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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"


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I didn’t move toward him, but I surely did not appreciate the physicality of his team’s play. In fact, it bordered on dirty, which is really saying something. He’s not a dirty manager and I frankly didn’t expect his team to play the style it was currently playing.

Kalou finally was assisted to the touchline and play resumed with us having ten men on the park. I looked at the physio staff for an early indication as to whether Kalou could continue while Saivet started to warm up in a big hurry on the touchline.

The indication soon came that he could indeed continue, and no sooner had he returned to the pitch than Thomson caught Maloney with a good old-fashioned Old Firm challenge that sent my midfielder arse-over-teakettle right in the middle of the center circle.

Had I been wearing light blue, I’d have applauded. Yet I wasn’t. In fact, my squad was wearing hoops.

Riley sprinted to Thomson and showed him yet another yellow card, which was what the foul deserved, and as Styles gave me another look, I decided not to look back.

That was what the cameras caught; the official seeming to challenge the manager. The cameras had also caught our first exchange when I wasn’t quite as exercised, so that should make for some interesting conversation on the websites tomorrow.

So, that was enough for me. I know officials have it tough, but I also know that we haven’t had the sort of joy from them that the physical play of some of our opponents might dictate.

I don’t want every call. We probably have more yellows awarded for play against us than any team in the Premiership. They just don’t seem to translate into dismissals or frankly a change in the way other teams play against us.

Those were a few of my fleeting thoughts as we got back to live action. Unfortunately, I was having more and more opportunity to reflect on those thoughts because we simply weren’t getting the job done in front of the Blackburn goal. The natives were starting to get very restless.

It wasn’t going according to any sort of plan I had drawn up, that much was certain.

Saivet came on for the closing moments, and as the clock climbed inexorably toward the goalless draw that Blackburn’s defensive display deserved, I brought Lita on as well for Dagoberto.

Last season’s magic seemingly gone, my supersub was trying to find his way this year, without the ability to seemingly find the ball at his feet in the perfect position in the waning moments.

Still, though, part of that was due to teams giving him special attention – primarily because last season had been so special for him.

Styles held up the board signaling three minutes of added time and I walked back toward the dugout, as out of ideas as my players had been.

Maloney had the ball on the left as I turned to go, but I turned back to see him feeding Dicã at the right edge of the Blackburn area – and circling behind him to the right, in an area he doesn’t usually go when he’s on the left wing.

In short, it gave us two raiders and with Khizanishvili accounting for Kitson that left Christopher Samba to mark two men.

Maloney feinted to the left toward Dicã, and Samba moved to play the pass, as you would expect him to do.

The opening was all Maloney needed. He took two strides and beat Brown solidly to hls left as the clock ticked past ninety minutes and into added time.

On the visitors’ bench, Hughes threw his hands up into the air in a sort of ‘oh s**t’ expression of utter disgust. His team had circled the wagons for eighty-nine minutes.

The last one got him.

Reading 1 (Maloney 5th 90)

Blackburn 0

A – 22,381, Madejski Stadium, Reading

Man of the Match – Shaun Maloney, Reading (MR8)

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Hey 10-3, I don't know if you remember me, but i stopped reading last year due to personal reasons and now after 3 solid days of reading i have catched up and I tell you what, the story has only gone upwards from what was near perfection already :)

Top marks 10-3, you deserve every award imaginable :)

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Thank you, gentlemen :) Now that my broadcasting is over for the season, it's time to get back to writing!


“Don’t care how we win them as long as we win them,” I said plainly. I wasn’t in a great mood, but the points were in the books.

“Not one for the artist,” Emiliani said.

“True enough,” I answered. “Blackburn defended well and they were a very determined side today, especially for one playing away from home. Breaking them down was hard and frankly I am just glad we managed to do it.”

“This was a match where you were expected to do better,” he said with the inevitable follow up. “Are you at all worried about another poor run of form as you head off to Paris?”

“Ask me when we get there,” I replied. “Right now we are enjoying a win and we know we have a few things to fix before we play in the Champions League next.”

“Do you believe that the changes in shape we’ve seen in recent matches are hindering any sense of comfort or understanding among the players?” This was Weatherby, asking the question that was on more than one mind. It was even on mine.

Yet, I wore the proverbial brave face.

“These guys are professionals,” I said. “Some of them have been together for three years or more. The new players have had a few months to adjust and the fact of the matter is that no matter what formation we’re playing, I expect these players to be able to take advantage of what the opposition gives them. It’s pretty simple. These players have the talent to make it happen but there are times when our opponents are going to put all hands to the pumps and dare us to score. Today we ran into a club that knows it has a scrap on its hands and made us earn it.”

“Are you suggesting that Blackburn is going down?” That was a rather impertinent question from one of the Press Association stringers.

I would have none of it. “Don’t put words in my mouth,” I warned. “I am saying that they were 19th in the league coming into the match and they didn’t win so it’s not like they improved that standing. We did our jobs but they need points if they are going to climb out of the hole. That’s not a prediction. It’s simple fact. It’s the table.”

“What went on between you and Rob Styles today?”

“Rob and I had a difference of opinion,” I said. “He was the fourth official so he gets the last word. That’s usually how it works.”

“How upset were you with the physical play of Blackburn?” the reporter asked in his follow up.

“Well, I wished I hadn’t seen some of the tackles we absorbed,” I said. “But as I mentioned, Blackburn was ready to play a defending, physical style and that meant we had to be ready for them trying to take liberties with us. That’s just how it is.”

“You’re being diplomatic.” Weatherby again. “You were upset, that’s why you went to Styles.”

“I have that right,” I said. “They were having a hard time taking the ball off us so they were physical. If the referee gives out cards hopefully it stops. Yet it seemed to me like when one player went on a yellow, someone else would pick up the style of play. It was efficient and a lot of our guys have lumps and bruises on them now as a result.”

“Are you complaining?”

“No,” I said immediately. “That’s football. When we go to Paris, though, we’re going to be banged up and we have to account for that.”

With that, I ended the interview, saying everything I had needed to say without actually saying it. The English press excels at inventing stories. They will surely invent something here.

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This is as great as it has ever been, if not better. Thanks for continuing to share such an epic with us, it's a truly terrific read.

... you had me worried for a while there that you had gone and left us without this epic tale, so it's great to see you back - even if it is after only a short break.

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You guys are making me smile. Thanks very much for the kind words.

The end of our football season over here and my broadcast commitments, especially during the playoffs, really cramped my writing time. Had a nice session in front of my keyboard last night, hope to have another one today, and I hope to be back in the swing in no time.


The return to action after the international break had had consequences at the top of the table.

Most notably, the two Big Red Machines met each other in the Northwest Derby as Liverpool traveled to Old Trafford.

The teams ground each other to a goalless standstill before a capacity crowd at the grand old ground. United and Liverpool had virtually equal numbers of chances and equal amounts of possession.

That result might have been expected. The Arsenal result of today was not.

The Gunners were held at home – also in a goalless draw – against West Brom. That was a nice break for us, but the difference between the two matches was that in the latter, the home team had dominated for ninety minutes and was unable to break through.

Arsenal had nine attempts on target to only one for their visitors, but Jamie Ashdown played a blinder and stole a point for his team, which needs them.

We didn’t mind that in the slightest of course, but Wigan wasn’t quite as fortunate at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

Daniel Alves and Giuseppi Rossi scored ten minutes apart late in the first half to give the champions a lead they never looked like losing. Roberto Martinez and his men were simply outclassed in a 2-0 defeat.

The Tyne-Wear Derby was also today, with Sunderland visiting Newcastle. The Toon have been playing quite well over the last month or so and continued that play with a 2-0 derby win thanks to a late first-half goal from Vagner Love and an injury-time strike from Jefferson Farfan.

This was another match where the home team dominated throughout, which will of course make the Toon happy and understandably so. That’s the big derby up there so those of black and white inclination will be well pleased.

Bolton’s 21-year old Spanish striker Adrián scored a second-half hat trick as the Trotters dismissed Fulham 3-0 at the Reebok. Two of his goals came just five minutes apart within ten minutes of the restart and the third came with five minutes to play to put the issue beyond doubt.

