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Luton Town : Staring into the Abyss


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“Do better!”

And we did, albeit more by luck than design. In total Lincoln were ahead for sixteen minutes, fifteen of which weren’t even spent playing football.

Snowden won a free kick twenty five yards out and naturally Keane wanted to take it. He hit it so far wide however that had the ball not hit Buckley it probably would have gone out closer to the corner flag than the goal. However, it did hit Buckley, and that was enough to send it back in the direction of the goals and subsequently into the net. Keeper was completely foxed by that one.

Technically then, that was two goals in two minutes, and the game was once again all square.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where Buckley actually appeared from, he went on at half time for the hobbling Cadamateri (my first casualty of war).

For a short while after that it genuinely did look like Lincoln would cave like Barnet. We created quite a more few openings between the equaliser and the hour mark. The best one came about when Beevers failed to control a long free kick into the Lincoln box by Byrne. Spencer controlled the loose ball and for the first time since his return to the first team put a foot wrong. His side-foot shot from eight yards was quite simply the wrong way to go about scoring from here and Birch pushed to one side.

Then El Skip surged forwards and hammered one from range. The remarkable thing about this was that he hit it with his left foot. You wouldn’t have been able to tell though from the way it rocketed away from Birch and went only narrowly over the crossbar. That was in all the way had it been a foot lower.

In hindsight I probably made a mistake after that. I completed my first two substitutions at roughly the same time I always do, rather than just wait until the chances started drying up. On went Niven for Keane.

“Blah blah blah” Keane shouted as he went off.

“You what?!”

“I said that goal was mine, right? It would have gone in anyway”.

“Would it f__k! Go on, get sat down!”

Recovering from their stupor, Lincoln came back into the game. I have to say though; the chance they missed on 68 would have caused an uproar amongst our supporters and bench had it been tucked away. James was definitely fouled on the edge of the box before John-Lewis passed it out to Kerr. Anyway, Kerr knocked it low back into John-Lewis and the guy missed from ten yards. He shot wide.

“He sounds more like a fashion designer than a footballer” Brian opined.

The Lincoln boss then made the same mistake I had i.e. made his subs at a time he really didn't need to make them. On went Akinde and Graham. The Lincoln fans booed one of them as they ran on. Don’t know which one. Could have been both of them for all I knew. Don’t know why. Probably never will.

If it was Akinde, he might have silenced his critics had he taken the presentable opportunity that came along on 71. James quashed my sympathy for him on the previous incident by losing the ball to Brown, thirty yards out. Passes were then swopped at breakneck speed on the edge of the area as Lincoln appeared to be contemplating passing the ball into the net like Arsenal. But then when Akinde had his turn close to the penalty spot, he took his best swish and got too much under it. Three points to Wigan.

We were entering the phase now where one goal would probably win it. Spotting that Nicholls was starting to struggle, I pulled him off and sent Kearns on. I was out of subs now. If anyone else got injured, we’d be down to ten.

Lincoln soon blew another opportunity when Clarke headed straight at Stubhaug. The final cross had been poor though. Clarke had had to arch his head backwards just to be able to somehow get the header on target.

Time then marched on with both teams visibly looking all done in. It was as if both teams were trying to perform a 100 metre sprint through a quagmire. Poole performed an acrobatic volley that went ten yards wide and that was the closest we’d gone in over twenty five minutes, and it wasn’t even that close.

Not much to report from the final five minutes and injury time. There were no dramatic last gasp chances or dodgy slips by defenders. No dubious penalty appeals or late red cards. Nothing like that. It was as if both teams were playing the final group game in a world cup and had telepathically agreed to draw in order to knock out the other two teams in the group.

I would have taken it before kick off, mind. No major injuries either. Bonus.

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FULL TIME (att - 2391)

Lincoln City 1 (Pitman 45)

Luton Town 1 (Buckley 46)

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(other results)

Aldershot 2-1 Bournemouth

Cheltenham 3-2 Brentford

Chesterfield 1-3 Chester

Exeter 2-1 Hereford

Grays 0-1 Rochdale

Grimsby 1-1 Notts County

Oldham 0-2 Walsall

Rotherham 1-2 Accrington Stanley

Shrewsbury 0-0 Barnet

Torquay 2-2 Darlington

Wycombe 0-0 Yeovil

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(top of table)

1 - Luton (45)

2 - Rochdale (44)

3 - Walsall (44)

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4 - Darlington (43)

5 - Exeter (43)

6 - Yeovil (41)

7 - Notts County (39)

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8 - Shrewsbury (38)

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06/01/11 - Famous in death

When I’m working in the communal office, it’s fairly random as to who makes the tea and coffee runs. Everyone volunteers to take a turn now and then throughout the week. There’s no official rota. Definitely the best at making coffee though is Brenda. I don’t know what she does that’s different to the others, but it’s better. Making coffee must be something you just get better at with age.

Totally different scenario when I’m up on the second floor; I just buzz Katrina to go fetch me one. Technically she’s Erica’s secretary but often it’s practical for me to also use her. Like err when I’m up on the second floor and I need a coffee.

Today a rare thing happened – I was up on the second floor but it was Brenda who brought me a coffee. I didn’t ask for one. She just did it.

“Ah, fantastic” I said, welcoming her into the room. “I was just about to go get one (Lie. I’d been about to buzz Katrina). You read my mind”.

“Well, I decided to take a gamble. I need a quick word with you, if you’re not busy”.

“Sure. Take a seat”.

Brenda thus sat down. My mind didn’t have enough to ponder what she might want before she revealed it.

“It’s about Caroline”.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Do you remember last year how disappointed we were when we realised we didn’t know where she’d been hmm laid to rest, and nobody felt comfortable contacting her family?”

“Yeah”.

“Well, Nicky’s managed to find out the name of the graveyard from one of Caroline’s friends. Don’t ask me how. And now, well, Nicky and Darren want to have a little trip up to Peterborough to pay their respects, albeit six months after the event. What do you think?”

What did I think?! Sighing, I leaned back and thought that over.

At the time it all that business with Caroline went down last summer, I would have jumped at the chance to go up there. It would have seemed right. At the time! But now? Now the prospect seemed decidedly unappetizing. At least for me. How could I properly concentrate on paying my respects when both the killer and his employer were still out there running around thinking that what they did was perfectly okay?

And yet, having said that, if I didn’t go, Nicky and Darren would probably not be all that impressed would they?

“Are you going?” I asked Brenda.

“Yes” she said, seemingly with a heavy heart. “I’m not that comfortable with it though, truth be told. We’d be doing it behind Caroline’s family’s back. Having said that, I think the others would be disappointed if I didn’t go. So, I’m going. The only thing I’ve insisted on is that no-one leaves any flowers or bits and bobs by the graveside. When Caroline’s parents next visit it, I’d rather they not spend half the time they’re there wondering who the previous visitors were”.

“Okay. And Kindra?”

“Not going, as far as I know. She didn’t know Caroline, I guess”.

“Okay”.

A silence passed.

“So – “

“Yeah okay, count me in” I confirmed, before Brenda could ask.

“Great. Nicky and Darren will be pleased”.

“Yeah, I guess”.

With yet another heavy release of breath, Brenda stood up to leave. I hope I’m not that raspy when I reach my mid-fifties.

“Well, I’ll leave you to your work. Sorry to disturb you without calling up first”.

“No that’s quite alright”.

And so she departed.

Once the door was shut, I got out of my seat and went to the window. From there I stared down onto the pitch.

Weird how for months the memory of Caroline was this big unspoken thing that nobody dared mention. Now all of a sudden she’s a hot topic of conversation. First there was Towzer’s revelation. Then the meeting with Shandy. And now here comes Nicky with her research into where the grave is.

‘From Alton Towers to a random graveyard in Peterborough. The office day outs really have taken a big dip in quality’.

Brenda's coffee hadn't though. If anything it had got better.

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Thanks, Stoff. (and edited now).

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06/01/11 - Solo drinker

By the time I’d sank my second pint sat at the bar, Gav twigged I wasn’t my normal self. He finished up what he was doing and came over to say something.

“Are you alright, James? First time I’ve ever seen you solo drinking. Well, for this length of time anyway”.

“I’m fine. Brian was supposed to come but he err texted a while ago to say he’s not coming”.

“Oh. You done for the night now then?”

“Err no. I’ll have one more pint of Dog bowl before I go”.

“Okay. Coming right up”.

I’d been a bit economical with the truth there. Brian had actually texted to say he wasn’t coming before I even got to the pub. I’d only decided to come anyway because, well, I had things on mind. You could call them anger issues, I suppose. Ongoing anger issues.

Halfway through pint number three I became aware of some guys throwing a few too many platitudes at a couple of ladies on the next table over. The women looked really uncomfortable, and were nervously glancing around as if hoping for divine intervention.

“C’mon love, get those baps out!” - Guy one

“Aw don’t ignore us. We’re really nice!” - Guy two.

“What’s the matter?! You’re not dykes, are you?” - Guy three.

And so on.

Finally, a sighing Gav came over and leaned back on the counter next to my Dog Bowl.

“Lovely, aren’t they?” he mused. “If they weren’t spending so much money I’d be inclined to tell them to sling their uck”.

“Yeah”.

“Absolute toss pots they are. You know what? You know what would be the best thing for idiots like that?”

“Let me guess. Jail?”

“No. A bullet straight to the forehead”.

I looked up at Gav. He seemed surprised that I looked surprised.

“What? Don’t tell me you disagree?”

“No, it’s just – “

Have you never seen that film, Death Wish?”

“Of course I have”.

“Well then! Just a shame there isn’t a Charlie Bronson running around these parts. Luton would be a much cleaner place. Because believe you me; the law doesn’t punish people like that. They’ll just float around from pub to pub being an absolute menace to any woman they come across. In fact, after tonight, I’ll be surprised if I see those two women coming back in here for a while. If it all”.

“Ask the dicks to leave then. Forfeit a few lost pounds in revenue for the sake of the greater good”.

“I might just do that. Just need to work myself up to it first”.

And with that he walked away.

I didn’t want Gav thinking I was a p!sshead, so after my next pint I went to another pub. There I sank two more beers before finally stumbling outside and deciding to call it quits.

I felt very tipsy. Hell, maybe even drunk. Top thing on my mind were those idiots back at The Hatters Arms. Them and Jack Shandy.

‘Bullet to the forehead’.

Without even realising I was doing it, I began walking back in the direction of Kenilworth Road. Well, it was more like stumbling than walking. But I got there in the end. Took me about half an hour. Then I fumbled around in my wallet for my swipe card and swiped myself in.

It was dark both outside and in. With very little in the way of co-ordination, I felt around for the light switch and turned it on. Hallelujah! And then there was light! What time was it, I wondered? Probably close to midnight.

Grinning, I went through reception and into the main corridor. There I turned another light switch on before heading down to where Bob’s office was. There was a safe inside Bob’s office. What I needed was inside that safe. So far as I knew, I was one of only two people who knew the combination to get inside. The other guy likely won’t ever be coming back here.

But before I could even get to the safe, disaster struck. The door to the office was locked! Of course it was. Why wouldn’t it have been?

Thwarted in my mission - my stupid mission - I began laughing hysterically. Then I slumped down the wall until my bum hit the floor. I must have stayed like that for about two minutes. I laughed the whole time too.

Then, perhaps predictably, my head keeled over and I decided to sleep right there on the floor.

Peace.

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07/01/11 - Migraine

Thankfully I woke up just after one in the morning and was able to hail a taxi. I felt really tired and hung over when I returned to the office at nine though. I had to come in early because I had a meeting with the board. It was to discuss the team’s prospects for the second half of the season. Any satisfaction I might have felt though at seeing Daniel Travers at a time we’re top of the league was neutralised by my stinging migraine.

It wasn’t as if I could go straight home afterwards and crash either. Today also happened to be the day of the office outing to Caroline’s grave. I was looking forward to that about as much as a trip to Grays.

Because it was arranged we wouldn’t set off until lunchtime (everyone had special dispensation to have the afternoon off), that left me roughly three hours of time to be spent at my desk. Sod’s law of course always dictates I receive plenty of phone calls on a day I’m not feeling one hundred percent.

“James Martin, Luton Town” I said, answering the first of them.

“James Martin?” questioned a voice I didn’t recognise. “As in James Martin the chef?”

“No, not James Martin the chef” I replied tetchily. “James Martin the football manager, hence the fact you’ve come through to Luton Town Football Club. What can I do for you?”

“Edson’s electrics, mate. We’re supposed to come down and check a fault with you? At half three this afternoon? Anyway, a gap in our schedule has opened up and we can come down at two if that’s more convenient”.

Resisting the urge to waste time asking how a utilities company had hold of one of my private numbers, I told the guy I’d have to get someone to call him back. Even as I write, I have no idea who is in charge around here with dealing with such people. My best guess would be Katrina.

Just as I put the phone down, Nicky piped up with something.

“I hate it when people do that” she said.

“What? Make arrangements with people and then change them?”

“No - ask me if I’m someone else just because I’ve got the same name as them”.

My hand had been halfway towards the aspirin bottle again when she’d said that. Now it paused. I didn’t know whether it was the headache or what, but I couldn’t think of a single damn celebrity with the name Nicky Willacy.

“Who exactly do people mistake you for?”

“Nicky Willacy”.

“Yeah but who IS that? I don’t know anyone else with that name”.

“She’s a violinist with the hmm let me remember – The Lawrence Chamber Orchestra in Kansas City, USA”.

“People mistake you for her? Seriously?”

“Well, one person did. It was when I covering the phone for Brenda once. That’s how I found out about the other Nicky”.

Shaking my head in great pain, I finally reached for that much needed aspirin and took it with a swig of water. If it turned out to be as ineffective as the previous one, I was going to be in serious trouble on that car ride this afternoon.

“Nicky, I’m talking about getting mistaken ALL the time. Every week. At least once. Mistaken for a genuine celebrity everybody’s heard of. In this case a chef. I swear to God, roll on the day I’m manager at a top class club and people are saying to James Martin the chef – 'hey, so you’re not James Martin the football manager then?”

A brief silence followed as everyone wondered what to make of my slightly whiny tone.

“I’m going to type my name into Google, see what comes up” - Darren

“Yeah me too” – Kindra.

So for the next five minutes, that’s what everybody did. Except for Nicky who needed the loo. She already knew who her 'namesake' was anyway.

“I share the same name as someone who is apparently a principal for Easthope Construction” Brenda declared. “That’s a company in the USA”

“My most famous one is, or was, one of the founder members of a music group called A taste of honey. Never heard of them” – Darren.

“Can’t find anyone with my name” said Kindra.

“You’re all lucky” I told them. “You’ve all got unique names. Try being James Martin though. It can get right on your nerves”.

“It’s a shame Nicky’s boyfriend is called Tim and not Tom” Darren voiced. “Then he’d be Tom Cruise”.

If I’d been swilling coffee it would have been one of those moments I’d have spewed it all over the desk.

“Nicky’s got a new boyfriend? Since when?”

“Since err – I dunno – a few weeks ago maybe”.

Nobody said anything else for a minute or so.

Then my phone rang.

“James Martin the football manager of Luton Town” I answered.

“Hi it’s Eugene. Just wanted to check that Saturday is still on for me to have Luke?”

“Yes” I said bluntly, right before I hung up.

