Living on the Volcano

Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager

By Michael Calvin

Century, 2015

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.

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‘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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The Premier League in Books – Part One

Arsenal

With such rich literary connections, Arsenal is a nice easy place to start. For historical accounts, try Patrick Barclay’s The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman, or Nick Hornby’s 90s classic Fever Pitch. If it’s modern player portraits you’re after, you’ll find few better than Tony Adams’ Addicted (with Ian Ridley), Dennis Bergkamp’s Stillness and Speed (with David Winner), and Lonely at the Top, Philippe Auclair’s biography of Thierry Henry. And if all that’s not enough, Amy Lawrence’s Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season is undoubtedly one of 2014’s best Christmas gifts.

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Aston Villa

Despite being one of the Premier League’s perennial few, the Villains have made little contribution to the literary canon. In my humble opinion, that’s because the likes of Mark Draper, Julian Joachim and Alan Wright have so far steered clear of the confessional. A few, however, such as Gareth Southgate (Woody and Nord), Stan Collymore (Tackling My Demons) and Dwight Yorke (Born To Score), have been more communicative. Paul McGrath’s candid Back From The Brink is the pick of an average bunch. Perhaps Gabby Agbonlahor will one day right this wrong.

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Burnley

Same colours, same dearth of books. Thank goodness for Clarke Carlisle. His You Don’t Know Me, But… is an excellent, warts-and-all look at the realities of lower league football. Carlisle’s happiest and most successful years were at Turf Moor: ‘Owen [Coyle] came in and completely shifted the dynamic. His focus was on total enjoyment. It was fun at training, something a lot of the squad hadn’t encountered for a few years. This change led to a happy workforce, and a happy workforce is a productive one…We were definitely a classic example of a team whose total was greater than the sum of its parts.’

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Chelsea

It always surprises me how little of note has been written about the Russian revolution at Stamford Bridge. Until the arrival of beige autobiographies from John Terry and Frank Lampard, we’ll have to make do with the managers. Ruud Gullit: The Chelsea Diary and Mourinho on Football are entertaining reads, but Carlo Ancelotti: The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius is the pick of the bunch. Although largely based around his time in Italy, the book ends with the brilliantly named chapter ‘Summoned by Abramovich’.

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Crystal Palace

Where the Eagles are concerned, Simon Jordan’s Be Careful What You Wish For soars head and shoulders above the rest. Mobile phone entrepreneur Jordan bought Palace in 2000 at the tender age of 36 and took them back to the Premier League. Ten years later, he was bankrupt and his club was in administration. This explosive and revelatory book will appeal to all football fans with an interest in what goes on behind the scenes, but it will mean the most to the long-suffering Selhurst Park faithful.

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Everton

This year has seen the publication of four books about Toffees heroes: Kevin Kilbane’s Killa, How Football Saved My Life by Alan Stubbs, Ossie by Leon Osman and best of all, In Search of Duncan Ferguson by Alan Pattullo. Here’s a juicy sample from the beginning: ‘Everton got under his skin. He would never ever forget how it felt to soar into the air, to head that first goal against Liverpool, before sinking to his knees with joy and relief in front of the Gwladys Street End; the legend before the player, the rise before the fall. On the same date 12 months later, he was languishing in jail.’

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Hull City

If a book could ever be said to sum up a football club, it would probably be Bend it like Bullard, nearly 300 pages of cult, no-frills entertainment. Here’s Jimmy on his motorway-side scrap with teammate Nicky Barmby: ‘I’d love to be able to say that I sorted him out, but the truth is that it was little more than explosive grappling for a few seconds. As the gaffer said later, it was hardly Ali-Frazier. We both ended up lying on a bush with no real leverage to get out of it.’

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Leicester City

The Foxes are back in the top flight again but it’s their 90s heyday under Martin O’Neill that provides the literary goldmine. Steve Claridge’s Tales From the Boot Camps is an underrated gem, while Savage! is as entertaining as you’d expect. Apparently, everything slotted into place when he joined Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet in the centre of the park: ‘With those two at my side, I produced my best forty-five minutes in a Leicester shirt…At the final whistle, everyone came over and hugged me. Martin had his arms around my shoulder. “Thank Robbie for getting us to the final”, he said to the others…That was the day I became Robbie Savage, Leicester City footballer. I was accepted by the lads from that moment on, and I still believe we were the best midfield that Leicester have ever had.’