Derek Boateng’s 36th minute goal was enough to see Everton past Manchester City at Goodison Park. The match wasn’t as close as the score, as David Moyes’ men were clearly the better side throughout.

Middlesbrough’s match at home to West Ham wasn’t decided until Thomas Buffel’s goal in second half injury time. Mariano Pavone opened the scoring just before the half hour only to see Craig Bellamy cancel it out in the 59th minute. Pavone completed his brace in 75 minutes but the visitors piled on the pressure until the ex-Ger, Buffel, made them pay on a counter-attack in the closing moments.

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  | Pos   | Team          | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 1st   | Chelsea       | 15    | 10    | 5     | 0     | 24    | 10    | +14   | 35    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 2nd   | Man Utd       | 15    | 10    | 3     | 2     | 31    | 8     | +23   | 33    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 3rd   | Arsenal       | 15    | 10    | 2     | 3     | 32    | 16    | +16   | 32    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 |[b] 4th   | Reading       | 15    | 9     | 5     | 1     | 27    | 12    | +15   | 32  [/b]  | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 5th   | Liverpool     | 15    | 9     | 5     | 1     | 19    | 6     | +13   | 32    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 6th   | Man City      | 15    | 9     | 3     | 3     | 21    | 14    | +7    | 30    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 7th   | Newcastle     | 15    | 7     | 4     | 4     | 25    | 21    | +4    | 25    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 8th   | Tottenham     | 14    | 7     | 3     | 4     | 22    | 19    | +3    | 24    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 9th   | Everton       | 15    | 5     | 5     | 5     | 20    | 18    | +2    | 20    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 10th  | Bolton        | 15    | 5     | 3     | 7     | 23    | 26    | -3    | 18    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 11th  | West Ham      | 15    | 5     | 3     | 7     | 22    | 28    | -6    | 18    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 12th  | Middlesbrough | 15    | 4     | 3     | 8     | 22    | 30    | -8    | 15    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 13th  | Fulham        | 15    | 4     | 3     | 8     | 24    | 33    | -9    | 15    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 14th  | Portsmouth    | 14    | 2     | 6     | 6     | 19    | 24    | -5    | 12    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 15th  | Aston Villa   | 14    | 3     | 3     | 8     | 16    | 25    | -9    | 12    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 16th  | Wigan         | 15    | 1     | 8     | 6     | 15    | 24    | -9    | 11    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 17th  | West Brom     | 15    | 2     | 5     | 8     | 12    | 23    | -11   | 11    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 18th  | Derby         | 14    | 2     | 4     | 8     | 11    | 19    | -8    | 10    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 19th  | Blackburn     | 15    | 2     | 3     | 10    | 17    | 31    | -14   | 9     | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 20th  | Sunderland    | 15    | 1     | 6     | 8     | 8     | 23    | -15   | 9     | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

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Fowler sat back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. He could hardly believe the conclusions he was drawing.

It didn’t appear that the bugging incident and the attempt on Patty Ridgway’s life in Bordeaux were immediately related – though some of the same people may have been involved in both.

For quite some time, the Scotland Yard man had been adding up his numbers and though three and three still added up to six, so did two and two and two.

That was the annoying part of it all for him. He didn’t expect to consider the options that were now presented to him.

Patty Ridgway had gone back to Hardcastle in a huge hurry. Almost from the first moment her husband had given his okay, she had signed on the dotted line. Whether or not there was a relationship between them was not really any of his concern.


But it did make sense for someone who knew about the entire situation to have made a decision that was shockingly poor – in order to achieve a desired outcome.

She clearly trusted him, in a way that was not natural for a married woman to trust another man. It seemed odd – if you were willing to grant certain exceptions to the natural order of things.

Fowler was a policeman. He wasn’t given to such inclination.

Yet, he couldn’t believe what he was thinking. It was beyond unbelievable.

Sighing audibly, he tossed his file folder on the case back onto his desk. It used to land there with a soft plop. Now, it landed with a much more impressive thud.

It was a hard, difficult challenge for the career officer. Most of his hypotheses had ended in dead ends. This time, though, he had come to a conclusion that really, honestly disturbed him.

He picked up his phone. “I need to speak with Alba Fulton,” he said, and his PA made the connection to Thames Valley police headquarters.

“Commander, what can I do for you?” Fulton answered, her voice as bright and as cheery as ever.

“Inspector, I need you to disabuse me of a notion I’ve come up with,” Fowler said. “I need you to tell me that you were not involved in planning the Bordeaux incident against Patty Ridgway.”

“Come again, Commander?” Fulton asked.

“You heard me,” Fowler said. “You have motive, due to personal interest in the case regarding your friendship with Rob Ridgway. You were then pulled from the case after the incident on the flight home from Monaco."

You had the ability to help arrange a hit due to your knowledge of the case and the parties we believe to be involved. Now, let’s talk, you and I.”

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Well, gentlemen, I appreciate the feedback. WW, it's nice to have you back too, I appreciate your readership as always!

As for relaying the details of the conversation between Fowler and Fulton, it's quite possible that those details will be revealed, but perhaps not in a conventional manner. :)


Sunday, November 22

La Vie Lumiere.

We left shortly after the match for Heathrow and our chartered flight to Paris. I had no plans for the squad today with the exception of a little video regarding Paris St. Germain.

Thinking back to our first match, a disappointing draw in our first group stage contest, I saw a few things that I think we can exploit on Tuesday.

For now, though, I just want us to heal. Blackburn pounded lumps on us yesterday, as I mentioned, and the English press for once went right where I wanted them to go in their reportage of the match.

‘Black-and-Blue-Burn’ , the Guardian screamed in its match report. They were right, but their insinuations as to my thoughts on the match were all easily deniable. I expected them to draw an angry retort from Hughes, but then it wasn’t my team that had picked up all six cards in a match the day before, and it wasn’t my team that would earn a fine for failure to control its players.

That would be his team. So my point was made. He could retort all he wanted, but I wasn’t pleased with his approach and I wasn’t pleased with the play of his team.

Also, some of the reporters mentioned my run-in with Styles, and opinion was split pretty much down the middle. Those who bleat on about managers needing to have ‘respect’ for officials who in turn don’t respect that manager’s players had their opinion, while others who are of the opinion that officials shouldn’t challenge managers had theirs.

So, that’s going to rattle around for a couple of days, but because I never got into a heated exchange with Styles, it’s hard to say that I would have any sort of case to answer.

In short, the media will play with the story for a few days and it will go away. That’s how it usually works.

Meanwhile, our flight landed at 6:30 after the usual preliminaries involved with flying on the Continent. I’m not a good flyer anyway¸ as I have mentioned, and international travel is particularly annoying to me.

So I urged the players to sit back and relax. The flight wasn’t long, but the opportunity to rest and recharge was one not to be missed.

We don’t play until Saturday after this match and by the grace of the fixture makers, we are at home to Portsmouth. So after we play the Tuesday night match we have a little time to rest for our league.

Yet, the Tuesday match concerns me a bit more. We do need more points to sew up Europe after Christmas and in the event we should win, we’ll lock up the knockout stages – which would be an amazing accomplishment all things considered.

We will miss two players through suspension – Bikey and Ferreira will miss due to yellow cards, so they did not make the trip and will have light training until the team returns from the Continent.

That will mean Gaspari will make his European debut for us at right full back, but it also means Magallón will have to play twice in four days. I liked Jonny’s mobility against Blackburn so it was a calculated risk to play him there instead of Bikey, who will now not play until the weekend.

Bikey, unfortunately, would have made a perfect choice at holding midfield for PSG – big, very strong and defensive-minded. His presence would have allowed me to seriously consider going back to 4-2-3-1. Now that this isn’t an option, it looks like 4-4-2 counter for me – not a bad idea due to our pace, but I’d rather have five midfielders away from home in Europe.

We have played some of our best football in my tenure in that counter formation, so I’m completely comfortable with using it against most opponents. It’s just that there’s a lot at stake this time and to be unable to play my formation of choice isn’t good.

Here is one example of where our lack of depth – and being ahead of the development plan for the club – may come back to bite us. I am hoping otherwise.

