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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"


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Now, gents, would I take a dig at my loyal readers here in FMS? (Okay, maybe a few, but not EVERYONE!)

And Dan ... hush. :D


We had one session to train for Sunderland before beginning our travel to the Northeast. The Black Cats have been dreck personified through the first half of the season with only one win from their first seventeen matches.

Yet they also have seven draws, so the diehards still have reason to hope, but the fact of the matter is that only one Premiership side has ever been last in the table at Christmas and managed to avoid relegation.

That would have been the West Brom side of 2004-05, with Sunderland being in the Championship during that "Great Escape" that season.

Our visit will come at a difficult time – with our hosts trying to generate momentum, a visit of the league leaders isn’t what the doctor ordered.

The fact that the league leaders entering the match will be Reading FC isn’t lost on anyone.

We’ve only led our league for those 24 hours last week, and never been table-toppers heading into a match before.

So we tried to keep training light today. The players all know what’s at stake and we hardly need remind them of it.

Staying within our scheme and not pressing and trying too hard are both vital for us. So Dillon and I kept the training light today. Much of it was spent in six-on-six games, simply enjoying our football.

We had a quick video session with the players after lunch, but with neither the time nor the ability to install any great changes in our match plan, we simply wanted to make sure we knew Sunderland’s expected avenues of approach.

The players are loose and confident, but not overly so. They know they should win on Wednesday so there’s little sense in big speeches.

Going over the video in the players’ lounge, I saw Winthrop standing in the doorway waiting for his pre-match website interviews. I turned.

“Playing staff only,” I said, pointing to the sign outside the door.

“Rob, do you really think I’m going to run off and tell Oleg Protasov what you’re up to in here?”

“Playing staff only,” I said, repeating my insistence in the same tone of voice.

He didn’t move, which was a direct affront to my authority. So I got up and closed the door in his face.

As I reached him, I smiled.

“Excuse me, BecksMan,” I said, shutting the door behind me. The look of amazement on his face was priceless.

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You know, Drog, I genuinely hate when I do that. Thanks for the catch.


Tuesday, December 15

Winthrop was on the defensive as he interviewed me for the website, which told me that my blind guess had instead been a verbal blow to the solar plexus.

That was good – I don’t care for confrontational interviews and for a few minutes at least, Winthrop knew his place.

I had the opportunity to wax poetic about how well the squad was playing, and how we would attempt to attack the bottom team in the table. There were no little squinty expressions, no raised eyebrows in reply to my thoughts about the team and our progress.

That was because Winthrop presumably knew the club policy regarding the internet. He wrote it, so he should have known.

Club personnel are expressly prohibited from posting to fan websites. The raw nerve I had hit the day before means he is now dangerously exposed.

All that I, or anyone else, have to do is check his post history. Then, his job might be at stake.

Of course, given that he was already named as being a part of Richmond’s intended board if his takeover bid is successful, he wouldn’t be out of work long if Sid takes over the club.

Still, though, it would be embarrassing not only for Winthrop if anyone found out, but for Richmond as well. He’s never been big on security leaks.

So, he interviewed me and then I headed off for the airport as the last man onto the team coach, whistling while I walked.

On the way, I had a telephone conversation with Alba. She was trying to figure out an itinerary for police travel when we go wherever we go for the first knockout stage of the Champions League.

All we know is that we’ll host the first leg, as a second seed. The date of that first match will be February 17, with the second leg a week later. That’s the one to worry about.

For a variety of reasons.

The most notable, from a purely personal standpoint, is that that date is near Ground Zero for Patty, who is really starting to show now. Officially, her due date is March 1, so really by that time she should be about ready to deliver the baby.

I’ve always wondered what would happen if Patty went into labor while I was managing the side. You only get to have a first-born child once, but matches wait for no one, so I guess the best thing for me is to simply hope it doesn’t happen that way.

Worse yet, what if it happened when I was in a foreign country?

I mean, I’m an American. To me, every country in UEFA is a foreign country.

But what if it happens while we’re in France? What would Patty say if I missed the birth of our first child? What would I say to myself?

