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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"


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Thanks, everyone. Getting to 2,000 posts is fun but obviously could not have happened without active and involved readers. This story has reached the point where it actually holds back my other projects, but somehow I guess I don't really mind.


My thoughts are now starting to be dominated by my former fiancée.

Kate was out of my life until just yesterday, as she should rightly be, but now Alba has interposed her far too closely for my liking.

That’s really too bad. I loved Kate dearly and was willing to sacrifice everything – including career - for her. Yet it didn’t work out, and the woman who eventually took my hand stole my heart fair and square.

Yet the very thought of Kate getting back into the picture, especially in such an intrusive way, led to a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The thought dominated my mind as I walked toward Ridgway Towers to watch training this morning.

Along either side of me, the players streamed toward their morning’s work, chattering in groups of two and threes, talking about the latest music, what they liked best on Top Gear, and whether Scott Golbourne could afford the Maserati he was going on and on about while running to the practice pitch.

I took a turn in the opposite direction as Dillon juggled a ball carelessly while waiting for everyone to arrive. Heading up the stairs to the tower where I now spend my training sessions in exile, I felt a bit on the lonely side.

That was too bad, but it was my own doing. Not for the first time, I regretted taking training with the players and hurting myself.

The injury had fully healed and from time to time I’d take a full workout – in private – under the supervision of the physios to keep myself in some semblance of fitness.

Yet it wasn’t the same. I put on an earpiece and a microphone and talked with Dillon on the practice pitch.

“Okay, Kevin, let’s put them through their paces,” I said, to start the morning’s session. “We’ll work on midfield first. Get them running, keep them loose.”

I turned off the microphone, sighed heavily, and got to work watching another day go by.

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Words wont do justice to the quality of your writing... yes youre that brilliant...

Well, I guess that Rob has a mistress now which is good, Imagine the Irony of Patty being cheated by Rob with the Person that was cheated by Patty... :D

Im bloody waiting to see more 10-3 :thup:

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Interesting reactions, I must say ... Ori, Rob used to love Kate, but if you have read the entire series, it's story canon that they broke up for good right after the "Battle of the Biennale" in Venice two years ago. Alba has planted the suspicion in Rob's mind that his former fiancee might have been involved in the attempt on Patty.

Gav, part of the narrative of this season is how Rob deals with pressure. It goes back to the season-opening quotation from Jose Mourinho. He has been depressed ... he's been drinking ... but he's holding it together. Right now he misses being on the training ground with the lads and it's yet another adjustment he has to make. Tired of his role? We shall see ...


“It hasn’t really worked, has it?”

Winthrop looked a bit worried. He sat across the table from Richmond, trying to explain why his novel idea of a dual-logo shirt hadn’t exactly set the world on fire in terms of shirt sales.

“No, I guess it hasn’t,” the marketer admitted. It had been a bad week. Fowler had pushed hard in his questioning but he hadn’t cracked. It would have been disastrous from a personal standpoint to have done so, but he wasn’t being paid to fail.

That was actually the source of his concern, because the idea to sell those shirts hadn’t gone over very well with fans.

Despite his campaign in the match program to have fans lobby for Kitson’s inclusion on the national team, the idea just wasn’t gathering steam. And, since shirts are expensive, Richmond and his budgets were starting to feel the strain.

Not so much with Sir John. He had all the money he would ever need, it seemed. He hadn’t favored the investment from the start but had allowed himself to be persuaded by the marketing department – and, of course, by the irrepressible Richmond.

The old man knew a thing or two about making money, Richmond had to admit. He had said this was a bad idea, and so far, he had been proved right.

So, how to prove him wrong?

“I’m looking for ideas, William,” Richmond said, adjusting his pince-nez on the tip of his nose as he always did when trying not to look like concerned.

Winthrop knew the ways of his boss and little alarm bells started to go off in his head.

“A promotional event would surely help,” he said.


“And we are having one at the megastore on the night of the World Cup draw next week.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“We need to make sure Kitson is there, for one thing,” Winthrop said. “Along with the others we know will be playing in the event, or in the African Cup of Nations. We need to get Ridgway to make the event one of mandatory attendance for players.”

“With a match the next day?” Richmond said. “I don’t think that will go over well.”

“Sidney, since when have either of us cared about what Ridgway thinks? He’s an employee just like I am, he’ll need to do what he is told.”

Richmond smiled at that. It was rare enough to see him smile, and Winthrop thought he wasn’t very good at it. In fact, his first impression was that if you could have pressed the director’s face into dough at that moment, you could have baked gorilla cookies.

“In fact, we really haven’t done as much as we could in terms of getting our players into the community,” Winthrop admitted. “Since the whole bust-up with McGuire and his PR agency last season, we’ve really missed that component to our club marketing.”

“So why hasn’t something been done about it?” Richmond demanded.

“Because Peter McGuire is a member of your consortium and I haven’t thought it wise to cross him on this,” Winthrop replied. “Frankly his ex-wife handled most of the issues with the club and she was a peach to work with. I wish we had her back.”

“So, go get her,” Richmond said. “William, I think you are very talented at your job but sometimes you have to be reminded that when I want something done, I’m ready to back up the people who have to see the job is finished. Now, you have your instructions so go handle them. I expect a report by the end of the day that you’ve finished this job.”

Winthrop hated being lectured. As a proud young man, filled with the thought that he and he alone knew his job, he couldn’t help it. But he obeyed.

“Very well, Sidney, I’ll see to it,” he said. “Is there anything else?”

“No,” Richmond said, dismissing Winthrop with the now-customary wave of his hand. The marketer left, and closed the door behind him.

“How on earth am I ever going to take over this club with people such as these?” Richmond sighed. Then he turned back to the club’s general ledger, looking to squeeze more blood out of the Reading turnip.

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Ben, there are physical descriptions of Richmond elsewhere in the story but it's funny how the mind's eye can make judgments (even if you are - possibly - being a bit facetious)! I enjoy writing Richmond 's character quite a bit.


Friday, November 27

“Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any.” – Mark Twain

“That is what I am telling you, Rob,” Winthrop said.

