Review: State of Play – Under the Skin of the Modern Game by Michael Calvin

State of Play - Under the skin of the modern game by Michael Calvin

Award-winning sports writer Michael Calvin’s latest book is an ambitious, in-depth and wide-ranging examination of the current game. Calvin takes as his inspiration Arthur Hopcrafts’s ‘The Football Man,’ which was written two years after England won the World Cup and is regarded as one of the best football books ever written.

Hopcraft’s book was divided into nine sections but Calvin has gone for four broad headings: The Player; The Manager; The Club, The People.

It is an epic undertaking which covers: the need for more emotionally intelligent managers and coaches; the rise of the women’s game; the failing protocols for assessing and safeguarding injured players; the high-pressure, throw-away culture of the modern game and its toll on mental health; the social impact of football – in prisons, homeless shelters and urban estates around the UK and the future of the sport – for coaches, owners and fans alike.

Calvin interviews many well-known figures in the game including Gareth Southgate, Arsene Wenger and Deli Alli but often the more affecting human stories are with lesser-known individuals such as Dawn Astle.

The daughter of West Bromwich Albion and England striker Jeff Astle, who tragically died prematurely from Alzheimer’s dementia, is at the centre of the “Justice for Jeff” campaign, which she started in 2004.

The football authorities were in denial when the coroner found Jeff Astle had died from an ‘industrial disease’ – dementia brought on by the repeated trauma of heading the ball. A long and all consuming campaign to get justice for Astle and the hundred’s of other footballers who have died prematurely has ensued.

Social media is on the agenda and Calvin comments,

“Twitter has made everyone a pundit. Opinion takes precedence over action”,

and he is particularly scathing of Fan TV,

“The stars of Fan TV, uniformly self-regarding and inevitably self-appointed, emphasize the coarseness of what passes as public debate in a world without the constraint of truth, fairness and balance. Their narcissism is as over-powering as their ignorance, yet they set the tone, purport to speak for those who lack the intellect or inclination to think for themselves”.

Arsene Wenger acidly comments on a modern malaise,

“Five hundred years ago the target for people was to be a saint, fifty years ago it was to be a hero in the war. Today it is to be a billionaire, or, even more a celebrity”.

Calvin delves deep into the ever increasing inequalities of the modern game, while Accrington Stanley Chairman Andy Holt struggles to keep his club afloat, the top six demonstrate greed and avarice and try to impose serfdom on a game that needs to become more civilised than commercialised.

The hypocrisy of most fans’ motives is exposed. Bob Beech a Portsmouth supporter who set up the fans board during their financial difficulties is brutally honest when he says,

“Most fans are liars. They will tell you they want their football club to be as pure as the driven snow, with a great academy producing local boys for the first team. What they really want is to win on Saturday. If that happens they don’t really care whether a Colombian drug cartel is running the place”.

In his summary Calvin highlights the huge contradictions in the modern game when he says,

“Football’s beauty has long been in the eye of the beholder. It is capable of lyricism and cynicism, artistry and banality. It is steeped in reckless romanticism, and bloodless calculation. Its essential contradictions are embodied by its most acclaimed coach Pep Guardiola”.

“The splendour of his teams and the authenticity of his personal principles are undeniable. Yet his passionate espousal of the Catalan cause left him exposed to accusations of hypocrisy, since he has profited from an Abu-Dhabi-owned club Manchester City and his ambassadorial role with the Qatari World Cup. Neither Gulf regime is noted for its Liberalism”.

Betting companies and Agents are a huge stain on the game and exploitative practices, such as West Ham’s policy of charging £700 to fulfil the dream of being a mascot are contemptible.

Breaking through all the hype around football Calvin shows us the reality of what is really going on inside our clubs and associated institutions. It is an intelligent and deeply insightful book if somewhat dispiriting reading, about the current state of our national game.

State of Play – Under the Skin of the Modern Game by Michael Calvin. Published by Century. Price £16.99. 

