Winning selection from SportsBooks

Finding a publisher for a sports book idea that does not immediately guarantee ringing tills or multiple internet sales has seldom been tougher, which is why fans of the more esoteric -- or at least less mainstream -- contributions to the genre should be grateful for the work of the Cheltenham-based outfit, SportsBooks.

Formed in 1995 by former Daily Express athletics correspondent Randall Northam, the original purpose of SportsBooks was to publish the yearbook of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians, of which Athletics 2010 is the latest edition.

But it grew to become much more, each year giving a chance to titles that would not necessarily appeal to mass-market audiences but which nonetheless warrant a place on the bookstore shelves, books that in their own view “deserve to be out in the marketplace.”

The acquisition of the Nationwide Football Annual (formerly the News of the World Annual and the world’s oldest football book) has helped SportsBooks maintain this reputation and this year’s catalogue is no exception.

Football titles include Stan Anderson: Captain of the North, the autobiography of the only player to have captained Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, which paints a picture of life as a professional footballer in the 1950s north-east, where the game offered some an escape from a life spent underground in the area’s massive mining industry.

Anderson, a midfield player known for his passing ability, was a member of the England squad at the 1962 World Cup in Chile. He went on to manage Middlesbrough, Doncaster Rovers and Bolton Wanderers in England and AEK Athens in Greece, retiring from full-time involvement in football in 1981 and devoting his next 20 years to caring for his wife, Marjorie, a victim of crippling arthritis.

He kept in touch with football through scouting, joining the company of (mostly) men who trek up and down the country checking out opposing teams and checking up on potential signings for their respective employees.

Their world is described in another SportsBooks title, Scouting for Moyes: The Inside Story of a Football Scout, an engaging and humorous account of the 2009-10 English football season as witnessed by Les Padfield, a scout for Premier League club Bolton Wanderers.

Padfield was himself a magnet for talent spotters as a schoolboy footballer. His dreams of playing for a living remained just dreams but, after establishing a career in teaching, he returned to the game to help unearth other young hopefuls, at first in the London area where he lived but ultimately around the world.  The witty title was inspired by his first assignment, back in 1996, to watch Crystal Palace play Tottenham on behalf of Preston North End, then managed by David Moyes.

The football list also offers The Boys from the Black Country, Mark Gold’s history of Wolverhampton Wanderers, which takes the reader through the rollercoaster story of the Molineux men with an entertaining lightness, even speculating on what sort of terrace chant the great English composer and devoted Wolves fan Sir Edward Elgar might come up with had he been alive today.

SportsBooks has also given an opportunity for cricket literature to gain a timely addition in the shape of The Victory Tests: England v Australia 1945, written by Mark Rowe, a journalist and historian, who has put together a detailed and fascinating story of the 1945 series between England and an Australian Services side containing most of the country’s cricketing greats.  Although not officially contested for The Ashes, the series attracted massive crowds, reflecting the atmosphere in a country desperate for a return to normal life after six years of conflict and hardly caring about the result.



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