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Luton Town : Staring into the Abyss


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I don't have a problem with your story angles, they are well written and not over the top, stuff like this can happen as does people getting murdered (but hey we don't complain about that, or bashings or suicide), its a touchy subject but don't give away a story arc without putting it to bed properly.

For me if you left it as is it would be a great injustice to what you have written in the story so far, it needs to be put to bed right not just leaving it hanging.

By that I mean show the repercussions of what happens to Keane and James in the story and then put that to bed.

Keep up the good work Scotty

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Scott, I would highly recommend a disclaimer both at the front of your story and on the posts in question. Wearing my mod hat, I need to remind you that we do have younger readers. We allow a lot of leeway in FMS because we trust the writers to be responsible (and you are) but either the use of a spoiler for subject matter such as this or a disclaimer might be a good idea.

PM me if you want some assistance in this regard. Otherwise I know you're fully capable. Carry on, sir.

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Whilst taking into account what 10-3 rightly says, I agree with Pan on this one 100%. We've had murders, rapes, crucifixions and all sorts of things on a story forum that essentially about football - or indeed in actuallity a game based on football. Allegedly. Personally, I can't see much wrong with the storyline as is, and can't see why anyone would ever be offended by fiction, but thats just me. As Pan says, as long as it's followed through and such it's fine. Imo, for what its worth, Raptors crucifixion storyline was far far more offensive.

But then Scott, if nothing else, at least you've gotten more attention for your story ;)

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Pan, rest assured that Keane's contribution to the mall 'riot' will be taken into account when it comes to dealing with their future relationship.

Tenthree, I've added a disclaimer to the first page.

Thanks to all for the feedback.

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22/12/10 - Shark pool (part 1)

Tonight was the Magic Temple gathering at my house. A grand total of seven had taken up the invitation - Scott Spencer, Charlie Daniels, Dorian Moore, Richie Byrne, Michael Taylor, Keith Keane, and Brian.

You might think it strange I’d let Keith come after what he’d done to me in the mall. The truth is; I wanted him there so I could take his money off him. It would be a nice way to get revenge. Incidentally, I hadn’t disciplined him at the club (even though I would have been fully justified in doing so!). It would only have drawn more unnecessary focus on a situation I wanted to bury ASAP.

As for Brian, he was only along for the social side of things really. He didn’t have a clue about Magic Temple and I don’t think he cared either. I’d even had to lend him some cards. His would be the easiest money to take of all.

“Hey!” I said, greeting Daniels at the door.

“Not late am I?”

“Nope, but you’re the last person to get here. Everyone else is in the dining room. Come through! ”

After he’d handed his coat to me I led him through the house. The others were all busy chatting and sorting their cards out at the dining room table. All bar none had beers set up.

“Here” I said, reaching to take Daniels’ four pack from him. “Let me put that in the fridge for you”.

“Just take one out for me first, will you? Does anyone else want one? Might as well offer before I sit down”.

“No no” I said, before anyone could answer. “Nobody needs to get up to fetch a beer tonight. My wife has kindly offered to be our hostess for the evening. That is to say that she’s going to be the one doing all the fetching and carrying of booze. This way the game won’t have as many stoppages”.

Shrugging, Daniels accepted one of his cans back from me and sat down.

I was just about to then take the rest of the four-pack to the fridge when Michael Taylor raised a very valid point.

“Just one thing though, boss. If your wife’s fetching all the beers for us, where is she? I’ve been here fifteen minutes now and I haven’t seen her even once”.

“Yeah, are you sure you’re even married?” Keane asked. “Are you sure you’re not just lying to us?”

“Don’t be daft. Chantelle’s just upstairs. She’s probably - on the toilet or something”.

Before I could go investigate what had happened to her, footsteps sounded out from the staircase. Right on cue she was apparently coming down. It couldn't have been anyone else. Luke was in bed.

I wasn’t so happy, though, when she appeared in the dining room doorway and I saw what she was wearing.

She was wearing a really provocative red dress. There was barely anything to it. In fact it was so short you could practically see her knickers! Further up, the shape of the dress was such that her cleavage wasn’t so much popping out as jumping out. I felt like I was looking at her in 3D glasses.

“Evening, boys” she said, putting one hand on her hip. “I don’t know if James told you but if anyone needs drinks tonight, just shout me in. I'll be in the living room watching telly".

The table collectively mumbled something back (not an easy feat because they all had their mouths hanging open). I think it might have been okay.

“This is Chantelle” I said, keeping my cool. “Shan, I’ll introduce you to everyone in a minute. First though, let me quickly show you where all the beer is. And the bottle opener”.

“Okay”.

Together we walked out to the kitchen. Once the door was closed behind us though, my demeanour changed.

“What the hell’s this?!” I asked, pointing at the dress.

“Err a dress. Why?”

“Yeah I know it’s a dress. But what are you doing wearing it tonight?! You don’t need to dress up to serve some beers!”

“I thought it would make your little card game a bit classier. And I’ve seen them doing it on TV anyway”.

“Seen who doing what on TV?”

“Women dressing up for card games”.

I shook my head, sighing. I didn’t have time for this. Chantelle hadn’t got out of first gear in this argument yet, and I knew she still had three or four more gears to move up to if I decided to push it. It wasn’t worth it.

“Okay, fine” I said, trying not to sound patronizing.

Walking back into the dining room, I then sat down in my reserved seat at the head of the table. Chantelle followed but went through to the living room.

“Boss, I have a question” said Taylor.

“Oh?”

“How on earth did YOU manage to pull THAT?”

Before I could answer, Brian jumped in ahead of me.

“I think the question should actually be – how did a full time Magic Temple player manage to pull that?”

“I don’t know how I’m going to be able to concentrate on the game, to be honest” – Spencer.

“Look!” I said testily, shuffling some cards. “Did we all come here to talk about women, or did we come here to play Magic Temple?”

“Magic Temple” murmured about five people at once.

“Right, well let’s get on with it then!"

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Thank you, sir. Please don't interpret my note as censure in any way.

This has always been, and continues to be, a great read. Worthy of story HOF consideration should you ever finish it. Truly well done.

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Of course I didn't, Tenthree!

Thanks, Michael.

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22/12/10 - Shark pool (part 2)

The first game was still in its infancy when the musical doorbell version of Crazy in Love began blaring away from several different places in the house.

I didn’t move from my chair though. I wasn’t expecting anyone else. Whoever was at the door surely had to be here for Chantelle.

Or not, as it transpired.

“It’s not for me!” she called through. “I’m not expecting anyone”.

“Neither am I!” I called back.

She didn’t respond again, but neither could I hear her get off her arse to answer the door.

‘Christ, some hostess you are!’

“Hang on a minute, lads” I said, rising from my seat.

Then placing my cards face down on the table, I strolled out the door and through to the front of the house. Then I went into the hallway and opened the outer doors.

The person on the doorstep was Cyril.

“Hello!” he said enthusiastically.

“Cyril” I replied deadpan. “Err how you doing?”

“Not bad”.

A brief silence passed.

“Sooooo – “ I began.

“I’m here for The Magic Temple game”.

“The Magic Temple game?”

“Yeah. You know, the one at your house tonight?”

Again a silence, as this time I stood there wondering how to respond to this.

“Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about” Cyril went on. “I’ve been looking forward to this all day. And look, I even brought my Magic Temple briefcase with me. Not that I’ve felt very comfortable walking around Luton with it. Ever since I left the house, I’ve been worried someone might spot me with it and nick it”.

Bemused, I looked down at the thing Cyril was carrying in his right hand. I hadn’t noticed it at first. I noticed it now.

As described, it was a briefcase. But rather than being black all over like a standard briefcase, this one had the Magic Temple logo written on it, and countless pictures of the various cards. It looked very cartoony.

“An official Magic Temple briefcase?!” I asked disbelievingly.

“Yeah. Picked it up on Ebay. Look”.

Cyril handed it over whereupon I took the time to unlatch it and take a closer look.

There were placeholders inside. Each held a different category of cards. The placeholders also had a clip on them that acted like a kind of seatbelt, so the cards wouldn’t come loose when the briefcase was being swung around. There was also a big bag of dice in there and a rulebook. I found the whole thing extremely tragic.

“Since when have you been into Magic Temple?” I asked, handing the briefcase back.

“For ages! I’m really dedicated to it too. It gives me something to do now I’m retired from death-matches”.

That settled it then. Cyril wasn’t coming in. If his skill with Luton Town trivia was anything to go by, I dreaded to think what he’d be like with a game like Magic Temple. Completely dreaded to think.

“As much I admire the briefcase, Cyril, there’s no game here tonight. I think you must have heard wrong”.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Just out of curiosity though, how did you hear there was a game on?”

“I was visiting the port-a-cabin yesterday and I bumped into Dorian Moore. We got talking about this and that, and that was when he let me know about tonight”.

“Well he was obviously winding you up. There’s no game here tonight”.

“No?”

“No”.

He eyed me suspiciously, like he completely didn’t believe me.

“Come on” he said. “I don’t think Dorian was lying”.

“Cyril, would I lie to you?”

“Well – “

“Oh you think I would?! Well I’m offended by that. And after all the time we’ve known each other!”

Cyril remained unmoved.

“I still think there’s a game on in there" he said, pointing over my shoulder. "Where have all these cars come from in the driveway? And why would Dorian lie about something like that?”

“The cars – well, I’m a car buff. I love cars. And as for Dorian, the kid’s a weirdo. Can’t trust anything he tells you. That's the bottom line”.

“Yeah but he had your address to give me and everything! If there was no game night, why's he got your address in his phone?”

Before I could answer that one, I sensed movement behind me.

On twisting around I saw it was Chantelle. Evidently she’d come out to see what was going on.

“Cyril” I said in a hushed voice, stepping slightly to one side so he would have a full view of the dress. “Take a look back there. Do you really think I’ve got Magic Temple on my mind tonight?”

Tilting his neck forwards, he took a quick peek. What he saw immediately made him doubt himself.

“No” he replied softly. “You definitely don’t. I take it back”.

I smiled at him apologetically. My smile was saying - that’s okay, buddy. I can see how you might have thought Dorian was telling the truth.

Cyril took one last look at me and then one more at Chantelle. Then he began backing away down the drive.

“Sorry. My mistake. I’ll catch you soon, James”.

“Yeah. See you, Cyril!”

“Bye”.

“Bye”.

Grinning inside, I shut the door and returned to the dining room. Chantelle went back to the living room.

“Right” I said, retaking my seat. “Before we go on, I would just like to announce that we’ve had a security leak. That was Cyril Denton at the door. He knew about tonight’s game. I’ve just had to turn him away”.

“Err that was me who told him” Moore admitted with a raise of the hand. “I didn’t think you’d mind him coming though”.

“You obviously don’t know Cyril. Trust me; that f__ker would clean us all out within half an hour if we let him in”.

Light nods of the head from one or two around the table.

“Now look” I said after a moment’s silent contemplation had taken place. “I hate to reiterate this but you give me no choice. So let’s hear it; what’s the first rule about Magic Temple club?”

“Don’t talk about Magic Temple club” several people answered at the same time.

“That’s right. And what’s the second rule of Magic Temple club?!”

“Don’t talk about Magic Temple club”.

“Right again. And what’s the third rule of Magic Temple club?!”

Nobody said anything this time. I’d never asked them for a third rule before.

“Don’t talk about friggin’ Magic Temple club!” I answered in an agitated tone. “Now let’s crack on with this before I lose my will to live”.

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22/12/10 - Shark pool (part 3)

At the end of the fourth game, Keane, Taylor, and myself, found ourselves the only characters left standing in the end game. There was eighty pounds on the line here. I was twenty two pounds down over the course of a rather mixed night, so winning this would put me back in profit by a tidy fifty eight pounds.

I was in a reasonable position to win. You don’t earn points in the end game; you only lose them. I had two points left. Keane had two. Taylor had one. Everyone else was already dead.

It being my turn at the moment, one possible move would be to attack Taylor and knock him out of the game, thus leaving only me and Keane. But then he and I would both be equal on health and it would be his turn. If that happened I would no longer be favourite.

Attacking Keith though would present its own set of potential pros and cons.

Just as I was considering these, I noticed out the corner of my eye Chantelle counting the pot of money. She’d been sat with us a good twenty minutes now, slowly getting tipsy on an old bottle of champers. Thankfully she’d put a cardigan around her shoulders to cover up some of her dignity.

“There’s only eighty pounds in here” she commented.

“As there should be” I responded. “Eight players, plus eight ten pound stakes, equals eighty pounds”.

“Yeah but I thought this game of yours tonight was supposed to be for big money?”

“It is big money. It’s eighty quid!”

“That’s not big money”.

Ignoring her, I turned my focus back to the cards. One option worth considering was my Scattershot acid gun card. This could potentially kill off both Taylor and Keane in the one go. The problem was it was a move that required decent dice to make it work. If I got bad dice, I could potentially not hit anybody with the acid, and then I would have given up a turn for nothing. At this late stage of the game, such a foul-up was unthinkable.

“This is boring” said Chantelle. “I don’t see the point in playing if you’re only going to play for peanuts”.

“Shan!” I said with a hiss. “I’m trying to think here! Come on”.

“Why don’t you offer to raise the stakes or something? Make it interesting”.

“I’m not raising anything! A tenner each is enough".

