He should know – when researching Football Against the Enemy, his series of essays on how politics weaves its way into the Beautiful Game, Kuper travelled to more than 20 countries. The trips were well worth it: the resulting book changed his life. In 1994, Football Against the Enemy won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award. For Kuper, it meant the start of a career in sports writing and, crucially – in the short-term – some cash.
‘What I remember most is the money because I’d never had any,’ he said. ‘I was 25, I was very poor, I was getting about £150 a week as a trainee journalist. It was just fantastic.’
In 1994, the prize money for winning the William Hill was £3,500. This year’s winner, who will be announced at a ceremony at The Hospital Club in London tomorrow night, will take home £25,000, appropriate given they will be the 25th in the award’s history.
The award comes with serious financial benefits – sales of last year’s winning book, The Secret Race, an exposé of drug use in the Tour de France by former cyclist Tyler Hamilton and writer Daniel Coyle, more than tripled the week after it took the prize – but also a prestige that cannot be calculated so easily.
The roll call of winners since the award was established in 1989 is an impressive rundown of some of the best sports writing there has ever been – from Paul Kimmage’s blistering insight into life in the peloton, Rough Ride, to Nick Hornby’s celebrated memoir of a football fan, Fever Pitch, right through to former England cricketer Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography and Ronald Reng’s A Life Too Short, a sad depiction of the German goalkeeper Robert Enke’s struggle with depression before committing suicide.