Book Review: How to be a Football Manager by Ian Holloway

With the managerial roundabout in full swing already this season, the question once more crops up: who would want to be a football manager? Well, ask most football fans, and they’ll probably think they can do a better job than some managers, and they may not be wrong. Let’s be honest, we’ve all sat there, in the stands or on the sofa, watching our teams lose and called out the manager for their tactical choices, their personnel choices or, perhaps in lieu of anything else, their fashion choices. After all, when it’s all going pear-shaped, we often wonder how hard can it be to pick eleven players, to get them passing ten yards, to not concede yet again? From our lofty perches, it seems like child’s play, but former QPR and Blackpool manager Ian Holloway has been there, done it and got the stories to prove it’s a lot harder than it looks. So, just before you hit send to wing your CV over to put your name in the managerial race for those teams looking for the next Pep Guardiola, it might be worth a quick perusal of Holloway’s How To Be A Football Manager, to discover just what it takes to sit in the managerial hot seat.

There are few managers as entertaining and honest as Ian Holloway, traits that have occasionally backfired on him, but nonetheless made him a memorable and engaging character in the game. Having spent almost two decades playing, for the likes of Bristol Rovers and QPR, Holloway continued his footballing career on the side-lines as manager at clubs including Leicester City, Crystal Palace and most recently Grimsby Town. Across four decades in the game, there’s very little that Holloway has not seen, done or experienced, working across the leagues, and whilst a post-match glass of wine with Arsene Wenger or a pre-season friendly against Real Madrid may sound like the stuff of dreams, the life of a football manager is often much more mundane and challenging. From picking a starting XI to overseeing contract negotiations, dealing with referees to managing in a pandemic, Ian Holloway reflects on the highs and lows in the dugout with his trademark honesty.

The book is full of Holloway’s own stranger-than-fiction real-life episodes, including the time he put his personal address on the QPR website inviting disgruntled fans to come and share their grievances face to face (none did) and the time that a pre-season prank by his players ended up with Holloway making a trip to the local police station. Holloway’s managerial career is littered with such frankly outlandish but true tales, begging the question whether it could only happen to Holloway or whether Jurgen Klopp has a similar dossier that he’s just waiting to release. Although I can’t imagine Klopp, or any manager in the top leagues come to think of it, inviting round disgruntled fans – and they’re probably wise not to. But when it comes to player acquisition, chairmen strife and press conferences, off-piste coaching and handling players, Holloway may very well be in a league of his own.

As mentioned already, one of the great strengths of Holloway, that comes across so explicitly in this book, is his honesty, but not only honesty, a complete candidness and forthrightness. And crucially it’s an honesty that is applied equally to everything, be that when he speaks about difficult chairmen, underperforming players or himself. Indeed, Holloway is unflinchingly honest about his own failings and shortcomings, recognising the moments where he has made a mistake or overstepped the mark, and neither too afraid nor too proud to try to make a change. It’s a shame that the same can’t be said for some of the other characters in the book. Above all, it’s obvious that Holloway is a man of principle and integrity, one that loves the game and wants to see the best version of it, whether in himself, his team or his supporters. He speaks passionately about protecting his players, about making difficult decisions and his commitment to his teams and you just know that what you see is what you get with Holloway. He is the type of manager who you could bump into in the street, or, as he prefers, in the second-hand shop, and discuss football with, and he would be as honest and open as ever. He would entertain you with stories of the good, the bad and the ugly of the football world, and leave you feeling energised once more about the game, despite the latest VAR debacle, your out-of-nick striker and your penny-pinching owners. He would remind you just why we all love this little old sport called football and why a good manager is much more than their tactics.

Without Holloway, the game has lost one of its larger-than-life characters, but during his hiatus, his book offers a refreshing, eye-opening insight into the real world of football management. Holloway, in yet another measure of the man, thanks ghost-writer David Clayton in the acknowledgements, a classy but oft-overlooked touch in such books, and Clayton merits these plaudits as the book perfectly encapsulates all that fans know and love about Ian Holloway – frank, passionate, down-to-earth and fair. For anyone polishing their managerial CV, those qualities aren’t bad ones to start with.

