Stories to stop you in your tracks
Martin Chilton on the sporting life – from Hitler’s only football match to the joy of cow-dung tennis courts
Sport has always been full of tales of the unexpected. When Adolf Hitler attended a football match for the first (and last) time in 1936, it did not go to plan. He stormed out of Berlin’s Poststadion with five minutes left of Germany’s shock defeat to Norway in the Olympic quarter-final.
Germany had been favourites to win, but Hitler and his propaganda minister looked on aghast as the national team went down 2-0. “The Führer is very upset,” Joseph Goebbels recorded in his diary. Later, America’s black athlete Jesse Owens winning four gold medals enraged Hitler further.
In the engrossing
(Bodley Head, £16.99), historian Oliver Hilmes describes the corruption and moral cowardice of guests who took advantage of Nazi hospitality. Just a few miles from the lavish opening ceremony, the SS were torturing prisoners who were building a concentration camp at Sachsenhausen.
The quest for personal salvation through sport was a theme of several books this year. Mountain runner Moire O’Sullivan’s memoir
(Sandstone, £8.99) is a candid account of how a reluctant parent bounced back to win Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series. In
(Headline, £16.99), the selfdescribed “fat bird Bryony Gordon” describes how she did the unthinkable and ran her first marathon, aged 36. Helen Croydon’s
(Summersdale, £9.99) is a similarly light-hearted account of “a party girl turned triathlete”, who learnt to swap “fiddly lacy lingerie” for anti-chafing cycling knickers.
(Pitch, £12.99) chronicles the 35-year-old teacher’s costly battle to qualify for top-flight tennis tournaments. It is full of droll anecdotes about the risks involved – and the stinky reality of playing on courts made of dried cow dung. Along the way he meets Dominik Utzinger, who tells him about a “lazy little brat” he once coached, called Roger Federer.
In (Pitch, £18.99), Mark Walters reminds readers of a grim chapter in football’s recent history. The Rangers winger was the Scottish Premier League’s first black player. In 1987, “a baying mob” of thousands of Celtic fans chanted racist insults and threw bananas and darts at him.
Likeable former Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan gives a tragicomic account of working with owner Mike Ashley and sidekick Dennis Wise in
After resigning in 2008, Keegan was awarded more than
£2million by a tribunal. “The whole experience was so hideous it convinced me I never wanted to work in football again,”
Football is a fragile career and Alan Smith was shrewd enough to find a challenge after he stopped playing in 1995. The Arsenal striker became a sports writer (for The Telegraph) and a TV pundit. His kudos among young fans now is for being one of the commentary voices of the video game franchise FIFA. In (Constable, £20), he reflects on the knee injury that ended his career, and why studying books on stoicism helped.
Although former Manchester United captain Michael Carrick’s
(Blink, £20) is bland about colleagues such as
Jose Mourinho, his memoir is compelling when he opens up about his mental health problems and falling into “a very dark place”.
Ben Thornley was considered the most promising member of Manchester United’s “Class of 92” (a group that included Ryan Giggs) until a reckless challenge
“smashed his knee to smithereens”. His subsequent downward spiral is the basis of
(Pitch, £19.99). “He’s never been as happy as he was before the injury,” is the sad remark from his brother Rod.
(Particular, £14.99), Tom Gregory vividly recounts his harrowing 32-mile swim across the English Channel in 1988. For 12 hours he was in agonising pain and even hallucinating. At the time, he was 11. His remarkable world record will stand forever, as children under 16 are now barred from cross-Channel attempts.
Gregory was urged on by his obsessive coach John Bullet. For some champions, early sporting ambition is ingrained by a pathological parent. A six-monthold Tiger Woods was put in a high chair and fed spoonfuls of baby food after each practice shot he watched his dad Earl hit. In
(Simon & Schuster, £20), biographers Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian dissect the golf genius’s dysfunctional life. A former employer describes Earl’s home as “a house of horrors”, where predatory behaviour was the norm. When it came to womanising, Tiger Woods was a chip off the old block.
Shane Warne is another great whose liaisons made headlines. In his memoir (Ebury, £20), he admits he “let down” his children and “humiliated” his wife. Cricket fans seeking more than prurience will find enough about how this superb spin bowler claimed a record 708 Test wickets to keep them satisfied.
Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August & Baby Bump, Bike Eat, Drink, Run This Girl Ran Wingin’ It in Football Chasing Points My Life Tom Gregory swam the Channel while hallucinating and in great pain. He was 11 Between the Lines Tackled A Boy in the Water Woods Heads Up No Spin Tiger
The novelist’s memoir of her years as an NHS nurse is a masterclass in how to count your blessings when really you want to cry. (Chatto & Windus)
by Christie Watson
SEE YOU IN THE PITLorenzo Bandini in a Ferrari 512 at Monza, 1964, pictured in Ferrari by Pino Allievi and Marc Newson (Taschen, £4,500. Not included in 20% reader discount)