Best sport books of 2021
Barça: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Football Club
Simon Kuper (Short)
The rise of Barcelona over the last four decades was one of the glories of modern sport. Wonderful playing allied to a philosophy that saw the club as something more than just a sports team within Catalan life and culture. But what happens when the philosophy is lost? When the virtuous circle of a seemingly endless supply of great players from its youth system, ensuring vast amounts of money to buy in whatever other talent was needed, is broken? Through perceptive portraits of key personnel such as Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi, Kuper’s account of the club’s rise, and its recent precipitous decline into debt and underperformance, will interest both business theorists and football fans.
Billie Jean King (Viking)
King’s story would have been remarkable if it had been solely about tennis. But her record-breaking accumulation of grand slams was just one byproduct of her supreme facility for the game. Starting with an objection to the different ways boys and girls were treated at junior tournaments in 1950s Los Angeles, King’s determination to ensure fair recognition, and later fair reward, for her talent and effort, would place her at the heart of campaigns for equality both on and off court, from parity of prize money to women’s and gay rights. As she sums it up in this blistering autobiography: “Even if you’re not a born activist, life can damn sure make you one.”
Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels
Hannah Ross (W&N)
A high cadence spin through the history of female cycling that is comprehensive despite its concision. Ross pedals from late Victorian aristocratic ladies encountering new freedoms of movement to today’s racers building a modern professional sport. Along the way are political cycling clubs, astonishing feats of long-distance endurance and exploration, explicit and implicit feminism, and women just wanting to get from one place to another. Ross asks why transport, exercise, competition or simple fun should, so depressingly often, have been shot through with varying degrees of opposition and struggle.
Why We Kneel, How We Rise
Michael Holding (Simon & Schuster)
This is the book that emerged from the emotional impromptu monologue former cricketer Michael Holding delivered on Black Lives Matter, taking the knee and racism more generally while rain stopped play at a Test match he was commentating on in July 2020. His heartfelt speech, the first time he had publicly opened up on such issues, immediately prompted other black sports stars to contact him and offer support and solidarity. Here he combines his own experiences of racism on and off the pitch with a wider analysis, some hidden histories of black athletes and revelatory testimony from Naomi Osaka, Thierry Henry, Usain Bolt, Hope Powell and Michael Johnson.
Too Many Reasons to Live
Rob Burrow (Macmillan)
At 5ft 5in “on tiptoes”, and weighing barely 10 stone, Rob Burrow was ostensibly too small to make it at the highest level in rugby league. But as scrum-half for Leeds Rhinos, England and Great Britain he went on to become one of the most successful players of his era. In December 2019, aged just 37 and shortly after retiring, Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given just a few years to live. This account of his career and illness is told with the help of his family, especially his wife Lindsey, and former colleagues. It brings to bear all the traits he deployed in his against-the-odds career – courage, resolve, intelligence and self-awareness – but is also a moving exposition of kindness, devotion, gratitude and love.