Leaning back in my chair, I glanced around the room. Most of them hadn’t gone back to work yet, unsure as they were if the conversation about namesakes was now finished. Finally, my headache swelling to epic proportions, I made a snap decision.

“That was one of the powers that be” I said out. “I’m needed back upstairs for another meeting this afternoon – a follow up to this morning. I’m going to have to pull out of the trip. Sorry”.

“Yeah no worries” Darren said, but I'd already been heading out the door when he said it.

After that I went straight upstairs and into my other office. My private one. Once there, I closed the door behind me, opened the curtains, and stared out into the stadium.

‘Sorry, Caroline. Just - not a good day'.

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08/01/11, League Match 25

Luton Town v Hereford United

GK – Lars Stubhaug (30 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Charlie Daniels (77 apps, 6 goals)

DR – Aaron Ides (11 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Tony James (84 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Richie Byrne (67 apps, 1 goal)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (99 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (119 apps, 14 goals)

ML – Glenn Poole (24 apps, 3 goals)

MR – Claude Gnakpa (125 apps, 3 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (12 apps, 8 goals)

FC – Danny Cadamateri (50 apps, 14 goals)

Today was the final match in our marathon spell of games; our sixth in fourteen days. But, just as the first had been way back on Boxing Day, at least this one was at home. After today we’ll get a proper rest of seven days until we play again.

The two teams – Luton in orange and Hereford in white – ran out to the sound of a strange commotion coming from somewhere beyond the far corner of the stand. I would later learn that the guy with the bell (and chums) was out there causing a stir, and that some fans late coming to the game had taken offence to some of the things he was saying.

Anyway, the match began with a wonderful dribble from Snowden. He received the ball from Keane before tricking his way past about four defenders. This took him all the way up to the penalty spot, at which point he still had one defender plus the keeper in front of him. Snowden went for the side-foot around the outside and unfortunately hit the defender. The ball popped out to Poole and he sliced wide with a different defender in close attention.

It had been a good start on the whole but the visitors it was who struck first. Against the run of play, Smith got down the right for Hereford and crossed low into the box. There were three defenders back against just one attacker, a guy named May. This should have been bread and butter for us to deal with. But, Ides and James, on seeing that Byrne was the favourite to get the ball, slowed their pace. Then Byrne slipped and May controlled the ball with an outstretched leg. Then with his second touch he found the corner past a wrong-footed Stubhaug.

The Bulls fans went berserk, and who could blame them? Before this game their side had won just 4 of their 24 league games. Having said that; they were already on a one game winning streak after an impressive 1-0 away win at Grays.

When I’d looked at my final team-sheet before kick-off, I’d considered the weakest players starting the game – in terms of what positions they were playing – to be Cadamateri up front and Gnakpa on the right wing. And yet, it was down to these exact two players we equalised in the 29th minute. Gnakpa threaded a ball around the corner for Cadders to run onto and the diminutive striker scored from a really tight angle. It was a lovely finish. Low across the keeper.

A lot of dross had been served up prior to that, but once we were back level, we took control. Shots from distance and poorly taken corners became a thing of the past, lovely one touch football and golden opportunities the thing of the present. After 31 minutes Cadamateri almost made it a double, firing straight at goalkeeper Samson on the turn.

The piece of skill from Poole on 37 was remarkable. With the ball skimming along the ground to him after a pass from Ides, and a defender digging into his back, Poole let the ball go around the defender one way and took his body the other, rejoining the ball three yards further on. Before the crowd could properly applaud, Poole whipped in a quick-fire cross and Snowden got on the end of it with a spectacular diving header. One yard over the top.

On 40, Gnakpa and Cadamateri combined in exactly the same way they had for the goal. This time though, Cadamateri was driven too wide for the shot so he pulled a Cruyff turn on defender Broadhurst and chipped into the middle left-footed. Samson was well aware of the Snowden threat here so nipped out and parried the ball off the top of the tall striker’s head. The ball deflected awkwardly out to Poole and he swiped it across the empty goal and out for a goal kick.

After an unorthodox but annoyingly effective opening 28 minute salvo from Hereford, their goal was becoming a deluge now. And there was still yet time for one more chance before the interval.

More good football. Nicholls swapped a one-two with Keane before chipping the ball through the defence for Cadamateri to run onto. He was through on goal here, albeit with defenders three yards adjacent to him on one side and probably three yards adjacent to him on the other too. It was a great chance but Cadders hit a weak low one and Samson deflected away with his leg.

All in all, Hereford were extremely fortunate to get to half time all square. I just hoped we could keep it going when we came back out. Or would tiredness get the better of us? Were we destined to pay for not already being two or three up?

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“Finish them off!”

It took a while before we could even have the chance. Start of the second half was delayed almost twenty minutes due to violence in the car park (apparently). Bell men and Luton fans had been scrapping away like something out of a Geordies versus The Scots comic strip. The police had thankfully just about managed to secure the area before the game had to be cancelled completely.

The pressure we’d been exerting at the end of the first half continued at the beginning of the second. With immediate dividends. Gnakpa went on a run down the right and crossed in low, level with the edge of the penalty area. About ten players had run in front of where the ball was going here. One man who hadn’t was Edgar Snowden. In one fluid motion, he wrapped his right foot around it and fired upwards into the roof of the net. Great finish!

I felt really relieved to have the lead. And more was to come. On 57 minutes, with Hereford attempting to pile forwards for the first time in forever, Nicholls won the ball from Mace with a challenge so full-blooded it could have been a prize winning wine from the hills of Tuscany. Anyway, El Skip fed Snowden and it was battle-stations alert once again for the overworked Hereford defence.

What happened next was clinical. Snowden waited until two defenders approached him before at the last moment feeding an inch perfect ball to Cadamateri. He was through on goal here, and despite the shot being set up for a left footer, Cadders took it on anyway and still beat Samson with a low one inside the near post. Pandemonium in the stands!

Immediately I made two substitutions. On went Buckley for Cadamateri and Kearns for Keane. Cadamateri, having scored two goals, was given a standing ovation as he went off. It’s nice to know my fourth best striker is capable of scoring a brace when called upon!

Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more goals for a while, along came another one. And this was one was very popular. A long ball from Ides was controlled by Buckley and he was tackled by Valentine. Out the ball popped though to Nicholls, twenty two yards out. El Skip hammered one like a thunderbolt and Samson didn’t even move. 4-1!

This was Samba style football! All we needed was a yellow and blue kit and a few fans playing the trumpet. Hereford looked like they currently considered themselves to have stepped into a bad dream. Probably way too late, their manager used all three of his subs at once. On trotted Liddell, Brimble, and Robinson.

The next chance came on 70. Another mistake from the visitor’s defence allowed Snowden in yet again! This time he unselfishly waited until Buckley darted past on the outside before feeding him the chance to join the others on the score sheet. Alas, Buckley’s first touch took him too far wide and he ended up shooting into the side netting.

The points obviously safe, I made my third sub soon after. On went the rarely used Beavon for Tony James. Some of the Hereford fans were starting to trickle out by this stage.

Although most of the rest of the game was fairly routine, we did create one more good opportunity worth mentioning. Poole did some good work down the left before sliding a diagonal ball low towards goal for Snowden. The striker got there but with practically no room to shoot with before Samson launched himself down at his feet. Snowden did shoot but it was no surprise the ball was deflected behind for a corner.

At the final whistle, I was so happy at the performance I encouraged everyone to go round applauding the fans. The final two weeks have been difficult for everyone, but the fans have been brilliant with all the money they’ve spent and the players have been equally brilliant (if not more so) in racking up all the points they’ve accrued.

Now for a nice seven day rest. Finally!

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FINAL SCORE (att - 7005)

Luton Town 4 (Cadamateri 29, 57, Snowden 49, Nicholls 63)

Hereford United 1 (May 13)

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(other results - reduced programme due to FA Cup Round 3)

Exeter 2-1 Yeovil

Grimsby 1-2 Accrington

Rotherham 1-1 Wycombe

Torquay 3-4 Bournemouth

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(top of table)

1 - Luton (48)

2 - Exeter (46)

3 - Rochdale (44)

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4 - Walsall (44)

5 - Darlington (43)

6 - Yeovil (41)

7 - Accrington (40)

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8 - Notts County (39)

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10/01/11 - A fistful of pennies

‘My mama said surely, I should go and marry Shirley. My daddy said hold on, why don’t you chug down a cold one? My brother said that’s crazy, my uncle said I’m lazy. When the hell did I, ever stop calling you my baby? Oh- oh – oh - my sweet Michigan Mary’.

I would have recognised that voice anywhere, but one place I didn’t expect to hear it was walking out of the Starbucks on Luton’s main high street. Still, there Prairie was, over by the derelict unit between Boots and Comet. He was busking.

Waiting for him to finish his song (nobody else was watching), I trundled over to where his upturned guitar case was and stationed myself by his side.

“Busking, Prairie?”

“Ah! Howdy-doodle! And err yeah. Thought I’d come down here today and sing a few tunes. Just woke up and had that musicial feeling, you know?”

“Yeah well I’d maybe suggest playing a few songs people are more familiar with. Didn’t look to me just now the general public were all that enthralled with Michigan Mary. Well, maybe in Michigan they would be. But here – “

Prairie chuckled and shook his head.

“Son, I was in this game before you were even a speck in the desert. Trust me; I know what an audience is looking for”.

I glanced down into the upturned guitar case. There was a lot of room in there. And not much of it was being filled by coins. In fact there were so few coins I found myself able to tot up the sum total in barely five seconds. There was one fifty pence piece, two ten pence pieces, and seventeen pence in ones and twos. That added up to a combined figure of eighty seven pence.

The time was currently half three in the afternoon. On a best guess basis, I reckoned Prairie would have been here since at least ten or eleven this morning. Therefore, chances were he’d probably been passed by literally thousands of people so far today. I reckoned at least fifty thousand, and that was being conservative. Luton’s main high street can get extremely busy. Eighty seven pence per fifty thousand passers by. Not a great ratio.

And then there was the possibility Prairie had put some/all of that change into the guitar case himself, to make it look to other people that he was worth stopping and listening to.

“Well, I might not know as much about music as you” I said, breaking the silence. “But I do know that on a long day’s work like this one, nothing helps keep you going like a good cup of coffee”.

With that I held out my cup for him to take. It was an extra large. I hadn’t even had a sip out of it yet. Prairie predictably eyed me with wonder.

“I forgot to ask for sugar” I went on. “And I don’t have time to go back”.

“Son, you really are a pilgrim!”

And with that he accepted the cup and took a big long sip. As he drank, I could literally see huge quadrants of his wrinkly old face turn from white to red. Right there and then.

“Hey! That reminds me! You should come down to The Haunted Cow tomorrow night! There’s a special midweek country and western night on. Maybe bring Channellabelle”.

“Yeah that’ll be right up her street that, Prairie. I’ll see how we’re fixed”.

“And on Wednesday night I’m playing a set with Starch Hoskins. Same location".

“Now that one we definitely can’t make. It’s the premiere of Death Count on Wednesday night”.

“Death whut?”

“Death Count. It’s a horror film. I’m in it. Did I never tell you about that?”

P.D.P shook his head and savoured another sip. At precisely that moment, some guy who was walking past threw a one pence piece into the guitar case. Strange one that because Prairie hadn’t played so much as a note in about five minutes.

“Never really liked horror films. Now give me a good western and that’s a different story. My Darling Clementine – that was always my favourite. You ever see My Darling Clementine?”

“Can’t say I have”.

“Really?! Never? It’s got Henry Fonda in it. Linda Darnell? No?”

“No, Prairie”.

“Son, you've never lived. The funny thing about My Darling Clementine was, it was filmed almost entirely in Monument Valley on the border of Arizona and Utah. I say funny because when I first sang in Phoenix there was a bar just outside of Cottonwood called The Noisy Rambler. Anyway, when Henry Fonda first auditioned for that part, the guy who ran the bar – forget his name – he was English though, funnily enough. Anyway, this guy had seen a film that Fonda had done way back when – “

“Prairie!” I said firmly, holding up my hand. “Sorry but I’ve really got to take off. Got a big meeting with a potential new signing in half an hour. I’ll check to see if I can make it to that thing tomorrow night though, okay? In the meantime, happy playing”.

“Oh err yeah, okay. You take care now. Bye, James”.

“Bye”.

And with that I escaped as fast as I could.

But not fast enough to escape the first few lines of Wanderer from over yonder.

‘Wanderer from over yonder, ye journeys are getting longer. What have I got to do, to try and keep my tired soul up with you? Oh wanderer from over yonder, it’s a dilemma I have to ponder. When will the long road end? Maybeee just around the bend?’

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12/01/11 - Can you see it?

“Chantelle!” I shouted up the stairs.

No response. She clearly wasn’t going to be rushed.

Increasingly worried, I paced up and down the hallway and rechecked my watch. It was only forty minutes until the start of the film now. We were beginning to cut this fine. I’m a stickler for being on time for things. I hate being late. Chantelle was going to make me late.

I thought I’d given her enough time. You see, normally she takes about an hour to get ready. In fact, tonight, just to play it safe, I’d even given her an hour and a quarter. Just to make sure. But still it hadn’t been enough. We were up to the one hour and twenty five minute mark now.

‘Christ, what the hell is she doing up there?!’

But if I really thought about it, I could imagine.

First she would have had a bath or a shower, but probably a bath. A nice slow one. Then the outfit selection would have taken place (complete with phone calls to friends to gauge opinions). Then in no particular order there would have been make-up, eyeliner, hair extensions, false nails, fake tan, and probably a last minute hair wash to take care of. Oh, and any time she's ever up there getting ready for anything, she always chops and changes the music on her stereo like someone with really bad OCD. Just to waste even more time.

“Chantelle!” I screamed up a second time.

“What?!” came the frustrated reply.

Then her head appeared at the top of the stairs. Just her head.

“Hurry up, will you?! We’re going to be late”.

“The less you bug me, the quicker I’ll be”.

“Well go on then!” I said, doing a shooing motion with my hand. “Get back in and finish so we can go”.

The head disappeared.

Then all of a sudden it was back again.

“How are we getting there anyway?”

“Taxi of course”.

“You’ve ordered a TAXI?! To take us to a film premiere?! Seriously?! Have you never seen a film premiere before? We need a limo".

“A lim - “

And just like that, a penny suddenly dropped somewhere inside me. I started visualising limos and Lamborghinis pulling up in front of the cinema. Screaming fans were lined up behind a waist-high roll of tape, being kept in check by huge bouncers. As film star after film star then emerged from the vehicles, arm in arm with their glamorous partners, said stars did a brief pose for the cameras, waved at their fans, then strolled up a red carpet through a pair of thick wooden doors (that were being held open for them by more bouncers).

But surely that wasn’t what it was going to be like tonight? This was just some cheap horror film opening in downtown Luton, not the latest Bond opening in Leicester Square. Would Darren and the rest of them be getting a limo? I doubted it. Then again, no-one from the football club was a principal character. Surely only the pros with the bigger parts would arrive in a limo?

All I knew for sure was, I wasn’t a principal character. But, well, if it got Shan’s bum in gear, I supposed it wouldn’t hurt to call one out. I even still had the number in my phone for the company we’d used on our wedding day.

“Right, okay, I’ll go call one”.

So that’s what I did. And whilst I was doing that, Chantelle went off to finish getting ready.

