Winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award 2022: Beryl – In Search of Britain’s Greatest Athlete, Beryl Burton by Jeremy Wilson

Football may have had two titles in the shortlist of five finalists – Be Good, Love Brian: Growing Up with Brian Clough by Craig Bromfield and Expected Goals: The Story of how Data Conquered Football and Changed the Game Forever by Rory Smith – but it was Beryl – In Search of Britain’s Greatest Athlete, Beryl Burton by Jeremy Wilson that took the top prize.

The synopsis of the book is as follows:

Cyclist Beryl Burton – also known as BB – dominated her sport much as her male contemporary Eddy Merckx, but with a longevity that surpasses even sporting legends like Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams and Sir Steve Redgrave.

She was practically invincible in time trials, finishing as Best All-Rounder for 25 consecutive years and setting a world record in 1967 for the distance covered in 12 hours that beat the men. She won multiple world titles, even when the distances didn’t play to her strengths. But her achievements were limited by discrimination from the cycling authorities, and by her strictly amateur status against state-sponsored rivals from Eastern Bloc nations.

Yet she carried on winning, beating men and – infamously – competing against her own daughter, while working on a farm and running a household. Her motivation, sparked by appalling childhood illness, is as fascinating as her achievements are stunning.

With access to previously unseen correspondence and photographs, and through extensive interviews with family, friends, rivals and fellow giants from across sport, acclaimed journalist Jeremy Wilson peels back the layers to reveal one of the most complex, enigmatic and compelling characters in cycling history.

For the first time, he also provides the jaw-dropping answer to how fast she would still be on modern cycling technology. Long ignored by sporting history, Burton’s life story – recently told by Maxine Peake in a stage and radio play – is finally getting the recognition she deserves.

  • Publisher: Pursuit Books; Main edition (7 July 2022)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages


Buy the book here: Beryl

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2022 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Longlist

The longlist for the 34th William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award has been revealed. A record 158 books were entered into this year’s Award, featuring a diverse mix of authors from across a wide range of sports including, tennis, football, athletics, golf, rugby and cycling.

Following a rigorous judging process from a panel including The Athletics’ Nancy Frostick, sports presenter Matt Williams and William Hill’s Neil Foggin, 15 authors have been selected for this year’s longlist.

The 15-book longlist features an array of topics including hard-hitting autobiographies and heart-breaking memories, along with harrowing accounts of racism and sexism in sport and never-been-heard before encounters of some of the most compelling figures within the sporting industry.

With the Lionesses winning the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 in July and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 taking place at the end of the year, it’s no surprise that topics around football dominates this year’s longlist, with eight books making the list. Cycling provides three titles, with athletics, golf, rugby union and tennis represented each with a single title.

Three female authors made the cut with retired track and field athlete Anyika Onuora, The Guardian’s football writer Suzanne Wrack, and former Irish international footballer Clare Shine are in the running for the Award. The story of female athlete Beryl Burton, who dominated the world of cycling, also features in the longlist.

Former sports stars, and first-time authors, Patrice Evra and Steve Thompson have also made the list for the Award which has a £30,000 cash prize for the winner.

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2022 Longlist:

Be Good, Love Brian: Growing Up with Brian Clough by Craig Bromfield (Football)

The Master: The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer by Christopher Clarey (Tennis)

1999: Manchester United, the Treble and All That by Matt Dickinson (Football)

Le Fric: Family, Power and Money: The Business of the Tour de France by Alex Duff (Cycling)

I Love This Game by Patrice Evra (Football)

England Football: The Biography: 1872-2022 by Paul Hayward (Football)

God is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke, Cycling’s Great Wasted Talent by Andy McGrath (Cycling)

My Hidden Race by Anyika Onuora (Athletics)

Scoring Goals in the Dark by Clare Shine with Gareth Maher (Football)

Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorised) Biography of Golf’s Most Colourful Superstar by Alan Shipnuck (Golf)

Expected Goals: The Story of how Data Conquered Football and Changed the Game Forever by Rory Smith (Football)

Unforgettable: Rugby, Dementia and the Fight of My Life by Steve Thompson (Rugby Union)

Beryl: In Search of Britain’s Greatest Athlete, Beryl Burton by Jeremy Wilson (Cycling)

Two Brothers: The Life and Times of Bobby and Jackie Charlton by Jonathan Wilson (Football)

A Woman’s Game: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Women’s Football by Suzanne Wrack (Football)

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Book Review: A Life Too Short – The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng, (translated into English by Shaun Whiteside)

The disastrous performance by Loris Karius for Liverpool in the Champions League Final against Real Madrid is just another reminder of the vulnerable role of the goalkeeper, someone who is always walking a tightrope between would-be hero and scapegoat for any failure. The worst thing is that the goalkeeper himself believes this. No such self-doubt seems to exist with attackers like Cristiano Ronaldo. All the glory is his, any failure is somebody else’s fault – every single time.

