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The best sport autobiographies 2023: Memoirs from the worlds of football, cricket and more

Our guide to the best autobiographies, whatever your choice of sport

We live in an era where people want more access to their favourite sportspeople than ever before: interviews before matches, interviews after matches, analysis at the most granular levels. And that’s not to mention the social media presence that many sports clubs contractually require of their stars. For famous sportspeople, autobiographies are almost a guarantee once they do anything noteworthy. The market is flooded with them so we’re here to help narrow down your choices to the cream of the crop.

When a sportsperson has been in the public eye for such a long period of time, an autobiography is a time for them to reveal all, to be vulnerable and to finally open themselves up to their fans in a way they may never have done before.

The chosen autobiographies may not necessarily be from the biggest names in their field, but their stories offer something new and fresh, insightful and interesting, momentous and potentially ground-breaking. Read on for our buying guide and roundup.

Best sport autobiographies: At a glance

How to choose the best sport autobiography for you

There are so many sports autobiographies to choose from that it can be overwhelming when deciding which to commit to reading. Even more so when one sportsperson may have more than one autobiography. Try asking yourself these questions.

What’s the sport?

This may sound obvious when choosing a sports autobiography to read, but it’s crucial. If the subject of the book is someone considered the best in their field, and you want to find out more about their life and their mindset, that’s excellent. But that may be communicated through the medium of their sport and if you don’t know what they’re talking about, then that insight is going to be lost on you.

Likewise, the inverse is also true. If you consider yourself a serious fan of a particular sport, then you may not gain a lot from reading an autobiography of someone whose career you know intimately or a sport you know thoroughly. It could be a more interesting reading experience if you pick someone from a sport you know little about but that you know has had an incredible life.

How far beyond the sport does it go?

This is also important. Do you want the person to be delving deep into an analysis of a championship victory, taking you through each game and what their role in it was? Or do you want an autobiography in which the sport itself takes a back seat, with more of a focus on the feelings and inner monologue of that person as they traversed various obstacles in their career? Some of those in the former category can be very dry and clinical. But on the other hand, many sports fans are more interested in the tactics and physical aspect of the sport, and might find the mental and emotional side of things too “wishy-washy” for their reading consumption.

At what point in the person’s career was the autobiography written?

Arsene Wenger wrote his autobiography after he had completed his time as Arsenal manager. Sir Alex Ferguson did the same. They were retired and their managerial careers were over. Age also plays a factor, in the style of the autobiography. For example, when a 75-year-old is writing about their life in its entirety after a 55-year career in the sport, a lot of details will be skimmed over.

Many sportspeople write multiple autobiographies, and many may even write multiple memoirs while still playing. That means they can go into much more detail in shorter periods of time in their careers. For instance, at the time of writing, England Test cricket captain Ben Stokes already has two autobiographies, and he still has plenty of years left in his career. What kind of reading experience are you looking for and how deep do you want the person to dive into their own life and career? That will help you decide what you want to read.

The best sport autobiographies you can buy in 2023

1. A Clear Blue Sky by Jonny Bairstow and Duncan Hamilton: Best early-career sports autobiography

Price: £9.19 | Buy now from Amazon

England Cricketer Jonny Bairstow’s autobiography partially charts the tricky start to his international career, which began in 2013, up to his maiden Test century in South Africa in 2016.

But what sets this autobiography apart from other cricketing autobiographies, and perhaps what helped win it the Wisden Cricket Book of the Year in 2018, is its deeply personal discussion of his father’s suicide, and the effect it had on Jonny, his sister and their mum.

David Bairstow took his own life when his son was just eight-years old. His sister Becky was seven, and his mother was battling cancer for the first of two times in her life. Early in his professional career, Jonny could come across as prickly and sensitive when potentially vulnerable to the criticism of the cricketing press, but he shows a completely different side of himself here. He admits to feeling like he, Becky and their mum were survivors of a shipwreck in the aftermath of David’s suicide – and that since then they have stuck together through everything.

What makes the story of Bairstow’s life all the more compelling is that it isn’t just blue eyes and red hair that he inherited from his late father, but his cricketing talent too. While not as successful as his son, he had a long and prolific career for Yorkshire and occasionally England. The struggles of Jonny’s early career came across as laden with frustration of an unfulfilled legacy. Since his maiden Test century, Bairstow hasn’t looked back. This wonderful and sensitive autobiography explores the difficulties of establishing his career and the even tougher difficulties of his early life.

Key specs – Length: 320 pages; Publisher: Harper NonFiction; ISBN: 978-0008232696

2. Racing Through the Dark by David Millar with Jeremy Whittle: Best end-of-career sports autobiography

Price: £8.77 | Buy now from Amazon

David Millar was one of the many professional cyclists of the 90s and 00s to have doped. It was an era of cycling that was so juiced up, that any differentiation between real and fake was lost. It lost generations of fans who consequently turned away from the sport and will likely never return. Millar isn’t an outlier, but he wasn’t famous like Lance Armstrong. And he certainly wasn’t as lucky as Armstrong. Rather than being able to tell the truth from the comfort of a California mansion in his own words, Millar was arrested by the French police in 2004 for doping violations and was later banned by the British Cycling Federation for two years.

