Book Review: Whose Game Is It Anyway? Football, Life, Love & Loss by Michael Calvin

The COVID pandemic forced us to change the way we live and being confined to our homes gave some people the opportunity to take up new hobbies and interests, whilst for others it provided a time for contemplation and reflection. Michael Calvin, the award-winning journalist and sportswriter turned his hand to what his does best – writing – during lockdown, and produced Whose Game Is It Anyway? Football, Life, Love & Loss.

Whilst the title suggests a book dominated by football and the desire to answer the question it poses, it gives the reader so much more than that. This is a wonderful read that draws on all Calvin’s experiences from his working and personal life to explore the role of sport in our lives and in a wider context in areas such as global politics.

Style wise, this is a book which is part biography, part diary, part critique and part homage, but overall is very personal. As a reader there is an intimacy in the writing that felt like Calvin was taking directly to me, whether this was about him having tuberculosis as a child or his encounters with sporting legends such as Muhammad Ali or Bobby Charlton.

Having been written during the pandemic this is a book of the time, with Calvin open in his criticism of Boris Johnson and his Government in the handling of the situation. Indeed, politics features in a number of chapters, as various sport events that Calvin attended over the years are explored to explain the ways in which regimes tried (and continue to try) to use them for political gain.

Indeed you get the feeling that Calvin is no fan of politicians, with a picture in the book of Margaret Thatcher in the aftermath at Hillsborough, labelled, Eyes of an owl, instincts of a shark…Her credo, that football fans deserved to be treated as second class citizens, endures. However, it isn’t just politicians who come in for criticism with Calvin critical of the way the media hounded and dealt with ex-England managers Bobby Robson and Graham Taylor. But in case you think this is a one-way street in terms of handing out reproach, Calvin uses the book for self-reflection and acknowledges mistakes he has made down the years.

Whilst Calvin is known as a journalist and sportswriter, the book lets you into his world as a competitor within rallying and sailing and these chapters provide another window into his character and the challenges they threw up. Combine this with his years travelling around the world as a journalist and you can feel the frustration that lockdown imposed on Calvin where the book takes on a diary like feel.

Does this book answer the question posed within its title? Without giving anything away, for this reader it does. And now having completed reading the book, the reaction is to start it over again as there are undoubtedly so many nuances in the writing that will be found in a second read.

This surely has to be on the William Hill Sports Book of the Year list when voting comes around next time.

(Pitch Publishing. April 2021. Hardback 320 pages)

Michael Calvin’s football books include: No Hunger In Paradise: The Players. The Journey. The Dream, Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager, The Nowhere Men: The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters, Family: Life, Death and Football: A Year on the Frontline with a Proper Club, State of Play: Under the Skin of the Modern Game and Life’s a Pitch.


Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review: The Nowhere Men – The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters by Michael Calvin

With the number of football books that are released each year, they have to focus on a unique topic or be very well written to stand out from the crowd. Michael Calvin’s The Nowhere Men ticks both these boxes.

This book is a result of an excellent piece of journalistic work by Calvin as he spent a year amongst football scouts. It provides an insight into what is for the most part an unglamorous and poorly paid occupation. The reader shares the journey with scouts as they spend their evenings and weekends travelling the country in all weathers, taking in games on park pitches, non-league fixtures and specially arranged games behind closed doors. They are a mixture of ex-pro’s, retired teachers, as well as coaches and managers looking for a way back into the dug-out; all in search for that one diamond in the rough.

It is also a book that provides contrast.

There is a huge irony that talent spotters who work for next to nothing are looking to uncover young kids who could go on and play in the richest League in the world. Money talks and that means Premier League clubs are able to have a network of scouts at home and abroad, while those lower down the food chain have to make do. Calvin also explores the art of the old and the new, where the scout’s art of being at games and making a judgement with their own eyes, now collides with new technology, where stats and video clips are king.

In an interesting conclusion, Calvin, sees similarities with the world of the scout and his own profession. “Journalists become inured to the absurdities of an insanely competitive profession, but remain vulnerable to perceptions of progress…assailed by accountants, who relate hi-tech methods to low cost bases…Those of us who remain in the trenches tend to care, even though we disguise our commitment with gallows humour and guttural laments for what we once had.”

Read this book and enter a part of the hidden football world that ought to be cherished.