With this summer’s World Cup in Russia raising the sport’s profile ever higher, it is worth reflecting on the Winner of the 2011 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award because it is probably the most poignant reminder that, for all the general excellence of the modern footballer, it is still a game played by humans, not computer-generated robots. Led by the media, we demand everything from them, conveniently forgetting that they are real people often with brittle egos.

Robert Enke is perhaps the best modern example of the pressure all this puts on a person and his suicide in 2009 rocked the football world. He was a talented, German international goalkeeper who attracted the admiration and interest of both Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho but his increasing anxiety and depression drove him to kill himself aged 32 when a place at the World Cup in South Africa appeared to be beckoning.

A book about the man was inevitable after the sad event but, ironically, the author Ronald Reng had been by chosen by Enke himself years before to pen the goalkeeper’s biography and they had become friends. Therefore he had a large amount of material at his disposal as well as access to those closest to Enke.

This very closeness has both advantages and disadvantages and the book itself is actually something of an oddity. It is well-written by Reng and, presumably, the translation by Shaun Whiteside is good but an added irony lies in the fact that its special interest comes from his ‘life story’ being actually his death story. The reader is aware at all turns that it is about a man whose depressive nature finally drove him to suicide. Therefore, the very detailed accounts of his ups and downs both on and off the football pitch tend to become rather tedious, as if they are helping to skirt around what the book should be centred on. Also, it asks a great deal of the reader’s patience as there is an inclination throughout to try spotting the fault lines in Enke’s life, the things that might have led to his depression. Was it being a temperamental and insecure goalkeeper that drove him over the edge? Was it his poorly daughter’s short life and death? Should he have quit football years before and found another, more stable career? Questions present themselves but are seldom directly addressed as there is always a sense that Reng is putting off as long as possible the build up to the final catastrophe.

The many insights into his character and depression which Reng gives us are gained to a lesser degree from his family and colleagues, to a much greater degree from a few intimates but it is mainly his wife, Teresa, who understandably provides the closest perspective. If the world runs on a belief in luck, as those within the narrative seem to feel, it is hard for people with less talent than he had to see how ‘unlucky’ he was. But happiness with him is always fleeting, pushing back the ever-threatening blackness. A major accomplishment of this book is to show how we should not have envied his life even without that final desperate act.

The story only becomes gripping in the final pages, once it is evident Enke had decided to end it all and had adopted a degree of calm resignation that contrasts strongly with the rising panic of those closest to him. We can only speculate how helpful watching ‘Titanic’ two nights before he died was to his peace of mind and how wise it was for his wife to take him to an exhibition of preserved corpses the day before he stepped in front of an express train. Reng chronicles these but makes no direct link. Enke left a wife, a recently adopted daughter, seven dogs and a bewildered nation as the pressure of performing, and potentially making mistakes, in front of a global audience became too terrible for him to contemplate any more.

The beautiful game, we remember, is not played by fantasy footballers but by people.


Graeme Garvey


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2017 William Hill Sports Book of the Year: Winner

Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath has won the 2017 WHSBOTY Award. It is the fourth book to scoop the prize following on from, Rough Ride: An Insight into Pro Cycling (1990), It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (2000) and The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs (2012).

The book is published fifty years after Simpson’s death in the 1967 Tour de France, when it was discovered that there were drugs and alcohol in his system. A press release for the book explains:

Tom Simpson is British cycling’s greatest icon. Fifty years after he conquered the continental sporting scene, he still captivates people around the world. After his dramatic death on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, amphetamines and alcohol were found in his system, a fact which often dwarfs his pioneering achievements.

