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Apart form its current publications, John Blake Publishing has a sizeable back list of acclaimed sporting titles. These include biographies of stars such as Roger Federer, WG Grace, Fernando Torres and Frankie Dettori. For more information, visit www.blake.co.uk



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Redemption: From Iron Bars to Ironman By John McAvoy with Mark Turley

Release date: 06th January, 2017
Publisher: Pitch Publishing

List Price: £16.99
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Sports books of the year
Today: The top five of 2017


Having whetted the appetite with five of the year’s best sports books (it was numbers ten to six last week), here, with the accompanying roll of drums, are the year’s top five, presented, naturally, in reverse order….

At number five is David Bolchover’s The Greatest Comeback, the story of Béla Guttmann, a man who could justifiably be called football’s first ‘super coach’. However, the tactical abilities which saw him employed by more than twenty clubs during a career that stretched well into his sixties, was only part of his incredible story. His willingness to travel in order to further his football career earned him the nickname “Wandering Jew” (too rarely used in jest), yet his Jewishness is integral to this remarkable and well-researched tale.

4. The Talent Lab by Owen Slot. The turnaround in Great Britain’s Olympic fortunes since Atlanta in 1996 has been nothing short of dramatic. From a miserable return on investment 21 years ago, in 2012, Team GB were third in the medal table; at last year’s Rio Olympics, they took second place. Yet, as Slot shows, it wasn’t as though sport was starved of cash between 1996-2012.

3. A Clear Blue Sky by Johnny Bairstow and Duncan Hamilton is as far from a statistical re-run of JB’s career to date as you could imagine. Instead, readers are presented with a gripping, page-turning evocation of the human spirit, a story of triumph and lots of sadness in the face of extreme adversity.

2. Like The Beautiful Game? which shone a bright spotlight on domestic football’s darkest corners, revealing its distasteful capacity to attract kleptomaniacal club chairmen and administrators for whom greed and incompetence were a way of life, David Conn does an equally impressive job on a global level in The Fall of the House of FIFA.

Hold the drumroll, cue the trumpets…

Number one on our list of 2017’s sports books is Redemption by John McAvoy with Mark Turley. The book features one of the best introductions to a sporting title you’re ever likely to read. Within a few paragraphs, you have an empathy with the narrator embarked on a 106 km foot race from London to Brighton after he explains why tackling such distances appeals. “Endurance sport hinges on pain, which is why it attracts a certain type of athlete,” he says. “You begin an event with your fitness and strength, but you finish it only with stubbornness.”

READ OUR REVIEW OF REDEMPTION HERE:


Redemption features one of the best introductions to a sporting title you’re ever likely to read. Within a few paragraphs, you have an empathy with the narrator embarked on a 106 km foot race from London to Brighton after he explains why tackling such distances appeals.

“Endurance sport hinges on pain, which is why it attracts a certain type of athlete,” he says. “You begin an event with your fitness and strength, but you finish it only with stubbornness.”

Around ten miles from the finish, he draws level with a female, number 76, who believes she’s in second place. They run together as she tells him how, while recovering from breast cancer which resulted in a double mastectomy, she realised she had ‘never used her body to the fullest’ and so began running longer and longer distances to achieve ‘frequent inspiration’. She wins, although you feel the narrator was happy to let her.

After such an engaging opening, it’s easy to understand how some people have read Redemption in one sitting because you’re prepared for more of the same, a rare, perhaps profound, insight into ultra-running and how it affects the body and mind. Yet what follows comes as a complete surprise.

Unlike other youngsters, whose first memories might be of playing for the school team, embarking on an epic bike, or some other pivotal moment that paved the way for a life in sport, John McAvoy, the narrator, differentiates himself from the mainstream.

“I’m an Ironman,” he declares. “Ironmen go through hell every time they race…maybe I always liked hell.” His defining youthful moment came in 1999 in a pub car park in Dulwich, south east London, for it was here that he handed over £600 to a man with bad teeth and nicotine-stained fingers in return for a sawn-off shotgun and 20 cartridges.

McAvoy comes from a family steeped primarily in crime. When Uncle Billy is released from prison, the narrative could come straight from an episode of the Sopranos, though Billy is adamant that the family are not gangsters.

This crime-soaked back story creates a compelling dimension to what might be called a ‘standard’ sporting tale and it is not long before John finds himself in prison for armed robbery.

His redemption came in the form of physical exercise, specifically indoor rowing. While in gaol, he broke three indoor world rowing records, including the longest-ever continuous row, an astonishing 45 hours. Upon release, he set his sights on becoming a professional Ironman competitor; following the introduction to this gripping book, few would bet against him achieving success in this toughest of athletic pursuits.


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