“Sidney Richmond wants a mandatory attendance player event next week,” I said. “Just so I’m hearing this right.”

“Yes, he does.”

“Has it occurred to you that Sidney doesn’t yet own the club?” I asked. “And that direction of staff really should be left to the owner?”

“I’m on Sidney’s personal staff by arrangement with the owner,” he said. “And really, Rob, why are you opposed to this?”

“Because we play Derby the day after the World Cup draw,” I said. “That, to me, is a bit more important. I’m not a national manager or anything like that, my responsibility is the football product at Reading FC. That’s really all that matters to me, William. My goal the night before every match is to make sure the players have enough rest and aren’t out in places they shouldn’t be when there is work to be done the next day.”

“They’re adults,” he said. “And we need to be in the community more. We’re getting feedback that we don’t show our faces out there – especially you. You’re a popular man here in town, Rob.”

Winthrop’s attempt at flattery was quickly seen for what it was, and I frowned.

“My job isn’t to win popularity contest and the first time I lose three on the spin that will all change,” I said. “I just don’t want the players out late on the night before a match where we will be expected to win and win well.”

“If you prepare them, you won’t have to worry about that. Derby are horrible.”

I scowled. “I’m sensing some of the old William Winthrop showing through,” I said. “I know how to prepare a side to play, but when you take matters out of my hands the night before a match, I won’t guarantee a result. I can’t do that even if they’re prepared, and I think you know that.”

He said nothing.

“What’s the real reason behind this? There’s no reason to assume Sidney would suddenly want mandatory attendance at the megastore unless something was wrong. What is it?”

“Just have them there, Rob,” he said, turning to leave. “Sidney says so.”

He left, and closed the door behind him.

“Sidney Richmond does not run this club,” I snarled. “Yet.”

I turned back to my video and decided to disregard my would-be boss’ instructions.

If I hear them from Sir John, that’s different.

If I don’t, well, that’s just too damned bad.

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Imaginations can be funny things. For example, I have a picture in my own mind's eye how Tina Powell looks but it's probably a lot different from Gav's. Theater of the mind ... it's why we're here.


“Mrs. McGuire, I want you to understand you are not being charged.”

“I no longer use that name,” Kate said. “I’ll thank you to call me Kate Southerland.”

“Very well,” Fulton said. “I would like you to understand, Ms. Southerland, that you are not being charged.”

“Then why am I here?” she asked.

“We are looking for information, as you might imagine,” Fulton said, seated comfortably across a briefing room table. “We want to know about any connections you might have had through your ex-husband to certain criminal elements in Italy.”

“I think I need an attorney,” she said.

“Suit yourself,” Fulton answered. “But unless you have something you want to hide, it might just be easier if you talk with me about Peter McGuire and any friends he may have had in Italy – who either still like him or who might no longer like him and would rather see him beaten to a bloody pulp or worse.”

“I told you all this after he was beaten,” she said. “Did you not believe what I told you at that time?”

“We have reason to believe that additional contact was made even after the beating,” Fulton said, “which may or may not have led to additional crime. “For us to get to the bottom of all this, we need your cooperation.”

The two women locked eyes. Fulton was not trying to be forceful; she could read people and she knew Kate wouldn’t react well to a heavy hand. She would have been quite correct.

Fulton’s suspiscions were profound; she also knew that the quicker she got to the bottom of this particular issue, the easier it would be to deal with Fowler. After all, innocence must sometimes be proven as well as guilt.

Yet as the women looked at each other, Fulton couldn’t stop a single thought racing through her head:

What did Rob ever see in you, anyway?”

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Mr. Wilson, your comments are always appreciated, and so is your readership :)

Bit of a short entry today.


To make matters worse, our training session today was horrific.

I didn’t see any zip or drive or passion. We couldn’t string three passes together to save our lives. Our ball-movement drills looked more like bowel-movement drills. It was just awful.

You’re going to have days like that, unfortunately. Players aren’t always going to perform at the levels you set for them. As long as they’re human, they will have days where they disappoint.

Unfortunately, when they all do it at the same time, it gives managers grey hair.

The players could sense my frustration because I came down from Ridgway Towers to stand at the touchline while they continued to work. Dillon could sense my frustration because I seemed to be breathing down his neck.

“Rob, it’s not as bad as all that,” he finally said after Harper lofted a ball in the general direction of Kitson.

“Like hell it isn’t,” I said, trying to hold my patience. “At this point I think I’d pull them out of drills before someone hurts himself.”

“That’s up to you, of course,” he said. “But right now the lads are loose, happy, and they’re having some fun.”

“Fun is one thing,” I said. “I am not so happy when they have fun at the expense of our system. Stop them, please.”

Dillon tweeted his whistle three times and motioned for the players to come to the touchline. I spoke to them, and tried my best to be nice.

“I see you guys are having some fun out there, and that’s great,” I said. “Unfortunately, you’re doing it in a way that you know is the opposite way of how we play football at this club. Now, I’m going to send you back out there and you should still enjoy your football, but I want you to know that if you don’t want to stay with the program, you can run laps instead. Up to you. Okay, back to it.”

It was short and sweet, and while I was the killjoy – and sometimes the manager must be the killjoy – their play improved a bit.

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“Kate, we’d like to know if you have an interest in working with the club again.”

Times had been hard for Kate after her company had been dismissed from its contract with Reading FC. Sir John had taken no prisoners – after he had learned of McGuire’s inner dealings and complicity in trying to assist Richmond’s machinations, he had acted decisively.

He had had no argument with Kate. Still, as long as she retained a business connection with McGuire, however, he felt it necessary to keep his distance. Surely he could hardly be blamed for that.

“You know I wouldn’t mind being back working with the club, William,” she responded. “It’s just that a lot of water has gone under the bridge, so to speak.”

“Look, I know client lists are getting shorter for agencies all over London,” he said. “We’d like to have you back, my brief is to get you back, and I’m wondering why you don’t seem to want to reprise your earlier role.”