Sighing, I looked at my remaining cards again. Maybe the sonic boom spell was the way to go? Or would one of the others have the ear protectors of Khutesh? Something to mull over.

“What about you two?” Chantelle then asked Keane and Taylor. “Do you fancy offering to raise the stakes? Or are you gonna be pussies like him?”

A few light chuckles greeted this. Not from me though. You see I knew Keane well enough to know he’d take the bait. He’d been ogling Chantelle all evening. Her question might as well have been a red rag to a bull.

“No I’m happy to raise the pot” he replied. “How about we raise it to two hundred? The two losers from this point forwards can throw in the extra money”.

“Nah count me out if you’re gonna do any raising” Taylor said. “Which is fine with me because I wouldn’t mind my tenner back, tell you the truth”.

“What about you, boss?” – Keane.

No way could I also refuse, sadly. For one thing, Chantelle would bug me about it. Secondly, and this was the main thing, the temptation to put a big dent in Keane’s bank balance – not to mention his pride - was just too irresistible.

“Okay but why two hundred?" I asked after a brief pause. “Why not make it three hundred? Not including the tenner Taylor can have back of course”.

“How about five hundred then?” Keane retaliated with.

Gasps from around the table. Some people who had previously been drifting off into a drunken stupor were now firmly awake again. You could have cut the atmosphere with a breadknife.

“Well?” Chantelle now said in my ear. “He’s just raised you. Are you not going to do anything about that?”

“A grand” I quickly said.

Cue even bigger gasps around the table. Keith suddenly looked slightly shaky. Chantelle just grinned. She seemed to be under the impression the person who made the final raise would be automatically be the one who won the money.

“Unless of course” I added. “That’s too much for you to handle, Keith?”

“Two grand” he instantly replied.

By now everyone not involved in this were banging their cans down on the table shouting things like ‘gwannn, boss!’ and ‘take him, Keith!’

“Three grand” Chantelle then followed up with, cueing more shouting and banging.

I gave her a searching look.

“What?” she asked.

“Okay, hold it right there” Brian suddenly piped up. “Let’s just all take a breather before this starts getting out of hand. Now look; as one person who hasn’t had too much to drink, might I suggest we end the raising right here at three grand? This way nobody loses face, and nobody lose more than they can afford".

“Okay agreed” I said hastily.

“Fine” Keith hissed.

“Whatever” said Shan, drowning her current glass of bubbly.

“Okay. If that’s settled, James, I believe it’s your turn to play”.

There then followed additional shouts and banging and well-wishing and various other generally unhelpful bits of BS from around the table. In the space of five minutes the atmosphere had gone from being completely quiet to being totally raucous.

Before checking my cards one final time, I looked into Keith’s eyes across the table. He squinted at me. I squinted back. It was a moment that ought really to have been played out to that spaghetti western music from the The Good The Bad and The Ugly.

I just hoped I wasn’t destined to be the Van Cleef.

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22/12/10 - Shark pool (part 4)

Yours truly having the next turn wasn’t as obvious an advantage as you might think. Keane had no doubt noted how much I was struggling to select a move before all the crazy betting had started. He would be banking on me flunking the turn and letting him in for the kill.

Once again then I carefully studied my options.

I didn’t fancy using a spell. Defending against magic was something I’d noticed Keane was fairly good at in recent weeks.

A physical attack? This would be the safest play. It would almost certainly reduce Keane’s health to one point. Possibly even two if he had no armour cards (although I doubted that would be the case).

When all was said and done though, I still liked the acid scattershot gun idea. Such a play would have to be decided by the dice, but at least it would give me a shot at ending the game right there and then regardless of what cards Keane might be holding. The guy looked a little too quietly confident for my liking, like maybe he had good defensive AND attacking cards up his sleeve.

“Acid scattershot gun” I said calmly, placing the card out on the table.

More oohs and aahs.

Not everyone knew the scoring rules for this card so the next minute or so was spent passing it around so people could read the writing on the back.

Put basically; a roll of a six would take two points off Keane and that would be goodnight Vienna. A five would take one point but would also give me an additional roll. A four would take one point with no additional turn. You could forget one, two, and three. That would mean the acid sailed right over Keane’s head.

Once the card was back in front of me, I picked up the dice and blew on it. Then I said a silent prayer. Then I blew on it some more.

‘Okay, just throw the damn thing already’.

So I did.

It was a five.

“Come on!” I shouted.

Various other gasps and shouts went up around the rest of the table. Except from Keane, who just sighed despondently. He hadn’t liked that roll, and for good reason. I now had an additional roll and a fifty-fifty chance of getting the second point I needed to finish the game.

‘Come on. Please. Just give me a four or higher this time. Please please please’.

I rolled again.

This time adrenaline got the better of me and I threw it slightly too hard. The dice bounced off Brian’s Spitfire and then again off Scott Spencer’s Carling. Eventually it came to rest just an inch from the edge of the table in between Spencer and Daniels.

It was another five!

“Yes!!!!”

As the others cheered (and Chantelle squealed), I was up out of my chair like a jackrabbit. Then I crouched down and fist-pumped so hard I almost thought my wrist might drop off. By the time my head bobbed back up again, I could see that Keane had his head in his hands. He looked absolutely crestfallen.

Once all the back slaps and hugs and handshakes were taken care of, the collective decision was made that no more games should be played after this. It was getting fairly late, and what could possibly top the excitement of what everyone had just witnessed anyway?

Initial celebration aside, I didn’t rub Keane’s nose in it too much. I’m just not that kind of guy, I suppose. I did inform him I would be expecting a cheque for the money as soon as possible, but that was about it. Keane just nodded meekly and mumbled something about needing to go ring for a taxi.

It took a while to get rid of everyone. A good thirty minutes, I’d say. Once they'd all gone, I returned to the living room to find myself ambushed by a drunken Chantelle. She quite literally leaped on me and forced me down onto the couch.

“That was f__king amazing!” she declared.

“Yep!” I replied.

It certainly did feel amazing. I’m not sure if it was the money or simply beating Keane, but it certainly felt amazing.

Chantelle then began to get frisky with me and I didn’t need much persuading to get frisky back.

"Hey" I said, during a pause in the kissing. "What if I'd lost?"

"Then you would have lost" she replied matter-of-fact.

I pondered this for a moment or two but then the friskiness kicked up a gear and I lost my train of thought.

--------

Next - Luton v Grays (league)

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26/12/10, League Match 20

Luton Town v Grays Athletic

GK – Lars Stubhaug (25 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (62 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Aaron Ides (6 apps, 0 goals)

DC – Tony James (79 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (17 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (95 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (114 apps, 13 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (72 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Michael Taylor (60 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (7 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (50 apps, 22 goals)

Christmas day was a fairly uneventful affair, aside from the fact we spent it in Croydon. Chantelle’s mum has some kind of weird thing against travelling anywhere, so instead of celebrate the birth of Jesus in our expensive, immaculately presented new house, we did it in a dingy little untidy yellow-walled terraced house in the arsehole of London. Same as last year then.

I did lobby for going up to Leeds for Christmas as an alternative, but Chantelle pointed out we shouldn’t do that because at least my mum and ‘dad’ have each other, whereas her mum is just on her own.

Onto today’s game and I made only one change from the team that beat Grimsby. Gnakpa was again struggling for fitness so I left him on the bench and picked Ides instead. Aside from that we were unchanged.

Keane paid up on his debt, if you were wondering. Not that he gave his cheque to me personally. Scott Spencer passed it on for him just as I reached the changing rooms. He looked very quiet and glum before kickoff today did Keane.

We played Grays five times last season, twice in the league, twice in the FA Trophy, and once in the Live Bunny Cup. All the matches were draws apart from the Live Bunny one, which we won. Grays were a tough band of hombres last season. Not so much this season; they languish down in the bottom half. One suspects the bankrolled Essex side are beginning to run out of steam (and possibly money).

The first half was nothing like any of our encounters from last season. Virtually the entire forty five minutes were played in the Grays half. The visitors mustered the occasional corner and shot from range, but by and large it was all Luton. As chance after chance rained down on Flitney’s goal during that opening period, it really dawned on me just how much we seem to have hit our stride now that the halfway point of the season is fast approaching.

By my count, more than half the outfield players in our team had reasonable chances to score in the first half hour alone. Bowditch, Snowden, Nicholls, Daniels, Taylor, and Moore, all would have felt they should have got the first goal. Snowden’s miss was the worst. It was practically an open goal. Trouble was, he delayed too long in lifting his leg back and that allowed Flitney just enough time to scramble back across his line and make a save fit for a Superman movie.

I should also mention Moore’s near miss, simply because he’s never scored for us before. He couldn’t have got much closer than he came in the 16th minute though. A free kick was whipped in by Taylor and Moore’s firm header hit the underside of the bar and bounced down. Then up and away. Unlucky my son!

Only in the 34rd minute did we finally get the reward our play deserved. It came from an unlikely source too. A corner from Nicholls fell down into a mass crowd of bodies and Aaron Ides it was who wrapped a high leg around the ball to force it home from eight yards out. The ball hit the net low and central but Flitney was unsighted. I think it might have gone through his legs. There were a also a couple of defenders near him getting in his way.

With one bus having arrived at the stop, a second wasn’t long in coming. It was a crazy piece of defending that led to it. Snowden received the ball just inside the area, three defenders in front of him. He quickly slipped it left to Bowditch, just one defender in front of him (Canoville).

Bowditch thought about bringing Daniels into play out wide but then Canoville bizarrely slipped over with nobody else near him. This allowed Bowditch to change his mind about the intended pass and just go through on the keeper instead. He slotted low back across Flitney into the corner and that was two-nil. Mass celebrations all round.

I don’t think the half could have gone much better really. Okay, I suppose more goals would have made it better, but two-nil would be good enough, I fancied.

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“If you don’t win from here, don’t anyone bother turning up for training on Monday!”

There was a slight bit of commotion outside the ground at half time. Apparently that guy with the sandwich board had taken up residence out in the car park and begun ringing his bell. Unlike that one time I’d gone out and spoken to him, he’d had two or three minions with him as well.

But those two or three hadn’t been enough. Thankfully a combination of stewards and police had safely escorted the lot of them off the premises and that was that. Hopefully sandwich board man will now take this experience as motivation for finally moving on and bothering some other club.

Back to the football, and the two teams ran out for the second half to Making your mind up by Buck’s Fizz.

There wasn’t much fizz to Grays’ play today, and so it continued in the 48th minute. Daniels went on a weaving run towards the corner edge of the penalty area and Haines couldn’t cope with the pace. He hacked him down just inside and that was a penalty all day long.

A strange conference then took place between some of our players near the penalty spot. Once it had subsided, Keith Keane strangely had hold of the ball instead of the usual penalty taker Kevin Nicholls. I knew what was going on here; Keane was being made to try and feel better because of what had gone on the other night.

Brian tried to say something stern to me about this but I waved him to silence. At two-nil ahead against this s__tbag team, I was willing to let this one ride. I just didn’t think the odds of Keane missing AND Grays scoring twice were that great. And on top of that, for all that he’s a bit of a knob; Keane is actually a decent penalty taker. He was officially Nicholls’ deputy the last time I checked.

After placing the ball on the spot about four times before he was satisfied, Keane then backed away and licked the corner of his mouth. Then he jogged forward and blasted it in to Flitney’s left. Three-nil. It was Tardelli time.

“Looks like he’s cheered up now” Brian noted, as Keane leaped into the crowd.

“Yep, and he’s just achieved a new first in the sport” I added. “He’s become the first ever player to jump into the crowd after scoring against Grays Athletic”.

Obviously that goal killed the game off. Given the packed schedule over the Christmas and New Year period, I immediately warmed all my subs on with a view to giving them a full forty minutes of pitch time. Soon then, on went Kearns, Gnakpa, and Cadamateri. The players to come off were Nicholls, Byrne, and Taylor.

By rights, Keane should be the man to come off when Kearns goes on (they’re more similar to each other than say, Nicholls and Kearns). However, I thought that to take Keane off today after fifty minutes would amount of to cruelty.

The Grays boss threw all his subs on soon after – Campana, Campbell, and Gross. It didn’t make a blind bit of difference to anything.

If we’d taken any one of our half dozen chances prior to about hmm I’d say the 70th minute, we might have gone on to get five or six. As it was, we ran of interest eventually and the match slowly began to wind down.

“No need for a warm down after the final whistle” I pointed out. “They’re already doing it!”

The DJ might as well have put some Christmas music on for the final twenty minutes just to keep the crowd at least entertained by something. At the final whistle though, huge roars of approval greeted the players. Not too many people seemed disappointed we’d only won three nil.

Despite all the joy in the air however, my afternoon ended on a sour note. Just as I got back in the changing room, I heard my phone going off in my coat pocket. It was signalling I’d received a text message.

Meet me in The Vibes Lounge at 9pm on Sunday night – J.S’.

