Brought to book: William Hill responds

After seeing our review of Unforgivable Blackness, the 2004-published book which won the 2006 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, Graham Sharpe, the award sponsors’ media chief, responds

Books published for the first time in Britain are eligible for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, so Unforgivable Blackness qualified for the 2006 award, and I am not sure whether anyone would want to disqualify it from consideration for our award just because it was previously available in another country or other countries.

Them’s our rules and we run the thing, so it was entirely appropriate for the book to be entered.

I do not recall any “wannabe football memoirs” winning our award in the past and am not quite sure how it is our fault that so many of that sub-species of sports books came to be published in the wake of Fever Pitch, which we were the first to recognise and which was the first ever unanimous winner of the William Hill, for which I feel no compunction to apologise.

Likewise, I do not feel that our award can be accused of any responsibility for the plethora of rubbish – “my sporting life aged 13-and-a-half, by the way I don’t get paid enough” – books being published now as part of the cult of sporting celebrity. No book of this description has ever won our award nor is it ever likely so to do.

With regard to the quality of the shortlisted books. I have no doubt that another judging panel at another time might well have come up with a different shortlist. However, I have to say that as the only person to have attended all 18 meetings of the William Hill judging panel, I can tell you that this year’s deliberations were the toughest ever – after a couple of hours’ discussion not one of the six finalists had been eliminated. Now, one might argue that this is because they were all much of a muchness and none of them was outstanding, but that was not how the panel saw them.

The question of the praise already received by Geoffrey Ward’s book was just never referred to by the judges or at the judges’ dinner. Not everyone on the panel had Unforgivable Blackness as his or her initial first choice, but that is the whole point of having a panel, and eventually there were no dissenting voices about the decision to award the prize to Ward.

As the founder of the award and a sporting author myself I am confident that the prize has raised the awareness, profile and quality of sports books during its existence. Publishers are certainly very pleased with its impact and a book like the recently shortlisted fell running title, Feet In The Clouds, can sell thousands more copies than would otherwise have been the case by dint of being included on the shortlist. Many books are now commissioned because of the award which would not ever have previously made it past the commissioning editor’s in-tray.

No award can ever be immune from criticism and I’d be rather worried if ours never attracted any because it would suggest that it was not important enough to get worked up about.

Read the review of Unforgivable Blackness, and our other critiques of the shortlisted award books, by clicking here