William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2018 has TWO winners in unprecedented decision

Award split for first time after judges cannot separate Tom Gregory's swimming epic A Boy in the Water and Paul D Gibson's boxing tale The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee

For the first time in its 30-year history, the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award has joint winners.

Broadcaster John Inverdale told guests at a reception at BAFTA in London to announce the 2018 winner that the judges had been unable to decide between Tom Gregory’s extraordinary debut book A Boy in the Water (Particular Books) and Paul D Gibson’s boxing tale The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee (Mercier Press).

As a result, they took the unprecedented step of declaring the two books joint winners, which means the £30,000 cash prize is split equally between the two titles, with both authors receiving a £15,000 cheque.

A Boy in the Water tells the story of how Tom Gregory, now a director with the accountancy firm Deloitte, swam the English Channel on September 6, 1988 to become at the age of 11 years 336 days the youngest person to achieve the feat.

In the days before health and safety regulations, Gregory was trained by his local swimming coach in southeast London, who took him undertake open water swims in Lake Windermere, London Docks and the sea at Dover, so that he could attune his body to long exposure to the cold.

The moment 11-year-old Tom Gregory emerged from the English Channel at Dover after his record feat
The moment 11-year-old Tom Gregory emerged from
the English Channel at Dover after his record feat
When it came to setting off on a 32-mile route from the coast of France to Dover, Tom had no wetsuit, merely a bright orange rubber cap and some Adidas trunks.

With coach John Bullet encouraging him from the support boat, he sustained himself on swigs of Heinz tomato soup and the occasional chocolate biscuit.

At points along the way, he fell asleep, hallucinated, developed agonising hip and shoulder pain, and cried so much that his goggles filled with water.

However, he kept pushing himself to finish the job, securing the world record - and as an extra bonus, a coveted Blue Peter gold badge.

It is a record Tom will keep. After his incredible achievement, children under 12 – and later, under 16 – were banned from attempting to swim the Channel.

Tom Gregory now works for the  accounts firm Deloitte
Tom Gregory now works for the
accounts firm Deloitte
Journalist Gibson’s The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee, the other joint winner, explores the extraordinary highs and lows of one of Ireland’s most talented boxers, whose vices fuelled his career while also jeopardising it.

Magee is widely regarded as one of the most gifted fighters ever to emerge from Ireland. Coming from a boxing-obsessed family, he worked his way up through the amateur ranks, turning professional in 1995. In 2002, he took on Ricky Hatton in a highly-anticipated sell-out fight in Manchester. Magee lost narrowly in what Hatton’s trainer, Billy Graham, called Hatton’s toughest fight to that point.

Yet, despite becoming a world champion in 2003, drink, drugs, gambling, depression, brushes with the law – and with the IRA – all took Eamonn away from his craft. Then there was the violence: a kidnapping, a throat slashed, a bullet in the calf, a savage, leg-shattering beating.

On retiring from the ring, Eamonn turned his attention to training and overseeing his son’s boxing career, only to be met with the ultimate tragedy in 2015 when Eamonn Junior was brutally stabbed to death in West Belfast in a premeditated attack.

Eamonn Magee was one of the most gifted boxers to emerge from Ireland yet his toughest fights were outside the ring
Eamonn Magee was one of the most gifted boxers to emerge
from Ireland yet his toughest fights were outside the ring 
The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee, the fifth boxing title to win the William Hill award, is an intimate telling of a barely believable life story, filled with heartache and laughter, violence and love, unthinkable lows and fleeting, glorious highs.

It is also the first win for independent publisher Mercier Press. A Boy in the Water is the first swimming – and the third water sports – title to be successful and the first win for the Penguin Random House imprint, Particular Books.

Graham Sharpe, chair of the judges and co-founder of the award, said: “In the 30 years since launching the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, we have occasionally considered, but never ultimately awarded, a dead heat. This year, after hours of deliberation, our judging panel found it impossible to separate these two jointly deserving but very different books.

“We found Tom’s story to be captivating, entertaining and beautifully told, in just 180 brilliantly-crafted pages.

Broadcaster John Inverdale
Broadcaster John Inverdale
“Paul’s rivetingly raw account of Eamonn Magee’s life is a powerful and cautionary tale of one man’s sporting success despite himself. Astonishing and utterly gripping, we felt this was a story which attracted and repelled in equal measure but which demanded to be heard, and could not be ignored.''

Williams and Gibson attended the ceremony along with fellow his fellow shortlisted authors King Adz, Jeff Benedict, Paul Ferris, Oliver Hilmes and Ben Ryan, each of whom received a leather-bound copy of their book and a £3,000 cheque.

As well as Sharpe, the judging panel for this year’s Award comprised John Inverdale, fellow journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson, retired professional footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association Clarke Carlisle, broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney and The Times columnist and author, Alyson Rudd.

Sharpe, who has had a long career with William Hill, set up the award in 1988 alongside John Gaustad, founder of the much-missed Sportspages bookshop, who passed away in 2016.

First awarded in 1989 to True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny by Daniel Topolski and Patrick Robinson, it is now the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize.

The seven titles on the shortlist were:

Ten other titles made a longlist: