Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Boxing clever

Sorry, been too busy to blog of late. But I thought you might like a piece I wrote a couple of years back for the Herald Magazine about a Glasgow boxing club.

24 Aug 2009

And then the bell rings.
It’s more of a rattle, really, a dry, asthmatic reverberation that cuts through the noise of the gym and for one rare moment brings everything to a stop. Chests still rise and fall, beads of sweat are wiped from brows and eyes, or gather in the smalls of backs, and punchbags swing in a diminishing arc, but a silence falls on the room. Men stand motionless, like a freeze frame in a Scorsese or Tarantino movie. A suspended moment, a drawing of breath, a gathering of energy. It lasts just a few seconds before the bell rattles again and everyone comes to life, swinging punches, skipping, sparring, pulling weights, joking, bantering.
Wednesday evening in Kelvin Amateur Boxing Club, Glasgow, and all (male) human life is here. Businessmen, bouncers, teenagers with the bloom of acne still on their faces, pensioners who’ve seen their three score and are working on the 10, ex-drug addicts who – you can tell from the broad, muscular shoulders – have found a new fix, salesmen, minor pop stars, the unemployed, former amateurs and pros with noses buckled and splayed by nights in the ring, newbies who’ve never set foot in the place before tonight. Asians, Africans, eastern Europeans, Glaswegians. All finding something in this scuff-marked space that keeps them coming back, all with stories to tell.
Here’s one. Tommy Fairfield is 54 years old and dressed in a sweat-soaked jacket and hoodie. He wanders over to show me his leg, hiking up his shorts to reveal burn marks on his upper thigh. "That leg’s the same," he says, indicating the other. "It was 25,000 volts, third-degree burns." A few years ago he was out running along a railway track when he got hit by an iron bar thrown by some kids. "It came over the main wire so I’ve walked into it. Or I’ve run into it." He ended up on the track. And that’s where the colossal voltage comes in. "It blew me away. I was lucky it wasn’t raining, because the next night the rain apparently was bouncing off the ground."
In the burns unit he would try to do pull-ups using the triangular pulley above his bed as soon as he was off the danger list. He spent three months and underwent four operations in hospital. The first night he returned to the boxing club his legs were still bandaged. "When I started coming here I thought, ‘Good, that’s me on the road to recovery.’ And most of the boys here were very helpful. Then three or four months down the line I was out running very lightly." A different route, presumably? "Aye," he says, laughing mordantly.
Behind him Jools Gizzi is pedalling hard on a stationary bike. He comes to the Kelvin two or three times a week. "There’s no hiding in here," he says as he cycles. "You come here to train. They’ll put you through your paces and you train like mad." Once upon a time Gizzi was in a Glaswegian rock band called Gun. They were almost famous 20 years ago and even had a couple of minor hits. These days he’s writing songs and planning a Gun reunion for the autumn. A year and a half ago he was some 35 pounds heavier than he is now. "That’s just eating properly and coming in training. The sweat pours off you hitting those pads. And the skipping alone … When I first came here I skipped like a big girl." He cycles on.
Over at the punchbags John Gilbert and Frank McGuinness introduce themselves. "I own a wee establishment called The Fish Plaice at Glasgow Cross," says Gilbert. "That’s where they had the gallows and in the olden days everyone would come to watch the hangings." "John is the sole proprietor of The Fish Plaice," chips in McGuinness, a 63-year-old retired bookie who still runs the odd half-marathon. "We smell him before we see him." He makes sure I’ve spelled "sole" correctly.
All these people, all these stories. David Stone is 39, with shoulders the size of an American footballer’s (though his are not padded) and a face that on one side is tender with swollen tissue and bone. Soon he will be getting reconstructive surgery, but he’s already done much to rebuild his life. "I’m an ex-user," he says. "I used to do a lot of drugs, used to drink, a smoker all my life. I felt my life was going nowhere." And then, encouraged by his friend James Docherty, he started coming to the Kelvin. "At first I was terrified to come along, but just coming and watching him," he says, pointing to Docherty who is sitting beside him, "kind of motivated me. I’ve not looked back since. The amount of respect you get in here … I love the place. I feel so confident, I feel great." Now Docherty and Stone have encouraged their friend David Degnan to join them. "I saw them going and getting in good shape," says Degnan. "I used to do it years ago and fell away from it. I got caught up in other things – drinking, taking drugs and that."
"None of us drink or do anything else," adds Docherty. "It’s replacing that stuff with positive stuff. Come in here and you get a bit of self-esteem and self-confidence. You can feel good about yourself."
The bell rattles. Time to go back to training. Punch, spar, skip, pull, push, laugh.
