Books that I've read about Sport

Sport's great. It's exciting, it's something to talk about and it distracts from the mundane drudgery of everyday life. I've liked sport as long as I can remember, and it's footy, boxing, darts (yes it is a sport!) and tennis that particularly float my boat. Some of the most exciting sports events I've seen on telly include Arsenal pipping Liverpool for the league championship in 1989, Nigel Benn stopping Gerald McClellan in 1995, Aston Villa beating Tranmere (sorry Jon) in a League Cup semi final in 1994 and Liverpool winning the Champions League in 2005. The best sporting event I've been to live though was the 1/4 finals and semi finals of the PDC World Darts Championships at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet. If I could choose just one sporting event to go to in a calendar year this would be it! Anyway, needless to say I've read a few books about sport....in fact I probably read too many books about sport really. I seem to be something of a sucker for sports biographies, even though I know many will be bland, lack substance and disappoint. Every now and again there's a good one though! In terms of sports books it's primarily books about footballers and heavyweight boxers that I seem to read, but there's a few more obscure ones in there as well.

Anyway, with relatively little further ado, below are all the sports books I've read ranked by how good I thought they were. The books listed are available at Amazon.co.uk or Abebooks. Other good bookshops sell them too, as well as some bad ones.

NB: My scale, no suns being crap and five suns being marvellous, is a blatant rip-off of a clip art icon and Amazon's review scale. Note the appropriate meteorological twist to demonstrate original thought though. And as I bought most of the books listed their rating is generally higher than average!


FOOTBALL
'78 How a Nation Lost the World Cup by Graham McColl
This book is about Scotland's performance in the 1978 World Cup. Prior to the World Cup the then-Scotland manager had talked up Scotland's chances (mind you, they did have a good side) but come the competition they fell flat on their faces, losing to a team they could have beaten, drawing with a team they should have beaten and beating a team who should have beat them. Ironically it was a pattern followed, or more or less followed, in other World Cups. There's a nod towards some of the controversies in this World Cup as well, but the main focus concerns Scotland, what happened and what could have gone wrong. In today's ultra-profressional world of professional football you feel it might have been a different story, and in this context Scottish management come across as naive, though probably weren't at the time. I was 5 when this World Cup was played and remember bits of it, so this book put some flesh on the bones of my memory so to speak. Not bad either.


The Miracle of Castle di Sangro by Joe McGinniss
An American writer spends a season with a newly promoted Serie B football team in Italy. What's remarkable about this team is that they play in a very small town in the central Italian mountains and had been little more than a small amateur team for much of their existence. The writer hangs around with the players, follows events on a pretty intimate level and lives through the triumphs and tragedies (death, drugs, bribery and corruption). Pretty good.


Football Dynamo by Marc Bennetts
The author is an ex-pat living in Russia, and his book is about Russian football through the last 10-15 years. Themes discussed include why certain teams have been or have become successful, the uglier side of the game (ie match-fixing and hooliganism) and recent Russian successes in European club competition and at international level. Quite interesting.


Left Field by Graeme Le Saux
Former international footballer Le Saux had a fairly controversial career. Dogged by rumours about his personal life and more intelligent and outspoken that the average football Le Saux had to show greater than average strength of character through his career and it's interesting to see his take on a number of things he was involved in, including some of the more unsavoury incidents. Better than the average footballer's autobiography.



Staying Up by Rick Gekoski
American academic/antiquarian book dealer and long-term UK resident Gekoski spends a football season behind the scenes with the team he supports, Coventry City, giving a unique insight into what went on. I couldn't remember a huge amount about the season in question (1997/98) because my team were in the division below Coventry (then a Premier League team) and I wasn't paying much attention to the Premier League. However, after initially flirting with relegation Coventry ended up having a good season (and by their standards probably one of their best seasons in the last 20 years). I quite like this kind of book, although not surprisingly few of this genre (written by 'outsiders') exist (Hunter Davis' The Glory Game, Kees 't Hart's Het Mooiste Leven, and Marcel van Roosmalen's Je Hebt het Niet van Mij spring to mind as three examples). Gekoski's book is interesting without being scandalous....little in the way of scandal or gossip is revealed (one imagines that the author is privvy to some pretty interesting stuff), and a lot of the book focuses on how he feels his relationship with the players and staff is developing and how his relationship with the club as a fan is changing due to being behind the scenes. Quite interesting really.



Ooh Ah Stantona by Phil Stant
Phil Stant is a footballer with a difference.. Before turning professional he was a soldier, fighting during the Falklands War, including being at Fitzroy when the Sir Galahad was hit, then working with bomb disposal. As a footballer he played in the lower leagues, and was a good goalscored wherever he played. Having worked on the Falklands and read a lot about the Islands, I was curious to see what Stant had to say. As a football fan I was also curious because I lived in Scarborough during the 1980s and Stant nearly joined Scarborough FC in the late 80s at a time when the club were doing well. Had he joined they'd have probably got promoted. However, he didn't, and rumour had it that this played a role in the then manager (Neil Warnock) leaving the club when they were on the up. Anyway, this book's quite interesting...a  number of tales of scrapes and drinking exploits (as one would expect from a soldier/footballer I guess) without being too controvesial, and the stuff about the Falklands was quite interesting as well. 


Forza Italia by Paddy Agnew
The author is an Irish sports journalist who has lived in Italy since the mid-1980s, leaving him well placed to comment on footballing matters there. Of which there have been a few. He takes the reader through some of the scandals, as well as some of the high points, of Italian football in recent years (such as the World Cup win and the match fixing scandal) as well as some asides which will of interest to British readers (such as some stuff about Sven Goran Eriksson's time in Italy). All in all decent book.



