Sports Book of the Year 2017 Announced
28th November 2017
Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath – a new biography of British cycling’s greatest icon – has scooped the 2017 William Hill Sports Book of the Year. The winning book was announced by broadcaster John Inverdale today, Tuesday 28th November, at an afternoon reception at BAFTA in London. As well as receiving a £29,000 cheque, McGrath also receives a free £2,500 William Hill bet, and a day at the races.
Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire is the fourth cycling title to win the world’s richest and longest-running prize for sports writing in 29 years, and the first win for specialist imprint, Rapha Editions.
Published 50 years after Simpson’s infamous death, Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire features rare photography and previously untold stories from his family, friends and fellow cyclists. It looks at the man behind the myth: a charismatic and impulsive character who went from humble beginnings in a Nottinghamshire mining town to become a national sporting icon known simply as ‘Mr Tom’, mixing with Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the cream of international cycling. Simpson – winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 1965 – was the first Briton to win the elite men’s World Championships and to wear the Tour de France’s yellow jersey, but it is the tragic and controversial nature of his death at the age of 29, during the 1967 Tour de France, that overshadows an extraordinary career.
Author Andy McGrath, a 29-year-old London-based cycling journalist, sets out to redress this balance, celebrating Simpson’s ‘achievements, rock n’ roll racing style and magnetic character’ and moving away from the ‘complicated immortality’ and ‘dark connotations’ brought about by the discovery of drugs and alcohol in his system following his death. McGrath writes in the introduction to the book: ‘There is a lot more lightness and life to Tom Simpson – and new stories to be told.’
Graham Sharpe, Chairman of the judging panel, said: 'Rarely does a book meet its aim so perfectly. Innovative design, scrupulous research and stunning photography complement each other superbly to produce Andy McGrath's outstanding and startlingly intimate portrait of a British sporting icon. Like another former Bookie Prize winner, Lance Armstrong, Tom Simpson was hugely talented and single-minded, but flawed. Tom Simpson's tragic morality tale inspires awe and respect, yet also unease amongst those who have seen domestic cycling reach international heights he could only have guessed at.'
Fellow judge John Inverdale adds: 'This is not only a fantastic read, but also a highly covetable object. With its combination of an extraordinary subject matter paired with beautifully written prose, bold design and imagery, it offers the ultimate reading experience. As such, it may well be a trailblazer in its genre: it is certainly a book that all the judges agreed they’d like to receive for Christmas.'
Sir Bradley Wiggins – who counts a Simpson rainbow jersey and pair of Peugeot shorts among his cycling memorabilia collection – writes in the foreword to Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire: ‘As a British cyclist, your identity is massively informed by him, so it goes without saying that he was instrumental in my 2012 Tour de France victory… Obviously I never knew him, so to a degree the Tom I know is one I’ve imagined into being. Of course it’s a romanticised version, and of course his death lends him a celestial quality… That said, it’s a fact that Tom shaped the kind of cyclist I aspired to be and later, when I became a professional and a father, the kind of human being I aspired to be.’
The judging panel for this year’s Award comprised: 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. The 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.