“Well, as I said, it’s to do with water under the bridge,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t want to come back. I do. It’s just that all the intrigue there really started to grate on my nerves and of course the whole issue surrounding Peter and the police not having found his assailant yet…”

“…they’re working on that, Kate,” Winthrop interjected, with as much concern as he could shove into his voice. “You might know that, and I’d expect you would know that as his ex-wife.”

“I do indeed,” she said. “But you need to look at this from my perspective. Why would I want to re-impose myself on a situation such as you have at that club right now?”

“Because you need the work?”

Winthrop rankled with Kate. That shouldn’t have been surprising, as sooner or later he rankled just about everyone who wasn’t in a position of authority over him.

“We all need the work,” she said, with just a tinge of sharpness in her voice. She smoothed a lock of brownish-auburn hair off her forehead, and Winthrop stifled a smile.

She still ‘had it’, that was for sure. She was easy on the eyes. And available.

Kate’s eyes narrowed. She had grown pretty good at reading the minds of men, especially when they couldn’t keep their eyes off her neckline, like this one couldn’t.

“My eyes are up here,” she said, and Winthrop blushed.

“I’m sorry, Kate,” he said, trying to deflect the heat of her gaze.

“I’m trying to be patient with you,” she said. “Yes, it would be good to work with the club again, but if the price I’m paying for it is to have you try to look down my blouse each time we talk, you can forget it.”

“I said I was sorry,” Winthrop repeated, now firmly on the back foot.

“All right, then, I accept your apology,” Kate replied. “Let me think this over. I’ll get back with you in the morning. Despite losing the club as a client last year I do have a full book at the present moment, so I’ll need to see if I have the ability to handle the account myself. After last year, I wouldn’t let anyone else.”

“Fair enough,” Winthrop said. “I’ll expect your answer in the morning.”

With that, the conversation ended. Both participants walked away smiling.

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Saturday, November 28

Emiliani took the corner at a rather high rate of speed.

He was leaving the Emirates after watching Arsenal’s match against Liverpool and he was a bit on the nervous side.

Entering the stadium he had simply been looking forward to the press table buffet at the Gunners’ ground, regarded by those in the media as among the very best in England. Of course, Arsenal’s brand of football didn’t hurt his overall enjoyment of a visit to that part of North London either.

Yet, as he walked down the concourse on the way to the press elevator, he had noticed two men following him.

Just imagination, he thought, reaching the elevator to be whisked to the press level and the cocoon of the press box. People get followed in public places all the time.

Yet, he couldn’t help but think back to the warning he had received. Stay away from the police and stay away from The Supporters.

His usefulness to that group had always been dubious at best, even if it seemed to the thugs that, like them, he didn’t like that bastard Ridgway very much. In matters such as these, alliances are temporary but results are permanent.

They had cheered while he pilloried the American in the Italian press, but when his leaving town had been punctuated by a huge rise in reputation, their overall opinion of the man went straight south.

It had been a good match, won 1-0 by the Gunners through a terrific 44th minute effort from Cesc Fabregas. But as the match ended, Emiliani’s enjoyment of the football had evaporated.

During the match, Emilani had enjoyed the atmosphere, but when he finally had to leave after the post-match interviews and writing his column, he did so with a growing sense of dread.

Sure enough, at the bottom of the elevator, there the two men were.

He tried not to look back over his shoulder as he walked, heading toward the press car park area, which was off limits to those without appropriate credentials.

Hopping into his car, he hoped that pulling out onto the London streets would make his Alfa Romeo seem a little less conspicuous. Smaller cars were everywhere on those streets and he wanted to simply blend in.

That is, if he wasn’t being paranoid.

Pulling out from the stadium, he doubled back around a side street to see if he was being followed. Seeing no car behind him, he sighed with relief and started for home.

At that point, a white sedan pulled behind him, and he saw the two men from the stadium in the car’s front seat.

Frowning, Emiliani wiped a new bead of sweat from his forehead and accelerated slightly, trying to pull in front of another car and then slide in front so as to put space between him and his tail. At least, that was how they did it in the movies.

In real life, it didn’t work quite as well.

As he approached his home, the other car exited the roadway. It was just the two cars left on a fairly secluded stretch of roadway, and the sedan pulled ahead as if to pass.

There was only one thing left to do. Emiliani pushed the gas pedal to the floor and took off.

As he did, a short S-curve loomed ahead. The first half went all right. The second, though, did not.

Losing control of his vehicle, Emiliani’s car careered head-on into a street light, pitching him forward as the car’s airbag deployed.

The impact threw him into the airbag at a sickening rate of speed.

Behind the Alfa Romeo, the sedan slowed down. The driver looked through the window at the driver sagged against his steering wheel, and then he looked at his passenger.

The two men nodded silently to each other. The driver then put the sedan back into gear and drove away.

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“Police are investigating a single-car traffic accident near the Emirates Stadium that has taken the life of an Italian journalist.

Stefano Emiliani had covered the Premiership for Il Gazzetto Dello Sport for the last eighteen months. He had been covering the Arsenal v Liverpool match at the Emirates Stadium Saturday afternoon and was apparently driving home when the accident occurred.

Metropolitan Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the accident to contact them with any information they have. They have not ruled out foul play.”

Emiliani was 43 years of age."

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I didn't think Bal was going to take that news very well.

Bal, mate, there are councilling services available, look in your local phone book, or the local council probably do leaflets or something.

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I think it is a fantastic job you have done here 10-3. You have managed to make more people care and comment about the demise of someone who, while a long standing character, could be considerd a secondary villian. You have done something I had never thought I would see. I care for the assholes as much as the hero's in your story. Except for Richmond. He can go get stuffed into a dryer.

You sir, get 10 points.

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Thanks for the points and for the comments, gentlemen. When I created the character of Stefano Emiliani back at the beginning of Calcio, I had no idea he'd get the sort of following he evidently developed on the board. So the decision to 'bump him off' was surprisingly difficult but to advance plot I didn't have much choice .. as you will eventually see.


“You’re kidding.”