Fifteen minutes later though, she still hadn’t come down. Deciding that shouting up the stairs just wasn’t going to get me anywhere tonight, I finally lost all patience and stormed on up. I got a shock when I opened the bathroom door, mind. Chantelle was sat on the toilet seat wiping tears away from her eyes.

“Hey, what the hell?!” I exclaimed, putting my arm around her.

In response she brushed me away and stood up. Then she moved over to where the hot-tub was. Her final decision for a dress tonight (at least I hoped it was) was a purple number that had faded white sections on the sides and corners. They were deliberately faded white sections, I should add. I had to admit the whole piece looked very stylish.

“Hey, what it is?!” I reiterated.

“I’m showing” she replied miserably, glancing down at her midriff.

I glanced down. Looked at her stomach. It still looked as flat as an ironing board to me. Same as always.

“No you’re not”.

“Yes I am”.

“No you’re not”.

“Yes I am! Look”.

To prove the point, she ran her hand gently upwards from stomach to chest.

I still wasn’t convinced.

“I just can’t believe it” she went on. “The first time ever I get to go to a film premiere, and it just happens to be straight after I’ve got pregnant. Now the whole world’s going to think I’m a fat bitch”.

“To be fair on the producers, you weren't pregnant at the time they arranged the premiere”.

She looked at me in response to that with something like hate. Guess it hadn't been the best of moments to slip a joke in.

“Look” I said, moving over and trying to take hold of her. “You look great. I can’t see a bump yet. Let’s just calm down and – “

“No!” she barked, pushing me off. “Don’t just lie to me to get me down the stairs quicker. There’s definitely a bump there! What are you?! Blind?”

“No, look, honestly – “

“Just wait downstairs! I’ll be down in the minute”.

And with that she turned to the bathroom mirror, seemingly to recheck one of her eyebrows.

Struggling to suppress a loud sigh that may of just made things worse, I retraced my steps down to the hallway. Then I looked at my watch for about the one hundredth time over the course of the past hour and silently cursed.

‘Definitely going to be late now. Crying out loud'.

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Just to let you know mate whenever I go to the first page I get a malware warning from some website called "planetsmilies.net" or something like that. I don't know if it's a forum issue or what but just thought I'd warn you.

I'm still enjoying the story, been checking up on it every so often.

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Thanks, Pooman

Works fine for me though. I hope it's just you

--------

12/01/11 - The premiere

By the time we left the house (and the babysitter had formed God knows what opinion about us in the process), there was only five minutes to go before the start of the film. No chance of making it on time now. I just hoped the trailers were going to go on and on like they usually do.

Chantelle decided to take a coat with her, the idea being she’d carry it drooped over her forearm to hide the ‘bump’. She still looked nervous though as she negotiated the distance between the porch and the limo. Clearly there was every chance a reporter could have been hiding in the window of one of those distant tower blocks armed with a long distance X-ray camera. Clearly.

It was a very different limo ride to the one we’d taken on the wedding day. Conversation was non-existent. We just didn’t have anything to talk about. We were also very nervous, I guess. Albeit for different reasons.

There weren’t those thousands of screaming fans I’d daydreamed about. There wasn’t even one. There wasn’t even a tape. No bouncers either. Or press. In fact the cinema looked exactly as it normally did on a Wednesday night – dead. Glancing at Chantelle, I couldn’t tell whether she was relieved at this development or completely heartbroken.

Slowly, the limo driver pulled up to the curb and we let ourselves out. It felt so unlike a film premiere I actually found myself hoping now that no bystanders at all would come along. I didn’t want them stopping to wonder why we'd ordered a limo for a routine trip to the cinema.

Quietly and discreetly I paid the driver for his time (two hundred notes down the swan hole!). Then I took Shan by the arm and quickly led her through the big double doors.

It was a beehive of activity on the inside but we didn’t have much trouble identifying where we needed to go. The corridor leading to screens five, six, seven, and eight had a billboard in front of the cordon that said Death Count 2 Premiere – screen five. I already had our tickets from having received them through the post, so without further ado we headed straight over. We didn’t have time to mess about buying snacks.

Just as we done showing the tickets, Chantelle swung an arm in front of me, bringing me to an abrupt stop.

“What?”

“Look”.

With a nod, she gestured to a spot straight on ahead.

I could see what she was looking at. In front of the door leading to screen five, a woman was holding a microphone under the chin of a second woman. I recognised the latter. She was one of the lead characters from the film. A nice enough lass, I’d seen her around Kenilworth Road quite a few times during filming. I couldn’t remember her name for the life of me though.

“Yeah she’s in the film” I said. “Come on; let’s hurry up before we miss the start”.

“Hang on! Obviously it’s not started yet if one of the main cast is out here doing an interview. Let’s wait until she’s finished. Then you can jump in and do your own interview piece”.

I did open my mouth to protest, initially. But then I decided I didn’t particularly want to spend the next hour and a half sitting on an argument. So, I said nothing and waited for my chance to approach the reporter.

This process took a good three or four minutes. Whatever that girl’s name was – the one who was answering the questions – she certainly had a lot to say for herself. Every time she was asked something she seemed to produce a really waffling reply, complete with animated hands and unnaturally wide open eyes.

Finally it was over. The actress buggered off inside screen five and the reporter stood still for a moment to have a look over her notes.

“Hi” I said, casually strolling over. “I’m James Martin. I’m in the film too”.

“And I’m Chantelle Martin” said a voice on my left. “I’m his wife”.

“Errm, okay” said the reporter, auto-smile firmly switched on again. “Sorry, which part are you playing?”

“I’m playing the manager of the club” I replied, and doing my best to sound proud about it.

A brief silence ensued.

“I can’t actually remember my proper name in it, mind" I went on. "But I do have a name. The director told me it. It was on the script too. Erm – “

Another silence.

“Nice guy the director” I then said, just for something else to say. “Come to think of it, I can’t remember his name either. Look, it’s been a while since we finished the film, to be honest. I really – “

“We’d better go in” the reporter finally interrupted, making a show of glancing at her watch. “We're cutting it rather fine, I'm afraid.”.

“Yeah. Err, yeah, of course”.

“Enjoy the film”.

“You too”.

And that was that. The reporter put her notebook away and the three of us wandered into the screening, she in front with me and Chantelle following on sombrely behind.

‘Oh dear'.

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12/01/11 - The death count begins (part 1)

Miraculously we didn’t miss the start. Just as I’d hoped, the trailers had gone on and on and we were saved.

We were too late to sit near the office staff, mind. They, together with their various plus ones, were all lined up a couple of rows beneath the VIP section. This comprised of approximately four rows of comfy looking leather chairs positioned slap bang in the middle. Predictably enough, all the principle characters and their partners had filled these up. The director too.

‘Ricky Page-Tansell’ I thought, far too late in the day.

There weren’t many seats left but we managed to grab two that were together up in the back left corner, the other consolation being they were next to the aisle rather than the side wall. After that there was just about enough time to get comfortable before the distributor’s logo came on.

The film kicks off with the bang. Katrina, in her new role as somebody’s PA (not that you would have known it had you not been in the know), is just finishing unlocking the Kenilworth Road gates at the crack of dawn when a noise from behind startles her. Standing in her wake is The Gorilla Killer.

“Who are you?” Katrina asks uncomfortably.

No response, so Katrina decides to ignore him and head on towards the office building. But then she hears the sound of footsteps behind her so turns around. And that’s the precise moment The Gorilla Killer chops her head off with an axe. The head goes rolling across the car park only coming to rest beneath the swipe card thing attached to the door.

At the moment of death, everyone in the cinema half gasped and half chuckled. I can only presume the ones who were chuckling were the ones who, at some point in their associations with the football club, had met and spoken to the real Katrina.

Anyway, that's the end of the pre-title teaser. Immediately after, the screen goes black and the words Death Count 2 : More Death squirm their way onto the screen in bloody red letters. It isn’t very original.

A good twenty minutes of plot and character development follows after that. Or what passes for it. The main story of Death Count 2 is how a bunch of 18-24 year olds sneak into the building after one of them manages to steal his footballer brother’s swipe card. Then, after downing a few bottles of cider in one of the empty rooms, they slowly start to get picked off one by one by The Gorilla Killer. Oh, and there are also a bunch of footballer and white collar types who get killed too.

Kindra’s character – Rushanara Tendulker, the sexy club physiotherapist – is the unlikely heroine who somehow ends up being the last one standing.

Most of the people I know from the club in everyday life don’t make it through the first half of the picture. Brenda has a brief cameo during an early boardroom scene and is then never seen again (something of a plot-hole given that The Gorilla Killer has sealed off the grounds by this point). Fred gets his pitchfork fairly early doors, Joe Dunbar is electrocuted by a couple of defibrillators the club doesn’t actually have, and most of the players get gunned down by an AK47 all at the same time. Keane’s ‘death shake’, by the way, was pathetic.

The exceptions to the rule are Nicky and Darren, who confidently move on into the second half; more on them later.

As for me, I bite the dust about half an hour in. One of the two scenes I filmed doesn’t even make it into the final cut. The one that does of course is the one where I get acid in my face and die a slow painful death. How most of the cinema audience chuckled at that development!

Even Chantelle managed a smile.

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12/01/11 - The death count begins (part 2)

It has to be said, Kindra was excellent. If anything she gets better and better as the film wears on. She spends quite a few scenes acting by herself in empty rooms. Or empty cupboards. Or other small hidey hole places. The emotion she produces at being a lonely, scared woman hunted by a psycho is quite something to see. No surprise at all she was promoted into the main role. None at all.

But anyway, back to Darren and Nicky. Seeing these two on a giant screen pretending to be a couple wasn’t something I'd been looking forward to. Having said that; they don’t appear in all that many scenes together, and once they finally are together, there isn't much physical contact. A quick bit of kissing and that’s it.

Nicky’s character is Carly Snowball, daughter of one of the club directors. Early in the film she’s part of the gang who sneak into the office building when they’re not supposed to. Later, she breaks away from this group to find her footballer boyfriend Anton Russell (played of course by Darren). The scene where the pair of them get bumped off is, for me, one of the highlights of the film.

It begins with Darren getting frisky with Nicky in the spa room. No such room actually exists in real life. The giant bath you see in the film is actually the bath from the home dressing room filmed from an angle designed to trick you. Anyway, Darren starts trying it on and Nicky is happy to indulge him, and before you can say Oh my sweet Jesus Nicky is wearing only a bra and knickers, Nicky literally is only wearing a bra and knickers.

For a second I thought she was going to take the whole lot off! But then Darren ruins it by telling her to stop, at which point he reaches into his bag and pulls out a blindfold. He also turns the taps to the giant bath tub on.

“Here” he says with a grin, tying the blindfold around Nicky's head.

“Anton!” she chuckles. “What are you doing?!”

“Relax. You’ll love this”.

“But – “

“It’s okay! Just wait here a minute, though. I need to go get something”.

So ‘Anton’ then leaves the room. He literally leaves Nicky standing there in her bra and knickers with this blindfold thing tied around her head. Then he goes into a nearby cupboard and begins rooting around. He does this for quite some time.

“Christ!” he eventually says, frustrated. “I could have sworn there was a feather duster in here”.

And that’s pretty much his last breath. The Gorilla Killer appears behind him and shoves what presumably is the same the feather duster he was looking for straight through his back and out the front of his chest.

“Oh!” Darren says, coughing up blood and looking down on himself. “My mistake – there it is”.

Then his eyes loll sideways and he’s dead.

Back in the spa room, Nicky has her arms crossed and is beginning to get impatient. She hears footsteps though and assumes Anton has returned.

“Finally! I thought you’d got lost or something”.

The Gorilla Killer ignores her, for the time being going over to the bath and turning the cold tap off so only the hot one is running. Then he walks around to Nicky’s front side and stands a mere two inches away from her.

“Well?!” says Nicky. “Do you want me or not?”

Silence from The Gorilla Killer. Beneath the blindfold, Nicky sighs.

“Oh Anton. You’re so boring”.

Still nothing from The Gorilla Killer, so now Nicky reaches up to find his face. The tension in the cinema at this point was palpable.

“Baby” says Nicky, blindly feeling the hair on the gorilla mask. “You haven’t shaved again, have you? Naughty boy. Tut tut tut”.

Big laughs in the cinema, but one person who soon isn’t laughing is Carly/Nicky. No sooner does she reach up in frustration to take her blindfold off, The Gorilla Killer grabs her and pushes her backwards into the bath tub. The water has become boiling hot by this point. Not that The Gorilla Killer relies on heat alone to ensure the kill. With brute strength he holds her down under the water, despite all her kicking and protestations.

The camera at first focuses on the main struggle before then cutting to a close-up of one of Nicky’s feet. It’s thrashing around at first and then it goes still. Deathly still.

“I didn’t know she had an ankle bracelet” I whispered out loud, almost to myself.

“Why would you have done?” Chantelle whispered back.

“Yeah. Good point”.

Standing upright once more, The Gorilla Killer allows himself a moment or two to admire his work. Then he begins beating his own chest and howling at the ceiling.

Somewhere else in the building at that exact moment, crouched under a desk, Kindra is shown closing her eyes and hunches her shoulders together just that little bit tighter.

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12/01/11 - The death count ends

The final five minutes is basically one long chase scene between Kindra and The Gorilla Killer. It’s not very good though. It’s basically a poor man’s Halloween.

The pair end up in the canteen where eventually The Gorilla Killer gains the upper hand by throwing Kindra through the window. It's night time by now and the floodlights are on. Anyway, Kindra lands on the stadium seats not far below the window and screams in agony. She’s okay to carry on moving though (of course she is). The Gorilla Killer meanwhile stares at her for a moment, appears to decide against jumping down himself, then turns around to take the long way down.

This gives Kindra time to run off. Making her way down to pitch-side, she eventually finds the tunnel area. I must admit, in all the times I’ve walked through that tunnel, I’ve never once noticed the strangely placed jerry can next to the left hand wall. Kindra spots it though. But before we see what she does with it, the camera switches back to The Gorilla Killer's eye view.

As cool as you like, we follow him walking down the stairs, through the downstairs corridor, and into the tunnel. Kindra is gone by this point, so The Gorilla Killer wanders out onto the pitch. Here he spots her, standing by the edge of one of the penalty areas.

“I’m here!” Kindra shouts. “Come and get me you b_stard! Come on! I’m here! Come and get me!”

I couldn't work out if this was a homage to Predator or just poor scripting. Likely the latter.

Anyway, accepting the invite, The Gorilla Killer begins to walk over. He’s got a big butcher’s knife in his hand now. He must have taken it from the canteen.

“That’s it! Come on you freak! Put me out of my friggin’ misery! You know you want to!"

However, and it's a big however, about thirty or forty yards before he gets to her, he spots the jerry can by Kindra’s left leg. Sensing the ruse, The Gorilla Killer halts, sniffs the air, and looks down at his feet. Then he looks back up at a grinning Kindra. Lots of dramatic music had been playing up to this point. Now that music completely stops all of a sudden, and the camera zooms in on Kindra’s face.

“Take this you stinking ape!”

Now, in ridiculously slow motion, she lights a match and drops it. An over-the-top swishing sound accompanies its descent towards the ground.

Then something unexpected happens; just as the match is about to hit the ground, Creep by Radiohead starts up. Something else unexpected; rather than even attempt to flee his impending doom, The Gorilla Killer raises his arms like Jesus. As the song then continues on towards the chorus, the flames start spreading. In slow motion.