Jade Craddock

(Publisher: Headline. October 2022. Hardcover: 320 pages)


Buy here: Ian Holloway


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Clive Allen is one of the finest goalscorers of his generation but arguably his biggest battle has been to prove himself the best in his own family.

His remarkable 49-goal haul for Tottenham in the 1986-87 season still stands as a club-record which earned him the rare dual honour of Professional Footballers Association Player of the Year and Football Writers Association Player of the Year in addition to the First Division Golden Boot.

That stunning achievement is the apotheosis of a career which began at Queens Park Rangers before becoming English footballs first million-pound teenager when signing for Arsenal in 1980.

Yet, in one of the most mysterious transfers of modern times, Clive was sold to Crystal Palace without playing a game and went on to represent eight more clubs including a year in France with Bordeaux before a brief stint as an NFL kicker for the London Monarchs.

Read our review here: Book Review: Clive Allen – Up Fron (

(Publisher: deCoubertin Books. October 2019. Hardback: 300 pages)

Book Review – The Lions’ King by Bryan King

During the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s England was particularly blessed with an array of goalkeeping talent, from the World Cup winning Gordon Banks, through to Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton. However, there was a dearth of other talented players who could also have pulled on (and did in some cases) the Three Lions shirt during that time, with the likes of Peter Bonetti, Joe Corrigan, Jim Montgomery, Phil Parkes, Jimmy Rimmer, Alex Stepney and Gordon West all highly regarded First Division ‘keepers. Given that, it is all the more remarkable that Bryan King, who whilst playing his trade at Second Division Millwall, also forced his way into the England set-up during the early 1970s.

The Lions’ King tells the story of Bryan King, who after starting his career at Chelmsford City in 1964, signed professionally for Millwall three years later. Down at Cold Blow Lane, he made a record number of appearances for a ‘keeper, which would later see him become a member of the Millwall Hall of Fame. King then moved to First Division Coventry City in 1975, but after only one season in the top-flight, his career was cruelly ended by injury.

However, King had wisely started his FA Coaching badges during his playing days, so that he was able to take up managing and coaching positions once his career was cut short and it enabled him enjoy stints in Norway with FK Jerv, Harstad, Tynset, Rendalen, Kongsberg, and Falkenberg in Sweden. He later stayed in the game showing his versatility and talent in becoming a journalist for a Norwegian sports paper, working as an agent and in more recent years as a scout for clubs such as Aston Villa, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.

King’s extensive involvement in the game is told in three main sections, titled Player, Manager and Saved Till Last and to be honest it is a real page-turner. Stylistically it is very conversational, often humorous, and as a reader I felt like I was sat down with King in a bar, sharing the anecdotes and stories over a few pints. There are gems of tales littered throughout the book, whether it is acting as a ball boy at Wembley and getting to meet his boyhood goalkeeping heroes, Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks, detailing the antics of the Millwall dressing rooms or mixing with the likes of Brian Clough and Sven-Goran Eriksson.

This is not to say serious issues aren’t addressed, such as dementia in players, however, they are only dealt with in the briefest of terms, and with King’s extensive time and experience in the game and in various roles, it would have been interesting if he had expanded on those topics.

As well as charting King’s undoubtedly varied and interesting time in the game, it is a book about a very different time in football, a game much more rough around the edges, but no worse off for being so. And on that basis it is a book that will appeal to anybody wanting an insight into football as it was.


(Little Hell Books. November 2020. Hardback 320 pages)


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Book Review: Clive Allen – Up Front with James Olley

A career in football is hard enough to achieve on your own, but when you are from a football family, then the pressure must be immense. For Clive Allen, that must have been monumental, with his father, Les, part of the Tottenham Hotspur’s team that did the ‘double’ in winning the First Division title and FA Cup in 1960/61, and a younger brother, Bradley and two cousins, Martin and Paul, who also went on to have professional careers in the game.

