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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Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino

Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino

By Tony Cascarino with Paul Kimmage

Simon & Schuster, 2000

No offence to Tony Cascarino but a true superstar could not – and would not – have written Full Time. Honesty and humanity, which are the book’s greatest strengths, are native to the seasoned grafter with a knowledge of both success and failure. Cascarino is an expert on both sides of the coin. He might have been an early million pound man who played in 2 World Cups and the top divisions of England, Scotland and France, but he also started out as a hairdresser, spent nine years in the lower tiers of the football league and then at least three more failing to live up to great expectations. So there are few better placed to offer a candid insight into all aspects of the beautiful – and not so beautiful – game.

‘We drive flash cars and wear flash suits and behave like flash pop stars; and we shape and mould the truth about our lives and present ourselves as shiny, happy people in the pages of Hello.’ As a glimpse behind the glamorous façade of football, Full Timeis equal parts entertaining and sobering. Remote and remorseful in his end-of-career exile, ‘Cass’ is quick to acknowledge he’s a somewhat negative tour-guide. ‘Careers in football are like divorces’, he tells us, ‘there are few happy endings – they always end up bad.’ The striker’s memoir is as much about the mistakes made and the secrets kept as it is about the goals scored. In his own words, ‘In football, it’s not what you are but what you appear to be that counts.’ Nothing’s really changed.

What Full Time conveys brilliantly is the ups and downs of a life in football, from game to game but also from second to second. There are the moments of feeling ‘bulletproof’ as one of the kings of Jack Charlton’s Ireland in the early 1990s, eating and drinking without caution, winning big in card schools and sneaking back into hotel rooms after nights with female fans. But there are also the moments when the aches add up and the doubt creeps in: ‘For as long as I can remember, there has been a little voice in my head that highlights my weaknesses and undermines my confidence.’ Cass knows more than most strikers about loss of form and the tough mental battle to regain it. ‘Becoming a multi-million pound player was the worst thing that ever happened to me’ is a pretty powerful statement to make.

Paul Kimmage does a fantastic job of finding a suitable tone for the book, blending the cruder style of footballing banter with the more elegant prose of reflection and regret. An anecdote about throwing Phil Babb’s skid-marked pants to hysterical groupies is followed by ‘The craving we have to be someone. The magnetic lure of fame.’ The book’s closing line – ‘We win, we lose, the manager bangs the table. But we answer to ourselves’ – is worthy of great literary fiction. In weaving the contemporary French strand through the telling of the past, Kimmage maximises the poignancy of a man looking back at the twilight of his career.

Full Time’s original selling point was the scandal surrounding Cascarino’s false Irish heritage. Nearly fifteen years on, in a world where Adnan Januzaj could have chosen to play for England, it seems one of the book’s least intriguing angles. Instead, it’s the personal indiscretions that engross, and Cascarino’s heart-felt desire to make amends for them. Now living with his second wife and their daughter after a painful and drawn-out separation, Cass is no saint and he knows it. But in the renaissance of his own father and the indifference of his two sons, he has the best inspirations for redemption. Why should you read Full Time? In Cascarino’s own wise words, ‘Because there’s more to football than the ninety minutes of a game and more to the people that play it than a 5 in the ratings.’

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