2017 William Hill Shortlist Announced
24th October 2017
The stories behind sporting pioneers, legendary sporting figures and the secrets of Bradford Park Avenue football ground are all revealed on the shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award – the world’s richest and longest-running prize for sports writing. The diverse seven-strong shortlist encompasses swimming, football, cycling, boxing and horse racing and is united by the rich history running through its titles.
Extraordinary accounts of struggle, empowerment and indomitable spirit loom large in these narratives: David Bolchover’s The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory tells the remarkable story of Béla Guttmann, a Holocaust survivor who escaped certain death at the hands of the Nazis to become one of the world’s first superstar football coaches, leading Benfica to European Cup glory; Jenny Landreth’s Swell: A Waterbiography is both personal watery memoir and homage to the fearless ‘swimming suffragettes’ who fought for women to have equal rights and access to swim; and Ami Rao and Declan Murphy’s debut book, Centaur, recounts the miraculous recovery that Irish jockey Murphy made from a fall at Haydock Park, which left him with injuries so bad that he was presumed dead, to reading his own obituary and going on to defy medical prognoses 18 months later when he saddled up for one more race – and won.
The character and psyche of sporting icons is probed in the next class of competitors: heavyweight both in subject and size of book, for Ali: A Life US author Jonathan Eig conducted over 500 interviews, providing unmatched access to the very personal story behind boxing behemoth, Muhammad Ali; Ian Herbert’s Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager brings to life the understated personality and talent of commendable Liverpool F.C. manager, Paisley, conveying how one modest man accomplished some of the meanest feats in British footballing history; and Andy McGrath’s Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire reveals the complex nature of cycling champion Simpson – the first Briton to win the elite men’s World Championships and to wear the Tour de France’s yellow jersey – who lived life in the fast lane both on and off the road.
Completing the shortlist is Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology (currently unavailable), which uncovers the ‘lost’ place of Bradford Park Avenue football club and, as a collection of essays, marks a first in form for the Award. Crowd-funded by Bradford Park Avenue fans, Neville Gabie, Alan Ward and Jason Wood’s unique book ultimately pays tribute to the passion of football fans, revering the archaeology, art and mythology of the once top-flight club.
The shortlist in full (alphabetically by author’s surname):
The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory by David Bolchover (Biteback Publishing)
Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig (Simon & Schuster)
Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager by Ian Herbert (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)
Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)
Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath (Rapha Editions)
Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao (Doubleday, Transworld)
Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology edited by Neville Gabie, Alan Ward and Jason Wood (Axis Projects) (currently unavailable)
Chairman of Judges and co-founder of the Award, Graham Sharpe, said: 'Creating a shortlist from a Bookie Prize longlist has never been less than a mind-scrambling task. However, such is the nature of prizes that where there is delight there must elsewhere be disappointment, and the expert panel was enthralled by the final shortlist. Never have we created a list including a dead-man walking, let alone riding; never had we even heard of a "waterbiography", let alone a tide-turning tale of swimming emancipation. Football archaeology ever featuring as the theme would have been at least a 50/1 shot. Then there’s the previously unknown, almost miraculous tale of Holocaust survival up against the now legendary story of a British cycling superstar who died during a race, and whose reputation is enhanced every time a Chris Boardman, Chris Hoy, or Chris Froome triumph comes along. And then there is perhaps the ultimate contrast, between one of British football's quietest and most modest over-achievers who virtually hid his light under a bushel, and world sport's loudest and greatest practitioner, whose finest, quietest moment was when he fought his body's unfamiliar frailty to light the Olympic flame.'
The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize. As well as a £29,000 cheque, this year’s winning author will receive a free £2,500 William Hill bet, and a day at the races*.
The judging panel for this year’s Award consists of: journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson; retired professional footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and The Times columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chair of Judges is Graham Sharpe, co-creator of the Award alongside John Gaustad, founder of the Sportspages bookshop, who retired following the 2015 Award and passed away last year.
The winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award 2017 will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Tuesday 28th November.
* In the event that there is more than one winning author, the prize money and William Hill bet will be shared.
Declan Murphy; Ami Rao