The best sports books of the year

One of the best sport books of the year: Lifted Over The Turnstiles by Steve Finan
One of the best sport books of the year: Lifted Over The Turnstiles by Steve Finan
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Looking for a late stocking filler for Christmas? From Italia 90 to Doddie Weir, our team of writers give you the lowdown on the best sports books of the year.

St Andrews - A Comfort Blanket for The Hapless Golfer by Roger McStravick (St Andrews Golf Press)

It is the dream of every golfer around the world to visit St Andrews and 
this informative and witty book fills in many of the blanks about what people can expect in the Auld Grey Toun.

The author lives in St Andrews and won the USGA’s Herbert Warren Wind Book Award for his excellent St Andrews In The Footsteps of Old Tom Morris. This tongue-in-the-cheek follow-up has been hailed as the “best book ever written on St Andrews”, covering every golf-related aspect in the town and doing so by providing the reader with a chuckle or two. Funny and informative. (Martin Dempster)

Black Boots & Football Pinks by Daniel Gray (Bloomsbury)

Daniel Gray has done it again. The author’s last book on football, Saturday 3pm, was a paean to the game’s enduring everyday pleasures. This latest tome is a love letter to “old football”, an attempt, as Gray puts it, to sketch a ghost before it leaves the room, since there’s still plenty tradition just about surviving in the shape of paper tickets, old click-through turnstiles and “ramshackle dug-outs”, one of the chapter titles. Another is “Football Pinks”, where the sadly lost culture of evening sports papers, feats of journalistic sorcery taken for granted at the time but now sorely mourned, is discussed. Gray, a Middlesbrough fan, is now based in Edinburgh. We should be glad to have him. (Alan Pattullo)

World in Motion: The Inside Story of Italia 90 by Simon Hart (deCoubertin books)

Remember Italia 90? Course you do. Scotland qualified and their customary three-game adventure contained the usual ingredients: anguish, redemption, regret. Hart covers Costa Rica et al but relives the entire tournament, which means Gazza, Toto Schillaci, Roger Milla and Argentina’s Claudio Caniggia being pursued by a death squad of Cameroonians in the opening game. Hart even tracks down Benjamin Massing, who has since passed away. He was the final assailant who sent Caniggia sprawling in a cloud of long blond hair and flying boots. It wasn’t a great tournament football-wise but for those of a certain age, it’s the World Cup that resonates most profoundly. (Alan Pattullo)

Deadlines and Darts with Dele by Jonathan Northcroft (BackPage Press)

Thirty years after Italia 90, we’re used to there being no Scotland at a World Cup. So what’s a Scottish football writer to do? Jonathan Northcroft, formerly of Scotland on Sunday, now with the Sunday Times, reported on England in Russia and picked the right tournament to chronicle in book form. An idea that developed from what were originally intended to be regular Facebook blogs, Northcroft brilliantly outlines what it’s like to report at a tournament that few had great hopes for. But the locals prove welcoming, the cities fascinating and what’s more, England made it to the last four and excelled at PR too – hence the darts with Dele Alli title, with players and reporters allowed to mingle. (Alan Pattullo)

My Name’5 Doddie: The Autobiography by Doddie Weir (Black & White)

An autobiography by one of Scottish rugby’s best loved and most entertaining characters was always going to be a must-read for fans of the sport but, for obvious reasons, the events of the past couple of years means this memoir takes on a more poignant weight. Fun runs through it, as you would expect from a true Borderer who was a professional in name, and talent, but an amateur at heart who played rugby for the sheer love of it. The diagnosis and subsequent fight with Motor Neurone Disease makes for emotional reading but this is an uplifting book, co-written with journalist Stewart Weir, from a remarkable, inspiring man. (Duncan Smith)

The Team For Me by Mike Smith (Pitch)

A Gorgie version of Fever Pitch, though as the author rather meekly admits, one delivered from him his new home in….Leith. “Fifty years of following Hearts” is the subtitle and Smith has the wounds to prove it, including those sustained from his attendance at Dens Park on 3 May 1986, the day the Tynecastle side saw the league title slip from their grasp in seven fateful minutes. He became a father two weeks later for the first time having also endured a Scottish Cup final defeat in the interim: “Three successive Saturdays in May 1986 saw the three most emotional experiences of my life.” But you don’t need to ask where he’d have been had his daughter arrived either one or two weeks earlier... (Alan Pattullo)

Wingin’ It - The Mark Walters Story by Mark Walters with Jeff Holmes (Pitch)

