Sports books coming in 2023

Time for my favourite post of the year – the list of sports books coming next year! It’s a long list with over 200 books and no doubt plenty more 2023 releases will be announced over the coming months. Some of these will inevitably be pushed back but so far the year is looking good!

For those who don’t want to read the entire list (although I don’t understand why not!) my pick of the 10 upcoming books I’m most excited for (or have read and loved) are set out first, followed by the entire list sorted by sport.

Let me know in the comments which books you are most looking forward to. Happy Reading!

2023 Releases I’m Most Excited For:

  1. ⚽ It isn’t Sunday Anymore: In Search of Roberto Baggio by James Horncastle. I loved Baggio and really looking forward to this book on the Divine Ponytail by the excellent Italian football writer.
  2. 🏀Magic: The Life of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson by Roland Lazenby. The great basketball biographer on the legendary Magic.
  3. 🏀LeBron by Jeff Benedict. Promises to be the definitive bio of LeBron James by the co-author of the excellent Tiger Woods.
  4. 🏌️‍♂️Feherty by John Feinstein. Promises to be the definitive biography of enigmatic golfer and commentator David Feherty.
  5. ⚾ Baseball at the Abyss: The Scandals of 1926, Babe Ruth, and the Unlikely Savior Who Rescued a Tarnished Game by Dan Taylor. A look at how baseball recovered from betting scandal that threatened its place as America’s national pastime.
  6. ⚽We Play On: Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fight for Ukraine, Football and Freedom by Andy Brassell
  7. ⚽When Calcio Ruled the World: The History of Italian Football in the Eighties and Nineties by Emanuele Giulianelli. If I was to write a book it would be on this period of Italian football so I’m very excited to read this one.
  8. 🏃💉The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team by Kara Goucher with Mary Pilon
  9. 🥊Lights Out The James Toney Story by Robert Anasi. Anything published by Hamilcar is sure to be one of the highlights of the year.
  10. ⚽ Phenomenon – Biography of the Brazilian striker Ronaldo by Dan Williamson.

And now the full list sorted by sport

⚽ Soccer

  • 1992: The Birth of Modern Football by Rob Fletcher. The year the Premier League was formed.
  • Big Boots to Fill: The New Maradona, Riquelme, Messi and Beyond by David Nolan
  • When Calcio Ruled the World: The History of Italian Football in the Eighties and Nineties by Emanuele Giulianelli
  • The Match: The Story of Italy v Brazil by Piero Trellini. An in-depth look at the 1982 World Cup 2nd round match between the eventual winners and one of the greatest teams not to win the World Cup.
  • The Life of Total Football: The Origins and Development of Football’s Most Entertaining Philosophy by James Jackson
  • High Noon: The Falklands, the Hand of God and the Goal of the Century by Michael Gibbons
  • Phenomenon – Biography of the Brazilian striker Ronaldo by Dan Williamson
  • The Conquerors: How Carlo Ancelotti Made AC Milan World Champions by Dev Bajwa. I love seeing more books being written in English on 90’s and 00’s Italian football.
  • Espana 82: A Hazy Shade of Summer by Stuart Horsfield. A wider look at the tournament from the author of the excellent Brazil 1982.
  • The Dutch Masters: When Ajax’s Totaal Voetbal Conquered Europe by Gary Thacker.
  • When the Sky Was Blue: The Inside Story of Coventry City’s Premier League Years by Rich Chamberlain
  • It Isn’t Sunday Anymore: In Search of Roberto Baggio by James Horncastle
  • Mucky Boots: Triumphs, Trials and Tragedies of a Football Club Owner by Kevin McCabe
  • Revolution: The Rise and Rise of Wolverhampton Wanderers 2003 to 2023 by Paul Berry and Johnny Phillips
  • Duncan Edwards: Eternal: The family authorised autobiography of Manchester United’s lost genius by Wayne Barton. Barton has written tons of great books on United’s past and this promises to be a great read.
  • The Number Ten: More than a Number, More than a Shirt by Andy Bollen. A look at everyone’s favourite football position.
  • Soccer Grannies: The South African Women Who Inspire the World by Jean Duffy
  • Copa America: The History of the World’s Oldest Continental Football Tournament by Gideon Long
  • So Much More Than That: A British Journey of Football, Industry, War and Migration by Hannah Grainger-Clemson. A look at how ordinary people experienced life and the rise of football in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Thai Football Tales: A Beautiful Madness by Matt Riley
  • Erik ten Hag: The Biography by Maarten Meijer. Bio of the Man Utd manager.
  • Fortune’s Always Hiding: From Stratford to Seville by Paul Brand. A West Ham fan on the club’s recent history.
  • Scotland 42 England 1:An Englishman’s Mazy Dribble through Scottish Football by Mark Winter
  • Nowhere to Run: The trials of a non-league football club owner by Jonathan Sayer
  • El Ceramico: The Story of the Potteries Derby by Liam Bullock
  • Making Up the Numbers: 99 Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Players by Alex Cassidy
  • José Mourinho the Inter Years by Paul Rowe
  • Come and Get Me by Jim White and Kaveh Solhekol. No details yet but presume will be about transfers or transfer deadline day.
  • Mr Corinthian: Pa Jackson and the Casual Corinthians by Llew Walker
  • Echoes of an Italian Summer: Stories from Italia 90 by Paul Grech
  • Red Planet: How Manchester United Took Over the World by Luke Bainbridge. A history of the football club.
  • The King Takes Over: Liverpool and the Dalglish Years 1985-1991 by Shareef Abdallah.
  • A Tale of One City: The World’s Most Unique Single-City Derbies by Andrew Flint and Matt Gault
  • Match Fit: An Exploration of Mental Health in Football by Johnnie Lowery
  • Turncoat: How I Stopped Supporting Arsenal and Found a New Team by Matt Coughlan
  • Pretty Poly: The History of the Football Shirt by Alex Ireland
  • An Oral History of Football: From 1966 to the Modern Day by Les Scott
  • We Play On: Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fight for Ukraine, Football and Freedom by Andy Brassell
  • The A to Z of Sunday League Football: The Ultimate Guide to the Grassroots Game by Craig Hazell & Adam Parker
  • United with Dad by Simon Lloyd
  • Got That Lovin’ Feelin’: From Clark to Cooper, Nottingham Forest s Unique Story of Turmoil and Triumph by Warren Turner
  • A Nation Again: The Inside Story of Scotland’s Emergence from the International Wilderness by Andy Bargh
  • The Derby Game: A History of Local Rivalries by Ian Collis
  • Fear and Loathing at Goodison Park: Everton Under David Moyes by Louis Foster
  • Galvanised: The Footballing Tale of Brothers Chris and Tony Galvin by David Saffer
  • The Forgotten Cup: History of the Mitropa Cup, Mother of the Champions League (1927-1940) by Jo Araf
  • The System: What We Can Learn When Science and Reason Collide with Scottish Football by Graeme McDowal
  • Forgotten Football Clubs: Fifty Teams Across the World, Gone but Never Forgotten by Philip O’Rourke
  • Gary Speed: The Man Behind the Smile by Graeme Bell. A bio of the late footballer and Wales manager.
  • Field of Dreams: 100 Years of Wembley in 100 Matches by Nige Tassell
  • Inshallah United: A Story of Faith and Football by Nooruddean Choudry. A reflection of growing up a Manc and a United fan in an Islamic household.
  • The Men Who Made Manchester United: The Untold Story by Harry Robinson. A look at the men who founded Man Utd and the pre-war years before they became a global giant.
  • Crossing the Park: The Men Who Dared to Play for Both Liverpool and Everton by Peter Jones.
  • Spice Up Your Life: Liverpool, the Nineties and Roy Evans by Jonathon Aspey
  • Golden Generations: The Story of the 2006 FIFA Men s World Cup by Michael Gallwey
  • El M s Grande: The Story of River Plate, Argentina’s Biggest Club by Mark Orton
  • 81: The Inside Story of Our Iconic FA Cup Victory by Steve Perryman. Spurs player on their 1981 cup win.
  • England’s Calamity? A New Interpretation of the ‘Match of the Century’ by Chris Jones.
  • Fever Pitch: The Rise of the Premier League by Paul McCarthy
  • Where Legends Were Born: Melwood the Complete Story by Arngrimur Baldursson. A look at Liverpool’s youth academy.
  • When Dave Went Up: The Inside Story of Wimbeldon’s 1988 FA Cup Win by Gary Jordan. Jordan has written some other great books on the history of Wimbledon.
  • Unico Grande Amore: AS Roma in the 21st century by Marc Lamberts
  • Brave Enough Not to Quit by Millie Farrow with Katie Field.
  • Rovers Till I Die: The Story of Bob Crompton, Blackburn’s Most Famous Son by Harry Berry
  • Roy Massey: A Life in Football and a Coach to the Stars by Roy Massey
  • Amoruso Lets it Run: Hearts of Midlothian 1990-1998 by Scott McIntosh
  • The Great Days of Sunderland: Six League Titles and Two Fa Cups by David Potter. Hard to believe Sunderland were once good!
  • The Dundee Derby: Britain’s Closest Derby by Jeff Webb
  • Never Stop: How Ange Postecoglou Brought the Fire Back to Celtic by Hamish Carton
  • Glory, Glory, Gone: The Story of Tottenham Hotspur’s Regression, Relegation and Rebirth in the 1970s by Samuel Rooke
  • Season in Hell: British Footballers Killed in the Second World War by Nigel McCrery
  • Starting from Scratch Barry Kilby by Dave Thomas
  • NII Lamptey: The Curse of Pele by Joris Kaper. Biography of the Ghanian football wunderkid who became a cautionary tale for putting too much pressure on young players.
  • Hammer Time: Me, West Ham, and a Passion for the Shirt by Julian DicksBiography of the former West Ham player and cult legend.
  • ‘Green & Golden Boots’ by Jason Goldsmith. A look at the 12 Australians who have won Golden Boots in international leagues, covering countries such as England, Scotland, Norway, Belgium, USA, Japan, Malaysia and Iceland!
  • A book on the history of football terminology by FoFStrife
  • ‘They Played for David Pleat at Luton Town 1978-86’ by @Kitman_Phil
  • A whole bunch of books from great Australian publisher Fairplay Publishing, including:
    • When Mum & Dad See Me Kick
    • The Yawning Giant
    • Best in Australia
    • Hell for Leather
    • The First Matildas
    • Encyclopedia of Matildas World Cup Edition
    • Hear Us Roar