--------

FULL TIME (att - 6962)

Luton Town 3 (Ides 34, Bowditch 40, Keane 48pen)

Grays Athletic 0

--------

(other results)

Accrington 2-1 Aldershot

Barnet 1-2 Grimsby

Bournemouth 2-2 Wycombe

Brentford 3-2 Rotherham

Chester 1-0 Cheltenham

Darlington 2-0 Exeter

Hereford 2-3 Chesterfield

Notts County 4-1 Torquay

Rochdale 2-1 Shrewsbury

Walsall 1-1 Lincoln

Yeovil 1-1 Oldham

--------

(top of table)

1 - Darlington (37)

2 - Luton (37)

3 - Yeovil (36)

--------

4 - Shrewsbury (35)

5 - Rochdale (35)

6 - Grimsby (35)

7 - Exeter (34)

--------

8 - Notts County (34)

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Scott, just a quick question...do you have any coaches employed at the club or is it just you and Brian running the team? Thought about it while reading one evening, and thought I'd ask :)

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The coaches, I guess, are just milling around in there somewhere. This is a topic which may be explored more in the future.

--------

27/12/10 - Know your enemy (part 1)

There was only person I knew with those initials and that was Jack Shandy.

It had been over a year since I met him that time at the mall. November of 2009, according to my diary. There was no way I was going to pass up the chance of a second meet. For one thing, I knew deep down in my heart that if I didn’t turn up, Jack would just hunt me down anyway to have out whatever it was he wanted to have out.

Secondly, this was the man I had good reason to believe had ordered the death of Caroline. The opportunity to look him in the eye and ask why was important to me. I might have been able to put that desire to the back of my mind up until now, but now Jack was forcing my hand somewhat.

The club he wanted to meet in – The Vibe Lounge – was one I’d never heard of before. The revelation it was on Luton’s main high street came as a surprise though. I’d been half expecting Jack to have me running down to London or something. Not that I couldn’t be forgiven for never having noticed it. The Vibe Lounge is basically one of those upper market cabaret bars where all the clientele wear suits and no-one can get a proper pint. The entrance is squashed between two shops down a little flight of stone steps, making The Vibe Lounge quite literally ‘underground’.

When I walked in at quarter to nine on the Sunday night (I was fifteen minutes early), I saw that Shandy was already there. Even though I’d long forgotten what his face looked like, he wasn’t hard to spot. It was the collection of bodyguards that gave him away. They were crowded all around him, some seated and some standing. I recognised one of them as Hassan, the elegantly dressed Asian who had first introduced me to Jack all that time ago at the mall.

Before going over to announce myself, I went to the long bar that hugged most of the left hand wall and ordered a whisky and coke. There was a large stage at the back of the room. A curvy woman of about forty was parading up and down on it singing about a guy who had supposedly left her for someone younger. She was wearing a glitzy red dress and was being backed by a guy on a grand piano.

Despite the fact we were only two days on from December the twenty fifth I could see no evidence of decorations. It was as if The Vibe Lounge had decided it was far too classy for Christmas. Most of the room was purple and black. If this place had existed in Gotham City, The Joker could have made it one of his hideouts.

“James” said Jack, like we were old buddies. “Do sit down”.

He gestured me into the empty seat next to him and I took it without saying a word. Our chairs were both facing diagonally forwards in the direction of the stage. I liked it that way. I didn’t particularly want to have to look at Shandy’s face too much as we talked.

“You should have presented yourself before you went to the bar” he said next. “This is a fantastic South African I’ve stumbled across. You would have been more than welcome to have a glass. You still can, should you wish to. Just say the word and I’ll pour – “

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather we just crack on with whatever the business at hand is so I can get going”.

“Fair enough”.

Shandy took a slow sip of his South African, composing himself. Then he gently dried his lips with a napkin.

“I’ve had a problem this week with an old employee of mine. Man by the name of Dennis Towzer. Know him?”

“Yeah I know him”.

“Thought you might. Dennis certainly knows you”.

“Okay. What about him?”

“Well, during one particularly nasty bout of drunkenness down The Roosting Sparrow on Friday, Dennis began expressing what can only be described as all kinds of sorrowful regrets over the death of his err colleague, Elliot Garry”.

“I didn’t know he cared about him that much” I remarked.

“Probably he didn’t. Probably what’s really bothering him is now being unemployable. No sense hiring Towzer to do anything now there’s no Garry. Towzer is a soft man. A featherweight. Only way he stayed in the game as long as he did was because of Garry. Believe me when I say; Towzer’s career as an amateur debt collector is finished. Nobody worth his salt will want to carry his sorry arse around on their shoulder anymore. Doesn’t help that he’s getting old either”.

Sighing, I shook my whisky rocks a little. Shandy was starting to lose my interest here. I wished he’d hurry up and get to the point.

“Anyway, the episode in The Sparrow probably wouldn’t have even come to my attention but for the fact your name cropped up. Apparently, so I'm led to believe, Towzer isn't the only one mournful over the incident that did for Garry".

And just like that, he had got to the point. In the blink of an eye.

I could sense that Shandy had now turned his head away from the stage and was looking right at me, no doubt wanting to see my reaction.

What I did and said next would be very important.

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27/12/10 - Know your enemy (part 2)

“Yeah I knew Caroline Smith” I said blankly. “She worked for – “

“The football club” Shandy finished off for me. “I knew that. I just didn’t know she knew you”.

“Well I did know her. She was a very close friend”.

As soon as I’d said that, he looked away towards the stage again. He tried to keep his face neutral but I could tell he’d just flinched on the inside.

More pertinently, the reaction was all the confirmation I needed that Towzer had been telling the truth. Shandy HAD been responsible (more or less) for Caroline’s death. And unfortunately for Shandy, that made him a dead man walking. Maybe I’d tried not to believe it before, as if maybe continuing to not know the killer or killers would make the memory of seeing her body easier to bear. I couldn’t deny my anger any longer though.

But right now, in this moment, I had to stay cool. One man against six would have been a fool’s errand.

“You know of course, why she died? And how?”

“Yes” I replied.

“And how do you feel about that?”

“Very annoyed”.

To that he turned to face me again.

“Am I going to have a problem on my hands with this? From you, I mean?”

“You’ve got six bodyguards guarding you, and you’re worried about me?”

“Not right now, but you’d be surprised the amount of half-arsed attempts on my well being I’ve had to tolerate over the years. They grow tiresome after a while. Even the pitifully funny ones”.

I said nothing. Drank my drink. Looked at the stage.

The cabaret singer was negotiating a really high pitched and difficult part of the song at the moment. As she did so, she rubbed her body up and down the side of the piano. It looked like she was trying to have sex with it.

“I like you, James” Shandy then said. “It would sadden me deeply if you and I had to fall out with each other”.

“You like me?”

“Of course! You’re the man who’s turned my football club around; rescued it from the abyss and sailed it right back up in the direction of the surface again. Maybe not all the way – yet – but certainly a significant portion of the way”.

“You’re a Luton fan?”

“A big fan. My whole life. Why else would a man like me stay in a s__thole town like this?!”

I shrugged my shoulders and supped my drink.

“Why do you think I indulged you like this tonight? Do you think I make a habit of inviting random people into my club to have a drink with me?”

I said nothing to that.

“She deserved what she got, you know. Caroline”.

Again I said nothing, only this time I turned to stare at him.

“We made a deal. Not my fault she went back on the terms and conditions. And it’s not like I didn’t give her plenty of chances to sort her situation out. Dead clients are no use to me. They can’t pay you anything. So believe me when I say; she had her chances. She just threw them all back in my face. Bad for her, I guess”.

I said nothing. Just stared.

Jack then briefly held his glass up and studied the remaining dregs on the inside.

“You know it’s funny, but it’s always the younger ones who seem to have the most trouble paying. Back in the old days, people around these parts would beg, borrow, and steal if they thought they were in danger of missing a deadline. They respected the game. And they respected the consequences for not playing by the rules even more so. I mean don’t get me wrong; there was still the odd problem now and again. But by and large, whole different world”.

Again I said nothing. Shandy looked at me for a moment then carried on.

“But young people these days – it’s as if they think their problems will just melt away if they ignore them. I swear some of them actually genuinely believe that permanent non-payment is a viable financial option, rather than the fatal misstep it proved for your friend”.

It almost killed me to do so, but yet again I said nothing.

“I know I shouldn’t be saying this, being in the business I’m in, but society would be in much better state if it didn’t obsess over living beyond its means. There’s just so much greed out there. So much sense of entitlement. I’m not just talking about money. People have so little patience. For anything! I swear you can’t even sit in the waiting room at the dentist anymore without some annoying fat f__k complaining about the wait”.

Sighing, he returned my stare again. I think this time he was trying to evaluate how angry I was (in hindsight anyway).

“But anyway, I think you’ll get over it” he said eventually. “From looking at you, and talking with you, I think you feel you should be angry at me, but deep down you're finding it a struggle, aren't you?! No, you're not that angry".

Actually I was. But I said nothing.

“You can go now, if you have to be going. I think I’ve said what needs to be said. I think we’re okay. Or at least we will be”.

I didn’t get up too quickly. I didn’t want to give the impression I was desperate to leave. Or scared. Instead I just calmly took my final sip of whisky, calmly stood up, calmly backed the chair away from the table, calmly squeezed my way through the closest two bodyguards, and then calmly walked away towards the exit.

But my mood on the way home was anything but calm. Anything but.

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29/12/10 - Luton on tour.

I’m not sure if it was a good or a bad thing, but I didn’t have much time to focus my negative energy on Jack Shandy. The Shrewsbury away game saw to that. It came just three days after Boxing day. It was a big game in the context of the season too; we would start the afternoon in second place and Shrewsbury just two points worse off in fourth. A win for the home side would see them leapfrog us into the automatic promotion slots and probably dislodge us at the same time.

The scheduling as a whole over the Christmas period though is an absolute disgrace. If Boxing day and today wasn’t bad enough, we also play Rochdale away on January 1st, Barnet away on January 3rd, Lincoln away on January 5th, and then Hereford at home on January 8th! That means that from Boxing day through January 8th we will have played 6 games in 14 days!

Worst of all, today’s game is the first of 4 away games IN A ROW. How in the bleeding hell did the fixture computer manage to come up with this crap?! Four away games in eight days! Doesn’t get much more daunting than that.

To be honest, even though we’ve risen into second place on the back of a good run, we’ll be lucky come the end of the Hereford game if we’re even still in the playoffs. We surely can’t perform effectively in all these games we’ve got coming up. We don’t have that big a squad.

This would be our third match against Shrewsbury since I became Luton boss. The other two were two years ago in League Two. The Shrews won the first encounter by 2-0 at the New Meadow before we then turned the tables with a 3-1 win at Fortress Kenilworth. Shrewsbury were champions that year with 84 points. The following year, they struggled to adapt to life in League One and went straight back down (albeit unluckily, as they did finish fourth bottom with 50 points).

The club have spent most of their 124 year history in the bottom two divisions of the football league, in its various incarnations. They did however enjoy one glorious spells in what is now The Championship throughout most of the eighties. Like us, they’ve only ever spent one season as low as The Conference before bouncing straight back up at the first attempt.

I definitely made sure I saw a bit of the town of Shrewsbury prior to the game. It was essential in taking my mind off events from Sunday night.

Shrewsbury is in Shropshire, about nine miles east of the Welsh border. It has a population of 95,000 and is very old-fashioned to look at. But definitely in a good way. It’s got lots of narrow streets and passage ways. A bit like York then. In fact I wouldn’t mind living in Shrewsbury, in all honestly. It’s a very nice place to walk around. Much nicer than Luton.

Such was my contentment in the town centre, I didn’t venture out to any museums or anything like that. I just explored the township and found a nice little pub to have my lunch in. In my own mellow little way I was quite happy, although I do wish sometimes I wasn’t always on my own when I explore these places.

The team news for the game was so-so. I had two notable absentees, both down the right hand side. Gnakpa and Taylor were missing so Ides and Cadamateri deputised. Losing Taylor for a game like this was an absolute arsehole.

To a decent League Two crowd of about 5000, the teams ran out to Eye of the Tiger (the dodgy Frank Bruno cover version from just a few years back), Shrewsbury in their traditional blue and yellow stripes and we in our orange.

“Anything on your mind?” Brian asked me during the warm-ups. “You didn’t seem yourself during the team-talk”.

“I’m fine” I replied without looking at him.

The referee was about to perform the coin toss. We were almost underway.

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Shrewsbury is in Shropshire, about nine miles east of the Welsh border. It has a population of 95,000 and is very old-fashioned to look at. But definitely in a good way. It’s got lots of narrow streets and passage ways. A bit like York then. In fact I wouldn’t mind living in Shrewsbury, in all honestly. It’s a very nice place to walk around. Much nicer than Luton

Hi Scott

As ever brilliant stuff, just dont mention that 4 letter word Y**K for the rest of the summer.....cant help but think real life crept in a little(just to rub our noses in it).......but would have to agree both York and Shrewsbury are lovely places for a visit and yes much nicer than Luton.

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The York thing was accidental! lol

--------

29/12/10, League Match 21

Shrewsbury Town v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (26 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (63 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Aaron Ides (7 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Tony James (80 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (18 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (96 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (115 apps, 14 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (73 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Danny Cadamateri (48 apps, 14 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (8 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (51 apps, 23 goals)

It was a cagey start to the match. Both teams recognised the importance of the occasion and the quality of their opponents. Watching the first five minutes, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was a Serie A game.

The Shrews went close first though, and the mistake that led to it will live long in the memory, sadly for on-loan Dorian Moore. He basically had the ball thirty yards out from his own goal, tried to roll the ball left to Byrne, but completely under-hit it. The pass went straight to striker Constable. He was clean through on Stubhaug here but messed up the chance by trying to chip him prematurely. I think he’d been expecting the keeper to go down. Except he didn’t. Stubhaug just stood where he was and caught the ball. Poor finish.

Our boys responded by going much closer from a much poorer chance. Daniels chipped the ball forward to Bowditch on the edge of the area. He beat Clarke to the ball but only by heading it high up in the air. Fortunately, Clarke couldn’t readjust by the time the ball came down again and Bowditch managed to control and move forwards. He shot before being tackled and Lucas saved low down to his right, palming the ball around the post. Good play.

One of Clarke’s partners in the Shrewsbury defence today was David McCracken, he having been a member of the Luton Town Blue Square Premier Championship winning squad of last season.

“Interesting that Shrewsbury wanted him but we didn’t” Brian pointed out, just after McCracken had smartly shielded the ball from Snowden to allow it over the by-line.

“I know. If they’re signing our cast-offs then really we should be the better side. We should be looking to finish higher than them this season”.

But after matching them early doors, Shrewsbury began to take control after twenty minutes. At least in terms of the balance of play.

Their next chance came as the result of another lapse in concentration, this time from Tony James. He lost the ball fifty or sixty yards out to the awkwardly named Cansdell-Sheriff. The guy quickly then began dribbling in the direction of our penalty area. Moore was still between him and the goal but Cansdell-Sheriff shot earlier than anyone expected. The ball fizzed low past Moore, low past the unprepared Stubhaug, and hit the base of the post. When it bounced out, Ides collected five yards outside the penalty area and assumed possession.

What subsequently happened only three minutes after that is difficult to remember in the exact order. A corner went in from Dunfield and James headed it up in the air. When it came down – ten yards out but at an angle – Holt volleyed but didn’t catch it sweetly. The ball hit Keane and dropped to Cox, who was a similar distance out from where Holt had been but on a poorer angle. Never the less, his shot was caught sweeter and Stubhaug had to make an instinctive parry out to the far side.

Next up was a sweeping move involving Cox, Dunfield, Cansdell-Sheriff, and Constable. The ball went first left, then central, then right, as the home side showed off the full brunt of their attacking flair (relative to League Two). Finally, Cox chipped the ball in and Constable headed straight into Stubhaug’s arms. Hard to tell whether Constable messed that up or whether Moore did a good job of putting him off.

Despite all the home pressure, the final chance worth mentioning in the first half went to us, giving me hope that we were at least a ‘reasonable’ threat in this match. Cadamateri got the ball for about the first time in half an hour and threaded a pass through to Snowden. It was just in front of him but the long-legged striker managed to poke an effort past Lucas and into the side netting. That only just went past the post. Probably by millimetres.

Nil-nil and game on for the second half!

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“Play better!”

And we began doing just that. Or at least Cadamateri did. Using close quarter skill rather than raw pace, Cadders outwitted Gilligan and passed infield to Snowden. There weren’t too many options on so Snowy went alone. He pulled the trigger left footed and dragged a low shot towards the near post. Alas, not enough pace really and Lucas was able to gather low down to his left without spilling.

First and last time I’m going to call him Snowy.

Shrewsbury responded by going much closer. A lovely flick-on in midfield by Cox allowed Dunfield to gather and go charging towards the Luton penalty area. Thirty five yards out, and with at least two defenders in front of him, Dunfield unleashed an absolute rocket. It looked destined for the top right hand corner, but Stubhaug launched himself into a Superman dive and tipped over the bar.

On the hour mark I tentatively made just one substitution, Poole going on for Daniels. The Shrews also made one change, Hindmarch for Gilligan.

In the 63rd minute there was another opportunity for the hosts. It was a play that caught us completely off-guard. Tierney was barely across the halfway line with the ball when he suddenly swung it long and into the box.

This must have been something Shrewsbury do with regularity because Holt had anticipated the play. His long legs had taken him into the box (he’d stolen a march on Tony James) and when the ball came down he cleverly re-adjusted his neck to glance one in on goal. It wasn’t a bad header but perhaps lacked pace. Stubhaug was able to react just in time, dive, and paw it away on the half volley. It came at him at Gordon Banks height that.

Shrewsbury were fully justifying their position as the fourth best team in the league, and went close again in the 68th. This time Dunfield swung a free kick in on the diagonal and Constable rose the highest. His header probably would have gone in the near post had it been on target. As it was, his contact was slightly too heavy and he missed by a foot.

We were riding our luck just a touch so on went my second substitution. I introduced Gill for the surprisingly lacklustre Keane. The Shrewsbury manager seemed to pay no mind.

And the lack of interest was reasonably justified. Nine minutes might have then gone by without another chance, but when one finally did, it was for Shrewsbury. Hindmarch found himself with space in midfield and slotted a low pass out to Cox on the right. The defence was struggling to get back into position here and Holt had an acre of space in the middle.

Cox picked him out with a low square pass across the edge of the six yard box and it looked for all the world the game’s opening goal. But Holt fluffed his lines. Somehow he hit the only part of the goal where Stubhaug’s body was, and believe me when I say he was not an easy target to find. When something like that happens you seriously start to think it could be your day.

With time ticking on, and with Shrewsbury looking a damn strong side, I started to think that maybe a draw wouldn’t be a bad result. Obviously you start every game hoping you can get maximum points, but sometimes you’ve just got to take stock and re-adjust your expectations based on what’s going on in front of you.

I made my third and final substitution in the 81st minute. Gnakpa went on for Ides. The Shrews then sent Hayes and Taylor on simultaneously shortly after. All the cards were now played. It was time for the end game.

On 85 minutes we created a chance to snatch it. Cadamateri did some exceptional work down the right before finding Snowden with an accurate low pass into the area. Little dived in to tackle him but Snowden dummied and dragged the ball back, taking Little out of play. Then The Snowball pulled the same trick on a bemused Clarke. More defenders were steaming in with desperate expressions on their faces but The Snowball then did their job for them by blasting over the bar.

Last time I’m going to call him The Snowball. That one didn’t really work either.

Fittingly, in a game where the final shot count would be 10-5 in their favour, Shrewsbury had the final effort. But would it pinch them the points?

Err no. It wasn’t even that much of a chance. In fact it wasn’t even a half chance. It was more like a quarter chance. Holt went for a header under the close scrutiny of two defenders but could only produce a loopy nothing of a header which made the crowd groan.

Good game though. Good game.

--------

FINAL SCORE (att - 4998)

Shrewsbury Town 0

Luton Town 0

--------

(other results)

Aldershot 1-0 Brentford

Cheltenham 2-0 Hereford

Chesterfield 1-2 Darlington

Exeter 2-1 Notts County

Grimsby 0-2 Rochdale

Lincoln 0-1 Grays

Oldham 1-1 Bournemouth

Rotherham 1-0 Chester

Torquay 0-0 Barnet

Walsall 5-0 Yeovil

Wycombe 3-2 Accrington

--------

| Pos   | Inf   | Team          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Darlington    |       | 21    | 12    | 4     | 5     | 34    | 20    | +11   | 40    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
[b]| 2nd   |       | Luton         |       | 21    | 11    | 5     | 5     | 35    | 21    | +14   | 38    | 
[/b]| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Rochdale      |       | 21    | 11    | 5     | 5     | 29    | 22    | +7    | 38    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Yeovil        |       | 21    | 10    | 8     | 3     | 25    | 19    | +6    | 38    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Exeter        |       | 21    | 10    | 7     | 4     | 25    | 18    | +7    | 37    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Shrewsbury    |       | 21    | 11    | 3     | 7     | 35    | 27    | +8    | 36    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | Wycombe       |       | 21    | 10    | 6     | 5     | 27    | 21    | +6    | 36    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Walsall       |       | 21    | 10    | 5     | 6     | 30    | 20    | +10   | 35    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | Grimsby       |       | 21    | 9     | 8     | 4     | 27    | 19    | +8    | 35    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Notts County  |       | 21    | 10    | 2     | 9     | 27    | 27    | E     | 32    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | Aldershot     |       | 21    | 9     | 3     | 9     | 31    | 29    | +2    | 30    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | Barnet        |       | 21    | 8     | 6     | 7     | 19    | 17    | +2    | 30    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | Accrington    |       | 21    | 9     | 3     | 9     | 31    | 29    | +2    | 30    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 14th  |       | Rotherham     |       | 21    | 8     | 6     | 7     | 23    | 25    | -2    | 30    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Lincoln       |       | 21    | 8     | 4     | 9     | 26    | 25    | +1    | 28    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Chesterfield  |       | 21    | 8     | 4     | 9     | 29    | 32    | -3    | 28    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Cheltenham    |       | 21    | 6     | 8     | 7     | 25    | 23    | +2    | 26    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Oldham        |       | 21    | 7     | 4     | 10    | 28    | 29    | -1    | 25    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Grays         |       | 21    | 7     | 4     | 10    | 29    | 34    | -5    | 25    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Bournemouth   |       | 21    | 6     | 6     | 9     | 23    | 22    | +1    | 24    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 21st  |       | Torquay       |       | 21    | 5     | 6     | 10    | 22    | 33    | -11   | 21    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 22nd  |       | Hereford      |       | 21    | 3     | 6     | 12    | 17    | 36    | -19   | 15    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 23rd  |       | Brentford     |       | 21    | 2     | 4     | 15    | 18    | 42    | -24   | 10    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 24th  |       | Chester       |       | 21    | 2     | 3     | 16    | 13    | 34    | -21   | 9     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

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30/12/10 - Coward

“Ze answer is no” said Dilic calmly.

“No?”

“No”.

I was a bit taken aback by that. For a moment I didn’t say anything else, just awkwardly fiddled with my thumb. I also looked left, right, at the ceiling, and diagonally downwards at my shoulder.

“Just so we’re clear – just so nothing got lost in translation there – you do know I didn’t mean kill him, right? When I said beat him up, I didn’t mean beat him up and kill him. I just literally meant beat him up”.

“I know vot you meant. Ze answer is no”.

This time I looked only at him. Open-mouthed.

“Don’t look at my like zis! Vat?! You vant me to start a war with ze English?! I cannot do zis. Not with a man like him. It’s not worth it. Look, I’m sorry about your friend. I really am. But zer’s nothing you can do about it”.

“And what about Garry? You lost someone in this too, Dragomir! Let us not forget. So let me get this straight; someone f__ks with your man, and you’re just going to let that ride?! You’re not going to do anything about that?”

“Are you kidding? I should be thanking Shandy for taking that piece of s__t off my hands, not seeking to liquidate him. Garry and Towzer were – hmm, how you say? – my least effective men. By far".

“Yeah but – “

“Maybe, if ze hit had been on Garry instead of Caroline, my opinion would be different. If Zat had been ze case, Shandy would have been deliberately making an act of war. He knew Garry worked for me, after all. However, ze hit wasn’t on Garry! Shandy wouldn’t have known Garry was in ze alley! And because of zis, I cannot sanction action against Shandy. I have to think about how I vud react if ze ball was on ze other foot, no?”

We were interrupted at that point by the appearance of Hedges. The butler walked into the dining room carrying a silver plate covered with a big silver dome. He walked straight up to Dilic and carefully placed the tray down between his knife and fork.

“Your dinner, sir”.

“Zank you”.

Hedges then lifted up the silver dome to reveal a truly revolting sight. It looked like, well, it WAS an animal head. It was covered in goo and sauce.

“The hell is that?” I asked, recoiling at the smell.

“Stuffed – cow’s – head” Dilic explained slowly, waving Hedges out of the room. “Tis a delicacy back where I come from. No doubt you vish it was Shandy’s head, no? If I had known you vos going to barge in on me like zis, I vud have prepared some for you”.

“Oh that’s quite alright” I said.

Half a minute of silence then passed as I watched my host tie a white napkin around his neck befpre mercilessly begin to tuck in.

“You don’t actually have to beat him up” I then told him. “You could just do what you did with me that time i.e. tie him up in that warehouse and make him think he’s going to be sawed to pieces. To be honest, it’s not physical pain I want him to feel anyway. I just want him to be scared for his life. Just for one night. Just for one night, I want him to feel like Caroline would have felt in those last few seconds. I want him to feel what it’s like on the other side of the fence”.

“Ze answer is still no”.

“What about the favour I did you with the spider? Does that count for nothing?!"

“Ze girl worker killed ze spider. You told me ze story”.

“Okay, what about Cassie?! What about the time I went down to that Italian restaurant for you to try and persuade her to dump that guy?”

“You failed. She stayed with him”.

“F__k’s sake”.

I’d had enough now. He wasn’t going to change his mind. That much was abundantly clear. I was wasting my evening.

For another minute or so I sat there with my head in my hands listening to him eat with his mouth open. Then I stood up to leave.

Just as I got to the door, I turned around.

“What do you do with the rest of the cow?”

“Brute’s dinner”.

“Okay, cool”.

Then I finally left.

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31/12/10 - Conflict of interest

I pulled up to the ground today to find a very disturbing scene indeed. That annoying Asian guy with the bell and the sandwich board was back. He wasn’t alone anymore either. He had about seven or eight followers, all calling for football to be banned as I cruised on past them.

The two protestors on the very end were Darren and Nicky.

‘What the hell?!’