This review first appeared in the November/December 2018 edition of Late Tackle magazine.

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Defensive errors proving costly – Middlesbrough 2 Wigan Athletic 0

Macca dw

Callum McManaman went close for Latics

Injury-hit Wigan Athletic suffered a seventh straight away defeat when they were beaten 2-0 by high-flying Middlesbrough at the Riverside.

Latics had matched their opponents for most of the first-half but a couple of defensive errors put Boro in the driving seat by half-time.

Darron Gibson gave the ball away needlessly before Cedric Kipre rashly fouled George Friend just inside the penalty area and Jordan Hugill converted the resulting spot-kick.

Boro were soon 2-0 up when Christian Walton got a hand to a cross from Martin Braithwaite but only diverted the ball into the path of Hugill who smashed the ball into the top of the net.

Latics had been their own worst enemies and despite an improved second-half showing they were unable to create many chances to reduce the deficit.

Middlesbrough move up to second in the table and Latics remain in 16th position, eight points off the play-offs and four points above the relegation zone.

Depleted Latics made three changes from the side that were defeated 2-1 by Leeds United with Nick Powell, Gary Roberts and Lee Evans replacing Joe Garner, Kal Naismith and the suspended Samy Morsy.

Latics faced some early pressure from the hosts but gradually worked themselves into the game.

Lee Evans tried his luck from 25 yards before Dan Burn headed off target from close range following Gary Roberts’ corner.

Boro went closest when Walton denied Danny Batth with a great save and Powell had to clear off the line from Aden Flint’s effort.

But all Latics good work was undone when two defensive errors in the space of six minutes put Boro in control.

Gibson gave the ball away and Kipre made a rash challenge just inside the area on Friend and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a spot-kick. Hugill duly converted, sending Walton the wrong way.

It was soon 2-0 as Martin Braithwaite crossed into the area where Walton only managed to push the ball into the path of Hugill who smashed the ball high into the net.

Latics upped their game in the second half with Powell forcing an early save from Darren Randolph which nearly fell into the path of the Josh Windass.

Evans then saw his effort from inside the penalty area blocked from Dan Burn’s knockdown.

Powell fired wide of the target on the hour mark but Latics were struggling to create any clear cut chances.

On 74 minutes Paul Cook made a double substitution with Callum McManaman and James Vaughan replacing Powell and Windass.

The change almost worked as McManaman curled a shot from the edge of the area narrowly wide of the post with Vaughan in close attendance.

McManaman looked lively as Latics created some half chances – the FA Cup winning winger firing over the crossbar following a Reece James free-kick.

But despite Latics’ best efforts Boro were fairly comfortable sitting back and absorbing the pressure.

It was always going to be a difficult task against a team who had only conceded eight goals all season but Cook’s team had once again contributed to their own downfall by making silly mistakes. As against Leeds United defensive lapses had proved costly.

Some of Latics’ players are still learning about the rigours of the Championship and others probably didn’t expect to be playing quite so regularly at this level.

It is not a time to panic however, as Latics are in the throes of an injury crisis which would cause problems for any team in the Championship. They’ve had a tough run of fixtures against teams at the top end of the table and very few teams would be able to get results with at least half of their first XI missing.

With the international break upcoming and a more reasonable run of fixtures in the offing against Reading, Blackburn and Bolton, Latics should be able to get one or two of their missing players back into action and get back to winning ways.

Posted in Callum McManaman, Championship, Jordan Hugill, Middlesbrough, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wigan Athletic takeover – from Whelan family to Royle family

Royle's

From L to R – Director Joe Royle, IEC Chief Executive Melvin Yan Min Zhang and Executive Chairman Darren Royle. Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic.

Following the takeover of Wigan Athletic by the Hong Kong-based International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) it has been revealed that father and son Joe and Darren Royle will be guiding the club going forward.

Dave Whelan and his grandson David Sharpe have steered the club for the last 23 years and now another family duo with the backing of IEC will have a big say in the future of Latics.