I sat heavily in my office chair, having seen the story on Sky Sports. Media does like to cover itself at times and the accident was certainly news to them.

It was also news to me.

It was further news to both Fowler and Fulton. Alba had called me right after she heard the news, and I expressed surprise and dismay.

Fowler, on the other hand, was in my office grilling me for information about Emiliani.

“It’s The Supporters, I’m certain of it,” I told him. “How could it be anyone else? Stefano told me after the Portsmouth match that he had received threats, and I can’t imagine who else they would have been from.”

“That seems to make sense,” Fowler admitted. He was pacing back and forth across the area in front of my desk, and that made me hugely uncomfortable for a variety of reasons.

First, I was starting to get hypnotized watching him. Second, he was pacing in the area where I usually pace when I’m thinking heavily, and it unnerved me to see someone in ‘my spot’.

“Mr. Ridgway, did you ever have direct contact with any member of The Supporters?”

“Only the one who tried to kill me,” I replied.

Fowler nodded.

“So you don’t know who exactly might have made threats to Mr. Emiliani?”

“Not a clue,” I said. “However, and I’m sure you’ve already done this, you might want to check with the public prosecutors in Venice who put those two thugs away for trying to kill my wife.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ridgway, we have,” he said, with a gruffness that suggested I should leave the police work to the professionals.

“Just trying to help,” I said.

“Noted,” Fowler replied.

“I don’t know how much help I can be to you, Commander,” I said. “All I know is that one day my coach driver tried to kill me. I also know that Stefano was pretty popular with them when he was trying to write me out of Italy.”

“We know that as well,” Fowler replied. “We just want to know what you know about it, since you were adversely affected by their actions.”

“Of course,” I answered. “Believe me, if I recall anything you’ll be the first to know, but right now nothing comes to mind and I can’t say that anything will.”

“Very well, Mr. Ridgway,” Fowler said. “We’ll be in touch.”

With that, he left, and I sat back in my chair.

Emiliani dead? It couldn’t be.

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Now, gentlemen, if I told you why Emiliani is pushing up daisies .... that would give away a plot line. And we can't do that.


I had hardly agreed with a word he had written in his time covering my teams. That sort of thing was to be expected between managers and journalists. Some are rivals, bitter rivals that don’t speak with each other for years.

Journalists feel they need to write the truth as they see it. Managers, or many of them anyway, tell the truth as they see it.

The area of divergence is the area of danger. Emiliani had either said or written the wrong thing about the wrong person.

Now he was dead.

I wondered what he could have done to deserve such a fate. I hadn’t cared much for his style, and I certainly hadn’t cared for some of his insinuations, but I wouldn’t wish death on any man.

Dillon entered the office and sat on the couch opposite my desk.

“You’ve heard,” he said.


“It’s bad, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” I shook my head.

“These people mean business.”

“That they do. Just keep your nose out of things, Kevin, and it’ll be fine.”

“I know. No one has ever said anything to me.”

I thought for a moment about how all the controversy might have affected Dillon. It wasn’t fair to him, certainly. All he wanted to do was work in football at a club that he loved. Was that too much to ask?

I thought also that he might be wondering about his answer.

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“They’re back, Steven.”

“I’ve heard,” Hardcastle replied. “Bloody stupid of that journo, I’ll tell you that. If you’re getting threats from people like those, you had better take steps to protect yourself. This guy didn’t, and now he’s dead.”

Patty leaned back on the couch. The baby was fluttering with an unusually high level of activity, and the pressure on her bladder was starting to grow. She was starting to wonder if she would have to spend the remaining months of her pregnancy near a portable biff.

“I worry, Steven,” she said. “They already tried for me once.”

“I worry about you too, Princess,” he answered. “That’s why I’m glad you have me back, so you don’t have to worry about you. It’s my job.”

Patty thought about all the violence that had surrounded her. Attempts on herself and her husband – a brutal beating for her onetime paramour and now this, with Emilani.

She hadn’t cared for him. She never had. His words were hurtful, his insinuations about Rob and Alba Fulton had cut her to the core. He seemed to care nothing for anyone’s feelings. He just wanted to sell newspapers.

He had hurt her, badly, in print.

“So what am I supposed to do now, Steven?” she asked. “Should I just live in a bubble until all this blows over, or what should I do?”

“That would be letting them win,” Hardcastle explained. It was the SAS in him. “We aren’t going to let them do that. You’ll live your life and we’ll protect you while you do it. They won’t come near you, believe me.”

“Nothing against you, but I wish I could believe that,” Patty said.

She thought back to her hospital stay in Venice and remembered how uncomfortable certain parts of it had been.

Well, okay. All of it.

“I’m here to protect you and be there for you,” he said. “You know I won’t let anyone else do it, so I simply need you to trust me.”

Patty was silent for a long moment.

“Of course I trust you, Steven,” she finally said. “I have a quick meeting Monday morning at my agency and I wonder if you’d…”

“…say no more,” Hardcastle interrupted. “When is the meeting?”

“Nine o’clock, in London.”

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty,” he said. “We’ll get you there, get you settled, and make sure everything goes perfectly. I promise.”

“All right, Steven. I’ll see you then.”

“Goodbye, Princess. Keep your chin up.”

They hung up the phone and Hardcastle smiled quietly to himself. The offing of that Italian journalist had made him more needed than ever, in the eyes of the person he felt needed to need him the most.

Too bad for that Emiliani character … but good news for Steven Hardcastle. And that mattered most.

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Sunday, November 29

Reading (9-5-1, 4th place) v Portsmouth (3-6-6, 13th place) – EPL Match Day #16

With a big match looming, my thoughts weren’t where they were supposed to be as the players reported for the match.

My thoughts were with Emiliani, and also about how such a thing could have happened to him.

The Supporters had tried to kill me and failed. They had tried to kill my wife and failed.

They had, however, succeeded in killing the two men who had failed to kill my wife, and I suspect a similar fate awaits the coach driver when he gets out of prison.

If he gets out of prison.

They had also managed to kill Emiliani, if my suspicions had any factual basis to them.