Yet for today, I was reveling in a press war that was well and truly won. The match hadn’t been so hot, but you can’t have everything.

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So as the players held a brief meeting in a lounge room at our hotel, it was time to remind one and all of our stated goals for the competition and for the game. It was time to pick it up a notch, preferably in the manner I had wanted, but hadn’t seen, against Rovers.

Traveling with a sports team can be done one of two ways. You can either be spit-and-polish or you can be a bit more informal. The choice a manager makes is sometimes as much a reflection on the players in his charge as it is anything else.

However, a team takes its cue from the boss. He’s in charge.

I insist on coats and ties for players when we fly – anywhere – but when we take a coach or when we’re in an extended stay at our hotel, it’s much more relaxed.

Players will wear informal clothing to meetings but all I ask of them in the hotel is that they wear long pants, shoes (no sandals), socks, and collared shirts.

It’s all about a professional appearance – they represent the club but I don’t want them to be dressed like investment bankers unless it’s necessary.

So it was that I was the best-dressed employee of Reading Football Club in the meeting this morning – and I wasn’t any great shakes either.

I wore a club crest golf shirt and slacks – not even business casual – and I was the nattiest fellow in the room.

That’s okay. I want the players comfortable so we can get down to business.

I stepped to the front of the room where a projector and screen were set up with a VEGA analysis of the last few matches PSG has played.

“Aaritalo makes them go these days,” I said in reference to the Finnish do-everything player I had scouted for over a year but had never managed to land. “He’s the one you have to account for.”

I pulled a laser pen out of my pocket and a red dot appeared over the player’s chest in the middle of a frozen frame.

“They play him off the strikers, similar to the way we play our raider,” I said, moving the frame forward to show Aaritalo doing exactly that. And people say managers are idiots.

We watched video for about twenty minutes, and I then informed the players that we would not train in any way.

“Day of rest,” I said. “That’s what Sundays are supposed to be for, right?”

The players reacted to a day off in Paris as I had hoped they would. And I had thought to tell them this at nine o’clock in the morning, so that was even better.

I motioned to Dillon, and my deputy passed out a set of itineraries to the players. We live and die by them when we’re away from home.

My rules are simple: be on time everywhere, come ready to learn and be a credit to the club beginning with the way you dress and the way you conduct yourself. That’s all anyone should ask for.

“You’ll notice that today is for rest,” I said. “If you are going to be out on the town, I don’t want you walking. Take taxis. Take your time. Enjoy your day. But don’t do anything stupid and above all, don’t wear yourselves down. You guys are highly paid footballers, so let someone else do your driving for you. I don’t want you eating out, as tempting as that may sound – I want you here.”

“We will meet back here at the hotel at 1:00 for brunch and the team dinner will be at six,” I said. We’ll follow that with tactics, and everyone will be in their own rooms by eleven. Tomorrow, as you can see we’re going to be training early. Team breakfast will be at 8:00 – sharp – and the coach will leave for training at 8:45. Now, enjoy your day.”

With that, I dismissed the players. My phone's message light was flashing, and I had business to attend to.

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“Alba, what’s wrong?”

“Rob, they are questioning me about the Bordeaux incident,” she said. She sounded angry – and not the least bit afraid. I thought that her coolness under fire, as it were, was a little bit disturbing.

“Why would they do that?” I asked. “That makes no sense.”

“They think I might have wanted to try to off your wife so she would seek out Steven Hardcastle,” she said. “And then I could seek out you. Or so they say.”

“Alba, stop,” I said. “If this is about an active investigation, I don’t want to know.”

“Rob, I have to tell you,” she said. “I would never try to hurt your wife because I know it would hurt you. You have to believe that. It has nothing to do with the investigation but everything to do with me as your friend. Okay?”

I thought for a moment as to the meaning of her words. They were pretty clear.

I paused for another minute. “Alba, I take it you are off my case now?”

“The Bordeaux side of it, I’m afraid so, and I think this time it’s permanent,” she said. “If I hadn’t held your hand on that airplane none of this would have happened. None of it. I’m just sick about this, Rob, from your point of view as well as mine.”

I paused, and she kept talking.

“Rob, I am completely innocent,” she said. “I am absolutely comfortable telling you this, but since you and I have talked so much about your cases, particularly the bugging of your office, I thought it only fair that you should know when I do not work with you on the side of the case that is perhaps more important to you.”

I sighed. Why is it always complicated? I wanted to swear, but I didn’t know if it was a good idea.

“S**t,” Fulton said, answering that question before I even asked it.

“I agree,” I answered. “Alba, I trust you. I think I deserve to have someone I can trust during all this. You agree with that?”

“I do,” she replied. “You can’t choose your DCI, obviously, but the sensitivity of this case makes it important that you work well with whomever is chosen.”

“Do your best, please,” I said.

“Believe me, Rob, I will,” she answered.

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Monday, November 23

Few things are sadder for a romantic fellow than to wake up alone in Paris.

But then, it was probably for the best. I called Patty last night to make sure she was snug and comfortable in Berkshire.

And alone, but I didn’t tell her that.

I figured if I could talk with Alba, she could certainly talk with Hardcastle. As I might have expected, she had, but it seemed innocent enough.

She was feeling cooped up in the house and wanted to do a little shopping, so her man Friday took her out on the town.

However, when she was outside she quickly attracted the attention of photographers, meaning Hardcastle couldn’t touch her. She was pretty plain about all that when we talked.

“You’d have been happy, Rob,” she said, almost with a tease in her voice. “I was a good girl.”

“You haven’t been a bad girl, have you?” I asked.

“Well, no,” she replied. “I suppose I shouldn’t have said it like that.”

“So what did you buy for me?”

“Not much,” she said. “It was mostly for me. I think you might like it, which means it might be for you in a way, but it was for me. Yep.”

Now she was teasing me as she used to do, which was fantastic. It seemed that I was finally getting my wife back.

I hung up the phone. Back in Berkshire, her phone rang again almost as soon as she had hung up with me.

“Any plans for tomorrow, Princess?” Hardcastle asked.

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“Set pieces,” I said, and the players moved to their assigned positions.

I haven’t been terribly happy with the way we’ve been performing when the ball is dead in recent games, so once the players had finished their dynamic stretching, it seemed like a good first training drill.

I will often script my training sessions, and will do that as a rule when we are playing at home. There, I watch training from Ridgway Towers so I don’t have the chance to talk with the players up close and personal, as they say. I need to know where to watch and then.

We are also a club that videotapes each training session. A lot of American football teams will do this as a matter of course now, so coaches can review drills and see who is and who is not playing or practicing well. Players are no longer able to hide a lack of effort, perceived or otherwise – they are on camera and I know who’s being naughty and nice, if you will.

I want to know who’s striking the ball well, who is passing it well, and who is playing with positional sense when we play five-on-five drills or full-squad against our reserves.

I spend about 45 minutes after a training session watching key parts of it again, and the scouts and coaches know they are to do the same thing when they make recommendations to me about certain parts of the squad which are their responsibilities.

We had our training session on the ground at the Parc des Princes today and that was a fun experience. The grand old ground is on a site that has had a history in French athletics going back more than 100 years.

Originally, the place was a velodrome built in 1897, and in reading through literature on site I learned that it was the finishing point of the Tour de France from 1903 to the track’s destruction in the late 1960s. Before the place met the wrecking ball, though, it also hosted events in the 1924 Olympic Games.

The current stadium was built on site in 1972 and served as the national stadium until the construction of the Stade de France for the 1998 World Cup. It also can host rugby, though the local side Stade Français plays across the street at the nearby Stade Jean Bouin and uses the ground only occasionally.

That’s of course just fine with the football club, of course.

I looked across the ground at the Kop of Boulogne, now empty but virtually certain not to be tomorrow night, and hoped we could take that stand’s occupants out of the game. It’s called the most notorious stand in French football, and while we expect no trouble, we’d like that group kept nice and quiet for as long as possible.

I was happy with what I saw on the training ground and as we headed back to the hotel on the team coach, the coaches prepared for the next part of the day.

Our ‘coaches meeting’ takes place sixty minutes after the end of training and gives us the chance to sit down as a staff and review what’s going right and what’s not.

