Tag Archives: EFL

State Of Play – Michael Calvin

I’d barely had a chance to tuck my trusty Three Lions shirt back in the drawer, cleansed of all the flying beers, tears and sweat of a scorching World Cup summer. But, the English Football League and Premier League was BACK already to dazzle us with its rollercoaster ride of emotions for another glorious season.

Fresh from a young and multi-cultural England team giving a lot of us something to unite behind in these most fractious of times, surely now is the time for football to puff it’s chest out and be proud of its wonderful unifying and far reaching influence for good. Or is it? As you and I both know from bitter experience – where there is hope, despair is never far away.

cover‘State Of Play’ is the latest offering from award winning journalist Michael Calvin and the turning of the pages is akin to watching an end to end, nail-biting cup tie. As you’d expect from a hugely impressive thirty odd years at the coal-face of journalism, the supporting cast assembled by Calvin is of the very highest calibre – Arsene Wenger at his philosophical best; the gravel soaked common sense of Shaun Dyche; Gerrard, Dele and Gareth Southgate et al. But the common thread throughout Calvin’s work is the light he shines behind the scenes, unearthing the human stories and unsung heroes who are the real stars of the show.

The book is made up of an exhaustive nineteen chapters, split into four parts – The Player; The Manager; The Club and The People.

The opening pages are a literal bucket of cold water to the face as the dying moments of former West Brom legend Jeff Astle are poignantly recounted by his daughter Dawn. Astle died aged just 59 from the ravaging effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a condition common in boxers.

Thanks to the relentless campaigning of Dawn Astle, the FA and PFA have finally commissioned an independent study into the long-term effects of heading a football. I was completely unaware of the issue of CTE, but with shockingly high numbers of former footballers potentially affected, it could have huge ramifications for the game. Calvin’s delicate treatment of this topic is as skilful as it it is heartbreaking and provides Dawn’s fight the exposure it surely deserves.

With my attention firmly in his grasp, Calvin’s investigative journey calls at homophobia, mental health issues, failing protocols for assessing and safeguarding injured players, outdated toxic-masculinity, sexism and the high pressure culture of the modern game.

The back drop for these stories is behind the scenes at some of the biggest clubs in the world alongside prisons, housing estates, homeless shelters and non-league grounds. The beauty of this book is that people like Tony McCool, manager of Dunstable Town, working with a budget of zero sits side by side with the general manager of FC Barcelona, Jose Segura. Everyone has equal importance and input in ‘State Of Play’ as Calvin gets under the skin of the beautiful game.

It’s far from all doom and gloom though. The superb bluntness of Accrington Stanley chairman Andy Holt is thoroughly invigorating as his opening quote of chapter 13 illustrates perfectly:

“Sport in this country is being taken over by rich people who take the piss. Football is a gambling den. It’s not an industry. It is just a casino. It’s awful. Some clubs are like Formula One cars, allowed to fit rocket boosters. I’m still pedalling this little bike like mad.” 

Holt is the local boy made good who has taken it upon himself to make sure the club that famously wouldn’t die continues to stay alive for the good of the community. There is no magic wand with Holt or unsustainable spending, just gritty pragmatism and an amazing transparency that fans of other clubs might not want to admit to being slightly jealous of. And it’s working too with Stanley waltzing to the League Two title last season.

Triumph in the face of adversity is a common theme, often doused in perspective allowing success or failure to be measured outside of the binary form of football results. Calvin’s pursuit of the ugly truth is a masterclass of balanced, informed journalism. The facts and testimonies are woven together with a free flowing and relatable passion for the game which places trust in us as readers to see the message for ourselves.

I have learnt a huge amount from the books of Michael Calvin and ‘State Of Play’ is his finest work to date. I just hope that the power brokers in football can bear to look in the mirror that Calvin holds up to them.


Buy it here

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The Long & Winding Road

Ah, the end of the football season. A time for reflection on what could have been which will soon melt into the anticipation for it all to kick off again in August.