My feelings of sadness weren’t because I had any great or special friendship with Stefano. I did not.

I did, however, respect him as a journalist when his writing warranted respect.

I sent a note of consolation to his newspaper’s office with a request that my condolences be passed to his next of kin, whoever they were.

Then, however, it was time to concentrate on the match. Other matches had taken place yesterday and there were a few to which I needed to pay particular attention.

One, of course, was Arsenal’s home win over Liverpool.

Another was Manchester United’s late-late-show against Fulham, finally won 1-0 on a 90th minute winner by Jon Obi Mikel that sent a crowd of 69,000-plus home happy while giving Steve Coppell three more points he can use.

Elsewhere, all four goals at the Reebok Stadium came in the second half as Bolton drew 2-2 with Blackburn Rovers in a northwest derby.

Oscar Trejo and Mark Gonzalez had scored for the home team eleven minutes apart in the first part of the second half, but Garry O’Connor pulled one back for Blackburn in the 79th minute and Kevin Doyle did the same four minutes later to earn a split in the points.

John Carew and Robbie Earnshaw scored the goals as Villa drew 1-1 against Derby. As has been the pattern over the last couple of years in the Premiership, the equalizer came in the dying seconds, as Earnshaw stretched the twine in the 89th minute after Carew’s first-half opener.

Middlesbrough had no such worry against Wigan, though. Darren Bent scored from the spot eight minutes into the match and David Bentley and Gary O’Neil expanded the lead in the second half as Boro won in a walk.

West Ham and Sunderland, meanwhile, played a thriller in London. Paul McShane had put the Wearsiders into the lead a minute before halftime but Dean Ashton and Mota scored within twelve second half minutes to stake the Hammers to a 2-1 lead. Then (naturally), Daniel Braaten scored in second half injury time for a 2-2 draw.

So, it had been an exciting day. I would rather not have seen Arsenal win, but then you can’t have everything.

As I prepared for the match, though, the thought of football somehow seemed much less important.

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Ah, the joys of FM08. Mikel is the bee's knees in this particular save. I'll have to look up his purchase price ..


We started in the 4-1-3-2. There were a couple of changes from our usual fare, though – Pogatetz had picked up a niggling little strain in training so Gaspari slotted in for him at left full back, and I preferred the physically more imposing Bikey to Magallón in the holding midfielder role.

Otherwise, it was situation normal in terms of our eleven as the match kicked off. And my old friend Nilsson had a surprise for me.

That surprise was called 4-2-3-1, and it meant he was (obviously) giving up the idea of playing two up front against us.

I didn’t mind that in the slightest.

Pedro Mendes and Arnold Mvuemba were the holders, with Marouane Chamakh given the role of playing behind the single striker, Jermain Defoe.

Portsmouth, as I’ve mentioned earlier, have been an almost exclusive 4-4-2 team this season. We, on the other hand, have spent most of our time in my alignment of choice. So it appeared that Nilsson was rolling the dice a bit by putting five in his midfield.

It was the first sign of respect the man has showed me in two years, so I appreciated that.

My players didn’t, though. Our first chance of the match wound up in their net when Kalou played in Dicã very nicely with a ball from the right. The Romanian had no trouble slotting home past Stipe Pletikosa just six minutes into the contest.

His eighth goal of the season now nestled in the Pompey goal, Dicã gave a satisfied reaction before heading back to his position. We looked relaxed, loose, and ready to play.

The five in the Portsmouth midfield soon began to dominate possession. What they didn’t dominate, though, were scoring opportunities. When they surged forward, I was only too happy to tell my players to counter them.

As a result, our counterattacks were quick, incisive and ruthless. Pletikosa was called into action several more times in the opening twenty minutes.

First he palmed Dagoberto’s rising drive over the bar. Then he dove full length to his left only to watch Bikey’s long–range effort barely miss outside his post.

Finally, he made a very nice save at feet from a Kitson drive where the striker still would surely have found it easier to score.

Meanwhile, Pompey’s only significant attack of the first half saw Polish winger Jakub Blaszczykowski’s pullback find the foot of Mendes, whose drive was saved by Lobont’s two-handed diving block to his right.

Bogdan had had little to do in the half, and to see him that sharp, that quickly was gratifying.

The match began to tick inexorably toward halftime and in the last minute we got a half-chance. Bikey tried to turn play quickly with a high punt up the park, and Dagoberto did both a great job in staying onside and in racing to the ball stride for stride with Djimi Traore.

The two zipped after the ball and Traore hit our man with a shoulder barge to throw him off his stroke. Unfortunately, the force he used was excessive and since he was running at full speed, Dagoberto couldn’t stay on his feet.

He went airborne and landed with all his weight on his left shoulder, which rolled awkwardly underneath him.

He rolled immediately to his opposite side, grabbed his left shoulder and did not move.

“S**t”, I groaned, as Martin Crainie put the ball out of play to allow the physios on for treatment.

Dagoberto started to rock slowly on his right side, an indication of the pain he was in.

I looked at Baptista down the bench and nodded. Immediately, ‘The Beast’ started his warmup. Dagoberto stayed on his side while the physios probed and prodded his shoulder – but I also noted they did not attempt to move it.

Gingerly, they assisted him to his feet and wrapped an ice bag around the shoulder. He came off a few moments later under his own power, his face ashen with pain.

Matt Hirons, my chief physio, just shook his head as he walked past.

“Separated shoulder, Rob,” he said. “We’re going to replace it at halftime but thankfully his collarbone is right where it should be.”

I nodded. At least it wasn’t a third-degree separation, which would require surgery and is painfully obvious in its diagnosis. The pain my striker was in was bad enough.

Baptista came on right way for Dagoberto but the halftime whistle soon went. We were ahead but it had been a very expensive half.

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Finally up and out of my sick bed and producing again. Thanks to all for your patience.

Just a note ... the first person who views this post will give this tale 66,666 views. I'm not sure if that's good or not :)


We had been very tidy in our own half in the first half, which was a source of satisfaction to me.

