Pochettino’s Impact On Spurs: Remarkable Barely Covers It

 

History will have the last word, as it always does, but if Mauricio Pochettino’s managerial career gets any better than this, he’ll have one hell of a life. Whatever he may win in the future, sustaining Spurs in the title race is nothing short of remarkable.

 

I avoid sweeping statements or premature judgements. By nature I am cautious. In life as in football my dash towards a conclusion is slowed by the friction of nuance and doubt. With Poch, he’s currently receiving a great deal of credit from Spurs fans and the media, but that’s still not enough.

 

He’s a steadfast, reassuring presence, an anchor keeping us steady during a time of change and uncertainty. The ground’s still not ready, transfer policy lacks purpose or direction and all around us at Wembley familiar faces are replaced by tourists or empty seats. The chairman is content to fade into the shadows, Pochettino steps up and into the spotlight.

 

He has instilled courage and resilience into players who have come to believe they are capable of scoring at any time up to the very final kick. I had given up hope against Watford and Newcastle but the players hadn’t. We’ve run out of defensive midfielders, so let’s concentrate on players who can get the ball and get it forward quickly. Poch turns adversity into strength.

 

And the players. Sissoko, for over two years a waif and stray, who not so long ago approached a football with the suspicion and disdain of a toddler presented with a plate of vegetables, who could eat it but just as easily it could end up all over the place, now a dynamic, muscular deep midfielder. Vertonghen, who at the age of 31 produces against Dortmund the performance of a lifetime in a position he’s actively avoided. Son, who has played for about 18 months straight, often carrying the burden of a country’s expectations on his shoulders, and has become a better player for it instead of asking for a rest, better because he believes he has a duty to be the best he can be for his club and his country. And they say the modern professional doesn’t care. At Pochettino’s Spurs, they do.

 

It’s interesting how a few pundits and managers have said our top four rivals have had a bad run with injuries, unlike Spurs. It’s foolish but in reality, a compliment to players and managers that they haven’t noticed our absences.

 

Injuries. An absence of squad depth and player investment, the latter in stark contrast to our competitors. Playing every match away, when in the last season at the Lane we were unbeaten. Often a lack of atmosphere. These things are being said so often, they are in danger of becoming clichés, but their significance cannot be discounted. These are the disadvantages Poch deals with before he begins each day.

 

Pochettino and his team fashioned one of the great European nights against Dortmund with a second half performance that’s up there with anything I’ve seen Spurs produce in Europe since the late sixties, save the first half versus Feyenoord in 83. The first 45 minutes set the scene – tight, tactical and full of tension. Half-time was spent muttering about how we couldn’t see a way out of this impasse.

 

But Poch could. Vertonghen’s run and cross emerged from the dark depths of inertia, Son’s volley shimmered under the lights and Wembley shook. An unforgettable moment. I hope the latecomers who missed it enjoyed the popcorn and doughnuts they proudly clutched as they straggled to their seats.

 

We pushed up, just a little but enough to make a difference. Poch went for it, going for the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom. I followed Aurier’s cross, didn’t see that Vertonghen was there where he had no right to be, to get on the end of it. Out wide, he saw the game ahead of him, went for the space and moulded it to his wishes like a sculptor creates beauty from a lump of clay.  And for goal celebrations, less is more.

 

Pochettino inspires his players to believe they can be better than they ever thought they would be. They don’t stop and are resilient enough to battle back when games seem lost. More than that, under pressure, knackered, running on fumes in front of our eyes, they keep thinking, keep being creative. Anyone who has done any work, of any type, when tired knows that is the most difficult feat of all.

 

However, Spurs’ recent success is more than that. Pochettino has upped his game too this season. Developing his in-game intelligence, he makes better use of substitutions and changes tactics mid-game, often several times a match. Given the limits of his bench, that has made a huge difference.

 

But no silverware. It’s a genuine shame, and at times I feel like celebrating the heady days of finishing top of the London Combination. It’s tough. Our points total might have won the league on several occasions in the last decade, but competition is fierce.

 

Here’s the thing though. I spend time talking with fellow fans about what it means for them to be a Spurs fan. A lot of this made its way into A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur, some is for some research I’m doing. Ask people what being a Spurs fan means for them, and they talk first about how it is part of them, their identity, who they are. Being Spurs runs deep. They talk about their pride in being Spurs, even if they aren’t happy with the way the club is run, and the experience of being with fellow fans to get behind the team, whether this be in the ground or as with, say, US based supporters, in the pubs they’ve made their own. In the place they’ve made home.