Other things in slow-mo are happening too, such as Kindra diving for cover, police cars turning up outside the gates, and a somehow still alive Dean Bowditch raising his head up in a sea of dead bodies back inside the home dressing room.

But as the big guitars finally do kick in on the chorus, the focus switches back to The Gorilla Killer, just at the point he gets engulfed by fire (arms still raised, eyes defiant). There's also a brief long range shot of Kenilworth Road on fire from the air. The montage then returns to being a catch-up for everybody still alive in the immediate area; police, Kindra, ambulances, Kindra, a local dog walker, some secretary with only one eye left stumbling down the stairs, and then Kindra once more. The moment in the song that screams She's running out the door, is predictably of course set to Kindra fleeing the building in slow motion and collapsing distraught into a female copper's arms. The final shot of them all though, as the song slows down for its conclusion, is of The Gorilla Killer’s eyes closing in the middle of his burnt-to-a-crisp face.

The credits are definitely due once Kindra has then been reunited with her long lost sister, but first there’s one last twist. Outside the gates, and with the music now off, a black car pulls up just a short way away from all the flashing lights. Inside, a mysterious guy flips open a clipboard and writes a cross over some random guy’s name. Then he turns to someone off-camera sitting in the driver’s side.

“What are they saying on the scanner?”

“Twenty six dead so far, sir”.

“Not bad. Looks like we've got a new high score. Think you can beat that score next week?”

This second question is directed towards a third guy sitting on the back seat. The camera slowly pans to him now. He’s a youngish guy. Hasn’t shaved in a while. Looks kinda stoned. He’s also holding a gorilla mask.

“I’ll give it my best” he says, right before he pulls the mask over his face.

And then the screens immediately turns black. A heavy metal Zombie Orgy tracks comes on, and with it, the words ‘Directed by Ricky-Page Tansell’.

A few cheers went up around the cinema once this happened. What for I’m not sure. Anyway, without much in the way of post-film comment, me and Chantelle grabbed our stuff and began to file out into the lobby. It was time for the after show party.

And Christ did I ever need a drink.

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15/01/11, League Match 26

Luton Town v Notts County

GK – Lars Stubhaug (31 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (68 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Aaron Ides (12 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Tony James (85 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (21 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (100 apps, 24 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (120 apps, 14 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (78 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Danny Cadamateri (51 apps, 16 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (13 apps, 9 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (53 apps, 24 goals)

After a nice week’s break, we were ready and raring to go again. We even had a full set of players back. Well, barring Michael Taylor anyway. As a reward for his two goals in the previous game, I let Danny Cadamateri start on the right wing.

We’ve played Notts County three times since I’ve been Luton boss. Two of those ended in defeats at Meadow Lane. The other one ended in victory at Kenilworth Road. Neither side has yet scored an away goal against the other. In terms of league placings before this match, we were top and The Magpies were on the fringe of the playoffs in eighth.

In keeping with recent form, we got off to a flyer. We’d already run the County defence ragged several times before Cadders escaped down the right in the 5th minute. His low cross reached Snowden at the near post. Snowden was flanked by two defenders but he managed to get in a low toe-poke from three yards out. The ball hit goalkeeper Smithies (yes, ‘Smithies’), and fortuitously went straight back to Snowden. Tap-in. Goal.

Our form has been so good recently that I almost forget to get excited! And given what happened six minutes later, performing only a very restrained celebration was probably a wise move.

An unlucky ricochet forty yards from our goal allowed Jorgenson the chance to face off against Moore on the edge of the box. Rather than try to take it past him, Jorgenson merely shimmied a few times before passing right to Facey. The County forward then casually curled a left footed shot first time around Stubhaug and into the bottom left hand corner of the net. One-one.

A frustrating moment to be sure, but it was still early in the game and at least we weren’t behind. That was one thing. I also fancied we’d looked the better side in these opening twelve minutes, despite Facey’s brilliant strike.

The next chance came from a corner. Nicholls swung the ball in and a surprise name arrived late to get on the end of it; Aaron Ides. Alas, his lack of experience in meeting attacking crosses showed, and he harmlessly headed it two or three yards wide of the target.

Back came County on the break. This one was a solo for most of the way. Gradwell it was who went for it. Receiving a pass in midfield, he danced away from several challenges – and forced others backwards at weird angles – before coming inside and rifling a right footed shot maybe a yard over. Stubhaug looked like he probably would have been at least able to tip over if required. Probably.

The topsy-turvy nature of proceedings continued past the half hour. On 32 minutes, Nicholls exploited a big hole in the Magpies defence to send Snowden away. Given how hot his form has been, this looked ominous for the visitors, even despite it being on Snowden’s least favourite foot. The shot he hit was pretty good but went just a couple of inches wide of the far post. That looked in danger of going in right up to the moment it didn’t.

It wasn’t long before had yet another one-on-one! This one fell to Bowditch. He had more room than Snowden too, enough to choose which foot he wanted to use. In the end he elected to take it wide of the keeper. Only trouble was; this drove him too far wide and he could only produce a rolled shot back towards goal that defender Foster was able to get back and poke wide for a corner.

All square at the break then, but I was quietly confident we could yet get the win. I just needed to make sure I produced my usual uber-inspiring team-talk.

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“Get the winner!”

I love it when my players listen to me. Straight away (Well, 47th minute – near enough), Daniels motored down the left before passing infield to that man Snowden. The big guy turned well and fed Nicholls, who then fed Cadamateri. The ball was then returned to Snowden, about twenty five yards out. There were defenders in front of him here but what Snowden did was brilliant; he hit the ball with the outside of his right foot and it curled majestically into the top left hand corner. Two-one!

Unlike the celebrations for the first goal, which were somewhat muted all round, these were frenetic! County had proven to be worthy opponents in the first half and it was with much relief we had a chance to hold the lead again. Great joy all round!

And yet we almost tossed it away just like we did in the first half. Jorgenson laid it on for Gradwell to cross from the right and the ball went over everyone to Weston near the back post. He attempted a volley straight out of the Mark Hughes playbook and Stubhaug had to save acrobatically. The ball looked it might then go for a corner but Byrne cleared it.

On the hour mark, as usual, I made my first two substitutions. On went Gnakpa for Cadamateri on the right wing and Kearns for Keane in the centre. I liked the Gnakpa switch in particular because he’s a more defensive player in that position than Cadders, and we were defending a narrow lead.

Uncharacteristically in these times of many wins, we let our opponents have a second chance in a row without us having any. It came in the 63rd minute. It was actually more of a half chance than anything else. Facey got on the end of a cross from deep and headed back towards the edge of the area. Jorgenson let it bounce once before then connecting juat as it was dropping for the second time. The ball careened towards goal but was again spectacularly parried away by Stubhaug.

I did wonder at this point what it was I was doing wrong, but hey, you know what? Maybe you can’t be good all the time. Maybe this was just going to have to be one of those games we won without firing on all cylinders?

Not that you could have said Snowden wasn’t firing on all cylinders. In the 69th minute he almost sealed his hat trick. There isn’t much to say about this move other than to tell you Snowden danced his way through the middle with lightning quick feet. Then he shot left footed at Smithies, who palmed it out for a corner.

We were entering a phase of the match all too familiar to me, even in this just my third year of managing. I refer of course to that particular type of end game period where you’re one goal ahead and desperate for the clock to start ticking just that little bit faster. Except it never does. If anything it just goes slower.

At least this wasn’t one of those occasions where the opposition are hammering at the door with a battering ram. When that happens the clock really does go slow! No, today it was more even Stevens, even with County a lot more desperate for a goal than we were.

I sent Buckley on with ten minutes left. This was to replace Snowden, who went off to a hero’s reception. I really hoped there were no scouts from other clubs attending today’s game.

County hustled and muscled but didn’t really create all that much late on. They did come close to scoring in the 84th minute, but it wasn’t really from what you would call a ‘chance’. Facey simply chipped the ball over Stubhaug from thirty five yards out and hit the corner edge of crossbar and post. It sounds close when I write it like that. However, the ball came out of the sky very slowly in the wind and I suspect Stubhaug might have been able to tip over if he’d needed to. Maybe.

Our last chance was much better. Just a shame it went to Buckley. Gnakpa played him in around the corner and the sub elected to do a Snowden, hitting the ball with the outside of his foot to hopefully send the ball into the left hand side of the goal. Smithies kept it out though and the match finished two-one. Yee-haw!

--------

FULL TIME (att - 7092)

Luton Town 2 (Snowden 5, 47)

Notts County 1 (Facey 11)

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(other results)

Wycombe 3-3 Lincoln

Aldershot 2-2 Oldham

Cheltenham 0-0 Yeovil

Chesterfield 2-2 Bournemouth

Exeter 3-1 Accrington

Grays 3-1 Darlington

Grimsby 3-0 Chester

Rochdale 0-0 Barnet

Rotherham 2-0 Walsall

Shrewsbury 1-0 Hereford

Torquay 2-0 Brentford

--------

(top of table)

1 - Luton (51)

2 - Exeter (49)

3 - Rochdale (46)

--------

4 - Walsall (45)

5 - Darlington (44)

6 - Shrewsbury (42)

7 - Yeovil (42)

--------

8 - Grimsby (41)

9 - Accrington (40)

10 - Wycombe (40)

11 - Notts County (39)

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27/04/04 - Followed

As I made the ten minute walk from The Shay to the centre of town, I reflected that tonight probably wasn’t the best of nights to have a date. Things had become slightly odd over the past week. Other players had been acting strange towards me. And what I mean by that is; some of them had actually been treating me nicely. It was freaking me out.

With the fallout from the turnstile-rigging scandal resulting in several club fines and even an arrest in Tinny’s case (not to mention a banning order preventing him from ever entering the club's grounds again), people should have been angry and disconsolate. But they weren’t. They weren’t even close to being those things.

And not only that, they were being nice to me.

Which didn’t make an awful lot of sense given I was surely the only person they could have suspected of dobbing them in. The fact that I actually didn’t was neither here nor there. Tinny had seen me come out to watch him at the turnstile that one time. He surely would have remembered that and told the others? So why had precisely no-one come to me on the sly and asked if I’d had anything to do with it? For a bunch of brainless ****tards like these, it didn’t really make a whole lot of sense.

In the meantime, whilst all that had been going on, I’d finally moved on from believing me and Briony might have a future and made a move on someone else. Her name was Selina. She worked behind the bar of The Three Pigeons, a small pub just down the road from The Shay. I liked The Three Pigeons because it wasn’t a favourite haunt of people like Tinny. I liked Selina because she wasn’t the sort of girl who would ever date people like Tinny.

Arranging to meet her in the centre of Halifax though made me nervous. At least on the actual day it did. I felt it in my bones all the way into town. There was just something about the way they’d been treating me at training earlier on – well, it just felt 'off'. And I like to think I'm a man with good instincts.

Having said that, at the moment I walked into pub we were meeting in, I temporarily managed to put the feeling to the back of mind. Selina was already at the bar waiting for me. She’d dressed herself up for the occasion and looked great.

'Wow!'

“Hi there” I said, slipping in by the side of her.

“Hey”.

“You beat me here! I hope you haven’t ordered yet though. I was going to buy you the first round. And the second. And the third”.

“Ha-ha! You’re in luck. I haven’t been served”.

“In that case then, what are you having?”

“Just a glass of red wine for now”.

“Just for now? What are you planning to get later that'll top it?”

She didn’t have a quick-fire answer for that, so she didn’t bother. She was clearly enjoying the early banter though. I could see it in her face. Her mouth was smiling and so were her eyes. Nice brisk start to the match for Martin.

But then things took a turn for the bad, first in a minor way and then in a very major way. The minor thing was the barrel being empty on the beer I asked for. Normally I might have just picked something else, but before I could, I saw something in the mirror behind the bar.

It was Tinny.

And not just Tinny either. He had three mates with him. All big strapping lads. Some of them I’d seen knocking about before, I think (probably hanging around the players on nights out). Anyway, they were here now, they were together, and they were sat right at the table closest to the door. And they were looking straight at me.

“Hey!” said the barman, irritated. “Are you still with us? I said do you want to hang on a minute whilst I change the barrel, or do you want something else”.

“Err no, I’ll wait” I replied, not really thinking it through.

I turned back to face the bar again.

“Are you okay” asked Selina.

“Yeah. Sorry. Just had a moment’s cramp from the walk up here”.

‘But seriously, now what am I going to do?’

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17/01/11 - Panned

They’ve got a hell of a cheek, forcing this on us again: a sequel to 2009’s dubious home-grown slasher flick Death Count. Once again we’re trapped in the middle of a sealed off building and grounds, in this instance Kenilworth Road, home to League Two football club Luton Town. And that’s the first problem right there. Luton Town is no Wembley Stadium. Or Old Trafford. Or Stamford Bridge. Hell it’s not even a Watford or a Milton Keynes. Kenilworth Road – on a cinema screen anyway – looks small, cheap, and naff. Sorry Luton supporters.

Anyway, after a grisly decapitation in a car park, it quickly becomes apparent that The Gorilla Killer is back, a walking, grunting, chest-beating Michael Myers wannabe with absolutely nothing in the way of personality or even a back-story. Having said that; this description could almost sum up all the other characters in the film too.

Newcomer Kindra Singh as the main heroine isn’t TOO bad, but the rest of them are mostly non-actors again and it shows. Particularly bad is the guy playing the janitor and also the guy who plays the football manager (although mention must also go to the girl who just never stops grinning, even when she’s being boiled to death in a tub of hot water. Go figure). Under the bypass star Richard Forbes does offer Singh support in the form of a sidelined player, but even he seems to be losing interest by the second half. Billy Edwards, as the cocky team captain, tries his level best but quite frankly he’s got nothing to work with.

Directed by Ricky Page-Tansell, and based on a script by err Ricky Page-Martin, Death Count 2 has already bummed out the fanboys with its paucity of cool kills, this despite a mortality rate well into the double digits. But for anyone other than hardcore gore-hounds, this flipbook of horrible ways to die is ineffectively mean and unrelenting. And pretty far from fun.

(Zack Connolly, The Independant)

People get trapped in a football ground and die one-by-one at the hands of a guy wearing a gorilla mask. That’s all you need to know really. The end.

(Derek Adams, Timeout)

The second instalment in the Death Count series hits the cinemas with more bloody deaths at the hands of the infamous Gorilla Killer. In this episode, Rusanara Tendulker (Kindra Singh) is a football club physiotherapist who goes from being the unwanted conveyer of bad news to all and sundry within the playing ranks, to suddenly being the one person capable of bringing down the killer. It’s as if the film is saying “Hey, if you stay fit and healthy like Rusanara, you too can survive psychopathic crazies”.

The main criticism I have about this film though is that too much of the budget was spent on pyrotechnics and blood effects, and not enough on hiring a decent script/story writer. Yeah, so loads of nice people are dying in their herds. Right. Well guess what? I don’t care.

(Robert Hank, Bloody-Disgusting.com)

Amid all its man-traps and macho posturing, this is an overfamiliar exercise in by-numbers filmmaking that always seems merely to be coasting on auto-pilot.

(Variety)

Twelve months or so on from the original Death Count, catatonic madman The Gorilla Killer (played again by Scott Renny, even though it’s a different ‘Gorilla Killer’) is back to wreck more havoc on an unsuspecting group of randoms. There is a tiny bit of plot in the beginning. Not much, but it’s there. Then it’s the usual massacre-by-indestructible-whackjob time. The shocks are non-existent, the script diabolical. Give it a miss.