Former England international footballer Joe Royle, 69, has become a Director of the club and son Darren, 44, will be Executive Chairman.

Joe Royle has a very successful track record in professional football and is a member of the League Managers Association Hall of Fame of English Football and has played at the highest level in a career that spanned 556 games, in which time he scored 188 goals for teams such as Manchester City and Everton.

During his club career, he played for Everton, Manchester City, Bristol City and Norwich City. Following the end of his playing career Royle managed over 1000 competitive league games for clubs such as Manchester City, Everton, Oldham Athletic and Ipswich Town.

As a manager Royle has won many honours: at Oldham Athletic he won the Second Division in 1990–91 and was League Cup runner-up in 1989–90; at Everton he won the FA Cup in 1994–95 and FA Charity Shield in 1995; during his time at Manchester City he won the Second Division play-offs in 1999 and was a First Division runner-up in 1999–2000.

Only this season Oldham Athletic renamed their North Stand the ‘Joe Royle Stand’ in honour of their club’s greatest ever manager.

It is understood that Darren Royle was instrumental in introducing IEC to the Whelan family and was responsible for brokering the takeover deal with Wigan.

Darren Royle introduced the Hong Kong-based organisation to several English Football League clubs including Oldham Athletic and Ipswich Town, but after viewing the facilities and speaking to the Whelan family they decided to purchase Wigan.

IEC have subsequently appointed Darren Royle as the Executive Chairman with responsibility for developing all aspects of the club including improving the Academy. The main aim however, for the Royles and IEC, being promotion to the Premier League.

Darren Royle has vast experience of football operations management and business leadership having worked in football brands and rights, performance analysis and data, academy management and commercial partnerships in senior executive roles within football business, before latterly launching and owning his own football businesses in the UK.

Royle played football at non-league level but football business has always been his passion and he has worked with some of Europe’s top football brands in a commercial capacity. In the UK, he has specifically developed an entire tier of academy football in the English football pyramid.

He is also co-founder of a new MBA qualification with Manchester Metropolitan University for Sporting Directors. Prior to the football business, he worked in senior management in the pharmaceutical industry where he completed an MBA in Marketing and Finance whilst holding an MSc in Exercise & Nutrition Science and BSc in Sports Science and Psychology.

Other members of the four man Board will be Thomas Chan who is an executive director of IEC, having been the group’s general counsel since February 2017 and Latics’ current Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson.

Posted in Championship, Darren Royle, International Entertainment Corporation, Joe Royle, Jonathan Jackson, Thomas Chan, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

End of an era for the Whelan family – Wigan Athletic 1 Leeds United 2

Dave Whelan

Dave Whelan 

It was a slightly disappointing finale for the Whelan family after 23 years in charge of Wigan Athletic as they were defeated 2-1 by Leeds United on Sunday.

Latics had been undefeated at home since February last year but with five attacking players unavailable it was always going to be a difficult task against high-flying Leeds.

Injury-hit Latics battled hard against the new Championship leaders but the lack of quality going forward meant their chances were few and far between as Leeds enjoyed the lion’s share of possession.

Latics went ahead after only six minutes when 18-year-old Chelsea loanee Reece James curled home a superb 30 yard free kick.

But Leeds were soon level as Barry Douglas’ defence splitting pass found Mateusz Klich in space and the Polish midfielder cut the ball back to Pablo Hernandez for an easy tap in.

Leeds started to dominate and Latics were a little lucky to go into the interval level, but the visitors went ahead very early in the second-half following a calamitous mix- up between Cedric Kipre and keeper Christian Walton which allowed Kemar Roofe an easy finish.

The hosts best chance to equalise came in the 85th minute when substitute Callum McManaman skilfully turned his marker but fired his shot agonisingly over the crossbar.

