‘The War: Hagler-Hearns and Three Rounds For The Ages’ by Don Stradley (2021)

A whole book about 8 minutes of boxing? Yep, and it’s one of the best books I read in 2021.

The era of the Four Kings continues to occupy a revered place in boxing lore. A large part of that reverence stems from the willingness of the contenders to fight each other but also the personalities and achievements of Leonard and Duran in particular. Not all crowns are equal and Hagler and Hearns are undoubtedly somewhere below Leonard and Duran in their place in the boxing pantheon. However, they both elevated their legacy and the sport when they faced each other in April 1985.

Hagler v Hearns took place at a time when boxing was struggling to recover from Sugar Ray Leonard’s retirement and a growing focus on the dangers of the sport. The book tells a number of stories all centered around three rounds of boxing that are simply unforgettable in their intensity and drama.

At it’s heart, the book is a character study of two fighters seeking fame, fortune and recognition. Two men who had enormous talent but lacked the natural charisma of Leonard, the compelling energy of Duran and who just couldn’t seem to break through the barrier that separates champion from superstar. Above all, it’s about two men who were searching for greatness and were willing to leave everything behind in the ring to achieve it.

It also tells the story of boxing in the 1980’s, it’s rise with Leonard, and it’s fall before Iron Mike Tyson would again draw US TV audiences in the same kind of manner. It captures the politics, the money, the frustration, the marketing and above all the audacity of Bob Arum in promoting a fight that wasn’t as natural a sell as Leonard v Anybody but which proved a huge success using any metric.

And of course it’s also a story about 8 minutes of boxing. The first round in particular has gone down as one of the greatest rounds of all time. The second and third offer no less drama, intensity, and passion. Stradley captures this through commentary and reflections of many of those present and paints the scene in Vegas, the glitz and glamour, the danger and the risk, in wonderful compelling detail.

The Hagler–Hearns fight played a significant role in cementing the legacy of the Four Kings. The War tells the story of the fight and the fighters but also captures what the fight meant to the sport and the sport meant to America at a time when boxing, and even middleweight boxing, could bring the country to a standstill.

Read the book, watch the fight, pick up Four Kings by George Kimball and watch the recent Four Kings Showtime documentary. Then thank me after.

What an amazing painting on the cover by @kelley_AK

Gladiator by Francesco Totti with Paolo Condo, and tr. by Anthony Wright (2021)

I’ve long commented on the lack of availability of translated versions of non-English sports books. So many interesting stories and insights that those of us who sadly don’t speak French, German, Spanish etc. miss out on. Thankfully this seems to be changing with a growing number of Italian football books getting an English translation – perhaps building on the success of Pirlo’s excellent book a few years ago.

2021 saw two such books which were of massive interest to me. Firstly, and I’ve tweeted repeatedly about this one, Arrigo Sacchi’s book on the great Milan ‘Immortals’ team was published in English by the excellent Backpage Press. A brilliantly interesting and enjoyable book, it shed a light on his tactics, his players, Berlusconi and Italian football of the late 80’s.

Even more recently, deCoubertin Books has published the autobiography of the A.S. Roma and Italy legend Francesco Totti. The uncrowned 8th King of Rome, Totti played and scored for the Gallorossi more times than any other player (indeed he even got more Serie A goals than any other footballer since the 1940s). He was club captain for 20 years and played a pivotal role in Italy’s World Cup win in 2006.

Totti was a player who could make anyone fall in love with football. A number 10 in the most perfect sense of the phrase. In an era of great playmakers in Italian football, he stood out for his consistency, the quality of his passing and his demeanor on the pitch. He operated as a world class playmaker, a world class goalscorer and a scorer of world class goals. On top of this, his commitment to Roma at the expense of even greater fame and fortune endeared him not just to the red half of Rome but to fans around the world. Players who stay at single club for their whole careers, particularly international stars, are so rare that they achieve a unique place in fans’ imaginations.

A montage of ridiculous moments of skill

Gladiator is a relatively typical autobiography in terms of format and structure, recounting Totti’s life story and peppered with insights into players, managers and others who played a big role in Totti’s life. The book dives deeper into some select areas including Roma’s Scudetto victory, Antonio Cassano’s entertaining time at the club and Italy’s World Cup win in 2006. It also highlights specific times in his career when his destiny nearly changed – being offered a contract first at Milan, Bianchi trying to sign Litmanen and rejecting the chance to become a Galactico in Madrid. Unsurprisingly his departure from Roma as a player (he remains as a director) is also covered in depth The choices of areas to focus on are well made and the book remains interesting throughout.

