Here is my article on ‘Living On The Volcano’ by Michael Calvin, from Saturday’s Wycombe Wanderers match day programme…
“Living on a volcano: any day may be your last”. This is is how Arsene Wenger, currently the longest serving manager in the English game, perfectly describes the precarious nature of being a football manager. The phrase is used as the title of Michael Calvin’s latest book, which charts the progress of twenty managers, all in various stages and levels of their career.
I first met Mike Calvin on that day in Torquay. He was in a no lose situation, as whatever happened, it would provide some superb copy for his column in the Independent. As we all know, it was a magical fairy tale rather than a double funeral that was typed up amongst the scavenging sea gulls in the Plainmoor press box. The following day, in stark black and white, his words also shone a sobering light upon the challenging circumstances that Gareth Ainsworth had dealt with in keeping The Chairboys in The Football League. Shortly after, Mike began work on ‘Living On The Volcano’, and Gareth’s continuation of his fairy tale last season, provides an excellent frame for the book.
The average life span of a Football League manager is seventeen months, and last season there were fifty-seven managerial changes in the top four divisions. We all know their faces, watching and listening to their post match press conferences, but what do we really know about these characters that chose a life of high pressure and uncertainty? The chapter on Alan Pardew is my favourite, learning about his past working on building sites and finally getting his chance to become a professional footballer well into his twenties. This little known background information, coupled with Alan’s own admissions of his flaws and how he is confronting them has completely changed my perception of Pardew. I now find myself rooting for him as I watch Match Of The Day which is a complete turnaround for me.
Perspective on life and the human condition is provided by Martin Ling, who candidly talks through his experiences of the serious illness of depression, his subsequent recovery and rehabilitation back into football. Large parts of the text are purely the words of the managers, but through their trust in Mike, the propaganda of the press room is replaced by personal and insightful stories that provides a fascinating insight in to what makes these people tick and shape their personalities. The book skilfully interweaves these stories as it skips up and down the divisions and in these days of Premier League saturation, it’s wonderful to read and learn so much about the lower leagues.
Ainsworth recently clocked up three years in the job at Wycombe and a few days later, another belch from the volcano removed Steve Evans from the hot seat at Rotherham. This has made Gareth the tenth longest serving manager in the Football League which is a ludicrous statistic. During the time it’s taken me to write this column, Graham Alexander has paid the price for a poor start to the season at Fleetwood. On average it takes a managerial casualty eighteen months to get another job and a chance to rebuild their reputations. Fifty-eight percent of first time managers never get that chance which explains Ainsworth’s voracious work ethic in turning Wycombe’s fortunes around. In fact, Gareth has been working so hard, he told me he hasn’t had a chance to read the book yet!
As a football fan, it has thoroughly enhanced my understanding of the beautiful game.
Available in all good bookshops and on Amazon too.
You can also catch Michael Calvin on the BBC Three Counties Sports Show tonight, talking to Geoff Doyle and Luke Ashmead between 6-7pm. Tune in!