Despite the name, the Kelvin ABC is in the south side district of Govanhill. Charlie Kerr, a former pro boxer and Scottish champion, moved it from the west end to Belleisle Street in 1979. It now sits snug in a corner behind the looming weight of the Holy Cross Chapel. Once upon a time the building was a police station. It has also served as a stable for fire station horses and a day-care centre for the elderly. Actually it still was a day-care centre in 1979. "We used to have to lift carpets and tables," recalls Jimmy Reilly, a 54-year-old oil rig worker who’s been coming to the Kelvin for all of those 30 years. In the early days in Govanhill the place smelled, the walls were damp and those training skipped or shadow-boxed around buckets. Things are a little better these days – there’s decent equipment and a roof that doesn’t leak – but in winter it’s cold and in summer it’s a hotbox. "An old gritty boxing gym," is how James McCosh, a club regular, sums it up. "If you go to a modern gym you’ve got plasma screens, running machines, rowing machines, heat in the building. It makes you soft in the way you train," says David Cardwell, the club’s (voluntary) manager. "If you’re not down here to train there’s nothing else to do."
Cardwell started coming to the Kelvin in 1982. He was 12. "My uncle Michael brought me because I was getting bullied a bit in primary seven, and I never looked back. I stopped coming when I was about 22, 23, and went travelling a bit. I came back about four years ago and I’ve been involved in the club as a sort of club manager cum dogsbody/cleaner."
The club had been struggling at the time. Kerr’s death in 2004 had plunged it into a period of uncertainty. Even as far back as 2001 it had been closed by the city council over fears about the safety of its electrical wiring. It was in need of someone to give it a bit of direction. Cardwell and club coach Mark Gillan have helped provide that. The club opens four evenings a week, with another night just for kids. Everyone pays £2 a session. If there’s a shelf needing fixed Cardwell will ask a member who’s a joiner to help. Now and then there’ll be a donation from one of the club’s better-off members.
Football tops are not allowed, and there’s no football talk either. The Kelvin majors in boxing lessons. Life lessons too. "You find out about training, about what things not to do if you’re outside and you get in a fight," suggests Cardwell. "The best thing to do is run away. So I learned a lot of lessons from the guys who were older than me and had maybe made a lot of mistakes on the streets."
"It’s a life-changing experience when you come to one of these places as a Glaswegian," agrees Frank McDade, who has just completed an impressive set of pull-ups, his sweatshirt wet from the effort. McDade, 38, who works for Arnold Clark, first came here in 1984, when Charlie Kerr was running the place. "Every guy’s a tough guy in Glasgow growing up," he says. "Coming here puts you in your little place. You come in here as a big guy. Your granda says, ‘I’ll take you to the boxing,’ and you look at your granda and say, ‘You’re an old man, what do you know about fighting? I’m a tough guy.’ You come through those doors and there’s a wee guy standing there and he’s a cheery wee guy, and it’s still not sunk in you’re in here with hard cases. Then after a couple of sessions you’re in the ring; you get a couple of biffs in the face and you realise, ‘I’m just a pup.’ That alone gets you on track in life."
The Kelvin is a gritty, old-fashioned club that provides a gritty, old-fashioned vision of life, then. For some that’s the problem. Boxing is a sport that trails baggage in its wake; a notion of machismo, a vision of violence, an inheritance of damage. But that’s not baggage anyone here recognises. "Obviously in the past few years there’s been a bit of a stigma around boxing," admits Cardwell, "maybe because of injuries or a death that’s been highlighted." Boxing though is nowhere near top of the charts for fatalities in sport, he points out. Hillwalking, motor-racing, horse-racing and rugby are more dangerous, he reckons. And anyway, he says, "I wouldnae like someone’s son coming in here and going in sparring and the next minute they go up the road with a burst lip or maybe worse. The sparring needs to be supervised by an adult or the people who are sparring against novices have to have a bit of experience to hold back."
"Boxing’s an art," says Jimmy Reilly forcefully. "If it was just savagery the bigger guy would win all the time. There’s an art to it. There’s a lot of brainwork as well. Boxing gets a bad name but if you look at all these boys, if they’re in here they’re not breaking into your house or scratching your motor. It gives them a goal in life. It gives them a bit of discipline."
Everyone I speak to at the Kelvin uses the D word. Respect, too, is something of a mantra. Almost everyone says or alludes to the idea that training conditions the mind as well as the body. "When I first started boxing I learned to keep fit, eat the right things, drink the right things," recalls Cardwell. "I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs and I’ve never really done that. I’ve never smoked and I’ve been drunk maybe six times, and I’m glad I’m not a typical working-class Glaswegian where a lot of my money and my time and my energy would be spent in bookies or pubs."
While the Kelvin is a male environment (they’ve had women come to train, but not often), it’s not a macho environment. It’s also, these days, a club for fitness training. Sparring is optional. The Kelvin does not organise bouts for anyone, although it has in the past. It has even bred a champion.