Most fascinating to me is Totti’s own description of his talent. From an early age he knew just how good he was. At each point of his early career, his experience reinforced to him that he was in fact better than almost any other player in Italy. Yet somehow this knowledge didn’t lead to his destruction but instead gave him the confidence to emerge as a leader and club captain at a very young age. In the book he manages to capture this understanding of his ability without the arrogance of a Zlatan Ibrahomivic but without displaying false modesty either.

The book also captures what he means to the city of Rome (the red half at least) and the price that love had on Totti personally. Repeatedly in the book he laments (but doesn’t whinge) about not being able to enjoy living in one of the world’s great cities because to walk around outside is to be inundated by hundreds of fans. He shares some funny anecdotes which capture the intensity of his celebrity in the city.

For any fan who smiles when remembering Totti at his peak, this is a must-read. If you made it this far without watching the YouTube video montage of his greatest pieces of skill scroll back up right now. The book is coauthored by one of Italy’s foremost sportswriters, Paolo Condo, and translated by Anthony Wright and published (in English) by deCourbtin books.

Not a bad looking chap to be fair

‘The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life’ by Thomas Pletzinger (2022)

For any basketball fan, Dirk Nowitzki, the former 2007 NBA MVP and 2011 NBA Champion needs no introduction. It is not an exaggeration to call him a basketball revolutionary, a 7 footer who played like a guard and a man who helped make the sport more variable, creative and smarter.

Pletzinger, a German novelist and sportswriter, traveled with the Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki for seven years, seeking the secret of his success and longevity. Most interestingly he spent this time with Nowitzki in the later years of his career – the period between his 2011 NBA title and his 2019 eventual retirement after a remarkable 25 years as a Dallas Maverick.

As a result, like a normal biography, the early years of Nowitzki’s career are told through the memories of the vast number of people Pletzinger spoke to. However, at no point does this feel like a typical biography as the time Pletzinger spends with the player himself and his personal coach Holger Geschwinder, leads to an openness that is both refreshing and rare.

Central to Nowitzki’s career, and his life since turning 15, is the fascinating figure of Geschwinder. Described alternatively as a shooting coach, master coach, manager, psychologist, janitor, clairvoyant, consultant and friend, Geschwinder was the mentor who helped Nowitkzi turn his potential into world beating talent. Together player and coach identified the importance of sacrifice, discipline, and to work without compromise with the book capturing their legendary personal workouts to hone Nowitzki’s body and shooting. It’s impossible to do justice to their relationship without capturing the minutiae of their dynamic as Pletzinger so excellently does.

Trailer for ‘Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot’ a 2014 feature length documentary on Nowitzki’s career (available free on Roku in the USA)

The strongest parts of the book are those which capture Pletzinger’s personal interaction with Nowitzki and the surrounding ‘Dirkmania’. They capture Nowitzki’s life, his personality, his way of carrying himself in an intimate manner denied most biographers. They also cover the most interesting part of any player’s career, those post peak years when Nowitzki is both an active player and a legend. As Pletzinger says, the book is his ‘quest to find the significance of Nowitzki… [his] attempt to make sense of Dirk Nowitzki’. The Nowitzki he ultimately finds is remarkable for his ordinariness while living, and making the sacrifices required to live, an extraordinary life.

This is a special book. A really great read that captures the uniqueness of Nowitzki, his impact on basketball & Dallas and the sacrifice & dedication required to play at the top level for so long. It works not just as biography but as a story of sporting fame and fandom. Of the symbiotic relationship between a superstar and his city, country and the broad range of people touched by his feats of sporting greatness. Comparison’s to The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam’s masterpiece of sport’s writing are valid in how engrossing, engaging and special this book is – and there is no greater praise I can give a book than that.

The book was published in German a couple of years ago shortly after Nowitzki’s final game. However the translation has been done very carefully – Pletzinger describes it as a ‘cultural translation’ with parts being edited, added and removed to suit the intended US audience. It is clearly a successful approach from how readable the book is.

