Lads, lads, lads! Can we please shelve the all-male sports-book section?

Louise Lawless on 10 books that give women sports stars the recognition they deserve


As the saying goes, it takes many attempts to break the glass ceiling. Unfortunately, this is true for the smaller things like representation in book shops and for the larger things like a woman taoiseach.

After writing an article here about the lack of women in a section in a Dublin bookshop last year, I received a direct message on Twitter from the company’s account saying that they had rectified the issue. I was pleasantly surprised to see the changes made, but this, of course, didn’t last. It again becomes a Where’s Wally? type of game, where you have to attempt to find the women across the sports shelves.

So, for the hard of learning, here is the 2020 antidote to an all-male shelf.

1. They Don’t Teach This by Eniola Aloku Penguin Books, 2019
In the 2019 version of this article, Eniola Aloku’s autobiography had yet to be published, but since then her story has only become more important. Over her time playing soccer for England, achieving a remarkable 102 caps, Aloku was subject to racism from people who should have supported her. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, and increasing frustration with the way professional football leagues have dealt with racism thus far, Aloku’s voice remains stand-alone in its bravery: this is a woman sacrificed her professional career and her dream to stand up for herself.

2. Mud, Maul, Mascara by Catherine Spencer Unbound, 2020
The autobiography of the former England rugby captain Catherine Spencer, published this year, centres around the question of how to get over your dream of losing a World Cup. What if you were the leader to do it? Spencer provides a unique angle on well-worn topics, preferring the amateur nature of women’s rugby, the resentment that comes with doing the work that younger generations benefit from and the hold sport has on you long after you’ve stopped playing. Spencer crowd-funded this autobiography, which, although admirable, could occasionally have done with more editorial oversight.

3. Eat, Sweat, Play by Anna Kessel MacMillan, 2016
This book by the editor of the Daily Telegraph’s monthly women’s sports supplement, about the importance of sport and exercise for women of all backgrounds and abilities, is a great read, no matter how active you think you are or aren’t. Her story, alongside those of many women she includes, explores topics like the pay gap, breastfeeding and making sport work to fit your life.

4. A Life without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey by Chrissie Wellington Center Street, 2012
In 2007 Chrissie Wellington won the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. A Life without Limits chronicles her journey, including battling with anorexia and having a near-death experience. The book is part memoir, part manual, outlining the diet, training and mindset that fuelled her through one of the world’s most arduous physical challenges.

5. Night Games by Anna Krien Yellow Jersey Press, 2014
An Australian Football League player is accused of sexual assault, and – in a situation now familiar to Irish readers – the story takes over the country, in newspaper columns, on radio talkshows and in the courts of legal and of public opinion. The Australian journalist Anna Krien won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 2014 for Night Games. Krien questions her position as a journalist and as a woman, widening her scope beyond the singular case at hand and asking whether the culture of men’s professional sports lends itself to this sort of behaviour.

6. Roar by Samantha Lane Michael Joseph, 2018
The journalist Samantha Lane provides a clinical, thorough look into the AFL Women’s league in Roar, with interviews from player like Daisy Pearce and Tayla Harris, as well as trailblazing coaches like Bec Goddard. Roar relays the story behind the league’s birth, and what happened once women joined one of the country’s most popular games. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn about the game GAA players are flocking to join.

7. The National Team by Caitlin Murray Abrams Press, 2019
Published last year, Caitlin Murray’s book brings you through the history of the US women’s national soccer team, from the Mia Hamm years through to the 2019 World Cup and, of course, the legal battle with US Soccer. Given the growing importance of the side as one of the best teams internationally and as political activists, this book is a must-read for any soccer fan. How they grew their fanbase from the 1990s should be of real interest to anyone involved in Irish soccer.

8. The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down by Abigail Pesta Seal Press, 2019
If you watched Athlete A on Netflix and thought, How could anyone have allowed this to go on? this book is your answer. The journalist Abigail Pesta draws a harrowing picture of Larry Nassar and of the institutions that protected him despite having received complaints about Nassar since the 1980s. Among others, Pesta speaks to his expected first victim, the girl who got out on time, the girl who screamed, the numerous girls who were not believed.

9. Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles Zondervan, 2016
Simone Biles is many things: US gymnast, activist, survivor. This book takes the reader through her life, from being adopted by her grandparents, because of her mother’s substance-abuse problem, to becoming the most decorated gymnast in history. Biles’s story is far from conventional, and an example of sports storytelling at its finest. As she said herself, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”

10. One Life by Megan Rapinoe Penguin, November 2020
For people who aren’t soccer fans, Megan Rapinoe first came to global attention when she announced that she wouldn’t visit the White House if the US won the Women’s World Cup in 2019, drawing the ire of President Trump. But her political activism began long before Trump’s inauguration, with Rapinoe joining the NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016, kneeling during the national anthem and being outspoken against US Soccer in the fight for pay equity. A recipient of the Golden Boot, the Ballon d’Or Feminin, Rapinoe’s blend of activism and athleticism has made her one of the world’s most valuable figures, and her autobiography is one not to miss.

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