‘The Saga of Sudden Sam: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of Sam McDowell’ by Sam McDowell with Martin Gitlin (2022)

It’s rare that sports stars, if famous enough to publish an autobiography, wait until their late 70’s to do so. Sam McDowell is a rare man in more ways than one so it’s no surprise that his book, published at aged 79, is a cut above the average autobiography.

McDowell was the most recruited high school baseball player in America in 1959 – a shoe-in for no.1 draft pick if the draft had existed yet! He became a 6 time All-Star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and was widely regarded as one of the best in the game. McDowell’s rise is a fascinating story in itself – the struggles of the high school phenom to learn how to play against the very best, the need to learn the art of pitching when his fastball alone couldn’t guarantee a win, the challenge of overcoming lack of faith and trust from his coaches.

Sam however might have been an all-star pitcher but he was also an all-world drinker – an alcoholic who eventually could no longer behave appropriately in his professional or personal life. As his life derailed he went deeper into his alcoholism and came close to ending it all.

As the book’s title, and the fact he’s still here to tell his story, suggests, this is ultimately a story of redemption as McDowell sought help, stayed sober, rebuilt his life, reconnected with his kids and trained as an addiction counselor to help other baseball players in need of help.

What makes the book stand out is McDowell’s ability to use what he has learned as an addiction expert to reflect and explain who he was as a younger man. It can be a bit jarring to read just how honestly and clinically McDowell writes about his past failings and feelings (or lack thereof) – to a degree I haven’t seen outside of Andre Agassi’s book Open. Unlike Agassi who paints his father as the villain in his tale, McDowelll has forgiven his parents shortcomings despite their lack of affection and instead focused on the simple reality that alcoholism is a disease. Until his recovery however, he had no concept of what it meant to be happy, or how to be satisfied other than through a desperate need for attention.

The book is a fascinating insight into baseball during the 60s and 70s, the job of pitching in the major leagues, and the perils of alcoholism and addiction in a sporting environment. It can be a difficult read at times, but as title tells us, don’t worry it ends with redemption!

Sports books coming later in 2022

It’s time for the updated list of sports coming out in the rest of 2022. Almost 150 titles below, sorted by expected publication date (based on my rudimentary research)!. Comment to let me know what book your most looking forward to:

From Kids to Champions by Jonny Brick @jonnybrick. Host of the Football Library radio show writes about the FA Youth Cup. (16 May)

In the Shadow of Benbulben: Dixie Dean at Sligo Rovers by Paul Little. The unlikely story of how one of football’s greatest players ended up playing for 4 months in the west of Ireland. A rare book covering Irish domestic football! (16 May)

Everyone Round My House For a Parmo! Middlesbrough’s Journey from Cardiff to Eindhoven by Phil Spencer. Boro’s remarkable run in Europe from 2003 to 2006. (16 May)

⚽ On the Border: The Rise and Decline of the Most Political Club in the World by Shaul Adar. A look at the history of Beitar Jerusalem (16 May).

⚽ Qarabag: The Team Without a City and their Quest to Conquer Europe by Emanuele Giulanelli @EmaGiulianelli. The story of the football team from Agdam that survived even after the city was destroyed in 1993 (16 May).

⚽ Brawls, bribes and broken dreams: How Dundee Almost Won the European Cup by Graeme Strachan (16 May)

⚽ Philosophy and Football: The PFFC Story by Geoff Andrew and Filippo Ricci

Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorised) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar by Alan Shipnuck @AlanShipnuck. A biography of golfer Phil Mickelson by long time golf writer Shipnuck which is being described as ‘juicy and freewheeling’ (17 May)

🤼‍♂️ American Hiro: The Adventures of Benihana’s Rocky Aoki and How He Built a Legacy by Jack McCallum. Potentially more a business book than a sports one, but Aoki was a world class wrestler before he became a businessman. And any book by author of the excellent Dream Team makes my list! (17 May)

On Account of Darkness: Shining Light on Race and Sport by Ian Kennedy. An examination of systemic racism in sport. (17 May)

⚽ Golden: Why Belgian Football is More Than One Generation by James Kelly. A look at the recent history of Belgian football. (23 May)

🏀 The Black Fives: The Epic Story of Basketball’s Forgotten Era by Claude Johnson @ClaudeJohnson. A history of the early days of Black basketball including the introduction of the game to Black communities and the racial integration of the NBA in 1950. @BlackFives (24 May)

Swing and a Hit: Nine Innings of What Baseball Taught Me by Paul O’Neill and Jack Curry. Memoir of All Star Yankee and five-time World Champion, Paul O’Neill (24 May).

🏏 Crickonomics: The Anatomy of Modern Cricket by Tim Wigmore and Stefan Szymanski. Really enjoyable look at cricket through a data powered lens. Lots of interesting insight on the sports past, present and future. (26 May).

Scotland’s Swedish Adventure: The Story of Scotland’s European Championship Debut by John Bleasdale. (30 May)

🎾 Dear John: The John Lloyd Autobiography by John Lloyd with Phil Jones. Autobiography of the former British tennis player (30 May)

💉Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever by Dan Good @Dgood73. The story of the first MLB player, a respected MVP, to admit to taking performance enhancing steroids and the impact that confession had on baseball. @AbramsPress (31 May)

The Game: A Journey Into the Heart of Sport by Tadhg Coakley. A reflection on the importance of sport and its’ pervasive influence, good and bad, on humanity. (June)

⚾Charlie Murphy: The Iconoclastic Showman Behind the Chicago Cubs by Jason Cannon. Story of the the ebullient and mercurial owner of this historic franchise from 1905 through 1914 during which the Cubs won two World Series (1 June).