Leave it to me to worry about something like this, though.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Clearly you are, Dan. Thanks for that!

FM, TV, thanks for your readership ... work has curtailed my writing recently but I've recharged a bit!


During our flight to the Northeast and Wearside, I had the opportunity to rest my mind a little bit. I usually do this by reading, and got to lose myself in one of my favorite writers, Winston Churchill.

I picked up my copy of The Grand Alliance, the third book in the former Prime Minister’s epic six-volume series on the war. I had read the entire series as a schoolboy, drawing quizzical looks from teachers and fellow students alike, but for different reasons.

But now, I was reading it again as a study in leadership and team building.

Reading for a few minutes, there it was, the quote that had been lingering in my head since the board meeting:

When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

The last time I had seen those words, Sid had misquoted them on a note card.

Sighing at how everything in my life seems to come full circle at the same time, I thought about what the words really meant.

In context, Churchill was talking about communicating with a future enemy. Richmond was talking about destroying one.

I suppose it showed the difference between the two men, even if one seemed to think himself as important as the other.

There’s a lot on my plate. Not nearly as much as Churchill had on his very best day, though, and that gave me some comfort as we flew to the northeast.

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“Hit them hard and they’ll fold,” I said, as the players watched a quick video presentation at our evening meal. “When Sunderland has fallen behind they haven’t come back well. When they’ve gone ahead, they haven’t defended well. What we need is to hit them hard, and play the style we’ve played all season.”

They were still relaxed. That was good.

In the back of the room sat our radio broadcasters. Radio Berkshire carries our matches home and away, and because I was in a very good mood, I allowed both them and Reading TV to sit in on the pre-match talk, with the understanding that they weren’t to relate any of the comments I made over the air.

I’d have ways of finding out, and then things wouldn’t be so pleasant.

Given my natural distrust of the press since starting my managerial career, I felt this was a fine bit of largesse on my part. Letting the press in to view a pre-match discussion was an important thing, a step toward better relations for the club. As long as it went like it was supposed to, that is.

We were relaxed, ready, and confident. Usually when we’re like that, we play well.

The meeting ended, and I headed back to my room for a call to Patty.

“I thought you were Adrian calling,” she said, which was the first man’s name she had used in some time that brought a smile to my face.

Of course, ‘Adrian’ is her lawyer, the Hollywood attorney Adrian Levant.

“Decide to play hard-ball with Mini-Me?” I asked.

“If there’s a way out of this, Adrian will find it,” she promised. “I really don’t like the idea of being out there on a shoot with McGuire ogling me, or having his people anywhere near the baby after he or she is born.”

“You could always leave the baby home if you have to go,” I said. “We can bring in a nanny.”

“You’d deny a new mother time with her first child?” she asked. “Rob, I don’t mean to be cross with you but really, is that what you’re saying?”

“It happens,” I said. “It does happen that working mothers have to travel in today’s world. Of course you could always bring a nanny with you, I suppose, but then a new father doesn’t get to see his child.”

The turnabout of her feminine logic didn’t seem to faze her, but that was all right. I had made my point.

“I don’t want to go,” she said. “I don’t want to leave the baby. It wouldn’t be right.”

I didn’t want her to leave me, but that was beside the point. At least for the time being.

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Funny how the character of Patty Ridgway has generated so much scorn from readers. Is there a redeeming factor about her? Time will tell...


Wednesday, December 16

Sunderland (1-7-9, 20th place) v Reading (11-5-1, 1st place) – EPL Match Day # 18

Sunderland used to play at the old Roker Park, before the days of the Taylor Report. As our coach wound it way to the relatively new Stadium of Light, I was left to remark at how far our hosts had come in terms of facilities.

I once played at the old place, in a friendly when I was with Rangers, but that ground had mostly terraces back in the day.

The new stadium, finished in July 1997, is the fifth-largest by seating capacity in England. It’s simple, it’s functional, and it’s good-sized.

Our support would sit, as per usual, in the western half of the South Stand, which I perused upon on my first trip into the building as Reading manager.