 

It’s the experience they talk about, who they go with, the faces (seldom names) they met along the way, their pre- and post-match routine. They speak fondly of the memories, the moments that lifted them from their seats, 30 or 40 years ago sometimes yet they feel it as if it were yesterday.

It’s only then that that fans mention trophies. I’ve talked with perhaps 30 or 40 supporters, for extended periods. Nobody says, I’m a Spurs fan because I want to win something and all my memories are worthless because in the 21st century we’ve only won one League Cup.

What Spurs fans want first and foremost is pride and dignity in their team. This why so much twitter fan dialogue is instantly disposable. Being a supporter is not primarily about winning things. It’s about loyalty, about caring whether you win or lose. Success is a bonus. Anyway, playing the Pochettino way is the way to win something in the current era. It’s not one or the other.

Managers are football tourists. They come and go, although sometimes they don’t stay as long as they might like. Pochettino understands the club’s heritage. He is not in it for as long as we are, but he’s not using Spurs as a career stepping stone. He’s stayed when others would have moved on, taking their reputation to somewhere with a more generous chairman. His paternal pride in his players is deeply touching in an era where money and greed justify any expediency. In return, they exude the loyalty and the passion we fans take pride in, which is why this team are closer to the fans than ever before.

The atmosphere against Dortmund was fabulous. The singing lacked variety, though. There’s come on you Spurs and marching in. The third big chant on the night was Mauricio Pochettino’s name. That’s how much he means to Tottenham fans. He cares as much as we do.

 

 

 

Back on the Tottenham On My Mind Beat

I’ve nothing against Joe Hart. He cops a lot of stick but he’s a decent player, albeit one whose declining standards have been unfailingly exposed. But his time-wasting was high comical art. His thirst whenever he had to take a goal-kick, the slow draft from his water bottle, the meticulous positioning of the ball…positively Fosteresque.

I was livid. But here’s the thing – it’s not important. Not really. A minor irritant in the scheme of things. A projection of my frustration at Spurs’ inability to get past Burnley’s stout defending. Spurs dawdle to run the clock down, of course they do and so they should. It’s not as absurd as a grown man of temperate mood bawling at him to get on with it.

I know why. It reveals a truth about my life. This is football, this is Spurs and that matters. More than it should but it runs right through me, indelible and everlasting. It’s because Joe Hart made me feel alive.

So where were we? It’s been a while. Ups and downs, peaks and troughs. Life. But I’m back on the beat because through it all, there’s Tottenham Hotspur.

I’m missing home. Home is the most emotive and profound word in any language. It’s where I am comfortable, nurtured, sustained. Where I feel the foundations beneath my feet. Where I can open my heart and soul. The new ground will be magnificent when we get there but the waiting hurts.

I feel it in my legs as I stroll up the incline from the station to Wembley. I feel it in what’s missing. The skip in the step as I turn the corner, knowing that the Lane is in sight. The sense of anticipation in the turnstile queue. Popping into the Antwerp pre-game if there’s time. Come back to me soon.

I sat down to watch England Croatia, then turned it off. Couldn’t bear to look at Wembley. A low point. That’s stupid, up there with cursing Joe Hart’s drinking habits, but I had had enough. Saw Harry’s goal though. True love.

My son and I discussed whether to go to those open days. Not the cost or timing, but two adults earnestly debating the meaning of spending a Sunday afternoon in an empty football ground. You can see why I long ago gave up trying to explain football support to nonbelievers.

We decided against it. Football grounds are about the fans, about being full and raucous and vulgar and fun. About the noise. I’ve never been to a pristine football ground. Doesn’t seem right. So if you don’t mind, I’ve leave the videos of the lightshow or the installation of the latest bit of cladding for the time being. Hope the test events go well without me. I’ve waited this long, so let’s hang on for the first game. Whenever that is.

Because when that first game kicks off, the ground beneath your feet will be shaking with the noise, concrete and steel breathing with energy and life, trembling with joy and the release of the pent-up frustration. Waves of noise rolling out across the pitch and washing the wait away. That’s the only opening ceremony that matters.