⚾Lefty and Tim: How Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver Became Baseball’s Best Battery by William C. Kashatus. Dual biography of the Hall of Fame pitcher and catcher. (1 June)

Unsuitable for Females: The Rise of the Lionesses and Women’s Football in England by Carrie Dunn (2 June)

Year of the Robin: Watching It All Go Wrong for Charlton Athletic and the World by Jen Offord. Covid and relegation should make an entertaining mix! (2 June)

Scoring Goals in the Dark by Clare Shine with Gareth Maher. The former Irish soccer international tells her story of addiction and recovery. (6 June)

The Franchise: New York Yankees: A Curated History of the Bronx Bombers by Mark Feinsand (7 June)

Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original by Howard Bryant @hbryant42. Definitive biography of Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, baseball’s epic leadoff hitter and base-stealer. When a great writer writes about a great player a great book should be expected! (7 June)

🏀 Game: An Autobiography by Grant Hill. Promises to be an interesting read from the Hall of Fame basketballer who has also been successful off the court. (7 June)

Willie Horton: 23: Detroit’s Own Willie the Wonder, the Tigers’ First Black Great by Willie Horton with Kevin Allen. Autobiography of the World Series winning Detroit Tiger. (7 June)

🏊‍♂️🏅 The Watermen: The Birth of American Swimming and One Young Man’s Fight to Capture Olympic Gold by Michael Loynd. Story of the first American to win swimming gold at the Olympics in 1908 (7 June).

🥊 The Last Dance: Tyson, Lewis, Holyfield, Bowe & Heavyweight Boxing’s Last Great Era by Brian Doogan @doogan_brian and Ron Borges @RonBorges. Each of these 4 heavyweights was a fascinating character and their fights between them were global events (8 June).

⚽ Johan Cruyff: Always on the Attack by Auke Kok @AukeKok. A comprehensive biography of the legendary Dutchman. Different aspects of Cruyff’s life have been extensively written about. This promises to be the first comprehensive English language bio since his death to try and capture his immense impact on the global game. (9 June)

🚴 Jan Ullrich: The Best There Never Was by Daniel Friebe @friebos. Biography of the always interesting 1997 Tour de France winner looking at his rise and his remarkable career that, despite his success, somehow never quite hit the heights that seemed possible. (9 June)

🚴🇫🇷 Le Fric: Family, Power and Money: The Business of the Tour de France by Alex Duff. Really looking forward to history of the behind the scenes organisation of cycling’s most famous race. (9 June)

With Flag on Their Chest: The Story of Norway’s Golden Generation by Ben Wells. A look at the emerging Norwegian footballers promising a bright future on the international stage. (15 June)

The Long Golden Afternoon: Golf’s Age of Glory, 1864 – 1914 by Stephen Proctor (16 June)

⚽ The Cornerstone Collection: Sculpting The Premier League’s Past, Present and Future by Stuart Quigley. A history of the Premier League in 45 players. (20 June)

🥊 Muhammad Ali: Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness by Dave Hannigan. A third book on Ali by Hannigan (the other two are excellent) looks at the years between his last fight and the moment at Atlanata Olympics when he remerged as a global figure. (20 June)

🎾 Rafa Nadal: The King of the Court by Dominic Bliss. Comprehensive bio of the tennis player. (21 June)

⚽ My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a Hall-of-Fame Goalkeeper by Briana Scurry. Autobiography from the goalie on the first great US women’s soccer team. (21 June)

🚴 Climbers: How the Kings of the Mountains Conquered Cycling by Peter Cossins. (23 June)

⚽ When Asia Welcomed the World: The 2002 World Cup Revisited by Danny Lewis. A look back at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea (I’ll always maintain Ireland could have won it!). (27 June)

⚽ The Beautiful Game and the Ugly Truth: Football’s Tragic Link with Dementia by Kieran Gill. Gill has written extensively on this topic in his journalistic career. (27 June)

🏀 The NBA in Black and White: The Memoir of a Trailblazing NBA Player and Coach by Ray Scott with Charley Rosen. Memoir of Ray Scott, Piston’s legend who went #4 pick of the 1961 NBA draft, and became the first ever black man to win Coach of the Year as the Piston’s Coach in 1974. (28 June)

💉 Doping: A Sporting History by April Henning & Paul Dimeo (28 June)

🏀 Basketball 2.0: 3x3s Rise from the Streets to the Olympics by Tristan Lavalette. A look at the emergence of 3 x 3 basketball as an Olympic sport. (4 July)

Unico Grande Ameore: AS Roma in the 21st Century by Marc Lamberts. A look at the Roman football team. Looking forward to this after reading Totti’s excellent autobiography. (4 July)

💉 Synthetic Medals: East German Athlete’s Journey to Hell by Joseph Tudor. The notorious Government run doping of East German athletes should make a fascinating book (4 July).

🏏 The Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of How India Took Over the Cricket World by Mihir Bose (4 July).