🏈 NFL / American Football

  • Round Zero: Inside the NFL Draft by Andy Phillips. Draft insights from the former Green Bay Packer turned sportswriter.
  • On the Clock: Kansas City Chiefs by Matt Derrick. A look at the Chiefs’ history in the NFL Draft.
  • Draft Day Confidential: A Fan’s Inside Guide to the NFL Draft by Thomas George
  • All-Pro Wisdom: The Seven Choices that Lead to Greatness by Matt Birk with Rich Chapman
  • Fifth Ward to Fourth Quarter: Football’s Impact on an NFL Player’s Body and Soul by Delvin Williams.
  • The NFL Off-Camera: An A-Z Guide to the League’s Most Memorable Players and Personalities by Bob Angelo and Ray Didinger
  • Never Ask ‘Why’: Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL by Ed Garvey
  • Don Perkins: A Champion’s Life by Richard Melzer. Biography of the former Dallas Cowboy
  • The Yards Between Us: A Memoir of Love, Life and Football by R.K. Russell
  • Four Quarters of History Ten Games That Define the Modern NFL by Sean Deveney
  • Dyed in Crimson: Football, Faith and the Remaking of Harvard’s America by Zev Eleff
  • Iron Tigers by David Neil Drews. A novel inspired by the team that conquered Dixie and launched Southern Football
  • How ‘Bout Them Dawgs: The Inside Story of Georgia Football’s 2021 National Championship Season by Kirby Smart and Loran Smith.

