You CAN be a winner, even when you lose

You CAN be a winner, even when you lose: Roger Alton selects the best books on sport from 2020

  • Roger Alton makes his picks for the best books focusing on sport from 2020
  • British literary critic picked out tomes to suit all budgets this Christmas
  • Among the picks are The Hurt by Dylan Hartley and The Long Win by Cath Bishop


MIND GAMES by Neville Southall (HarperCollins £20, 304pp)


by Neville Southall (HarperCollins £20, 304pp)

One of the most surprising books by a footballer, and a massive corrective for anyone who thinks that all players worry about is the colour of their new Maserati.

You don’t have to be an Everton fan to know that Southall is one of the finest ever goalkeepers. With chapter headings including ‘Pressure’, ‘Fear’ and ‘Racism,’ you know that Southall, a lifelong tee-totaller, is willing to tackle the big issues.

He recognises the scale of the gambling problem in football as well as the drinking culture, though much of that has changed since his day. The final chapter is called ‘Be Better’. Good advice.

NIKI LAUDA by Maurice Hamilton (Simon&Schuster £20, 384pp)


by Maurice Hamilton (Simon&Schuster £20, 384pp)

Lauda was a superb driver on the track and a much-loved figure off it, as famous for his bluntness as for his raw courage. A few weeks after the 1976 crash that left him so badly burned he was given the last rites, he stepped back into his Ferrari at Monza in what Jackie Stewart called the ‘most courageous thing I have ever witnessed in sport’.

Lauda’s rivalry with James Hunt was dramatised in the film Rush. This book, which covers Lauda’s extraordinary racing career, as well as his later life as the motor-racing executive who persuaded Lewis Hamilton to join Mercedes, is every bit as thrilling as a movie.

THE BREATH OF SADNESS by Ian Ridley (Floodlit Dreams £13.99, 320pp)


by Ian Ridley (Floodlit Dreams £13.99, 320pp)

Ian Ridley’s late wife, Vikki Orvice, was a talented and much-loved sports journalist, blessed with a wild sense of humour. She used to love to tell the story of the night she sat next to Bobby Robson at a dinner. Ian told Robson, a cancer veteran: ‘Vikki has cancer as well.’ ‘Really, what type?’ asked Bobby.

‘Well, the primary was breast, but it could have been ovarian,’ said Vikki.

‘Them, pet, are the only two I’ve not had,’ said Robson.

Orvice died in February 2019. Her death devastated Ian, himself a distinguished sports writer who is also suffering from cancer. This brave, moving, sometimes harrowing book is his attempt to come to terms with loss by visiting a series of County Championship cricket matches, the venues of which had special meaning for Ian and Vikki.

A magnificent book, but have a box of tissues to hand when you read it.


by Dylan Hartley (Viking £20, 336pp)

Want to know what rugby is really like? Then read this brutal, and brutally frank, memoir.

Rugby fans will remember Dylan Hartley, one of the most capped and battle-hardened players in English rugby, either belting someone, getting belted himself, or being sin-binned and sent off.

He was banned in total for 60 weeks. But once you get past the boozing, the cauliflower ears and the hangovers, the Hartley who emerges from this book, superbly ghost-written by Michael Calvin, is warm, humorous and thoughtful.

And extremely opinionated. At a time when rugby is in the dock over dementia and concussion, what Hartley has to say about the dangers of bulking up players so they are more like weight-lifters than the normal mortals of a couple of decades ago must be listened to.

THE LONG WIN by Cath Bishop (Practical Inspiration £12.99, 274pp)


by Cath Bishop (Practical Inspiration £12.99, 274pp)

It’s not often you can say a book will change your life, but this certainly could. Cath Bishop rowed at three Olympics, winning silver in Athens and gold at two World Championships. She now teaches leadership at Cambridge University.

What she tries to do in this fascinating book is to redefine what winning means. The language of war is everywhere — ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing’ — not just in sport, but in the boardroom and even the home. Bishop wants to challenge that.

She looks at rugby world cup winner Jonny Wilkinson who expected joy to follow but ‘It never came’.

Collaboration, not challenging, says Bishop, is a better way to live our lives. A self-help book that should be read by all.

ME, FAMILY AND THE MAKING OF A FOOTBALLER by Jamie Redknapp (Headline £20, 336pp)


by Jamie Redknapp (Headline £20, 336pp)

If your childhood kickabouts were spent with legends such as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and George Best, there’s every chance you might have made it as a footballer. Given a bit of talent and all that.

And sure enough Jamie Redknapp, much-loved son of ‘King of the Jungle’ Harry and his wife Sandra, really did make it: for Liverpool, Spurs and England.

This wonderful book is about the journey there: the fun, the laughter, the banter, the hard work, the disappointments and the triumphs.

It even takes you inside Jamie’s dingy digs on Merseyside, living off sausages and Smash potato as a junior for Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool.

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