ESPN Australia/New Zealand's favourite sporting books

We've all got a little bit more time on our hands, and there's every chance our TV streaming options are dwindling. Luckily there are some awesome sporting books out there to get stuck into.

ESPN.com.au journalists have all nominated their favourite sporting page-turners, which they share below.

All Played Out: The Full Story of Italia '90, by Pete Davies

Looking back, it seems incredible the level of access author Pete Davies got to a team at a World Cup, but his evocative, memorable and emotional retelling of Italia 90 -- seen through the lens of the England football team -- is a remarkable achievement of trust and writing.

The tournament was English football's rebirth moment, as World in Motion, Lineker, "We're coming for the Germans", Nessun Dorma and Gazza's tears dominated a nation's pysche for four magical weeks. Davies' work encapsulates all that, going to the heart of Bobby Robson's coaching, his battles and frustrations with senior players who spoke openly with the author, but goes further, right into the heart of the squad, and the travelling press pack embedded with the team from the island of Sardinia, through to that night in Turin, ready at any moment to turn on the team at the drop of a hat.

The picture painted of the fans is often less than rosy, as hooliganism again struck, particularly early in the tournament. Davies' honest appraisal of the flotsam and jetsam of England's travelling support was anything but rose tinted.

But the key to it all, the connective tissue to the reader, is that this book is essentially about being a football fan. A football fan at the biggest show on Earth. A football fan about to see their team, their nation, make history. Davies appears giddy at times as England's momentum grows, until that heartbreaking evening. The reader is swept along with it. Because the reader is just as much of fan as the author.

An extraordinary book that captured an extraordinary time.
-Stuart Randall

Mystery Spinner: The Story of Jack Iverson, by Gideon Haigh

It's not often you become engrossed in a biography without having ever heard of the subject. But that's the power of Haigh's impeccably researched and beautifully written book on Australia's 'mystery spinner' Jack Iverson, who only played one international series - the 1950-51 Ashes in Australia.

After serving in the Second World War, Iverson only took up cricket seriously at age 31 but within a handful of years was the best spin bowler in the world, thanks to his peculiar style of gripping the ball between his thumb and middle finger, with which the ball was propelled.

On the field, he was difficult to manage, hated batting and was hopeless on the field but after making his Test debut at 35, his exceptional bowling record of 21 Test wickets at 15.73 showed just how damaging he could be with ball in hand.

And, almost as abruptly as his rise to prominence, came the fall. An ankle injury and a confidence-sapping Sheffield Shield mauling at the hands of Keith Miller and Arthur Morris meant Iverson was back in the cricket wilderness never to emerge again.

A complex off the field as on it, Iverson tragically died in obscurity by his own hand at the age of 58.
-Niall Seewang

A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, by Ronald Reng

Ronald Reng's biography of German goalkeeper Robert Enke, who took his own life after battling depression throughout his career, may not be the most uplifting tale on this list, but is an absolutely essential read for all sports fans.

Too often, professional athletes are seen as caricatures; abstract characters in a pantomime. Some are heroes, some become villains. Sometimes they are simply names on the back of a shirt. Reng offers a look behind this facade, providing a raw -- and very human -- glimpse at what the life of a top sports star is really like.

Enke was Germany's first-choice keeper -- one of the best in the world -- and was playing for the likes of Barcelona, Benfica and Gladbach. How can it all have gone so wrong?

A Life Too Short is compelling, beautiful at times, and also crushingly sad. Some books are made to entertain - this one gives a new perspective on life.
-Mike Wise

2001 AFL Record - Season Guide

Okay, I'll admit mine is a little weird, but hear me out on this one.

Unlike many 20-somethings, my first real page-turner wasn't Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, instead it was the 2001 AFL Record - Season Guide. I was nine when my dad handed me this two-inch thick book (probably to keep me occupied for a few hours) which featured 2000 Brownlow medalist Shane Woewodin on the front cover.

I remember lying in bed night after night and reading it cover to cover. I loved it. I was fascinated with the statistical history of the AFL and every number, every fact and every stat was furthering my knowledge about the game. Call me a stats geek but I must have read every word in that book a dozen times.