⚾ Baseball

  • Daybreak at Chavez Ravine: Fernandomania and the Remaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers by Erik Sherman. The story of the Mexican pitcher, Fernando Valenzuela, who became an instant icon for his performances as a Dodger.
  • Buffalo Braves: From A to Z by Budd Bailey.
  • When the Babe Went Back to Boston: Babe Ruth, Judge Fuchs and the Hapless Braves of 1935 by Bob Lemoine
  • From the Front Row: Reflections of a Major League Baseball Owner and Modern Art Dealer by Jeffrey H. Loria
  • Welcome to the Circus of Baseball : A Story of the Perfect Summer at the Perfect Ballpark at the Perfect Time by Ryan McGee. The writer looks back on his first summer post college interning for a minor league baseball team.
  • One Season in Rocket City: How the 1985 Huntsville Stars Brought Minor League Baseball Fever to Alabama by Dale Tafoya
  • The New Ballgame: The Not So-Hidden Forces That Shape Modern Baseball by Russell A. Carleton
  • Penguin Power: Dodger Blue, Hollywood Lights and a One in a Million Big League Journey by Ron Cey with Ken Gurnick
  • The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys: The Worst Team in Pittsburgh Pirates History by John Dreker
  • Smart, Wrong, and Lucky: Scouting Baseball’s Unexpected Stars by Jonathan Mayo
  • Baseball at the Abyss: The Scandals of 1926, Babe Ruth, and the Unlikely Savior Who Rescued a Tarnished Game by Dan Taylor. A look at how baseball recovered from betting scandal that threatened its place as America’s national pastime.
  • Baseball’s Endangered Species: Inside the Craft of Scouting by Those Who Lived It by Lee Lowenfish
  • Pitching Democracy: Baseball and Politics in the Dominican Republic by April Yoder
  • Suds Series: Baseball, Beer Wars and the Summer of ‘82 by J. Daniel.
  • Gibby: Tales of a Baseball Lifer by John Gibbons.
  • Banana Ball by Jesse Cole. Book by the owner of a social media sensation sub-minor league baseball team in Georgia.
  • The 1998 Yankees by Jack Curry
  • The Tao of the Backup Catcher by Tim Brown with Erik Kratz. Chronicles the unsung journeymen of baseball.
  • Sons of Baseball: Growing Up with a Major League Dad by Mark Braff. Interviews with 18 men who grew up with father’s who played Major League Baseball.
  • Do You Believe in Magic?: Baseball and America in the Groundbreaking Year of 1966 by David Krell
  • Winning Fixes Everything : How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess by Evan Drellich
  • Aaron Judge: The Incredible Story of New York Yankees’ Home Run Hitting Phenom by David Fischer
  • Baseball Memorable Misses: An Unabashed Look at the Game’s Craziest Zeroes by Dan Schlossberg
  • A Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America’s Pastime by Jim Kelly with Rob Bradford. The White Sox pitcher with an insiders look at Major League Baseball. Will it be the Ball Four of the modern era?
  • Mallparks: Baseball Stadiums and the Culture of Consumption by Michael T. Friedman
  • Ballists, Dead Beats, and Muffins: Inside Early Baseball in Illinois by Robert D. Sampson
  • Road to Nowhere: The Early 1990s Collapse and Rebuild of New York City Baseball by Chris Donnelly. A look at the turbulent years for the Yankees and Mets as they crashed and rebuilt in the early 90s.
  • Baseball: The Turbulent Midcentury Years by Steven P. Gietschier

🏀Basketball

  • Magic: The Life of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson by Roland Lazenby. The great basketball biographer on the legendary Magic.
  • The Education of Kendrick Perkins: A Memoir by Kendrick Perkins with Seth Rogoff. Autobiography of the NBA player turned ESPN analyst.
  • LeBron by Jeff Benedict. Promises to be the definitive bio of LeBron James by the co-author of the excellent Tiger Woods.
  • Hoop Muses: An Insider’s Guide to Pop Culture and the Women;s Game by Kate Fagan, Seimone Augustus and Sophia Chang
  • Role of a Lifetime: Larry Farmer and the UCLA Bruins by Larry Farmer and Tracy Dodds. Farmer was a key player on the legendary UCLA basketball teams under John Wooden before becoming the first black head coach at the school at age 30.
  • Black Ball : Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation that Saved the Soul of the NBA by Theresa Runstedtler
  • The Sense of Wonder (A novel) by Matthew Salesses. A novel based on an Asian-American NBA star which seems heavily based on Jeremey Lin’s dramatic emergence in the NBA and the ensuing ‘Linsanity’.
  • The Blue Divide: Duke, North Carolina, and the Battle on Tobacco Road by Johnny Moore and Art Chansky

🥊 Boxing

  • Lights Out The James Toney Story by Robert Anasi. Anything published by Hamilcar is sure to be one of the highlights of the year.
  • Last On His Feet: Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century by Youssef Daoudi and Adrian Matejka. An innovate take on the famous boxer combing poetry and illustrations.
  • Fight For Your Life: The Autobiography by Amir Kahn. Autobiography of the British boxer
  • Brick City Grudge Match: Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano Battle in Newark, 1948 by Rod Honecker
  • Untitled Andre Ward Memoir. Autobiography of the 5 time world champion boxer.
  • Henry Armstrong: Boxing’s Super Champ by John Jarrett
  • Muhammad Ali: A Humanitarian Life by Margueritte Shelton
  • A Boxing Legacy: The Life and Works of Writer and Cartoonist Ted Carroll edited by Ian Phimister and David Patrick
  • Glenn Catley Autobiography by Neil Palmer

🎽 Athletics / Olympics

  • The Long Run to Glory by Stephen Lane. The story of the first women’s Olympic Marathon.
  • The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team by Kara Goucher with Mary Pilon
  • Silence All the Noise by Caster Semenya. Biography of the runner who has found herself at the center of discussions on sport and gender.
  • Untitled Donovan Bailey memoir. The Canadian sprinter’s story will be published by Random House Canada this Summer.
  • Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police: A Cold War Escape by Dr Stejarel Olaru, translated by Alistair Ian Blyth. Promises to be a fascinating account of the life of the legendary gymnast.
  • The Tigerbelles: The American Team that Changed the Face of Women’s Sports by Aime Alley Card
  • We Share the Sun: The Incredible Journey of Kenya’s Legendary Coach and the Fastest Runners on Earth by Sarah Gearhart
  • Good for a Girl: My Life Running in a Man’s World by Lauren Fleshman
  • The Race Against Time: Adventures in Late-Life Running by Richard Askwith
  • Airborne by Shaun White. Illustrated biography from the American Olympic snowboarder
  • Victory in the Pool: How a Maverick Coach Upended Society and Led a Group of Young Swimmers to Olympic Glory by Bill GeorgeStory of the swim coach who led the US to 20 Olympic medals in the 1960s and 70s.
  • The Olympics that Never Happened: Denver ’76 and the Politics of Growth by Adam BergThe story of Denver’s successful Olympic bid which was then rejected by its own citizens.
  • Black Mercuries: African American Athletes, Race, and the Modern Olympic Games by David K. Wiggins, Kevin B. Witherspoon & Mark Dyreson
  • Choosing To Run: A Memoir by Des Linden
  • In the Spell of the Barkley: The Most Gruelling Ultramarathon in the World by Michiel Panhuysen
  • The Hard Parts: A Story of Courage and Triumph by Oksana Masters

🏌️‍♂️ Golf

  • Feherty by John Feinstein. Promises to be the definitive biography of enigmatic golfer and commentator David Feherty.
  • The Ball in the Air by Michael Bamberger. A love letter to amateur golf by the celebrated golf writer
  • Little Poison: Paul Runyan, Sam Snead and a Long Shot Upset at the 1938 PGA Championship by John Dechant
  • Troublemaker: A Memoir by Lisa Cornwell with Tucker Booth. The Golf Channel analyst hits out a misogony in sports media.
  • Tiger Woods Memoir – it’s been in motion for a few years and listed as a 2023 release but without a title yet it may not come next year.