Donnie Hood is a wee, wirey man with a Catweazle beard. His grandfather boxed with Charlie Kerr in the old boxing booths. Everything he learned about boxing he says he learned from Kerr and his grandfather. "They knew how to parry, duck, dive, weave, box. All the ringcraft you needed." It made Hood a Scottish champion. In 1987 he won the Scottish bantamweight title, beating Brian Holmes after 10 rounds, despite having only one good eye. And, he points out, only one good hand. "I broke my hand in the second round. I shifted that knuckle up to there …" He indicates somewhere halfway up his wrist. "I couldn’t feel anything until the sixth. That’s how I couldnae finish wee Brian. Wee Brian was a hard man to finish anyway. And we had a lot of respect for each other."
Hood was living rough at the time of his victory. Boxing was his life. It still is. He comes to the Kelvin with his 17-year-old son, Colin, and helps him train. He talks about the great fighters he remembers watching when he was growing up. Sugar Ray, Roberto Duran, Ali of course, Willie Pepp. There’s a freight of sadness in there too. He has just been reading about Alexis Arguello, the great Nicaraguan boxer, a three-times world champion who entered politics and was found dead at his home in Managua last month with a gunshot wound to the chest. A possible suicide.
Hood mentions Kerr too. "I’ve got a big hole missing since Charlie [died]," he says. "My world dropped. I don’t know what to do with myself."
Kerr’s ghost hovers benignly over the Kelvin. All those old enough to remember him talk about him fondly. "His whole life revolved around boxing," recalls Reilly. "He used to work for the [Glasgow] corporation and as soon as he finished he was down here. He never missed a night, no matter what."
"On the day of his funeral there was a funeral Mass for him in the Holy Cross," says Frank McGuinness, "and after the Mass we all stood at the end of Belleisle Street, and as the cortege passed the hearse there was spontaneous applause."
Next to Hood, McDade is perhaps the most effusive. "Charlie Kerr was a friend of my grandfather’s from the Gorbals," he says. "Boxing was very much a way of life for a lot of people. There wasnae Playstations in they days. Charlie instilled in us a lot of his ways and his philosophies – about how to train and carry yourself as a person in Glasgow."
There are Playstations today, of course. Maybe that’s one reason why boxing clubs in Glasgow have been closing in recent years. It’s not the only reason, Cardwell reckons. He points to rising insurance costs, the fact there are more and more forms to fill in (council disclosure forms for a start) and more and more health and safety requirements to be met. It demands a commitment to run a boxing club. And maybe boxing has become a bit marginalised. "There’s been a lot of funding for swimming and tennis and squash and golf," says Cardwell, "but there’s not a lot of working-class kids running around saying, ‘I’d like to pick up a squash racket or a tennis racket.’"
They still come to the boxing club though. In the ring Rehman Mehmood is sparring while Iain Patterson is just back from a run. Patterson is from Cathcart. He’s 15 and has just sat his Standard Grades. He comes three or four times a week. "There’s not much do around here," he says. He always wanted to do something physical. "This way it’s controlled and I can learn to do it properly." He’s ambitious too. Ask him what he wants to become and he says: "A pro, without doubt. I’m no’ gonnae start something and not finish it. I’m going as far as I can, defin-ately."
His mate Kami Afzal, a year older, is a little more restrained. "My dream when I’m older is to be a personal trainer," he says. His first client is himself. "I’m asthmatic. I was really fat three years ago. My health and weight and everything was terrible." That’s changed. Everything is in flux when you’re a teenager, of course. "At primary school we had a group of guys who worked out together and when I got to first year [because of] all the bad things they do – getting drunk, smoking and all that – I split up from the group because I didn’t want to be in that place. Most of them will probably have criminal records [by now]. Usually people think teenagers take a long time to grow up but for us time flies, so I came here and changed a bit."
Four nights a week the bell rattles, constantly urging everyone in the Kelvin to train more, to do better. And the doing of it changes things. Changes people.
"The fitness level you get in here and the way it makes you feel are tremendous," says McDade, wiping the sweat from his brow. "No jacket or car’ll gie you that."
It’s 8pm now and the room is a blur of motion. Punch, spar, skip, pull, push, laugh. Paul Weir, another former world champion, is in the club now. He’s hoping to open a club of his own at some point. Boxing has had a hard few years but he’s optimistic. "You’ve got the Commonwealth Games coming up in five years’ time and no doubt there will be guys wanting to get back involved with boxing because there’ll be a lot of stuff on TV and in the newspapers," he says. "When you get young guys who are fighting and being successful it encourages young kids to go to the gym. These are young kids aspiring to be something when they grow up."
David Stone stops to speak to me again, telling me he’s hoping to play in the Homeless World Cup in 2010. In Brazil. "By next year all my reconstructive surgery will be done," he says. "I’ll be fitter. I’ll have stopped smoking and I’ll be representing my country in a Homeless World Cup."
Watching all this I realise the Scorsese and Tarantino comparisons are wide of the mark. There’s no movie machismo here. There is no posing or showing off. This is about work and the dignity of work. The bell rattles. No-one stops. Everyone is moving forward.
Kelvin Amateur Boxing Club, 21 Belleisle Street, Glasgow, is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 4.45-9pm, and Sunday, 10.30am-2pm. Children’s night is Thursday, 5.30-8.30pm.