Latics were still without their usual forward line of Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs and Will Grigg and these absentees were joined on the injury list by Nick Powell and Gary Roberts. Cedric Kipre, Darron Gibson, Kal Naismith and Joe Garner all came into the starting eleven following the defeat at Sheffield United.

Wigan got off to a great start after only six minutes when James curled a superb 30 yard free kick past Bailey Peacock-Farrell for his first goal for the club.

Leeds responded quickly and Douglas’ defence splitting pass found Klich in space and he cut the ball back to Hernandez for an easy finish.

On 23 minutes there was a rousing minute’s applause in appreciation of the 23 years of the Whelan family ownership at Wigan Athletic.

As the half wore on the visitors took control, dominating possession and pressing high on the Latics defence. Adam Forshaw forced a good save from Walton and Latics were lucky to get to the interval on level terms.

But soon after the restart the visitors went in front following a mix-up between Kipre and Walton which allowed Roofe an easy task to score from close range.

Leeds had further chances to increase their lead with Roofe firing wide and Hernandez crashing another effort against the post.

Latics’ best opportunity came on 85 minutes when McManaman superbly turned his marker in the area and fired just over the crossbar.

Leeds had deserved the three points which took them back to the top of the table and I expect them to be involved in the promotion shake-up at the end of the season.

Latics will be rueing their mistakes and hoping for a quick end to their injury crisis. Very few clubs of Latics’ stature could compete against tough opposition without five of their best attacking players.

It may have been disappointing result on the day but nothing can detract from the last 23 years which have been an incredible success story for the Whelan family.

Dave Whelan’s contribution as Wigan Athletic owner should be celebrated as one of the great football success stories. Whelan and his grandson David Sharpe have made Wiganers dreams come true.

To climb through the divisions and to establish themselves in the Premier League for eight years, reach a League Cup Final, win an FA Cup Final and qualify for the Europa League is an almost unbelievable achievement for such a small town club.

It has been a privilege to support Wigan Athletic during this period and I can only thank them profusely for an amazing 23 years.

Posted in Championship, Dave Whelan, David Sharpe, Kemar Roofe, Leeds United, Reece James, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whelan’s farewell – the times they are a changin’

Roberto Martinez and Dave Whelan

Roberto Martinez and Dave Whelan

The takeover of Wigan Athletic by the International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) should be completed tomorrow at the Extraordinary General Meeting (Friday 2nd November).

The change in ownership from Dave Whelan to IEC means the end of an era for the club. During the last 23 years Whelan’s time in charge of Latics has been truly remarkable. Whelan has completely transformed the club during his tenure.

When he took over in 1995 Latics were struggling in the bottom division on attendances of less than 2,000 and few could have expected that the club would have such a meteoric rise.

To climb through the divisions and to establish themselves in the Premier League for eight years, reach a League Cup Final, win an FA Cup Final and qualify for the Europa League is an almost unbelievable achievement.

When Whelan said he would take the club into the Premier League many people mocked. When he said he would like to see the Latics play in the FA Cup Final many people said it was an impossible dream.

But during Whelan’s ownership they have done these extraordinary things. Whelan’s investment in Wigan should also be recognised for the huge social and economic benefits it has brought to the town.

The £30m DW Stadium development and associated sporting facilities have been a tremendous boost for the local community.

Raising the town’s profile in front of a global TV audience can only have had positive benefits for the area, which has otherwise suffered considerable economic adversity.

Whelan’s leadership of the club has been steadfast and unswerving, he has given his financial backing to his managers but he has also been prepared to take some difficult decisions when required.

He has, of course, made mistakes. He fatefully appointed Malky Mackay as manager who was at the centre of an FA investigation while at Cardiff and the media storm followed him to Wigan. But his mistakes are far outweighed by his successes and the club is now light years away from when he took over.

In the last few years the club has been steered by Whelan’s grandson David Sharpe who is a Latics fan through and through. It has generally been a successful period with two promotions from League One and the one relegation from the Championship.