🏏Cricket

  • The Tour: The Story of the England Cricket Team Overseas 1877-2022 by Simon Wilde
  • All-India and Down-Under: Peace, Partition and the Game of Cricket by Richard Knott
  • This Too America: Philadelphia’s Era of Cricket by Tom Melville
  • Turning Over the Pebbles: A Life in Cricket and in the Mind by Mike Brearley
  • It’s Not Banter, It’s Racism: What Cricket’s Dirty Secret Reveals About Our Society by Azeem Rafiq. The Yorkshire cricketer who spoke out about racism in the game.
  • From Darkness into Light: The Australian Imperial Forces XI 1919 by John Broom and Anthony Condon

🏉Rugby

  • The Men in the Arena: England, Australia and the Battle for the Rugby World Cup by Peter Burns and Tom English. Any book by Burns and English is usually well worth reading.
  • Le Coq: A Journey to the Heart of French Rugby by Peter Bills
  • The Extra Mile by Kevin Sinfield. Autobiography of the rugby league player.
  • Hope and Glory: Rugby League in Thatcher’s Britain by Anthony Broxton
  • World in Union: The Rugby World Cup, 1987-2019 by Matthew Bazell
  • The Art of Winning: Lessons learned by one of the world’s top sportsmen by Dan Carter. Autobiography from the legendary New Zealand rugby out-half
  • Edgar Mobbs: Rugby International, Sportsman, Soldier, Legend by Jon Cooksey & Graham McKechnie. Biography of the rugby player who died during World War I.

🎱 Snooker

  • Deep Pockets: Snooker and the Meaning of Life by Brendan Cooper
  • The Natural: The Story of Patsy Houlihan, the Greatest Snooker Player You Never Saw by Luke Williams
  • Snooker’s Bad Boys: The Rebels of the Green Baize by Matt Bozeat

🚲Cycling

  • Full Gas: Inside Road Cycling by Kristof Ramon. A look behind the scenes with the teams and riders at all the major cycling tours and classics through the lens of world-class pro-cycling photographer
  • Coffee First, Then the World by Jenny Graham. The author’s attempt to beat the around-the-world cycling record.
  • The Art of Cycling: Philosophy, Meaning, and a Life on Two Wheels by James Hibbard. Already out in the UK but out in USA in May.
  • 1923: The Mystery of Lot 212 and a Tour de France Obsession by Ned Boulting. The author bought a piece of film from the 1923 Tour de France and becomes obsessed with tracing the story of that year’s race.

🎾 Tennis

  • My Dream Time: A Memoir of Tennis & Teamwork by Ash Barty
  • Althea: The Life of Tennis Champion Althea Gibson by Sally H. Jacobs
  • Queen of the Court: The Many Lives of Tennis Legend Alice Marble by Madeleine Blais

🏒Hockey

  • Freedom to Win: A Cold War Story of the Courageous Hockey Team Who Fought the Soviets for the Soul of Its People—And Olympic Gold by Ethan Scheiner. A look at the Czechoslovakia ice hockey team and their battles with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  • Down and Back: On Alcohol, Family and a Life in Hockey by Justin Bourne
  • The Game that Saved the NHL: The Broad Street Bullies, the Soviet Red Machine, and Super Series ’76 by Ed Gruver

Miscellaneous

  • Unfair Play: The Battle For Women’s Sport by Sharron Davies and Craig Lord. Former swimmer Davies has been outspoken on the issue of transgender participants in women’s sport.
  • An American Aristocrat: How the Sporting Obsessions of J. B. Thomas Defined the Age of Excess by Christopher Oakford and Glenye Cain
  • Game of Edges: The Analytical Revolution and the Future of Professional Sports by Bruce Schoenfeld
  • The Right Call: What Sports Teach Us About Leadership, Excellence, and Decision-Making by Sally Jenkins. A reflection on the various coaches and athletes Jenkins encountered during her career as a sportswriter.
  • Straight Shooter: A Memoir of Second Chances and First Takes by Stephen A. Smith
  • The Black Athlete Revolt: The Sport Justice Movement in the Age of #BlackLivesMatter by Shaun M. Anderson
  • No Pie, No Priest: A Journey through the Folk Sports of Britain by Harry Pearson
  • Box! Box! Box!: The Inside Track of the 2022 Formula One Season by Gary Jordan. Look at an incredible season of Formula 1 from author of excellent books on AFC Wimbledon and the 1982 World Cup.
  • Bounce Out: The Fall of the British Darts Organisation by Andy Moore
  • 24 Hours by Richard Williams. The story of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the world’s most iconic motorsports events, which celebrates its centenary in 2023.
  • Power Players: Sports, Politics, and the American Presidency by Chris Cillizza. A colorful look at how modern US presidents play sport and have used sport as part of their politics.
  • Kings of the Cage: How an Unlikely Group of Mogels, Champions, & Hustlers Transformed the UFC into a $10 Billion Industry by Michael Thomsen. The origin story of the UFC.
  • Money, Power, Respect: How Women in Sports are Shaping the Future of Feminism by Macaela MacKenzie
  • Remember Their Sacrifice: Stories of Unheralded Athletes of Color by Arif Khatib and Pete Elman
  • When Women Stood: The Untold History of Females Who Changed Sports and the World by Alexandra Allred
  • Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America by Abraham Riesman
  • Strong Women: Inspirational athletes at the top of their game by Suzanne Wrack. A feminist history of sport. A look at the stories behind 50 pioneering female athletes.
  • Isaac Murphy: The Rise and Fall of a Black Jockey by Katherine C. Mooney
  • Max Verstappen: A New Era: The Ultimate Biography of the F1 Sensation by Mark Hughes
  • Fearless: Extraordinary Adventures with Courageous Women by Louise Minchin
  • Goodbye Oakland: Winning, Wanderlust, and a Sport’s Town’s Fight for Survival by Andy Dolich and Dave Newhouse
  • An Autobiography from Phil Quinlan

🥊’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.

