Rob Hadgraft spent 26 years as a regional newspaper journalist before turning freelance to research and write about sporting history. He specialises in athletics and football, and this is his 20th book, three of which made the final stages of the annual William Hill Sports Book of the Year awards. Rob was born in Luton in 1955 and after spells in Eastern England, Portugal and London, is nowadays based in North Essex. In 2022 he celebrated 40 years as a club runner.
This is the first full biography of Sydney Wooderson, Britain’s most popular sportsman during the 1930s and 1940s. A more unlikely sports hero is hard to imagine – he was small, shy and ran in thick glasses and baggy shorts. The public loved seeing him beat bigger and more muscular ‘Johnny Foreigners’, symbolising Britain’s bulldog spirit. At the 1936 ‘Hitler Olympics’ Sydney secretly photographed the Fuhrer, a snap recently uncovered in a dusty attic and published here!
Against all odds he broke world records and won titles galore, and for years was the world’s fastest miler. He was widely expected to be first under four minutes, only for war to intervene. Despite his fame, Sydney took the daily train to his London office job, happy to be anonymous in dark suit, hat and briefcase. Bad eyesight meant his war service was restricted to the home front, doing his bit running for war charities before falling seriously ill. He bounced back to become the European 5,000 metres champion and English national cross-country champion. Sir Roger Bannister was among many to name him their No.1 inspirational figure. During his glory days Sydney was best-known sportsman in the land, but his shyness and dislike of publicity saw him become a forgotten hero. The book covers every race from his school days to retirement, describes his life in austerity Britain.
Born in Luton in 1955, Rob Hadgraft spent 16 years as a news and sports reporter and sub-editor with the East Anglican Daily Times group of newspapers, followed by a stint in Portugal and then 8 years as Publications Editor at the RAC in London. After turning freelance in 2000, he focussed on books and magazine features abut various aspects of sporting history. Rob is a keen club runner for more than 30 years (more than 1,000 races completed) and currently lives in North Essex. This is his 20th published book.
Women’s sport is finally flourishing in Britain. But still largely unrecognised are the pioneering efforts of the Victorian era ‘pedestriennes’ who laid the foundations for modern woman to participate in professional sport.
Dozens of these working-class women abandoned humdrum lives to become history’s first professional sportswomen. They bravely put personal safety and decorum aside to tackle astonishing walking contests of 1,000 miles or more, competing against each other or against the clock, chasing cash prizes to feed and clothe their families.
Victorian society was shocked by their chutzpah. Several of the women became rich and famous, but many had a torrid time. Huge crowds watched them trekking day and night. The public loved them, but the authorities wanted them banned. The walks were often riotous affairs that attracted gamblers, drinkers and rowdy behaviour, but it was the women themselves who would be lambasted in the press, condemned as immoral and despicable.
The controversy only intensified when they adopted the daring new ‘bloomers’ costume from America, but with hindsight it is clear they were actually pioneers for women’s rights.
Rob Hadgraft spent 26 years as a regional newspaper journalist before turning freelance to research and write about sporting history. He specialises in athletics and football, and this is his 20th book, three of which made the final stages of the annual William Hill Sports Book of the Year awards. Rob, born in 1955 and based in North Essex, celebrated 40 years as a club runner himself in 2022.