Sports Books of the Year 2008

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The Independent Culture

An unusual winner of the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, in that the book is not primarily about sport and the stated author didn't write it. But Marcus Trescothick's Coming Back To Me: The Autobiography (HarperSport, £18.99), an at times harrowing account of his battle with depression while trying to do battle as an England batsman, sets a new benchmark for honesty, so no matter that his words were put into order by the estimable Peter Hayter.

Choosing the right ghost is crucial, and Sir Bobby Charlton could have done no better than James Lawton of this parish. My England Years (Headline, £20), the second volume of his memoirs, inevitably centres around the 1966 World Cup final, and while the story of that momentous day has oft been told, Charlton's view from the pitch still adds new insight.

How Sir Alf triumphed with his wingless wonders is given due consideration in Inverting the Pyramid (Orion, £18.99). In other hands a history of football tactics might have been as dry as dust, but Jonathan Wilson fashions his material into a fascinating, authoritative tale.

Revisiting football's past was a popular theme of the year: 'Match' magazine delved into their archives to honour the heady days of perms and mullets in Match: Best of the '80s (Boxtree, £12.99), and Played in Britain added two more compilations from the very first football glossy, 'Charles Buchan's Monthly' – the Liverpool Gift Book and Spurs Gift Book (both £14.99) – to their list. "We have two Scots, three Welshmen, an Irishman and five Englishmen in the first team," said Tottenham's captain, Dave Mackay, in 1959. How times change.

The Olympic world has moved on, too, and as London struggles to raise billions to fund the 2012 Games, Janie Hampton's lively The Austerity Olympics (Aurum, £18.99) reminds us that the budget for the capital's 1948 Games was a mere £760,000, while Graeme Kent in Olympic Follies (JR Books, £14.99) reveals that the 1908 version cost just over £80,000, and Britain won 146 medals.

The pick of the books celebrating British success in Beijing last summer is Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport, £15,99). Richard Moore spent a year shadowing Chris Hoy, and the result is a gripping inside story of how Team GB's cyclists rode to glory. They won cleanly, too, which is more than can be said for most of the riders who feature in Bad Blood: The Secret Life of the Tour de France by Jeremy Whittle (Yellow Jersey, £12.99), a saga of disillusionment and doping. And the drug-taking, drinking and hair-raisingly complicated love life of Jacques Anquetil, a five-time Tour winner, provided rich pickings for Paul Howard in Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape (Mainstream, £17.99).

Like drugs, politics is never far from sporting debate. In Playing the Enemy (Atlantic, £18.99) John Carling examines the 1995 Rugby World Cup final and Nelson Mandela's genius in using the occasion to help unify South Africans, while in the more scholarly but equally absorbing More Than Just A Game (Collins, £17.99), a history of the football leagues on Robben Island, Chuck Corr and Marvin Close explain how Mandela and his fellow prisoners used sport to help them in their struggle. Not all the essays in Ed Smith's thought-provoking What Sport Tells Us About Life (Viking, £15.99) deal with such weighty matters, but he reinforces the point that playing games has a serious side.

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