‘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!

‘Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King’ by Jack Newfield (1995)

Watching boxing as a kid, I was always fascinated by Don King and his larger than life manner. I mainly started watching boxing during Tyson’s post-prison fights – a time that would be the beginning of the end of Don King’s long reign atop the boxing world.

King is undoubtedly a fascinating character. Only in America presents an aggressively reported look at the dark side of King’s empire.  For Newfield, this book is personal and it’s clear he feels compelled to draw attention to the hurt and harm King has caused to boxers and the sport of boxing.

Newfield paints King as an intensely smart and charismatic man, one whose talents could have led him to more legitimate success.  Instead, King could never leave the underhand corrupt world he grew up in and never missed an opportunity to enrich himself under the table.

Prior to entering boxing, King had been a major player in illegal gambling and been sentenced to prison for beating to death a gambler who owed him money.  Newfield strongly suggests that the judge was paid off to reduce his conviction to manslaughter from murder in the second-degree.

King

Emerging from prison, King sought fame and fortune through boxing promotion.  His friendship with the famous singer Lloyd Price seemed to play a significant role in opening doors.  Ultimately, his break into the big time came with the Forman v. Frazier fight in Kingston, Jamaica where he where he famously arrived in Frazier’s corner but left with the victorious Foreman.   Subsequently, he would go on to have a hand in the legendary Rumble in the Jungle and most of the big heavyweight fights for 20 more years.

King used his charisma, his race and underhand contractual arrangements to tie up most of the up and coming black boxers to long term contracts.  These usually included excessive compensation to King’s son for acting as the fighter’s manager and clauses giving King rights to promote all of the fighter’s future fights.

Newfield sets out in details the significant damage King did to a whole generation of heavyweights.  He clearly stole millions from his fighters through billing excess expenses and excess fees. Among the lives he severely impacted is Buster Douglas – the journeyman boxer who beat an ill-prepared Tyson to become heavyweight champion.  King spent months trying to get the result overturned and subsequently scammed Douglas out of the majority of his purses each time he defended his title.

Overall, King is presented as a villain who uses his cunning to take advantage of multiple boxers before discarding each one as soon as they lose their value to him.  It’s remarkable that even in the world of boxing, such a character was able to service and thrive for so long.

Only in America is a damning indictment of King.  As Newfield says, the book is part biography, part investigative reporting, part memoir and part essay.  Newfield’s priority was to tell the story of those boxers King exploited and to shine a light on King’s misdeeds.  The book achieves this and more.  It’s a gripping and shocking read.

I don’t know a huge amount about how King ultimately lost his grip on boxing but, within 3 years of this book being published, King’s last great fighter, Mike Tyson, sued him for $100 million for cheating him out of money over a decade. The lawsuit was later settled out of court with Tyson receiving $14 million.

PBS Documentary Film – Don King Exposed is well worth a watch

‘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:

cost

‘Jacobs Beach: The Mob, the Garden and the Golden Age of Boxing’ by Kevin Mitchell (2010, republished in 2019)

This is a review of the new US edition of Jacobs Beach published by Hamilcar.  The original book was published in 2010.  Some online reviews of earlier versions refer to factual errors but it appears to me that any of these have been resolved in this new US edition.    

For me, King of the World by David Remnick first illuminated the shady world of gangsters and crime that lay under the surface of professional boxing.  Since reading Remnick’s masterpiece and Nick Tosches Night Train, I’ve always been fascinated by the underbelly of professional boxing’s past and felt that a true history of the fight game can only be one which considers this underbelly in depth.

Jacob’s Beach sets out to tell the story of the behind-the-scenes powers in boxing in the USA (and effectively the world) from the 1930’s onwards.  It covers boxing’s golden era when top fighters were global figures and title fights commanded universal public attention.

The book centres around Madison Square Garden and the powers that controlled that fabled arena. Jacob’s Beach refers to a famous strip of pavement across the road from Madison Square Garden, the home of a legendary ticket tout named Mike Jacobs.  However, the real villain of the piece is Frankie Carbo, a mobster who dominated professional boxing for years.  The level of corruption is still shocking to see in black-and-white, from fixed fights to blacklisted managers and the right connections being far more important than right hooks.

If Carbo is the main villain, the book’s hero is the unlikely figure of US Senator and failed Presidential candidate Estes Kefauver.  The Senator’s attempts to shine a light on corruption through public hearings was the first serious dent on the mobs ability to operate in the shadows.  Ultimately, mob influence would fade as the spotlight on their activities grew brighter.

Mitchell holds no punches throughout the book with scathing comments on a whole range of characters. He is particularly scornful of the boxing writers who were on the take and wrote stories to suit their mob paymasters.   Mitchell also seek to skewer a few myths, in particular the Hollywood narrative of James ‘Cinderella Man’ Braddock.

Mitchell, perhaps unconsciously, appears to mimic the stylised writing of the legendary golden era boxing writers (of whom the book is sometimes scathing).  At times it reads like sections of the book were written in a previous era, with a punchy and colorful style, but they are written well and always an interesting read. The book zooms in and out on various characters and I found I naturally consumed it in bitesize chunks.

Jacobs

 

‘Bouts of Mania: Ali, Frazier, Foreman and an America on the Ropes’ by Richard Hoffer (2014)

“The luck of having these three fighters in one place at one time is undeserved, of course.  Any one of them – Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier or George Foreman – should have been bonanza enough.  But all three? Together? Just then? Well, now we have the makings of a book”.

Bouts of Mania by Richard Hoffer examines the Golden Age of heavyweight boxing – the period from 1970 to 1975. Ali was on the comeback trail and Joe Frazier and George Foreman were ready to stake their claim for the title.  Hoffer places these 3 boxers, and their 5 great fights, at the centre of American life during an incredibly turbulent period.

bouts

Ali overshadows everything else in the book – which is only fitting as Ali overshadowed everything he ever came into contact with. As the public mood turned against Vietnam, Ali, previously public enemy no. 1, became a hero for large swaths of the American public.  Always a star, he became a cultural icon of his generation.   While becoming major celebrities in their own right, Foreman and Frazier’s boxing careers would (at least until Foreman’s comeback in his 40’s) be largely defined by their fights with Ali.

