Sports Book Reviews: From the dark into the light, cricket fans are sure to be informed and entertained

This year has seen a wide range of cricketing subjects tackled by authors, as cricket correspondent Chris Waters discovered.

Joe Sayers hits out

CRICKET has an alarming suicide rate.

There have been numerous cases at all levels of the game, the theory being that the sport attracts those of an over-sensitive and melancholic nature.

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No one in Yorkshire needs reminding of the sad case of David Bairstow, who took his own life in 1998, aged 46.

Bairstow, however, was the life and soul of the cricketing party and he had a number of personal troubles which emphasised that each case is painfully and poignantly different.

Inevitably, Bairstow’s tragic loss forms part of a book entitled ‘Headingley Ghosts: A Collection of Yorkshire Cricket Tragedies’ by the Yorkshire cricket writer Mick Pope.

With a silky style and sympathetic eye, Pope has penned a collection of more than 60 Yorkshire cricket biographies spanning over 180 years of the game in the county.

From the early Sheffield pioneers of the 1820s to the modern tragedy of Bairstow, the book tells the sad stories of many long-forgotten characters whose memories Pope has honoured.

The subject matter is dark but the tone is compassionate and Pope has made a significant contribution to Yorkshire cricket history.

So, too, has John White, with his splendid ‘Those Were The Days: A Yorkshire Boy’s Cricket Scrapbook.’

This delightfully produced volume is a collection of pictures, photographs, postcards, press cuttings, books and cigarette cards amassed during White’s boyhood in the West Riding.

White lived in Royston, the same village as former Yorkshire and England captain Norman Yardley, the acquisition of whose autograph began a lifelong fascination with Yorkshire cricket and its characters.

The book, which includes a foreword by Yardley’s son, takes us from the author’s Yorkshire childhood in the late 1930s/1940s, with much about Yardley’s life and career, through to the author’s “exile” in the south.

White went on to enjoy a long and distinguished musical career, spending more than 30 years as a viola professor at the Royal Academy of Music.

One man who has contributed to the scrapbooks of Yorkshire boys of contemporary vintage – assuming anyone still keeps scrapbooks nowadays – is Joe Sayers, the long-serving opening batsman.

Sayers, 30, has played 97 first-class games for Yorkshire since 2004, scoring 4,855 runs at 32.80, and has lately put his talents to literary use with ‘Rose-Tinted Summer: The Dressing Room Diary.’

The book, published to mark the club’s 150th anniversary, tells the story of Yorkshire’s return to the top flight of domestic cricket and their search for silverware in all forms of the game.

Featuring contributions from people such as former England captain Michael Vaughan and rising England stars Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, it tells the story of the summer from a player’s perspective.

The book provides a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of the professional cricketer and benefits from the astute editorship of Yorkshire cricket writer David Warner.

‘Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery’ by Grahame Lloyd focuses once more on events at Swansea in 1968, when Nottinghamshire’s Garry Sobers became the first man to hit six sixes in an over.

The book, a follow-up to Lloyd’s ‘Six of the Best: Cricket’s Most Famous Over’, charts his unstinting efforts to uncover the truth about what happened to the famous ball bowled by Glamorgan’s Malcolm Nash at the St Helen’s ground.

In 2006, the ball was sold at auction for a world record £26,400 by Christie’s in London but Lloyd proves that it was actually the wrong ball during a thorough investigation that takes the reader all the way from England to India and all points between, and which features a cast of colourful characters, including an art impresario, a solar energy expert and an antiquarian book dealer.

Lloyd concludes that he doesn’t know what happened to the original ball and says it “could have been lost in the redevelopment of Trent Bridge in Nottingham or perhaps it was inadvertently left lying in a cricket bag somewhere inside the ground”.

Finally, ‘A Handful of Confetti’, by David Green, charts the sporting times of a man described by David “Bumble” Lloyd as “the funniest man I have met in cricket” – quite a recommendation.

