Good game

<p>I think I can say this without upsetting anyone too much. But I think what I consider to be the best book ever entered for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year is one of those which never won.</p>
<p>I still buy copies of Joe McGinness' fantastic <i>The Miracle of Castel di Sangro</i> to give to other people,&nbsp; and I remember being (secretly) rather miffed when it failed to win back in 1999. If you have never got round to reading it and/or believe that an American could never write a great book about 'soccer', please give it a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.<br />
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I wasn't a judge that year, so could do little to promote my favourite, but I know that the judges who did make the decision that year were convinced that they had made the right choice&mdash;and still are.<br />
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I have been a judge on three occasions and each time I have been struck by the sheer breadth of experience, commitment and opinion our judges bring to the task of selecting a worthy winner. I know that a different judging panel might well come up with a different winner, but if the choice was so easy that no one would ever disagree with it then there really wouldn't be much point in having a panel at all, in any case.<br />
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And please don't suggest to me that we should choose the winner by means of a public vote - for starters, if you did that you could end up with the equivalent of Ryan Giggs winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year! But more seriously, it is hugely unlikely that any significant percentage of the public could have read all the books in contention but would just be voting for one particular title they'd happened to enjoy.<br />
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We have already been criticised for failing to shortlist a book which one observer of the literary scene was convinced had all the credentials to be the ultimate winner&mdash;but when the publisher didn't even enter it (this happens rather more frequently than you might imagine, to my great frustration) and their official website indicated that the book was not even published in time to qualify for this year, I feel that is a somewhat harsh criticism. Mind you&mdash;it is (we are assured, although we have yet to receive any copies) being entered for 2011, so we'll eventually find out just how good the book is.<br />
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Moving on to a different aspect of the award, you'd probably be surprised at the number of times I am asked 'Who is favourite to win?' or 'What price' is such and such a book to win?<br />
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It would appear to be somewhat illogical for the bookmaker who came up with the original idea for the event not to quote odds about who is going to win it. After all, we have taken bets for years on other literary prizes like the Man Booker, the Costa and the Samuel Johnson, and we did take bets on the inaugural winner of our own sporting equivalent.<br />
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But I was vaguely uncomfortable about doing so, even though we attracted no criticism at the time, because I felt that in the event of a hotly tipped favourite being beaten, it wouldn't take long for someone&mdash;and here I tip my hat towards the sporting diarists of this parish&mdash;to suggest that just perhaps the hotly tipped favourite was carrying too much money for us to 'allow' it to win and that therefore we had leaned on the judges to ensure that it didn't.<br />
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That would never happen, of course&mdash;at the slightest suggestion that they are anything but totally independent in their deliberations and decisions our judges would up and leave immediately&mdash;but I wouldn't even want the suggestion to be made. So now we do not take bets on the outcome, although I would be quite happy for any of our competitors to put up some odds&mdash;as long as they didn't close my account when, sorry, if, I backed the winner!<br />
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When the William Hill Sports Book of the Year was initiated I was a mere stripling, still in my thirties. I recently celebrated, if that is the right word, the first birthday of my seventh decade, so I could almost claim to have invested a working lifetime in the award, as has my co-inauguree John Gaustad.<br />
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The world is a very different place today from those more innocent days, but we both still get a great buzz from helping to spread the word about great sports books. It is interesting to look back over the years to see which sports have come out on top in terms of producing the greatest number of winners and as of 2009 cricket and football were heading the field with FIVE winners, followed by boxing with three and cycling with two. No other sports had produced more than one winner.<br />
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The award has promoted top quality writing about sport, rewarded a great many authors, increased the sale of sports books and given everyone involved in the business much more to talk about and an excuse once a year to get together and enjoy a drink or two at our expense whilst moaning about our inability to pick the right winner . . . which brings me back to where I came in.<br />
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Whether you agree with the judges' choice of winner for 2010 or not, I hope you'll at least appreciate the effort that goes into it.<br />
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