🏒 When the NHL Invaded Japan: The Washington Capitals, the Kansas City Scouts and the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Cup, 1975-1976 by Steve Currier (6 July)

🚴 Beryl: In Search of Britain’s Greatest Athlete by Jeremy Wilson @JWTelegraph. A biography of legendary British female cyclist Beryl Burton. There was a previous bio of Beryl last year by William Fotheringham highlighting how this legendary figure is beginning to receive long overdue credit. (7 July)

🏏 An Island’s Eleven: The Story of Sri Lankan Cricket by Nicholas Brookes. Any cricket fan will be interested in this deep dive into one of the more interesting cricket cultures. (7 July)

It Was Always a Choice: Picking up the Baton of Athlete Activism by David Steele @David_C_Steele. A look at athlete activism for social causes in the post-Kaepernick era. (8 July)

Unsung: Not All Heroes Wear Kits (Behind the Scenes With Sport’s Hidden Stars) by Alexis James. Shines a light on the lesser talked about personnel professional sports. (11 July).

🏈 Figure It Out: My Thirty-Two-Year Journey While Revolutionizing Pro Football’s Special Teams by Mike Westhoff (12 July). Autobiography of former Jets and Dolphins coach who was regarded as a Special Teams genius.

🥊 Blood, Brawn and Broken Noses: Puglism, a Very British Art by Chris Sykes. A broad exploration of boxing’s past and present. (12 July)

Sho-time: The Inside Story of Shohei Ohtani and the Greatest Baseball Season Ever Played by Jeff Fletcher. A bio of baseball’s new superstar and a broader look at the links between US and Japanese baseball. I’ve read this and really enjoyed it. (12 July)

🏈 Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972 and the NFL’s Only Perfect Season by Marshall Jon Fisher @MarshallJFisher. A look back after 50 years at the legendary Dolphin’s team by the author of the excellent A Terrible Splendor. A great book that I reviewed in the newsletter previously. (12 July)

⚽ An Economist Goes to the Game: How to Throw Away $580 million and Other Surprising Insights from the Economics of Sport by Paul Oyer @pauloyer. An economist’s take on sports phenomena such as corruption, ticket scalping, child prodigies, the Olympics, and many others. (12 July)

Roll Red Roll: Rape, Power, and Football in the American Heartland by Nancy Schwartzman @fancynancynyc. A difficult but important subject, the book will look at an incident where a sixteen year-old girl incapacitated by alcohol was repeatedly assaulted by Steubenville, Ohio high school football stars. Sounds similar to Jon Krakauer’s powerful Missoula. (12 July)

🏐🏅 If Gold is Our Destiny: How a Team of Mavericks Came Together for Olympic Glory by Sean P. Murray. The story of the 1984 Men’s US Olympic Volleyball team and their quest for gold at the LA Olympics. (13 July)

🏈 Walking Alone: The United Journey of Football Pioneer Kenny Washington by Dan Taylor. The story of African American trailblazer Kenny Washington, the first black player in the NFL. Taylor examines the legendary player who at the time was considered one of the greatest and popular to ever play the game. (13 July)

🏈 Spies on the Sidelines: The High-Stakes World of NFL Espionage by Kevin Bryant @kevbryantauthor. Shines a shines a light on the shadowy world of NFL espionage and exposes the full range of collection techniques teams use to spy on their opponents, as well as the defensive countermeasures that are used to defend against them (13 July)

🥊 Joe Louis vs Billy Conn: Boxing’s Unforgettable Summer of 1941 by Ed Gruver @EdGruver. One of the most anticipated fights in history that more than lived up the hype and the fascinating men who squared off (15 July). I’ve read this and it’s very good.

⚽ When Two Worlds Collide: The Intercontinental Cup Years by Dan Williamson @winkveron @intlcupyears. Book on the annual match between Europe and South America’s champion football teams by the author of the excellent Blue and Gold Passion. Williamson is also writing a bio of Ronaldo (the real one) which is top of my 2023 list!

Get Up, Baby!: My Seven Decades with the St. Louis Cardinals by Mike Shannon with Rick Hummel (19 July)

⚽ The Working Hands of a Goddess: The tactics, community and culture behind Gasperini’s Atalanta B.C by Tom Underhill @tomd_underhill. Looking at the creation of one of Europe’s most exciting sides, where they and their coach have come from, and where they sit within a city’s identity. (22 July)

🥊 Warrior: A Champion’s Incredible Search for His Identity by Tris Dixon. A biography of boxer Matthew Saad Muhammad by the author of the excellent Damages. Can’t wait for this one. (25 July)

🏉 Scrum Queen’s: The Story of Women’s Rugby by Ali Donnelly (25 July)

🏃‍♂️🏅 Catch Me if You Can: Revolutionizing My Sport, Breaking World Records and Creating a Legacy for Tanzania by Filbert Bayi and Myles Schrag. Autobiogrpahy of the middle distance Olympic medalist who was famous for his assertive style in the days before pacemakers. (25 July)

🚣‍♀️🎿🏅 The Hard Parts: From Chernobyl to Paralympic Champion – My Story of Achieving the Extraordinary by Oksana Masters @OksanaMasters. Autobiography of a 10 time Paralympic medalist. (26 July)

⚽ A Woman’s Game : The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Women’s Soccer by Suzanne Wrack (26 July)

⚽ The World’s First Football Superstar: The life of Steve Smith by Owen Arthur (30 July)

⚽ How Money Changed Football: From the Premier League to Non-League by Philip Woods (31 July)

⚽ Kit and Caboodle: Football’s Shirt Stories by Matt Riley @TalesThai (1 August)

⚽ Buzzing: The Story of Brentford’s First Premier League Season by Nick Brown (1 August)

⚽ From Beauty to Duty: A Footballing History of Uruguay, 1878-1918 by Martin da Cruz. First English language history of football in the smallest country to win the World Cup. (1 August)