The meeting today discussed ways to open up opposing teams. Clearly, we have the skill to do so at the positions on the field we have identified, but lately the goals have not been coming. We need better ideas and we need the coaches to be in the vanguard of finding them.

“Still want to figure out a way to play 4-2-3-1, Rob,” Downes said after I convened the informal meeting. We sat in a hotel conference room with the door closed behind us.

“Can’t mess with the personnel now, Wally,” I said. “Not the day before the match. Besides, we’re down two defenders through suspension. It would mean Harper paired with Jonny and Harps isn’t sharp enough to step right into the Champions League. He needs more matches and I won’t make him play reserves. He’s paid his dues.”

“We need another option there,” Downes said. “I think it’s the best formation for us in Europe, especially away from home.”

“I agree,” I replied. “But right now, we just can’t. We’re going to have to play the hand we’re dealt.”

“All right, then how do we avoid getting overrun in midfield?”

“We play a deeper line and counter the crap out of them,” I answered. “There’s going to come a time when they push far enough forward that they’ll leave a gap. And if they don’t, well, I’ll certainly take that. Either way, it works to our advantage.”

“If you have an idea for 4-2-3-1 that doesn’t involve Harper or an emergency signing, I’m all ears, Wally,” I said. “But if you don’t, then let’s make this 4-4-2 work the way it’s intended. We’ll need to be more creative to make things happen up the park, so we’ll need to talk about that with the wingers. We have no choice, gentlemen.”

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He is indeed. Reigning champion and likely as not to double up in my save.


“Sing, little birdie.”

Fowler circled around the table in his interrogation room. Winthrop sat across from him, with an attorney.

“You might as well tell us what you know,” the Scotland Yard man said. “We have a fingerprint on the listening device in Rob Ridgway’s office that matches yours. We can prove that you put it there. What we want to know is why you did it and who told you to do it.”

Winthrop looked at his attorney, who shook his head.

“Commander, my client has not been charged with a crime,” he said. “And frankly, unless you can prove that it is illegal for an employer to monitor the activities of staff, you really can’t charge him with one.”

“An employer?” Fowler asked, his eyes narrowing.

“A logical assumption,” the mouthpiece said. “My client surely wouldn’t associate with anyone else outside the organization, especially given that his chain of command reports directly to Mr. Richmond.”

“I think otherwise,” Fowler said. He craved a cigarette. “I think it’s those outside contacts that are appealing to Mr. Richmond.”

“You’re fishing,” the attorney said.

“With live bait,” Fowler answered. “Again, we can place your client at the scene. Wiretapping is an offense and we have a very good idea what this device does. Now again, I am going to ask you, who directed you to do what you did?”

Then Fowler turned his head sharply toward Winthrop.

“Or, did you do it yourself?” he asked. “Are you the brains of the operation?”

Winthrop couldn’t help it. He flinched.

Fowler made a mental note. There was no lawyer in the world who could prevent a facial expression, genuine or otherwise.

The policeman had had to make an educated guess sooner or later, and he had made it.

‘This fellow thinks he’s smarter than he really is,’ Fowler thought to himself. ‘I’ve busted small time operatives with a lot more on the ball than this guy has.’

Winthrop looked at his attorney, who shook his head once more.

This time, when Winthrop smiled, Fowler didn’t notice.

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Okay, Ori, here you go :)


Tuesday, November 24

Paris St. Germain (8-4-5, 5th Ligue One) v Reading – Champions League F Match Day #5

“Trivial Americans go to Paris when they die.” – Mark Twain

The man’s wisdom was profound, and he wrote those words 130 years ago.

I woke with a feeling of unusual confidence as we prepared for the crunch clash at the Parc des Princes. That feeling, rare enough for the worry-wart in me, was compounded by an unusually relaxed mood at the team breakfast this morning.

I like to watch players on match day morning, but to give the very best impression I can that I’m not. I don’t know if the players see through it or not, but if they see their gaffer reading the morning paper unconcernedly at breakfast, my thought is that they might think he’s not reading between the lines, if you will.

The eleven knew who they were and where they were playing. That stability meant a lot.

They also knew how we’d start the match and our goals for the night.

The coaches’ meeting of the day before had been started by Downes but ended by Ridgway, and that meant the players had a solid idea of the plan that had already been reinforced before we left Heathrow on Sunday.

That continuity leads to stability. There have been times this season where we haven’t always had that stability and it has shown up on the scoreboard.

My heightened expectations for Blackburn had been the latest example. When we get it right, we really get it right, but when we get it wrong, we aren’t very good. It’s just that simple.

The mark of professionals, though, is that they can rise above that uncertainty to deliver results. No one can expect a player to be ‘up’ for 38 matches a year, perhaps half a dozen or more cup ties and in our case at least eight European ties with the same level of efficiency each and every day. It’s just not done.

However, that idea of stability was ruined in the pre-match warmup, when Pogatetz pulled up with a strain. That wasn’t good.

It meant that Liam Rosenior, thankfully brought along for the trip, would have to not only suit, but start. That was a significant change in plan.

Emanuel’s face was a mask as the physios led him to the training table after the warmup.

“Doesn’t look too bad, Rob,” Derek Wright told me as I walked past on the way to the team talk. “I think it’s just a strain but I’m going to take it easy on this. I wouldn’t risk him tonight but we’ll see about the weekend.”

Emanuel had pulled up at the end of the warmup and now he sat dejectedly, knocked out of the eleven for what promised to be the club’s biggest match in its history. Everyone knew what victory would mean in this tie, and everyone wanted to be a part of it.

I nodded, first at Pogatetz and then at my chief physio, and then headed in to say what needed to be said.

“The injury to Emanuel isn’t bad,” I began. “But whether he is there or not does not detract from the plan we have for this match and it doesn’t detract from the fact that we can perform the task at hand. We did not play well the first time we faced this club and we know that we need to be better if we are going to get to where we need to be.”

Their attention didn’t waver. That was another excellent sign.

“Remember, our goals are a fast start, poach an early goal and absorb their pressure so we can counter,” I reminded them. “You have had this drilled into you all week, so now is the time to go out there and make it happen. You have the chance to reach the last sixteen if you can win this one, so do this for yourselves.”

It was a short speech. Hopefully, it would be enough.

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For PSG to qualify, victory was essential. We knew that. We also figured Barcelona was going to find its way through pretty much regardless of anything, and after our performance at the Nou Camp I certainly couldn’t argue with that assessment.

I just wanted us to play better than in our last European adventure. The Catalans had rather cruelly exposed us on an embarrassingly large stage and the time for redemption had finally arrived if we could take hold of it.

We kicked off, and immediately surged forward.

We got an indirect just outside the PSG box three minutes into the match and Kitson forced keeper Mickaël Landreau into a snazzy save from Maloney’s set piece.

From the ensuing goal kick, Kalou immediately played in Magallón, but the Mexican’s effort was disappointingly aimed at the keeper’s chest.

Still, though, it wasn’t a bad opening four minutes.

The home team, stung by our quick start, was soon back at us with a vengeance. We figured out where Aaritalo was, but not John Utaka, and his drive two minutes later had Lobont well and easily beaten.

However, Rosenior was Johnny-on-the-spot and cleared the ball off the line with his left shin, saving our blushes and keeping the match scoreless.

Thus buoyed, PSG came at us again, with leading scorer Pierre-Alain Frau, who hadn’t done much in the first match between the clubs, sending Rene Mihelic into the area for a swerving shot that was blocked by Magallón. The rebound came straight to Frau, who took his time to round Lobont and shoot at the open goal.

Only he pulled it wide, and the crowd reacted with the same level of disgust as the shooter. Unquestionably we should have been trailing, and we were having a very difficult time locating and pinning down either of the French strikers.

Somewhat nervously, I looked over at Dillon, and his look of surprise in return told me neither of us had expected quite that much energy from the home side.

I stood, and headed to the touchline far earlier than I wanted to step out of the dugout. I whistled for Huth’s attention and reminded him to close Frau by opening my arms wide and narrowing the gap with my hands a few times.

I also yelled at him, in German, to kindly account for dreitzen.

As I did, Didier Dugard impeded Dicã’s run onto Kalou’s short lead ball in the attacking half, and referee Carlos Megila Davila went to his cards sixteen minutes into the match. Dicã had sold it well, I had to say, but he was clearly fouled. He just made sure everyone saw it.

Off the ensuing set piece, we passed around the PSG wall for Kitson to slide a ball onto Dagoberto’s feet, but the keeper saved from the Brazilian’s rising shot by punching it over the bar.

Thus Dagoberto. Our initial apprehension at PSG’s charge seemed to have evaporated and the teams settled into a decent rhythm in thrust and counterthrust.

That was, until we lost track of Aaritalo.

The Finn played a two-man game with defender Carlinhos outside our area and amazingly, both defenders moved off the attacking midfielder. By the time Rosenior realized what had happened, Aaritalo was behind him.

Desperately, he lunged for the ball but caught the player squarely across the shins a full stride inside our penalty area.

The crowd roared, Davila pointed to the spot and booked Rosenior, and I headed to the Powerade table for an aspirin.

“If I told them once, I told them a million f**king times,” I spat, turning just in time to watch Sylvain Armand smash a perfectly taken penalty past Lobont to put PSG into the lead.

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Dagoberto was starting to get a little frustrated.

Landreau pulled off perhaps the back-to-back saves of the season on him in 26 minutes, making a double save under amazingly annoying circumstances.

Huth cleared a cross into the box but used his feet to do so, punting the ball upfield. Dagoberto had caught the Frenchmen playing a very high defensive line, and though he was behind the last defender when Huth played the ball he was still on his own side of the pitch.

He was through onto Landreau, who came out to challenge. Dagoberto cut to the middle to give himself the best angle and with Carlinhos huffing and puffing behind him, he shot early.

Landreau parried the ball right back to him.

Dagoberto calmly and coolly collected the ball and fired the ball right into the fallen keeper’s chest.

“Snakebit,” I moaned, leaning back in my chair while the crowd roared at a fine piece of goalkeeping.

Landreau brought play back up the park and Gaspari broke up a PSG foray, controlling the ball and sending it back up the park on the right for Kalou.

After he did, he fell thanks to a thunderous and extremely late challenge from Kalou’s Ivory Coast teammate Amara Diané. Gaspari didn’t have to make it look good – he fell like a ton of bricks as everyone on our bench screamed in unison for Davila to do something.

Unlike English referees, Davila was a man of action. He marched up to the Ivorian and showed him a straight red card, which certainly assuaged me while Gaspari received treatment from Wright. The PSG bench was up in arms, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Sometimes a manager has to ‘do the duty’ for one of his players, and protect the remaining ten’s ability to play the style of the manager’s choice after one has been sent off.

I have mentioned earlier in this writing that I was never sent off during my sixteen-year career, but I know the devastation such an action can cause a team. It’s a horrible feeling under the overwhelming majority of circumstances because it lets down the team for the rest of the match and sometimes longer.

Thankfully, the Italian was able to continue, and Diané took the long walk to the whistles of the crowd. I wasn’t sure if they were whistling at the official or at their player – the challenge had been greviously bad and might even have been a leg-breaker if Gaspari had happened to have his front leg planted.

Thankfully, though, injury was averted and the home team was down to ten. They had the lead but we had the momentum.

Playing eleven against ten, we could have been expected to carry the play a bit, even away from home, and we didn’t disappoint. Almost immediately our time on the ball and our quality of possession improved dramatically, and Kitson showed it by buzzing a header just over Landreau’s crossbar in forty minutes.

We were really starting to pick up our play, and that assuaged the fact that we were behind to an extent. We just needed to show that we could score to cement our newly-found dominance, and get some of that PSG monkey off our backs, if you will.

The tide was definitely turning and when Kitson earned us a corner by taking a shot from fifteen yards that went off Dugard for a corner, Maloney fairly sprinted over to take it as the first half ticked over into added time.

His aim was true, and Sonko shot like an arrow through the heart of the PSG defense. He headed home powerfully to get us level with the last action of the first half.

It was a huge goal from a player who has grown into an offensive weapon. Originally, it was my hope that Huth would be a power from set pieces such as corners, but Sonko’s goal was already his fourth of the season and I was well satisfied.

Davila blew for halftime and we headed to the changing room feeling quite confident indeed.

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Seven minutes after the restart, Sonko was celebrating again.

The ball bounced twice at the back of Landreau’s goal before backspin carried it back onto the field of play, courtesy of another thundering header from my vice-captain.

Maloney had again provided. This time, it was with an outswinging corner from the right side, opposite of his successful effort in the first half, and again the big man made no mistake.

Sonko’s confidence seemed to be rising through the roof of the stadium before our eyes, and he strode back to his position with an imperious air that brought a smile to my face.

He was quite a different player from just a year ago, when he was dominated by his agent, Phillippe Dumont.

That Sonko had been a decent player, but at nowhere near the level he was currently showing. He was growing into his role at both ends of the park, and we were the beneficiaries of it all.

Our start to the second half had been smart, very strong, and for a change, dominant. We just looked like we had a clue about ourselves, a trait we hadn’t shown enough of in Europe – and hardly at all in our last group match at the Nou Camp.

Granted, the opponent was different but even though PSG were a decent side they were certainly no Barcelona. We should have been doing better against them and at that point, we were.

At that point, Paul LeGuen went to his bench, replacing defender Bernard Mendy with midfielder Clément Chantôme after having sent Frau to the bench at halftime for defender Yuval Shpungin.

At that point, they announced the score of the other group match – Barcelona were pounding HSV 3-nil early in the second half.

Barca had been great against us, and were being at least as good against the Germans. We had managed to avoid a bloodbath, but it remained to be seen whether HSV could do the same.

Play continued, and the Frenchmen picked up a free kick outside the box when Huth shoulder-barged Aaritalo to the deck and wound up in the book.

Sighing, I ticked off the name of another defender who would be unavailable for the next match due to yellow cards, and looked up just in time to see Sergiy Nazarenko smash a free kick off Magallón’s shoulder – with the deflection beating Lobont to his left in 52 minutes.

The ten men were level at 2-2, and the momentum had shifted yet again.

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ntfbolton, welcome to the Rat Pack! I'm happy to have you along, though I must admit it's now a rather huge slog to have followed this story from the beginning ... thanks for making the attempt and above all, thank you for succeeding!


That said, we were still playing eleven against ten, and even though Huth’s mistake and booking had led to the equalizer, I felt we were still the better side.

Though not watching the match with any sort of live statistical setup at hand, even the casual observer could see the better side wasn’t winning. This was a problem, but even at the hour mark I didn’t see it as an insurmountable one.

I felt good, rare enough for me. I felt, as Twain once described, “the serene confidence a Christian feels in holding four aces.”

We were good. We were better than PSG. All we had to do was prove it.

Dagoberto agreed, striding forward into the night to drive a shot off Dugard’s shin guard and directly to Landreau, proving once again that the football gods are hardly fair.

Kalou and Kitson did the same moments later, with the former’s cheeky little backheel sending the latter away for shot that Landreau did quite brilliantly to turn around the post.

The keeper was looking very much the man in form, which was starting to worry the bench players a bit. Their audible howls of disappointment with each break going against us were understandable, but still I wasn’t worried.

We still had one ace left in the hole, and it was time to show it.

In my main alignment, my strikers play with their stronger foot to the inside. If I were an ice-hockey coach, I’d say my strikers play on their ‘off-wing’.

In hockey, that means this: a player who shoots righthanded ordinarily plays the right wing, for ease of control. However, some coaches will play that player on the left side, so the player’s natural shot affords him a better angle at goal.

That was my thought here; Kitson’s stronger foot is his left, so he plays on the right side up front. Dagoberto’s stronger foot is his right, so he plays on the left.

The goal is to catch a defender unawares, since his natural inclination is often to shade a player to the outside so he doesn’t get beaten in that direction.

Sixty-seven minutes into the match, we worked the ball from back to front with a series of smooth passes. Huth started it, going to Sonko on his right. He in turn switched play to the left for Maloney, who in turn found Dicã in the center of the park and in full stride.

