Book Review: State of Play



A number of years ago I was on Twitter when I read an article about some nonsense happening at one of the large clubs, the exact details escape me but it would have been one of those tales that made me despair of the modern game. I tweeted “If I didn’t love football, I’d f***ing hate it” and it became something of my sporting motto. In the years since that tweet little has happened to change this view and arguably much more has happened that would reinforce this stance. Over the years I have drawn to the work of several authors and commentators who have shone a light on the less attractive areas of “The Beautiful Game” The foremost of these is probably Mike Calvin whose latest work “State Of Play” is published today . For those unfamiliar with his work Mike is an multi award winning newspaper journalist who has transferred these winning ways to the theatre of books. The first book of his I read, ‘Family: Life, Death and Football’ was the story of a season in the life at Millwall FC. Reading it as a left-leaning Celtic fan and finding myself rooting for the Lions may give you some idea of Mike’s ability to tell a story. Drawing on the skills honed in an age where a journalist had to cultivate relationships, gain trust and have a contact network in order to get the story before any of his peer group his subsequent books have been compelling insights into the worlds of scouts, managers and young players. Each of those books have common threads, meticulous research and revealing interviews with those on the front line where the skills described above enabled the author to extract compelling insights into the subject matter. Ally this to a truly engaging prose style and the awards they have garnered are understandable to put it mildly. State of Play is Mike’s update of the 60s seminal book “The Football Man”by Arthur Hopcroft. Like its inspiration Mike looks at the current state of the game covering areas such as mental health, homophobia, the influence of social media, woman’s football and host of other neglected areas of debate within the modern game. To illustrate this I would suggest that if you see the book in your local bookshop have a read at the first few pages. These recount the profoundly moving story of Jeff Astle, an England and WBA legend who passed at age 54 from injuries sustained playing the game. The story of his passing and the events before and after told by his daughter Dawn is one of the most affecting pieces of writing I have encountered, all the more remarkable that it is found in a book about football. If that doesn’t hook you then nothing will. Interviews with well-known names like Arsene Wenger , Sean Dyche and Steven Gerrard are as far from the normal fodder you have seen in other books and articles and Gerrard’s observations certainly made me think there is more to him and his outlook on football than I had previously thought. Other less familiar names like Drewe Broughton letting us into their world of providing psychological support to players and Ryan Atkin talking of being openly gay referee give you some idea of the breadth of the subjects covered. I won’t lie, the book does probably reinforce more of the latter part of my motto but despite many tales of the dark side of the game I couldn’t shake the feeling that there are those at every level in the game looking to protect its legacy as our national sport and ensure that it is fit for purpose and a thread of hope runs through the book in tandem with those negative elements. Clearly I came to this book as a fan of the author's back catalogue and this is arguably his best work to date. Our game has changed incredibly since Mike's inspiration was written nearly 50 years ago and if we are to have a game with which people can develop a lifetime love affair then many of the issues raised in this book have to be addressed and discussed at the very highest levels of our game. With the publishing of State Of Play it is difficult if not impossible for anyone who has read the book to plead ignorance of the problems in the game and the challenges it faces