Archaeology, Art & Football

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.

Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology & Mythology

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.

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UoB team contribute to William Hill Sport Book of the Year nominee

Our very own Dr Chris Gaffney is on his way to London to attend the William Hill Sport Book of the Year ceremony. A couple of years ago Chris and Tom Sparrow trained some students in geophysical techniques on the former Bradford Park Avenue ground (together with assistance from Stuart Fox, Mary Saunders and Alex Corkum). Bradford Park Avenue was a club that epitomises so much of English football. They played at the top level during the hey-day of football but by 1974 their decline was terminal. Their fine ground was only saved as it had a covenant which stipulated that sports had to be played there. The interpretation of that clause is a bit vague, but half the ground is still there. The University of Bradford team mapped the pitch and laser scanned some of the terraces at the Kop end. The work was done with Neville Gabie, Alan Ward and Jason Wood who had Arts Council funding to work with the community to record the ground in some way. They produced an edited book, Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology,  which includes a piece about the UoB team’s work. It’s a lovely volume which was crowd funded and only 500 were produced. Somehow it got noticed by those who judge books…long-list and then short-list of the William Hill Sport Book of the Year.

The announcement of the winner will be later today. Good luck and fingers crossed for Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology.

The book has been discussed in an article by The Guardian newspaper. You can find out more details of the William Hill Sport Book of the Year here.