Friday, 18 November 2011

It was 30 Years Ago Today ...

I wasn't even going to the match. We'd talked about it at school in the weeks before the game but nothing had come to anything. But about 4.30 in the afternoon I got a call from the father of one of my schoolmates who said they'd decided they were going to go anyway and did I want to come along.
We must have set off soon after to drive the 60 odd miles to Belfast, and then crawl along roads filled with buses and cars all heading, like us, for Windsor Park. The streets around the ground were already full by the time we arrived and squeezed in. There were thousands in the rickety old ground that night, more than 40,000 it's said. I'd never been in a crowd that size before. It's hard to imagine now in a ground that struggles to contain just over a quarter of that number. My memories of the game are little more than flash images, the glimmering green of the Northern Ireland shirts, the roar that went up when Gerry Armstrong scored the only goal of the game - the goal that confirmed Northern Ireland would be in Spain the following summer - driving the ball in from a Billy Hamilton knockdown. The thought of Billy Hamilton conjures up my teenage years just as effectively as old pop songs.
Most of all I recall being in that crowd, the sense of being part of a huge breathing animal moving as one, shouting as one, reacting as one.
I think we left before the lap of honour, edging our way out of the ground and through tight back lanes back to the car. I can't remember the journey home at all. My memories stop with the game, the thrill of it, the savour of success.
On Snow Patrol's new album Fallen Empires Gary Lightbody sings at one points: "This is all I ever wanted from life: Ireland in the World Cup, either north or south." Northern Ireland playing Spain in the summer of 1982 is, he told me the other year, his first real sporting memory. At the moment memories are all we have. The Republic have qualified for next summer's Euro finals and good luck to them. I hope Robbie Keane grabs a bagful. But I'd rather it was Kyle Lafferty.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

What, no My Defence by Ashley Cole?

I've been talking in recent blogs about the rise of good sports writing over the last 20 years and suggesting it might be good to compile a list. So, time I made some suggestions. But I'm open to others too.
I'm going to do it sport by sport starting with football. I've chosen the books that made the biggest impression on me, with the caveat that there will be many good books sitting on my shelf to be read. I also wanted to suggest one or two that you might not have come across so there might be the odd left-field choice. So what follows is part obvious, part willful. You're all invited to offer me suggestions in the same vein.