The loss of our top striking threat wasn’t nearly as comforting, though, and we headed out for the second half with an alignment that wasn’t quite optimal.

Lita, who needs match time, wasn’t the player I had called upon. It was Baptista, which meant we had two big players up front instead of my preferred big-little alignment. Lita didn’t look too happy about all that, and sense that he feels pressure to produce.

His last season was magical, of course, and without him there’s no way we’d have qualified for a Champions League place.

This season, though, has been different. When he’s been in there, his form hasn’t been good enough to justify his selection earlier in the match. It’s a vicious cycle – but such is the life of the supersub.

“I’ll work on getting you in there in the second half,” I told him. “If we get another goal we’ll change tactics and you’ll be playing.”

He nodded, assauaged for the time being, but he made his feelings plain.

“I could have gone out there,” he said.

“I know.”

“I need time on the pitch to score and find my form.”

“I know.”

“Then why didn’t you put me out there?”

“Because Julio’s form is better,” I said. “We can talk about it after the match but for now, be ready to play.”

We kicked off the second half and it was more of the same from the first. Portsmouth played a slow, deliberate game in an attempt to build up to an equalizer. It was almost as though Nilsson thought he had all the time in the world.

For our part, we were content to let them bash away around the perimeter with one striker and Chamakh in support.

They dominated the possession and after the hour mark I shifted us into our 4-4-2 counter to try and catch them on the break with a slightly more stable midfield.

That said, when we countered, we hit hard, and we were getting the better of the opportunities. Maloney played in Baptista in 63 minutes only to see Pletikosa’s right post deny him our second goal.

Ferreira, who still is yet to score for our club, was next, with a rasping cross that nearly found its way into the net on its own after missing Kitson’s head a few minutes later.

As I had thought during the week, they couldn’t handle our pace, especially on the wings. Ferreira was having a fine game of his own, showing some of the form that made him a first choice at Chelsea some years before – and of mine some months before as well.

Portsmouth looked to be struggling to make something out of all their possession. Their alignment wasn’t helping them and they looked tentative at certain key moments. Finally, though, in 65 minutes Nilsson realized he had no choice and put a second man forward. We were choking them off too easily in their 4-2-3-1 so Chamakh now moved right to Defoe’s shoulder to try and give them more of a forward presence.

Meanwhile, we countered them with the sort of ruthlessness I might have expected, winning a corner in seventy minutes after Pletikosa turned a Kitson drive over the bar.

Maloney took it, and Sonko headed it home right on the stroke of seventy minutes for his sixth goal of the season.

The vice-captain was still in imperious form and had chosen the perfect moment to remind us all.

Our second goal forced Nilsson to his bench in a big way, with captain Sylvain Distin coming on for Traore and Hugo Viana, rather surprisingly, to replace Defoe.

That didn’t bother me in the slightest, as I countered by removing Kalou for Magallón to give us two holding midfielders and keeping my promise to Lita by putting him on for Kitson. Now we were in a very comfortable 4-5-1 with two strong holders and Lita leading our line.

He wasn’t being asked to score this time – he was being asked to raise havoc on the Portsmouth back line as the visitors desperately tried to recycle all this possession they were getting.

Lita looked frisky, harrying the center-halves whenever the ball approached them and even forcing Distin to forego a back pass to Pletikosa through some fine positioning.

Portsmouth had no way back, no way forward, and if you watched them over the final ten minutes after Martin Crainie left in favor of Glen Johnson, you’d think they had no clue.

I didn’t mind that. Once again, my handshake with Nilsson was perfunctory. I may forgive, but I never forget.

Reading 2 (Dicã 8th 6; Sonko 6th 70)

Portsmouth 0

A – 29,415, Madejski Stadium, Reading

Man of the Match – Ibrahima Sonko, Reading (MR8)

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Okay, gentlemen, here we go ...

Ben - I have played other saves in just about every incarnation of this game going back to CM 01-02. I post the ones that make me look good for the most part (though Kildare County was a real stretch!)

Ori - thank you. I had the crud for almost two weeks, with no energy to do anything except work. Posting has suffered but now I'm feeling better and hopefully that will help.

TV - what a pleasure it is to see you posting on this thread again. I really appreciate your loyal readership!


The media wanted to know about Dagoberto after the match, but they also wanted to know my thoughts about Emiliani.

Giving those thoughts was surprisingly difficult.

The ninety minutes of the match had allowed me to clear my mind regarding the man, but after the match I really couldn’t avoid talking about him.

“It’s sad,” I said. “I really do think that. Stefano and I didn’t agree on a whole lot journalistically, but that doesn’t matter a hill of beans right now. What does matter is that he’s not here with us today to talk about a football match. He and I crossed swords often both in Italy and here and I will miss the debate.”

“The possibility of foul play, Rob…” Weatherby began.

“…is none of my concern and it’s nothing I should be talking about,” I interrupted, finishing her sentence to the reporter’s annoyance. “I trust you understand that. There has been so much going on around this club lately that anything I say might be misconstrued. I can’t afford that. And it’s the police’s job to decide if Stefano’s death was accidental or not. Not mine.”

“We’ve heard that he was talking with the police regarding the same group that has made attempts on you and your wife over the last two years.”

“No comment.”

“Will you be attending services for him?”

“No comment.”

“Surely you can comment on someone who has had such an impact on how your team is covered.”

“I already did,” I said. “If there’s nothing new, let’s move on to the game, please.”

To my shame, the next thing I thought was that even in death, Stefano Emiliani could still find a way to make me angry.

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Monday, November 30

Patty is pretty scared. I can’t say as I blame her.

She’s scared for a number of reasons. She went to her meeting in London today and Hardcastle was right where he said he would be – on our doorstep at 7:30 a.m. sharp. That seemed to help, and I could see it in her eyes when she saw him waiting in the car.

Since I was there, though, there was nothing but businesslike conversation.

I haven’t forgiven him – and may never, in fact – for what he wrote to Patty in Monaco and for what he tried to do while they were there.

However, he’s the only one Patty trusts to keep her safe and however much I may dislike the man, and dislike the concept of him hanging around her, it’s something I have to put up with.

