The most nerve-wracking part of being a member of the judging panel for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year comes at the Award announcement when the audience and authors are assembling to discover who has won the most prestigious and valuable prize of its type. And you know the result.
You have to mingle and talk to publishers, writers, publicists, relatives, all on tenterhooks - without giving the slightest hint that their author has or hasn't won. That's bloody difficult, and not a great deal of fun. But it is a small price to pay for being involved, and the saving grace is that, unlike everyone else in the room – bar the judges – you appreciate just how long and how hard the final decision is discussed, debated and argued over before finally being taken.
This may be little consolation to the runner-up, but eventually I think they all come to realise that they have all done tremendously well to reach this stage, they are all substantially better off financially as a result, their book is about to sell far more copies than it might otherwise have done – and they also have a free bet which, handled with care, could result in them making more money than the author(s) of the winning book!
Once the result has been announced it is time to relax a little and begin to commiserate and congratulate where appropriate – and remind the authors that, win or lose, they have appreciated something I never will – the thrill of knowing that their endeavours have impressed one of the toughest judging panels involved in any literary award, sporting or otherwise.
I say advisedly that they are a tough bunch – particularly as our judges do not serve just for one year and therefore will by definition get to read literally hundreds of books during their time on the panel, so will instinctively know what is fresh research, an innovative writing style, a genuinely new approach to a subject, or cliched, regurgitated tosh – not, I hasten to add, that we get much of that!
Every year brings its entirely new experience: maybe an author complaining before the result is announced that he knows he hasn't won; an author kicking a door and storming out when it is confirmed he hasn't won; another author wanting to fight one – or all – of the judges; my favourite sports book ever not winning, that sort of thing.
Mind you, disappointingly, I'm still waiting to have a brown envelope crammed with fifties slipped to me to ensure that a certain title comes out on top – I'd love to know how I'd react to such a request!
Seriously, I'm so pleased that way back in the day when I was a fresh-faced youngster of, er, thirty-ish summers, I was fortunate enough to meet up with an exiled Kiwi pursuing a sporting dream of his own by running the only bookshop in the country dedicated to sporting titles and to discover that we had both been wondering why no one had managed to get an annual prize for sports books up and running.
Brilliantly, too, John Gaustad also turned out to be an Arsenal fan and we met in 1988, the very year that his team had been shockingly turned over in the League Cup Final at Wembley by the underrated and overlooked outsiders of little Luton Town, which just happens to be the team I have supported since one misguided day in 1959 when I took the fateful decision to follow them rather than the team they were about to play in the FA Cup Final – Nottingham Forest. Forest promptly won the Cup and proceeded, courtesy of one Brian Clough, to win just about every other trophy available to them.
Anyway, John forgave – or tolerated – me, and we then enrolled the third and fourth members of our team: PR man, Tim Fordham-Moss; and my long-suffering William Hill sidekick, Romaine Snijder. Using our company's budget, John's Sportspages bookshop and Tim's powers of persuasion to convince a star-studded set of judges to lend the Award the credibility of their reputations each year, we were off and running in 1989.
John stood down from his role as chairman of the judging panel only last year, and, incredibly sadly, died earlier this year. I think about him every time Arsenal are mentioned, which is, of course, often. None of us lasts for ever, of course, but I like to think the William Hill Sports Book of the Year will outlive most – if not all – of us currently involved with it, eventually. By doing so it will ensure that we have at least some small future legacy to mark our efforts in creating what has become an essential ritual each year which, for many of us, marks the official start of the countdown to the festive season.
All of this year's shortlisted books are very special. One of them just convinced us it was ever so slightly more special than the others...
Graham Sharpe is co-founder of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award and its chair of judges.
The winner of the 28th William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award will be announced this Thursday (24th November) at an afternoon ceremony at BAFTA, London. Follow @BookiePrize on Twitter for news from the event.
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