🏈 The Rise of the Black Quarterback: What it Means for America by Jason Reid @JReidESPN. Building on a series by ESPN’s The Undefeated, Reid will delve into the history of black quarterbacks in the NFL. (2 August)

🏎️💉 Survival of the Fastest: Weed, Speed, and the 1980s Drug Scandal that Shocked the Sports World by Randy Lanier with A.J. Baime (2 August)

⚽ Futsal : The Indoor Game That Is Revolutionizing World Soccer by Jamie Fahey. The story of the story of futsal’s politics, tactics and personalities. (2 August)

Coming Home: My Amazin’ Life with the New York Mets by Cleon Jones. Autobiography from the player who caught the final out of the Miracle Mets’ World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

⚽ Red on Red: Liverpool, United and the Fiercest Rivalry in World Football by Phil McNulty and Jim White (4 August)

🥊 Fighting for Survival: My Journey through Boxing Fame, Abuse, Murder, and Resurrection by Chrissy Martin with Ron Borges. (8 August)

⚽ City of Stars: The Controversial Story of Paris Saint-Germain by Tom Scholes. A history of French club PSG and its rise to the (almost) top of the European game. (8 August)

🏈⚾🥇 Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe by David Maraniss. A biography of the legendary Thorpe by the writer of the impossibly good When Pride Still Mattered. I’ve read this and it’s as sensationally detailed and fascinating as you would expect. A big, brilliant book. (9 August)

🏈 Freezing Cold Takes: NFL: Football Media’s Most Inaccurate Predictions—and the Fascinating Stories Behind Them by Fred Segal @Frizz527. A look back at 20 spectacularly bad predictions by the creator of the popular @OldTakesExposed (9 August)

🏈 Bronko:  The Legendary Story of the NFL’s Greatest Two Way Fullback by Chris Willis (10 August)

⚽ Carmen Pomies: Football Legend and Heroine of the French Resistance by Chris Rowe (14 August)

⚽ An Ode to The Chosen Few: Football’s Piano Players by John McNicoll. A look at football’s most gifted players from author of An Ode to Four Four Two. (15 August)

The Longest Winter: A Season with England’s Worst Ever Football Team by Mark Hodkinson. A social history of the turbulent early 70s through the lens of a Rochadale team regarded as the worst in British football league history. (15 August).

🏈 Surviving Washington by Robert Griffin III. RG3 gives his take on his all too brief NFL QB career after a spectacular college football career. (16 August)

⚽ 1999: The Treble and All That by Matt Dickenson @DickensonTimes. The Chief Sports Writer for the Times recalls Manchester United’s historic Treble campaign in 99. Hard to believe that was more than 20 years ago! (18 August)

⚽ Scheisse! We’re Going Up: The Unexpected Rise of Berlin’s Rebel Football Club by Kit Holden. A history of Union Berlin. (18 August) Have read this and it is absolutely brilliant. A history of the team through told through its’ relationships with its fans. A reflection on the power of narratives, community, and the dangers of success.

🏒 The Series: What I Remember, What it Felt Like, What it Feels Like Now by Ken Dryden. Former Hockey goalie and author of the classic The Game writes about his memories of the famous 1972 Summit Series (quite a few books on this topic this year but this one is by a participant and great writer! (23 August)

🏈 Fear No Man: Don James, the 91′ Huskies and the Seven Year Quest for a National Football Championship by Mike Gastineau (23 August)

⚽ Made in Argentina, Mastered in Madrid: How Diego Simeone Awakened a Sleeping Giant by Ashwin Reuben Ballal (29 August). A look at the tactical approach used by Athletico Madrid under their Argentinian manager.

⚽ Something in the Water: The Story of England’s Football Talent Hotbeds by Callum Murray (29 August)

🏈 The Hot Seat: A Year of Outrage, Pride, Occasional Games of College Football by Ben Mathis-Lilley @BenMathisLilley. The Slate writer taking a look at college football coaches – the book is ‘about why college football makes people so crazy—and, in a longer nutshell, hypothesizes that it does so because its programs and, especially, their coaches, are representatives of personal and cultural identity and status to a degree that is unlike any other sport in USA”. (30 August)

⚽ The Beautiful Poetry of Football Commentary by Charlie Eccleshare (1 September)

Branch Rickey and the Gospel of Baseball: Righting the Story of America’s Pastime by James E Dillard. Bio of the Hall of Fame baseball exec who opened opportunities for black and Hispanic players. (5 September)

⚽ The Making of the FIFA World Cup: 75 of the Most Memorable, Celebrated, and Shocking Moments in the History of Football’s Greatest Tournament by Jack Davies (5 September)

⚽ An Armchair Fans Guide to the Qatar World Cup: The Story of How Football Came to the Desert by Jon Berry (5 September)

🏈 The Special Relationship: The History of American Football in the United Kingdom by Andrew Gamble (5 September)

Flares up: A Story Bigger than the Atlantic by Niamh McAnally. Story of a grueling 70 day crossing of the Atlantic ocean.