As quick as I could, I parked up and then retreated back out to where the commotion was. I had to quickly cover my ears as I got there. The Asian guy rang his bell and the jingling sound was deafening. No-one amongst his team flinched. He must have already made them deaf.

“What are you two doing out here?” I asked Nicky and Darren, taking my hands away from my ears again.

“I’m not doing anything” Darren got in first. “I’m trying to persuade her to come back inside. She’s joined the protesters!”

“That’s right!” Nicky cried, fist-pumping the air. “WEEE WILL WEEE WILL WE WILL NOT BE MOVED! WEEE WILL WEEE WILL – “

“NICKY!” I shouted.

That got her attention.

"What?"

“You do realise this protest is aimed at getting the government to ban football, right?”

“Uh-huh”.

“And you do realise that me and Darren just happen to really like football, right?”

“Uh-huh”.

“Then what the hell are you doing?”

“Oh, no, you don’t understand! I know you love football. I know that. It’s just that, well, it just so happens I really love protests. And come on! Seriously? Like the government would ever actually ban football!”

Momentarily taking a break from the conversation, I looked to my left. I’d half expected sandwich board man to come stick his oar in now I was 'harassing' one of his own. Right this minute though he seemed too busy trying to strap a second sandwich board around the neck of one of his recruits.

“You really love protests, do you?”

“Totally! Protests are like – really nice gatherings - where people get to stand up together and fight for what they believe in”.

“But you don’t actually believe in banning football” Darren reminded her.

“No, but these people do. And take my word for it, sometimes, when you’re protesting, good numbers can be really hard to come by. That’s why I’m helping out. Protesting is a long hard struggle. With many obstacles along the way. And every time you cut off the head of one hydrant, another always seems to spring straight back up. Having good numbers in your corner can really help you through the tough times”.

“I wish you’d produce this kind of thinking when it comes to Luton Town” I said.

“What I’m wondering is why protesters would want the cut the tops off hydrants” Darren chuckled. “Then again, protesting does look a thirsty business”.

Just at that moment, sandwich board man rang his bell really loudly again, this time at some poor sod out jogging.

“Ow!” I said, placing hands over ears again. “Jesus! I swear I’m going to shove that bell where the sun doesn’t shine one of the days!”

“And I’ll help you” - Darren.

“You might take our bells, but you’ll never take our freedom!” Nicky said, doing that fist-pump thing again.

“No, but Erica will take your job if I don’t get you back to your desk”.

“It’s my lunch hour!”

“She wouldn’t care. Darren, I think we’re going to have to do this the hard way. You get her legs”.

Darren thankfully caught on before Nicky could react. Within seconds we had her up in the air, me with my arms under her armpits and Darren with her legs. Then we began to jog through the car park as fast as we could. She didn’t protest much. Just giggled endlessly.

“Hey!” cried one of sandwich board man’s subordinates, seeing what we were doing. “What the hell is this?!”

Neither of us turned our backs to tell him.

We carried her all the way through reception, all the way through the ground floor corridor, and then into the office. We didn’t put her down until we were literally stood either side of the chair by her desk. Then we carefully lowered her into it. It wasn’t an especially difficult journey. It’s not like she weighs much.

“I’m not sure if I want to ask” said Brenda, as me and Darren returned to our own seats.

“Team-building exercise” I told her.

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December 2010 round-up of the other divisions

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Premiership

Top – Liverpool (42), Arsenal (41), Man Utd (40), Chelsea (36), Portsmouth (34), Tottenham (33), Man City (29)

Bottom – West Brom (22), West Ham (22), Ipswich (20), Reading (19), Blackburn (18), Wigan (18), Fulham (15), QPR (10)

Pool’s lead at the top is reduced to just one point, in potentially one of the most exciting title races of all time. Hard to call this one. At the top of the goalscoring charts, Michael Owen is literally rolling back the years for his beloved Liverpool. He has 13 Premier League strikes so far this term and leads by 3.

QPR are falling away at the bottom; they picked up just 3 points in December. Fulham would seem the likeliest to join them at the moment, but after that it’s one from any number of clubs. Again, very hard to call.

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Championship

Top – Bolton (48), Coventry (47), Wolves (41), Birmingham (40), Cardiff (40), Swansea (40), Bristol City (39), Charlton (39)

Bottom – Leicester (26), Burnley (25), Doncaster (24), Blackpool (24), Southampton (23), Huddersfield (22), Barnsley (21), Preston (17)

Bolton and Coventry have opened up a clear gap over the rest of the field here. Sheffield Wednesday had a poor December and drop out of the playoffs to be replaced by Bristol City. A Wolves and Birmingham playoff final would drum up a fair amount of interest in the midlands, no?

At the bottom, Preston look in big trouble but the rest of them still have plenty of time to put a run together. Top marksman in The Championship is Michael Mifsud of Coventry with 12 ripples of the onion bag.

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League One

Top – Millwall (44), Crystal Palace (37), MK Dons (37), Hartlepool (37), Colchester (36), Scunthorpe (33), Stockport (32), Southend (32)

Bottom – Leyton Orient (26), Morecambe (25), Bristol Rovers (24), Bradford (23), Bury (21), Peterborough (19), Tranmere (14)

Stunning month for Millwall. They began it in third place but now sit seven points clear. A bit of pressure on Steve at Selhurt Park, me thinks. They were top at the end of November but are now only precariously clinging onto an automatic promotion slot. Leading scorer for this league is now Steven McLean of Plymouth who has 14 goals.

No change in the bottom four, but aside from Tranmere, everyone still has a fighting chance of progressing up the table. It just never rains but pours for poor Bradford, does it?

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Blue Square Premier

Top – Kidderminster (50), AFC Wimbledon (44), Dagenham & Redbridge (43), Burton Albion (42), Oxford United (42), Wrexham (41), York City (39)

Bottom – Chelmsford (27), Fleetwood (25), Forest Green (24), Woking (24), Stevenage (24), Welling (23), Crawley (21), Altrincham (19)

It looks like league football could be returning to Aggborough for the first time since 2005. Kiddie lead by 6 from AFC Wimbledon. Lots of big clubs in the mix here. Going to be a long tough fight for playoff berths.

In the basement, Stevenage continue to be the surprise team struggling to pick up points. It would really be a turn-up if the Hertfordshire-based club went through the trapdoor.

Crawley are also struggling. Someone needs to put some money into that club. Pronto.

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Blue Square North

Top – Stalybridge (36), Worcester (36), Barrow (36), Hinckley (34), Droylsden (33), Hyde (33), Redditch (32), AFC Farsley (32)

Bottom – Alfreton (28), Boston Utd (28), Workington (23), AFC Telford (20), Harrogate (19), Hednesford (16), Guiseley (11), Cambridge City (9)

Stalybridge keep their lead but only on goal difference. Redditch though drop from second to seventh after a poor month. It’s a really tight title race this. Only four points separates top from eighth. The goalscoring race is a tie between Nathan Joynes of Staly and Spencer Weir-Daley of Redditch. Both have 12.

Guiseley and Cambridge City only had 4 and 2 points respectively at the end of November. They now have 11 and 9 after a much improved December. They’ll still have to go some though if they’re to survive. Telford and Boston are still having shocking seasons by their standards.

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Blue Square South

Top – Bishops Stortford (39), Ebbsfleet (39), Braintree (38), Newport (35), Havant & Waterlooville (33), Eastbourne (32), Merthyr (31), Bath City (30)

Bottom – Hampton & Richmond (24), Bromley (23), Bognor Regis (22), Team Bath (21), Tiverton (21), Maidenhead (20), Weston Super Mare (20), Dover (9)

We have a new leader in the Blue Square South, where Bishops Stortford have taken 13 points in December to displace Ebbsfleet on goal difference. Top scorer for the division is Nathan Crabb of Eastbourne with 12 strikes.

Dover are easily the most doomed team in this entire update. After picking up just 1 point in December, you can officially forget them. They’re gone. Any number of clubs could be joining them. It’s a bit of a log jam from Weston Super Mare upwards.

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01/01/11 - James Martin : manager of Luton Town from 2008 to at least 2011

Despite all the away games we have to play at the moment, I was glad today’s was away. Playing at home on New Year’s means I have to trust the players not to go overboard with the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Believe me when I say; footballers are not always the best at taking themselves home early on a night out, even when they’ve started out with the best of intentions (see the film When Saturday Comes, for example. It’s very lifelike).

If we’re playing away though, I can potentially force us into a hotel the night before where I can keep an eye on everyone. Just so long of course the place we’re travelling to isn’t too close to home. I couldn’t justify an overnight stay, for example, if we were away to Barnet or Stevenage. In fact I would say anywhere under two hours and the option just wouldn’t be there for me. Earlier this season Erica disallowed a proposed stay in Nottingham. The distance? One hour and forty three.

Lucky then today’s game was at Rochdale. According to my Sat Nav, it takes three hours and five minutes to get from Luton to Rochdale. No problem at all getting clearance for this one.

We stayed at the three star Britannia Hotel near Manchester. Three stars is about par for the course in League Two. It’s probably five stars all the way for Premier League players, but down in the feeder leagues things aren’t so privileged. According to Luton's current crop of longer serving players, the club was allowed four star treatment back in The Championship and League One days. We still have four star stays pn my watch sometimes, but only when the players can be bothered throwing an extra few bob in to make up the difference.

The quality of overnight stays get progressively worse the further down the pyramid you go. In the Conference we regularly stayed at one star B and B’s (with chipped wallpaper and flies on the wall), and I’ve heard some Blue Square South clubs even kip in hostels and homeless shelters.

I still allowed the players a little party on the run up to midnight last night. To have not done so – to have kept them in their rooms playing video games – would have been to incite resentment. I did impose a limit on the amount of pints however. They were allowed three and no more.

I was only kidding about the hostels and homeless shelters thing, by the way. I’ve no idea what overnight accommodation is like in the sixth tier.

Rochdale FC have spent most of their 104 year history playing in the fourth tier. They have literally in all that time only spent five or six seasons playing any higher. They’ve never gone down to The Conference like we have. So that’s something. In 1962 they reached the League Cup final, probably the highlight of their entire history. They lost to Norwich, if you’re interested.

We’ve played them twice whilst I’ve been manager, both meetings coming two years ago when we were last in League Two. Both matches ended in 1-1 draws. Going into today’s game, ‘The Dale’ were third in the table just behind us on goal difference. Thus, just as the Shrewsbury game was, this was massive.

I didn’t bother seeing any sights. After checking out Rochdale on Wikipedia, I couldn’t actually find any sights to see!

This might be a long stretch of quick-fire games we’re involved in, but none of the players have run out of gas just yet. Therefore I was able to name an unchanged line-up from the one that drew away to Shrewsbury. I did make one change though. In a bid to possibly be more effective going forwards than we were in that match, I put a fit again Gnakpa on the right wing and left Ides at right back.

Come on Hatters!

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01/01/11, League Match 22

Rochdale v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (27 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (64 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Aaron Ides (8 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Tony James (81 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (19 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (97 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (116 apps, 14 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (74 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Claude Gnakpa (123 apps, 3 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (9 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (52 apps, 23 goals)

It’s just occurred to me that a goalkeeper has never scored for me during my managerial career to date. I think it will happen one day though. It’s like a golfer trying to get a hole-in-one. It will only happen very rarely, but it WILL happen. One day.

The two teams ran out to If you don’t know me by now by Simply Red, Rochdale in their blue and black, and we in our white shirts and orange shorts. The weather was icy cold.

“I’d definitely take another draw today” I said.

“Firmly agree” replied Brian, slapping his woolly gloves together and giving them a rub. Frost fell off every time he banged them.

It was a scrappy opening. No bad thing as far as we were concerned. Although we didn’t look very accomplished on the ball, our physical attributes were keeping the Rochdale midfielders firmly in check. The entire first ten minutes produced no chances to either side.

Then things picked up. Attacking their Thwaites Beer Stand (no I’m not making that one up), The Dale rallied just long enough to win a corner off James. In it went and Stubhaug botched what should have been an easy punch. The ball went back up in the air, and when it came down again, Higginbottom headed over. Not an easy chance that. He’d had to generate his own power. There had been men on the line too.

A bit of controversy next, as Nicholls and McArdle decided to have themselves a little rumble in the jungle behind the ref’s back. The lineman saw it though and briefly I thought both men would walk. In fact I’d just started to wonder which team would suffer the most if both went off when out came a yellow for Nicholls. Two seconds later, yellow for McArdle. Leniency all round then.

In the 24th minute Charlie Daniels picked up the ball wide left and forced Wiseman into backtracking. Then he put the brakes on, aware as he was that no-one was making a run for him.

But then Bowditch made a run! He sprinted between Bower and McArdle from a standing start and Daniels fed him around the outside. The ball was bouncing awkwardly here, not to mention away from goal, but Bowditch managed to wrap his right in-step perfectly around the outside of the sphere. It went across goalkeeper Russell, bounced just once more, then hit the far corner of the net halfway up. One-nil Hatters!

I was so surprised that we’d scored I couldn’t resist roaring and doing a little two-step. If we’d been anywhere else but Spotland, the sound of this might have been drowned out by the crowd. As it was, we were at Spotland and people could hear me all over the ground. I took a good bit of flak for that celebration. For at least the remainder of the first half.