The Fix
by Declan Hilll

Want to know how to fix a football match? This book tells you how. Of course you don't want to be doing this, and it's not easy, nor cheap, to do, but judging by some of the stuff in this book you may well get away with. I like a punt on the football, so I was quite interested to read this book. Turns out there's evidence that more matches than one might think are bent, including some high profile ones. The author takes us through the mechanics of how matches have been fixed in the past, as well as looking at some evidence suggesting that some rather high profile matches may have been fixed. Plus there's a bit of 'burying one's head in the sand' from the powers that be that run the game. Interesting and slightly disturbing. And a bit sad as well I guess.



Gerrard My Autobiography by Steven Gerrard
A footballer publishing an auto-biography in his mid-twenties whilst seemingly peaking professionally rather than after retiring hints at a player cashing in on his popularity and begs the question how much of a story does the player have to tell at the point anyway? Let's face it, midway through a career there's surely a limit to what a player is able to say for fear of recriminations both on and off the field, and what toes could be trod on. That said this book wasn't too bad...slightly surprisingly a few people get slated (always amusing) for example. Considering Gerrard has captained his club for a while and was tipped for the top there's a bit too much 'awestruckness' when he started out, but that's a bit picky. What did really, really annoy me though was him bleating about being stressed when Liverpool were seemingly stalling on giving him a new contract or whether he'd leave for another club. Erm, let me get this right, here's someone being stressed whilst earning tens of thousands of pounds a week worrying about whether his current employer was going to give him a more lucrative contract worth more tens of thousands a week or whether he'd have to move 300 miles down the road and earn slightly more per week. That must be ever so stressful. I'd lose so much sleep in the same situation.

Made in Sheffield by Neil Warnock
Outspoken football manager Neil Warnock vents his spleen, has a pop at some who've antagonized him and tells readers about his life in football in his auto-biography. Warnock was manager of Scarborough FC for a time in the late 1980s when I lived there, so I was curious to read his thoughts on events there. Inevitably the focus of the book is on more recent times when Warnock has been more in the public eye.  Anyway, this book is very candid for a football autobiography when it comes to settling scores and is quite an interesting read as Warnock has spent most of his management career outside the Premier League working on tight budgets and fighting fires. Unfortunately Warnock comes across as something of a sore loser over his team's relegation from the Premier League in 2007. On a production note I'd like to be slightly cutting, Warnock-esque even, and suggest that a slightly smaller typeface and slightly different line spacing would have made the book thinner and surely both cheaper to produce and better for the environment. Judged against the standard of other football autobiographies this is a good one.

Legend? by Bernie Slaven
Bernie Slaven was the star striker and leading goal scorer for my team (Middlesbrough) between the mid 1980s and early 1990s. During this time Middlesbrough were something of a yo-yo club being relegated or nearly relegated two or three times and promoted or nearly promoted four or five times, whereas now (2007) they're an established Premier League side. Anyway, the book contains everything a football auto-biography should.....self-promotion (some of a little cringeworthy and shameless I thought), justification for misunderstandings, having a pop at a few people and some opinion on the game today. I found the book interesting without being stunning, and certainly better than most football autobiographies I've read, but at the same time the subject matter means this book would be of limited appeal to most I imagine.

Football Inc. by Craig McGill
I read this book a few years too late; it's basically a 'state of the nation' kind of book about football around 1999-2001 and how the game is being globalised, becoming more corporate and generally moving away from the game it was some years ago. Many points remain valid today, for example concerning the G14 clubs, television, the way UEFA and FIFA conduct themselves, transfer dealings, the threat of hooliganism etc. The list is fairly endless, and murky worlds of agents dealings, bungs and dodgy transfer deals barely get much of a mention. In some respects this book makes for depressing reading, but salient points are made. Anyway, in spite of valid points this book, in my opinion, has been superseded by other books along similar lines, such as Broken Dream by Tom Bower as well as various other titles. This is nothing against this book by the way, simply the nature of current affairs books I suppose - they inevitably become superseded by events.

The Reggae Boyz by Robbie Earle and Daniel Davies
I watch the World Cup religiously and attempt to prevent nothing from stopping watching most games. One of my abiding memories of the 1998 World Cup is Robbie Earle putting Jamaica into the lead against Croatia. In the 1990s I really rated Robbie Earle. He looked like a really good player, and maybe one of the big English teams should have gone in for him before he retired and became a broadcaster. Anyway, all things considered it's pretty incredible Jamaica made it to a World Cup and this book is the story of how they did it, and what happened when they got there. Basically a chap at the Jamaican Football Federation decided he wanted Jamaica to get to the World Cup so he brought in a relatively unknown Brazilian coach who tapped into a combination of natural talent on the island and Jamaican descendants playing in the UK to get them to the World Cup. This book charts the highs and lows from the perspective of the journalist/writer looking in (Davies) and the player (Earle). Davies' bits are rather dry and a bit heavy on the politics in the squad, Earle's bits are pretty much par for what I'd expect a footballer to write. What stands out in this book is that in spite of their colourful fans and media attention generated by being plucky underdogs Jamaica's World Cup started with boundless optimism but ended up soured by divisions and arguments in the camp. Anyway, in the end this book was intermittently interesting and that's about it.

