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Half Time: The Glorious Summer of 1934 By Robert Winder

Release date: 19th May, 2015
Publisher: Wisden Sports Publishing

List Price: 18.99
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A couple of years ago, everyone’s favourite American import, Bill Bryson, wrote One Summer, the tale of how Babe Ruth, Al Capone and especially Charles Lindbergh dominated the news during the summer of 1927. Bryson successfully mixes newspaper reports with radio commentary and eye-witness accounts to immerse the reader into the age, allowing him to capture its spirit and understand how Lindbergh became the world’s most famous man.

In Half Time, Robert Winder repeats the technique, examining a much shorter three-week period in 1934, drawing on newspaper reports, concentrating solely on English sporting achievement and creating enough room to adhere to his publisher’s ‘mission statement’, namely to “transcend individual sports and say something about life”.

English sport’s annus mirabilis saw Hedley Verity take 15 Australian wickets in the Lord’s Ashes Test, after which Henry Cotton became Open champion, winning at Royal St George’s, while Fred Perry ended the 25-year search for an indigenous Wimbledon tennis champion.

What, then, of the brief to say something about life?

The trio succeeded in an age shorn of sports psychologists, nutritionists, agents and big money by sticking to the simple mantra of ‘practice makes perfect’. Cotton, for example, would drive his clubs through long wet grass to strengthen his wrists, while Verity shovelled coal to improve muscle strength and Perry, the world table-tennis champion, would strike a ping-pong ball against a wall for hours upon end.

As a team player, Verity was always likely to be the more effective leader. Regrettably, this theory proved accurate when, leading a company of men during the 1943 invasion of Sicily, he was fatally wounded, aged just 38. By contrast, neither Perry nor Cotton saw active service; they would become the forerunners of today’s ‘focused’ sportsmen who appreciated that there’s no substitute for hard work and discipline. That’s fine – and correct – but perhaps sportsmen and women have grown more determinedly individualistic in the interim, which is not quite the trait required for team success – as English sports fans could confirm.


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