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Our Christmas selection

Release date: 24th December, 2005
Publisher: Various

List Price: £Various
Our Price: £Various
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Christmas selection

The process involved in recommending a selection of sports books to fill this year's Christmas stockings proved more involved than I had imagined. Inevitably, subjectivity played a part: after all, these are the books which I enjoyed most of all, although I endeavoured to have no more than one book from the same sport.

Drawing up an initial short list of ten or so was relatively easy, but getting that down to five good reads proved more difficult.

I eventually jettisoned Friday Night Lights, H. G. Bissinger's excellent insight into American Football as it was re-published as a tenth anniversary edition, but it is recommended nonetheless. Frank Bruno's biography Frank and Jack Rollin's outstanding Soccer at War also missed out, mainly because I already had a boxing and football title on my shortlist; they could just have easily been in. The same could be said of The Rivals by Johnette Howard, the marvellous tale of sporting rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and George Cohen's autobiography, considerably more interesting than the average footballing tome.

That left my favourite five, starting with Who do you think you are√ĖMichael Schumacher? by Ian Stafford. The germ of Stafford's idea began with an unlikely encounter with Schumacher's Ferrari outside of Silverstone seven years ago. The author manoeuvred his Volkswagen Passat before managing to overtake the then world champion, a movement which according to Stafford, "obviously caught Schumacher cold."

Stafford's subsequent quest is to prove that, as a 40-something father with no racing experience, he still has what it takes to make it in world motor racing. Pseudo-psychologists would call Stafford's voyage a mid-life crisis, but this would be to ignore his penchant for self-deprecation and the humorous nature of his pursuit.

At one point in the wake of England's victory over Australia, Ashes-related books appeared to be coming off a conveyor belt, but Richie Benaud: My Spin On Cricket by Richie Benaud topped them all
Essentially a collection of anecdotes via which he charts cricket's wonderful story, 'My Spin on Cricket' alternates between events in the modern game and those of times past. The result of Benaud's meanderings is a marvellously engaging book through which the reader can constantly hear his asides and listen to any number of prodigious tales.
Once Upon A Time In Naples by John Ludden, the tale of Diego Maradona's seven incident-packed years at Naples, rates among the best sports books I've read all year.

Ludden's pacey narrative is frequently infused with religious imagery, a constant, if unsubtle, reminder of the diminutive midfielder's status among his Neapolitan family.

Maradona played perhaps the most outstanding football of his blighted career at Napoli, but a diet of unremitting debauchery is not recommended for a professional athlete. Ludden maintains that when the club realised it could save two years' astronomic wages, Maradona was 'allowed' to finally fail a drugs test which resulted in his immediate suspension. The game was up; he was no more than "a lousy cokehead" and he knew it.

My Colourful Life by Ginger McCain is an joyous, funny and uplifting story of a man who constantly flew by the seat of his pants but has clearly never regretted one minute of it. Read it before you make your new year's resolutions.

Finally, Ring of Hate by Patrick Myler starts in 1938 with the build up to the second clash between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling which he calls "the most politically charged event in boxing history." The fight action is outstanding, but Myler continues the story after 1938 when both men became close friends. As the American deteriorated, the German prospered; it's a book which could have been twice as long yet still as enjoyable.

Book details

Who do you think you are√ĖMichael Schumacher
By Ian Stafford
Ebury Publishing price: £7.69 (saving £3.30 on published price)

My Spin on Cricket by Richie Benaud
Hodder & Stoughton price: £11.39 (saving £7.60 on published price)

Once upon a time in Naples
By John Ludden
Parrs Wood Press price: £6.96 (saving £2.99 on published price)

My Colourful Life
By Ginger McCain with Malcolm Folley
Headline Publishing price: £11.39 (saving £7.60 on published price)

Ring of Hate
By Patrick Myler
Mainstream Publishing price: £ 11.19 (saving £4.80 on published price)

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