The Romanian looked up for options and found that both strikers had perfectly timed their runs. He had two choices.

He chose Kitson on the right, and the striker moved forward strongly, with Armand playing him with his front shoulder on his right, showing him onto his right foot.

Kitson took one stride that way and shifted direction, forcing the defender to swivel as the striker entered the box.

It was too late. Kitson took a confident left-footed shot and beat Landreau to his right-hand post to put us back into the lead.

It was an absolutely basic scouting error – and Kitson had taken full advantage of it. Everyone who plays us knows that Kitson’s stronger foot is his left – but for just one moment, Armand had forgotten. That failure had cost his team dear.

Kitson could hardly believe his good fortune, but it hardly mattered. The eleven men led the ten with twenty-three minutes still to play.

As we headed back up the park to restart play, it began to rain. Things were starting to look better and better all the time.

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Good strategy technics with an added element of excitement leading toward a very good sit on the edge of your seat kind of game. Tell more... 10-3 Waiting to hear ... more. Nice reference to hockey - love it, can see the field clearly.

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where's Rob gone? Has McGuire/Richmond/Hardcastle finally caught up with him?

Rob's fine. The problem is clearly that all Ranger's fans have to get themselves de-scaled and have their horns polished once a year. Clearly 10-3 was away having this done and it took longer than anticipated! :D

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Rob's fine, but real life caught up with me for a moment. And Mikey, I wasn't getting scaled, I was shaving my back. :)


The strike force was starting to lag, but we had the lead so it was time for me to make a move.

Off came Dagoberto and Kitson in exchange for Saivet and Baptista, allowing me to shift to a 4-5-1 with The Beast leading our line.

We smoothly moved to a new formation with the goal being to spread as wide as possible, dominate the midfield and take the air right out of the ball.

4-2-4 has given us plenty of trouble at times during my tenure, but with ten men on the park PSG would have to think of something different.

We held all the cards – the ‘four aces’, if you will – and once LeGuen had seen my opening moves he made his last substitution. He brought on French striker Yoann Gouffran in place of Utaka as an attempt to get some pace up front for the final moments.

I wasn’t sure why he wanted to take Utaka off the park, and since he had already substituted Frau he seemed to me to be taking his two main threats off the field at the same time. That was odd, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

Thirteen minutes from time, the Frenchmen were set to stand or fall with the ten they had out there.

Unfortunately for us, one of the ten was still Aaritalo, and the Finn had a few ideas about getting level again. He took a cross from Gouffran and somehow managed to get above Huth in the air, forcing Lobont into a sharp save about sixty seconds after Gouffran came onto the park.

‘So much for taking their best threats off,’ I snarled to myself. That would teach me to make such judgments.

Moments later, they were back at us again, with Nazarenko free of Huth and moving in to round Lobont – which he did.

The ten men were about to draw level again, and the Ukranian national rolled the ball toward our open goal.

There, Sonko slid at full length to hook the ball off the line. The crowd screamed with frustration, I hauled my heart out of my throat, and Sonko headed back up the park looking like he did it every day.

The final whistle blew a few minutes later. We were through to the round of sixteen – thanks to an imperious game by Sonko.

Paris St. Germain 2 (Sylvain Armand 2nd 24 pen; Sergiy Nazarenko 3rd 55; Amara Diané s/o 31)

Reading 3 (Sonko 4th 45+1; 5th 52; Kitson 8th 67)

A – 48,497, Parc des Princes, Paris

Man of the Match – Ibrahima Sonko, Reading (MR 9)

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Real life? How dare you let your real life and responsibilities get in the way of posting your story here on FMS! The nerve, man, the nerve! :p

Doing great as always, into the round of 16 in your very first CL appearance as well!

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Gentlemen, thank you as always. Continues to be a labor of love, even though labor pains can set in from time to time!


“All right, fellows, let me have your attention!”

The raucous players milling around the changing room came to order in relatively quick fashion to listen to the post-match talk.

“They played you tough but you were the better side,” I said. “After they went to ten you put on the right kind of pressure at the right times and you did well to get this win. They were dangerous with ten but you found a way. Ibrahima, take a bow!”

The defender gave a sheepish grin and dodged friendly wads of balled-up tape and thrown towels by his teammates and they started to yell again. Once again, I raised my hands for quiet and once again they gave it to me.

“Barcelona kicked the s**t out of Hamburg tonight by 5-1,” I said. “That means there’s little likelihood of getting a top seed. However, you are no worse than second, and that means this; you are one of the top sixteen club sides in Europe this season. Be proud of that. Be damn proud of that, in fact. Enjoy it. Revel in it.”

“You have worked damn hard to get to where you are,” I said. “Enjoy the flight home, don’t harass the flight attendants too badly and enjoy this evening. It's your night. Then get ready to go back to work because Portsmouth is coming in Sunday to play you and we’ve got ground to make up on the leaders.”

“Now, enjoy.”

I turned back to my office to prepare my comments for the press, and left the players to celebrate. It was their time.

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“We’re through. That’s all that matters. This was a great victory for our club, a great victory for our fans, and I’m just thrilled that we’ll be able to stay in Europe after Christmas. I don’t know what sort of chance the pundits gave us of doing this on our first trip into Europe, but there you have it. We’ve done very well to get to this point and I’m going to enjoy it.”

“Are you at all worried about facing a top seed in the knockout stages?” This was a French reporter, who evidently was trying to bury us before we even had the next stage draw.

“We honestly aren’t thinking about that right now,” I said, choosing to take the high road. “We’re going to wind up a second seed unless this PSG side does a job against Barcelona, which is now playing like the machine we know they are. If we wind up a second seed, we wind up a second seed. That’s all there is to it. We go where we’re sent, we play who we play, and we see how it goes.”

“Enough clichés for you?” That was Emiliani. No surprise there.

“Glad to see you could make it,” I said, allowing a smile to spread across my face. “Only fitting you should be here to see the Yank guide his team into the knockout stages.”

He said nothing in reply. Instead, he simply made a few marks in his notebook. He looked different somehow.

Not in terms of his appearance, but rather in terms of his demeanor. Usually the Italian was jovial, friendly in his fashion, and liking to present the appearance of being in total control of the situation. Clearly now, though, he was not. Something was making him nervous and that seemed odd to me.

So I let him off the hook. He was only trying to do his job, he’d have to write that his old nemesis Ridgway was now the first American manager to reach Europe’s final sixteen, and that would have to be that. It would certainly be enough for me.

He continued to write, and as I continued to field questions from the other European writers assembled for the match, I continued to watch him.

Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.

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Ben, your plot twists are even goofier than mine :) And Balty, I suppose you'll love parts of this next post ...


It was a very rare thing – me wanting to talk with Emiliani – but in this case, that’s exactly what happened.

I asked to speak with the reporter after my briefing, and when I asked Waters to arrange it, it looked for a moment like his eyebrows might crawl up his forehead and hide in his hair.

Still, though, he did as I asked. Soon the Italian approached, as wary as you might expect him to be.

“Stefano, something’s not right,” I said. “I’ve known you long enough to know when something’s up with you. So I’m asking point blank what’s going on.”

He looked at me with a surprised expression.

“Why, Rob, I didn’t know you cared,” he said, attempting a joke.

“Deadpan comedy doesn’t become you, Stefano,” I said. “I saw the expression on your face and believe me, I don’t think it was simply because we won tonight.”

“I’ll make a deal with you, Rob,” he finally said. “I won’t make jokes if you don’t make jokes, yes?”

“Yes … I mean, all right,” I said. “So, out with it.”

“I can’t do that, Rob, and I think you know that,” he said, telling me something without telling me something at the same time.

“Look,” I finally said. “You know I’m in contact with the police. And they’ve intimated to me that you…well, that things are a bit uncomfortable for you at the moment.”

He said nothing in reply. He just looked down at his reporter’s steno pad and drew a couple of circles on his notes page with his pen.

“I’m apologizing to you for that, Stefano,” I said. “I know that my arrival in Italy made a lot of people uncomfortable, including you. I also know that I made some very powerful people uncomfortable and that this discomfort is starting to spread.”

He looked up from his pad and we locked eyes.

