It was three decades ago, in 1983, that Garry Whannel wrote the pioneering book Blowing the Whistle: The Politics of Sport. He summed up what was then a prevailing attitude and is still largely the same 30 years on today . " Sport is marked down as a natural, taken-for-granted activity. You don't need to talk or write about it. You just do it." The book was a few years ago republished in an updated and revised form Culture, Politics and Sport and remains one of the defining texts for any serious understanding of sport.
David Epstein's The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete is the kind of book, immersed as it is in the nurture vs nature debate, that connects sport, knowingly or unknowingly, to much broader issues and reveals it as anything but 'Just Done' A very different approach to the same subject was offered by Christopher McDougall in his classic book Born to Run. This is sport as anthropology, examining the phenomenal endurance running of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico then translating this into a manifesto for the simple appeal of running.
The bare essentials is hardly how the modern sport of cycling is best described. The genius behind the two-wheeled success of Team GB and Team Sky Dave Brailsford describes his philosophy as the 'aggregation of marginal gains'. It is an evolution that is retold quite thrillingly in Edward Pickering's book The Race Against Time. This is the story of the 1990s rivalry of Chris Boardman vs Graeme Obree and their battle for the one hour track cycling record.The story behind the most successful sport in British sporting history, track and road cycling, is revealed in an honest and well-written account provided by Team GB Elite Coach and Team Sky Performance Manager Rod Ellingworth in his book Project Rainbow. Two autobiographies from cyclists who straddle cycling 'Before and after Wiggo'. For years Sean Yates was by far and away the most successful British rider in the Tour de France since Tommy Simpson. His book It's All About The Bike is a great book .Easy Rider by former racer Rob Hayles covers a slightly later period, as the success of track cycling began to take off after British success at the Athens 2004 Olympics, eventually to be translated into success on the road too.
Sportswriter Gareth Edwards makes the case in a three-part online essay for taking the playful appeal of sport seriously. Most of us who 'do' sport just do it for leisure and pleasure .The Rules : The Way of the Cycling Disciple is in this regard a different kind of sports book. Its about the likes of us who are never going to win a race. We just get on our bikes in the cause of some kind of enjoyment. It would be hard to justify 'walking' as any kind of sport, but it is the most common form of physical activity most of us take pat in, sometimes with a dog, a relationship wonderfully chronicled in Harry Pearson's book Hound Dog Days.
Once the football season starts most other sports, never mind any coverage of recreational sports, are pushed off the back pages to the exclusion of coverage of almost anything apart from football. Two recent biographies, Dennis Bergkamp's Stillness and Speed and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's I Am Zlatan get to grips with football's undoubted appeal to the fans. Both are a pleasant respite from the ghost-written dross served up by most players, and managers, including Ferguson's non-revelatory latest. Perhaps because in both cases these are foreign players, writing for a non-English audience, with well chosen co-writers, in Bergkamp's case the superlative David Winner. Mike Carson's The Manager is an alternative endeavour, putting our obsession with football's managers in a broader context of the cult of managerialism, framed primarily by business culture. Lose to a rival, and any manager is going to be under pressure. In world football few rivalries provoke such interest and passion as Real vs Barca. Sid Lowe's Fear and Loathing in La Liga is unsurprisingly very good, Sid Lowe is the always well-informed Spanish football correspondent of the Guardian. Spain are of course the reigning European and World Champions, England meanwhile have managed to squeeze past Montenegro, Poland and the Ukraine to at least qualify for World Cup 2014 but with no one, including the team captain, expecting them to get anywhere close to winning the tournament. For a coach-centred grassroots analysis of what is wrong with a football culture incapable of producing enough technically gifted players to muster a decent national team there's no better book than Matthew Whitehouse's outstanding The Way Forward: Solutions to England's Football Failings.
My book of the sporting quarter is MIchael Calvin's The Nowhere Men.The extraordinary, and untold, tale of football's Scouts, how talent is discovered, often missed, recruited by the clubs, looked after, not always very well, and ends up the other end as a Premier League superstar. Sportswriting at its very best, investigative, compelling and revealing.
Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction' aka Philosophy Football