Green, who played first-class cricket from 1959 to 1970 for Oxford University, Lancashire and Gloucestershire, as well as rugby union for Sale and Bristol, later enjoyed a 27-year career as a sports journalist for the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph.

Now retired, he has compiled a fund of stories and reminiscences from a remarkable sporting life in which he has rubbed shoulders with many great characters including Yorkshire’s Fred Trueman – “the most difficult bowler, of any type, that I faced”.

A natural raconteur, Green has enlivened many a press box and, if I might be allowed a little personal comment, there was no greater pleasure than arriving at a ground to discover that he, too, had been assigned to cover the match.

Headingley Ghosts: A Collection of Yorkshire Cricket Tragedies; by Mick Pope is published by Scratching Shed, priced £14.99.

Those Were The Days: A Yorkshire Boy’s Cricket Scrapbook; by John White is published by Christopher Saunders, priced £20.

Rose-Tinted Summer: The Dressing Room Diary; by Joe Sayers is published by Great Northern Books, priced £17.99.

Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery; by Grahame Lloyd is published by Celluloid, priced £14.99.

A Handful of Confetti; by David Green is published by TME Publishing, priced £12.99.

Two tales of one city with a quiz book thrown in

Lee Bullen famously played in all positions at Sheffield Wednesday as a player – now he is in the Owls’ dugout assisting caretaker-manager Stuart Gray, following the sacking of Dave Jones.

Bullen’s autobiography ‘No Bull’ is a cracking read, which Owls fans will not want to put down.

He was a nomadic footballer, plying his trade in Australia, Hong Kong and Greece, before finding his home in Sheffield.

He will be forever remembered as the captain of the 2005 promotion-winning side, lifting the trophy in Cardiff after play-off success against Hartlepool United.

There’s a superb chapter dedicated to that day, reliving one of Wednesday’s greatest victories and even lets you into the secret that he had a three-in-a-bed moment at the end of it all. He went to bed with his wife and the trophy, as he wouldn’t let it out of his sight.

It is crunched into 206 pages and an absolute must for any self-respecting Sheffield Wednesday fan this Christmas.

I turned into my dad when I read Tony Kenworthy’s gritty autobiography ‘Blade Heart’, uttering those golden words “they don’t make footballers like that any more”.

Kenworthy is what a ‘proper’ footballer was all about and this book pulls no punches, telling of life growing up in Leeds, before carving out a career at Sheffield United where he became one of the most popular players of his era.

Kenworthy also talks for the first time about life behind bars, when he was jailed after failing to report a car crash. Compelling reading.

Everyone has a mate who think he knows everything about your football club.

Well, now Sheffield Wednesday fans can arm themselves with the ultimate quiz book on their club.

Avid Wednesday fan Andrew Clark’s ‘Never Mind The Owls: The Ultimate Sheffield Wednesday Quiz Book’ is packed with information and the perfect gift for Hillsborough regulars. An ideal stocking filler.

No Bull: The Lee Bullen Story; by Lee Bullen, with Alan Biggs. Vertical Editions, £16.99.

Blade Heart; The Tony Kenworthy Autobiography; Tony Kenworthy with John Brindley. Vertical Editions, £16.99.

Never Mind The Owls: The Ultimate Sheffield Wednesday Quiz Book; Andrew Clark.

World leader Matthew reveals that sweating blood is all worthwhile

IT HAS proved to be something of a vintage year for Sheffield’s Nick Matthew.

At the age of 33, the Yorkshireman has elevated himself back to the top of the ever-improving men’s game, so much so that he will start 2014 as world No 1 – the third time he has held the top position in the sport, the last time seeing him as the world’s best player for the whole of 2011.

It seems fitting, then, that Matthew should follow Yorkshire rival James Willstrop into the book world.

While Willstrop’s ‘A Shot and a Ghost’ provided a fascinating insight into a year in the life of a professional squash player, Matthew’s offering is a more traditional biographical tale, although it cleverly jumps back and forward in time.

