Sports books 2018: The best and the rest

The low­down on the books to buy for the sports fan in your fam­ily this Christ­mas

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Malachy Clerkin:

The Best

By De­clan Lynch and Tony O’Reilly (Gill Books, ¤16.99)

■ The story of Tony O’Reilly, the Car­low post­mas­ter who stole €1.75mfrom his Gorey post of­fice to feed a chronic gam­bling habit would prob­a­bly be just too de­press­ing in most hands to make a book out of. Or to make a good book out of, at any rate. But be­cause De­clan Lynch is (a) such a skilled writer and (b) has, in O’Reilly, the per­fect cau­tion­ary tale to il­lu­mi­nate his cru­sade against the in­sid­i­ous­ness of gam­bling in mod­ern sport and so­ci­ety, Tony 10 is prob­a­bly the most com­pelling read of the year.

The de­tail is ter­ri­fy­ing at times. On the day he opened his Paddy Power on­line ac­count, O’Reilly placed a bet for €1.For most of the first few years he had it, he in­dulged in noth­ing more se­ri­ous than the nor­mal gam­bling a lot of us do – a ten­ner here, a score there, the odd win, the odd loss, no harm done. And then it spi­ralled off into an un­teth­ered, night­mar­ish frenzy that hol­lowed out his life and sent him to prison.

The most re­pul­sive scene in the book in­volves Paddy Power, the well-known spokesman for the firm it­self, phon­ing O’Reilly on a Mon­day morn­ing to tell him that the site is down but if he wants to get a bet on, he can do so di­rectly by ring­ing Paddy’s mo­bile. O’Reilly’s win­nings for the week­end just gone had reached €465,000 and they needed him to keep punt­ing so that he could give it all back. Which, of course, he duly did.

Lynch walks us through it all, step by grue­some step. The in­deli­ble links be­tween gam­bling and sport in to­day’s world are a sur­prise to no­body and yet it’s still fairly brac­ing to see it all laid bare. A chill­ing, jaw-drop­ping bruiser of a book.

The Lost Soul of Ea­monn Magee

By Paul D Gibson (Mercier, €16.99)

■ The fur­ther you get into this bi­og­ra­phy of Belfast boxer Ea­monn Magee, the more you come to ad­mire the achieve­ment of Paul Gibson in pro­duc­ing it at all. It will be no sur­prise to any­one who came across Magee through his ca­reer that there is a book in his life but cat-herd­ing it all into a sin­gle, sus­tain­able nar­ra­tive was clearly an out­landish job of work.

Ac­tu­ally, ‘bi­og­ra­phy’ might not even be the right word for it. Gibson writes the book with and through Magee but goes be­yond him to piece to­gether the thou­sands of strands that make up his world. And that world is com­pli­cated, never less than dra­matic, never any­where close to neat or tidy or straight­for­ward. If Magee was a more sta­ble, re­li­able in­di­vid­ual, this would surely have been an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. Be­cause he isn’t, we’re left with a book that de­fies clas­si­fi­ca­tion and is all the bet­ter for it.

Magee is a hard char­ac­ter to like, even though Gibson clearly does and counts him as a friend. The pic­ture painted here of the Ar­doyne in which he grew up dur­ing the Trou­bles is raw and un­set­tling, as is the in­flu­ence of his fa­ther who was ex­iled from the area by the IRA but snuck back to live in the at­tic un­known to any­one out­side the fam­ily. Magee is an al­co­holic, a drug ad­dict, a se­rial wom­an­iser and some­one rarely on the right side of the law.

In the mid­dle of it all, he is some­how a bril­liant boxer too. The drama is relentless through­out, the feel­ing of an­other shoe about to drop is con­stant. It’s hard go­ing at times and com­pletely hi­lar­i­ous at oth­ers. Sets the bar in­cred­i­bly high for any­one sit­ting down to cap­ture a life in a book.

