Word Play: Sport’s Most Challenging Reads

Where once the dressing room was a closed shop, with what going on behind those closed doors staying behind closed doors, the “tell all” book dishing the dirt on career highs and lows has become a rite of passage.

However, it’s fair to say that as well known as they may be for their athleticism, there’s certainly a stereotype when it comes to brawn over brain. To help dispel such stereotypes, or potentially fan the flames, Word Play has analysed over 50 different sporting reads to uncover the athletes who are providing fans with the most challenging pieces of literature.

About Word Play: The Fine Margins

In the UK, the average reading age of the population is nine-years-old. This ultimately means that the average person has exceeded the reading expertise normally expected of someone of that age.

Using the Automated Readability Index, we ran through extracts of each star’s autobiography to uncover the reading age of each book and separate the highbrow from the not-so-highbrow…

Tough to Tackle: Footballers’ Books by Reading Age

Many footballers of days gone by are renowned for their hard-hitting challenges, but when it comes to autobiographies, which players are providing the most challenging reads and which are bucking the stereotype?

{{age}} years

  • {{b.name}}


    {{age}} years old

While he may not have a league winners medal, Jamie Carragher tops this particular chart with his Greatest Games book. The former Liverpool player turned top pundit requires a reading age eight years above the national average, and three years higher than The Guardian newspaper.

At the other end of the table, Roy Keane joins Robbie Savage, a man he openly slates in his book, among the most accessible reads for fans with a reading age of eight-to-nine-years-old. Although in the case of Keane, we suspect the subject matter and floral language may offer a different story.

50 Shades of Play: Challenging Reads Across Sport

Bringing stars of all sports into play, Andy Murray’s Seventy-Seven: My Road to Wimbledon Glory memoir provides the most challenging read, with a required reading age of 21-22, on a par with Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Jimmy White’s Behind the White Ball is the second most highbrow book in the study, with Carragher taking third spot and Ben Stokes fourth. At the other end of the spectrum, Matt Dawson, Eddie Jones, and Boris Becker offer some of the most accessible reads, joining a multitude of footballers with a reading age of eight-to-nine-years-old.

Book Title
Reading Age
{{x.reading_age}} years

Book of Records: A Sport By Sport Breakdown

It’s a game of angles, mathematics, and control, but it turns out snooker stars are just as adept at literature, providing the most challenging reads on average across the study. Both Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan were among those to produce the most highbrow autobiographies, while the likes of Ben Stokes and Ian Botham have helped lift cricket to the second most challenging sports when it comes to autobiographies.

Rugby stars provide readers with the least challenging reads, with both horse racing and football not far behind, just sitting above the UK average.

Average Reading Age
Horse racing

Reading Age in Context

Putting footballers’ autobiographies into context, the likes of Roy Keane, Sir Alex Ferguson and Joey Barton’s work is written with a reading paired with that of Richard Osman’s best-seller The Thursday Murder Club.

Nine-years-old is the average reading age of the UK population, essentially meaning that a reading ability of a nine-year-old has been achieved by the vast majority of residents in the country. No sports stars within our study produced memoirs which had a lower reading age than the average, while The Sun newspaper also sits around average for the nation.

To put that into a little more context, 50 Shades of Grey has an automated reading age below the average.

Exploring the higher brow end of the spectrum, War and Peace requires a reading age of someone educated to degree level, with Andy Murray the only star to provide a novel that challenging, while a number of footballers books require the same comprehension as Little Women or The Guardian, including Jamie Vardy, Peter Reid, and Carlo Ancelotti.

Reading Age
50 Shades of Grey
5-7 years
The Thursday Murder Club
8-9 years
The Hobbit
10-11 years
Little Women
13-15 years
War and Peace