Published in the UK in 2012 by Corinthian Books, an imprint of Icon Books Ltd, Omnibus Business Centre, 39–41 North Road, London N7 9DP email: [email protected] www.iconbooks.co.uk Previously published in 2010 by Integr8 Books This electronic edition published in the UK in 2012 by Corinthian Books, an imprint of Icon Books Ltd ISBN: 978-1-906850-27-2 (ePub format) ISBN: 978-1-906850-37-1 (Adobe ebook format) Sold in the UK, Europe, South Africa and Asia by Faber & Faber Ltd, Bloomsbury House, 74–77 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DA or their agents Distributed in the UK, Europe, South Africa and Asia by TBS Ltd, TBS Distribution Centre, Colchester Road Frating Green, Colchester CO7 7DW Published in Australia in 2012 by Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, PO Box 8500, 83 Alexander Street, Crows Nest, NSW 2065 Distributed in Canada by Penguin Books Canada, 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2YE Text copyright © 2010, 2012 Michael Calvin The author has asserted his moral rights.
About the author Michael Calvin is one of the UK’s most versatile sports- writers, having feigned expertise in everything from frog jumping to Aussie Rules football. He has worked in more than 80 countries, covering six summer Olympics and six World Cup finals. He was named Sportswriter of the Year for his despatches as a crew member in a round-the-world yacht race. He has twice been named Sports Reporter of the Year, has featured in the British Press Awards on four occasions, and has won awards for his coverage of sports for the dis abled. He established a global reputation during a decade as chief sports writer with the Daily Telegraph, and has held similar positions at The Times, Mail on Sunday and Sunday Mirror. He took a five-year sabbatical from journal- ism to help set up and run the English Institute of Sport, which offers strategic support to 35 Olympic sports. When asked by Kenny Jackett what possessed him to choose Millwall as the subject for this book, he admitted: ‘I thought it was worth a punt.’ Jackett laughed and said: ‘Some punt. Some season …’ www.michaelcalvin.com vii.
Chapter 1 Family Ties The knife penetrated Alan Baker’s ribcage, in the fourth intercostal space, just beneath the right nipple. It sliced through veins, nerves, and arteries, puncturing a lung. His breath came in short, searing bursts, and he suffered severe blood loss, but he was lucky. Had the blade been wrenched to the left, instead of the right, it would have hit his heart. The officer from the Police Support Unit, who helped save his life after he had stumbled through an alleyway before collapsing outside a bus garage 300 yards from Upton Park, would have been a coroner’s witness. His assailant, hidden in a melee of at least eleven attackers, estimated by police to be aged between their early twenties and mid-forties, would have been the central character in a murder inquiry.
Chapter 2 The Ghost of Billy Element Billy Element was born to score goals: 112 in a single season for our boys’ team. He had pinched features, a pudding bowl haircut, and a watchful, predatory nature. I remem- ber him smiling only once, when he chipped a goalkeeper with a penalty kick. At the age of twelve he had the keys to the magic kingdom, far beyond a council estate built on a sewage farm in West Watford. Scouts flattered his family with the relentlessness of Tudor courtiers, and he signed for QPR, then an emerging force in the old First Division. We envied his ability, the breadth of his ambition. Football was his release, his salvation, our dream. We prayed his stardust would settle on us, like the white parachutes of dandelion seeds that carried on the wind when we blew them off their stalks. We were young, naive, and about to be ambushed by reality.
Chapter 3 The Mark of Death The silence was broken only by the tubercular rasp of four jet sprays, watering the main pitch at Millwall’s training ground in the bland backstreets of Bromley. I’d got lost in the suburban sprawl, and had been informed by a bored battery hen at Directory Enquiries that the place did not exist. Thanks to a Crystal Palace-supporting postman – ‘Why the fuck do you want to go there, mate?’ – I was merely fash- ionably late for the start of pre-season training. It was 1 July 2009, a Paul Weller, ‘Wild Wood’ sort of day. Temperatures simmered at 31 degrees. The players’ ice bath, a glorified paddling pool swathed in physio tape, refused to inflate. ‘Not like this at Man United, eh?’ giggled masseur Danny Fittler, who was privately negotiating his own transfer to West Ham.
Chapter 4 Collateral Damage Martin Kelly. Mark Little. Ryan Shotton. Hogan Ephraim. Alex Nicholls. Jordan Rhodes. David Amoo. Elliot Omasuzi. Dorian Dervite. Nicky Adams. David Bell. Wayne Brown. Jake Livermore. John Bostock. Max Gradel. Jason Puncheon. Tamika Mkandawire. Neal Trotman. Chris Smalling.
Chapter 5 Legend It’s True Confession time. Boys do gossip in the toilets, espe- cially when they’re in front of the mirror. Neil Harris was teasing his lightly gelled hair with a comb, in preparation for a personal appearance on behalf of Everyman, his can- cer charity. He had nicked himself shaving, and was in a reflective mood, knowing what was to come. He would pose for photographs with desperately optimistic patients and their parents. He would see the fear in their eyes, summon familiar emotions, and spread the word that diagnosis is not a death sentence. He would repeat the tale of his survival, and gloss over the days ‘when you can still feel the radio- therapy, deep in your bones’.