(Danny Kerr, The London Reader)

An absolute embarrassment to the local area. The people at the football club who authorised this mess should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. And I'm sorry, but if James Martin anything to do with it, he's simply got to go.

(Andy Branston, The Hertfordshire Herald)

Whilst Part Two is admittedly better than Part One, it is still worse than, say, being bitten in the retina by fire ants.

(Tim Hemmingway, The Chronicle)

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19/01/11 - Peeled apple

I got another summons from Shandy today. God knows what he wanted this time. A massive chunk of time had interspersed our first meeting in the mall with our second in The Vibe Lounge. There wasn’t so big a gap this time. I hoped he wasn’t planning to make our meetings a regular thing now.

The man certainly likes to vary where he meets people; I’ll say that for him. This third one-on-one was to be in neither a shopping centre nor a jazz club. The message over the phone (delivered in a very unenthusiastic tone by Hassan) indicated I should head to the Luton town theatre by 4pm. I’d barely noticed before that Luton even has a theatre.

When I got there I saw on the billboard outside there wasn’t a performance until half past seven. The great man evidently wasn’t planning on talking to me in a whisper whilst five hundred people around us tried to watch Orphan Annie. Then again, I suppose it should have been pretty friggin’ obvious Shandy wouldn’t have a chinwag about the latest murder news in a room that wasn’t empty.

Funnily enough, mind, this didn’t turn out to be entirely the case. The moment I entered the foyer, some bloke came up to me and told me I should follow him into the main theatre area. So I did. And when I got there, I saw in fact there was a performance going on. It looked like one of those 'dry runs' theatre companies do the night before the main event.

“What's the show?” I asked my guide, probably to try and make it seem I was completely relaxed about the prospect of meeting Shandy.

“I think it’s called New Jersey Blues, or something like that. Dunno know what it’s about. Never seen it”.

“Okay”.

“Sit in the middle about halfway down. Maybe just slightly further up, actually. Jack will probably be with you in a minute”.

‘Probably be with me in a minute? Probably?! Oh well. Whenever’s convenient for him, I suppose’.

Trying not to make any noise, I slithered down the steps until I was almost halfway to the stage. Then I turned right into Row 'N' and carried on walking for about twenty seats. Then I sat down.

The only other people watching the performance were down in the first two rows at the bottom. I quickly guessed the skinny guy with the clipboard was the director. A few younger people were sat either side of him, but I don't know who they were. Understudies?

New Jersey Blues, if that’s what it was called, looked like some kind of drama set in the early twentieth century. At least if the costumes and scenery were anything to go by. Behind the actors were several giant cardboard paintings depicting some kind of smoggy urban hell (New Jersey?). In front of the paintings were several market stall props full of fake apples and oranges, and various other fruits. So it was a market stall in the middle of a city then?

There were only two actors on stage at the moment, a young girl of about twenty, and a guy with a mop-top. Both were speaking their lines in extremely loud, exaggerated ways. I suppose you have to in the theatre.

“I’m sorry!” reflected the girl (loudly). “It’s just - I have to take this chance, Jeffrey! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

“I know. I know! But – dammit, Lizzie! You know how I feel about you! You know how much you mean to me. Without you I’m just the same as all the other bums in the neighbourhood”.

“Oh Jeffrey, you know I’ll never think of you like that. Hey! Why don’t you come with me?!”

“All the way to Philadelphia?! Jeez, I don’t know, Lizzie. Sure does seem a long way from New Jersey. And besides, what about my apples and oranges?!”

A strange question that last one. Before I could properly analyse it, Jeffrey got to his feet and began marching around to the sounds of trombones and saxophones. A live orchestra I hadn’t previously spotted was down in a hollowed out pit by the fire exit.

“Apples and oranges aplenty!” Jeffrey sang with great vigour. “They might never earn me a Bentley. But I’ve freedom and fresh air aplenty! Oh I love my apples and oranges immensely!”

Next thing, twenty-odd dancers dressed as giant apples and oranges came onto the stage, all doing a kind of can-can thing with their hands and feet. Without wasting any time, they then quickly began singing the exact verse Jeffrey had just sung, only with much higher pitched voices. Most of them were women, you see.

At that moment, I noticed out the corner of my eye that Jack had arrived. He was shuffling his way along the row. No bodyguards were with him today. When he reached me, I didn’t say a word to him and to begin with he didn’t say a word to me. The two of us just sat there and watched the rest of the song.

Then, finally, it came..

“Who is Darren Simmons?”

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19/01/11 - Peeled apple (part 2)

For a few seconds I was dumbstruck. The obvious assumption to make was that Darren was the latest person to borrow a buck from Shandy and not pay it back.

“Why?” I eventually spluttered.

“Just answer the question”.

“He’s Luton Town’s website administrator”.

“Okay. That’s what he said. Wanted to check for myself, though”.

“Why?”

Shandy glanced at me. Judging by his next statement, he must have guessed my fears.

“Relax; he doesn’t owe me any money. Just an apology, which as it happens, he’s already given”.

“Why?”

“The other day I caught him hanging around the door to one of my safe-houses. I knew straight away he was up to no good because he couldn’t think of a single damn thing to explain away his being there. Anyway, I got it out of him in the end; said he was upset about Caroline and wanted to say a few choice words to me. I assumed he was lying, but when I had him searched, he didn’t have any weapons on him. So I took pity. I let him go. After he’d apologised for wasting my time of course”.

I said nothing. I was too busy trying to work out how Darren knew of the Jack-Caroline connection. Had Brian let it slip? Towzer?

"Well?" Shandy eventually pressed. "Any input?"

“I wasn’t the one who told him” I retorted.

“Wouldn’t bother me if you had. I do though want you to have a word with him. I want you re-enforce what I told him myself, that whereas one indiscretion outside my front door can be forgiven, a second cannot. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal”.

The two of us shut up for a minute. This was because, on-stage, the lights had dimmed to signal the beginning of a ballad. It was to be sung by Lizzie, as she sat by a fake window sill clutching a teddy. A guy with a keyboard in the music pit would be providing back-up.

‘Heeee’s got the New Jersey Blu-ooo-wooo-ooos! I read it in the neeeewwssssss! Oh my Jeffrey Jeffrey Jeffrey poooooos!

Once it was over, Shandy turned to face me. He didn't retract his head this time prior to speaking.

“You see, this is another reason death in this business is so rare. It’s not just the fact dead people can’t pay you; it’s also the way their friends and relatives turn up asking questions. Believe me when I say – again! – that that girl had her chances. I didn’t want her dead”.

Again I said nothing. Well, not about Caroline anyway. Too painful. Too annoying. Too 'old news'.

“Why the theatre?” I asked.

“Let’s just say I have some business interests here”.

“Another pie you’ve got your finger in?”

“Quite”.

Another silence. This time, Shandy ended it by getting to his feet.

“Make sure Darren doesn’t hassle me again” he said as a closing statement, leaning down towards my cheek.

Then he left. Squeezing his way out to the aisle, he walked up to the top door.

Just before he got there though, he suddenly turned around and came back. Then he leaned down close to my cheek again.

“Did the guy in the foyer pat you down for bugs when you came in?”

“No”.

“Okay. Ask him to do it when you go back out though, okay?”

“Okay”.

Then he finally left for definite.

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19/01/11 - One all

I was calm and smiley all the way out to the car (I even asked to be debugged). As soon as I was clear of the town centre though, I stepped on the gas and headed over to Darren’s place.

‘What the hell has he been up to?!’ I mused.

Darren lives in a rented two bedroom terraced house with his friend Gumbold. It’s cheap and untidy but he doesn’t care. Luton’s women don’t seem to mind tip-toeing through the empty pizza boxes to get to the top floor, so why would Darren think there was a problem?

Today however, just for a change, it was a man going up to his room with him. Me.

“What the hell do think you’re playing at?!” I asked, once the door was shut behind us.

“Eh? What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Shandy – you going around to his house!”

That stumped him. Briefly he opened his mouth like a codfish. Then he shut it again.

There’s a dartboard on the back of Darren’s bedroom door. He picked three darts out of it now and began idly throwing into random beds. His final three throws from the previous time he’d played had been excellent; all bulls-eyes.

“I didn’t go to his house. I went to a flat that he owns. Down near – well, you wouldn’t know where it is”.

“How would you know he owns a flat anywhere?”

“A mate of mine used to live in a flat on the same floor, with his mum. We were just kids back then, but everyone knew who Jack was, and loads of people knew he owned that flat, even though he didn’t stay there most of the time. For years the biggest topic of conversation around was what Shandy used that flat for. There were loads of stories. Most of them myths, I suppose. Sometimes kids would dare each other to play knock-door-run. Not on just any door, though. Only Jack’s.

“How did you even know that Shandy was the one who ordered – “

“Brian let slip something that got me curious. I pestered him a bit and eventually – begrudgingly – he told me. Man’s tongue gets a tad loose after one or two of those guest ales”.

Feeling the need to let some air out, I waited until Darren next threw the darts and then retrieved them myself. I guess he knew what I wanted to do because he stepped away from the oche without being prompted.

“So you went around there to have it out with him? Are you insane?!”

“Eh? What do you mean?”

“You went around there to vent your spleen!”

“Did I feck! I went around to peek through his letterbox. Maybe even his window. I was hoping I might see or hear him up to something illegal, call the police on him maybe. And before you call me an idiot, just remember I’m going pretty easy on you right now for not telling me who killed Caroline in the first place! You should have told me, man”.

Not much I could say to that. Throwing two treble fives and a one (this was my second set of three – the first set had been even worse), I went and picked up the darts and handed them back again. I didn’t want any more turns now.

“Fair enough” I eventually replied. “We’ll call it even then. I’m an idiot for not telling you sooner, and you’re an idiot for risking your life at that dick’s flat. Call it a draw?”

“Yeah. A draw”.

“Just promise me you won’t go around there again, okay? This isn’t Murder She Wrote. There isn’t going to be any nice snug ending with Shandy being led off in cuffs, okay? Caroline’s gone and we just have to forget about it. Maybe Shandy will get his comeuppance one day. Maybe he won’t. But whether he does or he doesn’t, it’s out of our control. It doesn’t have anything to do with us. Okay?”

“Okay”.

We both sat down on the edge of Darren’s bed now in a moment of quiet reflection. Darren still had the darts in his hand.

It was then I spotted a Gorilla Killer mask sticking out from under his bed. Briefly picking it up and bashing some dust off it, I placed it on the bedside table and remembered something from the night of the premiere.

“Hey. That reminds me. I didn’t see your name on the end credits the other night. I did though see someone called Darren Rodriguez. Funny that”.

“Oh” Darren grinned. “Yeah that was me. I told them I wanted to use a stage name. Darren Rodriguez sounds a lot cooler than Darren Simmons”.

I shook my head and said nothing.

‘Kids’.

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22/01/11, League Match 27

Darlington v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (32 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Aaron Ides (13 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (127 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Richie Byrne (69 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Dorian Moore (22 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (101 apps, 24 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (121 apps, 14 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (79 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Michael Taylor (61 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (14 apps, 11 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (54 apps, 24 goals)

Despite our surging run to the league summit, I was sceptical about this game. We’d played Darlington three times before today and not won any of them. Two ended in draws at Kenilworth Road; a 3-3 and a 2-2. The one previous match at The Darlington Arena produced a 0-2 loss. Not great omens.

The team news was mixed. No Tony James today but we were able to welcome back Taylor on the right wing. Win some you lose some.

I didn’t pay much attention to the Darlington team news. My philosophy is – if you’re own house is in order, everything else will take care of itself. Don’t tell anyone I said that though.

Thanks to the home side’s black and white striped kit, we were also able to play in our home colours. The two teams ran out to a heavy dose of Muse, but not a lot else. There’s never much in the way of atmosphere inside Darlington’s cavernous stadium and today was no exception.

The Quakers, as they’re known, took the lead in the 13th minute. Parritt ran down the right and passed infield to Abbott, central and unmarked. He was still outside the area here but it didn’t faze him one bit. One fierce shot in the top left hand corner later and that was all it took. Moore and Byrne had both been between Abbott and the goal but it hadn’t made any difference. Pain in the arse is Abbott. Always has been when he plays us.

“Let’s hope Parritt isn’t like a real parrot” Brian remarked.

I said nothing.

“Because then he’ll be able to repeat crosses like that all game” he went on. “Like a parrot repeats sentences”.

I said nothing.

We almost equalised straight away. It would have been a great goal. Keane curled a pass with the outside of his foot over the top of the defence into the path of Taylor, who’d timed his run to perfection. He was on a tight angle though and this fact was probably what induced him to hit the ball two yards over the bar.

Despite the drab atmosphere, some really good football was on show. A good pitch and a lack of wind were definitely helping. On 24 minutes, another run from ‘The Parrot’, as I now think of him, resulted in a half chance for Akinfenwa on the edge of the area. He hit it first time and hit it well. The ball would have gone firmly inside the near post but for a fantastic save by Stubhaug, who tipped it around for a corner.

He needed to make another save not long after. Wilcox passed to Kennedy thirty yards out and Kennedy spun fully three hundred and sixty degrees before deciding what to do with the ball. In the end he fed it back to Wilcox, who took advantage of a lack of interest from the Luton defence to surge through to the by-line. Byrne zoned in on him at this point but Kennedy pulled back inside him and rifled in right-footer from an angle. Good save again from Stubby.

It was an uncomfortable passage of play this because one more Darlington goal would officially turn a molehill into a mountain. Anyone can climb a molehill. Even babies can climb up molehills. Not everyone can climb up a mountain though. I can’t climb up a mountain. Some really good climbers have even fallen off mountains completely. So I’ve heard.

The mountain wouldn’t materialise before half time but neither would the molehill be smoothed out into a nice piece of level grass. Snowden did go through on goal in the 44th minute but his first touch took him too close to goalkeeper Kazimierczak and the ball was deflected away to safety. It took a while for Gnakpa to take the resulting throw-in because the ball went into one of the (many) stands without any fans in. It also took me a while to copy 'Kazimierczak' over from my notes. I've got it copied in the computer memory for when I write the second half though so we're all good.

Half time.

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“Stop letting that parrot sing!”

The two teams ran back out to Never gonna give you up by Rick Astley. He could just as easily have been singing about Darlington’s stubborn refusal to leave The Darlington Arena. Seriously, the atmosphere is awful. If I’d closed my eyes on the touchline and kept them closed, I’m not sure I would have ever realised the second half had started.

Well, not until the 47th minute anyway, because that’s when the home side doubled their advantage. Thankfully for my sanity, The Parrot wasn’t involved in the build-up. Everybody else was though (seemingly). Hardman, Wilcox, Kennedy, Purdie, Abbott – they all got touches of the ball. Then, with Luton driven ridiculously deep, Purdie slid Akinfenwa in inside the area. From a slight angle, Akinfenwa then slid to the right of Stubhaug. Goal.

Two-nil then, and I kind of sensed at this point the long unbeaten record we possessed going back to before Christmas was about to end. It just felt like one of those days. Had done at one-nil, and had done at nil-nil. And if I’m honest, I might have even detected something was up when Bambi puked on the living room rug just before I left for the coach pick-up.