 From a humble upbringing in a Nottinghamshire mining town, Simpson became the first Briton to win the elite men’s World Championships and to wear the Tour de France’s yellow jersey. He also took victory at Milan Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders and the Tour of Lombardy, three of cycling’s most prestigious races. A charismatic and impulsive character, Simpson lived life fast, with a penchant for spectacular racing, sports cars and fanciful dreams.

 This man of contradictions was both people’s champion and pariah, gentleman and rogue. Guided by rare photography of Simpson, this book explores the Briton’s feats and complexities through untold stories from those closest to him.

 Main protagonists and interviews: Jan Janssen, Raymond Poulidor, Gianni Motta, Barry Hoban, Emile Daems, Brian Robinson, Vin Denson, Helen Hoban, Joanne Simpson, Henri Duez, Charly Wegelius, Dave Bonner, Billy Holmes, Keith Butler, Pete Ryalls and Professor Greg Whyte OBE.


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2016 William Hill Sports Book of the Year – Shortlist

The 2016 William Hill Sports Book of the Year has announced it Shortlist, which consists of seven titles:

  • Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zatopek by Rick Broadbent (Wisden)
  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (Corsair)
  • Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius by Oliver Kay (Quercus)
  • Chasing Shadows: The Life & Death of Peter Roebuck by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge (Hardie Grant Books)
  • Mr Darley’s Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life – A History of Racing in 25 Horsesby Christopher McGrath (John Murray)
  • Find a Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life by Diana Nyad (Macmillan)
  • Mister: The Men Who Taught the World How to Beat England at Their Own Game by Rory Smith (Simon & Schuster)

The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday 24 November 2016.

While six sports are covered in the seven-strong shortlist, the majority of titles dig deep into their subjects’ psyches to reveal the inner sportsman or sportswoman, showing how their strengths and weaknesses helped and hindered them in the pursuit of their dreams. This is demonstrated in two memoirs set mainly amongst the waves: Barbarian Days by journalist William Finnegan and Find a Way by swimmer Diana Nyad. The elegiac Barbarian Days, surfing’s first appearance in the Bookie Prize and already a Pulitzer Prize-winner, tells the story of a restless young man whose sport both anchors him and takes him around the world as he becomes an adult. Diana Nyad’s inspirational memoir is a testimony to the indomitability of the human spirit: a world class swimmer at a very young age, Nyad first attempted to swim the 100 miles between Havana, Cuba and the coast of Florida without a shark cage aged 28. She finally became the first person to complete the treacherous crossing over three decades later, aged 64.

Oliver Kay’s Forever Young investigates the short life of eccentric football prodigy Adrian Doherty, who was offered a five-year contract with Manchester United on his 17th birthday, yet died in mysterious circumstances having never realised his true potential. Controversial cricketer, writer and broadcaster Peter Roebuck, another figure who died before his time, has his unpredictable character and sudden death examined in Tim Lane and Elliott Cartledge’s Chasing Shadows.

Rick Broadbent receives his third shortlisting for the Prize for Endurance, which looks at the life of Olympic track legend Emil Zatopek. The greatest runner of his generation, Zátopek’s character was sorely tested as he fell from favour with his country’s Communist rulers, suffering countless indignities before coming in from the cold following Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.

Rounding off this year’s shortlist: Rory Smith’s Mister, which looks at how English football managers helped the ‘beautiful game’ become the global sport it is today; and Christopher McGrath’s Mr Darley’s Arabian, which tells the story of horse racing by following the bloodline of twenty-five thoroughbreds, from a colt bought from Bedouin tribesmen over 300 years ago, to the modern champion, Frankel.

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2016 William Hill Sports Book of the Year – Longlist

Now in its 28th year, the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world’s longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize.

The award is dedicated to rewarding excellence in sports writing and was first awarded in 1989. This year, 2016, the prize for winning the award is £28,000.

Below are the seventeen titles on the longlist for 2016, which will then be reduced to a shortlist of seven b.efore the awarding of the winner.