“Rob, I’m going to do you a favor,” he finally said. “I’m going to consider this conversation off the record.”

He was right. That was a big favor. Ordinarily with a reporter the first thing I will ask in an interview is whether we are on or off the record – and it’s my definition of ‘off the record’ that matters.

Here, though, I had not.

“Thank you,” I said.

Finally, the Italian took a deep breath.

“Rob, there have been threats,” he said, knowing that to say this to me he needed to go as far ‘off the record’ as I had. “Uncomfortable threats.”

“Why? Because of your reporting?”

“Exactly,” he said. “Honestly, though, I really would like to talk with you about this but since we both have planes to catch and mine is not chartered, perhaps we can sit down at another time.”

I looked at him and suddenly, felt a sense of pity for my old adversary.

“Stay safe, Stefano,” I said. “Despite our differences, I think you’re a good man.”

Wordlessly, he extended his hand. Wordlessly, I shook it.

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Thanks, everyone. I really do appreciate the kindness and encouragement you've shown me regarding this story over the last few weeks. Finding the time has been hard but if you want to keep reading, I will definitely keep posting.


Wednesday, November 25

Arriving home early this morning from Paris, I couldn’t get a thought out of my head.

If the Supporters are either so desperate – or so ruthless – as to start threatening journalists, then they’re either on their last legs or back with a vengeance.

One of the possibilities is obviously much more palatable to me than the other.

I arrived home at about 2:30 in the morning to find Patty peacefully asleep in front of the television. She evidently hadn’t bothered to get up and go to bed, and a late movie was playing softly on the big-screen television in our living room.

A copy of her schedule rested on the side table by the couch, and it had come from Hardcastle’s office. The big lummox had even drawn a little smiley face on it, which is sort of like getting a note signed ‘hugs and kisses, Genghis Khan’.

Still, I smiled at the pastoral setting, if you will, and headed to the bedroom for a comforter to cover her up. I wasn’t about to wake her, as she needed her rest now more than ever.

I didn’t know if she had started to watch the movie that was on before falling asleep, but as I passed by the television I stopped to watch the incomparable Humphrey Bogart with Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep.

It seemed apropos. The title certainly fit.

I covered up my wife and then sat down to watch a bit of the movie, as I’ve always admired Bogart’s work.

It was at that point that things started to get a bit unsettling.

Leaning back in my easy chair, I watched the plot unfold. I started to draw parallels.

General Sternwood is a dying man who summons private investigator Philip Marlowe to help in resolving some of his family’s problems.

Initially, he’s hired to keep an eye on Sternwood’s daughter Carmen, but later it emerges that one of the general’s prize employees has run off with a mobster’s wife. It appears, as time passes, that each of Sternwood’s problems is a cover for something more sinister.

And along the way, Marlowe meets Carmen’s sister, the fetchingly beautiful Vivian Rutledge, played by Bacall.

Initially the two do not get on, but in the finest tradition of Bogie and Bacall, eventually they do.

The private investigator soon faces a personal decision, as Vivian moves in to vie for Marlowe’s affections.

I shifted uncomfortably in my chair as the PI replied with a foray into extra-curricular activity through an allegory to horse racing.


Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is, what makes them run.


Find out mine?


I think so.


Go ahead.


I'd say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.


You don't like to be rated yourself.


I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?


Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how far you can go.


A lot depends on who's in the saddle.

I got up, and turned off the television. While Patty slept in the chair, I headed off to bed, trying to rationalize that it was only a movie.

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The twists go on ... thanks for the comments :)


“I would tell you that I have received threats, yes.”

Fulton stood up from the conference table at the Thames Valley police headquarters.

“It’s important, Mr. Emiliani,” she said, crossing behind her visitor. She had not sought him out; he had contacted the police of his own volition. “I need to know who is making these threats to you and why.”

“I am not prepared to tell you these things,” he said. “They would jeopardize the coverage I am working on for the Reading story.”

“You do realize that we could do this the easy way or we could do it the hard way,” Fulton said.

“I do not follow you.”

“Perhaps you should,” Fulton said, now circling the table. “In this country, Mr. Emiliani, we have a law known as the Contempt of Court Act. Do you know what that is?”

“Contempt of Court? Certainly.”

Fulton frowned. Emiliani’s attempt at humor had fallen as flat as his arches.

“The Contempt of Court Act allows me to compel you to reveal your sources if it’s in the interests of justice,” she said. “Mr. Emiliani, we are in the middle of a multi-national investigation, as you are undoubtedly aware from your research. The group we believe to be threatening you is part of that investigation. Therefore, it likely would not be difficult for me to convince a judge to order you to, shall we say, ‘fess up’.”

Emiliani looked at the beautiful detective. She looked back at him.

“And one more thing,” she said, now sitting back at the table. “I didn’t appreciate the article you recently wrote about me and Rob Ridgway.”

She had had a long conversation with Fowler and managed to convince the Scotland Yard man that she really didn’t want to see Patty Ridgway dead, and she didn’t personally know anyone who did, either. So, she had been retained – for the time being – on the bugging side of the investigation. That was where a link to The Supporters was believed to be, and Fulton was now becoming more convinced than ever of that fact.

Emiliani had gotten in her way. She had seen what Fowler did to people who got in his way, and decided that rather than oppose her co-worker, she would try to emulate him.

“I write what I know,” he responded. “It’s not for me to worry about who likes it or who doesn’t.”

“You are speculating where speculation is not welcome,” she said. “Obviously I do not have the right of prior restraint against you but I will tell you this; he was unhappy about that article and so was I.”

“I know he was unhappy,” Emiliani said. “I remember the name he called me after he read it. Are you going to use the same insult?”

“I don’t need to,” Fulton said, “because if need be, I can take what I want from you. Just be mindful; as I said, we can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way. You might be able to help some innocent people and convict some guilty ones if you are only willing to co-operate with us, but that choice is entirely up to you.”

Emiliani thought back to what he had been told.

He realized that if anyone either learned what he wanted to say or found out that he was where he was at that moment, his knees might be bent into an unnatural position by someone he didn’t necessarily want to meet.

If he didn’t ‘fess up’, he might be forced to do so in a court of law. Either way, the wrong people being rubbed the wrong way would know who had squealed.

He had entered the police station looking for protection. He realized that one way or the other, he would leave it as a marked man.

Emiliani squirmed from side to side in his chair. He was in a pickle, and this time the journalist had miscalculated. Something was going to have to give, and he knew he needed to do everything in his power to make sure that it wasn’t him.

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“Okay. Portsmouth.”

I stepped to the front of the video room at our training complex and woke up the computer attached to our video projector. A VEGA control screen appeared and I moved the mouse to a video highlight.

Double-clicking to start the video, I started my presentation.

“4-4-2, we’ll see it until the cows come home from this side. There is nothing fancy about Portsmouth. They get it wide, they get it to the middle and they try to ram it home. Everything you’ve seen in video about them, believe. They will try to out-execute us and it’s our task to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

They’re unbeaten in their last three, after a bit of a slow start. Their improved play started with a 4-0 thrashing of a ten-man Spurs side at Fratton Park and followed that with a 3-3 draw at Blackburn and Sunday’s 2-1 win over Derby.

Of course, that makes me wary of my rival, Roland Nilsson. Since his comments last season about my relative worthiness to manage at this level, I’ve been on my guard concerning him.

I’d love to cut loose and say something that would rile the troops for our meeting this weekend, but the simple fact of the matter is that I’m not sure it’s worth it. We’re the better side and I think we’re going to show it.

Therefore, mum’s the word for me.

I’ve got a reputation as being someone willing to speak my mind, but I’d like it to be under the right circumstances. I’ve also got a reputation as being something of a smart-arse when the situation warrants it – and I plan on doing nothing whatsoever to change that.

The goal, of course, is not to write checks with my mouth that my team can’t pay with its play. There’s a balance I have to find.

Yet, I really haven’t forgiven Roland for calling me out so publicly after I was hired. It’s none of his damn business what decisions my employer makes, and my goal is to remind him of that when we meet this weekend.

So, turning back to my computer and the VEGA analysis loaded onto it, we got back to work.