But, football is nothing if unpredictable. That’s why we all love it. In the 56th minute, Taylor managed to get a goal back completely against the run of play. We seriously hadn’t done anything in the second half until then.

Not that we deserved to score. Paterson sold Avinel short thirty yards from his own goal and Taylor was in like a whippet to take advantage. He duly went around the hapless Kazimierczak (thanks very much, cut and paste feature!) before sliding into an empty net. Now only two-one to Darlo.

Almost on auto-pilot, I made my substitutions soon after. I wasn’t naive enough to think the goal was going to change the pattern of play much. It had been a lucky goal; nothing more. So, on went Poole for Daniels and Kearns for Keane. After coming off, Daniels sat down in the dugout. Keane, on the other hand, went straight down the tunnel and wasn’t seen again until after the final whistle.

Darlington responded by sending on Phillips and Ides. If this game had been live on TV, the concept of Ides going up against Ides might have confused the commentators.

Our defence was certainly confused in the 64th minute. Parrot was back, this time taking a pass from Purolie and feeding it straight back to the same man on the edge of the area. Defenders were closing in so Purolie hit it first time. Too softly. The ball went into the arms of Stubhaug with all the effect of a firm pass-back. Nice build-up play, mind.

We were having a terrible second half. We just looked completely ineffective. 72 minutes and another chance for Akinfenwa. It came from a pass that felt like it belonged in table football. Defender Hardman blasted a low ball aimlessly from his central defensive position which went straight through about a hundred players and arrived at the feet of Akinfenwa in a centre forward's position. He wasted the chance though, blasting over as Stubhaug approached. That's where the similarity to a table football move ended. You can't hit it over in table football.

Ten minutes later, Kennedy wasn’t so wasteful. As he shuffled his way past Byrne on the edge of the area, I almost wished Lee Harvey Oswald would take him out from the top of the stand somewhere. Alas, no sign of Oswald, and no sign of the late tackle that might have stopped Kennedy from ramming past Stubhaug for three-one.

When Snowden headed wide in the 85th after great play from Poole and Nicholls, I literally threw my hands up in the air as if to say – “Why now?!”

It was a fair question. A whopping twenty nine minutes of football had separated Taylor’s consolation goal from Snowden’s header. What had we been doing all that time in-between?! Clearly not a lot.

You know, it’s funny; I can sit here and muse about how one defeat in a dozen games – or whatever it was – is not something to worry about. But I’ll tell you what, it felt bloody depressing at the time it was happening earlier today. Losing is losing. For me, it doesn’t feel much better on the back of a good run than it does on a bad one.

Better next week, please.

--------

FINAL SCORE (att - 2699)

Darlington 3 (Abbott 13, Akinfenwa 47, Kennedy 82)

Luton Town 1 (Taylor 56)

--------

(other results)

Accrington Stanley 2-0 Torquay

Bournemouth 2-1 Exeter

Brentford 0-1 Grimsby

Chester 1-0 Shrewsbury

Hereford 1-2 Grays

Lincoln 2-1 Barnet

Notts County 1-2 Rochdale

Oldham 3-0 Rotherham

Walsall 0-1 Cheltenham

Wycombe 1-0 Aldershot

Yeovil 1-1 Chesterfield

--------

(top of table)

1 - Luton (51)

2 - Exeter (49)

3 - Rochdale (49)

--------

4 - Darlington (47)

5 - Walsall (45)

6 - Grimsby (44)

7 - Yeovil (43)

--------

8 - Accrington (43)

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24/01/11 - He just can't stop scoring

I was in my private office this afternoon fantasising about putting a bid in for The Parrot (If only I had some transfer money). I wasn’t in the mood for doing any real work. I had my legs up on the desk and a matchstick leaping from side to side in my mouth. It was that kind of day.

All things considered, I wasn’t sure if the sound of the phone ringing was a good or a bad thing.

“James Martin” I answered.

“Hi it’s Lee”.

“Lee” I exclaimed, taking my legs off the desk and sitting up. “How are you? How’s the shop?”

Lee paused at the other end, clearly wondering which question to tackle first. In the end he opted for the one about the shop.

“Business is good. Err - how’s the football club?”

“How’s the football club? You mean you haven’t been following?”

“Of course I have. I was just err you know - being polite, asking the same question back that you asked”.

“Oh. Right. Well, the football club is doing okay, Lee. As you already know. Anyway, to what do I owe the pleasure of the call? I’m really busy here; people to see, players to si – “

“I need to talk to you about something”.

“Okay. What is it?”

“Well I err – well – the other night – I err”.

“Come on, Lee, spit it out. I haven’t got all day”.

“Okay. Sorry. Well, the other night I err, I went to a gay club”.

Now I wished I really did have some hard work to do, and that I’d switched my phone to divert. I mean Jesus Christ! Calling me up, for this?! I didn’t want to know. No offence to him or anything.

“That’s great” I replied, scratching my chin awkwardly. “I’m glad you’re finally embracing the whole err – “

“No!” he interrupted. “What I was going to say - before I felt a sneeze coming on and had to pause - is that while I was in the gay club, I saw Edgar Snowden there. I think he’s gay”.

“Think or know?”

“Know! I saw him snogging another guy!”

I didn’t know what to make of this. Delaying my next reply, I got up from the desk and went to the window. The phone wire became stretched and rose in the air but it wasn’t in danger of pulling the phone over the edge. I’ve gone to the window many times before with the phone to my ear. It’s just something I do.

So then, there was a possibility my top goal scorer was gay. Was that a big deal? No. Not really.

“Makes no difference to me, Lee. We don’t discriminate at this club when it comes to a person’s sexuality. Or race. Or gender. Well, maybe with gender we do. But players being gay? That’s no biggie. Just so long as he keeps the trouser-chasing out there and the goal-scoring in here, it doesn’t bother me what he does with his spare time. Quite frankly I’m surprised you would even think I’d have a problem with it, to be honest".

“I didn’t think you would have a problem with it! It's not you I'm worried about. It’s the fans I’m worried about! If this gets out, it could be very very bad”.

“Lee, the fans love Snowden! He’s our best chance of winning the league! Trust me, they wouldn’t give a fig if he fancied men, dogs, cats – “

“Yeah, NOW they love him! But what if it gets out about his sexuality and then he has a drop-off in form? And he will have a drop in form eventually. It happens to all players. Can you just imagine what’s going to happen on the terraces when that happens? Can you imagine the slurs that will come out? Can you imagine how ugly the situation could get? It wouldn't just be the home fans you'd have to worry about, either".

I suddenly didn’t like where this was going.

“So what do you want me to do, get rid of him?!”

“No, I just think that maybe, if I was you, I might think about having a word with him and getting him to go gay-clubbing somewhere other than Luton. Plenty of other towns within an hour’s taxi ride he could go to. As a rule, Luton players only get recognised in Luton. Outside of Luton, they’re just normal everyday faces no-one recognises”.

“Oh for Pete’s sake – not sure I’d feel comfortable doing that!”

“Well, it’s up to you, but I know what I’d do”.

The call ended shortly after. I told Lee I’d think about it and after that came the goodbyes. Then I put the phone down and put my head in my hands instead.

‘Jesus friggin’ Christ. Why does this crap always happen to me?’

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Thanks guys

--------

25/01/11 - Austerity

I spent most of the next twenty four hours mulling over Snowden. If Chantelle had any idea I was spending so much time thinking about a gay man, she might have been quite concerned.

Off the top of my head, there was only one other gay footballer I could think of, and that was Justin Fashanu, who played for Norwich and Nottingham Forest in the eighties and nineties. Fashanu committed suicide at some point. I remembered seeing it in the news donkey’s years back. I couldn't remember under what circumstances. Probably not good ones.

Sitting in my private office again, I booted up an Internet screen and typed the name Justin Fashanu into Google. He’d been a famous enough player back in his day; I figured the odds were good he’d have his own Wiki page.

He did have his own Wiki page.

Justinus Soni “Justin” Fashanu (19 February 1961 – 2 May 1998) was an English footballer who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. He was known by his early clubs to be gay and came out to the press later in his career, to become the first and only English professional footballer to be openly homosexual. He was also the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981, but had little success as a player afterwards, although he continued to play at Senior level until 1994

After moving to the United States, in 1998 he was questioned by police when a seventeen year old boy accused him of sexual assault. Fashanu committed suicide in May of that year, his suicide note stating that the sex was consensual

I didn’t read any further. The page was a lot longer than that. A lot longer. But I didn’t read any further. I’d seen enough.

There was no way I could just let this situation drift and hope it would be alright. Unchecked, there were all sorts of nasty possibilities. As much as I was putting it off, I just had to have that difficult conversation with Snowden. I had to warn him to be more discreet with his activities. A LOT more. I couldn’t have him gay-clubbing in Luton or anywhere near it. That was the bottom line. I was going to have to speak to him.

But how? It’s not exactly an easy subject to bring up with someone is it?

‘So, Edgar, listen, now don’t ask me how I know this, but it just so happens I’ve err found out about err, well, your, err, disposition’.

I stopped that train of thought right there. Disposition?! Christ, what a stupid (and patronising) word to have thrown in there! I was going to be no good at this. No good at all. I needed help.

Downing the last of my coffee, I stood up and headed for the door. I seemed to remember Nicky mentioning she had a gay friend at some point. Maybe she would have some advice as to how I’d go about this? No point asking Lee; he was biased. Any advice from him was likely to put Luton Town first, Edgar Snowden second. No, I needed a more neutral view.

So I went downstairs.

Nicky though, it turned out, was not in the office. Everyone else was. Just not Nicky. Typical.

“Where’s Nickelodean?” I asked the room.

“She’s in the toilet”.

“Oh”.

That wasn't so bad. To pass the time whilst I waited, I went and sat at my desk and prepared to boot the computer up. Just as I was doing this however, I noticed everyone was looking rather shifty in their seats.

“Okay, what’s up?”

It took them a few seconds to telepathically decide who was going to play spokesman. Then Darren stepped up.

“Nicky has kind of, well, been in the toilet a long time” he said. "I don't think she's coming out anytime soon either".

“Why?”

“Because she’s ill”.

“Then why hasn’t she gone home?”

Another pause. This time Brenda stepped in.

“She’s keen not to lose any pay. Erica’s stopped it”.

“She’s what?”

“She’s stopped sick pay. Well, kind of. Look, I’ll send you the email she sent us”.

So Brenda did. It took a good minute to reach me. Not exactly superfast is our LAN. Anyway, the email was titled Sick pay. It seemed to be addressed to no-one except the support staff.

Morning all.

As most of you will be aware, these are challenging financial times, both in the football world and the wider economy as a whole. The club is currently having to tighten its spending parameters in several key areas, one of which is administration.

As a result of this, and to avoid reductions in salaries (which nobody wants!), I regret to announce that sick pay will no longer be paid as readily and as generously as it has in the past. From now on the club will be offering statutory sick pay only. For full details as to what this entails, please visit the link I’ve provided at the bottom of the email.

If, after this, anyone still has further questions, please don’t hesitate to speak to me.

Luton Town FC continues to strive to improve its growth as a business and as a commercial entity. With your assistance, support, and hard work, we can go on to have an even better season than we did last year.

Remember, we’re all in this together.

Erica Hunt

Club Director

“What the hell is statutory sick pay?” I asked no-one in particular.

“Let’s just say it’s naff” Kindra responded.

“Just goes to show how little you mingle in the world of the little folk!” Darren said, looking at me with a grin. “Only people with too much money to burn would have no idea what statutory sick pay is”.

“Give up!” I said. “I’m not that well off”.

“I bet you at least got a pay rise last year though. We didn’t. We just got another crappy email like that one, telling us there wouldn’t be one”.

I said nothing. I suddenly felt very awkward.

“Well?” he persisted. “Did you get one last year?”

“No” I lied, suddenly very grateful the payroll administrator was busy puking up in the toilet. “Football managing is a vocation for me. It’s not about the money”.

Quickly I got up and shuffled towards the door.

“Got to go. Just remembered I’ve got someone I’m close to signing”.

And before anyone could say anything else, I was gone. I’d completely forgotten about Snowden.

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(author's note)

Hi all

It's 3 years to the day since I started writing this story, and as such, it seems a good day to call it quits. I've struggled to carry on with it these last couple of months, and after a great deal of thought, I've decided to bow out whilst people are still following, rather than drift off slowly. This is my final decision and it definitely won't be changed. I've really enjoyed writing this, and I hope many people enjoyed reading.

Anyway, that's the bad news out of the way.

The good news is, it's not quite the end, because I've decided to reveal how the story would have ended had I carried on. That's the thing you see; I wasn't writing this thing on the fly. Unbeknown to you, there was a secret five season plan, and to date I'd only got through two and a half of those seasons. Thus, I'd only got just past the halfway stage of the story. I figured though that if I'd carried on it would have taken me another 3 or 4 years to finish in real time, and that's too long sadly. I'm ready to move on to some new things.

Did I consider reducing the length of the story? Yes, but that would have stained the fabric of the story. I didn't want to do that.

So, in the interests of providing closure for you the reader, I will be a fair man and reveal what would have happened for the rest of Season 3, and also in 4 and 5. I had quite detailed plans for all five seasons. I didn't plan out every single post, but I certainly planned a lot of the sub-plots and main plots, and how everyone would end up in the end etc etc.

What I'll do is this - I'll probably do one post per season to sum up, in how much detail I'm not yet sure (though not likely this evening. I'll let the news digest first. One thing at a time). Probably three more posts to come then.

Once again, thanks for reading the story.

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Sad news, but I agree it is always better to end these things when quality is still there, and not when quality starts to drop. Thank you for the great read, I only wish I could keep myself motivated to do a similar story. I look forward to whatever type of story you write next.

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Thank you for writing such a literary masterpiece Scott, for the great moments we all had over the last couple of years, and for the inspiration I'm certain you gave to many. Sad news indeed, but if you had to end it, hell, you had to end it. I think that's much better than writing without motivation and having quality drop slowly over time.

Once again, thanks for everything, and I wish you the best of everything in your future endeavors.

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Pulling a Fawlty Towers eh? Probably for the best, better to quit while you're ahead than feel like you're writing the story because you feel you have to. I've thoroughly enjoyed this story and will keep an eye out for any you may do in the future.

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Thanks for the kind words. Right, as promised, time to reveal what happens in the future. Some of it anyway.

What follows is selected highlights of everything that happens between January and May of Season 3..

----

At the end of January, Kindra tells James she intends to leave the club in the summer. This is because she’s been offered the chance to star in Death Count 3D, albeit just so long as she also agrees to sign on for a possible five further sequels after that. James wishes her the best but also shakes his head in disbelief (not necessarily at the fact he’ll have to find a replacement).

On Valentine’s Day, James takes Chantelle out for a romantic meal to discuss baby names. Unfortunately, the fat heckler wanders into the restaurant and James immediately fears for the ambience. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, the heckler begins his usual moaning and groaning and everyone falls silent.

There’s an added twist this time though...

Frustrated not only at the slow service, but also the fact he’s the only single person in the room, the heckler stands up and holds everyone at gunpoint with the banana in his pocket (that everyone thinks is a real gun). He’s clearly lost the plot here, but just as things are getting nasty, a shy girl with glasses pops up from a hidden corner and claims she’s also single on Valentine’s Day. She tells the fat heckler that if he agrees to let everyone go, she’ll go on a date with him for the rest of the night. She seems sincerely interested in a date, rather than just scamming the heckler into giving up his 'gun'.