Sports Books coming in 2022

This list was originally published in December 2021 – for a more up-to-date list of books being published over the second half of 2022 check out this page (published on 14 May 2022) – https://allsportsbooks.reviews/2022/05/14/sports-books-coming-later-in-2022/

It’s time for my annual list of sports books coming over the next 12 months that I am looking forward to. The twitter thread is always my most popular of the year and this post contains the same list but sorted by sport. So here goes:

Boxing

  • The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison by Carlos Acevedo @CruelestSport. The tragic story of the boxer whose lifestyle spiraled out of control. Acevedo is the author of the excellent A Sporting Blood and this looks to be a great combination of author, subject and publisher @HamilcarPubs. One of the books I’m looking forward to most in 2022.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Rugby

  • Unforgettable by Steve Thompson @Tommo33s. The World Cup winning front row writes about his career and the brutal toll the injuries, and eventual early onset dementia, has taken on him and his family.
  • 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.

Soccer

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • The Last Busby Babe: The Autobiography of Sammy McIlroy (with Wayne Barton @WayneSBarton). Autobiography of the former Northern Ireland, Manchester United and Stoke City player. McIlroy also managed the GAWA after winning 88 caps and appearing in the 1982 World Cup.
  • 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!
  • Glorious Reinvention: The Rebirth of Ajax Amsterdam by Karan Tejwani @Karan_Tejwani26. A look at the Dutch club’s return to the heights of European football by the author of the excellent Wings of Change.
  • On Football by Jorge Valdano. I think this a reprint of the previous book by the former Real Madrid player and executive. Valdono’s writing on football is always interesting so looking forward to getting this new version.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • Rooney: Teenage Kicks: The Street Footballer Who Ruled the World by Wayne Barton @WayneSBarton. A look at the former Everton, Man Utd and England star’s early years when he burst onto the English football scene as the next great superstar aged 16. Barton is the leading writer of books on Man Utd and continuous to churn out interesting, engaging books each year.
  • 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.
  • Fields of Wonder: The incredible story of Northern Ireland’s journey to the 1982 World Cup by Evan Marshall. The author of Spirit of ’58, tells the story of Northern Ireland’s unlikely journey to the 1982 World Cup during a the height of the Troubles.
  • High Noon: The Falklands, the Hand of God and the Goal of the Century by Michael Gibbons @mikewgibbons. The story of the famous World Cup quarter-final in 1986 between England and Argentina at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium. Set amid a tense political situation, and featuring Diego Maradona at his mercurial best, the game remains among the most famous ever played.
  • Fit and Proper People: The Lies and Fall of OWNAFC by Martin Calladine @uglygame and James Cave @againstleague3. Sports fans must seem like an easy target for shady tech-linked businesses with the likes of the now defunct Football Index seeking to cash in on novel concepts of fandom. In 2019, an app called OWNAFC hit the market promising football fans the chance to buy and run their own club. Just a few months later it collapsed, leaving customers hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket.  The complete tale is told here.
  • The O’Leary Years: Football’s Greatest Boom and Bust by Rocco Dean @roclufc. A look at a fascinating period in English football where Leeds splashed the cash and looked to return to the summit of the game before the house of cards came crashing down.
  • A History of European Football in 100 Objects: The Alternative Football Museum by Andy Bollen @nirvanadiary. An interesting looking take on European Football history by the author of the excellent Fierce Genius.
  • A New Formation: How Black Footballer’s Shaped the Modern Game by Calum Jacobs. Features contibutions from past players including Ian Wright and Andy Cole. @MerkyBooks
  • Football’s Great War: Association Football on the English Home Front, 1914-1918 by Alexander Jackson. The curator @DrAlexJack1 of the Football Museum in Manchester explores how conflict reshaped the People’s Game on the English Home Front.
  • My Untold Story by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The legendary, ageless, Swede’s first book was very enjoyable and the second promises to be just as entertaining. It is already published in Italy and Spain with English edition expected in 2022.
  • How Money Changed Football: From the Premier League to Non-League by Philip Woods.
  • Kit and Caboodle: Football’s Shirt Stories by Matt Riley @TalesThai
  • The Cup: A Pictorial Celebration of the World’s Greatest Football Tournament by Richard Whitehead @RWhitehead61. As the FA Cup turns 150, this book should be a nostalgia fest for any English football fan.
  • From Kids to Champions by Jonny Brick @jonnybrick. Host of the Football Library radio show writes about the FA Youth Cup.
  • Essential Practice Sessions: The Ultimate Program for an Entire Season of Training by Carl Wild. For any soccer coaches out there.
  • 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. Of particular interest now that the mastermind of the Red Bull approach is the Man Utd manager!
  • Post Punk Football by Jim Keoghan @Jim_Keoghan. New book from the author of ‘Is it Just Me or is Modern Football is S**t’, ‘How to Run a Football Club’.
  • 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.
  • The Dundee Derby by Jeff Webb. @DerbyDundee From the author of Scotland’s Lost Football Clubs.
  • Radical Football: Jürgen Griesbeck and the Story of Football for Good by Steve Fleming @RadicalFooty. Story of a collective mission to unleash the power of football for the benefit of people and the planet. Fleming presents a hopeful vision for football’s future.
  • Get it On: How the ’70s Rocked Football by Jon Spurling @JonSpurling1. The fascinating inside story of how commercialism, innovation, racism and hooliganism rocked English football in the ’70s.
  • Fields of Dreams and Broken Fences: Delving into the Mystery World of Non-League Football by Aaron Moore @aaron_moore25.
  • Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money: Sheffield United by @JasonHolyhead. Charting United’s dramatic fall from the edge of Europe in the mid 1970’s.
  • 71/72 Football’s Greatest Season by Daniel Abrahams. @71Season