Fighter

By Andy Lee and Niall Kelly (Gill Books, ¤17.99)

■ You will wait a long time and go through a lot of sports books be­fore you find one that drags you in from the very begin­ning like this one. The pro­logue is a run-on, stream-of-con­scious­ness ac­count of what it’s like to be there, to be in that place be­fore a fight hap­pens when all the peo­ple around you and be­yond you are here be­cause of you and the other guy and the fact that you’re go­ing to get it on. It’s only a few pages long but by the time you get to the end of it, you’re can­celling ev­ery­thing else in your life. This has to be read.

Andy Lee and Niall Kelly have done some­thing mag­i­cal here. This is by a dis­tance the best-writ­ten ghost-writ­ten book to land on the sports shelves in years. It’s a meld of three love sto­ries – Andy and box­ing, Andy and Manny Stew­ard, Andy and his now wife Maud. Through it all, Lee’s in­nate de­cency and like­abil­ity sings out, mak­ing it a not overly-tax­ing read. Not ev­ery­thing has to be mis­er­able, af­ter all.

But where this book re­ally nails you is in the short pas­sages of box­ing in­sight. There’s a chap­ter – again, only a few pages long – on his right hand, the punch that saved him and made him sev­eral times in his ca­reer. It’s a poem to his punch, the best friend that has got him out of trou­ble so of­ten and it’s a thing of gen­uine beauty and lyri­cal per­fec­tion. Time and again, the book lights up a small cor­ner of box­ing like this, teach­ing you things you didn’t know you didn’t know. Can’t ask for much more from a sports book.

Dublin: The Chaos Years

By Neil Cotter ( Pen­guin, ¤14.99)

■ As the eter­nal em­pire rum­bles on and on and ever on, it’s no harm to be re­minded that it wasn’t al­ways thus. Not all that very long ago, the Dublin foot­ball team went seven years with­out so much as win­ning a Le­in­ster ti­tle. They were the Eng­land soc­cer team of the GAA – all hype, all mouth, all but as­sured to crash out as soon as they came up against a de­cent team. This book is the story of that era, the bar­ren years be­tween 1995 and 2011.

Neil Cotter was – is – a Dublin fan, a Hill 16 man go­ing back the years. A news re­porter for the Ir­ish Sun, he comes at this sub­ject with both a jour­nal­ist’s eye and a sup­porter’s in­stinct. He bore the brunt of the down years, took the ridicule, wrung his hands like the rest of the city when ev­ery­thing in­evitably went to pot. And now that it’s all hunky-dory, he wants to drill down into how and why it got so bad – and how and why it turned around.

The best parts of the book come early. Cotter has done some ter­rific in­ter­views here, most ob­vi­ously with Keith Barr, and the raw, hard-nosed na­ture of the Dublin dress­ing room at the end of the 1990s jumps from the page.

As it pro­gresses, Cotter has less and less ac­cess to some of the ma­jor play­ers in the Dublin re­vival – Pat Gil­roy and John Costello in par­tic­u­lar are no­table for their ab­sence. But he nonethe­less does an fine job of drilling into the money is­sue and the Ber­tie Ah­ern stuff is en­light­en­ing and en­ter­tain­ing in equal mea­sure. Well worth any­one’s time. How To Be A Foot­baller By Peter Crouch and Tom Fordyce (Ebury Press, ¤14.99)

■ Hands-down, no-con­test, the most en­joy­able book of the year. It’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to state that there are more laugh-out-loud mo­ments be­tween the cov­ers of this than in all the other books on this page com­bined.

From the ca­su­ally self-dep­re­cat­ing first para­graph, Crouch and Fordyce walk you through the mad, mad world of top-level pro­fes­sional foot­ball with a piss-taker’s eye for de­tail and an ev­ery­man’s sense of the ab­surd.

There have been books like this be­fore –The Se­cret Foot­baller se­ries went a bit of the way to­wards de­mys­ti­fy­ing the roped off uni­verse of Premier League and in­ter­na­tional soc­cer. But Crouch goes all the way in. It’s story af­ter story, yarn af­ter yarn, each as funny as the last. Crouch knows he lives in a gilded world and de­lights in shar­ing it with the great un­washed.

