The Farther Corner
by Harry Pearson (Simon & Schuster)
More than a quarter-century after The Far Corner, Pearson, older and perhaps a bit sadder, returns to grassroots north-eastern football and recaptures the qualities that made his earlier book a classic of football writing. Clear-eyed about the economic challenges facing the region, he retains his trademark affectionate humour in depicting a world in which Easington Colliery v Ashington becomes “El Working Clasico” and there is a lingering “aroma of municipal biscuits”. The index is a joy in itself.
Mud, Maul, Mascara
by Catherine Spencer (Unbound)
This pioneering memoir by a leading female rugby player – England’s captain at the 2010 World Cup – has virtues that go way beyond simple novelty. Starting with her mixed emotions as a retired player watching England win the tournament without her in 2014, it engagingly balances the highs of captaincy and grand slams (all achieved while holding down a full-time job) with striking emotional honesty as to her regrets, recalled to a refrain of “just a girl from Folkestone”.
by Ruqsana Begum (with Sarah Shepherd) (Simon & Schuster)
How a young woman of Bangladeshi descent from east London became a world champion of Muay Thai, the martial art also known as kickboxing, might easily have been cast as simple rebellion. But this is a much subtler and more interesting story than that as Begum and Shepherd sensitively examine the tensions – her own faith and appreciation of her parents’ views, racism and the consequences of a failed arranged marriage – behind Begum’s success. A remarkable tale, skilfully told.
The Rodchenkov Affair
by Dr Grigory Rodchenkov (WH Allen)
This insider account of Russian state-sponsored sports begins when, as a young athlete, Rodchenkov receives his first illicit doping shot from his own mother. It culminates in his dual role at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics as a scientist, and later whistleblower, overseeing authentic dope testing as well as ingenious industrial-scale concealment of Russia’s endemic offending. Olympic sport and Putin’s Russia blur in amorality and plain gangsterism.
by Ashley Gray (Pitch)
While 1980s “rebel” cricket tours of South Africa were a passport to the game’s commanding heights for some English participants, West Indian stars such as Alvin Kallicharran, Colin Croft and Lawrence Rowe faced long bans, widespread anger and ostracism. Gray deplores the tours but understands and sympathises with men offered a life-changing financial opportunity, and he has spent years seeking out any who were willing and able to speak for themselves. Some are unrepentant, others regretful, some of their stories are truly tragic, but all are compelling.
• Huw Richards’s next book will be The Indomitables: Rugby League’s Greatest Tour (St David’s Press). Browse the best books of 2020 at the Guardian Bookshop