  • Today We Die a Little: The Rise & Fall of Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend by Richard Askwith (Yellow Jersey Press)
  • No Nonsense: The Autobiography by Joey Barton, with Michael Calvin (Simon & Schuster)
  • Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek by Rick Broadbent (Wisden)
  • Football’s Coming Out: Life as a Gay Fan and Player by Neil Beasley with Seth Burkett (Floodlit Dreams)
  • ‘How’s Your Dad?’: Embracing Failure in the Shadow of Success by Mick Channon Jr (Racing Post Books)
  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (Corsair)
  • For the Glory: The Life of Eric Liddell by Duncan Hamilton (Doubleday)
  • Watching the Wheels: My Autobiography by Damon Hill, with Maurice Hamilton (Macmillan)
  • Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius by Oliver Kay (Quercus)
  • Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives by Anna Kessel (Macmillan)
  • Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight (Simon & Schuster)
  • Chasing Shadows: The Life & Death of Peter Roebuck by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge (Hardie Grant Books)
  • The Belt Boy by Kevin Lueshing and Mike Dunn (Austin Macauley Publishers)
  • Mr Darley’s Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life – A History of Racing in 25 Horses by Christopher McGrath (John Murray)
  • Find a Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life by Diana Nyad (Macmillan)
  • Mister: The Men Who Taught the World How to Beat England at Their Own Game by Rory Smith (Simon & Schuster)
  • We Had Some Laughs: My Dad, The Darts and Me by Dan Waddell (Bantam Press)

2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year – winner

The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football by David Goldblatt has been announced as the winner of the 2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

David Goldblatt was born in London in 1965 and is a supporter of Tottenham Hotspurs and Bristol Rovers. He teaches sociology at Bristol University, reviews sports books for the TLS, and for some years wrote the Sporting Life column in Prospect magazine.

His other books include, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football and Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil.


Brilliantly incisive. Goldblatt is not merely the best football historian writing today, he is possibly the best there has ever been. Goldblatt’s book could hardly be more impressive (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)

Offers an enlightening, enriching experience. It is based on a formidable range of sources, personal observation and a pleasingly sardonic turn of phrase. Not all football writers know their stuff, let alone the socio-economic context, but Goldblatt does. Altogether this is an exceptional book (David Kynaston Guardian)

Not just the best soccer book in many years but an exemplary account of the changing character of British society in the post-Thatcher era (David Runciman Wall Street Journal)

David Goldblatt examines [English football] peerlessly … A superb history of a sport and of a nation (Evening Standard)

Goldblatt is a trusted guide…Rich with statistics, this is an admirably balanced account of the beautiful game (Daily Mail)

Prodigious research and a fluent writing style … this is a fine book which should have an appeal much beyond the game (Mihir Bose Independent)

An encyclopaedic portrait of English football stripped of all the non-stop hype. The beautiful game is, after all, a dirty business (Financial Times: Life & Arts)

An intensely readable socioeconomic study of English football in the age of globalisation (New Statesman)

A book that informs and inspires, a truly great piece of writing (Philosophy Football)

The best pub talker of a book for years (Sunday Sport)

Goldblatt has a gift for exploring the way the game holds a mirror up to our lives…His deconstruction of the modern game could hardly be bettered (Observer)

A bold analysis of Britain’s economic and social change refracted through football (The Times)

A salient overview of the past quarter-century (Times Literary Supplement)


2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year – shortlist

The shortlist has been published for the contenders in the 2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year. The winner will be announced on Thursday 26 November.

Speed Kings by Andy Bull

In the 1930s, as the world hurtled towards terrible global conflict, speed was all the rage. It was described by Aldous Huxley as ‘the one genuinely modern pleasure’, and one of the fastest and most thrilling ways to attain it was through the new sport of bobsledding. Exotic, exciting and above all dangerous, it was by far the most popular event at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. It required an abundance of skill and bravery. And the four men who triumphed at those Games lived the most extraordinary lives.

Billy Fiske was an infamous daredevil, blessed with a natural talent for driving. He would later become the first American airman to die in the war – flying for the RAF. Clifford Gray was a notorious playboy and a player on both Broadway and Hollywood. Or was he? His identity was a mystery for decades. Jay O’Brien was a gambler and a rogue who, according to one ex-wife, forced women to marry him at gunpoint. And Eddie Eagan, a heavyweight boxer and brilliant lawyer, remains the only man to win gold at both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

This is their story, of loose living, risk-taking and hell-raising in an age of decadence, and of their race against the odds to become the fastest men on ice. We will never see their like again. Especially after the world did descend into that second, terrible global conflict.