Best of all, he names names. In 90 per cent of the anec­dotes, he has no prob­lem lay­ing out ex­actly who did what to whom and when.

So you read about Djib­ril Cissé’s Chrysler with the black and white pic­ture of his daugh­ter sprayed across the bon­net. And how Joe Hart used to hand out bot­tles of sham­poo to any­one who wanted them on the back of his Head & Shoul­ders deal. And how Noel Gal­lagher signed Gary Neville’s gui­tar with the mes­sage ‘How Many Eng­land caps did you de­serve? Fu**kin’ none!

Lotsa love, Noel.”

The rest

Gaelic games

■ As ever, there’s no end to the num­ber of Gaelic games books do­ing the rounds. The

Ob­ses­sion by Seán Ca­vanagh and Damien Lawlor (Black & White, €17.99) is well-named and well-paced. Ca­vanagh doesn’t stint on his re­grets for the man foot­ball turned him into, nei­ther does he duck his some­times dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with Mickey Harte. Also up north, The Boys of

‘93 by Ea­monn Cole­man and Maria McCourt (Mer­rion, €12.99)is an un­ex­pected de­light, a short and of­ten blis­ter­ing ac­count of the late, great Derry man­ager’s All-Ire­land win and the ugly fall-out from it a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago.

The Hurlers by Paul Rouse (Pen­guin Ire­land, €21.99)is os­ten­si­bly the story be­hind the first All-Ire­land hurl­ing cham­pi­onship in 1887 but re­ally it’s a piece-by-piece ac­count of how hurl­ing got off the ground. It flows along far more mer­rily and lightly than any his­tory book has a right to and is es­pe­cially en­light­en­ing when it comes to draw­ing the found­ing fa­thers Michael Cu­sack and Mau­rice Davin.

At All Costs by Davy Fitzger­ald and Vin­cent Ho­gan (Gill Books, €19.99)is Davy to the max. Davy is here, in all his com­pli­cated glory, never less than in­ter­est­ing, al­ways ready to fight his cor­ner. Game

Changer by Cora Staunton and Mary White (Transworld, €17.99)is an of­ten fas­ci­nat­ing ac­count of an­other com­pli­cated in­di­vid­ual, de­tail­ing the Mayo for­ward’s life as the first cross­over star of women’s foot­ball. Dubs To The Four by Gerry Cal­lan (Ball­point, €19.99)is an amaz­ing re­source, com­pris­ing a com­plete record of Dublin foot­ball from 1887 to the present day.

Soc­cer

■ The soc­cer shelves are no­tably thin­ner this year. Af­ter Crouch’s sub­lime of­fer­ing, the next port of call should be The Boy On

The Shed by Paul Fer­ris (Hod­der & Stoughton, €23.00). Fer­ris was a will-o-the-wisp winger in Lis­burn in the early ‘80s for whom foot­ball looked a way out right up un­til it wasn’t. He went to New­cas­tle, played for the first team at 16, fiz­zled out and faded away, only to come back for a sec­ond life as the club’s physio a decade and a half later. Foot­ball ate Fer­ris up and coughed him out but he found his way through it all the same.

Other­wise, Red Card: FIFA and the Fall of the Most Pow­er­ful Men In Sports by Ken Bensinger (Pro­file Books, €21.00)is an eye-open­ing ac­count of some of the chancers who rot­ted foot­ball from the in­side. And My Life In Foot­ball by Kevin Kee­gan and Daniel Taylor (Pan Macmil­lan, €19.99)is a typ­i­cally thought­ful ac­count of a sport to which the for­mer Eng­land and New­cas­tle man­ager al­ways gave more than he took. Rugby ■ A cou­ple of rugby books catch the eye.

Dark Arts by Mike Ross and Liam Hayes (Hero Books, €20.00)re­veals the for­mer Le­in­ster and Ire­land tight­head prop to be a ravenously in­tel­li­gent and multi-lay­ered soul who over­came early tragedy to forge a solid ca­reer for him­self.