Millar’s autobiography is an honest account of how an enthusiastic and potentially naive young professional cyclist falls into the world of doping, having had no intention to cheat his way to the top. Often, those of us outside pro sport can’t fathom why a person would cheat in the field, and we may believe they must have been “evil” from the start. Millar’s contrition and genuine work after returning from his ban to help root out doping from the sport proves he is not one of those people. It’s a fascinating account of how a sport can be taken over by a culture of cheating, and that an individual is often powerless to confront or avoid that culture.

Key specs – Length: 368 pages; Publisher: Orion; ISBN: ‎978-1409120384

3. The Rodchenkov Affair by Grigory Rodchenkov: Best political sports autobiography

Price: £8.27 | Buy now from Amazon

If you want to learn about contemporary Russia through the lens of sport, and how the country was able to coordinate the largest state-sponsored doping program in the history of professional sport, then this is the autobiography for you.

There’s a case to be made that Grigory Rodchenkov, while not a noteworthy professional sportsperson, had one of the biggest impacts on global sport in the 21st century. His autobiography walks us through the world of Russian sport, dating back well into the Soviet era, and how doping has always been a part of professional sport there. In the Soviet Union, it was individual coaches giving their athletes whatever they thought worked. It wasn’t an unrefined and unorganised system, but during the mid-2000s it became systematic. And Rodchenkov, now a whistleblower living in hiding in the US, was the man behind it.

What is most interesting in Rodchenkov’s autobiography is not necessarily his revelations of secret labs or the Russian secret service’s involvement in doping control at the Sochi Winter Olympics, but his thoughts and feelings as he facilitated it all. He frequently describes life in Russia in Orwellian terms, yet fails to see the role he played in fuelling that nightmare. And while his actions arguably rob professional sport of the thrill of fair competition, he’s remarkably unapologetic: if it wasn’t him, there’d be someone else, and doping is just part of trying to gain an advantage over other competitors. It’s a brilliant autobiography that, while telling the story of doping in Russia, reveals much about the Russian psyche in relation to global sporting politics.

Key specs – Length: 320 pages; Publisher: WH Allen; ISBN: 978-0753553350

4. The Mamba Mentality by Kobe Bryant: Best “coffee table” sports autobiography

Price: £21.35 | Buy now from Amazon

In this coffee-table-sized book, basketballer Kobe Bryant – who lost his life in a helicopter crash in 2020 – tells of his self-named ‘Mamba Mentality’ on the court.

The book is split into two main sections: process and craft. While it tells lots of Bryant’s life, as with any conventional autobiography, Bryant is more concerned with passing on his wisdom of what ‘greatness’ is and what it takes to get there. When Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance docu-series was released in 2020, the world was given an insight into a man with a deep desire to win and to be the best. Bryant is cut from the same cloth.

Just a brief look over some of his achievements will tell you the scale of his greatness. Five-time NBA champion, 18-time NBA All-Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team, nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team and an NBA Hall of Famer. He’d probably tell you that those first set of achievements are the only ones that matter. And that says a lot about his mentality.

As with many coffee table books, there is more imagery than words here, displaying brilliant photography from Bryant’s life, and focusing on his storied career with the Los Angeles Lakers. This is not an autobiography just for basketball fans. It’s not even an autobiography just for sports fans. It’s a blueprint for anyone who wants to be at the top of their chosen field from someone who knows exactly what it takes to get there.

Key specs – Length: 208 pages; Publisher: MCD; ISBN: 978-0374201234

5. Addicted by Tony Adams and Ian Ridley: Most candid autobiography

Price: £9 | Buy now on Amazon

When you hear the name Tony Adams, you may think of a hard-nosed and dedicated centre back, leading Arsenal’s defence for nearly two decades. And he was a leader in every sense of the word, becoming Arsenal captain at the age of just 21 and winning four league titles, three FA Cups and two League Cups during his 19 years at the club, retiring without ever having left. He is a footballing legend.

Despite all this, Adams may argue that it was his decision to quit drinking and sticking to it that may be his biggest achievement. He admits in his book that, in doing so, it was the first time in his entire life that he had ever asked for help.

Professional football was awash with alcohol during the 1990s, perhaps most of all at Arsenal. This was a Wild West period for football, where there was a lot of money, no social media and no defined sense of professionalism instilled in the game when it came to fitness, dieting and drinking. For Adams to admit he had a problem took a lot of soul searching and courage.

This was before mental health and illness had entered the realm of mainstream health conditions and, as ever, Adams led from the front and was open about his struggles. He is by no means the only England footballer to struggle with alcoholism, but his autobiography will inspire not only those going through similar struggles, but also any sports fans who understand what it means to battle inner demons of any kind.

Key specs – Length: 384 pages; Publisher: HarperCollins; ISBN: 978-0008268749

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