Tell you what I have done though. I bought my son a badge for Christmas. You think I’ve been standing still all this time, but no. What the hell, pushed the boat out and got one for my lapel too. East Stand, it says, and I always will be. This is why I’ve paid 25% more for a seat on the corner of the Shelf compared with getting a view from behind the goal. Because it’s stupid, because it’s home, because it’s right.

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A couple of weeks ago, I chaired a meeting in Bruce Grove with people I hadn’t met before. They were anxious that I would not be able to find my way to their home but I reassured them. Might have done the journey once, twice or a thousand times in the last fifty years. I took the opportunity of apologising to them for the disruption that descends on them two or three times a month. Unsurprisingly, they like Wembley more than me.

The man of the house was reserved and quiet. That’s OK, talking about the things I talk about is not a regular topic of conversation. But football breaks down barriers. Through a shared love of the club, we communicated, first about football then about other things. He trusted me, we were on common ground. Afterwards, another professional complimented me on being able to get through when others had not. I gave Spurs the credit. That’s what being a fan can do like nothing else.

Had a look round the outside of the ground. Had to. Couldn’t resist that. By the way, there’s a reason why they only show you pictures from the High Road side. But then it quickly became a reminder of what we should have but don’t, and there was a long queue of kids in Chick-King so I slipped away.

There’s been some great stuff this season that I’m never going to take for granted, and anyway I want to savour it all. Those Champions League games, fighting to get out of the group against the odds and succeeding, great nights. Marveling at Harry Kane, no matter how often I watch him play, no superlative matches his contribution. Living through the Age of Sissoko, where the groans come because Moussa has gone off injured and not because he’s coming on: truly these are strange times. Fury at losing to United that lasted well into the week, a properly big game that we should have won and would have banished many doubts about the team’s ability to succeed in crunch games.

This is how I felt as a teenager. No different. The joy and pain, I want to feel both because it means that it still matters. That I am still me. Ups and downs, peaks and troughs. Tottenham Hotspur are still there, the only constant in my life. I’ve moved away from my childhood home, losing all my friends in the process. Relationships begun and ended, opportunities missed more than taken, but with the navy blue and white there’s no regrets. That furious fire in the belly still burns.

I’ll talk a bit more about football next time. Promise.

 

No Stadium, No News. Spurs Play the Waiting Game

International breaks drain the enthusiasm of supporters and sap the mental and physical energy of overworked footballers. Those entrusted with the game’s well-being instead pummel elite players into the ground with wanton determination.

Tottenham Hotspur internationals: a case study. Vertonghen, Eriksen, Dembele and Dele out with muscle and sinew wear and tear. Dier, Rose and Lloris lack focus at times in a game that requires 100% concentration. I swear Kane’s legs are getting shorter, worn down by the hard yards he unstintingly puts in.

Maybe this time England have done Spurs a favour. Kane was absolutely terrific in last night’s exhilarating victory over Spain, Winks got another 90 minutes, while Dier had his best game for some time. In the process, overnight his calculated cleaning out of Ramos has evidently surpassed World Cup penalty shoot-out heroics and overcome brainless fan tribalism to win over the hearts and minds of a grateful nation.

Let’s hope this is the boost Spurs need. We’re fifth, two points off the top, without playing consistently well. The familiar flow and balance of Pochettino’s Spurs is missing. Not that we needed convincing, but the value of Eriksen and Dele in creating opportunities and finding space has been underscored in their absence.

The contrast between our opponents in successive games, Barcelona and Cardiff, could not be greater, but we gave both undue time and space. Neither had to work hard to get the ball because we gave it to them time and again. Stocks of mental energy seem depleted.  Against an organised but ordinary Cardiff side, we ran out of ideas early on. No one took control of the game. Three free second half free kicks, we lined up zonally. Their centre half from Land of the Giants moved away, no one picked him up. Late on against Brighton, we were criminally casual and nearly lost three points. Players not thinking for themselves.

Spurs are a match for any side if everyone is on their game. I’ve written that sentence so often over the last few years that it comes up on my autocorrect. Any side would be hamstrung by the absence of so many high quality players but Spurs have not invested in high quality cover. Dembele’s powers are waning. He gets caught on the ball more frequently and opponents have sussed this, descending on him en masse to stifle our attacks and gather possession. while Wanyama struggles to overcome a debilitating, long-term injury that may permanently remove that important element of his game, power.

