Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Review: Rare take on NZ sport from inside and out

Sports Crazy: A Lifetime In Kiwi Sport - Roy Williams (Bateman RRP $39.95)

Roy Williams was the first Commonwealth decathlon champion in 1966.
Roy Williams was the first Commonwealth decathlon champion in 1966.

For anyone keen to immerse themselves in the history of New Zealand sport since 1950, written by a primary observer, this is your tome.

Roy Williams offers a rare perspective as a sports journalist who competed for New Zealand in athletics and basketball. He was the 1966 Sportsperson of the Year after winning the Commonwealth Games decathlon, is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame and a life member of the New Zealand Sports Journalists' Association.

His failure to be selected for an Olympics remains a blight on national athletics administrations of the 1960s. However, far more important is what the 79-year-old has given back to fledgling sports journalists and athletes, through his wealth of knowledge and affable demeanour.

Williams provides a forthright, often cathartic account which confronts myriad controversies he faced firstly as an athlete and secondly as a journalist with an innate sense of justice. Those sores are bandaged in numerous witty anecdotes featuring prominent sportspeople, and the odd member of royalty.

The book is effectively in three sections: family pride, sporting exploits and journalistic adventures.

A hint at the Williams genes is evident with the vignette his Australian-born father won hand grenade throwing contests in preparation for World War I. The respect for Olympic champion sister Yvette also runs deeply, down to the revelation she sewed her own shorts for the 1952 campaign. He reveals a journalist once wrote: "The Williams family were so competitive, they wouldn't have let a four-year-old beat them at Ludo."

Williams was always fearless when questioning authority. He could see through the motives of narcissistic officials or sportspeople and held them to account.

Descriptions of Williams' sporting prowess are compelling but peripheral stories create more intrigue, like the times he hitch-hiked and stayed in a garden shed at Sanson with Sir Murray Halberg, sneaked into the swimming at the 1958 Cardiff Games with a towel around his neck to watch Dawn Fraser break the 110-yard freestyle world record, kept a typewriter beside the track during the 1969 national decathlon championship to work and compete simultaneously ("I knew I could never be misquoted"), and played basketball against Mt Eden prison inmates where he met prominent Mr Asia gangster 'Diamond Jim' Shepherd.

Experiences as a sports journalist complete the book's highlights. His reporting from the dramas of the Mexico City and Munich Olympics is gripping. He also recalls when he and fellow print doyen Don Cameron had to play pool to win back a Ranfurly Shield lost by a couple of drunken Auckland players in a Canterbury bar, reveals a more human side to Keith Murdoch, gave inaugural Warriors CEO Ian Robson one of his first earfuls in the job, and details a young Lance Revill's foray in the ring with Muhammad Ali in a boxing exhibition at Western Springs. His intrepid travel with beloved late wife Ngaire also resonates with joie de vivre. The book demonstrates how to live life to its fullest.

Sports Crazy: A Lifetime In Kiwi Sport - Roy Williams (Bateman RRP $39.95)

- Herald on Sunday

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