Exclusive: deCoubertin Books to publish Ron Atkinson memoir

Ron

I might have my finger firmly pressured on the football book pulse but I don’t get many exclusives, let alone really juicy ones. However, today I can reveal that deCoubertin Books will publish Ron ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson’s autobiography on 15th September and yes, a certain controversial commentating incident may just get a mention or two. As might Dion Dublin, fingers crossed. The Independent’s Tim Rich will be Ron’s sidekick and if the book jacket and title are anything to go by, this book is destined to be a timeless classic. 

Read the full press release below:

deCoubertin Books will publish the memoirs of legendary football manager, Ron Atkinson, this autumn.

Atkinson is one of English football’s most recognisable and popular characters, having been involved in management for a quarter of a century.

He remains the only Englishman to have won major trophies with three different clubs: Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa. At West Bromwich Albion, he was one of the first managers to promote black footballers, including Laurie Cunningham, who went to Real Madrid, Cyrille Regis, who became an England international, and Brendon Batson MBE.

After retiring from management, Ron evolved into one of the most familiar and popular commentators on football. Yet that career came to an end in April 2004 with a single, unguarded comment about the Chelsea defender, Marcel Desailly. Atkinson was labelled a racist and driven from the game he loves.

In The Manager Ron Atkinson delves into the highs and lows of an extraordinary career that took him from non-league football to Old Trafford’s theatre of dreams in the space of seven years. He almost managed two Midlands clubs – Aston Villa and West Brom – to the league title. But behind the familiar image of the bling and one-line quips Ron Atkinson was – and remains – a deep observer of football and footballers.

Ron Atkinson said: ‘I thought this was the right time to be telling the story of my life in football. It began in 1954 when I was a ground staff boy watching in awe as Ferenc Puskas trained in the rain at Molineux when foreign footballers were looked on as alien beings. Football has changed completely and in a sense my career in the story of that change.

‘I wanted to give a proper portrait of the people I have worked with; men like Laurie Cunningham, Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath and Paolo di Canio and those I’ve commentated on, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. I also want to go into not just the fabulous stories from my time managing the likes of Manchester United, Aston Villa and Atletico Madrid but to analyse where they are now.

‘This is also an opportunity to discuss the Marcel Desailly affair and my fight to prove that I am not a racist.

‘I have collaborated with books before but this is my full autobiography, the story of my life.’

deCoubertin Books founder and principal James Corbett said: ‘We’re thrilled to have Ron on board and we hope that his book re-asserts his reputation as one of the finest and most innovative managers of his generation. The book transcends the clichéd version of Ron and shows him as a serious, thoughtful individual with trenchant views on a game he has given so much to.’

Atkinson has collaborated with the Independent’s Tim Rich on the book, which will be published on 15 September. Four signed special limited edition versions of 250 copies commemorating his time at West Brom, Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa will also be available in October.

Michael Calvin Interview

SPORTS REPORTER MICHAEL CALVIN PHOTO:PHIL COBURN

SPORTS REPORTER MICHAEL CALVIN
PHOTO:PHIL COBURN

When it comes to sportswriting, Michael Calvin is an A-list, award-winning powerhouse. Whether you’re reading his columns for The Independent and BT Sport or one of his many brilliant books, top-quality insight and analysis are guaranteed. Mike is also one of the good guys, which is why he’s back for a second interview with Of Pitch and Page and why he’s (hopefully) forgiven me for drastically underestimating his phenomenal output (see below). On the back of rave reviews for his latest book Living on the Volcano, I asked him about research, writing and what he’s learnt about football management.

1. What made you decide to make football managers your next project after football scouts?

Scouts are still subjected to institutionalised disrespect, as are managers. That gave me the incentive to try to humanise what can be a pretty de-humanising job. I’ve always been struck by the fact that, despite their ubiquity, football managers have traditionally remained resistant to deeper scrutiny. I wanted to find out what made them tick, as people and professionals.

2. Was it more difficult to gain managers’ trust? Was there any material that had to be removed at a later date for confidentiality reasons?

I was fortunate that quite a few of the managers had read my previous football books, Family and The Nowhere Men. They knew what I was about: I was looking for authenticity. They responded to the prospect of being portrayed accurately, and with a degree of depth. A 100,000 word book gives a writer an ability to contextualise, so they were comfortable enough to drop their guard. We worked in a spirit of mutual trust and respect, which is very rare in the modern game.

3. Did your opinion change at all as the interviewing/writing went on? It strikes me that you were always sympathetic to the manager’s plight, but was there anything that really left you ‘eyes opened’?