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

A man punches the wall in a strategic show of anger. Another complains he has become a stranger to those he loves. A third relies on “my three a day: coffee, Nurofen and a bottle of wine.” Yet another admits he is an oddity, who would prefer to be working in cricket. A fifth describes his professional life as “a circus”. These are football managers, live and uncut. Arsene Wenger likens the job to “living on a volcano: any day may be your last”. He speaks with the authority of being the longest serving manager in the English game, having been at Arsenal for 17 years. The average lifespan of a Football League manager is 17 months. Fifty three managers, across all four Divisions, were sacked, or resigned, in the 2012-13 season. There were fifty seven managerial changes in the 2013-14 season. What makes these men tick? They are familiar figures, who rarely offer anything more than a glimpse into their personal and professional lives. What shapes them? How and why do they do their job? Award-winning writer Michael Calvin provides the answers.

Insecurity is a unifying factor, but managers at different levels face different sets of problems. Depending on their status, they are dealing with multi-millionaires, or mortgage slaves. Living on the Volcano charts the progress of more than 20 managers, in different circumstances and in different phases of their career. Some, like Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, are at the peak of their profession. Others, like Chris Hughton, Brian McDermott and Gary Waddock, have been sacked, and are seeking a way back into the game. They offer a unique insight into a trade which is prone to superficial judgement and savage swings in fortune. Management requires ruthlessness and empathy, idealism and cunning. Stories overlap, experiences intermingle, and myths are exposed.

Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire by Martin Fletcher

On May 11 1985, fifty-six people died in a devastating fire at Bradford City s old Valley Parade ground. It was truly horrific, a startling story and wholly avoidable but it had only the briefest of inquiries, and it seemed its lessons were not learned.

Twelve-year-old Martin Fletcher was at Valley Parade that day, celebrating Bradford s promotion to the second flight, with his dad, brother, uncle and grandfather. Martin was the only one of them to survive the fire the biggest loss suffered by a single family in any British football disaster.

In later years, Martin devoted himself to extensively investigating how the disaster was caused, its culture of institutional neglect and the government s general indifference towards football fans safety at the time. This book tells the gripping, extraordinary in-depth story of a boy s unthinkable loss following a spring afternoon at a football match, of how fifty-six people could die at a game, and of the truths he unearthed as an adult. This is the story thirty years on of the disaster football has never properly acknowledged.

gameThe Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football by David Goldblatt

In the last two decades football in Britain has made the transition from a peripheral dying sport to the very centre of our popular culture, from an economic basket-case to a booming entertainment industry. What does it mean when football becomes so central to our private and political lives? Has it enriched us or impoverished us?

In this book David Goldblatt argues that no social phenomenon tracks the momentous economic, social and political changes of the post-Thatcherite era in a more illuminating manner than football, and no cultural practice sheds more light on the aspirations and attitudes of our long boom and subsequent bust.

Fire in Babylon: How a West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet by Simon Listerfire

Cricket had never been played like this. Cricket had never meant so much.

The West Indies had always had brilliant cricketers; it hadn’t always had brilliant cricket teams. But in 1974, a man called Clive Lloyd began to lead a side which would at last throw off the shackles that had hindered the region for centuries. Nowhere else had a game been so closely connected to a people’s past and their future hopes; nowhere else did cricket liberate a people like it did in the Caribbean.

For almost two decades, Clive Lloyd and then Vivian Richards led the batsmen and bowlers who changed the way cricket was played and changed the way a whole nation – which existed only on a cricket pitch – saw itself.

With their pace like fire and their scorching batting, these sons of cane-cutters and fishermen brought pride to a people which had been stifled by 300 years of slavery, empire and colonialism. Their cricket roused the Caribbean and antagonised the game’s traditionalists.

Told by the men who made it happen and the people who watched it unfold, Fire in Babylon is the definitive story of the greatest team that sport has known.

A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith by Donald McRae

‘I kill a man and most people forgive me. However, I love a man and many say this makes me an evil person.’

On 24 March 1962, when Emile Griffith stepped into the ring in Madison Square Garden to defend his world title against Benny Paret, he was filled with rage. During their weigh-in, the Cuban challenger had denounced Griffith as a ‘faggot’ and minced towards him. In the macho world of boxing, where fighters know they are engaged in the hurt game, there could be no greater insult. At that time, it was illegal for people of the same gender to have sex, or even for a bar to knowingly serve a drink to a gay person. It was an insinuation that could have had dangerous consequences for Griffith – especially as it was true.