In an ideal world, Mark Walters’ three and a half years in Scottish football would be solely remembered for the dazzling footwork and goalscoring prowess he contributed to a trophy-laden period for Rangers. Sadly, the gifted English winger’s spell at the Ibrox club is just as readily associated with the shameful incidents of racism at Celtic Park and Tynecastle which greeted his arrival. Walters recounts those scenes in an unreservedly forthright and absorbing autobiography which also details his disturbing experience as a youth player under Aston Villa scout Ted Langford who was later convicted of sexual abuse. It’s easy to see why Walters described writing the book as “cathartic”. (Stephen Halliday)

Lifted over the Turnstiles by Steve Finan (DC Thomson)

It’s a certain person who, when asked what they want for Christmas, says: Lots and lots of black and white photographs of Scottish football grounds please. That is essentially what this amounts to but it’s without question one of the books of this, and perhaps any, year. What is Christmas if not a time for gazing sentimentally at these cathedrals of football, some, like Dumbarton’s Boghead and Falkirk’s Brockville, sadly lost forever? One section of photos retrieved from the clearly extensive DC Thomson archives features grounds after heavy snowfalls – in one a Third Lanark player tries to break the ice at Cathkin Park with a pneumatic drill! (Alan Pattullo)

Rugby: Talking A Good Game by Ian Robertson (Hodder & Stoughton)

One of the things we’ll miss next year is listening to Ian Robertson’s commentary and reports on rugby for Radio 5 Live. But there’s no regrets on his part following retirement and he’s had some life, as this memoir makes clear: eight caps for Scotland before a knee gave way, teaching English literature to Tony Blair at Fettes before being recruited as a commentator by the legendary Cliff Morgan, who thought Robertson’s soft Scottish burr would be good for radio. He wasn’t wrong. And we’ll even forgive Robertson sounding so excited about England winning the World Cup in 2003 (though he claims it’s because it meant he’d won a bet)…. (Alan Pattullo)

Scottish Rugby 101: A Pocket Guide in 101 Moments, Stats, Characters and Games by Peter Burns (Birlinn)

This may seem like a bible for the Scottish rugby geek but Peter Burns adds a burst of irreverence and wit to make this much more than a collection of dry trivia. In good times or bad for over a century, Scotland can always be relied on to throw up a surprising stat or two. There is plenty of quirky ammunition here to test and illuminate fellow drinkers at the rugby club bar or on the team bus. Burns’ light touch has the reader racing through the pages and there are plenty of curios to keep the most knowledgeable aficionado on his or her toes. (Duncan Smith)

Scottish Football: Requiem or Renaissance? By Henry McLeish (Luath Press)

There are few who have put Scottish football under the microscope with the thoughtful intensity of Henry McLeish, the former First Minister of Scotland. He’s steeped in the game having played for East Fife as a youngster. He now tries to put something back as chair of the Elite Football Academy in Fife. This is a worthy tome where he refuses to accept Scotland’s golden age of football cannot be recreated to some extent, provided the needs of the national side are not sacrificed. This is a thorough, fascinating and ultimately optimistic state of the Scottish game address from one of its wisest figures. (Alan Pattullo)

Adventures in the Golden Age by Archie Macpherson (Black & White)

Even when Scotland qualified for World Cups, once a regular occurrence, things rarely ran smoothly. Archie Macpherson can vouch for many of the turbulent tales to emerge during the six tournaments he covered. He saw drunken escapades with his own eyes, once while sitting having a beer with fellow commentator John Motson. “Down the short flight of stairs leading into the well of the bar came the Scottish captain Billy Bremner, his arms round the shoulders of his great mate Jimmy Johnstone,” he writes. Rarely can an anecdote have started so promisingly. There’s plenty more like this and Archie proves himself to be an expert raconteur. (Alan Pattullo)

The 147th Open Annual by various (Aurum Press)

History was made at Carnoustie in July as Francesco Molinari became the first Italian to win the Open Championship. This colourful and informative annual reflects on a memorable week on the Angus coast, where Molinari held off a posse of big guns, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose to get his hands on the Claret Jug. Some of the most respected golf writers in the world capture the flavour of an event that also proved memorable for 19-year-old Scot Sam Locke as he claimed the Silver Medal as leading amateur. Molinari had a wonderful year, playing a key role in Europe’s Ryder Cup triumph, but this was his breakthrough moment. (Martin Dempster)

Strathmore Cricket Union: The First 90 Years by David Potter and Richard Miller

The historic first win over England earlier this summer might have put cricket on the front pages for once. But it is a fallacy that the sport is an afterthought in Scotland. This superbly researched book proves that places like Brechin, Blairgowrie and Meigle always echoed to the sound of willow on leather and while participation levels rise and fall, they endure – Meigle after all provided a recent Scotland captain in Gordon Drummond. Devotion to the sport was total in some cases, with local legend Bob Sievwright dying at the crease for Arbroath with his batting partner, son Arthur, looking on in horror from the other end. (Alan Pattullo)