Matthew has developed a reputation for being one of the most, if not the most, resilient players on the men’s current world tour.

His determination to get to the top and stay there pours off every page, although he always acknowledges the help he has had along the way.

From his early junior successes in the mid-late 90s through to the weeks before his third world title last month, Matthew – along with co-writer Dominic Bliss – covers every inch of his remarkable life on the court in detail.

He takes the reader through the dark times – such as when he spent most of 2008 out following a career-saving shoulder operation – to the moment he finally reached world No 1 for the first time in June 2010 where he stayed for three months

For a man who was told as a teenager that he would never make it as a professional squash player, he hasn’t done too bad at all.

Sweating Blood: My Life in Squash; Nick Matthew, Wyndeham Grange, £10.

Larger-than-life Jacko reveals the man behind public persona

EVERYONE knows ‘Jacko’. Or, at least, they think they do.

He’s the larger-than-life character who was the very heart of any team he played in. The defender and captain who led by example when sporting the colours of, among others, Bradford City and Huddersfield Town.

‘Jacko’ – not ‘Peter’ or ‘Peter Jackson’, just ‘Jacko’, such is the sporting public’s familiarity with someone they have, more than likely, never met – is also the manager who twice revived the fortunes of Town following tough times.

What ‘Living with Jacko’ – the book written by Jackson and wife Alison – also reveals, however, is that there is so much more to the one-time defender than this amiable public persona.

‘Jacko’ is someone who has had to visit some very dark places in the wake of being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2007. In often chilling detail – and through the eyes of both husband and wife – ‘Living with Jacko’ charts, first, the diagnosis of the cancer and then the subsequent gruelling treatment.

Alison, a former oncology nurse, kept a diary throughout and it is this which sets aside this book from the usual football autobiography. Not that there isn’t plenty of football in there to keep supporters happy. Jacko’s career is, with the help of author Andrew Collomosse, chronicled in a typically entertaining manner.

From the scrapes he got in with Gazza during their time together as players at Newcastle United through to the horrors of the Bradford City fire disaster and then later his two stints as Huddersfield manager, all are told in Jacko’s unmistakable voice.

But, for this reviewer, it was the – thankfully, successful – fight against cancer that makes ‘Living with Jacko’ stand out and a worthy addition to anyone’s Christmas list this year.

Living with Jacko; by Alison and Peter Jackson, Great Northern Books.

Unforgettable year for Henderson sits alongside Oakley’s anecdotes

CHAMPION horses like Sprinter Sacre, Long Run and Bobs Worth turned 2013 into an unforgettable year for Nicky Henderson.

Their exploits are recorded in ‘Henderson’s Heroes: The Story Of An Unbelievable Season’ in which the Racing Post reprints the articles – and photography – that chronicled their successes.

And, while Henderson always maintained a pretence that the trainer’s title did not matter, his relief is self-evident when he notes that this success came 26 years after his last championship. The only comparison that he can make is with George Foreman who regained his world heavyweight boxing crown after 21 years: “I think George probably had a harder task than I did.”

‘Tales From The Turf’ is a series of personal essays and anecdotes written engagingly by Robin Oakley, the BBC’s one-time political editor, a man still remembered for his TV bulletins outside Downing Street.

But racing is his first love – I remember talking at length to him at Aintree on Grand National day in 2005 which took preference over the election campaign that was then underway.

Another very readable book is Anne Holland’s appreciation of Arkle who confirmed his pre-eminence with a classy win on Boxing Day 50 years ago.

It was in this era that gamblers, gangsters and glamorous women were trying to rig the sport, including an attempt to stop Captain Neville Crump’s horses at Middleham.

‘Doped’ is a true story which was a runaway winner of the 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

Henderson’s Heroes; Nicky Henderson, Racing Post, £20.

Tales From The Turf; Robin Oakley, Icon Books, £16.99.

Arkle The Legend Of Himself; Anne Holland, O’Brien Press, £16.99.

Doped; Jamie Reid, Racing Post, £20.