Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager
By Michael Calvin
Arguably the greatest asset of Michael Calvin’s previous, award-winning book The Nowhere Men was its human insight into a shadowy, under-appreciated world. The trials and tribulations of scouting were vividly portrayed through interviews with figures unaccustomed to the limelight. This was always going to be the biggest challenge for his latest book, Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager. As Calvin admits in the acknowledgements, ‘football managers are categorised by the profundity of their pronouncements.’
Living on the Volcano takes the same structural approach as The Nowhere Men: a broad range of case studies (26 at the author’s count), where a quiet, objective narrative style prioritises the words of the subjects themselves. These range from ‘veterans’ Ian Holloway and Aidy Boothroyd to bright young things Garry Monk and Eddie Howe; from League Two survivors to Premier League personalities. Even cutting through the bluster of the likes of Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers, there is honest insight to be found throughout.
‘When we piece together the jigsaw of what makes a successful manager, it contains shards of bone, scraps of sinew and slithers of grey matter.’ As Calvin’s words neatly summarise, no two managers’ stories, situations or approaches are exactly alike; some have expensive technology at their fingertips and swear by it, some pride themselves on a persona of self-belief, and others have little more to work with than old-fashioned man-management.
However, what Living on the Volcano does so brilliantly, is pick up the recurring threads. The ‘band of brothers’ mentality that emerges is built on a mutual world of uncertainty, frustration, and ‘recurrent rejection and renewal’. Each chapter is cleverly connected to the next to reflect the fluid nature of the managerial merry-go-round. The importance of father figures is clear, whether that be mentors within the game or personal heroes outside of it. In such a pressurised profession, the support network is key, as is maintaining perspective. ‘All right, we all want to win, and we might lose our job, but there are a lot of worse things in the world,’ Wolves manager Kenny Jackett stresses.
And whether they’re discussing neuro-linguistics or ‘developing the person and the player’, all managers are trying to create the best environment to nurture talent. Rodgers sees himself as ‘a welfare officer’, former Brentford boss Mark Warburton talks of ‘handling the hunger and the anger’ and Walsall manager Dean Smith describes ‘the natural sensitivities of human beings’. Within each squad, there are a range of character types to understand and get through to. It is this emotional angle that emerges as every manager’s number one challenge, whether they’re fighting for a Champions League spot or fending off relegation.
As a series of individual portraits, Living on the Volcano may seem like a book to dip in and out of. However, in doing so, there’s a danger of missing the power of the overall narrative. Bookended by former Torquay manager Martin Ling’s emotional story, this is a book about people and what it takes to do their intoxicating and exhausting job. Just as with The Nowhere Men, Calvin gets to the personal core of an impersonal industry, arguing for empathy with these ‘Poundland prophets’ and their ‘desperate ambition, absurd pretension and ritual sacrifice’. Living on the Volcano might not make the job any easier, but it should make you give your manager a little more time.
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