League 2 has been a funny old division this time around, which was summed up perfectly by the final game of the campaign at Adams Park.
Both Wycombe Wanderers and Cambridge United had poor starts to the season, but found themselves on the final day with an outside chance of the play offs.
A convincing 1-0 victory was not enough for The Chairboys as the required ‘favours’ elsewhere failed to materialise.
I spoke to an upbeat Gareth Ainsworth, shortly after the final whistle:
An improvement on last season’s league position, points total and goals scored are all positives to take away from a gruelling campaign which also included two significant forays into the cup competitions.
A continuation of the poor form from the end of the 16/17 season saw a slow start to the season which ultimately contributed to Wycombe falling just short of the top seven.
The unbeaten run through the winter months was exhilarating, but the games mounted up and injuries to key players brought about a slump which was arrested in time for a tilt towards the play offs.
I’m doubtless that some will look at the failure to beat Morecambe away or hold on against ten man Cheltenham at home as the reasons why The Chairboys missed out on the play off party.
Quite simply though, the league table doesn’t lie.
As Gareth said on the interview:
“You are where you are after 46 games”.
Tottenham Hotspur away was one of those days that reminds you of what a brilliant (and cruel) game football can be.
The performance of the team with the noise and passion from the fans was absolutely fantastic, whilst the drama on the day was just unbelievable.
Apologies to the people who I made cry with the audio montage of the game afterwards.
Here it is again for those of you who may have found it too painful to listen to at the time:
The trip to White Hart Lane was a real highlight of the season for me but there have been many others along the way too.
It’s a real privilege to be able to help tell the story of Wycombe Wanderers each week and I hope that the rise of the club continues under Gareth Ainsworth.
Thanks to everyone who has tuned in, tweeted, said hello and stopped for a chat, be it at Adams Park or on the road/train.
It’s been a pleasure.
Have a great Summer and, of course, COYB!
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EFL Fans Forum

Last Monday was the second EFL Fans Forum of the season. It took place at the shiny headquarters of Sky in Osterley and covered a range of subjects, forming part of the EFL’s commitment to engage with supporters across the three divisions.
Former referee and PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) Head Of Community & Engagement, Chris Foy, was very much the star of the show. His interactive presentation set out to change our perception of match officials whilst also explaining some of the recent changes to the laws of the game. It was insightful, entertaining and above all else provided the audience with a great deal of understanding and empathy for match officials. Chris is a credit to football with his natural enthusiasm, love of the game and self deprecating turn of phrase instantly winning over the audience. We also learnt that at the start of the season, each Championship club invested £50,000 to enable Select Group 2 referees to become contracted. This money has been used to help officials in all areas of training including reviewing decisions, psychology and fitness. One can only hope that this sort of thing can trickle down to L1 and L2.
Next was the Sky Sports’ Head Of Football, Gary Hughes. He explained the minimum five week commitment between the broadcaster and the EFL in announcing live television fixtures. This commitment was announced at the start of the 2016/17 season to help give clubs and their fans as much notice as possible ahead of any matches selected for live television coverage. Gary also spoke about his opinion that more access behind the scenes is the key to pushing football coverage forward, but that there is still a large amount of resistance to this from the club managers who want the dressing rooms to remain very much their own private domains. Scott Minto, one of the anchors of Sky Sports’ EFL coverage was also on hand and offered his opinion as a former player throughout the evening’s topics.
We also heard from Paul Snellgrove, the EFL Competitions Manager, who has the unenviable task of putting together the fixture list. Paul went through the process of how games are scheduled, with the main driver being to maximise attendances. He explained that clubs often request that big local games take place on a Saturday so they can take advantage of the bigger crowds and generate more revenue. The flip side of this is the odd game on a Tuesday night being an arduous trip for teams and fans where a low attendance on a Saturday would also have been likely. All the clubs and the police are consulted before the list gets published in June and then the vagaries of cup replays and the weather come into play. It really is a monumental balancing act and I’m sure that Paul has pretty thick skin by now as it is an impossibility to keep everyone happy all of the time! The Q&A at the end of the session was largely taken up by fans asking why Paul thought it was a good idea that their own team had to travel to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night, despite his explanations a matter of minutes before.
On the whole, it was an informative evening with everyone getting an insight into the workings of the EFL and Sky Sports, although the location and start time meant that the attendance could have been higher. It was a nice opportunity to meet and chat with fans of other clubs and it was a Luton Town supporter who hijacked the end of the meeting to deliver his heartfelt best wishes to the Leyton Orient fans who had travelled from East London with the future of their club still in the balance. He spoke for us all.
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