🏀 Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court by Chris Paul with Michael Wilbon. The NBA star on his life, the game and mentorship. (6 September)

🎾 Queen of the Court: The Extraordinary Life of Tennis Legend Alice Marble by Madeline Blais (8 September)

Over the Line: A History of the England v Germany Football Rivalry by Dr Alexander Gross (12 September)

🏒 Ice War Diplomat: Hockey Meets Cold War Politics at the 1972 Summit Series by Gary J. Smith (12 September)

⚽ USA 94 – The World Cup That Changed The Game by Matt Evans @the_mevs @USA94Book. Very much looking forward to this book. For an Irish kid born in 1984, nothing will ever compete with USA 94 for my affection! (12 September)

⚽ Espana 82: A Hazy Shade of Summer by Stuart Horsfield (12 September)

Inaugural Ballers: The True Story of the First US Women’s Olympic Basketball Team by Andrew Maraniss

⚽ Calling the Shots: How to Win in Football and Life by David Dein. The former Arsenal executive who worked so well with Arsene Wenger finally writes a book. I just hope its better than Wenger’s awful cash-grab book! (15 September)

🏄‍♂️☘️ Cold-Water Eden by Richie Fitzgerald. Memoir by Ireland’s first professional surfer. (15 September)

🏉 A Very Tall Story by Martin Bayfield. The former British and Irish Lion recounts rugby’s roller-coaster ride in the 90s as the game turned professional (15 September).

⚽ Alchemy: Brian Clough & Peter Taylor at Hartlepools United by Christopher Hull (15 September)

🏈 The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II by Buzz Bissinger. The tale of an American Football game between college football stars who served in the Pacific during WW2. Any book from the author of Friday Night Lights is likely to be a classic. (20 September)

⚽ How to Win the World Cup: Secrets and Insights from International Football’s Top Managers by Chris Evans (20 September)

🏈 My Football Life and The Rebirth of Chiefs Kingdom by Tim Grunhard with Carl Peterson. Autobiography from the former Kansas City Chiefs center. (20 September)

⚽ The Roaring Red Front: The World’s Top Left-Wing Football Clubs by Stewart McGill and Vince Raison ( 26 September)

🏒 Ed Sneider: The Last Sports Mogul by Alan Bass. Bio of the founder of the Philadelphia Flyers and legendary businessman. (27 September)

🏈 The Idealist: Jack Trice and the Fight for a Forgotten College Football Legacy by Jonathan Gelber (27 September)

Her Game Too: A Manifesto for Change by Matt Riley (1 October)

🏈⚾ The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson by Jeff Pearlman. Bio of the two-sport star who was gifted beyond comprehension but whose career was cut short due to injury. I cannot wait for this one. (4 October)

🥊 Kellie Harrington – an Autobiography written with Roddy Doyle. Legendary Dublin writer helps legendary Dublin Olympian tell her story. How can it not be great? (6 October)

⚽ Bring Me the Sports Jacket of Arthur Montford: Adventures Through Scottish Football by Aidan Smith (6 October)

⚽ Men in Blazers Present Gods of Soccer : The Pantheon of the 100 Greatest Soccer Players (According to Us) by Men In Blazers (11 October)

⚽ Football Murals: A Celebration of Soccer’s Greatest Street Art by Andy Brassell (13 October)

⚽ How to be an Ex Footballer by Peter Crouch. A 3rd book from @petercrouch, the former footballer whose first two books were very entertaining. (13 October)

⚽ From the Ground Up: Thirty Years of Irish Influence in the Premier League by Gareth Maher (14 October). Not certain if this is confirmed as can only find one reference to it online!

⚽ Football with Wings: The Tactical Concepts Behind the Red Bull Game Model by Lee Scott @FMAnalysis. Another book on tactics by Scott who makes difficult tactical concepts understandable. (17 October)

🏀 In the Blink of an Eye by Abdul-Rauf Mahmoud. Autobiography of the former NBA player who may be best remembered for refusing to stand for the US national anthem for social justice reasons back in the 1990s. (18 October)

⚽ Diego Maradona: The Last Interview and Other Conversation pub. Melville House. A series of interviews with the late, great Argentinian (18 October)

⚽ Football in the Land of the Soviets by Carles Viñas. A look at the history of football in Russia from a champion of the sports radical history.

🏉 Full Time by Nigel Owens @nigelrefowens. The story of the second half of Nigel’s career as one of the most famous referees in World Rugby (27 October)

⚽ The Rodfather by Roddy Collins with Paul Howard. After playing for 16 clubs and managing 12, Collins autobiography with the help of the excellent Howard promises to be interesting! (27 October)

⚽ Kicking Back by Nedum Onuoha. Autobiography of the former Man City player (27 October).

🏒 A Miracle of Their Own: A Team, A Stunning Gold Medal and Newfound Dreams for American Girls by Keith Gave and Tim Rappleye. Story of Team USA’s 1998 Olympic upset victory in women’s hockey.

⚽ England Football – The Biography: The Story of the Three Lions 1872-2022 by Paul Hayward @_PaulHayward. Veteran sportswriter Hayward telling the history of the English national soccer team. (27 October)

⚽ The Game by Micah Richards. Autobiography from the Man City footballer turned football pundit. (27 October)

⚽ How to be a Football Manager by Ian Holloway. The former football manager tries to mimic the style of Peter Crouch’s books focusing on management rather than playing.