The club has been sold by the Whelan family in a strong position. It is financially solvent and making very good progress in the Championship under Paul Cook’s leadership. The hope now is that the new owners can bring continued success.

They have said that there will be continuity for many of the key staff who have been running the club, including the manager and his coaching staff, Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson and many of the other long standing employees.

Experienced football professionals Joe Royle and his son Darren Royle will be on the new board and they will hopefully be good custodians for the club going forward.

But whatever happens in the future, Dave Whelan’s achievements should be appreciated and celebrated as one of the greatest football stories. Whelan has done so much for the club and the town during his time in charge, everyone should be very grateful for an amazing 23 years.

His success as the businessman who created JJB Sports and subsequently DW Sports was renowned but his achievements at Wigan Athletic will be his enduring legacy.

Latics take on second-placed Leeds United in the lunchtime kick-off on Sunday and I’m hoping the club will have arranged a fitting tribute to Dave Whelan either at the game or in the near future; he certainly deserves one.

Posted in Championship, Dave Whelan, David Sharpe, International Entertainment Corporation, Leeds United, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sharp as a knife through butter – Sheffield United 4 Wigan Athletic 2

Sheff Utd

An early Latics attack at Bramall Lane

Wigan Athletic’s poor away form continued with a sixth consecutive away defeat at Bramall Lane against new Championship leaders Sheffield United.

Latics had the better of the opening exchanges but went behind to a calamitous own goal from Chey Dunkley, the ball deflecting off Callum Connolly before the centre back diverted it into his own net.

Latics quickly drew level when substitute Kal Naismith finished from close range after a good cross by Nathan Byrne. But the Blades restored their lead before the interval when Billy Sharp produced a neat finish after a knock back at the back post from a set-piece.

Eight minutes after the restart the Blades increased their advantage when Sharp added his second goal from Leon Clarke’s excellent low cross.

The prolific striker then completed his hat-trick on 63 minutes when a hesitant Dan Burn allowed Sharp to lift the ball over Christian Walton from inside the six-yard box.

Joe Garner reduced the deficit on 69 minutes when he finished well from Josh Windass’ cross and Latics had further opportunities before the final whistle but it was all to no avail.

Paul Cook made four changes from the team which lost at Millwall with Nick Powell, Gary Roberts, Nathan Byrne and Antonee Robinson coming into the starting line-up. Cedric Kipre was surprisingly rested and Burn joined Dunkley at centre back with Robinson at full back.

Latics started the brighter with Powell having an early header saved before Reece James blazed over from 25 yards.

Their best opportunity came when Dunkley rose high about the Blades defence but couldn’t direct his header under the crossbar from a Roberts corner.

Latics then conceded a very sloppy goal following a quick throw in. Chris Basham’s pull back from the byline hitting Connolly before being diverted by Dunkley into his own net.

Naismith replaced Roberts on 36 minutes and the substitute scored his first goal for the club from close range after an excellent cross by Byrne down the right hand side.

But the Blades were quickly back in front as Latics failed to defend a set-piece and Sharp demonstrated his excellent finishing skills from the edge of the six-yard box.

McGoldrick had an a great opportunity just before the interval but Robinson did well to get back and make an excellent block.

Early in the second half the Blades did increase their lead as Sharp was once again in the right place at the right time to convert Clarke’s low cross.

On the hour mark the points were effectively sealed as Sharp completed his hat-trick flicking the ball over Walton inside the six-yard box despite Burn being in close attendance.

Garner reduced the deficit on 69 minutes with a neat finish from a Windass’ cross and Latics continued to work hard and create opportunities in the remaining minutes.

Reece James’ free kick forced an excellent finger tip save from Dean Henderson and then Naismith fired across the six-yard box with no Latics player on hand to convert.

At the final whistle the Blades moved to the top of the Championship table. Latics had caused the new league leaders plenty of problems going forward and had it not been for several defensive lapses and the brilliance of Billy Sharp they might have been coming away from Bramall Lane with at least a point.

