Five of the best sport books of 2022

A warning about brain damage, a fresh perspective on Geoffrey Boycott, and the rise and tragic demise of a great cyclist

The best books of 2022

A Delicate Game by Hana Walker-Brown

A Delicate Game: Brain Injury, Sport and Sacrifice
Hana Walker-Brown (Hodder Studio)
Everyone knows that repeated blows to the head can cause long-term damage to the brain. The science is not ambiguous on this point. And so Walker-Brown takes us on a gripping and heartbreaking journey through the human debris of sport, from bereaved families to ex-athletes slowly losing their faculties to dementia. Along the way she asks the key question: why, in the face of such overwhelming evidence, have sports like football and rugby union proved so resistant to reform or even basic responsibility? In large part, she argues, the answers are social and cultural: sport’s sanctification of pain and suffering, frequently framed within Christian ideals of masculinity. And, of course, money has plenty to do with it. Walker-Brown is bleakly clear that there are no easy answers. But it might just help if we start asking the right questions.

A New Formation edited by Calum Jacobs

A New Formation: How Black Footballers Shaped the Modern Game
Edited by Calum Jacobs (Merky)
A New Formation is not a book about racism, even if racism is a frequent theme. Nor is it a book about politics, immigration or the media, even if all feature heavily. Rather, it is a celebration of the contribution Black British footballers have made to the game, told through a series of varied and sharply written essays placing them in their social and sporting context. The story of Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling is filtered through the lens of the Windrush generation and the notion of home. There is a timely and thought-provoking reassessment of the career of former striker Andrew Cole. Most of all, it’s terrific fun, and a formidable statement of intent from Jacobs, a rising star in the world of football writing.

Being Geoffrey Boycott by Geoffrey Boycott and Jon Hotten

Being Geoffrey Boycott
Geoffrey Boycott and Jon Hotten (Fairfield)
You may have concluded that after more than three decades of commentary and opinion-spewing from Geoffrey Boycott, the world has probably heard enough. And yet somehow this fascinating account manages to offer a new perspective on one of English cricket’s most complex characters. Part memoir and part biography, switching between first and second person like the two halves of a tortured internal monologue, the book combines Boycott’s astonishing memory and the gentle provocation of his ghostwriter Hotten in a way that captures the cauldron of Test cricket at its most absorbing. Essentially, it’s a book about obsession: about the angst and fear of top-level sport, where the most scrutinised person on the field is somehow also the loneliest.

Expected Goals by Rory Smith

Expected Goals: The Story of How Data Conquered Football and Changed the Game Forever
Rory Smith (Mudlark)
Football has undergone a spectacular data revolution in the last decade, which I suppose is kind of interesting, if you like that sort of thing. But where Smith’s book succeeds is in eschewing the boring, didactic stuff about stats and regression curves in favour of a story about people: about doubt and persuasion, insiders and outsiders, palace intrigue and subtle subterfuge. And mercifully, there isn’t a single graph or table in the entire book.

God Is Dead by Andy McGrath

God Is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke, Cycling’s Great Wasted Talent
Andy McGrath (Bantam)
In 2009, Frank Vandenbroucke was found dead in a hotel room in Senegal at the age of 34, with insulin and sleeping pills near his bedside. The last person to see him alive was a sex worker who had accompanied him there. And the fact that we know the tragically opaque ending of this story from the start is what lends such a devastating quality to McGrath’s careful biography. In his prime, the man they called “God” was one of the biggest sporting stars in cycling: handsome, effortlessly talented on the bike, yet with painfully human flaws that belied his divine nickname. Soberly told and with a clear affection for its wayward subject, McGrath’s account explores the narcotically corrupting power of sport itself.

• To browse all sport books included in the Guardian and Observer’s best books of 2022 visit Delivery charges may apply.


Jonathan Liew

The GuardianTramp

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