The fat heckler can’t believe his luck. Offering his arm out, he takes hold of the girl and off they walk out the door. James then quickly stands up and begs everyone not to call the police. He feels sorry for the fat heckler – kind of – and wants to give him a chance. Chantelle isn’t happy at this and pouts for the rest of the night. She acts as if the heckler was a major criminal, and James let him get away.

Not long after this, the staff enjoy a work night out at the new casino near The Lightning Bowl. During the fun and games, Erica is spotted mysteriously leaving a nearby office connected to Luton Lightning and suspicions are raised she might be up to no good. Over the next few days, James concocts a plan to trap her, but it turns out the trip to the Lightning was for innocent reasons, and James feels like a fool. He apologises. Erica begrudgingly accepts.

James takes Luke to get a Chelsea shirt one Saturday morning in March. As they enter the sports store, James is appalled by the fact there are shirts for all the big Premiership and La Liga clubs but none for Luton (completely forgetting that Cyril sells them). He lectures the attendant about it and demands to see the manager. Although the manager protests that the store has previously tried to sell Luton shirts without success, he admits to having been sent some by the club recently and pledges to sort something out. Eventually, after much messing around, the Luton shirts come out of the backroom and put on display. James is thus appeased.

“So then” says the attendant, frustrated. “What will it be?”

“One Chelsea home shirt” James replies. “Medium, please”.

Nicky’s new boyfriend Tim Cruise turns out to be a bit of a dud. Nicky discovers he’s been stealing money out of her bedroom and confides in James. Unbeknown to Nicky, James then goes around to the garage where Tim works and drops a car on his foot. Tim doesn’t phone anymore after that. He doesn't walk many places either.

Glynn’s Easter scheme is to organise a ‘Luton hotties’ calendar, featuring women who work in the office. Reluctantly, Katrina, Kindra, and Nicky are persuaded to sign up and strip down to their bra and knickers for it (in various places around the stadium). There’s no doubt who the star of the show is though, and for the next eighteen months James regularly walks into Glynn and Bob’s offices to find a copy of the calendar on the wall open on one of Nicky’s months, even when it’s one of the other girls' months. James himself finds it difficult to look at the calendar at all.

Chantelle is discovered to be having a girl. After a democratic vote over the dinner table, it’s decided the baby should be named Chelsea. James’ request to appeal the decision is denied.

In a flashback, James batters his four stalkers in Halifax single-handed. But that success doesn’t last long. In subsequent flashbacks, it’s then shown that his career-ruining leg injury was caused by Halifax players paying off an Altrincham player to take him down mid-match. This is because they believe him responsible for exposing the gate scam.

Although we don’t know it yet – at least IF this was being written properly – Chantelle finds out from Stacy that James cheated on her on the stag do. She keeps it to herself though because she’s now very very pregnant and very emotional, and she doesn’t want to dump James right now and go through the pregnancy alone. We’re not supposed to be privy to this information yet though.

For his role in Death Count 2 : More Death, James is nominated in the ‘worst cameo performance’ category for the MTV Stinkies, a show designed to showcase the worst acting of the past twelve months. James announces to the office that he won’t be attending the awards night to collect his ‘stinky’, should he win it.

---

Coming next - Luton's final league placing at the end of Season 3 + the big final showdown with Shandy in May + summer roundup

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Thanks for the ride, mate, it has been a huge pleasure tagging along. And after revealing the plot for season 3 you weren't out of ideas at all. Like one of the previous posters wrote, we feel like we know James Martin. The writing, and humour, has been excellent all the way through. Underlined by pure gold like this from the most recent post - "After a democratic vote over the dinner table, it’s decided the baby should be named Chelsea. James’ request to appeal the decision is denied."

Best of luck to you in the future and thanks again from a devoted reader out of Copenhagen!

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Thanks, Kong.

------

About three matches before the end of the season, James gets an angry call from Jack Shandy one morning. Apparently, the night before, Shandy discovered Alison was a plant and promptly had her shot. He believes James knew about Alison because of her old connection to Luton Town FC (maybe even orchestrated the whole sting). James naturally denies all knowledge and Jack believes him.

When James comes off the phone though he feels enraged at Alison’s death, so much so he snaps and heads off to give Shandy a pummelling. Unfortunately even James is out of his depth with this one. On approach to Shandy’s office out on the development site near Luton Lightning, James is caught and taken to Shandy. Also present is Randy, summoned over to answer questions about Alison.

Shandy quickly guesses what James is here for and has him marched off to a huge square hole in the ground not far from the office – one of several in the immediate area. There’s a concrete pourer just to the side of the hole, and James is suddenly fearing the worst.

But instead of throw James in, Shandy gets on a walkie and orders Alison’s body to be brought out. A henchman obliges, appearing from around back with the body sprawled out over a wheelbarrow. James is then sickened as Alison is unceremoniously dumped into the hole.

“Pour” Shandy instructs another guy, stood behind the pourer.

The concrete sludge then slowly begins to cover Alison over.

“Haha, look at that bitch!” Randy squeals, leaning close to the edge.

Behind his back, Shandy then nods at Hassan. Hassan shoots the back of Randy’s leg and he topples into the sludge with Alison. It’s really starting to fill up now.

As a stunned Randy struggles to keep his head above the surface, Shandy then explains to him he’s become a liability over recent months, and Alison is the final straw. Shandy announces that it’s completely unacceptable that Randy handed him an undercover cop as a secretary. Randy looks like he wants to answer back but can’t because he’s spluttering too much.

“But hey” Shandy says. “Look on the bright side, in a few minutes time you’ll be able to call yourself Randy-Rock-Hard-Begher”.

Randy then disappears under the surface. Gone for good.

Shandy tells James he’s free to go, but only because Luton are still winning. So he can count himself lucky. He does though threaten to kill his wife and his future kid if any more ex-Luton employees turn up trying to get jobs with Shandy, or if any police are ever spotted sniffing around Alison and Randy’s shared grave.

James is still enraged. Once he’s out of earshot and back up on the motorway embankment, he calls Bear at the dojo. He tells Bear he’s found Brute, and gives him directions leading right to Shandy’s office. He warns Bear though that Brute’s place is heavily fortified, and that only a gung-ho explosive approach will work. Bear can barely put the phone down fast enough.

Bear then storms the building site with about fifty wannabe ninja’s and kills everyone. Including Shandy (his body is confirmed as being found by the local paper the next day). James watches from afar and is appeased.

Killing Shandy comes with a price though. Bear twigs that something wasn’t right with the takedown. The next time James visits the dojo, he claims he didn’t see Brute among the bodies and wants an explanation. James claims he has no idea, and that maybe Brute left beforehand? Bear doesn’t buy it. He suspects he was used to settle some kind of private feud, and banishes James from the dojo forever. James cares not a jot.

Luton seal the title in the very next game, winning promotion for the second successive season. As a surprise to the supporters during the final home game, Glynn pays for someone to parachute into the stadium at half time carrying the trophy. Alas, the guy mis-judges the falls and gets 'hung up' on the edge of the roof behind the goals. As he then dangles there waiting for a fire engine to turn up and rescue him, he carefully drops the trophy down to someone in the crowd. It then starts getting passed around the ground over the tops of people's heads like a game of pass-the-parcel. A cheer goes up every time someone touches it. The game is delayed ten minutes for the firemen to rescue the parachutist, and a further fifteen for the stewards to rescues the trophy.

-----

Next - the summer between season 3 and 4, and probably some of season 4.

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Oh no! Genuinely upset to see this story finish, as it was easily the best one on the forum, against some high-quality competition. So well written - the plots were imaginative, and you found the perfect balance between gripping drama and laugh-out-loud humour.

Every character was fleshed out and utterly believable, to the point where I felt genuine sorrow and shock at the deaths of Caroline and now Alison. This could definitely have been published, no doubt about it.

Are you planning to do another story in the future, time permitting?

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Thanks, Mull. Yes I may do that. I've got in mind a Martin sequal but later in his career, except it would be in a different country and written in third person so I could have other points of view. But even if I did do something like that, it wouldn't be for a long time. Maybe a couple of years. I don't like to start anything unless I'm absolutely sure I'll see it through to the end (or at least do it for a period of time people would deem 'acceptable effort').

Anyhoo, on with the next update. This one deals with the summer between Season 3 and 4, and then also a section of Season 4 itself. This final round-up is taking longer than I thought! lol

--------

In a bid to boost the club’s global appeal, Glynn announces the team will go on a post-season tour abroad. James and Brian like this idea, and eagerly begin speculating on where they’ll be going. Japan? China? USA? Nope. Turns out they’re off to Greenland.

“You have to remember, we don’t have the budget that Chelsea and Man U have" Glynn tells James, Bob nodding by his side. "Still, Greenland’s an untapped market. Hopefully we’ll sell a few shirts over there, and back home maybe we’ll even earn ourselves a slot on Football Focus”.

Reluctantly, James and the team fly to Greenland’s capital city of Nuuk, population 15,000. Erica also makes the trip in order to act as liaison with local authorities. Two matches are lined up, one against club side Nagdlunguaq-48 and another against a Greenland president’s XI. Ultimately, both are called off due to heavy snow.

On the final night before flying back, and with Brian laid up in bed with flu, James sits at the hotel bar and reflects on a wasted trip. Erica joins him and together the two enjoy a drink. The players around them soon get rowdy though so Erica asks James if he wants to join her for a drink at the mini-bar in her hotel room instead. James initially says yes but changes his mind halfway up the stairs; he’s too afraid one thing might lead to another etc.

In August, the country temporarily goes crazy. Riots happen in many major cities and shops are looted all over the place (same as in real life). Kenilworth Road doesn’t escape the craziness. Three youths with handkerchiefs around their faces break into the offices one night intent on bleeding the place dry. Unfortunately for them, James just happens to be working a late one, and the intruders get a good hiding.

Around the beginning of the new season, Chelsea is finally born. No drama here. Everything goes smoothly and James is immensely proud of becoming a proper dad for the first time.

From the beginning of Season Four through to the end of it, occasional flashbacks get shown of James’ early associations with Luton Town. One scene shows him waiting for the phone call that lets him know he’s been accepted for interview. Another shows him actually having the first interview with Dave and Brian. Another scene, once he’s got the job, shows him being driven to the ground for the first time in Dave’s Mercedes. And so on.

Back in the present, James is approached by Carlisle United but turns down the chance to even talk to them. James’ reputation in general though has changed on a large scale since Season Three. With two promotions under his belt, he’s now regarded as one of the hottest young managers in the game. Several clubs from higher divisions seem curious to see what he does with Luton in League One.

Early in the season, and with the team already flirting with the playoffs, James comes back from a staff pub lunch one day to hear Chantelle’s voice coming from Erica’s office. He walks in. Turns out Chantelle has randomnly turned up at the club with Chelsea (just to say hi), only to find out he wasn’t there. In his absence, Erica let her into her own office and fixed her a drink. It’s the first time the two have properly met.

Later that night at the house, Chantelle tells James about how Erica told her he’s a highly wanted man in the football world, and how Luton may not be able to keep hold of him much longer. In light of this, it’s now Chantelle’s opinion James should shoot for the stars and try and get a big club. James says he’s not sure now is the right time, and that these things should never be rushed.

Privately though, he’s worried he’s become too emotionally attached to Luton, and that he’s already institutionalised himself etc. As he reflects on these feelings, Chantelle begins to make it her new mission in life to get him transferred. She begins reading the sports pages on a daily basis, and checking the internet all the time, just to see when new positions are opening up in the Premiership and Championship. Her ultimate longing is for him to manage Chelsea; she has visions of the club name matching the baby name, and she's also read in a magazine about Roman Abramovich and his huge yachts.

Worried that a conflict might be brewing at home, James speaks to Erica about exactly what she meant when she told Chantelle Luton might not be able to hold onto him much longer. Erica tells him the board have discussed how much money they might potentially make in compensation should James get snapped up mid-contract.

Because of this, she says, it might not be the worst thing for the club if he did leave. Despite admitting he’s done a hell of a lot better than she ever thought possible, the board are sceptical that even Martin can take Luton out of a division that possesses the likes of Norwich, Leicester, and Sheffield United. They think it might be best to cash in on Martin’s star now before he can stagnate for a couple of years.

“It’s just a train of thought that’s doing the rounds anyway” Erica tells him. “We're not saying we would ever encourage you to move, just that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you did. From a financial point of view anyway”.

Also, although she was happy enough to keep face and humour Chantelle whilst she was there, Erica tells James she’d rather his wife didn’t make too regular a habit of turning up at the workplace.

“Once in a while, fine. I don’t want this place turning into a crèche every single day of the week though!”

On the flip side of the coin, Chantelle develops a strange liking of Erica. She thinks she's a cool woman, and an important part of the equation when it comes to 'the big transfer'. She mentions Erica quite a few times at home from that point forwards, almost like she's her new idol, James thinks.

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If you mean Steve, he doesn't really have any notable things to do in Seasons Four and Five. James does go and stay at his house for the weekend in the second half of Season Three, but I left it off the highlight reel.

Today's post covers the beginnings of Season Four through to a point somewhere past halfway of Season Four.

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James reads in the paper about a mysterious man roaming the streets of Luton, apparently wearing a nondescript superhero costume and calling himself The Goodwill Crusader. Supposedly, The Goodwill Crusader has been turning up out of nowhere to do good deeds for people – carrying old women’s shopping, giving fivers to homeless people, and doing various odd jobs for small businesses. Little does James know however that he personally knows the person beneath the cape..

Two years since his famous Deathmatch battle with Albie, Cyril is goaded out of retirement by an employee from Tokichi Robotics (not Eugene), who claims to have invented the ultimate Luton Town trivia king; a small robot that’s been loaded with just about every useless Hatters stat in the club’s history.

Lee tries to talk Cyril out of it accepting the challenge, telling him he’s a much different person now than he was two years ago.

“You’ve got a girlfriend now!” he tells him. “And a life! And the bottom line is; you’re just not hungry like you were in the old days. You got civilised! So forget it, it’s over”.

But Cyril is undeterred.

"I need you to coach me this one last time" he says. "For old time's sake. I need this".

And so, with Lee’s help, he soon begins the necessary training. Darren meanwhile takes care of the logistical side of things - booking the venue, selling the tickets, and agreeing to be host. The venue, by the way, is the same school assembly hall as previous.

When the big night rolls around, Darren first introduces the Tokichi Robotic employee, who walks on side by side with his robot to the tune Space Oddity by David Bowie. Cyril enters to the same song he walked out to two years ago – I need a hero. Cyril looks focused, as if he means business.

And Cyril DOES the business, just like old times. But so does the robot, which appears invincible. Darren and James though have a cunning plan. Just as timeout is called so everyone can have a break, James downloads a virus onto the robot when its owner’s back is turned (said virus having been kindly supplied by Eugene). Thus, after the restart, the robot begins saying stupid answers, and Cyril wins. The Star Wars theme booms out and he’s retained his title. This is the final time in the story we see a Deathmatch.

The person who replaced Kindra, if you were wondering, is one of Darren’s friends. This is a big stocky lad called Billy, who like Darren, is an out and out Luton fan. On a related subject, crowd trouble increases tenfold now Luton are back in League One, it is believed because of the larger volumes of away fans. A new group of hooligans have sprung up calling themselves The Luton Ultras. After several notable scraps with other sets of fans, both James and the board are worried the ultras will soon go too far and land the club in hot water, possibly with a point deduction or enforced matches behind closed doors.