Nicholls then forced Russell to tip around the post from distance, but after that it was all Dale. They definitely deserved to draw level by half time.

On 32 minutes, Shaw went through on goal by accepting the thirty-first pass of a stunning move. If only his first touch hadn’t taken the ball slightly too close to Stubhaug. The Luton keeper managed to reach it more or less at the same time Shaw did, and the resulting collision sent the ball spiralling out for a throw-in on the far side.

After 36, we needed Byrne on the line to save us. A corner was swung in by Deeney and Bower headed with annoying accuracy towards the top left hand corner. Byrne jumped and headed it up and away, and our lead remained intact. I actually thought Bower might have fouled Moore when he jumped there, but nothing given. Thankfully it didn’t cost us.

Such was Rochdale’s sudden dominance, I almost made a rash tactical change before half time. What that would have actually been, I don’t know. As it was, I kept the faith and the home side created just one more chance, Keltie rolling a shot off his boot that Stubhaug had to step backwards and catch just in front of the crossbar.

Luton one to the good at the break then, but a gruelling second half was surely just around the corner.

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“Hold onto this lead!”

The two teams ran back out to some old boy-band song I couldn’t put a name to. Might have been East 17. Might not have been. It certainly had no place being played at Spotland at 4pm on a Saturday though, that’s for sure.

Straight from the kick-off, a gift from the heavens was presented to us. Rochdale passed the ball into their back ranks and Wiseman proved to be a not very wise man at all. He tried to nudge it forty yards back to the keeper with the outside of his foot, but just didn’t get the required purchase. Snowden intercepted and now had the chance to bear down on Russell.

It was cool as you like from Snowden. He waited to see which direction the keeper was leaning towards, then coolly slotted in the other direction. The ball rolled low inside the post and we had a two goal cushion. Pandemonium in the away section!

That goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of our hosts. Rather than charge straight back on the attack in an attempt to make amends, they dallied around for five minutes looking like lost souls. They looked in fact like they wanted to call timeout so they could go back in the dressing room and have another team talk.

In the meantime, our boys smelled blood. Particularly Snowden. In the 50th minute, the big man took a pass from Gnakpa before then beating two men inside the area. He’d wormed his way into a position to shoot here, albeit from a ridiculously tight angle. Devoid of many options inside the box (players often struggle to keep up with Snowden. He’s like an avalanche!), he took the shot on and hit the outside of the post. The ball deflected over the advertising boards and that was a goal kick.

On the hour I made two subs; Poole for Daniels and Kearns for Keane. Both were like for like. No change in tactics for me at the moment. Not whilst we were 2-0 up and in control.

The Dale then made all three of theirs at once. Anderson, Hunt, and Rundle were the men to join the fray.

It didn’t make all that much difference. Such was our confidence now that we pretty much ended up dominating the second half in the same vein as Rochdale did the first. Only once did the home side threaten to get back into it from this point forwards, and it came in the 72nd minute.

Rundle made a nifty little run down the left before firing too far behind everyone for his cross to be a threat. Kennedy picked it up forty yards out though and belted it Brazilian style on the run. The ball hit Nicholls and deflected maybe a foot wide. That shot didn’t belong at Spotland. It belonged in the Macarana stadium, Brazil. It really was that well hit.

But the corner came to nothing and after that we reassumed control. Bowditch, Snowden, and Poole, all had half chances to add to the lead only to discover Russell in fine fettle. Bowditch’s chance was his last touch before going off and being replaced by Cadamateri. We were well inside the last ten minutes by this point.

With Rochdale fans beginning to stream out of the ground in droves, Snowden made the game safe. Kearns turned on a sixpence inside the centre circle, looked up, spotted the run of Snowden, then curled a beautiful ball over the top of the defence. Anderson was still favourite to get there ahead of Snowden but the striker knocked him over with an astute barge of the shoulder. Then he delicately chipped over a static Russell. Game over. 86 minutes were on the clock.

At the final whistle I shook my opposite number’s hand and then directed all my players over to the away fans. I don’t like to do this too often, but I reckoned today they had earned the adulation. And I reckoned our fans deserved a little something too. Can’t be easy committing to a six hour round trip when suffering the mother of all hangovers. Well okay, not everyone in the world gets blind stinking drink on New Years, but a handy percentage certainly does.

And besides, we were celebrating. We were celebrating because..

WE - ARE - TOP OF THE LEAGUE, SAY WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!

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FINAL SCORE (att - 2958)

Rochdale 0

Luton Town 3 (Bowditch 24, Snowden 46, 86)

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(other results)

Accrington 2-2 Cheltenham

Barnet 3-0 Grays

Bournemouth 2-1 Rotherham

Brentford 1-1 Chesterfield

Chester 2-1 Exeter

Darlington 1-1 Grimsby

Hereford 1-3 Torquay

Lincoln 1-2 Oldham

Notts County 4-2 Shrewsbury

Walsall 3-0 Wycombe

Yeovil 1-1 Aldershot

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(top of table)

1 - Luton (41)

2 - Darlington (41)

3 - Yeovil (39)

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4 - Rochdale (38)

5 - Walsall (38)

6 - Exeter (37)

7 - Shrewsbury (36)

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8 - Wycombe (36)

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Good stuff! 3-0 away was totally awesome. By the way, the brazilian stadium is called the Maracanã. Oh, and brazilian football is a load of crap. I did try supporting a local team when I first got here a few years ago, but couldn't stand the football.

KUTGW Scott, this story gets better with every match!

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Thanks, Patone

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02/01/11 - Coach wishlist

We currently have two coaches at the club; Harry Stackman and Dean Birkett. Harry is the fitness coach, for which no explanation is needed. Dean though is simply a coach. He teaches a bit of everything. We used to have four coaches, but then I culled them one summer because I needed a bit more leeway in the player budget.

“This is hopeless” said Brian, as Michael Taylor flashed another free kick twenty yards wide and thirty yards high.

“Yep. Got to agree, unfortunately”.

We were stood at the side of the pitch watching the players train. Dean was taking the session and right now he was working with them on direct free kicks. The trouble was, with the possible exception of Nicholls and Keane, they were all complete garbage at taking them. Aside from the aforementioned pair no-one else could hit a barn door.

And no disrespect to Dean, but he was hardly helping anyone improve. The trouble with being an all-rounder is; it usually means you’re good at most things but excel at nothing. That’s definitely the case with Dean.

“You know what?” I began, ducking to avoid a wayward attempt from Byrne. “When I eventually move to a Premiership Club, and money’s no object, I’m going to have about ten coaches”.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’m going to have a free kick coach – Actually, let me start again – I’m going to have a direct free kick coach, an indirect free kick coach, a passing coach, a tackling coach, a corner kick coach, a throw-in coach, and a shooting coach”.

“That’s only seven” Brian pointed out.

“Well obviously I’d still have the fitness coach, so that would make eight”.

“So what will the other two be?”

I gave that some thought for a minute. In the meantime, Charlie Daniels sliced his latest free kick so far wide it almost hit the corner flag. It almost hit Fred too, who was milling around doing something.

“No no, you need to focus more when you hit it!” Dean told Charlie by way of post-mortem. Very helpful that.

“Well?” Brian prodded.

“Erm, right. Well, I’d round things off, I guess, by having a tactics coach and a heading coach”.

“Reasonable choices, I suppose”.

Taking a glance at my watch, I realised it was already time for the after-training Magic Temple game. My enthusiasm had waned just a touch for the whole thing since Keanegate. However, there was no way I could stop playing. To do that would make Keane's year. And I didn’t want to make Keane's year.

Once I’d triple-blown my whistle, the players gathered up all the balls and bibs and various other assorted crap, and then we all trudged back towards the tunnel. We used to finish every training session with an actual match. Not anymore. The end of training match had now been permanently scrapped so we had more time to play Magic Temple prior to going home.

I was near the back of everyone as I entered the changing rooms. Ahead of me I could hear some kind of commotion.

“What going on?!” I enquired.

“The cards are all gone!” said Spencer. “Look!”

So I did look. As well as scrapping the end of training match, we’d also begun the practice of getting all the cards out before training and leaving them on the table in the corner ready. We’d done that today, too. The trouble was, I was looking at the table now and there were no cards on it.

“Well where the hell are they?” I asked.

“F__k knows” – Cadamateri.

For about a minute we all stood there in silence, not sure what to do. Nobody seemed to have the faintest idea what could have happened to the cards. There must have been hundreds of everyone’s cards stacked up on that table when we’d gone out for training. Not anymore. There wasn’t a single card on there.

I was just starting to come to the conclusion that one of the players must have hidden them for a joke, when the door to the changing rooms opened slightly and the distinct scent of perfume wafted through. I knew that perfume. I knew it because I’d smelled it before up, close, and very very personal.

“Right” called Erica’s voice loud and clear through the gap she’d left between the wall and the door (she obviously hadn’t wanted to risk opening it fully in case anyone was naked). “Before everyone leaves today, I want to see everyone back out on the pitch - players, coaches, managers, everyone - and don’t bother looking for the cards. I’ve got them”.

Brian and I looked at each other with our mouths open. Everyone else picked a partner and did the same.

Then we all began to trundle outside.

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Yes, more Erica! Great stuff and nice inclusion of the coaches at the club. Like someone mentioned a while back that part of the day-to-day running of a club has been left out so far by you, but it would be fitting to hear more about them. Assuming they're not bland boring people of course. :)

Still loving this, thanks!

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Ta mate

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02/01/11 - Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go.

It almost felt ridiculous; twenty-odd fully grown blokes lining up in front of one woman in complete and utter silence. There were no protests, no sarcasm, nothing. Everyone did exactly as instructed in a timely and orderly fashion. That, I guess, is what’s possible when a woman a) has the power to deduct from your wages, and b) just happens to look very tasty in a business suit. Mostly though it’s the wages thing, I imagine.

Truth be told, Erica wasn’t actually alone today. Katrina was with her. And Katrina it was who had the carrier bag full of Magic Temple cards in her hand. I could tell from the shape of the bag they’d all been dumped in there with no care taken to try and preserve the original piles. Even if we got the cards back after this meeting, it was going to take a painstaking amount of time sorting who’s cards belonged to who.

Katrina’s presence wasn’t so Erica would have moral support in a place full of men. Odds were she’d wanted her along purely to carry out the dirty work of infiltrating the changing room and bagging the cards. That was my take anyway.

Without the need for further instruction, everyone lined up around about where a team would normally stand for the pre-match handshakes. I doubted Erica was planning on shaking anyone’s hand though. As for me, I stood slightly further back from the main line in a slightly desperate attempt to make it look like I didn’t consider myself 'involved'.

For almost a minute Erica didn’t say anything else, just prowled up and down the line letting the tension fester. It almost felt like we’d time-warped into a roll call from a wartime concentration camp. I half expected to look up and see four newly installed guard towers covering each corner of the ground.

Finally, when ready, she spoke.

“It has come to my attention that some kind of card gambling club has sprung up. I’ve heard all kinds of stories; I’ve heard games have been going on in the canteen, in the changing rooms, on the away coaches, and even during half time of an actual match”.

She paused. Paced up and down a bit more.

“Put simply, this has to stop. Immediately! We cannot have employees of this club gambling and exchanging money with each other on the premises. Or on away trips”.

Another little pause.

“To be quite honest with you, I’d hoped this rumour was going to turn out to be piffle” she continued, glancing at the carrier bag. “But obviously not if that little collection is anything to go by!”

Another pause. After this one she looked in my direction.

“James. You must have noticed this has been going on”.

“Err, well, kind of. What I mean is; I’ve heard the rumours just like you. In fact, to tell you the truth, I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of who’s involved with this little gambling ring for quite some time. You’re right; it isn’t on. It isn’t on at all. The trouble is; the culprits are as thick as thieves. No-one wants to say anything. Nobody wants to grass anyone up”.

Erica nodded in a slightly absent-minded manner. Seizing the moment, I left the spot I’d been rooted to and began walking the line.

“But rest assured we WILL find out who’s involved with this!” I went on. “So take this little meeting as a stern warning! Anybody caught gambling with cards will be dealt with severely. I don’t care how important you are to the first team”.

How nobody smirked or laughed at me, I will never know. I can only imagine they were afraid I might drop them from the team or something. I suppose in my own way I have the power to hurt their lives just like Erica can. If I wanted to.

“We’ll leave it on that note then” Erica said, re-taking the reins. “As for these cards, if one or more persons want to reclaim them as their property, now’s the chance to step forward from the line. Otherwise they will be disposed of”.

Like anyone was going to fall for that!

“They don’t belong to anybody, eh? Well, in that case, Katrina, take them up to my office and put them through the paper shredder. All of them. Now, please”.

As Katrina then left and disappeared up the tunnel, several of the players visibly winced and screwed their faces up. If Erica noticed though, she didn’t say anything.

“Well, I guess that concludes the meeting. James, they’re all yours again”.

And off she went too.

It was a very silent and despondent group who headed back to the changing rooms. Very despondent indeed. Nobody said a word to anyone.

‘Christ, we’ve lost football matches and come back to the changing rooms more upbeat than this’.

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Cheers, mate!

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02/01/11 - Watch your back, Jack!

I got there before the person I was meeting. The destination was Costa coffee house, the first time in a while I’ve been to that particular one.

Coffee houses sure have changed over the years. Used to be you’d walk into one and the drinks menu would have normal things on it like tea, coffee, and coke. Now it’s all fancy pamby stuff with silly names. Cappuccino, I get. Espresso, I sort of get. What I don't get though are things like Ristretto, Macchiato, or Chocolate Babyccinos. What the hell kind of drinks are they when they're around?!

Feeling adventurous, I ordered a Toffee Creamy Cooler. At least it had an English name. To get my hands on it though I first had to pay in one queue and then go and stand in a separate one in the corner. Here, some guy in a Costa uniform was shaking drinks and throwing them around flamboyantly, almost as if he thought he was making cocktails. When he got around to giving me mine, it had a big see-through dome over the top of it with a hole for a straw to go through. The mind boggled.

Alison turned up about ten minutes late. By the looks of it, she’d gone the much safer route and bought a cappuccino.

“Nice drink” she said, spying my dome.

“Har-har. What have you got for me?”

“News of a very big breakthrough is what I’ve got”.

“Yeah you said that on the phone. Go on then. I’m all ears”.

“Well, I’m being moved. As of next week I’m no longer going to be working at Heavenly Hatters. I’m going to work for Jack Shandy in an office near the Lightning Centre”.

That reply raised far too many questions. Far too many. The Lightning Centre, by the way, is the collective name for not only the Lightning Bowl, but also the adjoining shopping arcade and casino (and whatever else they’ve got up there).

“What?!” I spluttered by reply.

“You do know what The Lightning Centre is, right?”

“Of course I do”.

“Have you been there?”

“No”.

Obviously that was a lie, but I just couldn’t be bothered explaining my one-time trip over there with Paul Leonard.

“Well, The Lightning Centre is surrounded by dozens and dozens of empty fields. It’s practically motorway country. Anyway, now the new shopping complex is there, loads of developers are buying up the nearby land with a view to building housing estates on it. One such developer is, you guessed it, Jack Shandy”.

“Jesus. Is there anything around here he’s not involved in?”

“Yeah well anyway, for as long as construction is ongoing, he’s set up a temporary office inside his little vector of the area. I’ve been hired to sit on that office and act as a kind of secretary slash administrator”.

“Why you?”

“Not sure. My guess is though Jack just asked Randy if he had anyone he trusted who might be able to do the role, and Randy suggested me. Stands to reason I’d the most likely person at Heavenly Hatters he’d be happy to offload. I’m practically the only woman in the place who won’t sleep with him. I’m certainly the only one who won’t take my clothes off”.

That made me spend just the tiniest of tiny amounts of time picturing Alison naked. Not the first time I’ve done it, either.

“So come on then; what’s this good news you promised me?”

“What do you mean? What I’ve just told you IS the good news! Do you know how long I’ve been slogging my guts out in that hell-hole waiting for an opportunity like this?! This little role change could lead me right to the heart of Jack’s illegal activities! I’ll be working in one of his offices! And where do you think illegal activities are more likely to happen, out in some sparsely populated field somewhere, or in a crowded strip club? Think about it”.

“Jesus, Alison! I thought you were going to tell me you already had something that was going to lead to an arrest! If not for Shandy then at least for that other cretin! You could have just told me what you’ve just told me over the phone!”

“I’ve been in too much of a good mood about this to just share it over the phone. I wanted to come out and do it in person, let my hair down for an hour or so”.

I sighed. Slurped the rest of my cooler.

"So how's everyone at the office?" Alison asked with a grin.

-------

Since leaving her earlier this evening, I’ve not exactly felt myself sharing her jubilation over the job change. For all she knows, she’ll just end up sat in that office for months on end not seeing a thing. Just like she has at the strip club, pretty much. Shandy surely hasn’t survived doing what he does for this long by ordering executions in front of people he hardly knows.

Still, Alison being Alison, she’ll keep the faith. Banging up a fish as big as J.S would practically assure her of police force greatness.

And who knows? Maybe I’m being cynical? Maybe she will find something she can use. Maybe Shandy will make that one crucial slip soon and Alison will be there to capitalize on it. We’ll see.

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03/01/11, League Match 23

Barnet v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (28 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (65 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Aaron Ides (9 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Tony James (82 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (20 apps, 0 goals)

MC – Matthew Gill (49 apps, 1 goal)

MC – Keith Keane (117 apps, 14 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (75 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Will Buckley (53 apps, 2 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (10 apps, 7 goals)

FC – Scott Spencer (47 apps, 19 goals)

We’d coped very well with our marathon stretch of Xmas games to this point, but today had the power to undo at least some of the good work. Our results against Barnet in the past have been mixed to say the least. We’ve beaten them twice at home, both by the same score of 2-0. In the one previous time we played at Underhill, the Bees thrashed us 4-0. Overall then, 4-4 on aggregate with Luton ahead on wins by two to one.

Most of the players were still feeling tired from the heroics against Rochdale only TWO days previous. In Nicholls, Gnakpa, and Bowditch’s cases, it just too much. They both had to be rested. In their place went Gill, Buckley, and Spencer.

Because of the obvious weariness in front of me when I began the team-talk, I instructed them all to play with a slow tempo early on. I didn’t want them getting burnt out by half time.

Not a good idea.

Within two minutes Barnet were ahead. The Luton players seemed confused at what they were being asked to do. The home side capitalised when Loft threaded a ball through the channel for De Magalhaes to run onto on the right wing. The guy then took it to the by-line before pulling back for Medley to hammer into the top corner. Very simple that.

In panic I waved my arms like a madman in a bid to get them to up the pace. Stand-in skipper James nodded his head and began to relay the message.

Three minutes later, Nicholls and Gill exchanged a neat brace of passes before the former hit a pass with the outside of his foot that split the defence. Spencer ran onto it, let the ball come halfway across his body, then placed a shot with the in-step of his right foot to the left of the keeper. And into the corner of the net! Goal! One-one.

In the 8th minute, Barnet goalkeeper Beckwith got away with a terrible mistake. With the ball actually in his hands, he went to kick it out but fired straight to Snowden. The big striker had a chance to chip into the net here from about thirty yards out. Too much purchase though. The ball went well over without even clipping the roof or anything.

More half chances for Luton followed but we couldn’t take them. And how we paid.

22 minutes and Brown hit a scorching shot for Barnet. He must have been about forty five yards out when he hit that. I don’t know how close it would have got to going in because Nicholls blocked it twenty yards out and the ball scooted out to De Magalhaes on the right hand side.

It was criminal we should get burned again from another cross from the right, but we did. De Magalhaes swung it in slightly behind the frontrunners and Birchall adjusted his body brilliantly to smack it downwards from twelve yards out. Stubhaug got a piece of his body on it but could only deflect higher into the net than it would have gone if left alone. Two-one to the home side.

“Two chances, two goals” I moaned.

“Well, I suppose from a defensive point of view we had lots of luck away to Rochdale and Shrewsbury”.

“Suppose”.

Our next attempt came as the result of another mistake by the Barnet back-line. No wonder they’re not challenging from promotion. Buckley got in a cross from the right and Yakubu tried to chest it down at the back post into the keeper’s arms. He didn’t get enough on it though and Spencer nipped in to get a foot on the ball. Beckwith saved instinctively but probably didn’t know much about it.

Lively game this. Just past the half hour, Ides passed into Snowden on the edge of the box and Snowden laid it off diagonally for Daniels to have a pop. He struck it well with the outside of his left boot and the ball was still rising as it didn’t quite then curl back far enough to sneak in the far post.

Although we were definitely on top throughout most of the first half, Barnet had the final word. They could and probably should have made it 3-1 with it too. De Magalhaes again got something going down the right and his ball found an unmarked Birchall this time on the edge of the six yard box. He did find the net (no chance Stubhaug could stop a header from that close), but prior to that, had moved too early and that was given as offside.

Two-one to Barnet at the break.

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“Stop letting De Magalhaes get so many crosses in!”

There was no Magic Temple at half time today. We had no cards. And we were losing too.

I didn’t think the second half could begin as the first had, but it did. Sort of. There was at least one additional goal anyway.

Byrne fed Daniels down the left hand side and the winger cut inside onto his right, about level with the edge of the penalty area. There were lots of peeps in the box but Daniels fed a low pass to Gill. The stand-in midfielder neatly sidestepped an attempted tackle from Carew. Then he curled a lovely low bobbling shot through the crowd. It bounced at least twice before clipping the far post and going in – a testament to its accuracy. Two all! We were level again.

This was just the start we needed after the resumption. It raised our tails and lowered Barnet’s.

That said; it was The Bees who almost scored next. A corner came in from Brown and someone (not sure who) scrambled a leg on it to force it through the crowd of players towards goal. Stubhaug looked like he was comfortably going to save it but a deflection off about three players at once took the ball in the opposite direction to which the ball was travelling. Luckily, it went a yard wide.

And if that wasn’t proof it wasn’t going to be Barnet’s day, what happened next certainly was. I was just in the process of warming up my subs up when Keith Keane got the ball forty yards out and passed one in towards Snowden in the area. Mitchell beat him to it, whacked it straight against Carew, and the ball deflected backwards past a despairing Beckwith into the corner. Three-two Luton.

For the first time today I found the emotion. I jumped up and down and celebrated madly. The Luton fans, who practically made up half the 4000 crowd, also went beserk. There seemed to be pockets of them all over Underhill.

‘Wasn’t Mr Underhill a character in Harry Potter?’

Shaking the thought off, I finally made my subs. On went Poole for Daniels and Kearns for Keane. I could tell the past few days were catching up with Keane because he high-fived Kearns on his way off and even raised a smile. Barnet responded, by the way, by bringing on Adomah and Williams.

It didn’t do any good though. We were all over our hosts like a cheap suit now. 65 minutes and Snowden almost got his first goal of the afternoon. It would have been a contender for goal of the month, had it gone in. He literally beat three men – after starting over by the touchline – before rifling in a shot from the edge of the box that Beckwith had to palm around the upright. Class act is Snowden.

Beckwith again came to Barnet’s rescue in the 78th. This time a free kick was whipped in by Kearns and headed away by Devera. Gill rescued it and did brilliantly to drag the ball back through Bishop. Then he picked out Snowden with a lovely little weighted through ball. He was in on goal here from a slight angle. The shot was hard but straight and Beckwith managed to save it out past his near post to concede only the corner.

The way things had gone over the past fifteen minutes, I was starting to wonder if there might end up being a sting in the tail i.e. a late Barnet equalizer out of nothing.

That fear was laid to rest on 83. Again it was Snowden, accepting a wonderful pass from Kearns. The midfielder threaded the needle brilliantly and Snowden this time had much more space (and a much more favourable angle) with which to approach Beckwith. As the keeper advanced, Snowden shook his body a little bit before then side-footing straight past him into the net. Game over now, surely?

Wanting to preserve my best player for the next game, I took Snowden off once the celebrations had died down. Cadamateri went on in his stead.

“They’ve looked even more knackered than us in this second half” Brian commented, referring of course to Barnet.

“Yeah. This feels so much different to the last time we were here. I thought that was going to end up being my last game when we lost 4-0”.

As Barnet’s heads sagged and the home fans began to walk out in droves, Scott Spencer added some additional shine to the score in injury time. It was a silly goal really. Spencer had no right to get the ball back once he’d lost it to Mitchell in the Barnet area. Mitchell though, instead of just hack it away, or pass it to an orange shirt, got the ball stuck under his foot and Spencer reclaimed. He then whacked it past a truly fed up Beckwith for five-two.

--------

FULL TIME (att - 4097)

Barnet 2 (Medley 2, Birchall 22)

Luton Town 5 (Spencer 5, 90+1, Gill 50, Carew o.g 61, Snowden 83)

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(other results)

Accrington 4-0 Chesterfield

Bournemouth 1-1 Cheltenham

Brentford 2-7 Exeter

Chester 1-1 Torquay

Darlington 1-1 Shrewsbury

Hereford 1-1 Grimsby

Lincoln 0-1 Rochdale

Notts County 1-0 Grays

Oldham 1-1 Wycombe

Walsall 3-1 Aldershot

Yeovil 2-2 Rotherham

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(top of table)

1 - Luton (44)

2 - Darlington (42)

3 - Rochdale (41)

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4 - Walsall (41)

5 - Exeter (40)

6 - Yeovil (40)

7 - Notts County (38)

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8 - Shrewsbury (37)

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Yeah it was a good one.

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04/01/11 - Buried temple

Once we were sat down, and Brian had his pint of Pitching wedge, and I had my pint of Snake in the washing machine, I gave him the news.

“I’m retiring from Magic Temple. Well, I have retired. It’s done”.

“Seriously?”

“Yep. I'm officially hanging up my deck. Well, I'd hang it up if I still had one. Having my cards confiscated just settled it for me. A lot of the players have told me they’re jacking it in too. In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s actually gone out and bought some more yet. The whole thing seems to have just died a death”.

“Probably for the best. If you ask me, things were getting out of hand with that game. And don’t take this the wrong way, mate, but I’d started to worry that you out of everyone was getting much too addicted to it. I even went online one night to see if there was any such thing as a Magic Temple Anonymous”.

“And was there one?”

“No”.

Together, we took a sip of our respective drinks and savoured the taste. Some old hit by U2 was playing on the jukebox. Couldn’t have told you which one.

There was another reason I didn’t want to play Magic Temple anymore, one I didn’t want to divulge to Brian.