1: Brilliant Orange, David Winner (2001)

The success of Winner's book led to the publication of a raft of books looking at footballing national histories (Tor!, for example, covered German football and Calcio the game in Italy), but Winner's remains the most intellectually ambitious. It also has a great story to tell - the story of football's nearly men, the Dutch. That Winner is able to marshal Dutch geography, the paintings of Mondrian and Johan Cryuff into a coherent and convincing narrative is a mark of its power.

2: Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby (1992)

Someone was always going to write Fever Pitch or something like it. The fanzine culture of the 1980s had seeded the ground and it was just a matter of which fan was going to be quickest through the gate. Certainly many followed in its wake. But football was lucky that Hornby got there first. It's a fine book, probably a better read then because it felt like something that hadn't been said before. What's striking now is how much of its time it is. Hooliganism is a real concern of the book and that's partly because Hornby is attempting a refutation of a particular football cliche. It's important to remember in the era of Heysel and Hillsborough football fans were often conflated with hooligans - as if there was no difference between them. Hornby's book was proof that this was not the case. It probably also helped that Hornby's hangdog miserabilism was matched by the Arsenal team he is writing about. The George Graham era was successful enough eventually but unlike the later Wenger model neutrals were never in danger of actually liking them. Remember it's Willie Young's cynical foul on West Ham's Paul Allen that Hornby dubs "Arsenalesque" in the book.

3: All Played Out, Pete Davies (1990)

Another book about a team I enjoy hating. Davies's account of England's 1990 World Cup campaign was the book that alerted British publishers to the idea that there was a market for well written, intelligent football books. And what's striking about it now is the amazing access Davies got to the England camp - access that would be impossible now. The 1990 World Cup is seen as one of the poorer finals (though I still remember it as hugely more enjoyable than what would follow four years later), culminating in a repeat of the 1986 final between Argentina and West Germany but without the thrills and without Maradona's genius (he played but he was a shadow of the man who had won the cup almost on his own for years before in Mexico). It was a tournament scarred by hooliganism (at the time it was par for the course when England were involved) and England fluked their way to the semi-final where they were the better team against the eventual winners but still lost in  penalty shoot-out - possibly the only time I felt sorry for England because for once they were the better team. Gazza cried and football was about to be transformed into the juggernaut that it is today.
Davies's book captured all of this with flair and insight.

4: Full Time - The Secret Life Of Tony Cascarino, Paul Kimmage (2005); More Than A Match, Lee Chapman (1992)

A couple of football biographies. Cascarino's stands for all those biographies (Tony Adams, Paul Merson etc) that offer a vision of heavily flawed men whom football gave a licence for excess. Cascarino's ghost writer Kimmage makes the most of Cascarino's story. But Full Time has had plenty of coverage. Lee Chapman's autobiography, by contrast, is one I've not heard many talking about. Chapman's flaws were revealed after his book appeared and if memory serves the book gets off to the worst possible beginning with a dreary account of Leeds United's league title winning season. But the rest of the book is full of great stories about Clough and Robert Maxell among others. What I remember about it most is the way it illustrates how in the pre-Premier League era football managers and clubs actually encouraged footballers to be juvenile because it made them much easier to control.

5: The Last Game, Jason Cowley, 2009

Bloody hell, Arsenal again. I've chosen this ahead of books by Simon Kuper, David Goldblatt, Gordon Burn, Stuart Cosgrove's hugely entertaining Hampden Babylon and even Hunter Davies's The Glory Game - the great Tottenham Hotspur book - because I think it catches a moment in the game's history that was pivotal. Cowley's account of the 1988-1989 season which saw Arsenal win the league title with the last kick of the game at Anfield now seems like ancient history. A time when football was despised by the powers that be culminating in the horror of Hillsborough. It's a lovely memoir about family and football and how they are so much part of each other. It's also in passing a reminder of how central Liverpool was to Britain's cultural life in the eighties - and not just on the football pitch.  

Monday, 14 November 2011

Radio Ulster on the ball ... and other bits of business

Quick note before the next proper posting. Whose Side Are You On? was reviewed extremely positively on Radio Ulster's Book Programme yesterday. You can hear what was said via the iplayer function. Just visit The book gets reviewed alongside a new biography of Rory McIlroy at around the 16-minute point. "It's a beautiful memoir", according to presenter William Crawley.

