THE BLOG

Summer of Sport 2015 Top Ten Reads

20/07/2015 16:12 BST | Updated 16/07/2016 10:59 BST

English football's Premiership (sic), the best league in the world? The same 4 clubs, well give or take one perhaps, could be jotted down on a scrap of paper every August with a cast-iron guarantee they will fill the Champions League places, year in, year out. Tedium, its the brand value the Premiership has become past masters at providing, yet barely a word of dissent ever breaks through the breathless excitement football's boosterists provide across the print, TV and radio media.

Meantime despite the sportification of society levels of participation in scarcely any form of physical activity continue to rocket downwards. Football, the richest and most high profile of all sports has amongst the sharpest rates of decline in numbers taking part, unless of course we count watching it from the comfort of our own sofa.

Cutting through sport-hype takes a combination of a love for and understanding of sport with a critique of all that it threatens to become. Jules Boykoff is a renowned expert at precisely this kind of combination, his latest book Activism and the Olympics provides a record of activist opposition to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and London 2012.

The pioneering collection Sport and Revolutionaries edited by John Nauright and David Wiggins includes Lenin and Che Guevara. Who would have imagined the centrality they both gave sport and physical culture in the cause of human liberation?

Edited by Reuel Golden Age of Innocence is a combination of the very best photography of football in the 1970s with a skilfully written set of introductory commentaries about the decade. Age of Innocence? This is domestic football both before the Premiership but also prior to the Bradford Fire, Heysel and Hillsborough too. Three very different events but each in their own way defining football in the 1980s.

Few football books manage to provide the breadth and depth of insight with the very obvious passion for the game that Mark Doidge combines in writing Football Italia. From the country of Gramsci, Mussolini, the Italian Communist Party and Berlusconi it is no surprise that Italian football also is a game of extremes. What Mark Doidge manages to explain is how a nation's football can never be divorced from how a national culture has been shaped too.

For a fortnight or so every summer the British media will go overboard for the tennis at Wimbledon. Such coverage is aided when the rivalry that singles tennis generates reaches out beyond the strawberries and Pimms brigade. Peter Bodo's account, Ashe vs Connors records just such a moment from the faraway summer of 1975

Rob Smyth uses 100 quotations to track The Ashes' history in Gentlemen and Sledgers depicting the changes from the pre TV era, the broadening popularity of cricket via television and radio coverage, England's return to glory in recent years and then the catastrophic decline on the pitch accompanied by the loss of terrestrial TV coverage.

Two Days in Yorkshire by Peter Cossins and Andrew Denton superbly captures with stunning photography and great prose the sheer magnitude of what Le Tour starting in Yorkshire in 2014 came to represent. An unforgettable experience and one that deserves to be remembered as far more important than London 2012 in terms of its possibilities for reshaping English sporting culture.

Alpe D'Huez by Peter Cossins accounts for the kind of physical achievement Grand Tour cycling represents via the challenge of just one epic mountain stage. The greatest climb? Quite possibly, though the greatness perhaps lies in the realisation that for these cyclists once they have done one day's climbing another follows, and another, with next to no respite. It is a sport that borders on the inhuman, the biggest single reason for the scourge of performance enhancing drugs that for a while threatened to engulf cycling.

If all these sounds a bit macho read Lucy Fry's Run, Ride, Sink or Swim which is more than enough to reassure that both sexes can be almost equally susceptible to the kind of physical obsession that can drive some in search of the very limits of our body's potential.

My sports book of the quarter? Opportunities to play sport are inevitably socially constructed. The failure to understand this both narrows the scope of most mainstream sportswriting and at the same time ensures most writers on politics wilfully ignore sport. Gabriel Kuhn is an author who would never make either of these errors. His Playing As If The World Mattered is an illustrated history of sport as activism. Gabriel weaves together stories and episodes to portray sport as a vital space for, and method, of human liberation. The writing is effortlessly informative and inspiring while the full colour illustrations do a similar job visually. This is a truly great book to savour on or off the pitch, track inside and outside the ring or pool, wherever your sporting fancy takes you.

MORE: