No Hunger in Paradise is the third of Michael Calvin’s books that I have read. The first was The Nowhere Men, which focused on the work of football scouts. The second one was Living on the Volcano, which examined the pressures of managers in English football. In No Hunger in Paradise, the author tackles the academy system of English football. It is full of human stories of youngsters who fell through the cracks of the academy systems, the majority whose dreams are extinguished by the cut-throat industry, those whose lights burned too brightly too soon, those who were trapped by the destructive influences of external factors and the very few who make it to our screens.
There is a common joke on social media where young parents seem to be grooming their toddlers for a future of football stardom – Project Mbappe, it is jokingly called. Football academies are full of 6 to 10-year-olds whose barely discernible talents are propped up by their parents’ dreams and aspirations. But not all academy kids are being shepherded by their parents, some come from rough parts of English cities and have been shepherded by mentors who are doing a thankless job of being the guardian that most of those boys do not have. So, No Hunger in Paradise is a combination of anecdotes that documents the driving forces of community football teams, youth centres and academies. It highlights the roles that these community mentors play, the evil of football agents as they prey on youngsters while selling false hopes and the academies themselves where dreams are wither made or dashed before the very few from those academies who grace our scenes arrive the first team.
No Hunger in Paradise is another well-written book by Michael Calvin but my problem is that it tries to grapple with too many sub-topics. The academy system in modern football has too many stakeholders and this book would have been better served if it focused on two or three of these (e.g. parents, agents and youth coaches) but it tries to take them all in a singular sweep. The outcome is that the book lacks depth and none of the anecdotes sticks. Also, it would have been a better read if one of two of the few success stories was x-rayed in detail. In all, it is a decent but not spectacular read.