Dopers, nobblers, dibbers and dobbers: 2013 in sports books


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The Independent Culture

A high proportion of the standout books of 2013 deal with dirty dealings of one kind or another. Then again, as Mike Rowbottom points out in Foul Play: The Dark Arts of Cheating in Sport (Bloomsbury, £12.99), athletes have sought an illegal edge since ancient Greece. His excursion into the grey areas of sport’s moral maze is illuminating and entertaining, if somewhat disheartening.

No grey areas in Doped (Racing Post, £20), winner of this year’s William Hill Sports Book of the Year. The wholesale nobbling of racehorses in the 1960s was out-and-out criminality. Jamie Reid’s spicy account has a memorable cast, including gangland kingpins, bent bookies and bribeable stable lads.

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy (Bloomsbury, £8.99) is an expose of cricket’s nobblers. Ed Hawkins’s biggest revelation concerns the India v Pakistan 2011 World Cup semi-final in Mumbai, when one of his bookmaker contacts tweets him a “script” of how the game will unfold which turns out to be eye-poppingly accurate. An antidote to such gloom is The Trundlers (Little, Brown, £13.99), a celebration of cricket’s medium-pace dibbers and dobbers. Harry Pearson’s in-depth knowledge and felicitous turn of phrase produces an unalloyed delight for enthusiasts.

For towering self-absorption nothing can touch  I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Penguin, £8.99). The Swedish striker lays into everyone and everything as he charts his rise from a teenage tearaway in an immigrant ghetto to one of the most sought-after footballers on the planet. Ronnie O’Sullivan also has more than the average number of bees in his bonnet, yet in Running (Orion, £18.99) he claims that the camaraderie he has found through running has played a major part in his salvation. He comes across as fragile but likeable, and earns full marks for honesty. Hardly a mention of drugs in Domestique (Ebury, £16.99), but Britain’s Charly Wegelius reveals plenty of other murky goings-on in the peloton as he recounts his career as one of road-racing’s top support riders.

Wales are back-to-back Six Nations champions, but international success has come at a high cost for the grass roots of Welsh rugby union, argue Nick Bishop and Alun Carter. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Mainstream, £16.99), they chart the rise and precipitous fall of Pontypool, one of the Principality’s most famous, and most feared, clubs, and worry that worse may still be to come.