you’ve got to love sports books!
Given that I’ve written my first sports book, ‘Relentless – The Inside Story of the Cork Ladies Footballers’ – which subsequently was shortlisted for the 2015 Setanta Ireland Sports Book of the Year – I thought I’d remember some of my favourite sports book reads in recent times.
1. ‘The Secret Race’ – Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
AT a sports writing conference over a decade ago in Cork, I heard David Walsh speak for the first time. It was also the first time I heard anyone question seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong’s integrity.
I was converted. I became a believer, and for the following years I preached to my friends, family and colleagues about Lance’s ‘big lie’. They laughed most of the time, and said I was obsessed, so could you imagine what people used to say to Walsh.
Before ‘Lancegate’ erupted, I saw an Australian documentary in which Armstrong’s former teammate, Tyler Hamilton, was interviewed. In it, he described how they’d use hangers in hotel rooms to hang bags of blood for transfusions.
He spoke about how they disposed of needles in Coke cans on the team bus as fans and media milled around outside, just metres away.
Hamilton’s book ‘The Secret Race’ was a fascinating insight into the real-life practicalities of doping – eg. Lance hiring someone to stay in his house in case the electricity went off, and the viles of blood in his fridge would be damaged.
‘The Secret Race’ is the most insightful sports book I’ve read.
2. ‘Open’ – Andre Agassi
If like me, and you were carried away in the euphoria of World Cup ’90, playing soccer out the back for hours on end with the rest of the rug-rats in the neighbourhood, then it’s likely too that you built your own ‘tennis court’ and re-enacted Wimbledon for a summer or two in the Nineties as well.
Andre Agassi was the character. The guy who rose up against the tradition of SW19’s ‘whiter than white’ with his mullet hair-do and ear piercings.
To read his book then, and to find out the mullet wasn’t really a mullet (not giving too much away here!), and that his relationship with Hollywood actress girlfriend Brooke Shields wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, was bit of, well, an eye-‘Open’-er.
The fact too that he admitted he took solace in taking crystal meth, and then made up a lie to avoid a three-month suspension. Not to mention his hatred for tennis. Say what?!
Yes, you’ll have to read it.
3. ‘Sum it Up’ – Pat Summit
Pat Summitt is the most successful college basketball coach in the United States, male or female, with 1,098 wins to her name.
Aged just 21, she became head coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team. Her childhood growing up on a farm with a strict working ethos grounded her for years to come, and she co-captained the first USA women’s basketball team to the Olympics.
As a coach, she broke records for 38 years, winning more games than any NCAA team in basketball history.
But, it’s her personal story that makes this just as worthy a read.
She suffered six miscarriages before giving birth to her son, who is now one of the youngest coaches in America. Her marriage broke down after 25 years, and then she was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s at the age of 59 in 2011.
This is a super read, about an incredible woman.
4. ‘A memoir of Hope’ – Hope Solo
USA goalkeeper Hope Solo is a controversial character, and only yesterday was re-instated as the nation’s number one at the Algarve Cup after a 30-day suspension from the team.
The reason for being suspended was for a ‘poor off-field’ decision having being in a vehicle at the time her NFL husband, former Seattle Seahawks player Jerramy Stevens, was pulled over for being under the suspicion of drink driving.
There was also a case of domestic violance against Solo in recent months in the papers, who became a house-hold name in the States after the 2011 World Cup.
The 33-year-old is as controversial as it gets in terms of female athletes, and you either love her or you hate her. But pick up this book and you might just be surprised to discover how tough an upbringing she’s had.
5. ‘Back from the Brink’ – Paul McGrath
There has to be an Irish sports book in here, and I haven’t made it round to reading the ‘Bloodied Field’ yet by Michael Foley, but Paul McGrath’s ‘Back from the Brink’ is top of the list for me.
I was more of a Packie Bonner fan following World Cup ’90 given his penalty save against Romania (I even had his jersey!), but McGrath just took reliable to a whole knew level.
To grow up then and learn about his struggles as a teenager, and then later in adult life as he battled alcoholism, it was bit of shock. Maybe not to his teammates and coaches who obviously protected him to the hilt, but to kids like myself who thought he was made of granite.
From Dublin’s orphanages to the glam of Manchester United, you cannot but admire his determination; but to think that he had so many demons along the way is so sad.
THE SPORTS BOOKS THAT CAME CLOSE:
‘Proud’ by Gareth Thomas, ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall, ‘The Blind Side’ by Michael Lewis, and ‘Hanging from the Rafters’ by Kieran Shannon.