Basketball

  • Muggsy: My Life from a Kid in the Projects to the Godfather of the Small Ball by Tyrone ‘ Muggsy’ Bogues @MuggsyBogues with Jacob Uitti @jakeuitti. Autobiography from the 5 ft 3 point guard, famously the shortest ever player in the NBA. Muggsy got a lot of praise in Scottie Pippen’s recent book Unguarded too.
  • Magic Johnson by Roland Lazenby @lazenby. The author of excellent biographies of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant amongst others focusses this time on Magic Johnson.
  • The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life by Thomas Pletzinger. Pletzinger, a German novelist and sportswriter, traveled with the Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki for more than seven years, seeking the secret of his success and longevity.  Promises to be a fascinating read.
  • Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Krzyzewski by Ian O’Connor @Ian_OConnor. The author of the excellent ‘Belichick’ and ‘The Jump’ examines the career of the legendary Duke basketball coach.  
  • The Last Enforcer: Outrageous Stories from the Life and Times of one of the NBA’s Fiercest Competitors by Charles Oakley @CharlesOakley34 with Frank Isola @TheFrankIsola. This promises to be a fascinating book from one of the most interesting players from the 90’s era NBA.
  • 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.
  • Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990’s New York Knicks by Chris Herring @Herring_NBA. It’s hard to remember the Knicks used to be wildly popular. I’m looking forward to this history of how Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley resurrected the iconic franchise through oppressive physicality and unmatched grit.
  • The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality by Mike Sielski @MikeSielski. A new biography of the late basketball star which benefits from access to a series of recorded interviews from his senior high school season and the start of his NBA career.
  • Hoops: A Cultural History of Basketball in America by Thomas Aiello @thomasaiello. A cultural history of the sport from the street to the highest levels of professional competition. The book argues that the game has existed in a reciprocal relationship with the broader culture, both embodying conflicts over race, class, and gender and serving as public theater for them. 
  • Black Market: An Insider’s Journey into the High-Stakes World of College Basketball by Merl Code. From a former college basketball player and shoe rep for Nike, this explosive insider’s account into the dark underworld of college basketball exposes the corrupt and racist systems that exploit young athletes and offers a new way forward

