ANTON RIPPON investigates how a six-book short-list for the 2011 Sports Book of the Year became a seven-book list, and suggests a strong tip for the winner
Either that, or they considered Paul Kimmage’s biography of Matt Hampson, the former England Under 21 rugby player paralysed after a scrum collapsed, didn’t stand a chance against some stiff competition for 2011.
But fear not. Someone at William Hill spotted the omission and although the longlist had already been published, they decided that Kimmage’s book just had to be included in the shortlist, which this year now numbers seven titles instead of the usual six.
William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe told the trade paper The Bookseller: “Although the book had not been submitted for the prize at the time our longlist was announced, the members of our judging panel nevertheless agreed to consider it once it was brought to their attention, the outcome being that they have indicated they feel it merits inclusion on the shortlist.
“We would normally have selected six titles for the shortlist but the addition of Engage means there will be a magnificent seven titles this year, so no other author has been denied a place by its inclusion. This decision takes into account the feeling that it would be unfair to penalise a blameless author and subject.”
Commenting to the Daily Mail, Sharpe was less diplomatic: “We’ve ended up clearing up the mess the publishers created.”
Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster’s managing director Ian Chapman told The Bookseller: “I’m immensely thrilled and proud for Matt that the book is on the shortlist.” I bet he is. One assumes that he then went off to issue a bollocking.
Whatever, when contacted by sportsjournalists.co.uk, the Simon & Schuster publicity department apparently hadn’t got an answer as to why Kimmage’s book wasn’t entered. At least, at the time of writing, we’re still waiting for them to call back.
And now that we’ve cleared that up, let us consider the runners and riders for this year’s competition, now in its 23rd year, which will net the winner a £23,000 cash prize, a £2,000 William Hill bet, a hand-bound copy of their book, and a day at the races.
In Among The Fans: From Ashes to the Arrows, a Year of Watching the Watchers five-times SJA Sports Writer of the Year and Mail on Sunday columnist Patrick Collins collates the results of a year spent observing the varied behaviour of sport’s spectators rather than its performers. The outcome, thank goodness, isn’t an anthropological study of the kind Desmond Morris might have produced, worthy though that might have been.
Instead, the reader is treated to an anecdotal journey from a county cricket match at Canterbury to a corporate box at Wembley, greyhound racing, swimming, speedway and more. For Collins, the problem is that sometimes spectators go as much to be seen as to watch. Inevitably, cricket’s Barmy Army gets right up his nose. But then, although he is no particular fan of the sport himself, snooker apparently brings out the best in those who pay to view.
Now a confession: while on honeymoon in 1968, Mrs R and me went to a bullfight in Barcelona. It was what ignorant tourists did in those days. But perceptions change, thank goodness. So it was with misgivings that I picked up Into The Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight by Alexander Fiske-Harrison, a 35-year-old actor and writer whose work has appeared in, among other publications, The Times, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times.
He ran with the bulls in Pamplona and spent a year studying matadors and the breeders of Spain’s fighting bulls, including months of dangerous training that enabled him to produce a memorable portrait of bullfighters, bulls, trainers and fans (what would Patrick Collins make of them?).
He argues that a fighting bull’s suffering is reduced because in the ring it feels no fear, only aggression. But then when he sees a bad corrida, his doubts resurface all over again.
My own reservations centre on what a book about bullfighting is doing in the sports category in the first place.
I still have the programme from that 1968 bullfight. And Bromley FC supporter Dave Roberts used to have a programme from every one of the 1,134 football matches that he had attended, from the first – Fulham v Manchester United in 1964 – to the last – Bromley v AFC Hornchurch in 2008.
But when he and his wife relocated to America, Mrs Roberts decreed that when she says they will take “only what is absolutely necessary”, she doesn’t mean 1,134 football programmes. She means only what will fit into the small box he is handed.
So our hero has to whittle down his priceless (to him, at least) collection. And the memories this evokes are captured in his book 32 Programmes, as we learn how he came to make his selection.
It is a story as much about a young life’s journey as it is about travels to football grounds around the country, a tale of youthful obsession, crushes on disinterested girls, unsettled employment – by the age of 20, Roberts had been a bike courier, security guard, civil servant, KFC chef and a train driver – and trying to impress skinheads. There is a nice twist at the end, too, but giving that away would spoil the fun.
Thirty-two is also a significant number in A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng. It is the number of years that German national goalkeeper Enke had lived before, on November 10, 2009, he stepped into the path of an express train.
Earlier that day, Encke, who had played for a string of Europe’s leading clubs including Jose Mourinho’s Benfica and Louis Van Gaal’s Barcelona, kissed his wife and 10-month-old daughter goodbye.
But instead of setting off for training with his club, Hannover 96, he drove around for eight hours before coming to a railway crossing. And there he waited for a train.
