Monday, 8 December 2014

Book Review: The Final Over - The Cricketers of Summer 1914 by Christopher Sandford

Christopher Sandford is a well-established author on both sides of the Atlantic, with twenty biographies published on such diverse subjects as Godfrey Evans, Steve McQueen and Harry Houdini.

His latest book is a tour de force. As each page is turned, my overwhelming thought, based on a number of years in research, was "Where on earth does he get this information?"

The answer is from personal and war diaries, contemporary newspapers and magazines, plus private papers. Out of 278 professional cricketers at the start of the war, 210 of them signed up to fight. 34 never returned. Others were unable to return to the game because of injury, but it would be a disservice to suggest that the book was only about those in the first-class game.

It covers the many public schoolboys, some of them players of huge potential, who went away to the conflict and never returned. Of the sides that played the game in that last summer before the war, an estimated average of three per side died, a staggering and tragic statistic.

The book travels from the parties of Chelsea and Mayfair to the front lines of the Western Front. We see and share the domesticity of the players concerned, hope for their safe return and then see them torn to pieces in the most savage of war theatres.

It claims to be a 'gripping moving and fully human account' and delivers on that - and more. I cannot remember the last time I was so fully absorbed in a book, so keen to turn the page but so intent on every word on them. It is as well written as it is researched and I can think of no higher tribute.

With household names flitting in and out, like Fred Trott, W.G. Grace and Victor Trumper, all living out their last days away from the war, the author paints a vivid and frankly brilliant picture of the end of an era. While having a longstanding interest in the period, I have rarely seen it brought to life as it is here.

 Only one thing stops it from being absolutely perfect. I found the font a little small, maybe more a reflection on my eyesight than the book, but taking it up a little would have been appreciated, though adding to the production costs. It is a minor point.

I got to the final page and was disappointed to have done so. It will be read again in the near future and I will enjoy each word once more. If you are remotely interested in social history and that of the greatest of games, you really owe it to yourself to get hold of a copy. Get it on your Christmas wish list and look forward to a spellbinding read.

The Final Over - the Cricketers of Summer 1914 is written by Christopher Sandford and published by The History Press. It is available on Amazon for £12.91 and from all good book shops

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