When is a sports book not a sports book? There is a pattern to sporting biographies. A couple of chapters on childhood. A spark or twist that sets the athlete on their sporting journey. Then a forensic minute by minute breakdown of their greatest achievement before either a hopeful look to the future for more medals/trophies (current athletes) or a final “what a career I had!” for those who’ve retired.
Most sports books are predictable and only really of interest to people who really love the sport that’s been written about. No one will pick up Geraint Thomas’s tour diary who doesn’t already know they want to read about how he decided on his gear selection for every stage of the Tour De France.
The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee is different, at least for most of it. Eamonn Magee was a Northern Irish boxer who was brought up in one of the harshest areas of Belfast during the Troubles. His biography is as much a story of what it was like to live beside nationalists and unionists and see a community defined by both. It’s also a story of a man who started drinking at nine years old and made a life of alcohol, drugs, violence, prison and chasing women – and, when his trainers could control him, boxing too.
The first half of the book is gripping. It explores what it was like for an angry alcoholic petty criminal to grow up in Belfast in the 80s and 90s. It shows the impact that the IRA could have and how one word from one well connected member could mean fleeing your home that night to live in London for a year. It sets Eamon’s life in context and it tries to explain how one boxer came to represent Northern Ireland for a brief few years as someone who could wear the Irish tricolour but still be loved by unionist fans.
And then, in the last third of the book, it begins a detailed round by round summary of Eamonn’s career. Which if boxing is your thing then I’m sure it’s great. But, as I don’t know my uppercut from a supercut, and couldn’t tell you if the author was describing a boxing match or a barbers, this section was a bit of a slog.
However, the rest of the book is recommended and provides a glimpse defined by trouble and Troubles.
You can buy the book here: Amazon