‘Sports writing at its finest’? An antidote to an Irish bookshop’s all-male display
Ten recommended reads by and about women in sport
A display of “sports writing at its finest” in a large Dublin bookshop. None of the 30 or so books were by women authors or about female athletes.
Recently I was browsing the sports section in a large Dublin bookshop. On a table of approximately 30 displayed books, there was a placard saying “Sports Writing at its finest”. None of these books were written by women authors, nor about women athletes.
So for anyone with a passing, growing or lifelong interest in sports here are some of sports writing’s finest women that you may have missed.
1. Game Changer: Cora Staunton (Transworld Publishers, 2018)
In the first GAA autobiography written by a woman, Cora Staunton talks about playing football in Carnacon, Co Mayo, becoming a four-time All-Ireland winner and a GAA All Star 11 times. A deserving winner of the 2018 Bord Gáis Energy Sports Book of the Year, Staunton’s story is far from over. She was the first international recruit to the AFL women’s league when she joined GWS Giants, a contract that was just renewed when she suffered a double leg break. Whether or not she manages to overcome this injury is yet to be seen, but this book from one of Ireland’s greatest sportswomen is a must-read.
2. Driven: Rosemary Smith (HarperCollins, 2018)
Although not ubiquitously known in Ireland, Rosemary Smith is an inspiration in the motorsport world. Hailing from Dublin, Smith trained as a dress designer before becoming a driver. She competed in the Monte Carlo rally eight times, and won the Tulip Rally, becoming the only woman ever to do so – a title she still holds today.
Driven is a story of perseverance, struggling through financial and marital issues, and overcoming boundaries to achieve your potential, no matter what obstacles lie in your way.
3. Behind the Lines: the 42 (Journal Media, 2018)
In the second edition of their collection of great Irish sports stories, the 42 brings together a varied range, from soccer to rugby to boxing. We hear of the boys who played soccer against Katie Taylor, the path of the Irish hockey team en route to silver medals in the 2018 World Cup. Of note is Emma Duffy capturing the story of the women’s under-20 relay team who won a world silver sprint for Ireland in 2018, women who “know [they] can do basically anything”. If there is criticism, it is not with the quality of the stories, but with the quantity of the storytellers. Despite being indisputable champions of women in sports, the 42 gives only two women, out of a total of 17 stories, the chance to write.
4. Relentless: The Inside Story of the Cork Ladies Footballers (Currach Press, 2016)
Although impossible for younger athletes and fans to remember, the Cork football team did not always hold the impressive reputation they have now. Undisputed All- Ireland champions from 2005 to 2016 – with 2010 the exception– the team came from humble beginnings. Prior to 2004 they’d never won so much as a senior Munster title.
Relentless tells the story of their hard work, their sacrifices and their ambition to win not just one medal, but multiple.
5. My Story: Sonia O’Sullivan (Penguin Ireland, 2008)
No list of Irish women sporting stars would be complete without Sonia O’Sullivan. Before social media, Irish women athletes weren’t as visible as they are now. For many growing up, the Cork woman was the prime – and possibly, only – example of a successful female Irish athlete. Although we hear from her through her weekly Irish Times column, for those who want a more detailed look at her career her autobiography is the place to go.
6. Six Nations, Two Stories (O’Brien Press, 2015)
In a year when neither the men’s nor the women’s Six Nations campaign left much to celebrate, a throwback read to 2015 offers solace. Kate Rowan and Peter O’Reilly’s Six Nations, Two Stories tells of the journey both Irish teams took in 2015, both leading to glory. A compelling read that gives a detailed analysis of every match, it will fill the rugby-shaped hole in fans’ hearts as the season draws to a close.
7. Women’s Sports: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2018)
“When we support, promote, and celebrate girls and women in sport, we all win,” so concludes Jamie Schultz’s book. Although it is based in the US, its lessons are universal. Schultz offers a comprehensive look to the sports industry; from the history of women’s sports, intersectionality, sexuality, the Olympics and paralympics, the media,and professional opportunities both on and off the field. Far from anecdotal, it is a labour of love for Schultz: an in-depth research project, but with language that makes it accessible to any reader.
8. Swell: A Waterbiography (Bloomsbury, 2017)
On the first page of her “waterbiography”, Jenny Landreth states that “swimming can be a barometer for women’s equality”, and it is this barometer that paves the way for the social history element of the book, detailing the progress of swimming for women in England. Part memoir, it is also the story of how Landreth came into swimming, and she discusses issues like unfulfillment when swimming with young children and becoming a swimmer in later life. The book, which pays homage to “the swimming suffragettes”, is funny, refreshingly honest and engaging from beginning to end.
9. Marathon Woman (Second Da Capo Press, 2017)
“No woman can run the Boston Marathon,” was what Kathrine Switzer was told by her coach Arnie in 1966, but “If any woman could do it, you could”.
In 1967 she ran in the – then all-male – Boston Marathon despite being attacked by both race officials and competitors along the way.
In 2017, on the 50th anniversary of Switzer running the Boston marathon, her bestselling book was relaunched. This book is a particularly interesting read in a year where there is no shortage of news about gender and its apparent limitations when it comes to running. It offers a timely, poignant reminder of how far women have come, but also how far the world has yet to go to achieve equity.
10. They Don’t Teach This (Penguin Books, 2019)
Not out until August, this book by English footballer Eniola Aluko is one to watch out for. Apart from having a staggering 102 caps for England, she also holds a first-class law degree from Brunel University, was the first female pundit on Match of the Day, is a UN Women’s ambassador and a Guardian columnist. The book promises to go beyond memoir to explore nationality, identity and race, and will no doubt be a crucial read for any football fan.