Is Britain's Greatest Ever Sportsman someone that you have never heard of?
Lewis Hamilton’s record-equalling seventh Drivers Championship has reignited Britain's greatest ever sportsman debate. Here Tom McCall highlights the case of a true sporting hero that very few have heard of, and recommends a book about his extraordinary life and achievements.
The debate involving Britain’s greatest ever sportsman typically involves the likes of Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton, Ian Botham, Steve Redgrave, Bobby Moore, Mo Farah, Chris Froome or AP McCoy. There are others too, depending on one's sporting preferences, age, and definitions of sport and greatness. Whilst many have cases for the accolade, and for what it's worth Andy Murray gets my vote from those listed, there is a standout candidate that rarely gets mentioned.
Max Woosnam was born in Liverpool in 1892, and over his lifetime assembled a sporting CV that is simply unrivalled in its achievements, variety and audacity.
An all-rounder in the true sense of the word, Woosnam finished his illustrious sporting career a five time Cambridge blue, having played for Chelsea, captained Manchester City and represented England at football, winning an Olympic gold and silver medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games, making 144 not out for the Public Schools XI against the MCC at cricket, becoming Wimbledon doubles champion, playing golf off a scratch handicap and making a maximum 147 break at the snooker table. And if that isn’t enough, legend has it he beat the Hollywood star Charlie Chaplin at table tennis, whilst using a butter-knife as a bat……
Especially impressive in all of this is the fact that the idea of being paid to play as a professional seemed ‘vulgar’ to Woosnam, who took part for the love of sport, with no financial gain.
Woosnam’s sporting accolades, and his extraordinary life, are well documented in the book All Round Genius by Mick Collins. The book is well researched and written, and gives great insight into the life of a a charismatic sporting champion who shouldn’t be forgotten.
So the next time someone tells you that Lewis Hamilton is Britains’ greatest ever sportsman, for driving the fastest and most expensive car in races when only a handful of drivers can realistically win, throw Max Woosnam’s name and CV into the mix. And encourage them to read the book.