The £30,000 William Hill Sports Book of the Year has been awarded jointly for the first time in its 30-year history, going to A Boy in the Water by Tom Gregory (Particular Books) and Paul D Gibson’s The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee (Mercier Press).
A Boy in the Water is the debut book from 42-year-old Gregory, who in 1988, aged 11, became officially the youngest person to swim the English Channel after he was mentored and encouraged “by an extraordinary, maverick local coach” John Bullet. It is the first swimming – and the third water sports – title to win the William Hill Sports Book of the Year and the first win for Penguin Random House imprint, Particular Books.
Meanwhile co-winning title The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee explores the extraordinary highs and lows of one of Ireland’s most gifted fighters, “whose vices fuelled his career while also jeopardising it” before overseeing the rise of his son’s boxing career, until Eamonn Jnr was stabbed to death in 2015. Following the life of Magee, also known as 'The Terminator' , it is the fifth boxing title to scoop the world’s richest and longest-running prize for sports writing, and the first win for independent publisher Mercier Press.
As well as the £15,000 cheque, the authors will receive a free £1,000 William Hill bet, and a day at the races.
Graham Sharpe, chairman of judges and co-founder of the award, said: “In the 30 years since launching the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, we have occasionally considered, but never ultimately awarded, a dead heat. This year, after hours of deliberation, our judging panel found it impossible to separate these two jointly deserving but very different books.
“The astonishing story of how and why Tom Gregory swam the Channel at such a young age is a memorable and truly one-of-a-kind tale. We were plunged into the deep waters above and below an impressionable young man being almost coerced into a feat beyond the capabilities of most adults by his maverick coach. We found Tom’s story, his debut book, to be captivating, entertaining and beautifully told, in just 180 brilliantly-crafted pages.”
He added: “Equally compelling is the shockingly violent and addiction-prone story of ‘The Terminator’, boxer Eamonn Magee. Paul D Gibson’s rivetingly raw account of Eamonn’s life is packed with tragedy, triumph and wanton self-destruction. It is ultimately a powerful and cautionary tale of one man’s sporting success despite himself. Astonishing and utterly gripping, we felt this was a story which attracted and repelled in equal measure but which demanded to be heard, and could not be ignored.''
Williams and Gibson attended the ceremony along with fellow shortlistees: King Adz, author of Fear and Loathing on the Oche: A Gonzo Journey Through the World of Championship Darts (Yellow Jersey), Jeff Benedict, co-author of Tiger Woods with Armen Keteyian (Simon & Schuster UK) along with Paul Ferris who wrote The Boy on the Shed (Hodder & Stoughton), Oliver Hilmes, author of Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August (Bodley Head) and Ben Ryan, who was nominated for Sevens Heaven: The Beautiful Chaos of Fiji’s Olympic Dream (W&N).
The shortlisted writers each received a leather-bound copy of their book, a £3,000 cheque and free £1,000 bet.