Matt Hampson

Winning touch: Matt Hampson and Paul Kimmage took the Biography crown at the British Sports Book Awards

By Alan Pearey

AT THE risk of sounding smug, rugby is once again leading the way in the world of sports writing. At this week’s British Sports Book Awards, the Biography of the Year gong went to Engage, the astonishingly powerful account of Matt Hampson’s life after sustaining a catastrophic rugby injury during England U21 training in 2005.

Football writer Mick Dennis, who chaired the judging panel, admitted that the idea of the book didn’t appeal to him. Having read it, he changed his tune, telling the assembled cast of hundreds at London’s Savoy hotel that it was a book that nobody should let pass them by. Author Paul Kimmage gave a moving acceptance speech.

As proof of the competitive nature of these awards, the Rugby Book of the Year went not to Hambo but to Alastair Hignell for his marvellous Matches, Microphones & MS.

As with Engage, the book involves a physical and mental struggle, although Higgy at least enjoyed a lengthy international sports and broadcasting career before the debilitating effects of MS took hold. Ian Robertson, the BBC rugby correspondent and a long-time friend of Higgy’s, was there to present the trophy.

Monday night’s rugby double followed an identical feat last year, when Tom English’s The Grudge won the rugby award while Brian Moore’s Beware of the Dog won the biography category. It affirms the high quality of rugby books on the market; when a title as good as Jonny Wilkinson’s autobiography can’t get a look-in, you know sports publishing is in rude health.

Golf and motorsports joined the existing categories at the ten-year-old British Sports Book Awards, highlights of which will be shown on Sky Sports at various times on Friday and Saturday. There was also a special award for Nick Hornby, whose fan book Fever Pitch is being reissued by Penguin as a Modern Classic. Hornby pointed out that when he started watching Arsenal, a ticket cost just 15p and kids could attend every home; today, eye-watering prices mean that, for many, watching a football match is a rare treat.

If there was one non-rugby book that stood out at the awards ceremony it was A life too short: the tragedy of Robert Enke. It charts the life of a German goalkeeper who committed suicide in 2009 after suffering years of depression.

For a list of all the winners and the chance to vote for the overall Sports Book of the Year, see www.britishsportsbookawards.co.uk