“Defoe is of course their main threat, so we’ll be looking to shut off his supply. I don’t think their wings will be able to cope with being closed down, and I don’t think their team will be able to cope if we get ahead of them early. That’s what I want to see from you – I want to see you aggressive and taking this match by the throat. Make something happen quickly and I promise you, they will fold.”

Looking around for reaction from my players, I received a gratifying amount of nods and smiles. While we’ve been good in the league lately in terms of pure results, we have yet to really start playing ‘as advertised’, if you will – with the kind of fluid attacking football I know we have the ability to play.

Pompey are powered by their wings, which are most often Polish international Jakub Blaszczykowski and Dicã’s Romanian national team counterpart Nicole Mitea. They aren’t bad players, but when the going gets rugged sometimes they have an unfortunate tendency to disappear. We plan to make it very difficult for them this weekend, and we’ll see if they are still around at the end.

Mitea is slightly the better of the two players, a pacy winger who can get to the byline but not always get a good ball in to the strikers. Blaszczykowski is the opposite – a player who doesn’t have enough pace but is as strong as a mule and if you give him space, he’ll find a friendly forehead with his work into the box.

The larger issue with Mitea, though, is that if you show him to his right foot and get away with it, he’s much less effective. That’s going to take a special defensive effort, and the assignment will go to Ferreira.

Paolo has been up and down this year but we need him and this is his kind of game. He will have to match Mitea for pace but if he can stay close to him, his superior marking ability and savvy will help keep his service under control. I expect Pogatetz to have less difficulty with Blaszczykowski on the opposite flank.

On the right side, we may have more trouble with England international Glen Johnson than we do with Blaszczykowski, so we’ll have to be mindful of that. Maloney, who isn’t the strongest defensive player on the planet, will have to mind himself.

On the left, Djimi Traore isn’t a Premiership-level crosser of the ball and that’s reflected in the way he plays – he does not venture forward often, preferring to lay back and cover for Mitea’s forays into the opposing half.

We can handle them. We aren’t quite where we need to be yet in terms of our overall play and level of ability, but we can handle them.

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“I wouldn’t think you’re in any danger, and anyway, I believe you when you say you had nothing to do with what happened to Patty.”

Alba had lost a bit of her usual self-confidence. Despite a complete faith in her own innocence, it’s natural to feel a bit upset when you feel unjustly accused, and the Thames Valley DCI had had a belly full of Fowler’s insinuations.

She had learned the hard way what many a suspect had also learned while under questioning – it hurts. Sometimes she had been on the giving end of that beating stick, and more than once she had enjoyed watching her subjects squirm while she used her training to dig for the truth.

Now, though, the shoe was on the other foot.

She had had no counsel present – after all, why should the innocent need any in the first place? Yet it had been a cruel experience of a kind, one that would leave her questioning Fowler’s methods and even her very trust in the man she was supposed to be working with on the bugging case.

Interpol was now actively involved in the Bordeaux investigation, and that was good news to Fulton. It might keep Fowler away from her.

She kept thinking back to that investigation, and as we had a discussion in my office this afternoon, I could see that she was still well and truly bothered.

“Look, Alba,” I began, but she really wasn’t paying attention. Fowler had rattled her to the core.

I dropped my head lower to try to look her in the eyes and gain her attention. “Alba,” I repeated, and finally she looked over at me.

“Yes, Rob, I’m sorry,” she finally replied. “Where were we?”

“You were asking me about anyone else that might have had a relationship with members of The Supporters.”

“Ah, yes, right,” she said. The look in her eyes told me that she probably wished she could be someplace else.

“I don’t know of too many others in my circle,” I said. “The staff at Padova were pretty good with the exception, of course, of our bus driver.”

A very unpleasant memory flashed through my head at that moment, and I sighed heavily. Having the end of that season dredged back up and run through my mind was like an emotional enema. It was darned unpleasant no matter which end of the hose you held.

“I’m sorry to have to bring it up, Rob,” she said, leaning back in her chair.

“Looks like we both have worries,” I said.

“It does,” she answered. “I apologize, I’m not exactly top of my game today.”

“It happens,” I replied.

“Rob, tell me about Kate McGuire,” she said, seemingly coming from out of left field.

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“Come again?”

“Kate McGuire,” she repeated. “Did she have any contact with The Supporters that you know of?”

The conversation was going from bad to worse.

“I sort of lost contact with Kate after … well, after I got married and after she went back to that … individual.”

“I see,” she replied, seeming to regain some composure as she made a mark on her note pad. “So you are not close.”

“No, we are no longer close,” I answered. “What does this have to do with…”

“…she is married to someone who very likely did have contact with the Italian group,” Fulton said. “We still can’t prove it and a Scotland Yard investigation done right after you took your present job did not reveal anything substantial regarding Mr. McGuire and the Italians. However, signs do point to involvement with them and we must consider it to be a possibility.”

“So what would Kate have to do with it?” I asked.

“Rob, do you recall why Peter McGuire contacted you in the first place two years ago?”

“Yes, it was to be a pain in the arse.”

“More than that,” Alba said, a smile now crossing her lips. “It was to keep you away from Kate, on whom he had cheated with the woman who is now your wife.”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “I was being flippant, I apologize.”

“Rob, what is to say that to spite her husband, in more than one way, that she didn’t arrange something through her husband’s contacts to hurt Patty? She probably still bears a grudge against your wife for breaking up her marriage, however inadvertently. Why not off her, to try to deny him what he really wanted?”

It didn’t make sense to me. Hardcastle was also under suspiscion for knowing too much about the attempt on Patty, so how could Kate have been involved, and what good would it have done her?

What advantage could she gain from setting up an attempt she knew would fail?

Then, it hit me.

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A bit of a milestone for me today, gentlemen ... today's entry marks the 2,000th post to this thread - 922 of mine and 1,078 of yours. Thank you very much for your support over 29 months of posting this story ... and now, onward we go!


Thursday, November 26

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned hiding in the press to bring my attention sharply back to football, and Roland Nilsson has provided it.

The most aggressive Swede since Gustavus Adolphus has struck again, firing a broadside at my team using the eighteen-inch guns of The Guardian.

“We are very confident,” he said to that publication. “We are playing better, from a point earlier in the season where we did not believe in our abilities. We can go to Reading and get a result and I believe that tactically we will be better than they are.”

Another swipe at me, which is fine. I can handle myself and with events of recent days starting to build frustration in my mind, I responded with both barrels.

“I don’t know where he gets this idea that somehow they’re going to stride into our place and come out with three points,” I said. “They are playing well, yes, but it’s a bit arrogant to suggest that three matches against eighth place, eighteenth place and nineteenth place have turned your season around. They have to come in here and take it from us and not a lot of teams have been able to do that. If he can, my hat’s off to him but I expect my hat to remain firmly on my head on Sunday evening.”

“Same as with Mark Hughes,” Weatherby said to open her part of the media questioning after training.

“Yes, same as with Mark Hughes,” I answered. “Where we are is where a lot of clubs would like to be. We got there because we work hard and we aren’t easily distracted. Now we’ve got lower to mid-table managers saying they’re going to come in here and knock us off. When one of them does it, then the rest of them should talk but until they do, we’ll defend our own patch just fine, thank you very much.”

I could sense a bit of Sir Alex in that statement, in that I felt much more comfortable in plain speaking. My media mentor, if you will, had given me an important lesson and I felt I might wish to get back in touch with him when things settled down to say thanks.

Of course, if that story ever got out, there’d be hell to pay.

Not between the managers, of course. We’re far too well insulated for that.


I think of Sir Alex’s great friendship with Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce, who is presently in the comparative catbird seat given the Toon’s relatively strong league position, and I think about how internecine the world of management can be.

I wouldn’t say that I have a great friend in management. In fact, I can honestly say that I don’t have a good friend in management.

Someone once suggested to me that the problem with my style of management is that I don’t have anyone to drink with after a tough match. I suppose there’s something to that.

The last friend I had in management was Copper Horse, and God only knows where he’s at right now.

I’ve played the Lone Eagle of sorts since starting at Padova and while that’s the lonely way to go, I feel it’s probably for the best for the short term while I try to make my name and make my way. Someday I might lighten up.


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