Five of the best sport books of 2023

Watford Forever by John Preston and Elton John

Watford Forever
John Preston and Elton John, Viking

In 1977, Elton John was known as one of the most extravagant and affluent pop stars in the world. Graham Taylor, a strict football manager who would later be famously nicknamed “the turnip” by the Sun, may seem like an unlikely pairing with John. However, under their leadership, Watford Football Club went from being at the bottom of the fourth division to becoming the second-best club in the country. In his book, The Dig, Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell and A Very English Scandal, author John Preston paints a heartwarming portrait of their unlikely friendship. Elton’s honest contributions reveal that Taylor not only turned around a struggling team, but also helped a lonely and dangerously addicted musician. A movie adaptation is likely to follow.

Althea- The Life of Tennis Champion Althea Gibson by Sally H Jacobs

Sally H Jacobs’ book, “Althea: The Life of Tennis Champion Althea Gibson,” explores the remarkable life of the tennis icon. Despite facing numerous challenges, Gibson defied societal expectations and achieved great success in the sport. She grew up playing tennis on the streets of Harlem and her fierce determination on the court was fueled by a difficult upbringing. However, her rough exterior and unapologetic sexuality were met with criticism and she often faced discrimination as a Black athlete. Even after breaking the color barrier at the US Championships in 1950 and becoming the first Black woman to win Wimbledon seven years later, Gibson was still scrutinized for her lack of involvement in civil rights advocacy. This biography delves into the racist environment of Gibson’s time and pays tribute to her as a trailblazing figure in both sports and politics, whose contributions have often been overlooked.

Kick The Latch by Kathryn Scanlan

Kick the Latch
Kathryn Scanlan, Daunt

Kathryn Scanlan’s poignant and raw writing portrays the harsh reality of a life in horse racing. Through interviews with a trainer from the midwestern region, Scanlan has created a captivating piece that combines elements of oral history and novella. Sonia, a tall woman from Iowa, gives up comfort and safety to follow her passion for horse racing. The story exposes a gritty and nomadic lifestyle, depicted with the same flickering effect as a zoetrope. Despite the presence of violence, alcohol, and extreme poverty, the book maintains its sharp and bright essence, revealing the unglamorous yet crucial role of the racetrack.

Unbreakable by Ronnie O’Sullivan

Ronnie O’Sullivan, Seven Dials

Is a third autobiography from Ronnie O’Sullivan truly necessary for the world? No. Is a snooker player known for his turbulent career the ideal candidate to offer life guidance? Probably not. However, there is something about Tom Fordyce’s ghostwriting that surpasses the typical self-help style. Similar to other authors who have embodied the mindset of sports personalities – such as Jon Hotten emulating Geoffrey Boycott and David Peace with Brian Clough – Fordyce enhances this book with his meticulous reconstruction of some of O’Sullivan’s most memorable and disastrous performances. Disregard the clichéd philosophy and revel in the vivid details of his intense matches against John Higgins and Stephen Hendry.

Bazball- The Inside Story of a Test Cricket Revolution by Lawrence Booth and Nick Hoult

Bazball: An Inside Look at the Revolution of Test Cricket
Lawrence Booth and Nick Hoult, Bloomsbury

In the past 18 months, England’s Test team has experienced a rapid and significant transformation. The term “Bazball” has now been officially recognized in dictionaries, and writers Booth and Hoult from the Mail and Telegraph have collaborated to write the first comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon, which is expected to have a lasting impact on cricket. The book traces its origins back to the childhood games of former New Zealand player and current England coach, Brendon “Baz” McCullum, and follows the journey of Ben Stokes, who overcame personal struggles and a highly publicized court case to become one of the team’s key players. This is an entertaining exploration of an exceptional period in English cricket, culminating in an unforgettable Ashes series. A refreshing read for those feeling down about the current World Cup.