The balance of the squad and therefore the team isn’t right either. We don’t have players naturally suited to a left and right midfield, able to both attack and drop back and defend. Moura sparkles on the ball and works hard, but while I admire Pochettino’s attacking instincts, playing him in advanced positions leaves gaps behind. Sissoko is not as bad as most would have you believe, but again both Cardiff and Barca sought to exploit a perceived weakness on our right, with Trippier keen to come forward and left exposed and unprotected.

It’s hard to see how Hugo can be the same player after his drink driving abomination. He’s a proud man, focussed, hugely admired in the dressing room. The man is the player, the player is the man, able to deal with pressure, make the right decisions, a respected leader. Such a rank error of judgement cannot be entirely banished from his mind. As he tries, rival fans will remind him for the rest of his career. It must affect his self-image and therefore his self-confidence.

On the bright side, Lamela has been more effective than at any point in his Spurs career, and Toby is showing why his departure should not ever have been considered for a flicker of nano second. And Harry Winks is back. He is a key player because of his ability to get the ball forward from deep accurately and early, and because he always makes himself available, ready, able and willing to take a pass under pressure, part of Dembele’s role in the midfield. If Dier, the worst culprit in terms of needlessly giving the ball away, can regain his mental fortitude, then he and Winks can really get something going.

Spurs are fifth, and I’m grateful. Not on song, more games away than at home, yet our best ever PL start. Then again, this feels like an odd season all round. High expectations of a stadium fit for a marvellous team. Something to enhance the present and secure the future. Disappointment became impatience, now given way to lethargy and weariness. Wembley feels less like a stepping stone, more a deadweight dragging me down.

Maybe why I’ve written so little recently. I’ve nothing much to say, if I’m honest. Spurs are there, and so are my mates in the stand, and watching Spurs is still the best thing in my life after family. And I go with my family, so that’s good. But it’s a long while since I enjoyed a match less than the Cardiff game.  There’s always a day when summer fades and autumn begins, yet it caches us unawares each year. Overcast and wet, one less layer than needed.  A roof, sitting well back, rain visibly slanting away from us, yet the seat’s soaked. My bones ache with the chill and the anxiety of a single goal lead, one goalmouth scramble away from dropping points against a poor team.

Waiting. Waiting for the ground. Waiting to sit in a seat I’ve paid a fortune for. Waiting for news from a club always reluctant to communicate unless it’s about something we can spend our money on, now more afraid than Theresa May to commit to anything. Waiting for trains that exist on a timetable but not apparently in reality. Waiting for a full team. Waiting for new players. Waiting for news about where we are going to play next.  Waiting to go home. Home is a feeling and it feels like a long way away.

In the normal scheme of things, that is since Tottenham Hotspur existed, there’s another game soon enough. To come, four games in an absurd nine days. Two home league games between now and November 24th. The chat in the queue after Cardiff was along the lines of at least that’s over with. That’s not why I go to watch Spurs. This is not like me, but that’s how it is.

We’re two points off the top. In the grand scheme of things, the stadium delay is a tiny blip in our grand heritage. Soon come, and something to look forward to by the looks of it. I’ll cope with the delays but the uncertainty hampers Pochettino’s best efforts. My imagination or are his energy levels depleted too? He seems more tetchy in his press conferences, looks more anxious on the touchline. He said a while back that he had been assured we’d be in by Christmas. He can’t be happy at his chairman’s failure to deliver a new ground or new players for that matter. I hope Levy is properly looking after our biggest asset.

 

Against Modern Football? Book Review: State of Play by Michael Calvin

“The point about football in Britain is that it is not just a sport people take to, like cricket or tennis or running long distances. It is inherent in the people.” …the way we play the game, organise it and reward it reflects the kind of community we are.”

So begins the Football Man, Arthur Hopcraft’s exploration of the character of football and its effects on people’s lives. Written in 1968, fifty years later the philosophy of football is a genre in itself but the original remains unsurpassed as a study of why football means so much to so many.

Football matters. It brings pain and joy, friendship and enmity, despair and elation. And we keep coming back for more. Sport, says Hopcraft, can be cruel. “Football can make a man more ridiculous even than drink can.” That I can identify with. Then, over the next two hundred or so pages, he reflects on the experiences of people transfixed by the game. He does so with grace and style. Here’s his description of player adulation, as a fan dashes towards the adolescent Georgie Best in the Old Trafford car park:

“the wind blew an old man teetering across the tarmac, wet and flapping in his overcoat like an escaped poster, and draped him across the windows of my car.”

