🥊’Muhammad Ali: Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness’ by Dave Hannigan (2022)

What more can be written about Muhammad Ali? Ali’s life has been documented time and again by great writers and filmmakers. However, one area that has always remained somewhat obscure is the period between the end of his boxing career and the moment in Atlanta when, fragile and shaking, he lit the Olympic flame reminding the world of his incomparable courage.

Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness documents Ali’s public life during these 15 years in compelling detail. Hannigan presents a vast number of incidents and anecdotes captured at the time or remembered by the participants. The volume of research is impressive with countless local, national and international reports quoted and long forgotten small events highlighted. It’s these local, low-key events which tell us so much about Ali because even the most routine appearance was made significant and memorable simply by Ali’s presence and charisma.

A few common threads emerge in the book – friends taking financial advantage of Ali’s name, Ali going above and beyond to make an event special, strangers being invited into his inner sanctum and remembering it for the rest of their lives, people breaking down when seeing his limitations and, above all, Ali making people laugh and smile.

The stories individually range from funny to sad and from the mundane to the remarkable. Taken together they provide fascinating insight into Ali’s unique fame, his charisma, and his declining health. What emerges is a portrait of a man who, already an icon, was deeply aware of the impact of his presence on others. Ali knew that any interaction with him was a memorable experience. He was motivated to continue to live a very public life – to use his unique fame for some greater purpose, even if at times that purpose was unclear, undefinable, or unachievable. For these reason, despite his declining health, he refused to hide away and continued to live a very public life even while all of the very things he was famous for – his speed, his speech, his sharpness – deserted him.

I really loved this book. Each individual story works as an interesting insight but the combination of so many together is powerful, fascinating, funny and heartbreaking. It’s a brilliant addition to the ever growing library of books on Ali.

Hannigan has written two previous books on Ali. The Big Fight examines his fight in Dublin against Al ‘Blue’ Lewis and wonderfully captures his impact and aura during his prime. Drama in the Bahamas recounts Ali’s heartbreaking final fight against Trevor Burbank in the Bahamas and captures the tragedy of the last years of his boxing career. Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness is another wonderful book which captures a very different, yet just as compelling, phase of Ali’s life.

Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness is published by Pitch Publishing on 20 June 2022.

🥊’Fighting for Survival: My Journey Through Boxing Fame, Abuse, Murder, and Resurrection’ by Christy Martin with Ron Borges (2022)

Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano recently made history as the first women to headline a fight card at Madison Square Garden. They put on an exhibition of courage, skill, and passion that made it one of the best fights I’ve ever seen. It’s no exaggeration to say that such an occasion would not have happened without trailblazers like Christy Martin who, among many other achievements, fought in the first ever women’s boxing match at the Garden.

Martin, nicknamed “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” grew up in West Virginia, and began boxing after winning a ‘ToughMan’ amateur competition. She was eventually signed by Don King and became a regular on the undercard of Mike Tyson’s sell-out fights. After a particularly bloody fight with Ireland’s Deirdre Gogarty, she became a household name in the USA and began earning purses of over $100,000 per fight – vastly more than her contemporaries and more than many male fighters.

The bloody nose that launched her, and women’s boxing, into the mainstream

Behind the scenes however, Martin was struggling desperately. Facing rejection by her family for being gay, she had married her trainer, Jim Martin, who was abusive and manipulative. The book recounts countless examples of Martin’s constant emotional, and occasionally physical, abuse. As her career ended, she became addicted to cocaine as her husband found another way to control her. Christy would remain unable to bring herself to leave Jim Martin until he tried to kill her – a crime for which he is currently in prison and which provided her with the necessary catalyst to seek help.

As well as recounting her remarkable career, Fighting for Survival is Christy Martin’s chance to seize control of her own life narrative. She uses the book to explain the choices she made, many of which seem inexplicable when not placed firmly in the context of her abusive relationship. While the detail can be at times overwhelming, it is clearly important to Martin to be unequivocal in highlighting how Martin treated her. The book is also Christy’s attempt to provide a beacon of hope for other sufferers of abuse and those who may be struggling with their sexuality. Throughout the book she offers advice and compassion for those who might be struggling.

Fighting for Survival is a brutally honest book which can be difficult to read at times. I found the boxing story at it’s core completely fascinating and a YouTube binge of Martin’s fights is highly recommended. Martin also constantly found herself on the edge of a big headline, Forrest Gump style, as she was on the fight card on some boxing’s strangest nights – when Tyson bit Hollyfield’s ear, when Tommy Morrison tested positive for Aids and the night Tupac Shakur was shot after a Tyson fight amongst others. She also encountered many of the great and the good of boxing along the way.

Much like Martin’s fighting style, Fighting for Survival is powerful and holds nothing back. She writes as she fought – by laying all her cards on the table and scoring a knockout success.

