By Anton Rippon
Judges were ‘bowled over’ by Duncan Hamilton’s biography of Neville Cardus that has won for the freelance sportswriter a record-breaking third William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.
Hamilton’s The Great Romantic, a comprehensive biography of the venerated cricket writer and music journalist, took the £30,000 top prize at the 31st Hill award when the result was announced at the Royal Horseguards Hotel in Westminster on Thursday.
Cardus changed the way in which sport was reported, introducing poise and eloquence into what had traditionally been a prosaic experience for both journalist and fan. He described how one majestic stroke-maker ‘made music’ and ‘spread beauty’ with his bat –and between two world wars, Cardus himself became the laureate of cricket writing by doing the same with his words.
Alyson Rudd, chair of judges, said: “The judges were bowled over by the quality of the writing and the way in which Hamilton brings to life the characters that defined cricket between the two world wars. The author explains that Neville Cardus was unknowable but this book does a very fine job indeed of guiding us through his career and motivations.”
In The Great Romantic, published by Hodder & Stoughton, Hamilton demonstrates how Cardus changed sports journalism for ever. While popularising cricket – by appealing, in Cardus’ words, to people who ‘didn’t know a leg-break from the pavilion cat at Lord’s’ – he became a star in his own right with exquisite phrase-making, disdain for statistics and a penchant for literary and musical allusions.
Among those who venerated Cardus were PG Wodehouse, John Arlott, Harold Pinter, JB Priestley and Donald Bradman. However, behind the rhapsody in blue skies, green grass and colourful characters, Hamilton’s biographer finds that Cardus’s mother was a sex worker, that he never knew his father, and that he received negligible education. Infatuations with younger women ran parallel to a decidedly unromantic marriage. And, astonishingly, this supreme stylist’s aversion to factual accuracy led to his reporting on a match he didn’t bother to attend.
Cardus also belied his impoverished origins to prosper in another class-conscious profession, becoming a music critic of international renown. In this definitive work, Hamilton casts light on the enigmatic character and immense achievements of a remarkable all-rounder, who was both The Manchester Guardian’s chief cricket correspondent and the newspaper’s chief music critic.
Hamilton first won the Hill award in 2007 with Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough, following that up two years later with Harold Larwood: The Authorised Biography of the World’s Fastest Bowler.
The Great Romantic, becomes the sixth cricket book to win the award and the first to do so since Hamilton’s Larwood book in 2009.
After 32 years as a newspaper journalist in Nottingham and Leeds, Hamilton now works mostly on his books. He and his wife, Mandy, live in West Yorkshire.
The other shortlisted books were (in alphabetical order):
- The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey To Edge of Human Endurance – Adharanand Finn (Faber & Faber)
- In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles – Donald McRae (Hodder & Stoughton)
- Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race – Lara Prior-Palmer (Penguin Random House)
- Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump – Rick Reilly (Headline Publishing Group)
- Position of Trust: A Football Dream Betrayed – Andy Woodward (Hodder & Stoughton)
Shortlisted authors received £3,000 cash and a leather-bound copy of their book.