The book’s cover compares Hoffer’s work to King of the World by David Remnick – a bold claim, but one that isn’t too far wide of the mark.  Bouts of Mania benefits from its narrow focus. It touches on the need for entertainment at a time of national decline (in the US) but doesn’t overly dwell on, or try to force, linkages between the fighters and their time.  Knowledge of Ali’s backstory is largely assumed, with the backstories of Frazier and Foreman expertly weaved through the narratives of the 5 fights.

A clear difficulty for Hoffer, writing around 40 years after the main events in the book took place, was that so many of the protaganists are no longer with us.  This meant his interview list was much shorter than would have been the case for books written in the 90’s and 2000’s on these fighters.  I suspect this limitation contributed to a greater emphasis on Foreman, who he could interview, and this is a real strength of the book.  The image of the menacing young Foreman racked with self-doubt is fascinating as is the contrast between Foreman then and the more lovable Foreman of later years.  There were some avoidable minor factual errors (like claiming Ali fought a hometown favourite when in Dublin) but these are few and far between.

Frazier_vs_Foreman

Hoffer is more critical of Ali than many writers – with a lot of focus on how he mistreated Fraizer.  This is no bad thing as it is easy to overlook the troubling side of Ali’s behaviour.  Hoffer’s description of how America felt about Ali at the time of the Atlanta Olympics is very interesting – it’s the first moment I remember being exposed to Ali aged 12 and being bemused by the exceptional level of sentiment.  Hoffer captures perfectly the sense of people in some ways rediscovering their affection for (as opposed to fascination with) Ali at a time when he had become as much legend as a real person.

Bout of Mania is written in a fast paced, engaging and entertaining style.  It captures the tension and excitement of the fights and the strange atmospheres as the Ali carnival hit countries of all types.  Hoffer paints a vivid and memorable picture of the fighters as well as the context in which they fought.

Overall this is a very enjoyable read and a welcome addition to the ever growing library of books that centre around The Greatest.  It seeks to give some much deserved attention to the legacies of Foreman and Frazier, without whom Ali’s greatest days could never have happened.

3 kings

 

‘The Big Fight: Muhammad Ali v Al “Blue” Lewis’ by Dave Hannigan (2002)

“When you call somebody up to talk about their experience with Ali, whether fleeting or long-standing, you are asking them to revisit one of the genuinely epic moments from their own life” 

For nearly 20 years, Dave Hannigan has been Ireland’s sportswriter in residence in the United States.  First with the Sunday Tribune through to his ongoing America at Large column in the Irish Times, Hannigan’s articles are a must read for Irish sports fans (unless you’re a UFC or Conor McGregor fan in which case you probably won’t like him!)

big fight

Written in 2002, The Big Fight, chronicles a week that Muhammad Ali spent in Dublin and his fight with fight Al “Blue” Lewis in Croke Park in July 1972.  Hannigan tells the story of Ali in Ireland through the experiences of those who saw, met and interacted with him in Dublin.

At the time, Ali was on the comeback trail following his first fight, and loss, to Joe Frazier.  Given his long lay off while he refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army, it was unclear whether Ali would ever be the same fighter he once was.  He was still just 30 years of age however and it would turn out that his biggest days remained ahead of him.  He was, and would remain for a long time, the single biggest and best known figure in world sport.

The Big Fight captures the magic and charisma of Ali while also capturing some of the magic and uniqueness of Ireland. It is hard to imagine any figure capturing quite the same attention and affection that Ali did – perhaps only the reception achieved by another famous African-American with distant Irish heritage, Barack Obama, compares.

Some of the anecdotes are quintessentially Irish – thousands jumping the wall at the stadium to get into the fight free, old ladies inviting Ali in for cups of tea and the sheer excitement of any global celebrity being in little ole Dublin.  Ali took great delight in being invited to meet the Taoiseach, noting that Western countries usually didn’t invite him to meet the Prime Minister.

Ali Garda

This book is a joyous, uplifting and entertaining read.  It is full of fun and brilliant anecdotes that capture the people, the time and the place.  It’s surreal to imagine the most famous black man in the world walking through Dublin at a time when any scale of immigration was in the very distant future.  Hannigan captures a clear sense of a particular time in Dublin with the Troubles never far from anyone’s mind.

Those who spoke to Hannigan clearly cherished the memories of their interactions with Ali.  In particular, the book will make you want to seek out Paddy Monaghan’s own book – a London-born Irishman adopted into Ali’s entourage like so many other strays.  Hannigan also tells the fascinating stories of the promoters, Harold Conrod and Butty Sugrue, and Ali’s opponent in the fight, the reformed Al “Blue” Lewis whose own life story is fascinating.

There are some interesting thoughts on what impact Ireland may have had on Ali – did the love of an almost entirely white country help Ali to see that not all whites were “devils”?  Ali was clearly interested in the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the idea of the Irish as an oppressed people.  It couldn’t have hurt at least!

Hannigan recounts an interview Ali did on RTE One which captures Ali’s worldview at this time.  The entire interview is well worth checking out in the YouTube link below.

Ali interviewed on RTÉ

Over a decade later, Hannigan would revisit another Ali fight – his final fight – in Drama in the Bahamas (2016).  This later book is a grimmer, less joyful, tale that captures a fighter unable to say goodbye to the fame and adulation – that fame and adulation that is captured so well in The Big Fight which makes them an interesting pair of excellent books to read together.

The full Ali v Lewis fight is available on YouTube

And here’s 12 I prepared earlier

Before starting this blog, I very occasionally reviewed books on Goodreads.  This post captures 12 long ago, and in many cases forgotten, musings on a wide selection of sports books.  Some of these are in the re-read pile and will get a fuller, updated review when I get to enjoy them again.  These 12 cover a range of topics including: Boxing’s 4 Kings, Brazilian and German football, Irish cycling and drugs in sport.

Ringside.jpg    Drama     fifa.jpg  brazil

1) ‘A Ringside Affair: Boxing’s Last Golden Age’ by James Lawton

A Ringside Affair is a love letter to boxing from one of the UK’s great sportswriters. Each chapter covers one of the great fights or fighters that Lawton had the immense pleasure of witnessing throughout his career. It’s clear that the era of the Four Kings
(Leonard, Hearns, Hagler and Duran) stands out as the golden age of the title, but it’s the career of Iron Mike Tyson which clearly shines through in the book. Lawton’s admiration for young Tyson’s talent is only topped by his disappointment at the Tyson’s eventual troubles and crimes.

Lawton’s accounts really bring the fights to life as well as placing them clearly in their time and place. His passion and love for the sport shines through. Its a work of remembrance and of celebration as Lawton reflects on his career.

