The best sports books of 2012

Copy: Metro, December 2012

>> It’s been another great year for sports writing, and once again, the William Hill Sports Book Of The Year judges were spot on, their award going to Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race. It’s not often that a book can change the direction of a whole sport, but his confessional of his time on Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Service team, written with Daniel Coyle, is a fascinating insight into the culture of systematic doping, in which Hamilton took part. Within a month of its publication, combined with the damning USADA report, Armstrong had been stripped of his Tour de France titles.

It was with this book in mind that we tried to do something a little different for Metro’s sports books round-up for 2012. We went for books that revealed secrets, that told us something unexpected. And to that end, The Secret Footballer and The Secret Olympian both deserved their place – books which spoke of what it’s really like to be a professional sportsman but could only do so behind a cloak of anoymity.

Elsewhere, I really liked Adharanand Finn’s Running With The Kenyans, in which the journalist and keen amateur runner tried to discover the ‘secrets of the fastest people on Earth’ by moving his entire family to Africa and forming a running club in Iten, where one in four are full-time athletes.

And the book which surprised me the most was Be Careful What You Wish For by ex-Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan. Jordan has always divided opinion but his memoir on how football really works in the boardroom is fascinating stuff. And it made me want to send a pitch to Delia Smith to ghost-write her own story of her Norwich City years…

Anyway, you can read the full feature in Metro here… except the box out with three other favourites of mine wasn’t published online. So here it is…

Richer Than God by David Conn
As extraordinary as Manchester City’s last minute, Premier League-winning goal was in May, it came with a oft-repeated caveat: that in spending nearly £1bn in four years, Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi had “bought” the league. Conn, a Manchester City fan himself, charts the bittersweet journey – but it’s a timely tale that any football fan of a certain age will recognise: that clubs followed like a religion are now hard-nosed businesses like any other.

The Dirtiest Race In History by Richard Moore
Richard Moore is a celebrated cycling writer by trade, but his focus this year was on athletics, and specifically the infamous 100m final at the Seoul Olympics of 1988. On Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson, two very different sprint rivals whose lives took spectacularly different trajectories. But Moore, interestingly, doesn’t take sides; this isn’t just about Johnson’s disgrace but the “skulduggery and corruption” surrounding the race – and in tracking down the protagonists, this fine book has the feel of a page-turning thriller.

Coppi by Herbie Sykes
Cycling literature is certainly in rude health right now, and the best looking sports book this year was surely Herbie Sykes’ coffee-table tome charting the exploits of Fausto Coppi. The pre-eminent mid-20th century Italian cyclist is the subject of many a biography – so wisely, Sykes lets his team-mates, rivals and some outstanding post-war photography do the talking. Admittedly, Sykes assumes a lot of knowledge, but, drawn in by Coppi’s film-star looks, it’s impossible not to want to know more about Il Campionissimo.

Click here to read Metro’s sports books of the year

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