⚽ New Kids in the World Cup: The Totally Late ‘80s and Early 90s Tale of the the Team that changed American Soccer Forever by Adam Elder (1 November)

⚽ The Voyageurs: The Canadian Men’s Soccer Team’s Quest to Reach the World Cup by Joshua Kloke (1 November)

🏀 Spaced Out: The Tactical Evolution of the Modern NBA by Mike Prada. A look at how the 3 point revolution has changed basketball. (1 November)

🏈 Five Laterals and a Trombone: Cal, Stanford and the Wildest Ending in College Football History by Tyler Bridges. (1 November) 

🏀 Barkley: A Biography by Timothy Bella. Bella worked as lead researcher with Armen Keteyian and Jeff Benedict on their excellent books so this promises to a comprehensive bio of Charles Barkley. (1 November)

⚽ Messi vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATS, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game by Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson. From the authors of the excellent The Club. (1 November)

🎾 Ash Barty – an untitled memoir from the tennis world number 1 who shocked the sport by retiring this year at just 26. (1 November)

⚽ Nil Lamptey: The Curse of Pele by Joris Kaper @CaposdeCapos. Biography of the former Ghanaian footballer, best known in England for his spells at  Aston Villa and Coventry City. Explores the challenges of living up to unrealistic expectations and hype surrounding young talented footballers. (7 November)

⚽ Two Brothers by Jonathan Wilson @jonawils. A dual-biography of Jack and Bobby Charlton, World Cup winning brothers in the 1966 England team. As an Irish football fan, Jack will always have a special place in my memory and this promises to be a fascinating book from the always excellent author of Inverting the Pyramid and The Barcelona Legacy (10 November).

🥊 Gloves Off: The Autobiography by Tyson Fury. The boxer is back with a second autobiography less than two years after he published his first one! Hard not to be a but cynical! (November)

🏈 Swagger: Super Bowls, Brass Balls and Footballs – A Memoir by Jimmy Johnson with Dave Hyde. Memoir from the Hall of Fame football coach. (20 November)

🏈 This is Our City: Four Teams, Twelve Championships, and how Boston became the Most Dominant Sports City in the World by Tony Massarotti (24 November)

🏈 Moving the Chains: The Civil Rights Protest that Saved the Saints and Transformed New Orleans by Erin Grayson Sapp. The untold story of the backroom deal that gave rise to the New Orleans Saints. (30 November)

Emancipation for Goalposts: Football’s Role In The Fall Of Yugoslavia by Chris Etchingham.

Running and Jumping by Steven Kedie @stevenkedie. A fictional story about an Olympic rivalry set between Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016.

Yet to be titled book on Cleveland Sports History by Budd Bailey @WDX2BB (a brilliant reviewer of sports books btw) and Larry Pantages

Soccer and Society in Dublin: A History of Association Football in Ireland’s Capital by Conor Curran

Slab Life 3. The third in a series of books following the fortunes of Aldershot Town FC by Nick Cansfield @life_slab

🏏 Talented, Tormented, and Tragic: The Life of Ronald Frank Vibert, a Cornish Cricketer by John G Butler

Martin McHugh – Born To Save by Jason Byrne. Bio of former Longford GAA goalkeeper

The 20 BEST Sports Books of the 21st Century so far

1. In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles by Donald McRae @donaldgmcrae – a wonderful look at boxing in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

2. Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman @jeffpearlman. The best account of any great sports team’s rise and reign that you’ll read.

3. The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty by @wojespn. Before he was a famous NBA insider , Woj wrote one of the all-time great sports books about a legendary high school basketball coach.

4. The Perfect Mile by @nealbascomb. The story of the battle to break the 4 minute mile – narrative sports history at it’s absolute finest.

5. Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by @dwinnera. A masterpiece of sports writing that made me think about football, it’s evolution and it’s relationship to society in a whole new light.

6. The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam. The late great Halberstam might be the best writer to every write about sport. A masterful look at Bill Belichick’s evolution as a coach and the men who influenced him.

7. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. The most influential sports book ever written helped to popularise the use of data analytics. Like all Lewis’ books its also a fantastic read.

8. A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng. Compassionate, thoughtful and emotional bio of the late German goalkeeper and his mental health struggles. Captures a side of sporting life all too often left in the shadows.

9. Open: An Autobiography by @AndreAgassi. Simply the best sporting autobiography ever written. Devastatingly honest.

10. Bundini: Don’t Believe the Hype by @Todd_Snyder22. The story of Ali’s famous hype man and a perfect combination of writer and subject.

11. Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports by @markfwespn and @LanceWCIR. One of the most significant sports books in exposing drug cheats. A great book.

12. The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life by Thomas Pletzinger @tpletzinger . A brilliant biography of the German basketball legend. Captured the intensity of what it takes and what it means to both become, and stay, great.

13. Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson @jonawils. The first great popular book on tactical evolution of the modern game.

14. The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football by S. C. Gwynne. The origin and evolution of passing in American Football – a fascinating, brilliant book.

15. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by @DavidEpstein. A brilliant, immensely readable, exploration of athletic success and the question of nature vs nurture.

16. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. No book better places its subject in its time and place. A pleasure to read.

17. Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City by @kentbabb. A remarkable book about a remarkable coach.

18. Full Time: The Secret Life Of Tony Cascarino by Paul Kimmage @PaulKimmage. No book has ever been better on the insecurity and mental toil of life in professional sports (apart from maybe Rough Ride!)

19. Garrincha: The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil’s Forgotten Footballing Hero by Ruy Castro (tr. @adowniebrazil). A wonderful biography of the legendary Brazilian winger.

20. Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing by George Kimball. The late great Kimball was one of the finest boxing writers of all time.

A lot of close calls made and at least 20 other books got serious consideration. Also 1999 was a hilariously good year with Playing for Keeps, the Miracle of Castel di Sangro, Addicted and Hand of God all likely to make the list had they been published a year later.

