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Tour de France Books

Cycle of lies - book on Lance Armstrong

Cycling Anthology - Volume 4

As road cycling takes over Yorkshire this weekend ahead of a day in the Capital tomorrow, some Tour de France books recommeded by Mark Perryman.

There seems to be something about cycling that helps inspire fine sportswriting. Perhaps it is the landscapes and countries traversed, the solitude on a bike, the risk factor of a fall or worse, the extraordinary feats of human endurance, and human-powered speed too. Add a healthy dose of British elite level cycling success plus a dash of greenery and its no surprise that publishers are backing bicycling authors to deliver sales, for the most part with very good books too. Continue reading…

World Cup 2014: Land of Hope and Dreams

Fifa World Cup posters 1930 - 2014

That was the week that was, the best first week of a World Cup certainly since Espana ’82 when the entrants were increased to 24 and the competition grew to another level. It’s already, as some of us predicted, an open tournament, with no clear favourites. Before it began Paul Wilson wisely noted most teams, including England, had a chance and flair and progressive football may yet be rewarded. There have been high-quality clashes, games with end-to-end action, plenty of goals including a couple of world class ones, a degree of unpredictability, new rules that have benefited the games, and even, largely, good officiating, with the referee decision to let play go on in dying minutes of stoppage time in the Switzerland game as good as a decision as the soft penalty the hosts were awarded on the opening night was disappointing.

There are two certainties during any football World Cup: (1) People around the world will be united with a passion and interest in the global game. This is exemplified in bars in cities the world over every four years. Just as telling, in an hour plus bus ride through ethnically diverse and far from affluent towns in west London this morning, England flags were a constant with people wearing their colours for the nation where they live and work. Meanwhile, there is another category of people that always seem to pop-up while millions immerse their soul in a love of the game: (2) the passive-aggressive sneering cynics who look to discredit football at every given opportunity. What a blow for that second group this last week has been.

We can smell these naysayers from afar, as annoying and distinct as exhaled smoke. There are the landlords in pubs who originally don’t plan to show football but seeing their takings fall they begrudgingly turn their TV set on, presumably previously there as a fake decoration like a library book in an O’Neill’s pub or in case war breaks out and there is an address to the nation; having turned the telly, like a modern-day Basil Fawlty, they then insist on turning the volume down to zero, as football is beneath them. These are the type of people who have sneered at working-class kids like Beckham and Rooney earning money they can only dream of, but never mention golfers, motor racing drivers, or bankers or barristers or any other profession where having a more advantageous start in life may have played a part. Continue reading…

England Cricket – A Tale of Two Ashes 2013/14

Jimmy Anderson by Lilly Allen for The Substantive

A successful England test team was taken apart in Australia, leading to wholesale changes and three new call-ups for the first test of the summer against Sri Lanka this week. A look back at some of the key moments for the England team of the back-to-back tests against Australia that went from triumph to disaster.

Australia v England, The Gabba, Novemeber 2013First Day at The Gabba © Mel Gomes

It is hard to think of any England cricket tour that has produced so much carnage.

First Jonathan Trott, who looked like his was found out in the English summer yet still taken on tour, looked all at sea in the heat of battle at the Gabba and flew home the day after the first test. Another staple of the successful side, Greame Swann, whose intelligent, beguiling over against Ricky Ponting against Edgbaston in 2009 will long-live in the memory, found it hard to get any bounce or spin; he boxed up all his records and a head full of ideas after the third test. Steven Finn, a genuine match-winner, wasn’t given a look in before he was sent home before the one-dayers began. Andy Flower, who had hinted the tour would be his swan song as coach, didn’t even get to make the choice himself before being given his marching orders upstairs. Further changes followed, including the end for Mustaq Ahmed and a still despondent Graham Gooch; Ashley Giles hides his humble hopes now and Geoff Miller is no longer chief selector. And of course the most talented and successful England player of the generation since he practically clinched the 2005 Ashes on his own, Kevin Pieterson, was the convenient scapegoat. What dark arts he performed in the dressing room that meant the team couldn’t bat, bowl or field, we may only fully find out when the confidentiality clauses end. Continue reading…

Sports Books – Summer 2014

Pirates, Punks and Politics -FC St Pauli Book Review

Mark Perryman shares his tips for Sports Books in the Summer of 2014.

Summer 2013. The British and Irish Lions win their test series against the Aussies down under. Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Chris Froome makes it a second Tour de France British Yellow Jersey in a row. Mo Farah does the double in the 5000m and 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships. For the second summer in a row, sporting Brits are forced for once to come to terms with what it feels like to be winners.

Of course the glorious appeal of sport is its unpredictability. A year ago Man Utd won the League by 11 points with Sir Alex in his retirement pomp. A year later Utd managed to hold on to 7th place. The best sportswriters engage with the cause and effect of unpredictability to capture not only the glories of victory but the far more common experience, the miseries of defeat. 2013’s summer of British victories only meant so much because most of us were better accustomed to the experience of British plucky losers. Amongst the finest sportswriters to cover this emotional scope was Frank Keating and The Highlights is a posthumous collection of his superb writing spanning more than fifty years of sport, reviewed in-depth on this website earlier this week here. Continue reading…

Frank Keating: The Highlights

Frank Keating Book Review Sports Writing

A review of a collection of over 50 years of great sports writing from Frank Keating, the Guardian Journalist who died in January 2013.

