Books of the Year: Sport

A momentous cricket match spearheads these reveries, which will cheer supporters of every stripe
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The Independent Culture

'Tis the cricket season to be merry, after England's surging start to the Ashes series Down Under – and 500-1: The Miracle of Headingley '81 (John Wisden, £9.99) is just the book to reinforce the feel-good factor. England's extraordinary win against Australia in that Test is examined in forensic detail and chronicled with flair by Rob Steen and Alastair McLellan. If you didn't see the match, enjoy this definitive account; if you were lucky enough to watch it, revel in the proceedings all over again.

Not such a happy time for England supporters on the football front, World Cup humiliation in the summer being followed by another crushing defeat when bidding to host the 2018 finals. Those who view the tournament and its organisers, Fifa, with a jaundiced eye will find plenty to confirm their distaste in John Spurling's Death or Glory: The Dark History of the World Cup (VSP, £14.99), while The Anatomy of England: A History in Ten Matches (Orion, £14.99) by Jonathan Wilson explores the historical roots of the team's malaise. This fascinating, kick-by-kick reappraisal of 10 key games in England's international football history is wary of generalisations, though Wilson does identify an English "lust for speed and fear of thought" as a central problem.

A lust for violence in his playing days is owned up to by this year's William Hill winner, the former England rugby union hooker Brian Moore, in Beware of the Dog (Simon & Schuster, £17.99), his gripping though uncomfortable account of a troubled childhood and the self-destructive, nasty streak he has battled ever since. Bobby Windsor, Wales's legendary hooker of the 1970s, never shrank from combat either and according to his autobiography The Iron Duke (Mainstream, £16.99), he enjoyed every bloody minute of it. While his memoirs are flawed by some hide-bound, "in my day" observations, he does the game a service by reminding those who mourn the advent of professionalism just how unpleasantly patrician the game's administrators could be in the amateur era.

The Phantom of the Open by Scott Murray and Simon Farnaby (Yellow Jersey, £12.99) explains how Maurice Flitcroft also fell foul of sporting officialdom, in his case the R&A, guardians of the Rules of Golf and organisers of the Open. In 1974, Flitcroft, a 46-year-old crane driver from Barrow who had never played a round of golf before, carded 121 in an Open qualifier, still the worst score ever recorded in the event's 151-year history. He might have left it at that but for the hysterical overreaction of the R&A's blimpish secretary, a man apparently composed of 50 per cent rule book, 30 per cent blazer and 20 per cent gin. Over the next 14 years, Flitcroft sneaked through the entry process again and again, with predictably haphazard and often hilarious results, and in this sympathetic portrait he comes across as a clever, warm and witty man, far more sinned against than sinning.

The golf commentator Peter Alliss is the bête noire of Matthew Norman in You Cannot Be Serious! The 101 Most Infuriating Things in Sport (Fourth Estate, £14.99). According to Norman, Alliss is "an archetype of misplaced English arrogance of a rankness that would – were what he must know as 'the PC Brigade' a more effective military outfit than he might have us believe – have been wiped out long ago". One could argue about a number of the choices, but that's hardly the point; it's all good knockabout stuff, written with pungently cruel phrase-making as Norman hacks into his victims with the skill of a master butcher. No seasonal goodwill here, and all the funnier for that.