In the fight that followed, Griffith pounded Paret into unconsciousness, and the Cuban would die soon after, leaving Griffith haunted by what he had done. Despite this, he went on to fight more world championship rounds than any other fighter in history in a career that lasted for almost 20 years.

In Donald McRae’s first sports book in more than a decade, he weaves a compelling tale of triumph over prejudice – Griffith was black, so doubly damned by contemporary society, but refused to cower away as society wished. A Man’s World is sure to become a classic among sports books.

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2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year – longlist

The longlist has been published for the contenders in the 2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year. The shortlist will be announced on 27 October, and the winner on Thursday 26 November.

Football dominates the longlist, which also includes titles on chess and cycling

  • A King in Hiding: How a Child Refugee Became a World Chess Champion by Fahim, Sophie Le Callennec, Xavier Parmentier and Barbara Mellor (translator) (Icon)
  • A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith by Donald McRae (Simon & Schuster)
  • Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire by Martin Fletcher (Bloomsbury)
  • Fire in Babylon by Simon Lister (Yellow Jersey)
  • Journeymen: The Other Side of the Boxing Business by Mark Turley (Pitch)
  • Kings of the Road: A Journey into the Heart of British Cycling by Robert Dineen (Aurum Press)
  • Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin (Century)
  • My Fight/Your Fight: The Official Ronda Rousey Autobiography by Ronda Rousey and Maria Burns Ortiz (Century)
  • Runner: A Short Story About A Long Run by Lizzy Hawker (Aurum Press)
  • Speed Kings by Andy Bull (Bantam Press)
  • The Bolt Supremacy by Richard Moore (Yellow Jersey)
  • The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football by David Goldblatt (Viking)
  • The Trials of Oscar Pistorius: Chase Your Shadow by John Carlin (Atlantic Books)
  • The Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert (Simon & Schuster)
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Book Review: Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport by Anna Krien

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year is an award that is never afraid to tackle serious subjects, as witnessed by the recent winners. In 2011 A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke explored the depression and subsequent suicide of the one-time German international goalkeeper, while in 2012 (The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France) and 2013 (Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang), the murkier side of cycling and horseracing were exposed.

Now in 2014 the latest winner of the prize, Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport by Anna Krien, the subject of rape and its relationship with the macho world of the “locker room” is investigated, focusing on two of Australia’s biggest games, Australian Rules Football and Rugby League.

The book is centred on Australian sports, but its relevance won’t be lost on an English audience, with the recent debate around the rehabilitation of convicted rapist Ched Evans back into professional soccer, a contentious topic.

At the centre of Night Games is the trial of Justin Dyer, a junior football player accused of raping Sarah Wesley in 2010, amid the partying and celebrations in Melbourne, after Collingwood beat St Kilda in the Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final.

Interestingly, Krien reveals the outcome of the trial at the beginning of the book, and then details the events leading to the verdict. This is a useful device, in that it means the book isn’t read as a ‘whodunit’ and instead prompts the reader to try and understand the process of law and how the final decision on Dyer is reached.

As the story of the trial unfolds, Krien explores and raises a number of questions about topics such as, the definition of rape within the legal system, the culture of the locker room, and the interpretation of consent. These are not easy subjects to write about with an objective view, and therefore to come to any black and white position about them is a nigh on impossible task without being accused of some bias.

Krien’s search for balance in the book suffers a major blow, in that she spends a great deal of time with Dyer’s family through the trial, while she was unable to get Sarah to tell her side of the story, leaving the book without the view of the defendant.

With Sarah as an ethereal voice in the book, a world of uncertainty is presented by Krien. A realm in which the law has difficulty in establishing the truth and providing genuine justice, where the term “consent” is muddied by the concept of legal definition, resulting in a “grey area” in sexual assault cases, which Krien views as the “gulf of uncertainty between consent and rape”. A place where the players of the AFL and National Rugby League have a cosseted existence, in which they live and breathe their sport, where the club rules and team-bonding is king and there is always somebody to clear up their mess. A land where “footie chicks” are happy to become a “piece of meat” for the sexual gratification of “the lads”, but where ultimately no one emerges unscathed.

As Krien has reflected, this is a book that neither footballers nor feminists will be happy about. It is also a book that can be uncomfortable reading, but it is an honest undertaking at raising the issues around the distress and misery that sexual assault causes within sport and society.