Sports Books titles – the best of all time?

The (ab)use of the pun in the titles of sports books: 

jim laker, spinning round the world, cricket autobiography, cricket book, cricket memorabilia, sports memorabilia, sportspagesThe use of puns in the titles of sports books, particularly biographies, is nothing new. 1951 gave us Plum Warner’s “Long Innings” and Jim Laker’s “Spinning Round The World”, and so a new tradition was established. Ever since these early attempts at punnery any sportsperson who was tempted to put pen to paper, however misguidedly, could tap into the rich resource thrown up by unusual sporting terms and phrases. To be honest, the vast majority need more than just a promise of dressing room banter and blow by blow accounts of their on-field triumphs to help sell their books. If Steve Davis had called his autobiography simply “My Story” or “I won Lots of Snooker Matches” instead of “Frame and Fortune” life could have been very different.

Often the pun gives a clue to the sport involved – “A Game to Love”  by – surprise, surprise –  tennis’ Ann Jones, Bernhard Langer’s  “While the Iron is Hot”, “Life in the Fast Lane” by Eddie Irvine and “Another Hurdle” by David Hemery. It can also relate to the role or position that the subject played in his/her chosen sport. Who can guess what the subjects of these books did for a living? “The Breaks Are Off”, “Running Commentary”, “I Declare”, “Right Back To The Beginning”, “In The Long Run” and “In Safe Keeping” – answers below.

Cricket books probably give the best opportunities for this approach – “All Round View” (Imran Khan), “A False Stroke of Genius” (Wayne Larkins), “The Gloves Are Off” (Godfrey Evans), “Lasting the Pace” (Bob Willis), “Runs in the Family” (John Edrich) and “Over and Out” (Denis Lillee) being some good examples. Some puns can be unforgivable – a serial offender was Graham Dilley with “Swings and Roundabouts” and “Hick and Dilley Circus”, but there are others – “No Bull” (Andy Bichel) and “Playing it Straight” (Ken Barrington) take a bow. One cricket title is so obvious that it has been used more than once – Geoff Boycott, Glenn Turner and Mike Atherton all used “Opening Up”. I wonder if Alastair Cook will be tempted to follow in a great tradition.

Rugby and football also provide opportunities for the play on words – “Centre of Excellence” (Jim Renwick), “Rubbing Shoulders” (Phil Blakeway) and “Kicked Into Touch” (Paul Thorburn) being a few from rugby. Football books include “Heading For Victory” (Steve Bruce),

Peter Bonetti, leaping to fame, football autobiography, football book, football memorabilia, sports memorabilia, sportspages

“Leaping To Fame” (Peter Bonetti), “By The Book” (Clive Thomas), “Back At The Top” (Bill Foulkes) and “Managing My Life” (Alex Ferguson).

Of course, the lure is far stronger if the title hints at some far more interesting extra-curricular activity – “No Half Measures” (Graeme Souness), “Wasted?” (Paul Smith), “Rock Bottom” (Paul Merson), “Fast and Loose” (Martin Offiah), “Back From The Brink” (Paul McGrath) and my favourite, “One Hump or Two?” (Frank Worthington).frank worthington, football autobiography, football book, football memorabilia, sports memorabilia, sportspages

It is surely no coincidence that two not so legendary “characters” of British sport, Steve Davis and Nick Faldo, have chosen puns – Faldo twice, with “Life Swings” and “The Rough With The Smooth”. Given his more colourful private life, these are probably well chosen. Another common approach is to incorporate your name into the pun, such as “Pat On The Back” (Pat Eddery), “Hunt For Goals” (Roger Hunt) and “Ball of Fire” (Alan Ball) – which was also used by “Fiery” Fred Trueman.

Terry Downes came up with the inspired title “My Bleeding Business” for his 1964 autobiography but how is it possible that John Prescott was the first to come up with “Pulling No Punches”? Come on you ex-boxers, it is time to put your hat in the ring. My new autobiography, “Magnus Bowles ‘Em Out”, which includes full details of each of my six wickets this season as well as some revealing stories from the pub afterwards, will be in the shops soon.


The answers to the Titles quiz above:

“The Breaks Are Off” – Graeme Swann (off-break bowler)

“Running Commentary” – David Moorcroft (distance runner and commentator)

“I Declare” – Mike Denness (cricketer and England captain)

“Right Back To The Beginning” – Jimmy Armfield (footballer who normally played at right back)

“In The Long Run” – Jim Peters (distance runner)

“In Safe Keeping” – Alex Stepney (goalkeeper)


Martin Sheridan: Olympics hero & US athlete extraordinaire

Martin Sheridan’s obituary in the New York Times described him as ‘one of the greatest athletes the United States has ever known’.

olympics, usa, athletics, martin sheridan, sports memorabilia
Martin Sheridan: Olympian & US Athlete

Martin Sheridan was actually born and brought up in County Mayo, Ireland. The USA was very quick – and sensible – to claim him  as one of their own, soon after he stepped upon their shores! Sheridan was born in Bohola, County Mayo in 1881. He stayed in Ireland until he was 18. Then he followed his older brother, Richard, to New York. There Martin Sheridan became a physical trainer and then a policeman.