I'm also still looking for suggestions for your favourite ever sports books. I'm going to suggest my first five titles later this week. But by coincidence I've just been reading Jonathan Wilson's The Anatomy Of England - a wonderful dissection of the country's international football team full of incisive writing - which could easily merit inclusion, if only for the following fantastic line: "The terror of thought had been a constant in the history of English football, but in Gascoigne it reached extreme levels". Ouch! Harsh but true (and as a Spurs fan I loved Gazza for a time).

By the way, Wilson's book also gets bonus points for its passing reference to one of my favourite Northern Ireland players, the late Noel Brotherston who played for his country and Blackburn Rovers in the early 1980s. Wilson notes that Ron Greenwood noted how he turned the French defender Bossis inside out in a game ahead of the 1982 World Cup finals. Northern Ireland still lost 4-0 though.
My memories are all of him playing for his country. Any Blackburn fans recall his days at their club?

Finally, my mum texted me last week to say she'd spotted Whose Side Are You On? on display in Easons in Coleraine sandwiched between a book on Theo Walcott and a book on Alex Ferguson. Between a gooner and United's manager. I'm keeping bad company these days.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The reviews trickle in

Almost missed this but there was another review of the book published at the weekend. Douglas Osler reviewed it in The Scotsman, describing it as a "talented intertwining of sport with the politics of Northern Ireland". You can read the whole review here:
It also got a mention in the Irish Independent, in relation to the longlist of the William Hill Irish Sports Book Of The Year and the omission of Tony Francis's new book on Alex Higgins (even though pretty much every other Irish sports book is). The paper mentions Whose Side Is It On? and suggests it's a part-memoir of George Best, which is a tad awry (though to be fair Best is there at the beginning of the book and near the end and he is on the cover). You can read the story here:
By the way, Francis's book sounds a good one by all accounts. And if so it's another example of the current strength of sports publishing which I was talking about last time around. Anyone read it yet? And is it worth a mention in the best ever sports books? I fancy getting a list of 50 together. Suggestions welcome please.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Fully booked

I'm naturally thrilled to see that Whose Side Are You On is on the longlist for the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year. Given the strength and size of the longlist - 30 books in all - I'm not holding my breath. But it's that strength and depth that deserves mention here, I think. When I worked in bookshops back in the late 1980s and first half of the 1990s sports books were only just beginning to be recognised as an area in publishing that could offer literary as well as commercial rewards. I remember the shock of reading Dave Hill's Out Of His Skin in 1989, a book about John Barnes which looked critically and intelligently at the subject of racism in English football. And the shock of recognition in reading Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch three years later (even if Hornby's a Gooner, his account of being a fan in the eighties was all too true)
Of course there had been good sports books before - the obvious example is Arthur Hopcraft's The Football Man* which was published back in 1968. But too often sport was seen by publishers back then as the subject of Christmas cash-ins - anodyne biographies or statto-obsessed cheap lash-ups.
This is not based on much beyond fuzzy memory, but I reckon that the success of football fanzines like When Saturday Comes and in Scotland the wonderful The Absolute Game recalibrated the image of sports writing. Publishers suddenly seemed to wake up to the possibility that there was a market for intelligent,committed sports writing.

It probably helped, too, that UK editions of men's lifestyle magazines such as Esquire and GQ were launched in the eighties and began to commission writers to look at sport at length in the same way as the likes of George Plimpton and Gay Talese had been doing in the US for years and decades before. Colm Toibin, I recall, wrote a particularly fine piece for Esquire about Diego Maradona.
The result has transformed sports publishing. My own publisher Random House launched its sport imprint Yellow Jersey in 1989.
And so we arrive, 20 years later, with 30 books on a longlist about Irish sport, a list that is full of really intriguing titles - Nicolas Roche's Inside The Peleton (an Irish example of the current boom in cycling books), autobiographies from jockeys Paul Carberry and AP McCoy and boxer Barry McGuigan (the latter two both turn up in Whose Side Are You On?), the latest book from Paul Kimmage, a whole host of books about the GAA, including Malachy Clerkin's account of Dublin's All-Ireland success. And that's just to scratch the surface. Impressive company for Whose Side Are You On?
Whoever wins the fact that William Hill realises that there are enough books worthy of being considered to be named as sports book of the year - one in Britain and one in Ireland - is a reflection of sporting titles these days. At some point in the next few days I'll try and come up with a list of my own five favourite sports books. You're welcome to suggest your own.

* Hopcraft, I learn from his obituary in The Guardian, also adapted Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for the small screen.