Graham Sharpe, Chairman of Judges and co-founder of the Award, said:
“This has proved to be one of the most competitive renewals in the lengthy history of the Award, with 17 worthy titles vying for a place on the shortlist. We believe the resulting magnificent seven set an extraordinarily high standard, bringing a depth of insight and fresh perspective to areas of sport and sporting history so often misunderstood, misinterpreted, underestimated or overlooked in the headline-led, here today, gone tomorrow media culture. We believe readers will not only enjoy but also learn from these game-changing books as we have.
“At 30 years old, we’re in the unique position to look back over three decades of publishing and to see how some things have changed dramatically, and others have not - the notably small number of female authors being published in this field, for instance, across a range of sports. Whilst the breadth and scope of sports writing has undoubtedly improved, and its reception and recognition by the literary world is much changed, there are still some areas where there is significant work to be done.”
In literary terms, Ferris’s autobiography is far and away the best book here. Not for nothing was it shortlisted for the William Hill sports book of the year award. As with Nick Hornby’s peerless Fever Pitch, Ferris’s memoir will endure beyond a convenient Christmas stocking filler for your dad. That’s because it’s not about sport, but rather about the far bigger themes of family, pain, identity, masculinity and loss.
Ferris’s wonderful memoir represents a twin triumph. He has endured every kind of setback in life but has invariably reinvented himself; and his writing is a pure pleasure. A Catholic brought up on a Protestant council estate in Northern Ireland, he had his outlook shaped by four cornerstones: his mother’s heart disease; the Troubles; the Catholic Church; and football, his means of escape.
Rich, pampered and thick. That’s the popular view of professional footballers — a slur that quite a few of them do little to counter... Paul Ferris’s compelling memoir is different. For starters, he wrote it all himself, beautifully. Also, it extends well beyond football.. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Ferris grew up in a devoutly Catholic family in an overwhelmingly Protestant town — Lisburn, just outside Belfast. He brilliantly evokes the daily fears and degradations caused by rabid sectarianism.
In a way, there are two books contained within here. Ferris’s life as a Troubles-era youngster is adroitly told and heartfelt but not that unusual. However his football career as almost-star-turned-in-house-staff man is grippingly delivered... Ferris, through his early bad luck, could have become one of the victims of the game but was smart enough to navigate his own path to become, as Shearer notes in his foreword “a fighter and – as you will see – a writer.