‘Sweetest Rose’ proves a Plum offering as Yorkshire celebrate

Geoffrey Boycott
Geoffrey Boycott
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Yorkshire Post sports writers leaf through the pages of some of the top sporting books on the bookshelves this Christmas.

THE long history of Yorkshire County Cricket Club encompasses not only its distinguished players and officials but also the men who have chronicled its fortunes, writes Chris Waters.

Prominent in the latter category is David ‘Plum’ Warner, who has reported Yorkshire cricket since 1975 and is as much a part of the fabric of the club as the carpet in the Headingley Long Room.

One of cricket writing’s best and most well-liked figures, and a valued friend and father figure to yours truly, ‘Plum’ began his journalistic career as a 16-year-old in 1958 and went on to serve as cricket correspondent of three local newspapers.

He still covers every home game for the Press Association – usually arriving at the ground before some of his younger colleagues have struggled out of bed – 
and has edited the Yorkshire County Cricket Club Yearbook since 2009, since when he has given it a lick of paint and enhanced its reputation as Yorkshire’s answer to Wisden, the cricketer’s bible.

Certainly no one was more qualified to write The Sweetest Rose: 150 Years of Yorkshire County Cricket Club 1863-2013, which tells the story of the club ‘Plum’ has cherished since boyhood and yet always covered with an appropriate sense of balance.

It is an enjoyable and evocative romp down the years, made all the better for the author’s intimate connection with the subject since the mid-1970s.

‘Plum’ was right there at the height of the Boycott saga, when the club was a prominent presence on front and back pages, and when his news sense and fairness marked him out as a leader in the journalistic field.

He did not take sides then and he does not do so now; the tumultuous years are treated with an insight and integrity typical of the man.

Histories, by their very nature, can often be dry and dusty and overburdened with statistical weight.

Not this one.

Shorter chapters aid clarity and browsing comfort, while brief player profiles and question-and-answer pieces neatly complement the well-written, pacy text.

When ‘Plum’ was in the throes of compiling this book, I hope he will not mind me saying that he was naturally a little concerned about how it might be received given the sheer scale and size of the task and sometimes sensitive nature of the subject matter.

He need not have worried.

It is a wonderful book – one which walks the straight line of fine judgment and which celebrates the history of a club which ‘Plum’, in his own inimitable way, has coloured every bit as much as its most prominent players.

‘The Sweetest Rose: 150 Years of Yorkshire County Cricket Club 1863-2013’ by David Warner (published in hardback by Great Northern Books, priced £17.99).

First, I must declare an interest. For the past five or six years, I’ve been pestering Martin Jarred to update the ‘Leeds United – The Complete Record’ series he has twice previously co-authored with Malcolm MacDonald, writes Richard Sutcliffe.

The most recent edition, published in 1996, is among the most thumbed books residing at YP Towers and with so many seasons having passed since 
it came out, I was keen to have 
an up-to-date record of reference.

Thankfully, those pleas have come to fruition and, once again, the two authors have delivered.

In a book dedicated to the late Gary Speed, new features include Leeds players who died on active service in the two World Wars, testimonial games and pre-season tournaments, but it is the updated season-by-season section that this particular correspondent was so happy to see.

‘Leeds United – The Complete Record’ by Martin Jarred and Malcolm MacDonald (Derby Book Publishing Company).

Until Phil Brown delivered Hull City into the promised land of the Premier League, the club had long since become the answer to a pub quiz question as the largest city in Europe never to have hosted top-flight football, writes Richard Sutcliffe.

Having read Nicholas Turner’s excellent new book on the first decade of the Tigers, it is clear the founders of the club would never have believed that it would take so long – 104 years – to realise that ambition.

They had set out with the intent of establishing ‘class football’ in Hull and once that had been achieved inside a year, the First Division seemed tantalisingly within grasp.

It was, of course, not meant to be but, as is evident in Now Tigers! it was not through the want of trying.

Turner has lovingly charted the first 10 years of Hull’s existence and it makes for fascinating reading, with the reproduction of so many cartoons of the period a particular delight.