NFL / American Football

  • Surviving Washington by Robert Griffin III @RGIII with Gary Myers @GaryMyersNY. The much anticipated tell-all from the former Washington Quarterback who was briefly the most famous and exciting star in American sport.
  • 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.
  • Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn’t) by Mike Florio. A wide ranging look at how the NFL really operates and continues to thrive despite constant scandals.
  • 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”.
  • Hometown Victory: A Coach’s Story of Football, Fate, and Coming Home by Keanon Lowe @KeanonLowe and Justin Spizman. Lowe was working in the NFL when he chose to return home after losing a friend to opioids to coach a team of high school kids from broken homes on a 23-game losing streak to victory.
  • 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.
  • Draft Day Confidential by Thomas George. A behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the NFL Draft.
  • 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.
  • The Road to the Horseshoe and Beyond: How a Small-Town Athlete Benefited from Ohio State Football to Build a Life by Rex Kern. A memoir of the former Ohio State football star who has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and spent 4 years in the NFL.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • From Gold Teeth to Gold Jacket: My Life in Football and Business by Edgerrin James @EdgerrinJames32 with John Harris. Autobiography of the Hall of Fame running back Edgerrin James.
  • Watch My Smoke: The Eric Dickerson Story by Eric Dickerson @EricDickerson with Greg Hanlon @GregHanlon. Autobiography of Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson which is getting a lot of praise for its openness and coverage of the racism he experienced.
  • Cotton Davidson, the Rifleman of the AFL. Memoir of former Baylor, Colts and Oakland Raiders quarterback who also played as a punter and placekicker before a 20 plus year career coaching quarterbacks.
  • Through the Banks of the Red Cedar: My Father and the Team that Changed the Game by Maya Washington @imayawashington. A memoir of Gene Washington’s football career by his daughter. This story was first a documentary which is now being published as a book.

Baseball

  • 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 enchancing steroids and the impact that confession had on baseball. @AbramsPress
  • 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
  • Broken Game: The Rise of the Dodgers in a League on the Brink by Pedro Moura @pedromoura. An inside look at how the Dodgers won their first MLB championship in more than 30 years. The book also charts the relentless focus on winning in the post-Moneyball era and the extent to which changes have sent TV ratings and attendance numbers in long, slow decline.
  • 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!
  • The Real Hank Aaron: An Intimate Look at the Life and Legacy of The Home Run King by Terence Moore @TMooreSports.
  • 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.
  • In Scoring Position: 40 Years of a Baseball Love Affair by Bill Chuck and Bob Ryan. A love letter to the game of baseball.  
  • Mantle: The Best There Ever Was by Tony Castro @Tony_Castro. A bio of the Yankees legend which makes the case for him being the greatest ever to play the game.

Cycling

  • 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.
  • God is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke by Andy McGrath @Andymcgra. Story of the handsome mercurial Belgian cycling prodigy Frank Vandenbroucke who won a number of prestigious races but ultimately lived faster than he raced.
  • 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.

Golf

  • The Cup They Couldn’t Lose: America, The Ryder Cup, and the Long Road to Whistling Straits by Shane Ryan @ShaneRyanHere. A look at the most recent Ryder Cup which was more dramatic in the build up than the Cup itself!
  • 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’.
  • Tiger and Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry by Bob Harig @BobHarig. Before there was Brooks v Bryson there was Tiger v Phil. Mickelson’s career and public image have been defined by the contrast with Woods. Robotic and reticent versus affable and extroverted, ruthless efficient vs everyman ordinariness. Promises to be an interesting book.

Miscellaneous

  • College Spots on the Brink of Disaster: The Rise of Pay-for-Play and the Fall of the Scholar Athlete by John Lebar and Allen Paul. First published as Marching Toward Madness this is being updated and republished. It argues for radical reforms to college sports but strongly opposes paying the players. An easier case to make when you’re an author and not a 19 year old playing on national television for room and board!
  • A Delicate Game: Brain Injury, Sport, and Sacrifice by Hana Walker-Brown @HWalker_Brown. A look at sport, brain injury and CTE by the creator of The Beautiful Brain, an award-winning podcast.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dynamite & Davey: The Explosive Lives of The British Bulldogs by Steven Bell @steven_bell1985. Biography of two larger than life British wrestlers that anyone growing up in the 90s will remember well.
  • Rise: My Story by Lyndsey Vonn. A memoir from the most decorated female skier of all time.
  • The All-rounder: The inside story of big time cricket by Dan Christian. The Aussie cricketer has been a gun for hire for team’s around the world.
  • Different Class: The Untold Story of English Cricket by Duncan Stone @StoneDunk. A social and cultural history of cricket in England which the author reckons will ruffle a few feathers. @RepeaterBooks
  • Loserville: How Professional Sports Remade Atlanta – and How Atlanta Remade Professional Sports by Clayton Trutor @ClaytonTrutor
  • Running and Jumping by Steven Kedie @stevenkedie. A fictional story about an Olympic rivalry set between Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016.
  • Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe by David Maraniss @davidmaraniss. The author of the impossibly brilliant When Pride Still Mattered (and other amazing books) turns his pen to the life of Jim Thorpe, probably the greatest all-round athlete of all time.
  • The Mosquito Fleet by Lachlan Waterman @lahlan_waterman. Tells the story of the all-conquering Carlton Aussie Rules football side from the last 70s/early 80s.

