Sports books of the Year 2021: From Tony Jacklin and George Best to Elise Christie

A look back at some of the best sports books released over the past year.

John Robertson launches his autobiography at Tynecastle Park, on November 04, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
John Robertson launches his autobiography at Tynecastle Park, on November 04, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

This is Your Everest: The Lions, The Springboks and the Epic Tour of 1997

By Tom English and Peter Burns (Polaris)

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Short-listed for William Hill Sports Book of the Year, This Is Your Everest tells the story of the 1997 British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa with almost claustrophobic intensity.

Tony Jacklin has shared his rich Ryder Cup memories in a new autobiography, Tony Jacklin: My Ryder Cup Journey, co-authored by Tony Jimenez.

Authors Tom English and Peter Burns interview a slew of players and coaches to get the inside track on a very special chapter of rugby history.

With the sport still in its professional infancy, Jim Telfer and Ian McGeechan set about melding the Lions into a tough unit capable of coping with the rigours of taking on the world champions in their own backyard.

That they succeed (spoiler alert) in winning the Test series with a game to spare is testament to a coaching partnership for whom the world amateur never really existed.

In the main, English and Burns allow the protagonists to do the talking, only fleshing out the background where necessary, and it’s a successful formula.

Chelsea player Pat Nevin in action during a League Division One match between Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday at Stamford Bridge on August 15, 1987 in London, England. (Photo by Simon Bruty/ Allsport/Getty Images)

South Africa’s emergence from apartheid and the Springboks’ often turbulent role in this is dissected with impressive clarity, most notably in the divisive selection in 1996 of Henry Tromp, a white hooker convicted of the manslaughter of a black farm labourer. (Graham Bean)

Robbo: The Game’s Not Over Till the Fat Striker Scores – John Robertson: My Autobiography

John Robertson (Black & White Publishing)

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John Robertson used lockdown to finish off an autobiography he had started writing several years earlier before grinding to a halt “somewhere around 1986”. That is an obvious reference to the dramatic conclusion of the 1985/86 season, when Hearts let slip their first league title since 1960 one week and then lost the cup final the next. There’s much more to this than recollections of just that period, dramatic though it was, including a heart-rending account of his father’s death when John was only 14-years-old. That experience casts a long shadow and if there’s one wish amid all the goals, it’s that his dad had lived to see John and his brother Chris playing together for Hearts on the one occasion it did happen, for 12 minutes against Queen of the South in 1982. The younger Robertson went on to become a bona fide Hearts legend, scoring 311 goals in 712 appearances – including 27 times v Hibs. This is his story. And what’s more, he wrote it himself. Indispensable. (Alan Pattullo)

The Victorious British Lions celebrate their 2-1 series victory over the South Africa Springboks after the Third Test Match at Ellis Park on July 5, 1997 as chronicled in the new book. (Photo by David Rogers/Allsport/Getty Images)

Pat Nevin: The Accidental Footballer

Pat Nevin (Monoray)

It’s not often a book about a footballer includes a chapter detailing an afternoon spent sipping raspberry tea from china cups after being invited round to Morrissey’s place. Nevin was of course no ordinary footballer. This book contains as many musings on bands such as the Associates as it does association football and is all the better for it. Another self-penned tome, Nevin corrects some myths such as the time he asked to be subbed off at half-time at Chelsea so he could get to a Cabaret Voltaire gig. It was New Order.

One of the best things about it is that it stops around the time Nevin joins Tranmere from Everton, meaning there’s much more to come in the promised Vol 2, including his part in the financial meltdown at Motherwell. That was an interesting time as well, but this first volume is essential as the author charts his progress from the Easterhouse backstreets to the King’s Road and beyond in breezy, highly readable style. (AP)

The Lost Art Of The Short Game

Gary Nicol and Karl Morris

In the latest addition to their ‘Lost Art Of…’ series, Archerfield Links-based coach Gary Nicol and performance coach Karl Morris have come up with another gem. Helped by contributions from the likes of Mike Clayton, Andrew Coltart and Dean Robertson, the pair deliver a clear message about what is possible for players of all abilities around the greens.