I only have one wife. She needs to be safe and feel safe or she’s going to become a basket case while carrying my child. The need for her to be stable is paramount, which is why I put up with the gorilla that is protecting her.

He showed up this morning looking like he was ready to take a walk down the Horse Guards Parade. He was impeccable, perhaps trying to impress my wife in a new and different way.

I wasn’t buying it, of course, so he minded his p’s and q’s around me.

“In case you haven’t thought of it already, Rob, I’d stay away from anything that has anything to do with Stefano Emiliani,” he said.

I resented his familiarity with me after what he had tried to do, but I knew he was right.

“Mr. Hardcastle, thank you for the advice,” I said. “I would have gone to a service out of a sense of decency but really, I don’t think it would be wise and probably for the same reasons you have told me.”

“You want to stay away from anything that bunch of Italians could be connected with,” he warned. “Honestly, it could very well be that they didn’t want him dead.”

“I don’t follow.”

“That’s why I’m the professional,” he said, drawing a hot glare from me in response.

“Emiliani could have been useful to them. He didn’t like you very much. If their goal is to finish you, he could have been seen as an ally. I’m sure the police have figured this out as well, so I’d expect more meetings with them if I were you.”

”Hardly a day goes by,” I mused. “These Italians have tried for me, tried for Patty, killed the two guys who didn’t kill Patty, and now got Emiliani.”

“You don’t know it was them,” he said. “But you should play it safe.”

I looked at him. He was of course correct, but it was annoying to have to admit it.

I didn’t think it was rocket science. It seemed pretty plain to me who had been after me and after my wife. Yet it didn’t seem obvious to him.

Or did it?

I shook a thought out of my head and watched him drive Patty off to London.

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Ori, one thing we've learned about the Rat Pack is that once you think something has happened, you have to pinch yourself to make sure. Even if some people think this story should be euthanized. :)


There were only three other matches yesterday and if there is one thing I’ve learned in recent weeks it’s that Chelsea never slip up.

Against Sven’s Manchester City yesterday, the teams traded early goals with Frank Lampard’s opener in the first half hour quickly canceled by Rolando Bianchi’s equalizer nine minutes later.

Yet, as they always seem to do, the Blues found a way to scratch out a win. Michael Johnson, a $20.5 million purchase from the Citizens last season, scored the winning goal against his old club on the stroke of half time and his teammates made it stick in the second half.

Meanwhile, a battle of two top-ten clubs at Goodison Park saw Spurs defeat Everton 3-1. Yakubu scored the opener just two minutes into the contest and before halftime Nic Anelka and Ashley Young had given the visitors a shock 3-0 lead.

In the second half, James Vaughan, who was last season’s Young Player of the Year, pulled one back for the Toffees – but only one, when they needed three.

The late game saw Newcastle get a 66th minute goal from Ivan Rakitic to nudge West Brom 1-0 at St. James’ Park. The Toon Army is sated for another day, anyway, even though they are just now entering the top third of the league.

Our next match, on Saturday, will be away to Derby County, before we prepare for our trip to the Continent at midweek for Hamburg. I’ve got some decisions to make but I don’t think they’ll be especially difficult.

Barcelona will need to lose to PSG – which, frankly, I don’t see happening – for us to have any chance at a top seed from our group. Therefore, the domestic match will get priority in terms of selection. We’re sniffing right at the edges of the top of the table – just two points back after yesterday’s win – but still fourth with a lot of clubs jammed up at the top.

Therefore, the league must come first, clearly and obviously. Arsenal is away to Wigan in a match I expect them to win, while Chelsea and Liverpool play each other at Anfield on Sunday and United is away in the Manchester Derby to City.

Since some of our rivals must drop points by definition, this only strengthens my desire to pick up three points away from home.

The problem with Derby is that they have had a dreadful time scoring goals. Last season’s midfield scoring sensation, the Brazilian Nenê, hasn’t found the twine once this season after netting nine times in league play and twice in the FA Cup a season ago.

In fact, their leading scorer is forward Maceo Rigters – with four. Derby have scored only thirteen goals in seventeen matches and are a definite candidate for the drop. So I think I’m not being unreasonable in hoping for a professional performance against them.

The word on Dagoberto is that he’ll miss six to eight weeks with a second-degree shoulder separation. He showed up at training today with his arm against his body in a sling, wrapped in ice. The slow part of his rehab has begun – the ligaments damaged in a shoulder separation have to settle before healing can begin.

The only change I’ll make from the Saturday match squad is at left full back, where Gaspari picked up a slight strain late in the match against Portsmouth. There, I’m seriously thinking of Scott Golbourne, who has been setting the reserves alight and deserves an opportunity to play with the senior squad. Now is his chance.

Baptista is excited because he gets an opportunity to play alongside Kitson from the start of a match, and Lita is still itching for his chance.

Also today, we were drawn into the Third Round of the FA Cup, where we don’t play until after the New Year. We’re going to face League One strugglers Luton Town, who are are in the middle of a huge relegation scrap in that league. No less than eight clubs are within five points of each other in and around the relegation zone there, in a league which is seeing Stoke and Southampton pulling away.

There are some other fun ties in that draw as well. Arsenal hosts Chelsea in a rather white-hot London derby, and Spurs will host Crystal Palace in another matchup of London teams.

Bolton will face Derby in another all-Premiership draw, while Fulham will face Sunderland and Blackburn hosts Portsmouth.

Add to that a tasty matchup between Swansea and Cardiff and you get a rather fun slate of fixtures.

For my part, though, I’ll be expecting another professional performance against the Hatters in my second try at managing this club in the FA Cup.

The board would love to see us win it – and, of course, so would I – because we never have. It would be a wonderful achievement, but not at the expense of our other efforts and endeavors.

Then there’s the other matchup that concerns me – after the Champions League tie at midweek we are out of the league on Saturday week to face our own trouble club – Manchester City – in the quarterfinals of the League Cup.