Fighting for Survival will be published on June 22nd by Rowman and Littlefield.

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.

🥊‘The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison’ by Carlos Acevedo (2022)

Boxing, with its cruel, brutal, beautiful nature, lends itself to great writing. The sport itself, with stakes so much higher than any ball game, with death and serious illness an ever present shadow, seems to call out to the very best writers in search of stories that go beyond sport. Boxers, and their very willingness to put their health on the line for money, glory or desperation, are compelling characters. But only sometimes do we get a writer as good as Acevedo and a subject as compelling as Morrison and the result is, inevitably, a brilliant book.

Morrison may be best known to many as the guy who played Tommy Gunn in Rocky V. He reached a level of fame early thanks to the movie and as a young handsome heavyweight fighter he had the charisma and image to potentially make a successful career in the sport. Ultimately, Morrison’s life and career would twist and turn is ways both unexpected and tragic.

While he would achieve some success in the ring during a particularly weak period for heavyweight boxing, his lifestyle and the his demons would ensure he never progressed beyond the ‘Great White Hope’ label before becoming a cautionary tale. His battle with Aids, both medically and psychologically, would shape the last years of his life as he went deeper into the world of conspiracy theories and crackpot medicine.

The Duke is above all an exceptional work of biography. Acevedo chronicles Morrison’s unique life in fascinating, forensic detail with an abundance of stories highlighting the absurdity of Morrison’s life. Between his traumatic childhood, his steroid obsession, his HIV denialism and his womanizing, Morrison experienced enough to fill many lifetimes. Acevedo’s achievement is to tell the story in a way that is riveting but not lurid, gripping but not eulogizing.

One aspect that sets the book apart is Acevedo’s assessment of Morrison’s boxing career in the broader context of the sport. He dissects the quality (or lack thereof) of his opponents and highlights the difficulty of assessing Morrison’s actual talents when he was so poorly matched for almost all of his career.

Aged before he was grown, famous before he was successful and washed-up before he was 30, Morrison experienced a life that few would emerge from unscathed. That his vices were so clearly enabled, that his was career so poorly plotted, and that his delusions were so troubling validated by those around him doesn’t absolve Morrison from judgment for his actions. Acevedo however does properly paint him as a man whose chances of a happy ending were slim from the beginning.

Like all great sports books, it goes beyond the sport and places Morrison in the context of his time and wider celebrity culture. Acevedo is a sensationally good writer with some brilliantly memorable turns of phrase. I’d also strongly recommend his essay collection A Sporting Blood.

The Duke is unputdownable in a way non-fiction rarely is. It grips you and submerges you in a narrative that is riveting, comic, and ultimately tragic.

‘Bundini: Don’t Believe the Hype’ by Todd Snyder (2020)

My favourite book of the year. I’ve struggled to finish this review because I’m trying to capture the book and not just gush with praise. Bundini: Don’t Believe the Hype didn’t just exceed my expectations, it blew them away, and it deserves to be considered among the very best biographies.

Muhammad Ali is possibly the most written-about sports figure of all time. I’ve already written a post on the best books I’ve read on Ali. Throughout every book, film, documentary on Ali, Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown hovers in the background as a mysterious, often thinly drawn, character whose importance is undeniable but whose contribution, and very essence, appears unknowable. I’ve always been fascinated by Bundini yet unable to picture who he was and sort between differing depictions of a quasi-mystical sage and a drug addled thief.

Bundini is best know for penning the immortal line ‘floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee’. He was a corner man, a hype man, a philosopher, a friend, a confidant, a spiritual guide and a hundred other things for two of the greatest boxers of all time – Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. But none of that captures the unique contribution Bundini made to their careers and indeed the lives of those around him.

Trailer for the book

I’ve written this paragraph 5 times trying to capture my own take on Bundini but I think it’s best to leave it to George Foreman who the book quotes as saying ‘Bundini was the source of Muhammad Ali’s spirit’. Bundini was no saint and had plenty of flaws but he was a man full of love. He was one of those rare people who have an energy about them, who have charisma and colour and vibrancy. I am very much not that type of person myself but I am very drawn to those who bring a passion, a love and an uncontrollable energy to the world and those around them. That these gifts are often accompanied by demons, addictions and personal flaws makes them all the more compelling.

Snyder has done an incredible job in capturing Bundini. Both his magic and his flaws. The heart of the book is Bundini’s son, Drew ‘Timothy’ Brown, a man whose own life story merits a biography. As Synder sets out in the introduction, this book is a much the story of a father through his son’s eyes as it is an objective biography.

Patrick Green produced an excellent documentary based on the book available above on YouTube

Great biographies need both a compelling subject and the right biographer. Robert Caro’s masterful series of books on Lyndon Johnson would not have reached the same heights if not written by a writer with as a keen a fascination of the workings of power. The years Caro spent writing The Power Broker shaped his future work on LBJ.