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They say the proof is in the pudding and, in the games I’ve played since reading this book, my thought process has never been better. As a result, I've played better.

"If you ask poor questions, don't be surprised if you come up with poor answers" is one of key messages and that has helped change my mindset over every shot, not just ones around green. It really has made a huge difference for me and, in one of my final rounds of 2021, I actually felt as though I played a proper round of golf. For the record, The Lost Art of Putting and The Lost Art of Golf are the other two books in this excellent series. (Martin Dempster)

Tony Jacklin: My Ryder Cup Journey

Tony Jacklin and Tony Jimenez (Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie)

While Europe may still be feeling a bit sore after suffering a record defeat at the hands of the Americans in this year’s event at Whistling Straits, the Ryder Cup has provided some incredible memories for players and spectators on this side of the Atlantic over the last 25 or so years.

The man mainly responsible for that is Tony Jacklin, who helped turn the biennial match from a one-sided affair that had been dominated by the US into one of the most-eagerly anticipated events in sport.

This excellent book is a journey charting the tale of Jacklin, who won The Open in 1969 before adding the US Open the following year, through his seven playing appearances then his four as captain.

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He also opens up on being profoundly deaf, being diagnosed with cancer, the sudden death of his first wife and hitting rock bottom when he lost everything financially.

The Scunthorpe man tells his tale brilliantly in conjunction with co-author Tony Jimenez. (MD)

Scotland’s Track and Field Olympians Part 1 - 1896-1980

By John W Keddie (Scottish Sporting Heritage)

An exhaustive history of Scottish track and field athletes’ performances in the Olympics, up to and including the landmark 1980 Games in Moscow.

Keddie, who wrote a well regarded biography of Eric Liddell, combines a chatty style with a forensic eye for detail.

The appendices go all the way up to Rio 2016 and are especially wonderful, giving a Games by Games breakdown of Scottish representation in the Great Britain team as well as listing every Scot to pull on a GB vest on Olympic duty.

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The fact that only 34 Scots (30 men and four women) won medals between 1896 and 2016 illustrates just how highly we should revere the achievements of Liddell, Wyndham Halswelle, Allan Wells, Liz McColgan, Yvonne Murray et al.

Of course, the feats of Laura Muir and Josh Kerr in Tokyo in the summer have taken the total to 36 and their exploits will doubtless be covered in Keddie’s follow-up. (GB)

Dave Mackay: Football’s Braveheart – The Authorised Biography

By Mike Donovan (Pitch publishing)

The best there was, the best there is, the best there ever will be. Such a claim could be made about Dave Mackay at not just one club, but two. He was a legend on both sides of the Border with Hearts and Spurs and you can even throw Derby County into the mix, where he skippered the currently troubled club to a league title and then later managed them to one. Author Mike Donovan has gone from writing a forensically well-researched biography about another White Hart Lane legend in Alan Gilzean to writing a forensically well-researched one about Mackay, who the Spurs supporter describes as the best player he has ever seen. Donovan has done a fine job in tracking down former teammates and family members to portray the man in full and inform those who might only know Mackay from the famous picture of him picking up compatriot Billy Bremner by the scruff of his neck during a Spurs v Leeds United encounter in August 1966. (AP)

The Ghosts of Cathkin Park: The inside story of Third Lanark’s demise

By Michael McEwan (Polaris)