‘Losers: Dispatches from the Other Side of the Scoreboard’ edited by Mary Pilon and Louisa Thomas (2020)

‘History is written by the victors’ is one of those many quotes that gets attributed to Winston Churchill. History is written about the victors might by more accurate when it comes to sport. It’s the stories of winners that we remember and that get the most books, articles and attention.

Losers is a fascinating collection of stories written from the perspective of losers – a very broadly defined term given that the essays cover some very successful athletes! The stories all share a common theme of reflecting on defeat in sport, its impact and the challenges of bouncing back. Fourteen of the essays are new unpublished work and are complemented by eight classic pieces including Gay Talese’s superb essay on Floyd Patterson.

The stories each offer different perspectives and range from sombre to hilarious. The subjects covered range from obscure to famous. Each story is insightful and works well as a standalone piece. Like all good collections, however, the sum of the whole adds up to more than its individual parts. Together the collection represents a brilliant reflection on human nature. Stories of how we respond to failure, and bounce back (or at least try to) capture something far more universal than the more written about moments of unbelievable glory.

The quality of the collection is reflected by how difficult I’m finding to pick a favourite. I’ll go for Jeremy Taiwo’s (as told to Stefaine Loh) reflection on being the 2nd best decathlete in the USA and Brian Platzer’s take on two young table tennis players chasing Olympic glory. Each story is a treat though and the collection one to saviour.

Losers is published August 18 2020

‘The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife’ by Brad Balukjian (2020)

I have a particular fondness for books involving people who feel compelled to go on arbitrary adventures.  Danny Wallace specialised in this area with his books Yes Man and Join Me amongst others.  Last year I really enjoyed Europe United by Matt Walker which involved a quest to visit a soccer match in every UEFA country.

The Wax Pack is Brad Balukjian account of tracking down all of the players whose baseball cards were in a particular pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards some 30 years later.  Balukjian travels across the USA to track down the players who range from Hall of Fame players to 10 year journeymen to players who spent only a very short time in the Major Leagues.

Each player gets a chapter as Balukjian managed to spend time with almost all of them. Even where Balukjian doesn’t get to meet the player, he recounts his odyssey to find them  One refuses to talk despite Balukjian showing up at the ballpark where he was working as third base coach.  The other, Carlton Fisk the most famous player in the The Wax Pack, is in the midst of descending back into addiction.

The Wax Pack becomes a unique and fascinating insight into what happens players when they retire.  The random nature of the players he follows ensures an interesting diversity.  It also becomes a reflection on father-son relationships as each of the players recounts their own, often troubled, relationships with their fathers and also with their own children.

The book and trip are deeply personal for Balukjian.  At times there is definitely some oversharing and unnecessary details about the minutiae of the trip.  However there are a couple of very funny stories from Balukjian’s own adolescence which had me laughing out loud. As the trip progresses the book becomes more and more a soul-searching journey for the author.  Along the way he meets his ex, reconnects with his father, visits his childhood hero and tries to find love.  Ultimately, the book feels more authentic for how personal it is.

I really enjoyed the book which exceed all of my expectations.  Balukjian is an interesting character and he has done a great job to get such fascinating insight from the players he meets.

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‘The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business’ by Wright Thompson (2019)

Wright Thompson is a long time senior writer for ESPN covering multiple sports.  His profile is relatively low in Europe given ESPN’s American focus but his excellent 2016 article on Tiger Woods was shared widely in Ireland at least.  It gave the best insight into how Woods’ life and career unravelled until the excellent  ‘Tiger Woods’ by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian was published last year.

The Cost of These Dreams collects many of Thompson’s best articles but with a central theme running through them – the price and struggles that come with seeking and achieving success.  The stories collected here are mostly about the off pitch lives of those involved in sports.  It includes some of the greatest figures in their sports (including Michael Jordan, Pat Riley and Bear Bryant) and some relatively unknown characters most notably Tony Harris, a college basketball star who had a mental breakdown that led him to an untimely demise in the jungles of Brazil.  The highlight for me is a moving piece about the Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) football program during the ugly time of de-segregation in US education.

Unlike many anthologies, the preface for this book goes beyond the usual platitudes about how lucky he has been to write for X or Y over the years.  Instead it is a very reflective and emotional piece about the costs to Thompson’s own personal life of his method of reporting, his constant travel and the resultant time missed with family.

The articles collected here are superbly well written. The book reveals two of Thompson’s great strengths – as a determined researcher/investigator and as a remarkable interviewer. Thompson’s commitment to research is shown most clearly by his dogged pursuit of on of Muhammad Ali’s early opponents who has gone off the grid.  He becomes obsessed with finding him and the resulting article is beautifully written.  As an interviewer, he achieves remarkable insight into the inner worlds of his subjects who often just happen to be among the greatest sports stars in history.   

Many of Thompson’s best articles are also available online and well worth checking out.  I’ve linked below to a few, most of which aren’t included in this excellent book:

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‘Astroball: The New Way to Win It All’ by Ben Reiter (2018)

A 2014 Sports Illustrated cover which declared that the worst team in baseball, the Houston Astros, would win the World Series in 2017 has gone down in legend.  It would almost have been more believable to pick Leicester City to win the Premier League the year earlier.   Improbably, Ben Reiter’s prediction came through as the ambitious blueprint for rebuilding a baseball club set out in his SI article came to fruition on schedule.

Reiter therefore is the ideal writer to chronicle just how the Astro’s rose to success.  Astroball is the story of how a farsighted owners and executives learned from Moneyball and went on to find a new path to success.