In a storyline that runs for most of the season, James works with Billy and Darren to take down the Ultras. Billy and Darren in particular put their necks on the line, going deep undercover in order to get to the leader. This is all a kind of homage to the eighties film I.D, in my opinion the best hooliganism film ever made. Well it would have been a homage if I'd actually written it, anyway.

In a bid to overcome a worrying mid-season spell, James brings in a psychologist called Sharon to help the players. This is a fine idea in principal, but the trouble is, Sharon turns out to be a bit of a stunner (even though she's almost forty), and the players can’t take her seriously as a result. Before James realises it, everybody in the squad is booking free private sessions in Sharon’s office just for the chance to get close to her. The reason this is a problem because Sharon is charging ‘by-the-player’, so before long, Erica predictably steps in and gets rid of her.

Luton enjoy their best FA Cup run under Martin, beating Oxford to reach Round Four. They then draw West Ham at home in what promises to be a humdinger a tie. Eager to cause a major shock in front of the Sky cameras, James and Fred hatch a plot to rough up the pitch and turn it into a ‘leveller’. They get a bit over-enthusiastic though, and by the time the match rolls around, the pitch is an absolute joke. Luton lose anyway, and Martin comes in for heavy scrutiny from a suspicious set of journalists at the after-match press conference.

After consulting Erica first, Chantelle persuades James to apply for the vacant QPR job in The Championship. Despite being in the second tier, QPR are currently one of the richest clubs in the world. A hefty salary and a mammoth playing budget can be promised to the lucky new boss. It’s a highly sought after position. James reluctantly applies, but he doesn’t really like the idea of going to a sugar daddy club where only first place in the league is good enough (he still remembers what that pressure felt like in The Blue Square Premier).

He goes to the interview at Loftus Road but isn’t impressive with his answers to questions. A week later, he receives his rejection letter. Chantelle flips, and accuses him of failing on purpose just so he can stay at his 'precious Luton'. A couple of days later though, she apologises and tells him not to worry; he’s bound to do better next time.

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Thanks guys!

Tonight covers the rest of Season Four (well, highlights anyway).

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Luton win a grant of £150,000 to spend on improving the ground. James and Darren hastily begin planning all sorts of improvements to the speakers, and disabled seating, and the hotdog stands, and various other genuinely useful things. But Erica has other ideas, opting instead to spend most of the cash on the inner offices. James walks in one day to see fancy paintings on the corridor walls and exotic plants on all the tables. There are also new carpets and a brand new reception desk.

“It’s important we strive to impress our corporate visitors” Erica explains.

“And what about the fans?!” James replies.

“Fans will pay their money no matter what. Not a priority”.

Brenda begins a lotto syndicate at work, and with James’ assistance, all the playing staff are roped into it too. The syndicate doesn’t win anything until Week Ten, when it wins £10. Nobody can agree on whether it’s worth divvying out this money or if it should just be reinvested in more lines. After a vote, it’s decided the money should be divvied. So everyone gets 40p.

“Complete waste of time this” James reflects, accepting his two twenty pence pieces from Brenda and shoving them in his pocket. “Might as well have just donated the ten pounds to Erica’s wall painting fund”.

James is summoned to Luton high street one day by Maynard. Turns out there’s a guy standing on the edge of the tallest building in the area, and if he doesn’t get to speak to Martin, he’ll jump off. James reluctantly goes up to the top and steps near the edge. Once there, the would-be leaper explains to James that he just can’t take having the Michael taken out of him at work by Watford fans anymore. He wants James to promise him a swift return to The Championship, or he’ll come back and jump.

James makes the promise and they return indoors. On arriving back in the street, he and the would-be leaper get a huge round of applause from hundreds of relieved citizens. And lots of firemen want to shake James' hand.

“Where’s the wretched Goodwill Crusader when you need him?” James asks Brian later in the pub.

With not long to go until the end of Season Four, James discovers a clue that leads him to believe Chantelle may be cheating on him. Acting on his suspicions, he pays Towzer to follow Chantelle out clubbing one night and see what she gets up to. Sure enough, after two or three hours in Clube Barcelona, Towzer sees her slip away from her mates and head to a nearby hotel. Then he sees her meet a guy in the lobby before disappearing into the nearest elevator.

After having this story relayed to him down the phone, James drives to town in a rage and heads for the hotel (Darren acting as temporary babysitter). Then he pays the receptionist to tell him which room he needs before storming on up. Then he bursts through the door and catches Chantelle and the mystery bloke romping in bed.

What instantly makes this situation worse is the fact the mystery bloke is none other than Nick McCabe, the star midfielder James signed only last summer. As McCabe quickly dresses and scarpers as fast as his legs will carry him, James confronts his naked wife in disbelief. That’s when Chantelle calmly reveals she’s known about the stag do thing for over a year, and that’s the reason why she cheated.

“As soon as I saw that DVD, I just assumed we were in an open-ended relationship” she explains nonchalantly. “Oh, I hope I wasn’t wrong?”

Clearly she thinks she’s got it all worked out and that she’s been clever. James suspects she probably knew her fun would get found out eventually but was confident her readily prepared excuse was completely legitimate. She’s wrong though. This time she’s gone way too far.

James immediately goes home, packs his stuff, and moves back into Dilic’s vacant apartment. He continues to go back to see Chelsea each day, but as far as Chantelle is concerned, that really is it for good. He certainly does not consider his crime to be equal to her crime (McCabe reveals it’s been going on for almost four months). And although Chantelle spends at least a week in the aftermath moaning to James that his treatment of her isn’t ‘fair’, her pleas are rejected, even when she offers never to see McCabe again.

The season doesn’t end any better on the pitch. After sweating hard to finish 5th and make it to the playoffs, Luton lose 2-1 away to Preston in the first leg of their semi final. And although the fans and everyone at the club think the tie is set up perfectly for Luton to turn it around at Fortress Kenilworth, Preston have other ideas. They weather the storm for 88 minutes in the second leg before pinching an unlikely late goal to make it 3-1 on aggregate. Thus, ‘ the golden run’ James has gone on since getting the team relegated from League Two all that time ago is finally over.

-----

Four seasons covered. One to go.

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Aw you too kind.

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The erratic nature of Chantelle takes another twist when she suddenly announces she wants a divorce, and also that she loves Nick more than she ever did James (an amazing one-eighty U-turn if ever there was one). Not that James could care less. The only reason he hadn’t started divorce proceedings himself in the intervening weeks was because he’d been so wrapped up in the playoffs.

Knowing he needs to improve the squad if he’s to challenge for the automatic promotion places next time, James sells off some of his old guard – Nicholls, Gnakpa, and Byrne among them. It’s also time for Keane to depart. Despite their differences over the years, the pair shake hands on the day Keane cleans out his locker. You don’t win two promotions together without forming at least some kind of mutual respect deep down.

“And let’s be honest, I have respect for any central midfielder right now who hasn’t slept with my soon to be ex-wife” James says, telling Darren about the handshake.

“Actually err Keane has slept with Chantelle. It was a long time ago though!”

“Eh?!”

“Why do you think it is Nicky and Chantelle were friends once upon a time, and then suddenly they weren’t? Well, it’s because after Nicky broke up with Keane, she confided in Chantelle about what an idiot he was. And what did Chantelle do by response? She went and jumped straight into bed with Keane. I heard a rumour at the time she wanted to go out with him, but that Keane didn’t want to go out with someone with a kid”.

Eyes rolling inside his head, James begins slowly banging his head down on the edge of the table.

"That was before you ever went out with her though, to be fair".

James keeps on banging his head against the table.

“I reckon Snowden’s probably never slept with her at all, if that makes you feel any better”.

James keeps on banging his head against the table.

In August, James attends a football manager’s convention in London, where managers from all professional teams are invited to get together and share experiences/advice on how to survive the managerial merry-go-round etc. James attends in order to get away from Luton for a while, but he doesn’t like having to wear his name on his breast, and in general the weekend is a waste of time for him. He even ends up getting blind drunk on his hotel bed and passing out. Alone.

Early in September, Darren gets on the phone and tells him to turn on The X-Factor, and QUICK! James quickly does, and that's when he sees Prairie walking out onto the stage! His rendition of old hit Arizona Abigail splits Tulisa and the gang right down the middle. Although they tend to agree he has a good singing voice, nobody thinks for one minute he’ll ever sell out any arenas.

In the end, with the tension building, Prairie just about squeezes through to the next round. In what is clearly a pre-recorded show, he walks off stage in slow motion, a huge grin on his face. Coldplay’s Yellow plays over the top of it.

His joy is short-lived. Ahead of the next round, whenever that may be, Prairie is booted out of the competition for being discovered as already having a recording contract. He drowns his sorrows in The Haunted Cow and James joins him.

After the unmitigated box-office failure that is Death Count 3D, James goes to visit Kindra on the set of her new film – Bronco. This is a western, and Kindra is playing the main love interest, who just so happens to be a reformed whore.

In the one scene James sees, a bad guy smacks Kindra around the face and tells her to get back to the whorehouse where she belongs, at which point Kindra shouts “I ain’t no whore no more, Danny Drake! I’m with Bronco”. The bad guy goes to smack her again, but one of his buddies announces Bronco is approaching on a horse, and a big gunfight ensues behind overturned wagons. It looks a s__t film to James.

The Goodwill Crusader is unmasked by Bill Tulip in The Bedfordshire Bulletin. It’s none other than The Fat Heckler! Now armed with his real name, James looks him up on Facebook and finds out the Heckler has been a reformed character ever since getting together with that woman-with-glasses on Valentine’s Day all that time ago. Nowadays, instead of bug people in public, he helps them instead.

‘Good for you!’ James thinks to himself.

In November, Erica and Dilic meet with James to inform him they’ve received contact from a billionaire sheikh living in the Middle East. Apparently he’s the second richest man in the world and wants to invest his money in a random lower league English football team! And he’s thinking of picking Luton!

Excited by the possibilities, James and Erica fly deep into Saudi Arabia, at which point they take a smaller uncharted flight out to the sheikh’s private palace in the middle of nowhere. After a revolting dinner featuring snakes, spiders, and fried monkey’s brains, the sheikh commits to investing ten billion pounds in the club in order to make Luton Champion's League contenders within five years!

Later that evening, James and Erica celebrate with a bottle of red in Erica’s lavish private guest suite at the palace. Then they get carried away and sleep with each other. On the flight back to England, when they discuss what happened between them, Erica says she doesn’t want a relationship, but may be willing to make the sex a regular thing. IF, of course, James is interested.

James is interested.

Sadly however, disaster strikes in the next few days when news filters through the billionaire sheikh has been killed in a random oil explosion. There will be no major influx of money into Kenilworth Road anytime soon.

“That’s karma that is!” Brian says over a guest ale. “Bloody petrol prices these days. Nothing good was ever going to come to those oil folk. Shame about the ten billion, though”.

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Two more updates to go after this one.

----------

Scared he might fall for someone who might not fall for him back, James breaks off the fling with Erica after three or four 'secret meetings' (one of which is at the office itself). Erica accepts the decision in good grace though.

Depressed that Nick McCabe seems to be becoming more of a Dad to his kid than he is, James contemplates leaving Luton. He finds himself getting the ‘itch’ for a new challenge. He maybe even wants to take a break from the game full stop.

Six days before Christmas, snow hits Luton in a major way. It’s only a foot deep by the time everyone arrives at work, but by 3pm, it’s practically a blizzard. Most people in the building sneak out before it gets too bad, leaving only a skeleton crew of James, Darren, Nicky and Brenda. The four gradually realise they won’t be getting home for the night and start to bed themselves in (the front door can hardly be opened for snow).

Later in the evening, James goes to find Nicky in the canteen only to hear loud dance music coming from around the door. When he then peaks his eyes around the corner, he sees she’s watching Uninvited by The Freemasons on one of the music channels, and doing a really stupid dance to it. It’s cute though. James can’t bear to announce himself before the song is done.

Once Brenda has gone to sleep on the sofa bed in Erica’s office, James, Nicky, and Darren sit around in the canteen reminiscing about all the good times they’ve had over the past four years. Secretly, James wonders if this might be one of the last occasions the three of them get to talk like this. There’s a gnawing in his stomach concerning Nicky in particular and he doesn’t like it.

It gets worse in January. At least to begin with.

Nicky confides in everyone that her Grandad is terminally sick back in Southend, and that she’s agreed with Erica she can take six weeks off – some of it paid holiday, some of it not.

A couple of weeks after she’s gone, James really misses seeing her around. After three weeks, the gnawing in his stomach is getting worse and worse. During week four, when James asks Darren if he’s happened to speak to her on the phone at all, Darren replies that he hasn’t, and that he’s worried she might not come back, if he’s perfectly honest.

This tips James’ control over the edge. He decides to take a crazy chance and go see her in Shoeburyness, which is the exact place her Grandad lives just down the beach from Southend. The night before he goes, he admits to his diary he loves Nicky more than anyone he's ever met. He knows she’s a lot younger than him, and she knows she’s as daft as a brush most of the time, but he just can’t help it. The thing he’s most annoyed about himself is; he felt the same way years ago but rejected the feeling.

When he reaches Shoeburyness, he hunts Nicky down on the beach where she’s busy tidying up one of her Grandad’s boats. At first James tells her he just fancied ‘a random visit’, and Nicky doesn’t question this much. She seems very pleased to see him, and offers him a boat ride (if she can remember how to row, she says). James accepts.

Out on the water, James finally says what he wants to say. Nicky looks utterly gobsmacked at first, but then spills some tears and admits she’s felt exactly the same for many years. The two embrace passionately, but that’s when James looks down past Nicky’s shoulder and spots a leak in the boat. Uh err...

Frantically they paddle/row back to the sand, only just making it. They still get soaked to the bone over the last hundred yards or so though.

Back at her Grandad’s place, the pair sit in warm towels with hot cups of cocoa. And James gets to meet the Grandad for a while. Then, later in the evening, once the Grandad has gone to bed, James and Nicky watch a film on the sofa and fall asleep in each other's arms. Nicky drifts off first, and as he lies there in the dark, James reflects this is the best he’s felt at the end of a day probably his whole life.

Encouraged to do so by the Grandad, the pair travel back to Luton the following day. On the way, they giggle and try to think of funny ways to tell the rest of the office that they’re now a couple.

Sadly, a week or so later, Nicky’s Grandad dies, so she has to go back to Shoeburyness to sort out his estate and arrange the funeral etc. Although upset, she’s expected it for quite some time, relatively speaking, so the hurt isn’t as bad as it could have been. James leaves her alone for a week to go and sort her affairs, but he does travel across on the day of the funeral at least.

Back at the club, it’s announced Watford will come to ground-share for a few weeks due to the underwater heating at Vicarage Road malfunctioning and spoiling most of the pitch.

This causes many problems. For instance, Watford’s support staff also come to stay and the office gets horrendously crowded as a result. Also, the Watford players mock the Luton players at every opportunity in the corridors and canteen, and James is enraged on at least two separate occasions when it turns out Watford have ‘booked’ the Kenilworth Road pitch for training and no-one told him.

After seven difficult weeks in total, Watford finally go home and everyone is relieved.

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