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Whatever happened to the Hi-Hi? Formed in 1872, before Rangers and Celtic, Third Lanark “were old before the Old Firm were new” notes the author. They have been dead and gone for over fifty years now and yet the club still intrigues and fascinates. Perhaps one reason for this is that their ground still exists in the south side of Glasgow, terraces and crush barriers still visible amid the overgrown foliage. Michael McEwan took his interest to another level and decided to investigate the story of the club’s demise. He conjures up some ghosts in the process. Central to the story is roguish chairman Bill Hiddelston, who died shortly after the club were liquidated in 1967. The dogged McEwan tracks down a son based in South America. It’s a compelling, beautifully written account that contains plenty of lessons for the present following financial meltdowns at clubs not a million miles away from Third Lanark’s long-time crumbling former base of operations. (AP)

First And Last – How I Made European History with Hibs

Jackie Plenderleith with Tom Maxwell (Pitch publishing)

Jackie Plenderleith had a very decent career, playing alongside Denis Law for Manchester City and winning one Scottish cap at centre half in a 5-2 victory over Northern Ireland in 1960. But what really makes him stand out, and what forms the basis of this excellent book, is his inclusion in the first British side to play in the European Champions Clubs’ Cup – now known as the Champions League, but perhaps still referred to as the European Cup by those of a certain age.

A competition that now bestrides the football landscape and provides much of the elite’s financial muscle had to start somewhere. Chelsea, the English champions in 1955, declined to take part but Hibs, yes Hibs, who had finished fifth in Scotland, took up the mantle of being British football’s first representatives. It is a privilege to read Plenderleith’s account of this campaign, with the Easter Road side going on to reach the last four. He was only 17 when he became one of 11 pioneers. Now in his early 80s, Plenderleith is the last surviving member of the side, hence the title. (AP)

Bestie to Beastie to Belgium: Hibs’ green and white knuckle ride through the 80s

By Colin Leslie

As the author notes, it was the George Best of times, it was the worst of times. Leslie was there for the whole turbulent experience that was supporting Hibs in the 1980s. While there have been more successful decades, few have been filled with such intrigue, from Best trying to make the best of his fading talents to Hibs becoming the first Scottish club listed on the stock market…paving the way for Hearts owner Wallace Mercer’s later merger attempt. The Beastie of the title is George McCluskey, who is pictured on the front cover being carried off on the first day of the 1986-87 season after a quick introduction to new Rangers player-manager Graeme Souness. Belgium, meanwhile, references RFC Liege, and Hibs' belated return to Europe in 1989. As much as anything, this is a coming-of-age story – Leslie is in entertaining form as he recounts skiving into football grounds, enjoying high jinks on supporters’ buses and encountering casuals, such a staple of 80s football culture. (AP)


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By Elise Christie with Mark Eglinton (Reach Sport)

There wasn’t a braver book written in 2021. Completed in conjunction with the Scottish ghost writer par excellence Mark Eglinton, triple world champion short track speed skater Christie recounts her battles to reach the top in her chosen discipline, addressing such difficult subjects as mental health, her propensity to self-harm, and, horrifyingly, a rape suffered when she was just 19. Now 31, her story has moved on somewhat even since publication in October. Christie has since retired from short track speed skating after her dream of finally landing an Olympic speed skating medal was extinguished when she failed to qualify for the winter Olympics in China next month. But this doesn’t detract from the impact of an autobiography that is so much more than simply a sports book. There’s little doubt we haven’t heard the last from a compelling and complicated athlete. (AP)

Lifted over the Turnstiles 2 & 3

By Steve Finan (DC Thomson Media)

Why try to fix something that isn’t broken? DC Thomson have struck gold with what seems a straightforward idea of delving back into their own archives and discovering what lies therein. Plenty, it’s fair to say. These are the second and third volumes of the Lifted Over the Turnstiles series launched in 2018 and it’s more of the same, thankfully; a selection of black and white photographs of old grounds and players. It’s not as if they are any less fascinating than those selected for the first volume. Indeed, in some cases, they are even better. One shows Rangers player Willie Waddell taking a throw-in with the Archibald Leitch designed main stand at Ibrox forming a magnificent backdrop. Steve Finan provides pithy observations and descriptions. Wonderful, heart-warming and very flickable. (AP)

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