts of actual episodes in football has become an in-vogue genre and this enjoyable novel invites the reader to ride in tandem with Tim, a Celtic fan who makes the journey of his lifetime from the Gorbals to Lisbon to watch Celtic become the first British side to win the European Cup in 1967.
But we also get how it felt to be the man on whom fell the burden of masterminding victory over Inter Milan. Jock Stein is evoked as an often stern and cursing disciplinarian whose struggles proved that Celtic’s historic achievement was a victory born of graft as well as inspiration. When in the company of Tim, this book reads like an On the Road for the footballing hipster. Inside the head of Stein, we are reminded of the Damned United’s treatment of Brian Clough.
Racing Through The Dark: The fall and rise of David
Now out in paperback, this is a searingly honest account of what motivated Scotland’s top road cyclist to use performance-enhancing drugs. It tracks David Millar’s rise from gifted new pro who claimed the yellow jersey after the first stage of his first Tour de France to the subsequent pressures that saw him go over to the dark side. The fall is spectacular. Arrested by French police in a Biarritz cafe, he is thrown in a cell and his world falls apart. Millar is never less than candid in a memoir that is part confessional, part catharsis. During his two-year ban he goes off the rails, indulging in too much drinking and too much partying. With the help of his sister and close friends he turns his life around. He returns to cycling, becomes an anti-drugs campaigner and joins a new, ‘clean’ team. The final chapter may need to be rewritten with Millar in line to represent Britain at the London Olympics after his lifelong BOA ban was overturned.
La Roja: A Journey Through Spanish Football
by Jimmy Burns
(Simon & Schuster, £18.99)
The rise and rise of Spanish football is one of the great sports stories of recent years. From biennial underachievers at the major tournaments, the national side will tomorrow attempt to become the first to win three in a row. It’s a remarkable story and one that Jimmy Burns tries to make sense of in this ambitious and highly enjoyable meander through the nation’s football heritage. Author of quite excellent biographies of FC Barcelona and Diego Maradona, Burns tackles his subject with care and enthusiasm. At the heart of the story is the ongoing battle between Madrid and Barcelona, and the struggle - both political and footballing - of the two great citadels. In this context, the 2010 World Cup triumph represents a defining moment for the national side, with the best of Real and Barca coming together to prosper and to unite the nation.
The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods
by Hank Haney
(Crown Archetype, £17.99)
Rarely has a golf book created as much of a fuss as this one due to the fact it involved coach Hank Haney lifting the lid on his relationship with Tiger Woods. Portrayed as being a treasure trove of Woods’ rumors and innuendo, it wasn’t welcomed by the player himself or his management as the 14-time major winner has plenty things he’d like to have swept under the carpet these days. But, in the main, it is pretty harmless – as long as Woods doesn’t mind being painted as a bad tipper, that is!
For Richer, For Poorer - Rangers, the fight for survival
by Paul Smith
‘We DON’T do walking away’ is the quote on the front cover of the first of what is sure to be a multitude of offerings on Rangers’ financial meltdown.
Rather ironic this week given the number of players who have walked away from the newco version of the club, now run by chief executive Charles Green. While there is plenty of background material included, including the changing of the guard from Sir David Murray to Craig Whyte, and the disastrous lurch into administration that followed, you can’t escape the feeling this provides only a fraction of a fast-paced story which is changing on a daily basis. An ambitious book, but a tad premature.
Mike Atherton: Glorious Summers & Discontents
(Simon & Schuster, £8.99)
Former England captain Mike Atherton has made the transition from Test arena to the testing arena of journalism, and offers a compelling take on cricket from a man who has been there and done it. This is a selection of the pieces he has penned in the national newspapers over the past decade – a turbulent period in the sport, which has been at the centre of terrorist attacks, spot-fixing scandals, some incredible Ashes battles and the emergence of the IPL and the transformation of Twenty20 from upstart sideshow to recognised crowd-pleaser. With a dry sense of humour, Atherton charts a momentous period for the game.
First Elevens: The birth of international football
by Andy Mitchell
England v Scotland will rekindle the oldest international rivalry in world football in August next year, and Andy Mitchell – the former head of communications at the SFA – delves into the archives and traces the roots of the famous fixture, and the pioneers and players who were behind the early matches, from a convicted killer to a Prime Minister’s son. It also details the intense battle for supremacy between football and rugby in the early days. Fascinating reading for historians and Tartan Army fans who will already be excited by the 2013 friendly.
Peter Cormack - from the Cowshed to the Kop
with Brian Weddell
(Black andWhite, £14.99)
HIBERNIAN may not have dazzled in the 1960s, the way they did with the Famous Five fuelling them in the Fifties, and Turnbull’s Tornadoes driving them on in the Seventies, but they had plenty of memorable moments – and no shortage of up-and-coming stars. Local lad Peter Cormack was prised from the grasp of Hearts and quickly made a name for himself with elegant displays in midfield, making his debut as a teenager in the 1962-63 season and playing a starring role in Hibs’ famous 1964 win over Real Madrid under Jock Stein. He was later spirited away to the great Liverpool-side-in-the-making by another titan of the game – Bill Shankly and recalls some heady days at Anfield. A fast-paced account of a distinguished career.
From the Heart - Sandy Clark’s autobiography
(Black and White, £14.99)
The autobiography of the much-travelled former striker and current manager is a readable and reasonable amble through some well-known recent episodes in Scottish football. It begins in traditional manner, with the subject “making his debut” – that is, being born – in Airdrie in 1956, and takes in the many highlights of a colourful career.
The most engrossing and enthusiastically written section is probably the one concerning Clark’s time at Tynecastle, where he proved an excellent foil up front for John Robertson. This is about as close as the book comes to real controversy, when the author suggests that some St Mirren players were glad to see Celtic win the league on that afternoon in 1986 when the Edinburgh team appeared to have the title in their grasp. Although, “to be fair”, as Clark himself likes to say, he stops short of suggesting that anyone threw the game.
One to read on the grassy slopes of a non-league ground while waiting for a pre-season friendly to start.
Her Majesty’s Pleasure: How Horseracing Enthrals the Queen
by Julian Muscat
Racing Post Books, £20)
YOU may think the seemingly endless procession that holds up the action at Royal Ascot as The Queen’s carriage ambles up the straight slower than a Class 7 plater is all pomp and ceremony – it is, but don’t let it fool you into thinking that Her Majesty isn’t as keen to crack on with the racing as most punters in the stands. This a timely account of the Queen’s interest in the turf, released to coincide with this Jubilee year. Her colours may be well known on the track, but to many her depth of knowledge of the sport and bloodlines is not. An illuminating read.
Henry Cooper - a hero for all time
by Norman Giller
(The Robson Press, £20)
This book was originally intended to be an autobiography of Sir Henry Cooper, but the death in May last year of one of Britain’s most loved sportsmen ever turned the project into a tribute instead. Veteran sportswriter Norman Giller, a friend of the former British and European heavyweight champion for more than 50 years, has combined interviews recorded with Cooper before his passing with archive fight reports and testimonials from celebrities and contemporaries alike to producing a fitting celebration of Our ‘Enery’s life and career. Cooper’s popularity transcended boxing, his genial and gentlemanly character turning him into a household name. Yet it is his remarkable 17-year career inside the ring, including two contests against Muhammad Ali, which forms the most absorbing part of a truly fine book.