Compiled and edited by Frank Keating’s former Guardian colleague and sub-editor Matthew Engel, this wide-ranging collection of pieces from the late sports journalist who died in 2013 is a window into both the world of sport in the twentieth century and also Keating’s own art, his writing. There is very rarely a sentence not packed full of punch, sentences which are woven together to make articles that transcend match reports, interviews, profiles, obituaries, previews and reviews into a sum greater than their parts.

Keating’s skill is clear in this highlights package from work that spanned over five decades: he could take a one answer interview and turn it into a polemic, a history lesson or a reportage, while painting several pictures at the same time. Engles notes in his introduction that Keating sometimes took artistic license to the words of his interviewees to add a flourish in-keeping with the flair he himself consistently produced in his work, never misrepresenting them, Engles argues, rather delivering a more genuine portrayal of his subjects that the anodyne responses controlled by a PR spokesman who only allows clichés, platitudes and statements of the bleeding obvious.

The book contains Keating’s filed articles on genuine sporting heroes including Muhammad Ali, Ian Botham, Bill Nicolson, Basil D’Oliveria and Harold Larwood; there are the stories about unsung heroes from loyal servants at Fulham and Port Vale via golfing academies; and there are the brief encounters with the famous from other arenas such as Trevor Howard, Mother Theresa and John Betjeman. Continue reading…

True Detective

True Detective Season 1 Review

The first glimpse of the golden age of television we are now well and truly in came from the US, with the continuing chase of a serial killer in Twin Peaks. Scandinavia have since mastered the art of that traditional tale with The Killing and The Bridge, but True Detective, inspired by pulp fiction novels, has found new life in an old shaggy dog’s story.

Before Twin Peaks, much of US prime time cop-led drama used to belong to duos, with Starsky and Hutch, Cagney and Lacey and CHiPs successful exports in the early eighties. The first season of True Detective used the duo of Matthew McConaughey’s alcoholic Rust Cohle and Woody Harrleson’s compulsive philandering Marty Hart to hunt down a serial killer that had evaded them for over a decade with echoes of Twin Peaks’ dark second season and arguably the best cinematography and set detail in any US long-running drama. Continue reading…

Tales From The Secret Footballer

tales-from-the-secret-footballer

In his first book, The Secret Footballer expanded on his newspaper columns to give a rounded insight into the modern game, with a combination of wisdom and humour shaped around the central theme of a player writing as he was losing his own footholds as a professional. As he explains in his second book, Tales From The Secret Footballer, released just over a year after the first, he has since had a mini-resurgence in the game but is still undecided about his future and now takes the opportunity to reflect further, aided with stories he retells from contributors.

Again the book tries to give the view of an author with a dark passenger in his mind but The Secret Footballer is no Dexter Morgan, yet the narrative does explain a series of fallings out in his career to-date, the self-doubt that can affect performance and lead to concerns of suicide, as well as being a convenient opening to share a few hallucinatory experiences in this sequel. Continue reading…

Society & Politics Book Review, Spring 2014

Politics Book Review Pussy Riot

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football’s latest Society & Politics Book Review covers a wealth of writing including Laura Bates, Darcus Howe & Bea Campbell with subjects that range from Pussy Riot to Scottish Independence.

UKiP riding high in the opinion polls, what could be a more dismal sign of the state of opposition outside the Westminster bubble. Whether or not Farage’s party of English poujadists manage to top the Euro Election poll in May and make a further dent in the 3-party domination of the local government elections on the same day too the dragging of political debate rightwards remains UKiP’s biggest achievement. There remains few signs of any similar success from the outside Left. Continue reading…

The Speech

Martin Luther King The Speech Book Gary Younge

In today’s Guardian, Owen Jones rightly points out that positive social change which the left fights for is about collective action rather than individuals. But the leaders and spokespeople in the battles for equality and freedom are significant in modern history as flag bearers of the day and an inspiration for the future.

Several have departed the stage recently. The death of Tony Benn yesterday served to remind of his key principles in challenging power without accountability while the more sudden loss of Bob Crow earlier in the week led to the realisation many workers in the UK could do with union representation of their own in a climate where zero-hours contracts, the exploitation of migrant workers and the gradual dismantling of employee rights by the right-wing Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, have largely slipped under the radar.

On an international scale the greatest leader and agent for change yet, Nelson Mandela, passed away this year with a legacy that will inspire generations to come across the World. In a different strand, but still significant, the US’ Pete Seegar also died recently. In his own way he was a torch shining a light in the struggle for good. Arguably the most important figure from the US movement in the sixties though was Martin Luther King, and he is best remembered for his ‘I Have Dream’ speech in Washington DC, 28 August 1963, which Gary Younge’s book, written 50 years on, tells the story of. Continue reading…

House of Cards (US) S1 & 2

House of Cards Season 2 FU Cufflinks picture

It took a while the US remake of Andrew Davies’ original adaptation to get going. It wasn’t until the tenth episode the pace quickened, like an acceleration of a leading pack in a long distance race, but even then the story that was delivered in the British original in four one-hour episodes still didn’t reach the finish line in the first thirteen episodes of Season 1.

The Season 2 opener, Chapter 14, was the finale Season 1 should have been, delivering a punch full of impact that was true to the original drama broadcast on Sunday nights on BBC1 in 1990 (then also topical with the Thatcher blood bath in the Tory party fresh in the nation’s mind), while setting up an excellent second season released in one batch on Netflix, ideal for binge viewing. Continue reading…



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