The stars of the book are Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and his top analyst, Sig Mejdal. Both came to the Astro’s in 2011 having had some success in Arizona.  Both were determined to figure out how to combine stats with instinct and get the best results.

Reiter highlights three main improvements – better draft picks through understanding stats in a new way, coaching improvements for individual players by focusing on their form and tendencies and a recognition of the intangible role that veteran players have in bringing the team together at crucial moments.  There were some bumps along the road – such as failure to sign an injury prone first draft pick – but the faith in ‘the Process’ proved justified.

Reiter clearly had exceptional access and the trust of those he spoke with.  It’s a very well written book which captures the balance of appealing to baseball fanatics and non-fanatics alike.   It’s a fascinating account of team building in the post-Moneyball era.   A really enjoyable read.

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‘Steroid Nation: Juiced Home Run Totals, Anti-aging Miracles, and a Hercules in Every High School: The Secret History of America’s True Drug Addiction’ by Shaun Assael (2007)

Steroid Nation sets out to tell the story of how steroids and steroid use became a significant part of sporting life in the USA.  Assael paints a broad canvas that stretches from the mavericks that started an underground steroid movement to the very highest levels of professional sport.  The book follows a chronological timeline from Gold’s gym in LA in the 80’s right up to the BALCO case in 2007.

This is the second of Assael’s books I have read, and like ‘The Murder of Sonny Liston’ it contains a cast of characters that at times seem too unbelievable to be true.   The book is at it’s best when it tells the untold story of the likes of Dan Duchaine and the underground bodybuilding scene of the 1970’s and 80’s.  At times these chapters reminded me of movies like Blow that focus on the emergence of a drug empire from a largely unexpected source.   Assael paints an intoxicating picture of excess, greed, muscles and risk – young men embarking on a journey with a self-righteousness that left them blind to the inevitable tragedies that would befall them.

Some of the other material deserves (and has received) full length books of their own and Assael can understandably only scratch the surface of Ben Johnson, Mark McGwire and BALCO for example.  What it does do brilliantly is tie the various streams together and paint the wider cultural issue of steroids-  it’s a problem at every level of sport – from gym users, to high school to the major leagues and Olympics. The political background of how supplements/steroids became (badly) regulated in the US is also really interesting.    Overall, the book is a brilliant introduction to the world of sports doping and would send a curious reader towards other really good books like The Dirtiest Race in History or League of Denial 

Assael also shines a light on the crusading drug enforcement officials – if anything the focus on the likes of Travis Taggart has gotten even brighter since this book was published. The book paints the origins of the USDA’s move to start to ban people on the basis of documentary evidence rather than relying on a failed test – the approach that ultimately led to Lance Armstrong confessing.  These parts of the book flow less smoothly or quickly than the rest – I found them very interesting though and it’s clear that Assael has enormous respect for those law enforcement officers who dedicated their careers to this fight. It’s slightly depressing reading about these guys at a time when WADA is being discredited for its favourable treatment of Russia and an apparent lack of objectivity.

I really enjoyed Steroid Nation. I’m conscious that I’ve just read this book 10 years after it first came out.  It feels like a sequel (or a revised and updated edition) would be a similarly fascinating read with Lance Armstrong now exposed, the Russian doping scandal and plenty of additional material available.  If anything, I would suspect that the term Steroid Nation remains as apt and relevant to describe sporting culture as it did a decade ago.

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‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’ by Michael Lewis (2003)

‘Moneyball’ might be the most influential sports books of the last 20 years.  15 years since it was first published, Moneyball is still synonymous with the ever-growing movement to use big data to improve the performance of professional sports teams.

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Lewis set out to answer the question of why the Oakland A’s consistently outperformed teams with much higher budgets.  He found a much bigger and more fascinating story about a sub-culture of baseball nerds both inside, but mostly outside, the sport who were determined to see the game as it really was.

At the heart of the book is Billy Beane, a former player who never fulfilled what others believed was his potential.  Lewis was given incredible access behind the scenes of the A’s management team as they prepared for a draft and throughout the 2002 season as Beane wheeled and dealed his way to improving his team at every turn.

Beane is a fascinating character  – charismatic but ruthless, a baseball insider who thinks like an outsider, a man obsessed with his team who refuses to watch the team he runs actually play a game.

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The book is utterly engrossing.  Lewis is the master of explaining complex and insider ideas to a layperson.  Despite having a limited interest in baseball, I found the book easy to follow as Lewis leads the reader through the thought process of Beane and the various ‘sabermetricians’ who think more about baseball than anything else.

At the heart of the story is Bill James, a statisician who self published baseball statistics slowly building a fanbase and eventually influencing the next generation of General Managers.  Not being a baseball fan, its hard to grasp just how obsessive James and his followers are.  Being a fan of fantasy football does help me realise how obsessed a fan can become with watching certain players and being desperate to figure out what players are likely to outperfomr others.

Moneyball is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the future of sport or anyone interested in a good story.  It’s the story of an underdog who out-thinks and therefore out-plays the bigger richer teams.   It’s a great book not just for sports fans, but for anyone who likes stories about disrption and people trying to shake up an established way of doing things.

As well as being a great read, Moneyball has had a significant impact on professional sports since its publication.  Many an article has been written on this over the last 15 years.

Reading Moneyball is a different experience than when I read it over 10 years ago.  Knowing broadly how the draft picks and other players mentioned in the book panned out changes how you experience the story.

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