After the eating and drinking, the sporty?


A selection of 2017 sporting reads by Mark Perryman for the post-festive recovery period

There’s nothing like Christmas to put on an inch or two where we don’t want to.  Sitting in front of the TV for hours, days even, on end doesn’t help much either. For many, a New Years resolution to add more physical activity to the weekly routine of eat, sleep, work, repeat is the self-imposed antidote.  So what better time to recommend a sporting title to the 2017 must-read list?

Anthony Clavane’s  A Yorkshire Tragedy is the best possible starting point for such an endeavour combining as it does social history and an insight into why both participants and spectators put themselves though the trials and tribulations of winning and losing. And no you don’t have to be from God’s own county to side with the author’s appreciation of Yorkshire grit either.  Or for an alternative explanation of the special appeal of sport try Sports Geek by Rob Minto which in words, statistics and pictures explains what it is about sport that will provoke endless arguments in the coming year.

No sport comes close to football in the breadth and ferocity of such arguments it provokes. For everyone who loves a club there’ll be others who loath it. Europe’s ‘super clubs’ provide such emotional splits in abundance, Uli Hesse’s  Bayern : Creating a Global Superclub provides the story of one such club known throughout the Bundesliga as 'FC Hollywood' for the non-German reader. Or for unpicking what it is about Argentine football that appeals and appals in almost equal measure read Angels with Dirty Faces by Jonathan Wilson, one of those writers who writes about the familiar in the most unfamiliar of ways. Every now and then an individual player comes along who transcends almost all loyalties to inspire universal interest and irresistible admiration. Johan Cruyff was undoubtedly one such player and his posthumously published autobiography My Turn helps us to understand why. Cruyff passed away in 2016, another kind of passing away that was no less emotional than the loss of a footballing great was West Ham’s move from their beloved ground to the super stadium built for the 2012 London Olympics. A move chronicled with sensitivity and sensibility in Pete May’s Goodbye to Boleyn.  It was a move that provoked much controversy in terms of public subsidy, sporting legacy, access, community and more. The Routledge Handbook of Football Studies is testament to the necessity of recognising this kind of context in which the game is played and watched and as such is surely destined to become the definitive academic text on the subject. A more lyrical approach to football’s qualities is provided by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard in his elegantly written Home and Away.  For the dark side of world football there’s no better source of understanding the going wrongs at FIFA than the peerless John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson, Football, Corruption and Lies revisits their earlier writing on this subject. A read and argument that not only has served the test of time but has been proved absolutely right too. . 

Football at its best however means we can always dream of something better. Duncan Alexander’s Opta Joe’s Football Yearbook will become I’m sure an annual classic to distinguish the fantasy of football’s dreamers from the statistical reality. But then we will always have the fairtyale of Leicester 2015-16 , retold brilliantly by Rob Tanner in 5000-1.

The international stage for England at any rate has been more horror than fantasy pretty much since World Cup 2010 onwards. Steve Mingle provides a reminder of happier, more successful times in When England Ruled the World At least in 2017 there are no tournaments for England to make an early exit from.  In contrast Don’t Take Me Home by Bryn Law is the story of  semi-finalists’ Wales successful run at Euro 2016 through the tales of the team’s huge and boisterous travelling support.  England’s men’s women meanwhile have Euro 2017 to look forward to and as World Cup semi-finalists this century, 2015, unlike their male counterparts ,who haven’t made it that far in any tournament since 1996, they remain serious contenders.  Carrie Dunn’s Roar of the Lionesses  is the unrivalled account of the rise, and rise, of an England women’s football team to the top of their game.

Following football however cannot be reduced to World Cups, Euros, the Champions and rich runners up League, your Chelseas, Uniteds and Cities. Need a 2017 football New Year’s Resolution? Why not try a game in a city you’ve never visited at a club you don’t know?

For those with such internationalist ambitions Stuart Fuller’s The Football Tourist, his second volume of such epic travelling tales, is the very necessary handbook for overseas trip ideas and inspiration.  If the domestic gam is likely to suffuie in providing  2017 reinvigoration of a love of football the photography and accompanying text in Beyond the Turnstiles by Leon Gladwell is just the kind of cure required.  Many of Leon’s photos feature the non-league game, a portion of the game of increasing appeal to the disillusioned  and no better book has ever explained the reasons why than Nige Tassell’s The Bottom Corner.  Fed up with football as a day trippers’ day out, never off the TV, players on the front pages for all the wrong reasons, the riches and greed. Despite Leicester none of this will be getting any better in 2017. Read Nige’s book, if not already a fan, give one of the clubs he visited a try out, my own Lewes FC gets a tasty mention, and ensure yourself a happier new year.

The basic appeal of football, or any other sport is the fulfilment of impossible dreams. Few will ever come close to Jo Pavey’s story in that regard. An elite athlete for her entire adult life and a big chunk of her adolescence too Jo won her first ever Gold Medal at the age of 40, This Mum Runs is her story.  For most of us though running is more about just getting round, perhaps a Pb, and a prized finishers’ medal too. This is what continues to make running races such mass participation events which for many have little or no connection to the competitive. Don’t Stop Me Now by Vassos Alexander provides story after compelling story from every level of athletic prowess to reveal the enduring attraction and challenge of completing a 26.2 mile marathon with or without time to spare.