Clive though played for 17 years at home and abroad, scoring 49 goals in all competitions during the 1986/87 campaign and as a result claimed both the Professional Footballers’ Association Men’s Players’ Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, earned five senior caps for England and finished with a scoring ratio of a goal in every two games.

And in Up Front, the majority of the book looks at this journey from his professional playing days as a teenager at QPR, chronologically following his career, including his Million Pound transfer to Arsenal (where he failed to make a first-team appearance), taking in his time at Crystal Palace, a second spell at QPR, Spurs, Bordeaux, Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham United, Millwall and Carlisle United. Also, included is his time coaching at Spurs and stepping in as caretaker manager at White Hart Lane in both 2007 and 2008, his media career and his single season as a kicker in American Football (NFL Europe) for the London Monarchs in 1997. As such these are fairly traditional biographical content, but make interesting reading, nonetheless, with some honest opinions of certain situations and characters he came across in his football life.

Indeed, the title Up Front seems an apt choice working as it does on two levels. Firstly reflecting Clive Allen’s playing position, leading the line as a forward, and secondly in the phrases definition of someone who is ‘up front’ in being, bold, honest, and frank.

These qualities come to the fore and where the book shows real insight is with respect to Allen’s relationship with his famous father Les. Indeed, the book begins and ends with the pair being presented to the Spurs faithful as part of the celebrations to mark the final fixture at the ‘old’ White Hart Lane and leaves the reader in no doubt as to the significance of Clive’s view of his father, “I’m grateful for his guidance but pained by his parenting.” This seems to pervade the book, with the regret and the damage their uneasy relationship has caused, always appearing to be there under the surface. Further, James Olley who worked with Allen on this book, is able to extract a real sense of the much-travelled ex-strikers character, a man who hated losing, typified by the bust-up Allen had with Arsene Wenger and which appears not to have been resolved to this day, and despite all his success, still wonders ‘what might have been’ if he had scored on his England debut. In some ways the book is an interesting for what it implies and doesn’t say, as that which it does.

(deCoubertin Books, October 2019. Hardcover 300pp)


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Book Review: We Know What We Are by Dawn Reeves

When you think of subjects at the centre of a novel, football clubs and their local council, are not the most obvious that spring to mind. However, the reality is that as recently as last year, Championship side Millwall almost lost its stadium to a sinister development plan instigated by the local Labour council. Indeed, the further you delve back, the more ‘interesting’ deals you come across, such as the missing £10million pound loan from Northampton Borough Council that was due to finance the building of a new stand at Northampton Town. Football and local councils – institutions bound together, both prone to dodgy deals and the oft lingering whiff of corruption, as potent as any matchday smell of burgers and fried onions.

With this in mind, author Dawn Reeves constructs a cracking novel which focuses on a fictitious Midlands football club nicknamed The Welders and its relationship with the local council, in a plot which encompasses a number of strands and characters. One plotline has a troubled teenager looking for her brother, an ex-Welders player, who disappeared around the time of the rebuilding of the football ground, financed of course by the council. The newly elected council leader gets involved in the girl’s desire for answers, as the council faces financial meltdown under a Chief Executive for who the football club has been his life. Underlying the book throughout are the relationships between the characters as the themes of power, trust, deception and loyalty are explored.

In addition, Reeves also provides a convincing picture of the workings of local government, as the modern-day struggles of local authorities in having to balance its books and prioritise services is touched upon. Indeed, the contemporary world of football is also explored, where despite the multi-million existence of the elite clubs, fans are taken for granted and the women’s game and that at grassroots level has to made do and mend.

Finally, returning to Millwall, mentioned in the opening of this review, the faithful at the Den are known for their song, “No one likes us, we don’t care” and could be said to have a similar sentiment to that of the refrain of the Welders faithful, “We know what we are”. Reeves uses this as the book title and maybe has done so not just to reflect the club anthem, but as something that the characters may come to reflect on.

This book certainly knows what it is – an engaging page turner.

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Review: Millwall Haiku by Howard Colyer

Football is a game often defined by its playing formations, such as 4-4-2, 5-3-1-1 or 4-3-3. But what about 5-7-5? Sounds implausible?