His friend Ronald Reng, whose The Keeper of Dreams: One Man’s Controversial Story of Life in the English Premiership won Biography of the Year at the 2004 British Sports Book Awards, was to have collaborated with Enke on the goalkeeper’s autobiography. Instead, Reng found himself writing a posthumous biography.
Reng said: “When his career was over, he would finally be able to talk about his illness. In our achievement-oriented society a goalkeeper, the last bastion in defence, can’t be a depressive. So Robert summoned up a huge amount of strength to keep his depression secret. He locked himself away in his illness … ”
Statistically, football is no more likely to produce a depressive character than is any other walk of life. What is frightening is that when it does occur, the sport seems manifestly unequipped to deal with it.
David Millar also suffered some dark years, all of which are covered in his autobiography. But as the title suggests – Racing Through The Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar – unlike Robert Encke he came through the other side.
At the age of 18, Millar was the poster boy of British cycling, a rider with a €1 million lifestyle who was tipped to be the next English-speaking winner of the Tour de France.
Alas, not much more than a year after taking the yellow jersey in the opening time trial of his first Tour de France, he found himself in a police cell in Biarritz after being arrested as he was dining with GB performance manager, Dave Brailsford. The French authorities had caught up with Millar’s drug-taking.
Brailsford comes out of this story with great credit, standing by his disgraced rider and even paying, out of his own pocket, for Team GB psychiatrist Steve Peters to fly out to talk to Millar.
This is a book that is painful in places as it plumbs the deepest reaches of despair. And yet it ends on a hugely optimistic note. David Millar is now a part-owner of the Garmin-Chipotle team. More to the point, he is also a key figure of the World Anti-doping Agency’s athletes committee.
Most sports fans won’t have heard of John Tarrant. And yet his story is one of the most astonishing in the history of athletics. He appeared out of the crowd at the start of the 1956 Liverpool Marathon and for 15 miles led an international class field until he keeled over, was taken away by ambulance – and disappeared.
The following day’s Daily Express dubbed him “a ghost runner”. And that became his alter ego. For the next few years, he would arrive at meetings all over the country, often is disguise on the back of his brother’s motor-bike, hang around at the start of the marathon, then at the sound of the starter’s gun, whip off his overcoat and join the field, always running without a number on his vest.
He would always go straight to the front, and either win the race or, more often, collapse with exhaustion a few miles from the finishing line.
Tarrant’s is a story well told in Bill Jones’s The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn’t Stop. After receiving a paltry £17 to cover his expenses as a teenage boxer, Tarrant had been banned for life by the Amateur Athletic Association. But running was his passion and driven by his resentment at authority – he was the product of a brutal children’s home – he set out on his remarkable unofficial career.
In 1958, he was interviewed on television by David Coleman, after which the AAA reinstated him. Failing to qualify for the 1960 Rome Olympics, he set world records for 40 and 100 miles. But no one was interested in those. And at the more conventional distance he never learned to vary his pace after his always furious start.
He died in 1975, from stomach cancer at the age of 42, and has been largely forgotten ever since. Now Bill Jones, who worked for Granada Television for 27 years, where he was an award-winning documentary maker, has brought his story back to life.
The additional, seventh book on the 2011 shortlist is Engage. “Engage” was the last word that Leicester Tigers’ Matt Hampson heard before dislocating his neck while training with England’s under-21 rugby union team in 2005.
It was an overcast day at Northampton’s training ground and the other players on the pitch included Olly Morgan, Toby Flood, Ben Foden and James Haskell, a measure of what Hampson might have gone on to achieve but for that tragic accident as the scrum collapsed.
Hampson, a tight-head prop, took the full force of two opposing sides. In that one moment, his life was forever changed. His spinal cord was trapped, leaving him paralysed from the neck down.
Kimmage, the former professional cyclist who twice competed in the Tour de France (his book Rough Ride, the frank account of the team rider’s use of drugs on the Tour, won the Sports Book of the Year award in 1990), , visited Hampson as he recuperated. Kimmage then wrote a piece for the Sunday Times that helped him his third successive SJA Sports Interviewer of the Year award (he has since won it twice more).
They became friends and in Engage, Kimmage tells Hampson’s story, from the build-up to that awful day, and the aftermath and the struggle to adjust. There is a lot of sadness, much anger, but also much to warm the heart as Hampson eventually managed to become reconciled with what has happened to him.
Hampson told his local paper, the Leicester Mercury, for whom he writes a column: “It was a very long process, but it was worth it and I am very proud of the book. It was a cathartic process because I had to deal with a lot of stuff I hadn’t faced before. It’s an honest book about the journey I’ve had to make. If it helps inspire one person in a similar position as me then it will have been worth it.”
It may also be worth getting a bet on Engage winning this year’s William Hill. The result will be announced at a lunchtime reception at Waterstone’s Piccadilly store on Monday, November 28. I wonder if Simon & Schuster will turn up?
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- Who will you vote for as Britain’s Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year? See Ian Cole’s overview of the leading candidates by clicking here.
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