William Hill Sports Book of the Year: the shortlist
(1) Be Careful What You Wish For
Simon Jordan (Yellow Jersey)
Which should but doesn’t feature the sub-heading How Not To Run A Football Club. When Crystal Palace fan and self-made multi-millionaire Simon Jordan took control of his beloved Eagles in 2000, he was a 32-year-old worth somewhere in the region of £78m. By the time he walked away 10 years later, Palace had slid into administration and Jordan had lost it all. This is his story.
As brash and big-balled as you would imagine from a man who once announced he wanted to strangle Craig Bellamy with his own tongue, Jordan seems incapable of writing a bland sentence as he recounts the internal workings of an industry he so vocally detests. His genuine passion for his club shines through – this is a man who missed just 10 of the 500 games Palace played during his tenure – and Jordan is never afraid to laugh at the absurdity of his own shortcomings. An annoying excess of exclamation marks overegg too many punchlines, but that is the only blip in an otherwise illuminating affair.
“One of our more talented young players was Clinton Morrison, who had a rather unfortunate attitude, so I had formed a dim view of the little ratbag.
"He was a belligerent little runt and on one afternoon he sauntered past me with some of his teammates. I went to acknowledge them and was greeted by Morrison with a scowl and a kissing of his teeth. No, Clinton, not at me. I called Morrison over and let him have both barrels. ‘Listen, you, I have had about enough of your shitty little attitude.
"Next time you kiss your teeth I am going to kick them down the back of your throat.’ This shocked him and his teammates: it was not how the chairman was supposed to speak to his players.”
(2) Fibber in the Heat:
Following England in India – a Blagger’s Tale
Miles Jupp (Ebury Press)
The author of this book is, he freely admits, a total charlatan. Miles Jupp is a comedian, ‘frequently out-of-work actor’ and cricket nut. Despite no journalistic experience, he decides that he wants to be a cricket writer covering a tour of India, so gains a tenuous freelance connection via BBC Scotland – who turn out to show as much interest in the English cricket team’s fortunes as you’d expect – and sets himself up on the official media tour with flights, hotels and press passes.
Well, that’s the plan. This is Jupp’s account of his travails – drinking with his heroes from the commentary box, arousing the suspicion of his new ‘colleagues’ in the press and desperately hoping he won’t be discovered for the faker he is.
Books such as this succeed or fail on the strength of their author’s charm – and Jupp has the wit to pull it off, recounting whimsical, amusing anecdotes of his mishaps (even the obligatory ‘dicky tummy’ story is funny). It’s too slight a tale to win Willy Hill’s big prize, and does lose momentum towards the end, but there are plenty of chuckles along the way.
“I was finding the heat more and more unbearable, and the sun was at such a point in the sky that it was beaming down on to the pitch, reflecting off it and then coming up at me from underneath like a solar bouncer.
"If the sun had been coming from directly above I would probably have been fine with my sun hat. But the sun’s glare was attacking me from an angle that would have been very hard to defend oneself from without being dressed in a ruff, which was hardly the sort of inconspicuous look that I was aiming for.”
(3) A Life Without Limits:
A World Champion's Journey
Chrissie Wellington with Michael Aylwin (Constable)
Four-time ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington is exceptionally driven. We know this because she tells us so, over and over again in the opening chapters. But once you get past the slightly nauseating detail of her straight-A schooldays, Wellington reveals some of the darker places to which her drive for perfection took her – and how it ultimately led her, at the age of 30, to line up for her first Ironman World Championships as an unknown rookie, with just one race over the full distance under her belt.
There’s little glamour in the world of endurance racing, and Wellington spares us none of the dirtier details of what it takes to be the best in the world (see below). If you can swallow her overwhelming niceness (there’s a whole chapter devoted to the unsung ‘Heroes of Ironman’) you’ll find Wellington shines a revealing light on one of sport’s toughest events. Consider it your very own test of endurance.
“It is on the bike that you may first develop a need for the toilet. It pays not to be squeamish. There is the occasional Portaloo on the course, but the most time-efficient solution, I find, is to go in my pants. On the bike, unless a flat tyre causes a natural break, going on the saddle is the best way. This is when the earlier application of Vaseline really comes into its own. And don’t underestimate the use of urine as a weapon... To get too close to the bike in front is not only dangerous but cheating... If anyone does it to me, I let off a warning shot, and they usually back off. It is yet another reason to keep hydrated.”
(4) Running with the Kenyans:
Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth
Adharanand Finn (Faber and Faber)
Most of us have grown up watching Kenyan athletes dominate the world of long- distance running in no small amount of wonder, but few have been so intrigued as to uproot their wife and three young kids and actually bloody well move there. That’s exactly what Adharanand Finn did, however, and the result is this good-natured and insightful tome.
There is more than a whiff of vanity project about Finn’s tale – at times you are left with the impression he’s there purely to see how fast he can run himself – but his passion for long-distance running, and admiration for the many Kenyan athletes he meets during his time there, are evident throughout.
It would be all too easy for the western journalist to patronise a committed and endearing group of people whose lives are as simple as their dreams are soaring – that he doesn’t is central to why Running with the Kenyans works so well.
“Even if you never become an Olympic champion, or even manage to race abroad, just being an athlete here seems to lift you above the chaos of daily life. It marks you out as one of the special people, who have chosen a path of dedication and commitment. You can see it in the runners’ eyes when they talk to you. Even the slowest of the runners talk about their training with an almost religious devotion. They may live in makeshift houses, without running water, and sit by candlelight each night, but their best times for the half-marathon are recalled with reverence. Running matters.”