The GB 1980s jogging boom has a lot of parallels with the cycling revolution of the past five years or more. Elite Olympian success, easy to access sport, mainly recreational but with mass participation events for those who prefer a competitive edge yet even these are relatively unstructured and informal.  The fashion designer Paul Smith’s Cycling Scrapbook is a beautifully produced account of the visual culture of cycling that has proved seductive enough for men who really should know better to kit themselves out in lycra. Magnum Cycling with text by Guy Andrews has an array of, mainly archive, photography that will persuade almost anyone that road cycling is simply the most photogenic of all sports, bar none. Camille J McMillan’s Circus does a similar job with modern day cycling, the incredible sight of Le Tour on the road as engaging as it has ever been.  A key part of the look is of course what the riders wear , The Art of the Jersey by Andy Storey  provides a richly well-informed history of this most essential, and colourful, piece of any cyclist’s kit. Apart from that it’s all about the bike, or in Lance Armstrong’s case who made the phrase his own it turned out it wasn’t. Lined up on the road in the peloton, breakaways, bunch sprint finishes and the rest it can all get hellishly complicated to follow. Fortunately ITV4 have recruited one of the finest double acts of sports reporter and former star in any televising of a sport, Chris Boardman and Ned Boulting. They both have new books out which explain their appeal as presenters and why they work so well together on air. Triumphs and Turbulence is Chris’s autobiography from Olympic success in ‘92 to businessman and broadcaster today. Ned’ s Vélosaurus   helps the reader to understand the universally French language of Le Cycling with wit and insight, s’il vous plait. But of course with cycling watching is not even half the story, it is what we can do that really counts. What other sport can be a means of getting to work, carrying the shopping home, excuse for a day out with the kids or holiday even. The binary divide of recreation vs competition demolished. Though we’d all like to cycle uphill minus the puff mind. Never mind buying an electric bike as the solution RideStrong by Jo McRae is a handbook of do-it-at-home exercises to condition our bodies for faster and longer rides in 2017.

Next year will close with an ‘away’ Ashes series in Australia with most of England’s test cricket between now and then seen as a build up to this most serious of grudge matches.  Jon Hotten’s The Meaning of Cricket is the perfect companion volume to explain why the long wait will be more than worth it.

In terms of GB sporting success in 2016 nothing came very much close to the Gold, Silver and Bronze haul at the Rio Olympics and an historic third place in the Medal Table, helped it has to be said though by the justifiable yet significant absence of most of the Russian team.  The Impact of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games edited by Kevin Dixon and Tom Gibbons details the significance, or otherwise, of such Olympian success by looking back to the previous, ‘home’ Games and their meaning today.   Then before you know it the 2018 Winter Games will be upon us and then Tokyo 2020. The Olympic Cycle is never-ending, hardly giving any space for reflection and critical analysis. Providing plenty of the latter and helping perhaps to prevent all the excitement over the success of Rio’s Team GB obscuring  2017’s sinking levels of sports participation Understanding the Olympics by John Horne and Garry Whannel provides a good read for those whom the next sporting year will include a fond looking back to Rio while wondering hat all those medals won will mean for the rest of us in 2017. . 

But it isn’t just the quadrennial Olympics that should ignite the need to engage with the collision between the sporting and the political. The Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics is broad-ranging, comprehensive and incisive in its cataloguing of how this mix happens and shapes so much of life beyond the arena.

Beyod all these good, but serious, reads my New Year treats will include a strip-cartoon, a spot of colouring in, a novel and the first of a splendid new seris of sports books for children. The Illustrated History of Football by David Squires is a comic-book style approach to where our much-fabled ‘People’s Game’ came from and how it’s ended up.  With an adult colouring book we can create our own such books, providing hours of endless drawing fun.Two sporting versions of the format that stand out are Colouring the Tour de France by James Nunn and William Fotheringham  with its attention to historic detail. And Richard Mitchelson’s Grand Tour featuring a vast array of artistic games and puzzles to provide hours of endless fun while waiting for the cold, dark wintry morning to clear before the joys of a springtime ride. Alternatively, another very very good football novel from Anthony Cartwright  Iron Towns  set, more of less, in the Midlands’ Black Country. Few authors manage to combine sport and fiction with any degree of success, Cartwright does, superlatively well.  Don’t let the grown-ups have all the fun either. Football School by Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton will appeal to Primary School-age children via the cunning use of football as the means of learning. 

And for the kitchen? Yes sport and the pleasures of eating can be combined though very few cookbooks make that link. Hannah Grant’s The Grand Tour Cookbook does with an imaginative device of a stage race through recipes to fuel the cycling body, and suitable for most other endurance sports’ too. This will be one of my favourite reads in 2017.

But my top sports book choice as a New Year must-read has to be Games without Frontiers by Joe Kennedy. Not long, but packed into its 132 pages is an analysis and context to help us understand football, sport,and just about everything in-between via political theory and cultural studies and a fine writing style. Read it before January’s out and the rest of the sporting year will I can assure you make a heap more sense.

Note: No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid buying from tax dodgers please do so.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ akaPhilosophy Football