Almost 20 years on and while the world we live in now is far more digital, this book still holds sentimental value for me and has proudly been displayed on my bookshelf for a number of years.
-Jake Michaels

Glory Gardens cricket series, by Bob Cattell

I'm going to go back to my childhood here and do a favour for some parents who have tried the "why don't you read a book" suggestion in response to cries of "Mum, I'm bored." I can only imagine what that must be like in the days of COVID-19.

I wasn't a big reader as a kid, which is ironic, I know, given the profession I work in today but I just couldn't get enough of the Glory Gardens cricket books. I was right into the game at the time and whizzed through each new book as it dropped.

The series tells the story of the rise of the Glory Gardens Cricket Club. A group of kids of varying abilities get together to form a team under the leadership of captain Hooker Knight and coach "Kiddo".

The club experiences all the trials and tribulations of a local junior league team -- from the actual level of interest to selection squabbles and bitter rivalries -- but get it all together to make a run at the title.

The series -- which includes eight books -- then extends to regional and county tournaments, right through to overseas tours of the Caribbean! They are perfect for the young cricket enthusiast.
-Sam Bruce

Playing For Pizza, by John Grisham

This might be a little left-field as I don't read nearly as many autobiographies or biographies as I should but if you really enjoy fiction, John Grisham's Playing For Pizza is a ripping long weekend or holiday read.

I'm an unashamed Grisham fan and he's had a couple of forays into sports fiction that have really hit the spot for me, and Playing For Pizza is one of my favourites. It follows underwhleming, injury-prone NFL quarterback Rick Dockery, who is run out of town after a particularly bad day at the office, and when his agent fields no interest from other teams, Dockery is forced to cast his net further afield.

Much further afield. A team in the small Italian town of Parma comes knocking and after initially scoffing at the idea, he relents, and what follows is an enjoyable tale of football, pizza, pasta, love, wine and of course, drama.
-Matt Walsh

Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team And A Dream, by H.G. Bissinger

You've no doubt watched the TV series, likely also the film that we featured recently in our Top 15 sports movies to get you through sports-less times; you may even have seen Against The Grain.

Before all of them came Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team And A Dream, by Pullitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter H.G. Bissinger. The book tells the tale of the Permian High School Panthers' football team through the 1988 season to the Texas state championship semifinals. But Bissinger moved his family to Odessa for the year for research, and the book became less a story solely about the Panthers, more a dive into the West Texas oil industry town that features high school football as its beating heart; for it is that environment that shapes love and life inside and beyond the gridiron.

The reporting and the writing is sharp and on point; indeed the description early in the piece of Jerrod McDougal as he climbs into his Chevy and turns up Bon Jovi LOUD has you sat alongside the young lineman in the pickup, the organ music ripping into your soul, remains among the best prose I have ever read.

I have re-read this several times over, and loaned it to many friends and colleagues; it is classic nonfiction that transcends sport, and it's perhaps more timely now than when first published in 1990. Give it a go; I can't believe you'll be disappointed.
-Andy Withers

My Life Story, by Ben Cousins

The account of Ben Cousins' remarkable double life and ultimate spiral into drug addiction gives a telling insight into the mind of one of the great AFL footballers.

The former West Coast captain had an all-or-nothing approach to life, football and his vices. He dedicated his life to becoming the ultimate athlete but behind the captaincy, premierships, and the Brownlow Medal was an obsessive personality who found release in cocaine and ice. What is truly incredible is the way he maintained his double life - Cousins admitted he could spend days without sleep on a drug-fuelled binge and still manage a best-on-ground performance come match day.

There's a clear sense of regret throughout the book over the pain he caused his friends and family by the decisions he made but also a sense of hope that there's light at the end of the tunnel.

I grew up watching and idolising Cousins in his prime - the good looking star seemingly with the world at his feet. Reading My Life Story gave me a greater sense of the pressures of professional sport, Cousins' all-consuming drive to succeed and the demons he fought to control.
-Jamie van Leeuwen