Autobiographies include former WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee’s joint work with journalist Niall Kelly, Fighter (Gill Books); as much a detailing of Lee’s voyage to the top of the sport as a reflection on what it means to compete in the most unforgiving of arenas.
Footballer, writer and lawyer Eniola Aluko charts the battles and feats of her footballing career in They Don’t Teach This: Lessons From the Game of Life (Yellow Jersey) – from her childhood on the council estates of Birmingham to becoming one of the most capped players for her country, Aluko sets out the events and influences that have helped her develop into a leading spokesperson for equal opportunity within the game.
Heavyweights of sports-writing Donald McRae and Duncan Hamilton have entered the ring for the 31st William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, both of whom are aiming to claim a record breaking third title. The longlist, announced today (Tuesday 24th September 2019), sees both authors included alongside 12 other titles, including memoirs from Eniola Aluko and Andy Lee, all competing for the £30,000 cash prize.
The longlist has been chosen from a record 151 submissions for this year’s Award; sports-writing’s most valuable and prestigious prize.
McRae’s entry In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles (Simon & Schuster) is his fourth book featuring boxing to make the longlist, including 1996 winner Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing and 2002 winner In Black and White: The Untold Story of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens.
His latest work looks at boxing’s role in the Troubles, focussing on the open approach of trainer Gerry Storey and champion boxer Barry McGuigan to form a picture of a sport and a nation at a time of intense unrest. Having triumphed at the Award in 2009 for his biography of cricketer Harold Larwood, Hamilton also turns his gaze to familiar pastures in The Great Romantic: Cricket and the Golden Age of Neville Cardus (Hodder & Stoughton) – Cardus’ journey from humble beginnings to becoming one of the sport’s most treasured commentators is a narrative befitting of the works of Charles Dickens that so influenced his writing.
Joining McRae and Hamilton on the longlist is writer Derek A. Bardowell with No Win Race: A Story of Belonging, Britishness and Sport (Harper Collins), a book that explores questions about race and identity through sport and sporting icons, told from the personal perspective of growing up in a Black-British family against the backdrop of a divided country. The work passionately examines and dissects the prejudices that have beset both sport and society in that time.
Triumph in the face of adversity is also to be found in previous shortlisted author (2004, Feet in the Clouds) Richard Askwith’s Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race (Penguin Random House), where Askwith champions the unsung achievements of Czech jockey Lata Brandisova, who overcomes prevailing attitudes and menacing wartime forces to compete in ‘The Pardubice’, often referred to as a more dangerous version of the Grand National.
Tests of extreme physical endeavour are the subject of two titles this year. Shortlisted author in 2012 (for Running with The Kenyans), Adharanand Finn takes his passion a step further in The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance (Faber & Faber), fully immersing himself within the often unconventional communities and figures that make up one of the fastest growing sports. Resilience is also at the heart of Lara Prior-Palmer’s account of becoming the youngest winner of the 600 mile Mongol Derby aged 19 in Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race (Penguin Random House), an unexpected journey tracing the beauty of the steppes as well as the harshness of this gruelling race.
Two books exploring similarly unfamiliar terrains also feature on this year’s awards list. Previously shortlisted author Harry Pearson delves into the history and psyche behind a Flemish obsession with cycling and cyclo-cross in The Beast, The Emperor and The Milkman: A Bone-shaking Tour Through Cycling’s Flemish Heartlands (Bloomsbury), and how this mind-set has enabled a region the size of East Anglia to produce consistent winners in this field. In How Football (Nearly) Came Home: Adventures in Putin’s Russia (Harper Collins), acclaimed sports writer and journalist Barney Ronay gives a wry insight into his bustling experience covering the length of a vast and politically shapeshifting country as well as the 2018 World Cup, including reliving another giddy ‘oh-so-near’ campaign for England.
Former footballers Andy Woodward and Richie Sadlier document deeply personal accounts of trauma in their respective memoirs. Position of Trust: A Football Dream Betrayed (Hodder & Stoughton) is the raw and heart-breaking story of a young footballer’s struggle in the face of unthinkable evil – a stark and brave telling that breaks the silence on the scandal of child sexual abuse in the game. Richie Sadlier and journalist Dion Fanning deconstruct the former Ireland international’s career with gripping honesty in Recovering (Gill Books) – addressing the alcoholism and abuse that affected Sadlier throughout his life and footballing career, which was curtailed prematurely from injury aged 24.
In keeping with the array of sports represented by the Award, Homing (John Murray) sees author Jon Day revisit his childhood fascination with Britain’s most prevalent bird to train racing pigeons for The Thurso Classic whilst simultaneously attempting to root his new family in East London – all the while exploring and entwining the pigeon’s enigmatic need to return with his own search for the true meaning and value of home.
Finally, completing the longlist is sportswriter Rick Reilly’s excoriating and entertaining expose into the incumbent US President’s obsessive yet ultimately dishonest relationship with the game of golf in Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump (Headline Publishing Group).
The longlist in full (alphabetically by author’s surname):
1. They Don’t Teach This: Lessons from the Game of Life by Eniola Aluko (Yellow Jersey)
2. Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race by Richard Askwith (Penguin Random House)
3. No Win Race: A Story of Belonging, Britishness and Sport by Derek A Bardowell (Harper Collins)
4. Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance by Adharanand Finn (Faber & Faber)
5. Homing by Jon Day (John Murray)
6. The Great Romantic: Cricket and the Golden Age of Neville Cardus by Duncan Hamilton (Hodder & Stoughton)
7. Fighter – Andy Lee with Niall Kelly (Gill Books)
8. In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles by Donald McRae (Simon & Schuster)
9. The Beast, The Emperor and The Milkman: A Bone-shaking Tour through Cycling’s Flemish Heartlands by Harry Pearson (Bloomsbury)
10. Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer (Penguin Random House)
11. Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump by Rick Reilly (Headline Publishing Group)
12. How Football (Nearly) Came Home: Adventures in Putin’s Russia by Barney Ronay (Harper Collins)
13. Recovering by Richie Sadlier (Gill Books)
14. Position of Trust: A Football Dream Betrayed by Andy Woodward (Hodder & Stoughton)
Author, journalist and Chair of the Judging panel for the Award, Alyson Rudd, said:
“This award has, over three decades, changed the face of sports publishing. Writing quality has improved and the themes tackled by authors have evolved so that many of the titles submitted are not just entertaining but important. This year’s wide-ranging 14 strong longlist from a record 151 submissions demonstrates this continuing trend in the 31st year of the Award.’
The judging panel for this year’s Award consists of: retired professional footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; five-time Olympic medallist and rower Dame Katherine Grainger; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly and journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson. Chair of Judges is author and journalist Alyson Rudd.
The 2019 shortlist will be announced on 22nd October 2019. The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at The Royal Horseguards Hotel on Thursday 5th December. The shortlisted authors will receive a leather bound copy of their book and a £3,000 cash prize. This year’s winning author will receive a £30,000 cash prize and a trophy.