‘Now Tigers! The Early Years of Hull City’ by Nicholas Turner (Dolman Scott Books).

Willstrop ghosts in to top of world rankings

WHAT has been a memorable year for Leeds’s world No 1 James Willstrop was made even better following the acclaim heaped upon the publication of his book Shot And A Ghost.

Chronicling ‘a year in the brutal world of professional squash’, the diary style employed by Willstrop and editor Rod Gilmour, who covers the sport for the Daily Telegraph, works exceptionally well.

Willstrop was keen to avoid doing a typical biography, given his age and the fact he felt there was still so much to achieve in the game, writes Phil Harrison.

What follows over the subsequent 211 pages is a brutally honest account of what life is like for an elite athlete striving to be the best in their sport.

Willstrop’s elevation to the 
No 1 ranking did not happen until almost a year after the time covered by this book – January 2010-February 2011 – but that helps make the frustrations and endless self-doubt which he confesses to all the more compelling.

Given the lack of coverage generally given to the sport in the national media, the fact ‘Shot And A Ghost’ (www.willstrop.co.uk, £14.50) was short-listed for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year is further evidence of how well written it actually is.

‘Moving the Goalposts’ (Pitch Publishing, £14.99) is the latest offering from Rob Jovanovic, the man behind ‘Pride and Glory’ which told the overdue story of Great Britain’s gold medal-winning ice hockey team at the 1936 Winter Olympics.

In an entertaining way, Jovanovic uncovers numerous hidden truths about football and explains why certain myths survive – regardless of the statistical evidence suggesting otherwise.

For example, contrary to popular belief and, via a slightly complicated statistical system, the author concludes that the greatest English club team was... Sheffield Wednesday’s 1929-30 Division One-winning team.

No Christmas should be complete for UK ice hockey fans without a copy of the sport’s annual ‘bible’.

Stewart Roberts has once again delivered the goods with ‘The Ice Hockey Annual’ (www.icehockeyannual.co.uk £9.95).

The 37th edition of the annual is packed with all the usual features, including a review of the 2011-12 season for both the Elite League and English Premier League.

There are also full details for every ice hockey club in the UK.

Armstrong and drugs peddlars fully exposed

In The Secret Race former Olympic champion and Tour de France cyclist Tyler Hamilton lifts the lid on doping in the world of professional cycling, writes Nick Westby.

As a way of clearing his own conscience, it is a fascinating account of the murky underworld of professional cycling and the lengths that Hamilton and his fellow riders would go to win races, please sponsors, and ultimately, stay competitive.

As a piece of evidence, it is damning against Lance Armstrong. If there was ever any doubt as to the validity of the claims against the disgraced seven-times Tour de France winner, they will surely be removed by this harrowing tale of deception and the breakdown of morals in professional sport.

Hamilton paints a picture of Armstrong as not only a cheat, but a bully. It is a cathartic process for the author (he has a co-author in Daniel Coyle), and he does not ask forgiveness, but for understanding, of how a rider can become trapped in such circumstances.

At times it is a difficult read, with the explicit recounting of blood transfusions particularly chilling. But the fact that it is a no-holds-barred account of Armstrong’s systematic approach to doping, and the peloton’s not too distant past, makes it a compelling one.

Continuing the drugs theme, The Dirtiest Race in History focusses on arguably the most talked-about sporting event of the 20th century, the 1988 Olympic men’s 100m final.

It sets the scene on the rivalry between Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. To casual observers, it is a simple hero versus villain story, with Johnson the man who more than anyone embodies sport’s greatest fraud.

However, author Richard Moore, through a series of interviews and some diligent investigative journalism, casts both men in a different light.

Johnson gladly gave his time to Moore, not to seek redemption, but like Hamilton, to get his version of events across. Lewis – who was also embroiled in drugs scandals in his career – proved an elusive figure.

Moore explores the ‘Mystery Man’ theory surrounding the positive drugs test Johnson gave, presenting a sinister version of what could have happened without ever leaving the reader to believe that is definitely what took place.