So, we’re still in all our competitions, and that will drain our squad the longer we go. The African Cup of Nations begins on 23 January, to make matters worse, and that’s going to cost me the backbone of my squad in all likelihood.

I think we need to get while the getting’s good.

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Today’s meeting with the squad was all about Derby, of course, but I couldn’t avoid the usual scrutinies that are starting to get me down on a regular basis.

Today, the press pack was looking to cover itself, which meant lots of people wanting to ask questions about Emiliani.

I was also asked if I had considered resigning my position, in the interests of safety for the players and employees of Reading Football Club.

“We have good security here,” I replied, the tack of the questioning catching me a bit by surprise. “If I felt there was any danger I’d certainly take the appropriate steps.”

“But does the atmosphere, with the impending takeover bid coming, ever feel toxic to you?”

No matter which way I answered the question, I’d make a headline. I knew it. So I measured my words as carefully as I could to reflect well on my employer.

“Sir John isn’t toxic,” I said. “He’s the man I work for. He has been supportive, he’s given me money in the transfer market, and he’s backed the players I’ve purchased even when they haven’t worked out as I might have liked. The point is, though, that any toxic atmosphere would have to start from the top, and that is not the case at this club.”

They didn’t believe me, of course, but I had said what I had said.

Now Weatherby spoke.

“Rob, do you feel that the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s accident create a chill around those who cover football?”

“I can’t speak to that, Jill,” I said. “You folks are the only ones who can, becase you cover football and I don’t. I can tell you that no one likes to feel threatened for simply doing their job, because that’s happened to me in my past, but I’m not going to generalize about any one group.”

Jill was evidently hoping for some grandiose quote, which I have been known to give in the past. She wasn’t going to get one in this case.

“How about added pressure on you?”

“You know, the person who goes to work every day at their job, whatever it is, runs the risk of getting run over by a bus,” I replied. “I don’t think about it. I have work to do, with people I’m paying to help me do it. That’s the end of the story. I’m not going to dwell on it.”

The journalists wrote, but they did so with a subdued manner. This was a very rare moment.

The war between Rob Ridgway and The Supporters had reached them, personally. They hadn’t all liked Emiliani – in fact, Weatherby for one despised him – but they were now set to wondering.

Could covering this story be hazardous to one’s health?

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Well, thank you very much! I appreciate your kind words!


Tuesday, December 1

World Summary

Coca-Cola Championship (promotion and playoff places only)

Charlton 38, Hull 36, Birmingham 36, QPR 34, Crystal Palace 32, Southend 32

League One (promotion and playoff places only)

Southampton 35, Preston 34, Stoke 34, MK Dons 33, Peterborough 33, Huddersfield 32

League Two (promotion and playoff places only)

Crewe 38, Oxford 37, Rotherham 33, Accrington 33, Exeter 32, Barnet 32, Wycombe 32

Blue Square Premier (promotion and playoff places only)

Grays 48, Kettering 44, Halifax 41, Southport 40, Cambridge 39

Ligue One

Lyon 47, Troyes 37, St Etienne 34


Bayern Munich 35, HSV 31, Stuttgart 28


Feyenoord 35, AZ Alkmaar 26, RKC 25

Serie A

Napoli 34, Inter 28, Atlanta 27


Rangers 39, Celtic 32, St. Johnstone 27

La Liga

Real Madrid 34, Villareal 26, Getafe 24

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Services were held this morning for Emiliani in Padua.

I was told about it in an e-mail from Stefano Sacchetti, who is in the running for a coach’s position at Pro Sesto. I think he’d be great for it and I wrote him a letter of recommendation as a result.

My former defender told me that the town is in shock over the incident. It might be the tipping point for The Supporters, who I am sure were not planning to kill one of their opponents outright.

I realize nothing has been proven yet, but it’s very much an open secret about how they operate. The inference seems a fairly safe one to make.

Sacchetti, who hadn’t particularly cared for the journalist’s style and wasn’t really too upset to see him leave, was still contemplative in his note.

“I do wonder who is next,” he wrote. “Just because a man wants to get to the truth, or just because you want to manage a football club, why should you have to die for that?”

I thought I knew the answer, at least in my case. Through his reportage, Emiliani had inflamed the public regarding an American who he thought was trying to destroy his ‘beloved Calcio’, and that fit in with the group’s motives.

When he was no longer viable, the group shut him down, to the point where he was resting in an urn in Padua. Whether they meant to do it permanently or not was still to be determined. Whether they did it all is for the police to decide, but I know what my instincts are telling me.

Somewhere, someone has been trying very hard to ruin my life. I’d like the police to find that person and then I’d like ten minutes with him.

I’d say one of those things will be much more difficult to arrange than the other.

It’s a horribly frustrating thing. The more I thought about it this morning before I left for training, the angrier I got.

I feel like a caged animal. They let me out to do my job, and then when I’m done, I go right back into the little enclosure I have here that allows me to feel safe. It’s annoying as hell.

It’s infuriating, is what it is.

They’re burying someone I once knew tomorrow in Italy. Someone who got on the wrong side of these people and figured out, too late, that simply writing what you want isn’t always enough to ensure your safety.

Muckraking doesn’t pay.

Despite all that, I don’t hate him and I never did. He caused me a lot of aggravation, and in the case of a couple of articles he caused me a lot of hurt. He thought, I’m sure, that he was just doing his job.

Unfortunately, other people thought he wasn’t doing it well enough, and now the worst has happened.

At least from Emiliani’s point of view. I’m not sure what The Supporters think.

I leaned back in my chair, switching the television to Sky Sports for a quick update before leaving for training. Shaking my head, I watched another story on the events of the last few days.

It was being reported that Scotland Yard now considered the incident a homicide due to forensics gathered on the site. By that, I assumed they had done tests to see how quickly Emiliani’s car had been traveling around the S-curve that had contributed to the accident.

There was no reason for him to drive a high rate of speed in that area unless he was trying to escape someone. That was enough for the police.

Somehow, though, I wasn’t sure if it would be enough for Fowler, who was now probably wondering what on earth he had gotten himself into.

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