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.
It was not an occasion for niceties, and the pitch, which looked like a potato patch, was rutted and well grassed. I sat with Jackett in the dugout as he watched his opponents prepare. There was a brief moment of epiphany when Bas Savage jogged towards us to recover a ball. He was the former Millwall player who sought Wisson’s counsel when the Cold Blow Lane End took against him. I saw his corn-rowed hair, dyed electric blue, and realised his qualities as a footballer had only a peripheral role
drained, and decided, reluctantly, to cancel plans to watch the first half. There was no way he could traverse London in time for a 2.15pm rallying call in the home dressing room at Griffin Park. Alexander had fitted in well at Brentford, but in best Real Wall tradition, had blagged a Millwall kit from Adrian Wisson, to wear during personal appearances. He coached at Millwall’s Centre of Excellence, where his eldest son George played for the Under 11s. Even at that level, the DNA was easily
Gallen admired Walsall striker Alex Nicholls – ‘Slip of a lad: like his movement, athleticism, pace’ – and Ipswich’s Jordan Rhodes: ‘He’s gettable. Got class, going to get better.’ Murdoch concurred: ‘Intelligent footballer, but they’re wary of committing. It’s all change there. Everyone wants to keep their job.’ Jackett cut to the chase, and called Roy Keane, who promptly sold Rhodes to League One rivals Huddersfield for £300,000, double Millwall’s entire transfer budget. Courtship rituals
the youth squad around him and asked everyone to share their deepest fears. He was torn between his principles and duties as a coach and his responsibilities as an adult in charge of a group of impressionable, uniquely vulnerable boys. ‘I thought Kiernan signing might spur the rest of the group on’, he confided. ‘It had the opposite effect. They came out, one by one, and said how nervous it made them. I’ve had to reassure them that we don’t operate a quota system, but they’re coming in and
going on?’ Harris sat down as Jackett emerged, rubbing his hands together. Martin was empty-eyed. Morison licked his lips like a nervous cat. Frampton, stripped to the waist, leaned forward expectantly. Smith, the sort who would light a cigar before fleeing from a burning building, lounged back as if he were in a deckchair. ‘There’s a lot about our game that’s right’, said Jackett in firm, even tones. ‘We’re looking for a bit of confidence. Don’t get over-anxious. I know there’s no one in