Friday 28 December 2012

Book Review: Books I've read this year

As we approach the end of 2012 I was thinking about some the books I've read this year.

Unusually I haven't read any fiction this year, but in a golden year for sport in the UK, it's no surprise that my reading habits have been dominated by sport.

Here's what I've read:

Gold Rush by Michael Johnson

Released to coincide with the Olympics in London, Gold Rush is part autobiography and part analysis into what makes an Olympic champion.

Michael Johnson is easily my favourite sports pundit. You can always guarantee intelligent and insightful analysis. I always feel like I'm learning something when I listen to what Johnson has to say.

This is exactly what you get with Gold Rush. Johnson talks about his own career and what it took for him to become one the greatest track and field athletes of all time.

There's also plenty of interviews with some of Britain's past and present Olympic Champions. Chris Hoy, Rebecca Adlington, Daley Thompson and Steve Redgrave give their thoughts and insights on what it takes to become a champion.

If that wasn't enough there's also opinions from the greatest Olympian currently competing. Mr Usain Bolt.

The Tour De France....To The Bitter End

Cycling is my new favourite sport I can't get enough of it these days.

What I like about my new found interest in cycling is that I'm a bit of a novice to the sport.

I'm in the process of learning about the cycling, the tactics, the races and the different riders.

What I also wanted to know was some of the history of The Tour - this is why To the Bitter End was so enjoyable. It covers the best of over a century of newspaper reports on the Tour from the Guardian and Observer.

I've got quickly up to speed learning about the great riders from the past, the most memorable Tours, the great controversies and what the Tour means to France and French culture.

Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar:

I'd never heard of the British cyclist David Millar until this year. He won a stage at this year's Tour De France, the first he'd won since returning from a drugs ban.

In his post race interview he made a number of references to the fact that he was an ex 'doper' and how that shouldn't be forgotten.

There was something about him that appealed to me - he was now very anti drugs and it was clear that he wanted to do as much as he could to try and clean up the sport of cycling.

Racing Through the Dark takes you on the journey of David Millar's career starting as a young and idealistic cyclist determined to be a successful professional without resorting to the dark world of drug taking.

Unfortunately professional cycling in the late 90s and early 2000's was a dirty business. What I love about this book is it gives you a real feel for the pervasive culture of drug taking that existed in cycling at the time.

Millar spent years trying to resist this culture until pressure from his team, injuries and seeing other less talented cyclists winning finally persuaded him that he had no choice but to start doping.

With Lance Armstrong being stripped of his 7 Tour Titles this year, this book gave me a great insight into the world of professional cycling and the issue of drug taking. It certainly isn't a black and white issue, but hopefully cycling is in a better place.

Thinking Inside the Box by Louis Saha

First thing I have to say, this isn't your run of the mill footballing autobiography.

Rather than write a predictable ghost written, bog standard story about a player's career - Saha has tried something a bit different.

Critically acclaimed following its release in France this year, Saha writes a book looking at what it means to be a professional footballer playing in the Premier League.

He looks at the pressures faced by the modern day player - from expectations to perform, the riches and adulation players receive as well as the other side of endless criticisms and injuries players have to endure.

Saha looks at his own life and his upbringing in a tough Parisian suburb but what I love about this book is that he interviews many of his friends and former teammates in the football world, asking them for their thoughts and opinions of various aspects of the game.

You get opinions from the likes of Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Patrice Evra, Phil Neville, and Alex Ferguson.

Perhaps this says much about the low expectations we have of the modern day footballer, but I was hugely surprised and impressed by how well written this book is.

Saha comes across as a well rounded an intelligent guy. You don't expect many footballers to have views on celebrity culture, Press intrusion, player salaries, and race relations in France and Britain. This is what you get from Saha.

As an added twist there's also a chapter written by his wife, dismissing some of the stereotypes of WAG culture and talking about what it's really like to be a wife of a footballer.

A great book I can't recommend more highly.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Sports Personality of the Year 2012

With 10 minutes left of the phone lines being open, I decided to vote for Bradley Wiggins as my Sports Personality of the Year.

Obviously millions of others agreed with me as this year's Tour de France winner and Olympic Time Trial champion won the the award.

I always felt he had to win this year's award after his Tour de France victory this summer.

But I started to have doubts after Mo Farah's Olympic double at the Olympics - I couldn't decide who I should go for.

In the end Mo didn't even make the top three which surprised me. Andy Murray came third and Jessica Ennis was runner up.

I'm happy with my vote though. Not only is Wiggins a truly great champion, he's also a genuine personality. He's got the whole mod retro look going on, but he's also an interesting and funny character.

A very British champion.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Leveson Inquiry: Can the Press be trusted to regulate themselves?

Following this week's Leveson Inquiry report, I've decided I'm one of those people that doesn't believe legislation should be passed to ensure effective independent regulation of the Press.

Despite some appalling behaviour, we can't have government interfering in the practices of the Press no matter how small it might seem.

Clearly this form of 'statutory underpinning' doesn't mean the end of Press freedom in the UK - far from it. But it's the planting of a tiny seed of government interference, which in theory could grow into something far more sinister and dangerous in the not too distant future.

That may sound dramatic to some but this is how these things begin.

Like most people I've been shocked by some of the actions and behaviour of the Tabloid press revealed in the Leveson Inquiry.

I haven't heard anyone say the present form of regulation by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has worked. It's failed miserably! The question is: Can the Press be trusted to get it right independently?

When I think about the Press I'm reminded of the famous quote that many of you might know from the Spider Man movies:

"With great power comes great responsibility"

This sums up the British Press. It does have great power and influence and being a free press allows it to have this; but there has to be responsibility as well, which unfortunately we haven't always seen.

This is where the Press needs to get its act together to restore public confidence and prevent any future press law.

Do I think they can do it? I don't think they have a choice.

It's funny that in theory the PCC should have been an effective regulator. As part of my journalism studies, I had to learn all about its role. Even at that time I thought it was a weak and toothless organisation.

Despite everything, the British Press is something I'm actually quite proud of. It's lively, irreverent, edgy, controversial, innovative, brilliant, and terrible, all at different times.

It's the freedom and history of this country that's allowed it to be all these things. But to remain so, the Press has to acknowledge its own responsibilities and get its house in order.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic but I think they'll do it.