Sports Book Of The Year By William Hill PLC

Indomitable Human Spirit Shines Through In 29th Bookie Prize Shortlist

Sporting icons, from Muhammad Ali to Declan Murphy and the ‘swimming suffragettes’, go head-to-head in the running for 2017 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award.

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, 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):

  1. The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory by David Bolchover (Biteback Publishing)
  2. Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig (Simon & Schuster)
  3. Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager by Ian Herbert (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)
  4. Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)
  5. Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath (Rapha Editions)
  6. Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao (Doubleday, Transworld)
  7. Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology edited by Neville Gabie, Alan Ward and Jason Wood (Axis Projects)

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.


For further information, please contact the William Hill Press Office on 020 8918 3732 or 

Graham Sharpe on 07803 233702.


Notes to Editors

  1. 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
  1. This year’s prize was open to any full-length book, providing the subject was predominantly sporting, published for the first time in the UK between 17 October 2016 to 13 October 2017.
  1. Shortlisted authors will receive £3,000 cash, a leather-bound copy of their book, and a free £1,000 bet. Longlisted authors received a free £500 bet and a certificate.
  1. About this year’s shortlist:

The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory by David Bolchover (Biteback Publishing)
Before Pep Guardiola and before José Mourinho, there was Béla Guttmann: the first superstar football coach, and the man who paved the way for the celebrated coaches of the modern age. More extraordinarily still, Guttmann was a Holocaust survivor. By 1961, as coach of Benfica, he had lifted one of football’s greatest prizes: the European Cup – a feat he repeated the following year. Rising from the death pits of Europe to become its champion in just over sixteen years, Guttmann performed the single greatest comeback in football history.

David Bolchover is an author and commentator. He has published three previous books, including the bestselling 90-Minute Manager. David has written for several leading newspapers, such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times, and has appeared on the BBC and Sky, among other broadcast outlets.

Publicity contact: James Stephens

Ali: A Life
by Jonathan Eig (Simon & Schuster)

When the frail, trembling figure of Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996, a TV audience of up to three billion people was once again gripped by the story of the world's most famous sporting icon. Based on more than 500 interviews with those who knew him best, Ali: A Life tells a very personal story of a warrior who vanquished every opponent but was finally brought down by his own stubborn refusal to quit.

Jonathan Eig is the author of five books, two of them New York Times bestsellers. Eig has written for several national publications, including The Wall Street Journal. He has taught writing at Columbia College Chicago and Northwestern, and has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and in two Ken Burns documentaries. He lives in Chicago. 

Publicity contact: Judith Long

Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager
by Ian Herbert (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)
Bob Paisley was the quiet man in the flat cap who swept all domestic and European opposition aside and produced arguably the greatest club team that Britain has ever known. Based on in-depth interviews with Paisley's family and many of the players whom he led to an extraordinary haul of honours between 1974 and 1983, Quiet Genius is the first biography to examine in-depth the secrets of Paisley's success. Three decades on from his death, it is a football story that demands to be told.

Ian Herbert is a sports-writer for the Daily Mail. He began his career in Liverpool in 1989, where he was both a news and football reporter, and eventually became Deputy Editor of Liverpool Daily Post before leaving for the nationals, including the i, where he was Chief Sports-writer.

Publicity contact: Katherine Macpherson

Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)
In the 19th century, swimming was exclusively the domain of men, access to pools was a luxury limited by class, and even into the 20th century women could be arrested and fined if they dared dive into a lake. Part social history, part memoir, Swell uncovers a world of secret swimming in the face of these exclusions and shines a light on the 'swimming suffragettes'.

Jenny Landreth is a script editor and writer. She has written two guide books – on the great trees of London, and on the best places to swim in the capital. Landreth was the main contributor to the Guardian’s weekly swimming blog. 

Publicity contact: Katherine Macpherson

Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath (Rapha Editions)

Fifty years after he conquered the continental sporting scene, cycling icon Tom Simpson still captivates people around the world. After his dramatic death on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, amphetamines and alcohol were found in his system, a fact that often dwarfs his pioneering achievements. Guided by rare photography of Simpson, Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire explores the Briton's feats and complexities through untold stories from those closest to him. 

Andy McGrath is a London-based cycling journalist and the managing editor of Rouleur magazine. He has worked at Cycling Weekly and Cycle Sport, and has written for the Guardian, the Financial Times and others. He co-authored the Official Treasures of the Tour de France and edited the Rouleur publication ‘Merckx: The Greatest’.

Publicity contact: Marta Gut

by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao (Doubleday, Transworld)
A natural on a horse since he could walk, and imbued with a pure love of riding, Declan Murphy became one of the most brilliant jockeys of his generation before his world came crashing down at the final hurdle of a race at Haydock Park. His skull shattered in twelve places, he was believed to be dead, the last rites were read and the Racing Post prepared his obituary. Miraculously, and the word is not used lightly, he survived and defied medical thinking in recovering to the extent that 18 months after his fall, he was able to saddle up for one more race. As usual, he won. Centaur is a collaboration with Ami Rao, who has helped him find the words to piece together what happened before, during and after, what it all meant and what it means to us all - it is the story of hope, and of life.

