Family: Life, Death and Football - A Year on the Frontline with a Proper Club
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Award-winning sports writer Michael Calvin follows lower league UK soccer team Millwall FC through an emotional promotion season. There for the first day of training, he was on the substitutes’ bench at Wembley, 333 days later. In an environment which is less than glamorous, he vividly portrays players and management as family men, close to their roots.
life. You have to grow up fast in football. Maybe losing my Dad made me more independent than most. I look at players of my age at Premier League clubs. They’ve obviously got bags of ability, but if they have to drop down, they’ll struggle with the reality check. They’ve never cleaned boots, swept the dressing rooms, like we have. Young players in the lower Leagues appreciate things more. Ask them what they consider their greatest achievement, and they will usually say it’s proving people wrong.
non-League game, where he loved the lack of pretension and the honesty of men who played for pin money. His first fee, £15 a match, plus a £5 win bonus, came in a brown envelope supplied by Great Wakering Rovers in the Essex Senior League. He signed his first contract, worth £45 a week, plus a £5 goal bonus, at Maldon Town, who sold him to Cambridge City for £4,000. For two years, his life settled into the rhythm of the wage slave. He would rise at 6.00am and take the commuter cattle truck to
shoulder to counteract the pain of the band being wrenched over the knuckle. Harris was sweating profusely as he sat down on the bench with a bag of ice over his left hand. The hacksaw, which looked as if it had been requisitioned from a child’s DIY set, was mercifully unnecessary. Ahmad smiled bashfully and whispered, ‘I do it all the time in A&E’. His reward came in injury time, when Harris’ clever movement enabled him to convert an unchallenged header from three yards out. Jackett was
constant contact, at chief executive level, for a month. Ken Chapman, Millwall’s head of security, coordinated Transport Police, railway operators, local councils, businesses, and community groups. He and his deputy Simon Clayton, a former football intelligence officer, toured local estates at 6.00am to check building sites had been cleared of potential missiles. A leaflet had been placed on each seat, warning of the potential damage to the club caused by FA sanctions. Chapman and stadium
their afternoon strength and conditioning session. The only tracksuit they could find for him was a size too small. His arms were too long for the standard sweatshirt, but he exuded enthusiasm when Jackett called him into his office the following evening, to confirm whether he felt ready for a rushed debut. ‘I know you’ve been in the car for a couple of days’, he said. ‘It’s up to you.’ Batt’s eyes widened: ‘I’ve come to play’, he insisted earnestly. Every dressing room has a player who