Well, novelist, playwright and poet Howard Colyer has used this form as the basis of writing a series of match reports from 2003/04 to 2015/16, based around watching his football team, Millwall. Still not clear?

The form in question is the haiku, defined in the Oxford English dictionary as: A Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.

One of the immediate questions in reading this form of poetry is, can the ups and down, thrills and spills of ninety minutes be captured in such a short form? The answer has to be yes. And the reason? The haiku’s which cover thirteen seasons, seeing the Lions through promotions and relegations, the FA Cup and even a brief European adventure, capture the essence, the key moments of games, so that allied with the score and date of the game described, there is context for the reader.

For example:

Millwall 1 Nottingham Forest 0


A red card given

and a siege for half an hour,

Stack superb in goal.

Here the score tells us that Millwall won the game, but the haiku tells us that it was achieved with 10 men after having a player sent-off and that goalkeeper Graham Stack was outstanding in ensuring the Lions took the three points.

Millwall 0 Bristol Rovers 1


“I’m going to bed,

going home and straight to bed,”

the man said head down.

In this example, Millwall have lost the game and the haiku perfectly captures the total despair of a fan at what the reader can assume was a dire performance. Simple, but totally effective.

Poetry might not seem a natural bedfellow for football, but like the game, it has a pace and rhythm, which can reflect the ebb and flow of footballing fortunes.

A recommended read, in that it is an original style in which to capture the fortunes of a club, but also in that in the rereading of the haiku, different inferences and interpretation can be gained.

“No one likes us, we don’t care” may be the Lions infamous refrain, but not in the case of Colyer’s fine prose.


2011/12: FA Cup 5th Round

Saturday 18 February 2012 (12.00pm)

In forty years of watching football, the Fifth Round is the only round I’ve never watched a game in. From the Extra Preliminary Round to the Final, I’ve witnessed a fixture at every stage, but for some reason never the Fifth. Today I’ll not be breaking that duck and unless events somehow conspire that I get to see a replay, then the Fifth Round will have to wait until next season at least.

So what of this weekends fixtures? Well for a start, no Friday or Monday games. Five ties today and three tomorrow. Chelsea open proceedings at home to Birmingham City (12.30pm) and for me brings back memories of the time they met in the FA Cup back in 1975, when the Midlands club emerged 1-0 winners at Stamford Bridge. I saw Birmingham demolish Sheffield United in the last Round and on the strength of that and their recent good run I believe they will cause Chelsea problems today. Chelsea came through a difficult game at Loftus Road in the Fourth Round, but all is not right in SW6. I’m going to be bold and take Birmingham to cause an upset today and add to the woes at The Bridge in putting out Chelsea.

The 3.00pm kick-offs see Everton v Blackpool, Norwich City v Leicester City and Millwall v Bolton Wanderers, with Sunderland v Arsenal at 5.15pm. They are an interesting set of games, with numerous sub-plots. Everton have quietly gone about their business in the Cup this year, whist Blackpool are yet to lose a game in 2012. I think this one will go to a draw. For Millwall and Bolton the Cup today brings some respite from their respective poor league campaigns. With Wanderers in the Premier League relegation spots, will manager Coyle pick a weakened side for the visit to The Den? If he does The Lions will be waiting and I’m going for the Championship to upset the odds and make it through. For Norwich and Leicester they can give the tie today a real tilt as both are safe in the Premier League and Championship respectively. The Canaries for me will be to strong for The Foxes at Carrow Road and so will progress.

The last game of the day will see an Arsenal team fresh from a mauling in Milan, take on Sunderland who recently have enjoyed a resurgence under Martin O’Neill. The Sunderland boss will tell his team to forget about the 2-1 loss they suffered only last week to The Gunners and will hope to compound an awful week for Arsene Wenger by dumping Arsenal out of the Cup. Black Cats fans of a certain age will remember the 2-1 win against Arsenal in the Semi-Final in 1973 when Sunderland went on to lift the Cup after beating Leeds United in the Final. I’m going for Sunderland to take this one, as once more another season for The Gunners come to nothing.

