Dr Chris Gaffney & Tom Sparrow – School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences
For much of the last century Bradford had two professional football teams. With time one club prospered while the other, Bradford Park Avenue, reduced in popularity and eventually its ground was abandoned. Decline in popularity hardly sounds like a cause for celebration, but by using an innovative archaeological and artist narrative a book has been published that has bucked the trend in publishing of sports books.
The William Hill Sports Book of the Year award is eagerly awaited by many in the book publishing world. It may not have the status, or the cash value, of the Man Booker although the organisers say that it is the richest and most prestigious sports writing prize in the world. The benefit for the winner, apart from the glory, is that the 4 weeks between the announcement and Christmas is a welcome bonus window for sales.
Of the 28 previous winners, the subject matter has been distributed between 11 sports. Last year’s victor was a treatise on the early surfing scene as lived and reported by Bill Finnegan. Three of the sports that have featured frequently – cricket, boxing and football – have all provided heavyweights in the pantheon of sports writing. The other commonly featured sport is cycling, and the subject matter illustrates the breadth of the award; the cycling books mirror the popularity of a fashionable sport and cheating, both sure winners by any measure.
The 2017 shortlist has some classic offerings from the top represented sports; biographies of Muhammad Ali, Bob Paisley and Tom Simpson. Among the other books we see the spectrum of great sports writing; the extraordinary life of Béla Guttmann, the ‘swimming suffragettes’ and the never-say-die sporting life of the jockey Declan Murphy.