Books with limited details

  • In addition to the bountiful list above we can expect a range of books whose titles aren’t known including
    • Jeff Pearlman’s @jeffpearlman next book will be on the legendary Bo Jackson – a two-sport star who was gifted beyond comprehension but whose career was cut short due to injury. I cannot wait for this one.
    • A 3rd book from @petercrouch, the former footballer whose first two books were very entertaining.
    • The first ever family authorized biography of Duncan Edwards, the Man Utd player who was tipped to become an all time great before he died tragically at just 21 in the Munich Air Disaster. Written by Wayne Barton @WayneSBarton.
    • A new book from Chris Lepkowski @chrislepkowski, former WBA media head and author of From Buzaglo To Balis.
    • A new book in Autumn from John McNicoll @theWishyman80, the author of An Ode to Four Four Two.
    • A new book by Chris Lee @CMRLee, the man behind the Outside Write podcast and the author of ‘Origin Stories: The Pioneers Who Took Football to the World’. @outsidewrite
    • A book by Stu Horsfield @loxleymisty44, author of the excellent Brazil 1982. Topic and Title yet to be revealed.
    • Book on Middlesboro’s first trophy win and European adventure by @PhilSpenc23
    • Biography of Bronko Nagurski, a pro football Hall of Famer who was also a Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion by Chris Willis @cdwillis83.

‘Rebound: From Pain to Passion – Leadership Lessons Learned’ by Matt Doherty (2021)

Part biography, part motivational guidebook, college basketball coach Matt Doherty’s Rebound is a interesting, wise and entertaining read.

Doherty is best known as head coach of the men’s basketball programs at Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina. In his playing days, he was a teammate of Michael Jordan on UNC’s National Championship winning team. He also coached SMU among other teams, worked as an NBA scout and a college basketball conference official.

Rebound isn’t a straightforward biography as throughout the book Doherty carefully analyses his own experience with a view to both understanding what happened and distilling his motivations, actions and lessons learned along the way. Doherty took it upon himself to go to business school and learn about the academic side of leadership. This book is his attempt to apply those lessons to his own life and impart some of his hard won wisdom along the way.

His career is best defined by the title of the book ‘Rebound’ as Doherty experienced many highs and lows along the way. It is the moments of derailment or setback where the book is at its strongest – Doherty dealing with his realization he wouldn’t make the pros as a player or losing his dream coaching job. Doherty’s personal renewal is a core part of his identity and his leadership style.

Combining biography with trying to impart lessons on life and leadership is a difficult task. The book is very similar in style to soccer manager Carlo Ancelloti’s book Quiet Leadership. Like that book, Rebound works very well largely because of the genuineness of the writing and the passion of the writer.

‘Achieving the Impossible – the Remarkable Story of Greece’s EURO 2004 Victory’ by George Tsitsonis (2020)

In 2004, Greece won the European Championships. Greece. The men’s football European Championship.

It bears repeating as even now, 16 years on, it still doesn’t sound quite right. Denmark winning in 1992 was odd enough, but they had players that either had, or would go on to, achieve fame within the sport. Greece were, well, Greece.

Achieving the Impossible is the first full length book in English about this remarkable modern football fairytale. The book traces the modern history of the Greek team and Greek football. Blessed with a relatively strong domestic league for its size, the national team was traditionally held back by the lack of players playing abroad and club rivalries being carried over to the national team. While the country had occasionally developed great players they would never have imagined scaling the top of the European game.