Saturday 18 February 2012 (7.30pm)

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. No career as a tipster for me! Five games – only one prediction right. Well, things were looking good at Stamford Bridge, with Birmingham taking the lead on 20 minutes from David Murphy. When Colin Doyle kept out a Juan Mata penalty in the first half, it was looking as the teams went to the break that it was going to be City’s day. With a couple of substitutions in the second half, Chelsea got back in the game just after the hour mark when Daniel Sturridge levelled. The Londoners looked for a winner but instead had to settle for a replay at St Andrew’s. I had gone for a draw at Goodison and home wins for Millwall and Norwich in the 3.00pm games. All were wrong. Everton put the game out of reach of Blackpool within the opening six minutes as goals from Royston Drenthe and Denis Stracqualursi ensured the blue half of Merseyside made it through to the Quarter-Finals. At The Den, Bolton were also quick out of the blocks as Ryo Miyaichi put The Trotters ahead on four minutes. David Ngog scored just before the hour mark to put the tie beyond The Lions and the Premier League team went through. At Carrow Road there was an upset as Leicester City overcame Norwich. In a day of early Cup goals, The Foxes went ahead on five minutes with a Sean St Ledger header. However, The Canaries were level when Wes Hoolahan followed up his own penalty after Kasper Schmeichel had saved the initial spot-kick. Leicester weren’t to be denied though and David Nugent scored a stunning second to send City through. My only correct tip of the day saw Sunderland outplay an Arsenal team who looked liked they wished the season could finish now. Credit to The Black Cats who chased every cause and simply never allowed The Gunners to settle and won through a goal in each half from Kieran Richardson and an own-goal from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Tomorrow sees Crawley Town v Stoke City, Stevenage v Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool v Brighton. After today, I might as well toss a coin in terms of predictions. However, I’ll go for a draw at Crawley, and wins for Spurs and Liverpool. But don’t bet on it!

Sunday 19 February 2012 (7.30pm)

Another day, another set of pretty poor predictions! In the first of the three games today, despite being reduced to ten-men, Stoke had bits of luck at the right time to claim a 2-0 victory at Crawley. Things didn’t look so good for The Potters when on seventeen minutes Rory Delap was dismissed for a tackle which could have been called either way. Stoke battled away and were awarded a penalty just before half-time, for a nothing sort of challenge. Walters converted and the ten men of Stoke were ahead at the break. Just six minutes into the second half and Stoke were 2-0 ahead when a towering header from Peter Crouch broke Crawley hearts. The Potters controlled proceedings, but were lucky not to concede a penalty at the end of the game, when Danny Collin’s clearly handled on the line. Could a second Wembley appearance be looming for Stoke?

Stevenage and Tottenham were involved a real old ding-dong of a game which belied the final score-line of 0-0. Whilst there was not a great many shots on goal, it was an all-action Cup-tie. Spurs did have the ball in the net and were perhaps unfortunate that Scott Parker was on the goal-line as he deflected in Saha’s goal bound effort. That would have been harsh on Stevenage who served a replay.

The final game of the day and indeed of the round was a strange old affair. At half-time Liverpool were ahead 2-1 in a competitive first forty five minutes. Martin Skrtel had given The Reds the lead on five minutes, with Brighton level on seventeen minutes through Kazenga Lua Lua. Just before the break an own goal from Liam Bridcutt put Liverpool back in front. Four more goals and a missed penalty followed in the second-half as The Seagulls self-destructed. Andy Caroll made it 3-1 just before the hour mark, with Bridcutt getting his second own-goal and another own goal from Lewis Dunk to make it 5-1. Suarez had a penalty saved with ten minutes to go, but did score four minutes later to wrap up a 6-1 victory, ensuring both Merseyside clubs made it to the Quarter-Finals.

That just leaves the draw for the Quarter-Finals to wrap things up – and no, I’m not going to be making any more predictions!

 Quarter-Final draw:

Chelsea/Birmingham City v Leicester City

Everton v Sunderland

Liverpool v Stoke City

Stevenage/Tottenham Hotspur v Bolton Wanderers