SISTER Sledge sang about it, soap operas revolve around it, the Mafia swears by it. Family.
They say that you can choose your friends, not your… but it seems that Michael Calvin has broken that age-old rule and chosen his family too. Millwall. No one likes them and they and Calvin don’t care.
Calvin, until recently the Sunday Mirror‘s chief sports writer and now BT Life’s a Pitch presenter, got to like Millwall so much after spending a year with them and writing a book about it. It is 16 months since Sportsjournalists.co.uk reported how Calvin was so convinced about his book that he decided to self-publish Family – Life, Death and Football.
Now Corinthian, the sports imprint of Icon Books, has published an updated edition of Calvin’s book (even with an extended strapline – A Year on the Frontline with a Proper Football Club), which is good news for the people who missed it first time round.
To recap, Watford-born-and-bred Calvin spent a season as a fly on the Millwall. Thanks to his boyhood friendship with Kenny Jackett, he was allowed an unfettered rummage in all the nooks and crannies of a club that almost sets out to be unlovable.
“I was an outsider who orbited another world in players were desensitised to reality, clubs were quietly stolen by asset strippers and supporters were disenfranchised,” Calvin writes. “As a journalist I was deemed to occupy a place on the evolutionary scale somewhere between a sloth and a sewer rat.”
Yet Calvin was seduced. Slowly, reluctantly, inevitably, the Hornet became a Lion. The rite of passage is hardly hearts and roses either – after all, professional football clubs are testosterone-charged, alpha-male bear pits where macho and ego scrap for elbow room.
To the mix, add a club with a fiercely proud, sons-of-dockers fan base and a reputation for hooliganism and racism.Calvin’s book even kicks off with a stabbing, the bloody consequence of a Carling Cup fixture against hated rivals West Ham in 2009.
As you might expect from a past SJA sports writing award winner, Calvin’s writing style is pacy and evocative and he has a father-confessor ability to persuade people to confide in him. Manager Jackett comes across rather more three-dimensional than he does on passing post-match acquaintance and it is to his credit that he agreed to the project in the first place.
Steve Morison’s transformation from non-League ugly duckling is chronicled, together with the revelation that a friendly apology to a rival during a match led to the mother of all rollickings and an ultimatum to toughen up. Calvin speaks to everyone, from boardroom down to the kids.
The under-achievers, the lame of body and mind, the success stories – all against the backdrop of a season which was to end with promotion from League One at Wembley with play-off victory over Swindon.
Calvin still winces with embarrassment at some of the pictures taken that day, after he ran from the dug-out and on to the pitch – told you he had terrific access – to hug his favourite players, by now his mates.
There is absolutely no requirement to be a Millwall fan to enjoy Family. After all, no one likes them and they don’t care.