Back from the Brink by Paul McGrath
Paul McGrath was a top footballer in England during the 1980s and 1990s and played in a couple of World Cups for Ireland. Unfortunately, he is also probably better known for his drink problem and knee injuries. This book focuses mainly on his drink problem, and how he was able to fit his football career around it. He had a difficult upbringing (being a black Irishman living in children's homes) which, one imagines, would go some way to explaining things. The book is fairly graphic about the extent of his problems, including suicide attempts, and a lot of the problems are attributed to being shy, uncomfortable with fame, low self-esteem and a belief that he's not as good as people think, which is a real shame because the various contributions from colleagues and managers dotted through the book tell the reader how highly thought of McGrath was (and still is) by his peers. Ultimately this book is something of a macabre yet sad and gripping book I suppose and the honest, matter of fact way that McGrath discusses his problems sets this book apart from most other sports biographies I've read.

Robbo My Autobiography by Bryan Robson
Better known as a Manchester United legend and England captain, Bryan Robson also managed my team, Middlesbrough, through a fair part of the 1990s. Largely because of this connection I bought this book; as Middlesbrough manager he took them to 3 cup finals and 2 promotions and managed them through their most successful period in their history up to that point. There were also some controversial moments, and I was curious as to Bryan Robson's take on them, or at least the take he would be willing to admit to in an auto-biography. Anyway, as far as footballer's autobiographies go (in my experience they're often fairly bland) it was OK...nothing too controversial (not surprising really seeing as though he's still involved in the game!) but at the same time fairly interesting. Ultimately probably only of real interest for people with an interest Robson's been involved with though.

Gray Matters by Andy Gray
I waltzed through this one day when I wasn't feeling too clever and decided to read something needing little thought. Footballer turned TV commentator Andy Gray's auto-biography was OK, but nothing special. Typical footballer's auto-biography I suppose....he talks the reader through some highs and lows of his career, has a pop at one or two people and shares one or two tame anecdotes. At least having successfully gone into the media Gray has a little more to say than average, but this book as nothing special.

Fowler My Autobiography by Robbie Fowler
By the standards of footballer's autobiographies Robbie Fowler pulls relatively few punches in discussing his career today, especially when it comes to his acrimonious, drawn-out departure from his preferred employer (Liverpool), which in turn makes this book a good read. There's a bit too much of the twee 'I'm just a kid from Toxteth' for my liking though.

My Autobiography by Niall Quinn
Niall Quinn is a bit different to the usual cut of footballer; he comes across as brighter and more sensitive than average, and also seems like a decent bloke, for example donating the proceeds of his testimonial game to charity. And since his autobiography was published he bought and is chairman of a football club. Anyway, in the context of football autobiographies this is a good one. Quinn intersperses the history of his career, off-the-pitch anecdotes and his love of Irish sport and horse racing with his view on how the 2002 World Cup went (Quinn was a member of the Ireland squad), in particular his version and some thoughts on Roy Keane's controversial walk-out (made all the more interesting by the fact that Quinn subsequently hired Keane to be manager of the football club he bought). Good read in the context of a football autobiography.

Je Hebt Het Niet Van Mij by Marcel van Roosmalen
Van Roosmalen is a Dutch writer who spends a year writing about the Dutch football team Vitesse Arnhem. Van Roosmalen gets access to the players, manager and behind the scenes workers and details how the 2005/06 season, in which Vitesse underachieved, unfolded. I really like this kind of football book as it provides a slightly more exclusive angle as to how things with a team went and needless to say there aren't that many books like. Anyway, this book was quite entertaining, if short, although I suspect I may have laughed in the wrong places. It's written in diary form, but is slightly staccato because entries aren't made on a daily or even weekly basis, but it nevertheless gives an interesting angle on some of the behind the scenes stuff that affected Vitesse. A good read, especially if you know how their season went on the pitch beforehand.

Jimmy by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
I'm something of a sucker for reading footballer's autobiographies, even though the vast majority of them are a bit tame. Inevitably autobiogs of players still playing will tend to be tamer, if nothing else because grinding axes at that point of their careers could well be viewed as biting the hands that feed them. So, with Hasselbaink still gainfully employed as a professional footballer, this book may have been a gamble. Except Hasselbaink is a more interesting than average character; the Dutch star has never had much of a chance of playing professionally at home and his big break came by moving to Portugal and then onto England. I was therefore interested to find out how his somewhat more unusual career path came about. What happened from there is somewhat more well known. Anyway, this book was OK, although a bit rambling at times (it read like it was written in Dutch and then translated rather than being written in English), but no better than the vast majority of footballer's autobiographies. I suspect this book is only really of interest for those interested in the player's career or the clubs he's played for.

Stamping Grounds by Charlie Connelley
Charlie Connelley's book is a tale about going to watch World Cup 2002 qualifying matches featuring Liechtenstein. In order to do this the author spends some time in Liechtenstein, and this book will probably tell you more about the country than you'll find anywhere else! It's a pleasant enough read, but if you don't like football this book will have very little appeal. Similarly, if you don't want to find out anything about Liechtenstein you won't like it either. It's not a bad idea for a book, but the premise of going to Liechtenstein is based on doing it for the hell of it, rather than something more pressing, like, say a bet, which I reckon would made the book a bit better in that the author would have more of a sense of urgency.

Broken Dreams by Tom Bower
This book is all about greed and corruption in English football, and whilst some of the stuff in the book I'd read/heard elsewhere, the scale of what can go on with, say, transfer deals and the utter lack of accountability of clubs with creditors/shareholders, agents with the FA/UEFA/FIFA and managers with boards was nevertheless quite surprising. Bent as a nine bob note some of the deals that go on I tell you! Anyway, whilst the subject matter was quite interesting I did find this book quite dry and a bit heavy on stats.