Tsitsonis, a Greek-American, tells the story in fascinating detail. The story inevitably centres heavily around the coach Otto Rehhagel whose appointment marked the real beginning of the story. A German former player, Rehhagel’s coaching career was nothing short of remarkable. As a coach, he made his name twice winning the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and, astonishingly, winning it again with newly-promoted Kaiserslautern. After a few years out of the game, he ultimately landed the Greek job because his salary expectations were lower than the other candidates!

Rehhagel was secure enough in himself to drop Greece’s then best known player, identify the players he liked and then stick with them through injuries and loss of form. He built a team spirit and identity which was the bedrock of the eventual success.

As fans of any mid-level national team will know, simply qualifying for a major tournament is an ordeal. Tsitsonis wisely gives as much time in the book to the qualifying journey (which began with back to back defeats) as he does to the tournament itself. Qualifying was a rollercoaster beginning with two defeats and ending with a game versus England that most readers will remember for David Beckham’s heroics.

Those of us old enough to have watched probably remember, as I do, a tournament that was high on upsets but low on quality. For Greek fans however it was something very different – a roller-coaster ride of tension, drama and triumph and Tsitsonis captures those emotions excellently.

Achieving the Impossible is an entertaining and well-written account of one of sports great underdog stories. As we look forward to the long delayed Euro 2020 finally taking place in 2021, its a timely reminder of why there is nothing quite as wonderful as a summer of international football.

Your never gonna believe us…….

‘Wings of Change: How the World’s Biggest Energy Drink Manufacturer Made a Mark in Football’ by Karan Tejwani (2020)

Red Bull is a marketing phenonium. How an energy drink became a global giant on the back of innovative marketing is a fascinating business story. One small piece of that story is the interaction of the brand and football. As the company took over (or influenced) more and more clubs, the more interesting story became not the impact of the game on Red Bull, but rather Red Bull’s influence on the game of football.

Wings of Change is a detailed look at the relationship between football and Red Bull. After initially focusing on extreme sports, Red Bull took over the nearest team to their global headquarters in Salzburg, Austria. Similar projects followed in New York, Leipzig, São Paulo, and Ghana.

Horrifyingly to many, they proceeded to change the names, crest, and colours of the clubs. However what felt like a marketing stunt has become something much more tangible as the company have shown an aptitude for running a footballing empire and developing exciting young talent around the world.

After setting the broad background of the company and it’s initial steps into the world of football, the book zooms in and out as the story progresses. Generally the various club’s results and seasons are sketched at a high level as part of deep dives into the key personnel across the organization. The book is at its best when focusing on the fascinating stories of the young coaches, Julian Nagelsmann and Jesse Marsch, who have become among the most coveted in European football and the grand overseer of the football project, Ralf Rangnick. The section on New York Red Bull’s is also a fascinating insight into the club and MLS.

Tejwani is clearly an admirer of the results Red Bull have achieved, especially in developing coaches and players. At times there can be a bit too much praise, and a more critical eye on the impact of the organization on the wider leagues they operate in would have been welcome (there is some but it gets a little lost).

Overall this is a fascinating overview of Red Bull’s engagement in football and the key characters involved. The impact of their investment is only likely to grow overtime and this book offers a welcome focus on the type of corporate investment in a global football organization which is only likely to grow over time.

‘My Life in Red and White’ by Arsène Wenger (2020)

I rarely bother to post negative reviews. If I don’t like a book I generally don’t finish it or take the time to order my thoughts. I’m making an exception this time because of just how disappointed I was by the recent autobiography of former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.

Wenger is widely considered one of the most intelligent and thoughtful figures in football. A trained economist, developer of young talent and winner of multiple premiership titles, he presented an intellectual image that was unique to English football. A proper insight into his life, his thought process and his view of football would make a great book. This is not that book.

Picking up the hardcopy, I expected a 300 plus page deep dive into Wenger’s life and career. However, the first thing you notice is the comically large font and ridiculous margin which probably doubled the number of pages that were actually needed for the book. It also didn’t help that the last 60+ pages of the book are a series of charts and tables with a ridiculous amount of statistical detail of Wenger’s career.

So to the book itself. One major error of this type of book was avoided – it largely eschews an over-detailed game-by-game season by season narrative. Unfortunately however, it also failed to include much of substance at all. While Wenger’s childhood is covered an appropriate surface level, his playing career remains fuzzy and unclear – you have to check the chart at the back to realise he played less than 100 games throughout his career.

