A year on the frontline with a proper club
by Michael Calvin
Reviewed by Neil Andrews
From WSC 301 March 2012
Millwall and success are not common bedfellows. As such you could be forgiven for thinking this offering is little more than an attempt to cash in on the Lions' campaign of 2009-10 that ended in play-off success. Michael Calvin struck lucky with the happy ending, but there is a lot more to Family than a simple recap of a winning season. It offers a fascinating and entertaining insight into what is described as a "proper club" by the book's subtitle.
Granted unprecedented access to every aspect of the club, Calvin begins to understand why Millwall feel they are the "convenient coatpeg upon which football seemingly hangs all it ills", when they are charged by the FA over crowd trouble at West Ham at a League Cup tie. As the season progresses, Calvin slowly becomes more involved. Eventually he crosses the line and has to reprimand himself for losing his partiality and celebrating a late winner with the injured Gary Alexander.
Calvin endures hours of travelling up and down motorways to attend reserve-team fixtures and youth matches. He gives the club's two scouts company as they cast their eyes over the opposition and potential new signings. He shares the pain of the youngsters who are axed at the end of their apprenticeships, and witnesses reserve-team coach Richard Shaw conduct a team talk while a sickly Lewis Grabban sits on the toilet, door ajar with his shorts around his ankles. At one point he considers the absurdity of physio Bobby Bacic being headhunted by Iron Maiden.
The book really comes alive when the players and management team begin to open up. Calvin – who went to school with boss Kenny Jackett – uses his tabloid experience to make his subjects feel at ease and bring out the stories he feels are there to be told. Familiarity grows and he becomes the squad's unofficial confidant as they fret about the future, life after the game and possible failure. They all have one eye on their next contract.
Performances are affected during contract negotiations and an upturn in form only comes once they have put pen to paper, safe in the knowledge they have another two years at the club. Alexander has no such comfort and confesses he is considering doing "the knowledge" just in case things don't work out.
The fragile nature of the profession is a common theme throughout but there is a parallel camaraderie that goes beyond the normal dressing-room pranks. This acts as a support network to see each other through troubled times, be it injury or the death of a close relative. These players really do fight for each other – literally in one game against Wycombe Wanderers – and it is this team spirit that eventually enables them to cross the finishing line.
Thankfully no punches are pulled by either author or club, ensuring a frank and brutally honest – and at times very funny – account of life at the sharp end of football.