And The Last Am­a­teurs by Jonathan Bradley (Black­staff Press, €12.99)tells the un­likely story of Ul­ster’s Euro­pean Cup win in 1999 with great élan, stuffed as it is with yarns from the last grey area in rugby just as pro­fes­sion­al­ism was tak­ing root. Bradley’s book is a lot of fun and a wel­come throw­back to a time be­fore ev­ery­thing was so po-faced and se­ri­ous.

Golf

■ The best golf book around is Tiger Woods by Jeff Bene­dict and Ar­men Keteyin

Be­tween you and me and the post. ■ Like sen­try guards, Jack McCaf­frey and um­pire Tom O’Kane watch the ball squirm away from the goal, one of the few mo­ments of dan­ger for Dublin in a rel­a­tively straight-for­ward All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal win over Gal­way. Just one of the fan­tas­tic pho­to­graphs taken by the Sport­file crew in A Sea­son of Sun­days. (Si­mon and Schus­ter, €20.00). Woods’ life has never been picked apart in such pain-stak­ing de­tail as this, al­though close ob­servers of Tiger down the year will be fa­mil­iar with fair chunks of it. But it’s by far the best por­trayal of Woods’ re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther Earl, who it’s fair to say does not emerge well here.

Mo­tor Sport

■ A com­pletely dif­fer­ent life – and a still ex­tra­or­di­nary one in its own way – is cap­tured in Driven by Rose­mary Smith and Anne In­gle (Harper Collins, €17.99).A Monte Carlo rally driver in the 1960s and 70s, Smith was one of the most fa­mous peo­ple in mo­tor­sport and a flick through the in­dex tells you the sort of world we’re deal­ing with. Ev­ery­one from Jimmy Greaves to Sal­vador Dali to Ol­lie Reed to Char­lie Haughey fea­ture along the way in a mem­oir that has to be read to be be­lieved.

The oth­ers

Play It Again, Des by Des Cahill and Mary Han­ni­gan (Sport Me­dia, ¤19.99) has a bit of that too. Above ev­ery­thing else in Des Cahill’s life, he was there, al­ways there. Name a big Ir­ish sport­ing mo­ment of the past 30 years and Des was in amongst it, yukking it up with the great sport­ing fig­ures of the age and mak­ing him­self their con­duit to the peo­ple. He will never run out of anec­dotes, each of which es­sen­tially amounts to him ad­mit­ting that he’s a chancer who keeps get­ting away with it. More power to him.

Fi­nally, some bits and in­deed bobs. The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down by Seán Man­nion and Rónán Mac Con Io­maire (Row­man & Lit­tle­field, €16.00)is the third it­er­a­tion of Man­nion’s story, pre­vi­ously told in Ir­ish and as the documentary

Rocky Ros Muc. On a com­pletely dif­fer­ent tip, Coach­ing Chil­dren in Sport by Paul Kil­gan­non (BookHub, €14.00) takes an in-depth, holis­tic ap­proach to a vi­tal build­ing block of mod­ern so­ci­ety. And as ever, A

Sea­son Of Sun­days by the Sports­file crew is a gor­geous look at the GAA year from some of the best snap­pers in the game. Some col­lec­tions to fin­ish. Be­hind The

Lines Vol­ume 2 by the staff of The42.ie (Jour­nal Me­dia, ¤10.00), The Sev­enth Day – 30 Years of Sportswrit­ing from the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent (Mercier, €23.00)and The Best Amer­i­can Sports Writ­ing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearl­man (Mariner, €17.50)are all, in their own way, worth the time of any­one who has got to the end of this page. For a taster, here’s one from each to check out – Ga­van Casey’s in­cred­i­ble piece with MMA fighter John Phillips, Ea­mon Dun­phy’s exquisitely ten­der ac­count of an af­ter­noon with Ge­orge Best in 1990 and Lars An­der­son’s hor­ri­fy­ing The Death of a Teenage Quar­ter-Back. Each of them an adorn­ment to the col­lec­tions that house them.

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