Similarly, Snyder is the perfect person to capture Bundini’s life. An incredibly talented writer, the son of a boxing trainer, and a professor of rhetoric and hip-hop, it’s hard to think of a better background for exploring the life of a man who influenced the world’s best boxers with his words and spirit.

As an aside, the book also made me realise that Muhammad Ali’s old training camp has been opened to the public and is less than an hour drive from my in-laws in Pennsylvania. I absolutely cannot wait to visit!

‘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

‘Sporting Blood: Tales from the Dark Side of Boxing’ by Carlos Acevedo (2020)

Sporting Blood is a collection of twenty-one essays by Carlos Acevedo looking, as the title suggests, at tales from the darker side of boxing.  The collection covers a range of fighters offering fresh perspectives on some well known names as well telling the stories of much less well remembered pugilists.

The hardest part of reviewing this book is trying not to copy the words of the great Thomas Hauser in his excellent forward to the book which sums up the power of Acevedo’s writing better than I ever could.

Acevdo is a sensationally good writer with some brilliantly memorable turns of phrase. Each essay packs a mighty punch and resonated with me long after I read it. It is a great collection to dip in and out of, to take your time over, to re-read and savour the writing and the imagery.   As Hauser says “each essay goes beyond the name of the fighter attached  to it to underscore a fundamental truth about, and capture the essence of, boxing.”  It’s hard to get a better endorsement.

As a whole, the collection paints a grim, sad portrait of a fighters life.  While the level of success reached might vary, the stories seem to very often end in tragically similar fashions with dementia, poverty, drug abuse and often murder playing an inevitable part in many of the fighters later years.

sporting blood

 

 

A series of articles by Acevedo are available at https://hannibalboxing.com/author/cacevedo/  and are also well worth checking out.

‘Berserk: The Shocking Life and Death of Edwin Valero’ by Don Stradley (2019)

Valero was a Venezuelan boxer with a growing profile on a seemingly inevitable track to fight Manny Pacquiao and to potentially become a superstar.  He was a knockout king and won all of his first 18 fights with a first round knockdown.  He had a career record of 27-0 (all by knockout) and was a 2-weight world champion when he died in 2010.

Tragically however, Valero could never escape his demons.  He turned to cocaine and booze.  His paranoia took over and he murdered his young wife in cold blood.  Not long after being arrested, he took his own life while in prison.

In Berserk, Don Stradley recounts the story of Valero’s rise, the bumps along the way and his ultimate descent.  Different versions of Valero are presented with conflicts  emerging between accounts of how he treated his wife in particular. Stradley does well to separate fact from fiction and to dismiss conspiracy theories while recognising the limits of what we can really know about Valero and his relationships.

It is a short sharp captivating read and one any boxing fan will find interesting.   The punchy style of the book neatly matches Valero’s own relentless fighting style.  I found watching the many YouTube clips of Valero’s fights a great accompaniment to the book.

The book is published by relatively new boxing publisher Hamilcar books as part of it’s true crime imprint.  I’ve been really impressed by their work – both reprinting US editions of boxing classics like Dark Trade and these new short books.  I’m really looking forward to their publication in 2020 of a book by Tris Dixon on brain damage and boxing.

beserk.jpg

‘The Ghost of Johnny Tapia’ by Paul Zanon (2019)

Johnny Tapia was a force of nature.  A five time, three weight, world champion, Hall of Fame, boxer.  A drug addict who served time in prison. A much-loved husband and father.  A man whose charisma and talent earned him countless friends and fans.    Tapia lived ten lifetimes in his one and survived multiple near death experiences before his body finally gave up aged just 47.

The Ghost of Johnny Tapia is a short, sharp and entertaining read. At just 96 pages it naturally gives a pretty high level overview of Tapia’s life and career but there is more than enough there to capture the craziness, the charisma and the talent of a very unique man.  In particular it gives a fascinating insight into the tragedies of his young life which gave rise to the demons he could never fully overcome.

Johnny Tapia

While tragic, some of the stories in the book are mind-blowing.  Tapia had the kind of charisma that draws people to him coupled with the talent to reach the very top of boxing.  Sadly, he had demons, borne from a childhood of intense tragedy, and he simply couldn’t shake his addictions.  There is something incredibly compelling about that kind of character, that intriguing mix of charisma and vulnerability that draws people in.

The book’s key strength is the co-operation of Johnny’s wife Teresa who gives a remarkably candid insight into their life together.  Teresa is clearly a remarkable woman who put up with incredibly difficult behaviour from the man who she married aged 20 after knowing for just 2 weeks.   .

I’d definitely love to read a fuller length biography of Tapia’s remarkable life.  As an intro to his story, and a great excuse for a YouTube binge of his best moments, I’d definitely recommend The Ghost of Johnny Tapia.

Brilliant HBO documentary on Tapia’s life and career