Declan Murphy was born in rural Limerick on 5 March 1966. Like most of his seven siblings, he took to riding horses from an early age and after being spotted by Ireland's top trainers became a leading amateur jockey while at school. He then moved to England and rode a host of winners in races as prestigious as the Champion Chase and Mackeson Gold Cup, as well as two Irish Champion Hurdles, before a near-fatal accident on Arcot at Haydock Park in May 1994. Eighteen months later he rode a final winner, Jibereen, at Chepstow.

Ami Rao is a British-American writer who was born in Calcutta and has lived and worked in New York City, London, Paris, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ami has a BA in English Literature from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. As a self-proclaimed foodie, she has written before for Tim Hayward's Fire & Knives. She has always been 'absolutely horse mad' and rides regularly in her spare time. Centaur is her debut book.

Publicity contact: Hayley Barnes

Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology edited by Neville Gabie, Alan Ward and Jason Wood (Axis Projects)
What started with a world first – the archaeological excavation of a goalpost hole – ended with a trowel as an exhibit in the National Football Museum. In 2013, the Park Avenue football ground, a long-forgotten time capsule of Bradford’s social history, began to be unearthed by archaeologist Jason Wood and artist Neville Gabie. Breaking Ground uncovers and reveres the archaeology, art and mythology of Bradford Park Avenue football club.

Neville Gabie completed an MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, and key to his practice is a sustained engagement with place and community in a range of contexts. His work is included in the Tate Gallery and Arts Council Collections and collections in South Africa.

Alan Ward is an artist and designer based in Manchester, and is known for his book design and publishing collaborations with artists. His personal photographic projects are based around the subject of place and include a two-year artist residency at Manchester Central Library.

Jason Wood has been an archaeologist and heritage consultant for over 35 years and Director of Heritage Consultancy Services since 1998. Wood is an elected member of several professional institutions and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Publicity contact: Ben East

  1. LONGLIST of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award 2017:

The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory by David Bolchover (Biteback Publishing)

On Form by Mark Brearley (Little, Brown)

When Lions Roared: The Lions, the All Blacks & the Legendary Tour of 1971 by Tom English and Peter Burns (Polaris Publishing)

Four Mums in a Boat by Helen Butters, Niki Doeg, Frances Davies and Janette Benaddi (HQ, HarperCollins)

Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig (Simon & Schuster)

Gambling for Life by Harry Findlay (Trinity Mirror Sport Media)

Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager by Ian Herbert (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)

Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)

Redemption: From Iron Bars to Iron Man by John McAvoy and Mark Turley (Pitch Publishing)

Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath (Rapha Editions)

Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao (Doubleday, Transworld)

Knowing the Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story by Judy Murray (Chatto & Windus, Penguin Random House)

Connie: The Marvellous Life of Learie Constantine by Harry Pearson (Little, Brown)

Feeling is the Thing that Happens in 1000th of a Second: A Season of Cricket Photographer Patrick Eager by Christian Ryan (riverrun, Quercus Books)

The Talent Lab: The secrets of creating and sustaining success by Owen Slot (Ebury Press, Penguin Random House)

Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology edited by Neville Gabie, Alan Ward and Jason Wood (Axis Projects)

  1. PREVIOUS WINNERS of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award:

2016 – Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

2015 – The Game of Our Lives by David Goldblatt

2014 – Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport by Anna Krien

2013 – Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang by Jamie Reid

2012 – The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle

2011 – A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng

2010 – Beware of the Dog: Rugby’s Hardman Reveals All by Brian Moore

2009 – Harold Larwood: The Authorized Biography of the World’s Fastest Bowler by Duncan Hamilton

2008 – Coming Back to Me: The Autobiography by Marcus Trescothick

2007 – Provided You Don't Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough by Duncan Hamilton

2006 – Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson by Geoffrey Ward

2005 – My Father and Other Working-Class Football Heroes by Gary Imlach

2004 – Basil D'Oliveira: Cricket and Controversy by Peter Oborne

2003 – Broken Dreams: Vanity, Greed and the Souring of British Football by Tom Bower

2002 – In Black and White: The Untold Story of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens by Donald McRae

2001 – Seabiscuit: The True Story of Three Men and a Racehorse by Laura Hillenbrand

2000 – It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong

1999 – A Social History of English Cricket by Derek Birley

1998 – Angry White Pyjamas: An Oxford Poet Trains with the Tokyo Riot Police by Robert Twigger

1997 – A Lot of Hard Yakka: Triumph and Torment - A County Cricketer's Life by Simon Hughes

1996 – Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing by Donald McRae

1995 – A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour by John Feinstein

1994 – Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper

1993 – Endless Winter: The Inside Story of the Rugby Revolution by Stephen Jones

1992 – Fever Pitch; A Fan’s Life by Nick Hornby

1991 – Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser

1990 – Rough Ride: An Insight into Pro Cycling by Paul Kimmage

1989 – True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny by Daniel Topolski and Patrick Robinson