Announced: 27th October 2015
The shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award – the richest and longest-running prize for sports writing.

The six titles in the running to be crowned the winner of the £27,000 prize are as follows:

Speed Kings Andy Bull (Bantam Press)
Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager Michael Calvin (Century)
Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire Martin Fletcher (Bloomsbury)
The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football David Goldblatt (Viking)
Fire in Babylon: How a West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet Simon Lister (Yellow Jersey)
A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith Donald McRae (Simon & Schuster)


Acclaimed writer and journalist Donald McRae, who has twice won the prize for books with boxing at their heart, could claim a record-breaking third win for his biography of US boxer Emile Griffith, A Man’s World. He won previously in 1996 for Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing and in 2002 for In Black and White: The Untold Story of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. If he wins he will become the first writer to have won three times, the only other double winner being Duncan Hamilton.

Among the books aiming to stop a McRae hat-trick are three books that focus on football. Michael Calvin’s Living on the Volcano looks at what it means to be a football manager, one of sport’s most intensely scrutinised jobs. 56 is the story of the terrible fire at Bradford football club in 1985, which killed 56 people, among them author Martin Fletcher’s father, brother, uncle and grandfather. A child at the time, Fletcher has spent much of his adult life investigating the fire and his findings have changed what we know about the disaster. David Goldblatt’s The Game of Our Lives is an in depth look at the modern English football world, how it became the huge business it is and how it reflects our wider society.

Rounding off this year’s shortlist is Simon Lister’s Fire in Babylon, which explores how cricket, a sport traditionally associated with British Colonialism, became an icon of West Indian independence, and Speed Kings by Andy Bull, focusing on the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics and the four unknown men who took up the new event of bobsledding and went on to win gold. Bull’s debut is the first book on bobsledding to ever feature on the William Hill Sports Book of the Year shortlist.

The shortlist in full (alphabetically by author’s surname):

Speed Kings

Speed Kings by Andy Bull (Bantam Press)

Speed Kings looks back to the 1930s, and a world hurtling towards terrible global conflict, where speed was all the rage. One of the fastest and most thrilling ways to attain speed at the time was through the then new sport of bobsledding. Speed Kings delves into the lives of four men who triumphed at the sport at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, Billy Fiske, Clifford Gray, Jay O’Brien, and Eddie Eagan.

Author biography

Andy Bull is a Senior Sportswriter for the Guardian. This is his first book.

Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager

Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin (Century)

Living on the Volcano charts the progress of more than 20 football managers in different circumstances and in different phases of their career. Some are at the peak of their profession, others have been sacked and are seeking a way back into the game, but they all offer a unique insight into a trade prone to superficial judgement and savage swings in fortune.

Author biography

Michael Calvin is one of the UK’s most acclaimed sports writers. He is also one of the UK’s most versatile sportswriters, having worked in more than 80 countries, covering seven summer Olympics, and six World Cup finals. He was named Sports Writer of the Year and has twice been named Sports Reporter of the Year. He is currently chief sports writer with the Independent on Sunday.

Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire

Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire by Martin Fletcher (Bloomsbury)

Fifty-Six tells the gripping and extraordinary in-depth story of a boy’s unthinkable loss following a spring afternoon at a football match, of how fifty-six people could die at a game, and of the truths he unearthed as an adult. This is the story – thirty years on – of the disaster football has never properly acknowledged.

Author biography

Martin Fletcher was 12 years old when he survived the Bradford fire in which his father, brother, uncle and grandfather were all killed. As an adult he has devoted himself to investigating and seeking the truth about the disaster, and this book is the culmination of his extensive research. During that time he has also obtained a BA in Politics with International Studies and MA in International Political Economy from the University of Warwick, together with both the LPC and ACA. He lives in London. 

The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football

The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football by David Goldblatt (Viking)

In The Game of Our Lives, David Goldblatt takes a look at how, in many ways, British football reflects the changes and fortunes of society at large. He writes of how English football, once a dying working-class game that reflected the nations declining fortunes, became the richest, most popular form of entertainment in the country.

Author biography

David Goldblatt is the author of The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, the definitive historical account of the world’s game, and Futebol Nation, a footballing history of Brazil. For a number of years he wrote a sports column in Prospect magazine and has made a number of documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. He lives in Bristol.


Fire In Babylon

Fire in Babylon by Simon Lister (Yellow Jersey)

In Fire in Babylon, Simon Lister explores how the 1970s West Indies cricket team became one of the most successful cricket teams in history, and how this success, in a sport traditionally associated with British colonialism and racial suppression, turned the team into an icon of West Indian independence.

Author biography

Simon Lister is a cricket writer and senior BBC news producer. He has been a contributor to the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and has covered the county game for the Sunday Telegraph. For ten years, his magazine column, Eyewitness, appeared in The Wisden Cricketer and its successor The Cricketer.

A Man’s World

A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith by Donald McRae (Simon & Schuster)

In this biography of the five-time world champion boxer, Emile Griffith, Donald McRae writes of the struggles Griffith faced as a gay, black man in an era of deep-seated racism and homophobia. McRae takes us back to that notorious fight on 24th March 1962, which resulted in the death of Griffith’s opponent, Benny Paret.

Author biography

Donald McRae is an award-winning author of ten non-fiction books which have featured sporting icons, legendary trial lawyers, heart surgeons and sex workers. He has twice won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year – one of only two writers to do so – for In Black & White and Dark Trade. He is a three-time Interviewer of the Year winner and also Feature Writer of the Year for his work in The Guardian.

Read the full press release announcement.

The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday 26th November.