Heroes fall with a dramatic suddenness, their balloons of hype punctured by the realities of drug-taking, drinking, womanising and sometimes all three.
It is curious that in the year of the collapse of the Lance Armstrong legend, Richard Moore, the leading writer of cycling, should produce a marvellous, fluid tale of drug-taking, but in athletics. The Dirtiest Race In History (Wisden Sports Writing, £18.99) chronicles the 1988 Olympic 100m final in which Ben Johnson thrashed Carl Lewis and others. Moore reveals a world of mass- and self-delusion and provides a wonderful postscript.
The Secret Race: Inside The Hidden World Of The Tour De France by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle (Bantam, £18.99) is the best of the indictments of Armstrong and the culture of "preparation" in the cycling world. Hamilton, of course, is speaking from personal experience and the detail is simply breathtaking. The depth of the conspiracy is such that he has merely provided the opening chapter.
Revelation is the watchword of I Am The Secret Footballer (Guardian Books, £12.99) and Graham Hunter's Barca: The Making Of The Greatest Team In The World (BackPage Press, £9.99). The secret footballer is an indiscreet teller of tales from inside football: why agents are a good thing, why it is best not to go Las Vegas with the lads for a night out, how managers become disregarded and who is the whiniest player in the Premier League. Part of the fun is trying to identify the writer –whose identity is protected by The Guardian, for which he writes a weekly column – but there are some genuine and dark insights.
I had the good fortune to see an early manuscript of Barca and was amazed at Hunter's level of access. This is an inside story with the writer having almost a foot in the dressing room. The portraits of the players are excellent, the stories are intriguing and Hunter outlines the Barca way with particular reference to the work done by Johan Cruyff on both the training ground and the very psyche of a club. Worth the admission price alone is a tale about the Barca player who went in search of a net with a pair of scissors to obtain a souvenir from Spain's World Cup victory.
There is both scandal and revelation in Sit Down And Cheer: A History Of Sport On TV (Wisden Sports Writing, £18.99), but as the author is Martin Kelner there is wit too. This is a brisk, humorous but gently informative history, with the peccadilloes of such as Frank Bough alternating with the strange way sport was almost disregarded in its early days. Kelner is the master of the comic broad-brush approach but there is enough detail and focus to make this illuminating as well as fun. It also will appeal to viewers of a certain age, with deft portraits of such as David Coleman and a report from the battleground that is Motty v Barry Davies.
Inside The Divide by Richard Wilson (Canongate, £8.99) is an innovative, properly provocative account of the Old Firm rivalry. Wilson, a sports writer for The Herald, takes one match and uses it to approach the phenomenon from several perspectives, almost as a conduit for different views, different experiences. This is a work where ambition of purpose is properly rewarded.
Celtic: A Biography In Nine Lives by Kevin McCarra (Faber, £16.99) is cleverly constructed and beautifully written. The most unusual life is that of Flax Flaherty, a newspaper vendor at Queen Street Station, who was a friend of Jock Stein and who regularly accompanied a secretary at the club as she took the wages of the players out to Celtic Park. This is pure remembrance of times past but the book's highlight is a judicious and informed dissection of the Fergus McCann tenure that rescued Celtic from the banks and placed the club on a financial footing that has never slipped. No scandal there, but plenty of revelation in McCarra's peerless prose.