For all fight fans the book is a fantastic summary of 30 years of top level boxing. It’s excellently written and will make you want to pull out the you tube videos and track down the great boxing books.  I highly recommend it.

2) ‘Drama in the Bahamas’ by Dave Hannigan

An entertaining and in-depth look at Ali’s last fight and the sad spectacle it was. The book is best enjoyed by someone well versed in Ali’s life story – it paints some characters a bit too thinly for anyone coming to Ali;s story without a reasonable knowledge of the cast of characters that surrounded the Champ.

Hannigan paints a picture of an Ali who is his own worst enemy.  It is apparent that there is no is villain guiding Ali to fight one last time. It really appears to be Ali himself and his own desire for attention and love that motivates him to take one more totally unnecessary and disproportionate risk.

Like all Hannigan’s work, it’s an enjoyable read and a welcome addition to the library of Ali books.

3) ‘The Fall of the House of Fifa: The Multimillion-Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer’ by David Conn

I greatly enjoyed this book on FIFA’s troubled history. Its extensively researched and well written. As a follower of David’s writing in the Guardian the book lives up to expectations.

Its a sad reminder of the scale of corruption and the breath of individuals involved. Blatter emerges as not quite the villain but rather the enabler and master politician. There is plenty of new material even for those following FIFA closely, especially a fascinating interview with a post retirement Blatter.

The only criticism is that it is a bit too detailed at times. Sometimes the narrative could be shortened and there is a bit of repetition at times.

All in all its a highly recommend for anyone interest in football politics or just good journalism.

4) ‘Shocking Brazil: Six Games That Shook the World Cup’ by Fernando Duarte

Very enjoyable history of Brazilian football. Examining the most successful team in history by focusing on their lowest moments, Durate paints a convincing narrative of the impact each of these games had on shaping the team.

One of many books to come out in the lead up to the Brazil World Cup, Durate captured a lessor seen angle of the 5 times champions.   Considering that the worst defeat of all was yet to come – who will ever forget that 7 – 1 – its a timely book and one that will remain relevant as Brazil try to rise again in Russia.

The writer is also a very entertaining journalist and great as a guest on football podcasts.

Das reboot   Match  vol  nowehere

5) ‘Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World’ by Raphael Honigstein

A really enjoyable read with great insight into the rise and rise of German football.  At times the narrative jumps between time periods and between the national team and domestic games in a confusing manner.   A good companion piece to ‘Tor! The Story of German Football’ by Ulrich Hesse to complete the picture of how the world champions became the world champions.

6)’Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga’ by Ronald Reng

Ronald Reng is the author of the heart-breaking, beautiful book ‘A Life Too Short’ about the late Robert Enke.

His second book to be translated to English, Matchdays, is a biography of Heinz Hoher – a real journeyman of German football – a bit of a Wes Hoolihan as a player (talented but often stuck as a flair player in second division) and a bit of an Alan Pardew as a manager (decent at bottom half/middle table teams) but a complete ****.  Hoher is quite the character – quitting jobs on a whim, drinking to the point of collapsing on first day of a new job, just missing out on Dortmund job to Hitzfeld.

Reng uses Hoher’s story to tell the story of the Bundesliga from its inception in the 60’s to current day – how it has changed and how the German public’s attitude towards it evolved.

All round an enjoyable, if slightly overlong, read.  The style takes a bit of getting use to – although I’m not sure if it that is the author’s style or a result of the translation.

7) ‘Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager’ by Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin is modern footballer’s great chronicler.  He examines the less beautiful side of English football shining a light on the real life experiences of those who live and breath the game.  Living on the Volcano focuses on the stresses of football management – showing the cost, the emotion and the real lived experience of managers at almost every level of the game.  It is an interesting and enjoyable read that offers a unique perspective of the job we all love to try on a computer game.

The book does suffer from Calvin at times being a bit too close to some of the subjects.  Its hard not to get the sense that he lets the fact he grows to like many of his interviewees/subjects as people get in the way of his objectivity as a football journalist.

8) ‘The Nowhere Men’ by Michael Calvin

Before data, analytics and youtube, talent needed to be scouted. Calvin’s book offers a fascinating insight into the enclosed world of football scouts in the UK

It chronicles a profession teetering on the edge – slowly being replaced by technology (and those who use it) yet a profession that continues to prove that data alone can’t tell you everything.

Above all, the love of football some of the scouts who work for mileage only is amazing, inspiring and heart-breaking all at the same time.

roche   Race   Running with Fire   Nike

9) ‘Born to Ride’ by Stephen Roche

Very interesting and enjoyable book. A chronicle of a time when Irish cyclists ruled the world.  Roche really was some rider had an incredible career and I wish I had been older in 1987 to have been swept up in the Roche/Kelly era.  Roche’s book is well worth a read for any cycling fan.

As with all cycling books, the issue of drugs hangs over every story like a bad smell.  Roche does at least address the drugs controversy which emerged after he retired.  His position is not entirely convincing and it is very hard not to believe his accusers.  Roche may have been part of the problem, and is definitely not willing to be part of the solution, but his achievements should not be underesimated.  If he was clean, its doubtful there has ever been a greater Irish sportsman.

Hunger by Sean Kelly is a very good companion book to give Kelly’s perspective of days that Irish cycling will never see again.

10) ‘The Dirtiest Race in History’ by Richard Moore

Moore is better known as a cycling journalist and writer.  Here, he moves away from cycling to the other sport dominated by drugs.  He crafts the story of the 1988 Olympic 100m final where Ben Johnson smashed the world record then dramatically failed a drug test.  Will there ever be another Olympic final where so many competitors had their legacies tarnished as the testers caught up with the cheats?

The book provides an in-depth look at Johnson’s rivalry with Carl Lewis and both of their journey’s to Seoul.  Johnson’s assertion that, while he was on lots of drugs, he never actually took the drug that the test found creates a bizarre and intriguing story.

It is well written, well researched and entertaining.  It provides an interesting look at drugs in sport in general – although Moore’s eagerness to believe in Team Sky over the years totally unfairly taints his comments on drugs in sport in my eyes.   Highly recommend.

11) ‘Running with Fire: The True Story of Harold Abrahams’ by Manterrk Ryan 

Very enjoyable biography of the 100m Olympic gold medalist and legend of athletics officialdom. Charts the prejudice he faced for being Jewish, his fantastic athletic career and even more successful (and interesting) administration career after he retired.

A must read for any fans of Chariots of Fire.

12) ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight.