The Glory Game by Hunter Davis
The author was allowed full access to the Tottenham Hotspur FC first team squad through their successful 1971-72 season in order to produce a book telling 'what it's really like being a footballer'. This was the first time such a book was produced, and to be honest very few similar books have been produced (only Left Foot Forward and Left Foot in the Grave by Garry Nelson, It's Only a Game? by Eamonn Dunphy and Het Mooiste Leven by Kees t' Hart spring to mind as similar examples of this kind of access-all-areas-fly-on-the-wall genre). Anyway, it's a pretty good read really. A number of aspects of football bemoaned by Davis then are similarly lamented by the media these days, proving that some things really never do change. This book focuses very much on what goes on at training and on the pitch rather than revealing any scandalous, gossipy details, and in fact I wonder if pressure to do just that would make such a book unlikely to be written today.

Extra Time by Willie Maddren
Willie Maddren was a very good footballer at Middlesbrough FC in the late 1960s and 70s whose career was then curtailed by injury. He went on to become Middlesbrough's manager for a while in the 1980s and whilst not always successful results-wise some of the players Maddren brought in were key in Middlesbrough's rise from struggling (old) 3rd division team in 1986 to the top. Sadly, in the 1990s Maddren went on to develop motor neurone disease and die. Maddren's autobiography was written in aid of motor neurone disease when he knew he was terminally ill. Given Maddren wasn't a particularly famous footballer I guess this book has limited appeal, but as Middlesbrough are my 'team' it had considerable appeal, not least because it's one of the few books about the club in the 1970s and early 80s, a time when I was growing up in the Middlesbrough area and very aware of the team. Maddren, it turns out, was a very good player, and the Boro team of the mid 1970s was a little better than I'd thought, and even came closer than I thought to being champions! Maddren's time as manager was punctuated by poor results and little in the way of funds to buy players. Nevertheless he was instrumental in bringing Boro legends like Slavin, Pallister, Ripley, Cooper and Mowbray through the ranks. The book inevitably ends on a sad and poignant note as Maddren learns that he has become terminally ill. I enjoyed this book, principally because of its subject matter, and it is far better written and revealing than most football autobiographies and it is to this standard to which I've judged this book.

Greavesie by Jimmy Greaves
I misunderstood Jimmy Greaves. I knew he'd been a great footballer and in the 1970s he'd had a battle with the bottle before becoming a TV pundit in the 1980s and 90s. I thought he was a pretty irritating character on TV...too cheerful, chirpy and populist for my liking. On reflection, and having read his very good autobiography, it turns out he's a sharp cookie and what he and his co-pundit (Ian St John) set out to do on their regular football TV show in the 1980s and early 90s seems to be something of a successful forerunner to a current football show (Soccer AM on Sky Sports) which I happen to really like! However, I wanted to know more about Greaves than this.....after labouring through his childhood nostalgia I was curious about Greaves' time in Italy (in his early 20s Greaves went to play in Italy), why Greaves was a member of England's 1966 World Cup winning squad but didn't play in the final and why he ended up battling the bottle. Most football autobiographies I've read haven't been great and have often been bland. This one, however, is a good one.

Gordon Strachan by Leon Moynihan
Gordon Strachan has been something of a media darling around 2003-2005 as far as football shows on TV go. Personable with a ready quip always available I thought his auto-biography might prove to be quite witty. Sadly I thought it was a bit bland, apart from the last chapter which was pretty funny in places. Bit crap this one really.

Bhoys, Bears and Bigots by Bill Murray
This book is about the rivalry between football teams Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow and particularly focuses on the last 20 to 30 years. The book focuses on the sectarian element of the rivalry and on what is being done to try and kerb this. I found it quite heavy going at times to be honest and whilst the subject matter was interesting and provided food for thought I wouldn't say this was a riveting (or cheery) read.

The Beautiful Team by Garry Jenkins
This book is based on an interesting and original idea; the author meets all but one of the surviving eleven men who made up Brazil's World Cup winning first team in the 1970 World Cup. The final has become one of the most iconic football matches of all time, and featured stars such as Pele. Whilst this book is a really original idea, I thought it was a little boring - each chapter is basically a potted biography of each of the players briefly explaining their background before going on to what role they played in the 1970 World Cup before, again briefly, taking the reader through what these players then achieved on the world football stage and what they're doing now. There obviously wasn't room to go into more details. So, interesting idea, but not an especially interesting read in the end....totally different to another 'where are they now......' book I recently read about men who've been to the moon (Moondust by Andrew Smith).

El Macca by Steve McManaman and Sarah Edworthy
Generally I have found football autobiographies to be a bit bland and boring. McManaman, however, is an intelligent chap with columns in 'heavy papers' and having spent 4 seasons playing for Real Madrid I thought he might have something different to say. His account of his time in Spain proved interesting and well-written without saying anything terribly sensational. I thought this book was OK, but nothing special.

All Played Out by Pete Davies
Along with Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby this critically acclaimed book, telling the story of the 1990 World Cup, was part of a 'new generation' of football writing. The writer is a novelist who had a press pass for the tournament and combined going to matches with spending time with the England squad and FA reps at the World Cup to tell the story of the World Cup from various different perspectives. I watched a lot of the matches from this tournament (at the expense of revising for some exams - the subsequent, and inevitably, poor performance led to me then to check future tournament dates and how they'd fell in relation to important exams, such as my University finals which mercifully ended shortly before the 1994 World Cup started), so it was interesting to compare recollections. On the whole I thought this book was fairly interesting but not all together my cup of tea. I can't really put my finger on quite why, but I wonder if it's because a lot of what's in this book I'd heard or read before. I suspect I'd have enjoyed this book more, and rated it higher, had I read it when it originally came out shortly after the 1990 World Cup. It is interesting to note, by the way, that tabloid journalists have a long history of knocking and bringing down the national team prior to big tournaments - this must have an affect on their performance and willingness to co-operate with the media, so I wonder if it is rather self-defeating.

