Most of the spare time in my youth was spent playing sport, and when I wasn’t involved in football or cricket I was reading about it. I now own hundreds of sports books, including two I have written, and would estimate that half of the books I have read fall into the sports genre. For this exercise I will stick to my five favourite sports reads.
My favourite reads: Ian Oxborrow
Ian Oxborrow is Homepage Editor at The National
Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius
by Oliver Kay (2016)
As a youth player at Manchester United, Adrian Doherty was considered as good as Ryan Giggs – maybe even better. But on the cusp of his first-team debut in 1991 he injured a knee. At 26 he was found dead in a canal in Holland. After five years of research, Kay wrote the most emotionally touching sports book I have ever read.
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss (1999)
I requested this as a Christmas present and read it cover to cover during the festivities. It’s the extraordinary tale of a small club in the Abruzzi region of Italy which reached the second tier of the football league in 1996. McGinniss is embedded in the squad and town and writes on the culture of the fans and players before a twist brings a sobering ending.
Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi (2009)
A lot of sports books depict the mental and physical struggles in attempting to be the best, but Agassi’s story takes on a different element – how he despised the tennis he was brilliant at. His father built a machine called the Dragon which fired balls at dizzying speeds, and after the intense opening chapters it feels like the Dragon is breathing all over you.
Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner (2000)
Winner’s work analyses the concept of “Total Football” and how the Dutch managed to repeatedly self-destruct in major tournaments despite often having the best players. The book also explores the connections between the beautiful game and Dutch society, from the flatness of the land and its canals to the nation’s architecture.
KP: The Autobiography by David Walsh and Kevin Pietersen (2014)
Hero-worshipped by many, but deemed an oversensitive show pony by others, Kevin Pietersen still divides opinion in cricket circles, even as his career winds down. KP sets the record straight here in a book that can be described as one long, albeit entertaining, rant after he was ostracised from the England side.