The game reminds me of Caroline too much. I reckon she might have even played it had she still been with us. It would have been something she could have at least appreciated (if not necessarily got as addicted to as I apparently was).

Funnily enough, it’s only started to remind me of her ever since I found out Jack Shandy was responsible for her death. Forgetting about Caroline was surprisingly easy once the first few weeks went by. Ever since I found out why she died and by whose orders though, she’s been very hard to shift from my mind, and things like Magic Temple do nothing but provide extra glue in order to help her stick.

‘I wish I could kill him. I really do’.

“I’ve got a little bit of news for you too, actually” Brian commented, bringing me back to the present. “I was in two minds about whether to tell you or not, but sod it”.

“Oh?”

“Well, I overheard some things before training this morning. From some of the players. Basically, now that we’re top of the league, some of them are starting to think we’re definitely going up. Even worse, they’re wondering what will happen to them if we do get to League One. I think they’re worried they’ll be shown the door in the summer to make way for better players”.

“Jesus Christ. Well there isn’t much I can do about that! Obviously the squad would get modified if we went up! It got modified when we left the Conference to join League Two”.

“Not as much as it would have to change if we got to League One. That’s the difference. When we were challenging for the Conference title, we always knew that that same squad could probably finish in the top ten of League Two. That’s why we didn’t really make that many changes. Even some of the ones we did were only because we were forced to. Brill and Pilkington, for instance. If we do get up to League One this year though, we won’t just have to make changes in order to compete, we’ll have to make wholesale changes. And the players aren’t stupid. They probably know that”.

Brian put a lot of emphasis on the word ‘wholesale’ when he said those last bits.

I nodded to show I understood him but didn’t reply. This was an issue I didn’t really want to be thinking about just now. Surely no player would deliberately underperform to make sure the team stayed at a level of football he was more comfortable with?

Thinking it over, I took a bigger swig of my beer this time and then plonked it back down.

“God this Snake in the washing machine is rubbish” I decided out loud.

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See post #1110

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05/01/11 - Avenging angel

Once I found out this morning where Shandy’s main office was i.e. the place the man himself spends most of his time during work hours, there was no stopping me. I immediately took an emergency’s day holiday and plotted his downfall. Yep, screw it. Why not kill him, if that’s what I wanted to do? The police probably wouldn’t even give a rat’s given how much trouble the guy’s probably caused them over the years. As long as I wore gloves and didn’t leave any incriminating evidence, I’d be fine.

I got to Luton Town centre just after half one. According to the anonymous tip I’d received, Shandy’s office was on the top floor of Shandy Plaza, a ninety floor tower of steel situated next to the mall. Come to think of it, I don’t know why I hadn’t connected the dots previously.

I didn’t think it would be wise to go in via the front lobby, so I went in through the underground car park instead.

I got a surprise when I went down the ramp though. Two guys with machine guns were waiting over by the back wall. As soon as they saw me, they came onto me. With hardly any cars in the place to use as cover, I was in big trouble here. I’d entered the car park on foot too, so I didn’t even have my own car to hide behind.

Just as the first shots went off, I darted left and ran up the wall. Then I turned in a kind of arc and ran along the wall, about five yards off the ground. As I ran, bullets ricocheted into the tiles behind me. After I’d covered about twenty yards of wall, I kicked off it with my left leg in the direction of the nearest pillar. Then I kicked off the pillar with my right leg in the direction of the nearest gunman.

Before he could re-aim his weapon, I landed around his shoulders and got him in a pincer movement with my legs. His neck snapped in an instant.

The other guy was coming from behind another pillar. Quickly I wrestled the dead guy’s machine gun from his lifeless arms. Then I lifted it up just as the other guy was taking aim.

I pulled the trigger fastest.

Two bad guys down.

Leaving the machine gun and taking a handgun I found in one of the dead men’s pockets (much easier to carry), I ran off trying to find an elevator. I got a shock when I turned the next corner though. Standing in front of the back wall were ten more guys with machine guns! They must have heard the shots and come down to investigate.

“Hands in the air!” the commander shouted.

Knowing it would be folly not to, I obeyed the command.

“And drop the gun too!”

So I did.

But as it fell, so did I. I dropped down like a musical bumps champion and re-grabbed it, firing pretty much as soon as I had it back my grasp. The bullet that came out seemed to travel in slow motion as it went towards the bad guys.

Now it just so happens there were loads of oil barrels stacked up behind those bad guys. No idea why. They were just there. Anyway, the bullet went past the bad guys, into the barrels, and an almighty explosion occurred. Limbs and torsos went everywhere. Except the ones belonging to me. I was too far back.

Quickly I ran around all the body parts and carried on looking for the elevator. I didn’t have to look much further. The elevator was tucked away in the corner out of the way.

I figured Shandy’s office would probably be on the very top floor so I pressed no 90 on the panel. Then the doors closed behind me and I was headed upwards.

Halfway up it occurred to me that men might be waiting once the doors opened. Keen to avoid this, I opened the trapdoor on the roof of the elevator and climbed up. Then I shut it back up again.

Sure enough, the moment the elevator came to a stop (I came very close to getting squished between the carriage and the ceiling), I heard a volley of gunfire smack the back of the elevator below me. As soon as I was pretty sure the gunmen had actually entered the elevator to investigate why was no-one was in it, I opened the trapdoor back up and leapt down among them with a samurai sword.

There were four of them. Four scumbags. I lopped off the heads of two with just one swish. Then I put my sword straight through the gut of another before receiving a punch on the shoulder. Unfazed, I twisted around quickly and slammed the sword down over the final guy’s skull. I practically cut him in half!

Covered in blood, I took my shirt off. Then I marched onto Shandy’s office.

When I burst in, the man himself was stood leaning over his secretary by the window. As soon as he saw me, he grabbed her around the neck and pulled out a handgun.

“Drop it or she dies!”

“What makes you think I care?”

“Five – four – three – “

“Okay fine!”

Quickly I dropped my gun. How Shandy smiled!

What he didn’t know, however, was that I had another gun strapped to my back with duct tape. As Shandy then laughed at my submission and prepared to aim at me, I brought the second gun around and shot him through the shoulder. With an almight grunt, he let go of the secretary and stumbled backwards through the window, shattering it.

Down he fell. All the way down into the street. Ninety floors below.

“Yippy ki yay, motherf__ker!” I shouted, coolly blowing the end of my weapon.

As the secretary then came over to hug and kiss me, Let it snow by Dean Martin began to play on the radio in the corner.

--------

Shame I then had to wake up. I had a massive smile on my face though. In a weird state of elation, I got off the waterbed and went to fetch a glass of water. Then I gave Bambi a quick pat and went into the bedroom again. It was a quarter to three in the morning, according to the bedside clock. Time to get back under the covers and shut my eyes again.

‘Whatever my next dream is, it’s got a lot to live up to’.

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05/01/11 - From angels to imps

We were away to Lincoln today, and I really didn’t feel like it. I was tired. We were all tired. This was to be our fifth game in eleven days going back to the home match with Grays on Boxing Day. More recently, it was the third in five days. Three games in five days to start the calendar year!

Worse still, this was our fourth away game in a row. Four away games in nine days. We’ve had to go to Shrewsbury, Rochdale, Barnet, and now Lincoln. With the exception of Barnet, they’ve all been long exhausting trips, both mentally and physically. The fact we’ve largely been so successful in the games is neither here nor there. It still takes it out of you.

The one thing I’ve enjoyed discovering throughout all this (aside from the fact we’ve turned into Championship contenders), is the fact that other sides are facing the same tiredness problems as we are. Barnet looked absolutely spent during that second half the other day. I was hoping Lincoln would look similarly undernourished today.

Picking the team was tricky to say the least. Ultimately though, there were so many tired legs throughout the ranks, I figured it would be seriously cutting our nose off to spite our face if I just said - “Sod it. Everyone’s getting rested”.

So, in the end, I held a little meeting in the morning, explained the seriousness of the situation, and basically asked who would be willing to play through the pain barrier. Naturally, nobody backed down, although I still forced one or two onto the bench. Ones to miss out were Bowditch, Taylor, and Moore. Everyone else would at least ‘start’ the game if not finish it.

“Substitutions today are basically going to be who drops on their arse first” I told Brian on the sly.

“Aye” he agreed.

We’d played Lincoln twice before on my watch, the first game ending in a 1-0 win at Kenilworth Road and the second ending in a 0-2 loss at Sincil Bank.

The Imps, as they’re known, play in a 10,200 capacity stadium and have been largely a lower level team throughout their 101 year history. The highest they ever got was 5th in what is now The Championship. That was back in 1902. Furthest they’ve got in the FA Cup is the last 16, achieved three times. The level they're at at the moment is probably about where they should be.

There are about 100,000 people in the Lincoln area. It’s a moderately sized town. Instead of doing my usual thing and visiting a museum, I decided to go and see the Lincoln Imp, which naturally is where the football team gets its nickname from. The Imp is basically a carved picture on a pillar. It resides in Lincoln cathedral. Well, one of them does. Let me explain.

So the legend goes; one day Satan sent two imps to earth to do as much damage as was impishly possible. After romping all over Northern England, they finally entered Lincoln cathedral where one of them was turned to stone by an angel. The other one fled and was eventually also turned to stone, this time in St James Church, Grimsby. I couldn’t be bothered also going to see that one. Seen one petrified imp and you've seen them all, right?

It all makes me wonder whether there’s an interesting legend behind Luton’s nickname too. Maybe The Mad Hatter once popped out from Alice’s Wonderland for the day and freaked a few punters out down The Haunted Cow? Who knows?

I was still in the cathedral when I received the text. I was still stood in front of The Imp, in fact. There might be some symbolism in that. Anyway, without further ado, here’s what it said.

I’m pregnant. Not a joke

By the time I looked up again, the imp’s grin seemed to have widened just that tiny bit more.

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05/01/11, League Match 24

Lincoln City v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (29 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Aaron Ides (10 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (124 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Richie Byrne (66 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Tony James (83 apps, 4 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (98 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (118 apps, 14 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (76 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Danny Cadamateri (49 apps, 14 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (11 apps, 8 goals)

FC – Scott Spencer (48 apps, 21 goals)

Having texted a quick reply to say I thought it was great news, and that I’d see her later on tonight, I headed off for the ground. I don’t remember much about the team-talk, or the warm-up, or any of that. My head was in too much of a whir.

Brian of course noticed I wasn’t my usual self and enquired what was wrong. So I told him. Why the hell not? Naturally he was nothing but happy for me. He did cotton on to the fact as I was little lukewarm about the news, but said nothing. The conversation took place just after we’d settled down in the dugout during the coin toss.

With Lincoln wearing red and white stripes, we were in our third kid today just to avoid any possibility of a colour clash. Said kit is dark blue with white shorts. The weather was freezing but dry and the crowd was maybe close to 3000.

The Imps were near the bottom coming into this match but they didn’t look like a struggling side early on. Palmer floated a corner in and Stubhaug only just managed to claw it off the top of Pitman’s head. He then went after the ball as it bobbled towards the edge of the area only to be beaten to it by Hone. The Lincoln defender passed it sideways to Kerr who tried to take advantage of Stubhaug being in no man’s land by blasting the ball through a crowd of players into the net. Alas for him, it struck someone first and deflected out for a throw-in on the near side.

I should have been shouting at Stubhaug’s for his idiocy there, but my concentration was shot. My mind was too much on other things.

“You promised me eighteen months” I said to my number two.

“Oh for Christ’s sake. We’re not still on this, are we? I did not say it would take eighteen months at all! I said the average is eighteen months. Big difference”.

“Yeah but when you say the average is eighteen months, that makes me think it might be twelve months on one side, maybe as many as twenty four on the other side. Three though?! That’s ridiculous!”

“I don’t know what to tell you. You must be – err - potent. I think that’s the word. Anyway, like I told you before, you’re fretting for no reason. Being a Dad is great. You’ll love it”.

Playing somewhat worryingly on the break, we almost equalised on 16. Keane found Snowden with a chipped ball forward and the striker held off two defenders to get the ball down safely under his control. He picked out Spencer to the left and Spencer should really have done better really. Bearing down on the keeper, he tried to toe-punt it with his right foot inside the near post. He got too much on it though and pushed it wide.

Not much to report from the rest of the half. Our boys seemed to be conserving energy whenever possible (and perhaps doing that a little too much), where as Lincoln's boys just weren’t good enough to create openings with regularity. The result was a very sterile match.

Just on the nick of half time however, Lincoln produced an unbelievable move. There were three sweeping passes that set it up, all sending the football further and further from right to left. Fortune was the one who began with the ball over on the right. Then it went infield to Clarke. Then further left to John-Lewis. Then, finally, to Pitman.

This was a similar chance to the one Spencer had missed earlier; technically in on goal but shooting from a slight angle. Only difference is, Pitman scored. He hooked a shot high and across Stubhaug and that was one-nil. By the time he and his colleagues had finished celebrating, there was no time to kick off again.

As I headed towards the tunnel, my mind should have been on what I was going to do to try and turn this deficit around. I couldn’t let the pregnancy thing go though. I was in too much of a state of shock.

“The devil was at work in that cathedral” I said in Brian’s ear. “I should have never have gone in the place”.

“Oh for crying out loud”.

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