Keane by Roy Keane
Now this is what a football auto biography (or, more accurately, ghost written biography) should be all about. Keane's infamous (auto)biography is pretty candid and he doesn't come across as a spoilt, pampered star, so his book makes a welcome change from the usual bland sports biographies! I don't like Man U, but enjoyed this book.

Ajax Barcelona Cruyff The ABC of an Obstinate Maestro by Frits Barend & Henk van Dorp
To commemorate Johan Cruyff's 50th birthday these two journalist published a series of interviews with Cruyff between the 1970's and 1990's. To get the most out of the interviews you need to know a bit about Cruyff, what he got up to and why he did certain things (for example why he chose to leave Ajax, not go to the 1978 World Cup, not become the Dutch national team coach etc). I think the need to know some background information makes the book a bit less accessible than it otherwise would be which is a shame really. I think it would have been nice if the authors had included some of this background information prior to each interview. In conclusion, if you know a lot about Johan Cruyff and Dutch football you'll probably enjoy this book. If not I suspect you'll find this book a little bit disjointed and confusing and perhaps get the wrong idea about Cruyff.

Vinnie by Vinnie Jones
Autobiography of infamous ex-footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones. It was OK but nothing special. I had hoped for some slightly more juicy details and better tales of tomfoolery, but sadly none were forthcoming. This book passed a few hours but was 'only alright' to be honest.

Psycho by Stuart Pearce
Another football autobiography. Ultimately most football autobiographies are destined to disappoint I think. Libel laws and the desire to remain working within the game ultimately prevent many footballers from perhaps saying what they'd like, or, more accurately I suppose, what punters want to hear and consequently many are rather bland, even if the reader happens to be a fan of a team the player played for (in which case aspects of the book ought to be a little more personal). As it happens, this genre of book is becoming increasingly candid but often I find them a bit bland. Stuart Pearce's book, however, is a pretty interesting read, largely because he's an interesting character who has bothered to make interesting use of his time, and consequently this book's not a bad read.

Left Foot Forward by Garry Nelson
Writing in the twilight of his career Garry Nelson's diary of his season lets readers in on what life's like in the then First Division in the mid 1990s. Like most professional footballers Garry Nelson didn't play at the top level, but was good enough (and lucky enough) to have a lengthy career in the lower divisions. This is his diary of a season, and reads very differently to the life of high-paid Premier League stars. And this is exactly what makes this book so interesting - Nelson's thoughts, views and worries reflect those of many other players and provide a much more realistic, yet rarely seen, view of what the life of a professional footballer is really like.

One Hit Wonder The Jimmy Glass Story by Jimmy Glass
Professional footballer Jimmy Glass is a goalkeeper who has primarily been involved in the lower leagues. He briefly rose to fame scoring a goal that kept his then team Carlisle in the football league. His career has many ups and downs and his book tells a story that is typical of many footballers struggling to continue playing at the highest level possible, and more typical of footballers than tales of what life's like at the top of the tree. Not a bad read this one, although you most definitely won't like if you don't like football.

Odd Man Out by Brian McClair
Then Manchester United star Brian McClair's diary of a football season. McClair's clever, dry wit and intelligent commentary makes an otherwise fairly mundane dairy quite funny.

Super Mac by Malcolm MacDonald
Malcolm MacDonald was a legendary goalscorer in the 1970s and during a phase of being keen on reading football autobiographies thought he'd have a good tale to tell. Turns out I was wrong and I thought this book was a bit crap to tell the truth.

Cloughie by Brian Clough
The late Brian Clough was most definitely one of football's more colourful and controversial characters, and with this in mind I expected a pretty interesting and candid read. Sadly I found his autobiography a pretty tame and dull read. Bit disappointing really.

Ruud Gullit My Autobiography by Ruud Gullit
Ruud Gullit's piece of self promotion written in the mid to late 1990s wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. The book is written primarily to appeal to British readers so I found details regarding his career in Holland more glossed over than I'd hoped, especially the more controversial moments. Bit tame this one really.

Tackling My Demons by Stan Collymore
Ex-footballer Stan Collymore courted controversy on and off the pitch and isn't shy about it in his autobiography. Consequently this book's a good, entertaining read. Some of Stan's points of view are interesting, for example about depression and the football establishment, and he grinds axes where necessary. I've read quite a few football (auto)biographies and love him or hate him this is one is one of the best I've read!

Gazza by Paul Gascoigne
I wonder if I'll ever learn with football autobiographies. I didn't think this book was anything special for the most part, and in fact much of what Gazza has to say has been documented (in many cases well-documented) elsewhere, particularly in the tabloids, so most of the tales of tomfoolery were nothing new. Gazza does, however, reveal aspects of his character not so well documented in other media, for example discussing his thoughts on his ex-wife, depression and addictions. The Gazza of the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96 fame is only one side of Gazza it seems, and to be honest you can't help but feel a little sorry for him when he talks about other sides of his character. Other than that this book's pretty mediocre really.