Times have changed. The game is more popular than ever. Its reach extends to all parts of our culture. Football stars are celebrities. Football shirts are fashion accessories. Almost half the nation watched England lose in the World Cup semi-final. The Premier League is a global phenomenon.

Yet precisely at the height of its popularity, football is subject to a withering critique from many quarters that ‘the game’s gone’, increasingly distant from the supporters who have made it what it is and from the values that sustain it. In Hopcraft’s day, football remained accessible to working people, who found in it not merely an escape from a tough working week but also a form of expression, where emotions came alive and the dense, swaying terrace was the source of community, pride and personal identity.

Now it’s the global game. Spurs like their top six rivals are focussed on ‘growing the brand’ with annual summer American tours and an Asian sponsor. To keep pace, fans debate income streams and amortisation alongside 4-3-3 and a striker’s dodgy left foot, as again Spurs fans know only too well at the moment.

It’s complicated, but one word sums up the difference – money, or to use Calvin’s phrase, “the cult of monetisation.” Clubs generate more income than ever before through television rights and merchandising in order to compete in bidding wars. Transfer fees and player salaries soar to stratospheric levels, where the air is thin and fans choke on ticket prices that are similarly out of this world. In 1968, seven years after the lifting of the maximum wage, top players earned decent money but not to the extent that it separated them from the people who came to watch. Fans could still urge them to pull their finger out because ‘we pay your wages!’ No longer.

Even the term ‘a football man’ itself has come to have a different meaning. Hopcraft infuses the phrase with a dignity that comes from a deep commitment and passion for the game. Now, it’s become a term of derision, a shorthand for an incestuous boys club where experience, talent and qualifications are frowned upon and all that matters is that you are perceived by other football men to ‘know the game.’

In State of Play, Michael Calvin revisits Hopcraft. Like many of us who have spent a lifetime enthralled by the game, his faith and hope have been shaken by recent developments, especially the “rapacious Premier League”.

State of Play is his search for a reason to believe. What emerges is the most vivid, revealing insight into contemporary British football that you are ever likely to read. There’s no better place to seek the heart and soul of the game.

Calvin broadly follows Hopcraft’s structure, with sections on the player, the manager, the club and football people, including supporters. As with his recent works on scouts, managers and young talent, the strength of the book is the quality of the interviews. Calvin’s method is dialogue rather than interrogation. Underlying all the interviews is a single basic question: help me understand. Large sections of the interviews are presented without comment. Everyone gets a fair hearing. As someone who talks to people for a living, I know how hard it is to get people reluctant or unaccustomed to speaking up to be open and honest.  In a world notorious for its unwillingness to be candid, Calvin establishes an unparalleled degree of trust with his interviewees. They talk to him because they are confident he will represent them accurately.

Therefore, the reader can be confident of the integrity of what we are reading. The book rings true. This is authentic. This is what the game is like. Equally, Calvin respects his audience. He doesn’t preach or hector, instead allowing us space to read the evidence and make up our own minds. State of Play lays bare the modern game and encourages comparisons with the past. You decide what’s better.

One section where this theme is most evident is a lengthy chapter based around Watford FC. Calvin began his career in journalism on the Watford Observer. The then manager, Graham Taylor, provided the young reporter with insight into the doings at the club and life lessons about morality and carrying yourself in the right way that Calvin has never forgotten. Football does this to us all.

Scott Duxbury, the Watford CEO, takes us through their approach. Managers come and go not at the owner’s whim but because that’s the modern model. They have a two-year life cycle – they either succeed and then move on to a bigger job, or they fail and are disposed of. Long-term loyalty is passé.

Assiduous world-wide scouting identifies talented young players, especially in South America, able to improve not under the Watford coaches but at lower division clubs in Europe. If they end up being good enough, they return, if not, they retain sell-on value. Players come to Europe to better themselves and earn money for their family. You can’t blame them: Calvin certainly doesn’t, but wonders if the club gives sufficient priority to their welfare, a long way from home and liable to move around Europe while they wait for a work permit, or a ticket home.

Also, this sense of transience is in stark contrast to the loyalty of fans, who turn up year after year, decade after decade, who pass the baton down to long-suffering children because Watford is their club, their local club, and they support them for life. There’s little emotion in Duxbury’s vision, yet it’s emotion and passion that keeps the fans in the stands.