Every long lasting company needs its origin myth.  What is unusual is the founder telling his story so long after the fact. Shoe Dog is both a sports book and a business book.  It is much better than I would have expected.

Knight tells the story of the founding of Nike and its early years before it broke into the big time.  It ticks the usual boxes of near disaster, dramatic recovery and eventually incredible growth.

What becomes clear is that for Knight, the early years are where is heart remains. It is a loving reflection on the days before he became a bazillionaire and a love letter to Steve Prefontaine.

I would have liked it to go a little further and look at the signing of Jordan and the groundbreaking nature of that change for Nike and for sport.

Bowerman and the Men of Oregon by Kenny Moore is a great companion piece to round out the story of the technical genius that combined with Knight’s business brain to change the sporting world.

 

 

The best books (I’ve read) on Muhammad Ali

Not all of these books are specifically about Ali, but he is a central figure in all of them.  For those who just want a list:

  • King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero (1998) by David Remnick
  • Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World (2008) by David Maraniss
  • Night Train (2000) by Nick Tosches
  • Drama in the Bahama’s (2016) by Dave Hannigan
  • The Big Fight (2002) by Dave Hannigan
  • Ali: A Life (2017) by Joathan Eig

My cousin boxed for Ireland as a youngster and just missed out on the Atlanta Olympics.  My uncle, is father, was my intro to boxing and to boxing books.  I was first exposed to Muhammad Ali as a young kid watching some old tapes in my uncles house.  I remember thinking that how can he be the greatest when he lost so many times.  Surely “undefeated champion” beats “multiple times champion” every day of the week.  I remember watching Ali light the Olympic flame in Atlanta as a 12 year old and wondering why this guy was the hero, why was he loved so much by so many.  Then I read King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero (1998) by David Remnick.

Ali

Its been over 15 years since I read this book, not long after it was first published. As anyone who has read any Remnick will know, its written with the style and with the imagination that has characterised all of his work. It is a wonderful book.

It was one of the first books I read that put any sportsman in the cultural context in which they operated.  The majority of the book deals with the time-frame between Ali’s (then Cassius Clay) first heavyweight title fight against Sonny Liston, and the rematch between Liston & Ali.

I remember the vivid descriptions of Floyd Patterson – an incredibly sympathetic figure for a world heavyweight champion.  Sonny Liston too looms large in the book.  Most of all what struck me was that Remnick showed that great sportsmen are a lot more like you and me than we often think.   Remnick captured some of Ali’s lightening in a bottle and the reasons he became such a dominant cultural figure.   It showed me why, and how, a black man who converted to Islam and refused to fight became a cultural hero in a US where racism, love of military and fear of Islam have always been, and remain, at the very heart of the nation’s psyche. On a personal level, he showed me that sports books can tell you as much about a time and a place as any of the greatest literature.  A re-read is long overdue (along with a more detailed review).

Since then, Ali has loomed large in other boxing books I’ve read and loved – as the young brash Olympian in Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World (2008) by David Maraniss.  It captures the attractiveness of young Cassisus Clay and hints at the man he would become.  In Night Train (2000), Nick Tosches dark and wonderful book about Sonny Liston, life and the American Dream, Ali serves a counterpoint to the often overlooked and unloved Liston.  In Dave Hannigan’s excellent Drama in the Bahama’s (2016) he is the pitiful exploited figure unable and unwilling to listen to reason and call time on his wonderful career.

Hannigan previous book, The Big Fight (2002) chronicles a week that Muhammad Ali spent in Dublin and his fight with fight Al “Blue” Lewis in Croke Park in July 1972.  Hannigan tells the story of Ali in Ireland through the experiences of those who saw, met and interacted with him in Dublin.  At the time, Ali was on the comeback trail following his first fight, and loss, to Joe Frazier.  Given his long lay off while he refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army, it was unclear whether Ali would ever be the same fighter he once was.  He was still just 30 years of age however and it would turn out that his biggest days remained ahead of him.  He was, and would remain for a long time, the single biggest and best known figure in world sport.

The Big Fight captures the magic and charisma of Ali while also capturing some of the magic and uniqueness of Ireland. It is hard to imagine any figure capturing quite the same attention and affection that Ali did – perhaps only the reception achieved by another famous African-American with distant Irish heritage, Barack Obama, compares.

Shortly after Ali’s death, I saw repeated reference’s to Thomas Hauser’s iconic Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times (1991) as the definitive book on Ali.  Regularly cited as the greatest book about the Greatest, I read it almost immediately.  It deserves every word of praise it receives.

Ali Hauser

Hauser’s genius is to present the reader with a unique compilation of different peoples’ accounts of Ali throughout his career and life.   The book presents Ali as who he was to those who experienced him – as well as adding many of Ali’s own words.  Hauser knows when to step away and let the protagonists tell their own tale.  He presents the good, the bad, and the ugly.  His wonderful skill, his bravery, his commitment, his beauty, his pacifism and his words.  And also his mistreatment of women, his misguided behaviour while in the Nation of Islam and his need to keep fighting when it was clearly the wrong thing to do. By the end of the book, a hero emerges. His kindness, his grace, his love shines through.

More recently, I read Ali: A Life (2017) by Joathan Eig.  Its an extremely enjoyable and detailed book that deserves to be mentioned alongside the work of Remnick and Hauser but doesn’t quite reach their heights.  

ALi Eig

I was a bit sceptical as to the need for a new bio of one of the worlds most written about men. The wonderful cover of the book made me curious however and I wasn’t disappointed. Eig had superb access to the remaining members of the Ali entourage as well as access to huge volumes of new material, including FBI materials and analysis of the punches taken by Ali.  This new insight makes the book a welcome addition to the chronicles of Ali.

The book is an honest account of Ali, his contradictions and his genius. It captures what he meant to his time and place and why his legacy is so enduring.  It is a thoroughly enjoyable read and given its scope – being the first major biography published after Ali’s death, I highly recommend it as a one stop source in Ali’s incredible life. It is a book best read while pausing at the retelling each fight to watch the action on YouTube then savouring the description on the page. 

By his later years, Ali became a figure upon whom millions projected the characteristics they wanted their hero’s to have.   What is clear is only a very special person could have chosen the path Ali did.  Only a very special person could have touched so many people – only a very special person could declare himself the Greatest, then make it clear that that was an understatement.

Ali’s story is also the story of his time and place.  He held up a mirror to the America he found – and dragged many people with him towards developing a more tolerant more loving worldview.  For a man who punched people for a living and once preached radical racial separation, its quite the achievement.