BOXING
The Year of the Locust by Jon Hotten
A journeyman heavyweight boxer shoots and kills his promoter in Florida in the 1990s after all sorts of skullduggery including fixed fights, threats of murder and poisonings. The not-so glamourous underbelly of professional boxing. Pretty good, though if you don't like boxing it's probably not for you.

Nothing But Trouble:My Story by Herbie Hide
Herbie Hide...slightly loathe to describe him as an idiot and a waste of talent (especially as his career is, at the time of writing in 2009, undergoing a renaissance in Germany and he stands on the cusp of fighting for a world title), but his habit of attracting trouble (first name terms, it seems, with all of Norwich Dibble, gangster chums in Vegas etc etc) and going missing, or near as dammit, missing in action through what ought to have been his physical peak tells its own story for me. Anyway, having held this opinion for some time (and this book'll do little to change such an opinion!) I thought it might be interesting to find out more. And it was interesting, just not that interesting. Average boxing autobiography.

Sonny Liston by Rob Steen
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston was a sullen, quite lonely figure who led a controversial life...convict, controlled by the Mob, controversially losing his world title to Muhammad Ali, dying under mysterious (and unresolved) circumstances. This biography of Liston attempts to shed some light on Liston's life. It's not a bad book, but written in a slightly difficult to read style, and didn't really tell me anything I didn't know from reading Night Train, another book about Liston. I suspect Steen's book came out first, though can't quite be sure. Either way, a lot about Sonny Liston remains shrouded in mystery and I guess this offers a degree of fascination.

Four Kings by George Kimball
Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Mavin Hagler and Roberto Duran were household names in boxing in the 1980s, and around when I first got interested in boxing. They were involved in the richest and some of the and most exciting fights of the 1980s. Thomas Hearns was a particular favourite of mine when I started following the boxing. Anyway, this book is about the boxing lives of these four champions and it's a pretty interesting read, even if the reader is familiar with these fighters. Slightly irritating factual error concerning the career of Sumbu Kalambay (geeky to point this out, but in this day and age it's not difficult to check a fighter's record, and factual errors seem very common in boxing books these days) though.

Hard Road to Glory by Johnny Nelson
Having made an inauspicious start to his boxing career and 'froze' in his two biggest fights in the early 1990s (including a nationally televised world title fight), Johnny Nelson eventually became a dominant world boxing champion before retiring as undefeated champion. Nelson had to make it to the top the hard way and struggled with nerves and fear early in his career, and later in his career had a harsh reputation for being a slightly 'boring' boxer. His autobiography was OK...reasonably interesting, particularly given his more circuitous route to the top, without being especially outstanding.

Tyson Nurture of the Beast by Ellis Cashmore
The life, times and trials of Mike Tyson are relatively well documented and will undoubtedly provide ample biographical fodder and analysis in the years to come. Cashmore's book takes a socio-political look at Tyson's life as a boxer, starting when he was discovered as a teenager up to his loss to Lennox Lewis. There's not much about boxing really in this book (not really one for boxing fans wanting a blow by blow account) but rather it's a more academic work looking at Tyson's behaviour and how this fits African-American stereotypes, and whether his behaviour was the product of society or society produced him. Quite dry and thought-provoking. More one for sociologists than boxing fans and ultimately not really my brand of whisky.

Cinderalla Man by Jeremy Schaap
This book is the story of boxer James J Braddock, a story popularized by the film Cinderalla Man. Basically Braddock is a top boxer, gets on a losing streak then the Wall Street Crash and subsequent depression hit him hard but he manages to make a boxing comeback, strings some good wins together and wins the World Heavyweight Title in a huge upset. A nice, feel good sports story where the nice guy underdog does the business against the odds...in heavyweight boxing history I would suggest only Leon Spinks beating Muhammad Ali and George Foreman regaining the title aged 45 are bigger upsets. Tailor made for Hollywood I suppose.

As it happens I find heavyweight boxing in the 1930s a particularly interesting period in boxing history. There's so much going on...the desire for a charasmatic champion like Jack Dempsey in the 1920s, at least one champion seems like he was mob controlled, another was seen to represent Nazi Germany, another chap sought to become the second black heavyweight champion of the world, and possibly only got his chance out of establishment fear of the afore-mentioned German (a lesser of two evil things). All this is set against the socio-politico background of post-depression times and build up to the Second World War, all of which influenced heavyweight boxing history at the time. Boxing was also much more popular then than now, so the champions and big fights had, I suppose, more significance.

Anyway, the book itself, well Cinderalla Man, is one of a number of books released about James J Braddock in the light of Hollywood knocking out the film Cinderalla Man. The book didn't tell me much more than I already knew about what Braddock did in the 1930s but did have a fair bit to say about his early career. The book really focuses on the period 1928-1935, ie up to the point where Braddock became champion, and has a fair bit to say about Max Baer the media-darling who Braddock beat for the title. The stuff about Baer was interesting, especially as in spite of Baer being a popular champion and media-darling no recent biographies about him seem to exist.

So, this book was OK really. Quite interesting, although I suppose I'd have liked to have seen more about what Braddock got up to after winning the title.

I Don't Believe it but it's True - A Year in Boxing by Thomas Hauser
The author is a fairly prominent boxing writer, perhaps most noted for a cracking Muhammed Ali biography he wrote 15 or so years ago. Over the last few years Hauser has been producing regular, short pieces for various websites which he then bundles together and publishes in book form every year or so. This book pertains to the period covering late 2004 and 2005. It's an interesting read if you like boxing...there's pieces about somne fighters Hauser clearly has time for and some he doesn't have much time for. The more interesting bits, in my opinion, concern issues in boxing such as problems with passing men medically fit to box, corruption (Hauser only scratches the surface here though) and some interesting stuff about the TV series The Contender, which doesn't come out of this book too well. Not a bad this book, but obviously of limited appeal to those not interested in boxing. And if you are interested in boxing, check you've not already read the stuff online!