At MK Dons, Pete Winkelman talks at length – you can almost hear Calvin stifling a yawn – about global strategy and “the synergy with multi-national companies.”  Best get out of League 2 first. Both talk of being close to the community and to supporters, yet this language and the way of thinking that it represents serves to merely alienate.

Alternatively, are the Watford and MK Dons models a realistic response to contemporary conditions, designed to ensure success in a highly competitive market, which ultimately benefits the fans? You decide.

Calvin quotes one executive: “The Pozzos love football and they want to make money. If you had a shitload of money anyway, what better way would there be to spend your time, working they way they do.” Football is a sexy way of turning a profit. Long gone are the days when Calvin played darts in the clubroom against Elton John who was resplendent in pink and a feather boa.

If State of Play has a message, it’s that the biggest downfall of the modern game is a lack of compassion. Football is about people. Fans, players and managers aren’t commodities to be shifted and traded. It creates and maintains a culture where weakness is a sin. Players and managers all experience tension, anxiety and uncertainty, natural because of the pressures of the game yet largely denied throughout football as long as on the surface, everyone stays chipper. The existence of mental health problems is denied. Calvin is fearless in revealing the truth.

In the same way, discrimination is rife. Emma Hayes, head coach at Chelsea Ladies, has been hugely successful yet stands no chance (her assessment) of being appointed to the most lowly coaching post in the men’s game. Racism and homophobia persist.

But modern football is more than this. It’s contradictory by nature. It incubates hope and aspiration, it’s uplifting, and above all, it still reaches out when all other avenues have been closed. The book is full of examples. Tajean Hutton brings north London estate gangs together, not to preach but to play football and bring out long-buried positives. He refuses to allow these boys to be written off.

Everton and Liverpool fans jointly running food banks. Local businesspeople like Andy Holt rescuing Accrington Stanley, not as a vanity project but because he wants to restore a sense of identity and community he believes football has lost. For him Stanley is a community asset, providing social inclusion programmes, health and drug education. Nothing else in the town can reach out like a football club, least of all the politicians. The Stanley striker admitted he was depressed. Holt gave him time off. The groundsman is a recovering alcoholic. They both know that at Stanley, “they’ll put an arm round you and they’ll give you a cuddle. You don’t get that in football.”

Or how about Watford, where the hut where the darts match took place is now a sensory room for autistic children. Able to express themselves, some now sit in the crowd, proud father and son together, passing the baton, being together, communicating through football.

Football mirrors society, however much we pretend the game is an escape from reality. One difference fifty years on, Calvin says, is that we are now part of angry Britain. In Angry Britain, demand is instant, there’s a thirst for blame and negativity, and for those making the most noise, there are no consequences. Individualism is rife, community and solidarity minimised. Calvin is scathing about certain types of fan discourse on social media.

Typically, most of the comments in the preceding paragraph come from an interview, in this case with Sean Dyche. Calvin’s books reveal that time and again, people in the game are motivated by the right values. Dyche embraces sophisticated coaching and technology yet comes over as a man driven by upholding “truth and core values”, about treating players and fans with respect, about understanding the game’s responsibilities to the community.

This theme recurs throughout. At Erith where a local businessman saved a club no one watches, at Dunstable where a respected coach risks his reputation because, well, the team needed him and he couldn’t say no. Steven Gerrard sharing what he was taught at Liverpool, or, in the interests of impartiality, Arsene Wenger’s speech to an Arsenal AGM.

And, most movingly, in the opening chapter about Jeff Astle’s early onset Alzheimer’s. His family struggle first to look after him and then to get the game to understand the damage done by repeated heading of the ball. For Gordon Taylor and the player’s union to continue to deny this for so long is shameful.

The right values. Respecting people. Treat people the right way. State of Play ultimately leaves the same impression as The Football Man. The soul of the game is held by the people who are part of it, the heart is still beating strongly.

State of Play is rich, comprehensive and perceptive. It’s overflowing with insight and wisdom. Calvin digs deep into football’s being and spirit. Sometimes he uncovers dirt and muck, sometimes he finds diamonds, and that’s the way it has always been. For instance, pine for the good old days of the terraces but remember that club directors didn’t care about fans, who they took for granted, and ground conditions were primitive and dangerous.

Calvin is currently the best writer on British football and this is the best of his best. If you care at all about the game, read State of Play. You’ll understand why you care, and know yourself a little better too. Recommended unreservedly.

State of Play  – Under the Skin of the Modern Game by Michael Calvin is published by Century