Manager Cook will be looking to eradicate the defensive mistakes and hoping Leeds United do not have a striker in top-form like Billy Sharp in their next game at the DW Stadium next Sunday.

Posted in Billy Sharp, Championship, Joe Garner, Kal Naismith, Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cook and Wilder returning to their roots and making a big impact in the Championship

Chris Wilder

Chris Wilder

Two successful managers who have returned to their first league clubs come face-to-face on Saturday as third placed Sheffield United take on 12th placed Wigan Athletic at Bramall Lane. The 51-year-olds Chris Wilder and Paul Cook have both recently guided their teams to promotion from League One and are making a big impact in the Championship.

Wilder is a former Sheffield United player who started his career in the mid-1980’s and played 105 games in two spells for the club. Overall he made 414 career appearances at various clubs including Rotherham, Notts County, Bradford, Brighton and Halifax.

He started his managerial career at non-league Alfreton Town 17 years ago and has worked his way up through Halifax Town, Oxford United and Northampton.

Eventually he returned to his first senior club and the team he had supported as a boy. Wilder has won two division titles, achieving one promotion with Northampton Town, and a second as the man to finally get the Blades out of League One after six difficult seasons.

Both Sheffield United and Wigan are at the lower end of the Championship transfer-spending table and both managers have done well to recruit relatively cheaply from the lower leagues and Scotland.

United players such as defenders Chris Basham signed on a free transfer from Blackpool and Jack O’Connell signed from Brentford are amongst their best performers.

Similarly Latics have recruited impressive defenders Chey Dunkley from Oxford United and Cedric Kipre from Motherwell respectively.

Wilder’s preferred formation is a somewhat unorthodox but well-drilled 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 formation and Cook prefers 4-2-3-1, although he surprisingly used a 4-4-2 in the defeat against Millwall on Tuesday night.

Both Cook and Wilder are well-liked and their plain speaking has endeared them to the teams supporters. They both like to play attacking football and have similar football philosophies.

This quote from the Wilder, in The Guardian sounds very much like something Cook would say, “We are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes you have your off days. We have a way of going about things. Basically we are positive people trying to improve players and teams.”

Similarly Wilder could easily have said what Cook told SkySports, “I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on team spirit and good lads, work ethic and a desire to do well together.”

paul-cook4

Paul Cook

Cook is a Liverpool fan having grown up in nearby Kirkby but he has a close affinity with Latics having started his senior career with the club and recently signed a new four-year contract.

He had an incredible first season not only leading Latics’ return to the Championship but also leading his side to the FA Cup quarter-finals following victories over three Premier League sides, including the Champions Manchester City.

Cook commenced his playing career at non-league Marine and signed for Wigan in 1984 and went on to play 89 games in two spells with the club. Overall he made 642 league appearances with Wigan, Norwich, Wolves, Coventry, Tranmere, Stockport, Burnley and Accrington.

He started his managerial career at non-league Southport in 2006 and had a successful spell with Sligo Rovers in Ireland before returning to England with Accrington, then Chesterfield and Portsmouth before re-joining Latics in 2017.

Cook has an excellent management record winning three titles with Chesterfield and Portsmouth in League Two and Latics in League One since coming into the Football League in 2012.

After a very commendable return to the Championship the Blades finished 10th and Wilder is looking to push for promotion to the Premier League this time around. United like Latics have very good home form having won four and drawn two of their games so far.

The Blades will be favourites tomorrow as Latics are in the throes of an injury crisis with star man Nick Powell doubtful, Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs, Will Grigg and Antonee Robinson all injured, Darron Gibson suspended and the Blades loanee Lee Evans not allowed to play.

Cook has said he wants to consolidate in the Championship but if their injury problems subside and they can improve their away form then a play-off spot isn’t impossible.

Wilder and Cook may have started their management careers in non-league football but they certainly look capable of taking their original clubs to the highest level in the near future.

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