Twenty and Out by Mickey Duff
Mickey Duff is one of Britain's most successful boxing promoters and he wrote this book when he felt he was pretty close to retiring. Basically he tells a bit about himself and some of the fighters he's been involved with, especially British world champions. He settles one or two scores and tells one or two interesting tales. On the whole though fairly tame and bland, which is ironic really, because I got the impression he isn't too keen on the ever-increasing amounts of hype and showbiz in boxing and would rather be involved with blander, more clean-cut fighters.

Frank Fighting Back by Frank Bruno
British boxing hero Frank Bruno's 2005 autobiography was published after Bruno had spent time battling with mental illness, and consequently part of the book candidly delves into this, and how difficult it was for Bruno to adapt to retirement from the ring and other changes in his life. The vast majority of his book concerns Bruno's pretty successful boxing career which saw him briefly reign as heavyweight champion of the world. The boxing side of Bruno's story is pretty well-documented, but time that has elapsed since Bruno's boxing career ended allow for a slightly more candid review of his career. This book's OK, if pretty short (I think I read it in about 90 mins). A lot of the boxing stuff I'd read before, but if you hadn't read anything before about his boxing career this book's the place to look. That said, there were 2 or 3 factual errors, which irritated me as they are preventable errors, and a recurring theme across boxing books published in the last 10 or so years.

Undefeated by Terry Marsh
Terry Marsh was briefly a world boxing champion in 1987 and then retired due to possibly suffering from epilepsy. Marsh was then subsequently held on remand for nearly a year for the attempted murder of his promoter/manager (no conflict of interest there then!), Frank Warren in 1989-1990, before being found not guilty. This book is his story of how he became a world boxing champion, the controversry surrounding his retirement and subsequent trouble with the law. Marsh is a pretty interesting, intelligent figure who stands up for what he believes in, and this makes for a pretty interesting book - certainly better than the average sporting auto-biography. Where this book does fall down, in my opinion, is with grammatical errors (notably with confusion between 'your' and 'you're' - get a proofreader!!!), and also in that it ends in the early 1990s - it would have been interesting to see what Marsh has been up to since then, for example his involvement with the Liberal party. Anyway, like I say, better than most sporting auto-biographies.

The Life and Crimes of Don King by Jack Newfield
The dealings of ex-con turned larger than life boxing promoter Don King come under scrutiny in Newfield's book. I like my boxing so much of what I read here I'd read before, if only vaguely, in other books or magazines. Newfield presents a pretty damming inditement of King, but remarkably King seems to be able to get away with quite a lot (literally even more or less murder!!). There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that there are many other people at least a little bit corrupt in boxing (and always have been, eg mob controlled boxers in the 1930s and 1950s), the fact that boxers tend not to speak out too much (presumably unwilling to bite the hand that feeds them, even if it's a disappointing meal) and the fact that unlike many other sports there is no single world governing body (like FIFA in football) or even a single governing body in the USA (like the FA). Ultimately this leads to a situation where at least a degree of corruption etc. is possible. Anyway, read this and you'll be convinced King is guilty of something. Read Jim Brady's Boxing Confidential and you'll see there's a whole load more characters in the game, past and present, at least a little bit corrupt. Not a bad read really, but not brilliant either. And if you don't like boxing I guarantee this one won't interest you.

Braddock by Jim Hague
I like watching boxing, and the history of boxing throws up some interesting stuff. My favourite era is the 1930s, principally because of the fascinating social history associated with boxing at the time. Lots has been written about some of the key players in the 1930s, eg Joe Louis, but some characters remain shrouded in a degree of anonimity. James Braddock, aka the Cinderella Man, has been one such character although he's soon to be immortalised in film. Anyway, this book is the first recent biography of him I've found. Basically, Braddock is a successful boxer in the 1920s and invests his money wisely. Then loses it all in the Great Depression and has to keep fighting. He then hits an incredibly rich vein of form and ends up becoming World Heavyweight Champion. It's a great story, but sadly this book doesn't even come close to doing it justice. Instead the author knocks out a fairly dry tale in this mercifully brief autobiography. I was pretty disappointed with it to be honest.

Dancing Shoes is Dead by Gavin Evans
All about boxing in politics in South Africa in the 1970s and 80s. Funnily enough the asides about politics proved more interesting than the stuff about boxing. I thought it was a reasonable read, but I wouldn't bother with it if you don't like boxing.

King of Commentary by Reg Gutteridge
The author is a legendary boxing journalist and broadcaster and this book details a series of amusing anecdotes gathered from his lifetime involvement in boxing. A mildly entertaining read, but really one for boxing fans only.

Mission Impossible by James Lawton
The story of how Lennox Lewis became World Heavyweight Champion. The book goes into all manner of details about the behind the scenes politics that went on as Lewis became the dominant heavyweight boxer of the late 20th century. Good read if you like boxing. Gavin Evan's more up to date biography of Lennox Lewis is better though.