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Liverpool

As befits a club with such history, there’s a long list of options here. For the nostalgics, I’d recommend David Peace’s Shankly epic Red or Dead and Tony Evans’ I Don’t Know What It Is But I Love It: Liverpool’s Unforgettable 1983-84. But this Christmas, it’s all about the controversial ex-strikers: Craig Bellamy’s GoodFella (featuring the winning combo of John Arne Riise and a golfclub) and Luis Suarez: Crossing The Line. The Uruguayan’s story promises to be as explosive as his finishing.

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Manchester City

Unlike Chelsea, City have an excellent book on their recent rise: David Conn’s Richer Than God: Manchester City, Modern Football and Growing Up is a brilliant look at how the football times are a changing, for better or for worse. Beyond that, there’s Blue Moon by Mark Hodkinson about the 98-99 promotion season, and Paul Lake’s I’m Not Really Here, a powerful and cautionary tale which you really don’t need to be a Sky Blue to enjoy.

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You Don’t Know Me, But…

You Don’t Know Me, But: A Footballer’s Life

By Clarke Carlisle

Simon & Schuster, 2014

Along with most of the football-loving population, I have a natural scepticism when it comes to player autobiographies. Like the ‘True Scotsman’, they tend to be all bluster and skirt, with nothing underneath. Messrs Keane and Bellamy aside, few footballers are daring enough to name and shame their fellow professionals, and understandably so. With so many players extending their careers in football through coaching and media work, burning bridges at retirement is to be avoided like the plague. There is, however, another kind of honesty, one that doesn’t play on scandal but instead offers genuine insight into the realities of footballing life. Clarke Carlisle’s You Don’t Know Me, But is a winning example of this. Touching on everything from finances to dressing room politics via addiction, depression and racism, it’s a real breath of fresh air in a fusty genre.

In many ways, Carlisle is an atypical member of the footballing fraternity. He’s won two rounds of Countdown, presented documentaries on racism and depression, and he’s the former Chairman of the PFA. While it’s not the main focus of the book, Clarke’s cerebral side is still given plenty of platform, particularly in ‘Part of the Union’, one of the book’s stand-out chapters. Discussing FIFA’s response to racism, Carlisle argues, ‘There is a disgusting disparity between the sanctions imposed for offences that will cost the governing body money and those that are unethical or immoral.’ He goes on to add, ‘It is not the exclusive remit of black players to fight racism, it is for everyone to fight.’ Carlisle is equally eloquent and forthright on the subject of his own alcohol dependency and depression, brought on by a bad injury at the tender age of 21. ‘I didn’t have the wherewithal to face my responsibilities. From my warped and clouded viewpoint, all I could see was myself.’ Carlisle reflects on his troubled past with the frank assessment of a man who is very aware of his fortunate position.

But in other ways, Carlisle is incredibly typical. As with Tony Cascarino’s Full Time, You Don’t Know Me, But… is written by a footballer who has been through the English leagues, experiencing both great highs and great lows. Blackpool, QPR, Burnley, Preston, Northampton, York City – Carlisle is no superstar and he knows it. In his own words, he’s ‘a kid from Preston, from the humblest of beginnings and with moderate ability’. The modest, unaffected narrative voice is a really appealing feature; for all his more high-brow aspirations, Carlisle is full of the joys of the ‘playground’ banter that brings a team together: ‘It’s incredibly immature, but the whole working environment of football is.’ Whole chapters are dedicated to pranks, fights, preseason tours and Christmas parties. The tone of the book reflects the combination in Carlisle’s character brilliantly, blending his intelligent observations with cruder touches of humour.

The structure of You Don’t Know Me, But… is also a real masterstroke and key to the book’s success. What better way to address the harsh realities of football than by showing a former Premier League player scrapping for a living in the belly of League Two? Carlisle’s present day trials and tribulations, interwoven with flashbacks to a career of success and failure, paint a very powerful portrait of an average football career. Transport, housing, bills; these are still everyday concerns for all but the very top players, and even then, there is always the danger of the good life being whipped out from under your feet when you least expect it.

It seems an odd phrase to use for a footballer’s autobiography, but You Don’t Me, But… is a multi-faceted memoir. In its candid handling of mental health issues, so long a taboo in the macho sporting arena, it’s a significant addition to books by the likes of Sol Campbell, Keith Gillespie and of course Ronald Reng. But Carlisle’s book also addresses some of the key issues of modern football politics and, perhaps most significantly of all, offers everyday details from the largely everyday career of an endearingly everyday footballer.

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