David Bolchover's story of Béla Guttmann, the Holocaust survivor who became a hugely successful football manager, has made it to the shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, the world's longest established literary sports-writing prize.
Bolchover’s The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory joins six others on the shortlist, with subjects encompassing swimming, football, cycling, boxing and horse racing.
Guttmann was a footballer before spending 40 years in management, including leading Benfica to double European Cup glory. However, before that, he was sent to a forced labour camp during the Second World War. His father and sister died in Auschwitz.
Graham Sharpe, chairman of the judges and co-founder of the Award, said: “Creating a shortlist from a Bookie Prize longlist has never been less than a mind-scrambling task. However, such is the nature of prizes that where there is delight there must elsewhere be disappointment, and the expert panel was enthralled by the final shortlist.
“Never have we created a list including a dead-man walking, let alone riding; never had we even heard of a ‘waterbiography’, let alone a tide-turning tale of swimming emancipation. Football archaeology ever featuring as the theme would have been at least a 50/1 shot. Then there’s the previously unknown, almost miraculous tale of Holocaust survival up against the now legendary story of a British cycling superstar who died during a race, and whose reputation is enhanced every time a Chris Boardman, Chris Hoy, or Chris Froome triumph comes along. And then there is perhaps the ultimate contrast, between one of British football's quietest and most modest over-achievers who virtually hid his light under a bushel, and world sport's loudest and greatest practitioner, whose finest, quietest moment was when he fought his body's unfamiliar frailty to light the Olympic flame.”
The winner will be announced on Tuesday November 28. This year’s successful author will receive a £2,500 William Hill bet, and a day at the races.
The shortlist in full:
The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory by David Bolchover (Biteback Publishing)
Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig (Simon & Schuster)
Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager by Ian Herbert (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)
Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)
Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath (Rapha Editions)
Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao (Doubleday, Transworld)
Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology edited by Neville Gabie, Alan Ward and Jason Wood (Axis Projects)