OTHER SPORTS
Murder on the Darts Board
by Justin Irwin

Sporty author reaching his mid-30s gives up good day job to spend a year playing darts in a bid to compete in the world championships. A cynic could argue the author has picked a sport that may look easy and has a reputation which doesn't reflect the amount of skill or athletic activity actually involved in a last bid to enter the world of sport professionally. Certainly some in the world of darts felt the author was taking the piss, his actions insinuating darts is easy. On the other hand the world of professional darts is a bit more accessible than, say, the world of premier league football, with many top pros certainly not making big bucks and having to compete in open tournaments etc to make money. Either way, the author clearly puts in the practice to improve his averagers from poor pub player to county player standard over the course of the year, competes in some open tournaments and attempts to qualify for the world championships. He meets a number of people associated with the professional game en route, some who initially are less than thrilled with what he's doing and the slant put on this by the media (who get hold of the story, and, in the author's defence, appear to mis-represent him a bit at times). Anyway, mixing between how his own efforts are coming along, how the world of darts works and meeting people from the world of darts it's a good read!

Man Buys Dog by David Matthews
The author buys a greyhound to explore the world of greyhound racing. Rather than seeking to dish the dirt and scandal at the dogs the author uses his foray into greyhound racing to try and make some money out of his dog and reveal what life at the dogs is like. Unfortunately lack of funds means the author gets off to bad start and rather than buying a young dog which goes on to do really well, he buys a cheaper dog, that sadly doesn't quite cut the mustard. As well as detailing the progress, or lack of progress, with his dog, the author talks a little about the history of dog racing and it's less legal cousins (flapping, hare coursing) and descending into a spiral of gambling addiction. It all comes good in the end though - his dog isn't a success and gets retired and re-housed with a nice lady who confirms what a friend of mine has been telling me for ages that greyhounds make great pets. The moral of the book would appear that greyhound racing is an expensive hobby with low prize money except for the lucky few who have the resources to buy/breed top dogs. Oh, and that betting is a mugs game. Anyway, I thought this book was OK and quite interesting. There's little in the way of betting advice and the bits about the history of dog racing are good. The bits about life in general between the dog racing is a bit less interesting though.

Hawaii 501 Life as a Darts Pro by Wayne Mardle
I'm a bit embarrassed that this is the third sports book in a row here, but it's a bit late for that now! Darts is a great game. Easy to play, and really exciting to watch on the telly. In fact, if I could pick any sporting event to go to in the whole world in one calendar year it would be to Purfleet for the semis of the darts world championship. And the player I'd most want to see....Wayne Mardle. This bloke understands sport stars need charisma and need to be entertaining (he wears a Hawaiian shirt, comes out to Hawaii 501 music and dances appropriately - class!!). So it was a no-brainer that I'd read his book when it came out. Mardle's book is basically a diary of a year in the life of a darts pro. Glamourous it isn't; lots of driving around to exhibitions and playing in small tournaments. Mardle's also comes across as pretty honest and self critical of some of his performances, which is interesting. If you like the darts you'll like this book, if you don't, remember the name Wayne Mardle; he'll be world champion one day!

Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage
Candid autobiography of a profressional cyclist in the 1980s. Kimmage was not one of the top cyclists on the tour and had a tough time competing and this makes his book a revealing read, especially when the subject of drugs in cycling comes to light.

Put me Back on my Bike by William Fotheringham
The author tells the story of British cyclist Tommy Simpson who died on Mount Ventoux, France during the 1967 Tour de France. Simpson was one of the best British cyclists ever, and the first Briton to ever wear the yellow jersey in the Tour. However, he was also involved in race fixing (in order to make a living) and admitted to using banned substances. Interesting and well written book. Sad ending though, and Simpson's never appeared to have the recognition he deserves as one of Britain's top atheletes.

The Power by Phil Taylor
Phil Taylor is the greatest darts player ever. The greatest player ever to take up the tungsten. His dominance in darts extends more than 15 years and no-one has come close to consistently beating him. In any sport this is incredible. His autobiography is a bit boring though. There's nothing per se wrong with it, it's just not a particularly exciting tale that's all.

Muscle by Jon Hotten
The author goes behind the scenes in the world of bodybuilding and follows the ‘tour’ (such as it is) around. Interesting in that I knew little about bodybuilding, bit disappointing in that I was left with the impression that there is a tale to tell but the author focuses on the people (and kissing arse a bit) rather than what goes on. He does make one very interesting point about drugs though and that is along the lines of the wannabes tending to be the main users rather than those at the top.

Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur
I thought this was a bit boring, although I have to admit I principally read it to see what she had to say about the weather and her sailing. I found it a bit repeatitve to be honest...Ellen decides compete in a race, struggles with boats or sponsorship, meets some people she thinks are nice, gets some help, completes the race and so on. I think she's a bit of a tart as well. Nor does she say much about the weather!!

It's Not About the Bike:My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong
Already a great cyclist, Lance Armstrong battles back from life threatening cancer to become one of the greatest cyclists ever. The tale of how Armstrong battles back is heart warming in the sense that you realise how close to croaking he was, how lucky he is to be alive and how much effort and determination he had to put in to win at cycling again. This alone makes it one of the better sports auto-biography's I've read and it makes for a pretty inspiring tale.

Yakking Around the World by Simon Hughes
Simon Hughes is a former professional crickter and now a writer/journalist. I'm not a massive cricket fan but this book charting tales of what Simon Hughes got up to whilst 'wintering' in foreign climes during his cricker career is nevertheless an entertaining read. He doesn't delve too much into the ins and outs of cricket nor does he go into too many sordid details about what he did and didn't get up, but the book flows along quite nicely and every now and again hints at what life in general is like for a professional crickter plying his trade just below the top echelon.



These books are available at Amazon.co.uk, or better still independent booksellers, unless they're out of print, in which case Abebooks is probably the best place to try and find them.

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Dan Suri, 3 July 2009