Martin Sheridan was 6’3″ and 194 lbs, a fair old size at the beginning of the twentieth century. He was also extremely strong and athletically talented. He specialised in throwing and jumping, competitively. Over the course of his competitive life he won 12 US Championships and over 30 Canadian titles.  Those were the national titles…Sheridan won 5 gold Olympic medals over the course of 3 Olympics: 1904 in St Louis, Missouri; 1906 in Athens and 1908 in London for discus and shot put. He won two silver medals for the Standing High Jump and Standing Long Jump. The man was virtually unbeatable over a 14 year period, during which he established 16 world records.

Sheridan had by this time officially become American but, understandably, Ireland has always laid claim to him too. They quickly gave him the accolade of having won more Olympic medals than any other Irish athlete. When he returned to Ireland after the 1908 London Olympics, he imagined he would ‘slip into’ Ireland quietly to see his family. Instead, as his train drew into Swinford Station, people thronged the platforms and the town’s band played ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’.

Sheridan returned to New York and policing after his athletics career. He was always held in huge esteem. He saved four children and their parents from certain death in a burning building. He also was the New York Governor’s personal bodyguard whenever the governor was in town. Sadly, strong and mighty as he was, Martin Sheridan’s life was cut short by the 1918 flu epidemic. He was one of its earliest casualties in 1918.

We have a fantastic book about him in our NEW STOCK catalogue launched today: both book and catalogue are well worth a look.

The Olympics and Pele

Who will light the flame at the Olympics in Brazil tomorrow? The big money is on the ‘King of Football’, possibly Brazil’s greatest national treasure, Pelé. The International Olympics Committee has already, and quite rightly, honoured Pelé  twice this year. In June Thomas Bach, IOC president, awarded Pelé the Medal of the Olympic Order, the Games’  highest honour. On the 22nd July, the Olympic torch was passed to Pelé in the town of Santos at the Pelé museum.  Santos was, of course, where the great footballer’s career began.

In 1999 the IOC named Pelé its athlete of the century. He has been officially declared ‘Best Football Player of the 20th Century’ several times. Sadly for him, however, he was never able to play football in the Olympics themselves. His international, professional career began in spectacular fashion at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. As a 17 year old boy he scored two of the winning goals against home team, Sweden, in the World Cup Finals. At that time only amateur sportsmen were allowed to take part in the Olympics. Professional sportsmen were only admitted to the Games in 1986.  So Pelé was prevented from ever being an ‘Olympian’ footballer- he jokes that that’s why Brazil has never won there!

the olympics, pele, atlanta, 1996, sportspages
Pele at the Olympics, Atlanta 1996

When Thomas Bach presented Pelé with his Medal of the Olympic Order he said of the Brazilian, “In everything he does, both on and off the field, he exemplifies the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.” Although he may not have played in the Olympics, Pelé has been involved in the Olympic movement massively over the years. We know for a fact that he was an ‘Honored guest’ at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, because we have recently acquired his accreditation pass for those games, a cracking piece of sports memorabilia and sport history. There he watched his great friend, Muhammad Ali, light the torch with dignity and great ceremony. It will be fitting and equally symbolic to watch the great Brazilian footballer, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, doing the same at the Opening Ceremony in Brazil 2016.

Sportspages and John Gaustad

We were very sad to learn belatedly of the death of John Gaustad in June this year. John Gaustad was the visionary bookseller, who set up a treasure trove of sports books in Caxton Walk, off Charing Cross Road in London. It became a legendary book shop for sports fans, especially football fans. Gastaud called it Sportspages.

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John Gaustad, Sportspages

When New Zealand born Gaustad founded Sportspages in 1985, he developed the world of sports books writing and collecting hugely. So many sports books collectors we deal with today still have fond memories of spending hours at the Caxton Walk Sportspages. Our very own Magnus Bowles spent many a happy hour there, browsing, reading… and then finally buying!

Matthew Engel’s obituary for John Gaustad in the Guardian gives a great sense of the man and the impact of his passion for sports books: . We sadly never met him and inherited the legendary name when the Sportspages shop closed down in 2005. We still receive calls from its original customers, checking to see if we might be one and the same. Our Sportspages is slightly different of course with much more emphasis on sports books and memorabilia from days gone by and a much broader focus on all sports. We hope, however, John Gaustad would be pleased with Sportspages’ reincarnation: we can only aspire to many of his achievements, such as Muhammad Ali coming to do a signing at the Caxton Walk bookshop, but we certainly share the same passion for the breadth and depth of sports books and memorabilia. We hope too that we do some justice to supporting his fantastic legacy in the sports book industry.