But we are all buying this book for his management career so surely there’s loads of detail there? Sadly, the chapters on his time at Monaco, in Japan and mostly Arsenal stay at a very surface level. He alludes to a dark time in French football as part of reason for leaving but gives no detail at all on the scandals engulfing the French and European game at the time.

Major players in Wenger’s teams get a few paragraphs but we gain no insight into who those players are, what Wenger’s relationships with them were like, why they were pivotal players. No idea if he liked them, how he developed them, why he sold them. At one point laziness kicks in and he just gives a bullet-point list of some key players and a one line description of them.

We learn bits and pieces about his views on the phycological side of the game but there is no coherent attempt to explain Wenger’s philosophy of the game. No comments on his love of youth development, no mention at all of tactics.

Of the entire book, only the first chapter felt like it was genuinely written by Wenger. The last few chapters are basically a FIFA press release for his new job.

The book is a real missed opportunity, a deeply disappointing effort and its hard not to see it as a cynical cash-in.

The most disappointing book of 2020

‘The Point After’ How One Resilient Kicker Learned there was More to Life than the NFL’ by Sean Conley

Sean Conley is a former professional football kicker who was signed by three different NFL teams. Due to injuries, mostly from overtraining, he never made it past a few NFL pre-season games and a season in NFL Europe.

The fact he made it to NFL training camps at all is quite remarkable given he never played American football in high school and after two years of college he had an appalling record for his Division III college team (he describes himself as statistically the worst place kicker in the country that season!)

The Point After is Conley’s account of his kicking career and coming to terms with retiring from the game without having scaled the heights he believed were possible. It is a story of resilience, determination, ambition, love, heartbreak and ultimately the realisation of what truly matters.

As well as detailing the trials and tribulations of life as a collegiate and professional football player, Conley also touches on his relationships, particularly with his wife and his late father. You get a very real sense of Conley as a person in a way which many memoirs fail to achieve.

The book has an honesty and an authenticity which lift it from being a routine sports memoir into a memorable, poignant and entertaining read. The fact that it’s not ghostwritten contributes to this genuineness. It’s also clear that Conley is a talented writer and the book has been superbly edited as the narrative flows easily and consistently.

The Point After captures something very real about life, ambition, family and the expectations we place on ourselves. While it has fascinating insights into life at the lower rung of professional sport, the real strength of the book is how relatable Conley’s emotional journey is.

‘1982 Brazil: The Glorious Failure’ by Stuart Horsfield

What is success in football? It seems that there is an obvious answer. Winning. But if this book was titled 2002 Brazil I wouldn’t have felt the giddy anticipation when beginning it. The 1982 Brazil side didn’t even make the World Cup semi-final. Yet, despite the fact I didn’t arrive in the world until 2 years later, they hold a mystique and allure for me that their more successful successors lack.

1982 Brazil tells the story the of the (arguably) best side not to win the World Cup. This is a definitive account of a team stocked with legendary players who captured the world’s imagination if not its ultimate prize.

The detail is fascinating and Horsfield brilliantly sets the broader context of Brazilian football and society at the time. He traces the development of the team from the 1970 winning team through Pele’s retirement and the preparations for the tournament.

If that was all this book was it would still be a really good read. The book stands out however for the personal context in which it is set. Because as much as it is about the 1982 Brazil team, it’s also very much about the author’s personal experience as a young boy of watching them. Horsfield captures the magic, the awe, the sheer giddiness of the World Cup seen through a young fan’s eyes. All football fans have the first World Cup they truly remember experiencing. It usually happened around 8 to 12 years old when, for 3 or 4 weeks, you got to experience the indescribable magic of watching the best footballers play in a competition which meant more than anything else you could imagine. Very few writers have the skill to capture that magic in the way Horsfield has.

1982 Brazil is simply a joy to read. Packed with nostalgia, insight, and trivia, it fully lived up to my exceedingly high expectations. Beware the list of YouTube links at the end of the book though. Click just one highlights video and it sucks you in and consumes hours and hours and hours!

Also worth a mention that Horsfield is a senior writer for These Football Times, a website and magazine I absolutely love. On moving country recently I left my collection of their magazines with a friend and I really miss them!

Magical