I think they understood I empathised with their problems. Several said ‘you’ve been in dressing rooms. You know the territory.’ The most powerful question a writer can ask is ‘tell me how you do your job’. This wasn’t just an interview request; I wanted to watch them work, on the training ground and in internal meetings to develop an understanding of their character and the breadth of their responsibilities. I sensed a cultural shift in the emergence of a new, more emotionally intelligent generation, aged between 34 and 43.

4. Living on the Volcano is your third book – do you find the writing process getting easier each time?

Actually it is my sixth! I did a book on cricket captaincy with Ray Illingworth when I was 21 (don’t ask the publication date) and one called Only Wind & Water, which was on a round the world yacht race in which I competed (the publishers promptly went bust!) I also collaborated with Gareth Thomas on Proud, which was named Sports Book of the Year 2015 (sorry for showing off!) I love the research and writing process; the more books one writes, the easier it is to get one’s head around the scale of a project.

5. Were there any managers that you were sad not to include?

The only outright refusal was from Sam Allardyce, who rather grandly announced he wanted to share his thoughts through the LMA. He has a book out soon, funnily enough…. I had to be really disciplined about the number of managers I studied otherwise Volcano would have rivalled War & Peace. I was happy with the cross section, but wouldn’t have minded including Nigel Pearson and Keith Hill, at Rochdale.

6. At last year’s Manchester Football Writing Festival, you spoke about how the move to Twitter-speed news may leave the book as the only option for longer, more considered sports journalism. Do you feel we’re seeing a growth in high-quality football literature?

I do, and it is not just limited to football. I think the standard of British long form sportswriting has improved immeasurably over the last decade, to the point where it is more compelling than its North American equivalent.

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Now for the Quick Fire Round: as a management expert, who would you choose to…

7. Win the Premier League on a budget of £50million?

Arsene Wenger (provided everyone else had £50m)

8. Secure Premier League safety against the odds?

Bit counter-intuitive this one, since he failed to do so last season, but Sean Dyche.

9. Get a young side promoted from the Championship?

Karl Robinson, given time and more resources than he has at MK Dons.

10. Take a team from League 2 to the Premier League?

Obviously dependent on continuity of budget, but a natural development coach like Paul Tisdale at Exeter, Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, or Wolves’ Kenny Jackett, whose mentor at Watford, Graham Taylor, did just that.

 You can buy Living on the Volcano here

Autumn Football Titles – The Top Six

1. Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin (out now)

A new Calvin book is always a treat worth waiting for, and Living on the Volcano is no exception. Football management is his biggest and toughest topic yet, but Calvin maintains that high level of range and insight that we’ve come to expect from him. For my full review, visit http://wp.me/p5bRPr-9v

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2. Das Reboot: : How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World by Raphael Honigstein (out 3rd September)

Since that 5-1 defeat to England that we’ll never let them forget, Germany have rebuilt themselves as world beaters at both club and international level. Every revolution must have its historian; over the last decade or so, Guardian and Blizzard writer Honigstein has emerged as the go-to man for all things Fußball. Great title, great jacket; this promises to be an excellent look at modern football’s biggest rebirth.

Das Reboot

3. A Season in the Red: Managing Man Utd in the Shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson (out 20th August)

Have there ever been bigger boots to fill? Moyes taking over from Fergie at Old Trafford was a nice narrative that most people wanted to see work out. Sadly, it didn’t, for a variety of reasons. Ever wondered what went on behind the scenes during that turbulent 2013-14 season at Old Trafford? Guardian journalist Jamie Jackson is the man to tell you.

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 4. Diego Costa: The Art of War by Fran Guillén (out now)

After a poor start to the season, Chelsea need their star striker back to his fearsome best; all power, speed and goals. While Costa works his way back to full fitness, read up on his fascinating journey to becoming one of the best players in the world and toughest opponents. For my full review, visit http://wp.me/p5bRPr-9F

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5. Touching Distance: Kevin Keegan, the Entertainers and Newcastle’s Impossible Dream by Martin Hardy (out now)

With billionaire owners now fixing the football hierarchy for years to come, we have to treasure the old stories of unexpected success. We’ve all heard about Newcastle’s 1995-96 season – Asprilla, Ginola, attacking football, goals galore and Keegan’s fate-tempting speech – but this promises to be the definitive account of those entertaining times on the Tyne.

Touching Distance

6. Autumn sees a number of autobiographies battling it out for that final spot: Steven Gerrard’s My Story, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Leading, Jose Mourinho’s Mourinho, Sam Allardyce’s Big Sam. It’s probably best not to expect too much from these.

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.

Buy it here