In my trips to the Northeast I had played in both the old and the new grounds. Yet, in my new capacity I got the opportunity to walk the ground for the first time as a boss.

That’s a tradition of mine, and since Sunderland were just promoted last season out of the Championship, it was something I hadn’t yet had the chance to do.

Last season, as a rookie Premiership manager, the pre-match walk gave me a chance to calm my nerves, and this was something I needed today as well.

Walking the ground, I thought about what it meant to lead the Premiership and face the tail-end club. We’d be expected to win and win well, with a set of expectations that was changing by the day.

It took a few deep breaths to get things under control. This wasn’t the place where we could slip up and not face the music for it.

Returning to the changing room, the players were a lot more relaxed than their boss. Looking around the room, I saw Kitson and Bikey playing keepy-uppy with their heads, and watched Dica performing a footwork drill worthy of Ronaldinho.

They were ready for the match, they looked confident and they had faith in each other. Their talk was like that of winners; calm but not overconfident.

My pre-match talk reflected the mood my squad had shown me. I tried to reflect their calm even though, for a change, I didn’t feel it.

“It’s going to be a cold one out there this afternoon,” I reminded them. “Let’s get an early goal, take the fun out of it for them, and let them run around in the cold and wind. The trick is to show them who’s boss and to do it quickly. They’ll fold.”

I nodded to Dillon, and he proceeded to give the team the remainder of their tactical instructions for the match. I sat in the corner of the room, next to Lobont, and watched the proceedings.

Most managers would have loved to see what I saw; a calm, confident group of professional men ready to go about their business.

I had a sense of foreboding, though, that I couldn’t place or remove.

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Before kickoff, I had an opportunity for a brief reunion with an important player from last year’s squad.

Michele Pazienza was a £4.7 million buy for Protasov from Fiorentina during the close season, after doing an excellent job for me as a season-long loan last year.

He had played 33 times for me; he had already played eleven times for Protasov and was providing the same stand-up play in the holding role for Oleg as he had for me. The return to health of Magallón had made him surplus to requirements for Reading; but he had done a marvelous job.

We shook hands briefly in the tunnel and I welcomed him back to England.

“Trying to stay here,” he said with a smile. Of course, with Sunderland holding down the bottom spot in the table, that was going to take a bit of doing.

Once the match started , though, I was a methodical man, pacing up and down the touchline almost from the kickoff.

That was good, because my players were a methodical bunch.

The Stadium of Light was also the Stadium of Wind, with a stiff breeze seeming to match my pace up and down the line. I spent the first ten minutes right on the edge of my technical area, simply watching the match.

There are those people who don’t appreciate a manager who doesn’t mind his business and sit in the stand. I’ve never cared much for, or frankly sought, their opinions, but watching Protasov sitting in his dugout dressed like the Michelin Man – well, I wouldn’t have traded places with him.

The players know that when I’m on the touchline I mean business, so there was an added element of sharpness to our play that the perfectionist in me appreciated.

Sunderland didn’t bother us for the first ten minutes or so, trying to find their feet against our 4-1-3-2. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t score while they were getting organized.

I was starting to feel a little lonely out there after a time, while my players struggled for the upper hand I felt they needed.

Thirteen minutes into the match, we gained that upper hand. We picked up a free kick about thirty yards from goal to the left. Maloney took it with a fine effort into the box – and Huth headed it home for the early lead I craved.

One of the reasons I bought Huth was for his aerial ability – in the offensive penalty area as well as the defensive. Sonko has been the man to find the net for us in most cases but to have Robert scoring from set pieces gives us two centre-halves who can score. It just makes us more dangerous.

Now, he had done so, and the ex-Chelsea man ran back to his position with a little extra spring in his step.

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We put on a bit more pressure moments later, with Baptista scooping over in an agonizingly close miss from about fifteen yards in eighteen minutes.

He really needs to score for the sake of his confidence, and even though my confidence in him is still unshaken, I’d like to see him get a goal for himself as well as for the rest of us.

He was still plugging away, though, which was an encouraging sign. He was also working hard off the ball, where a player in a crisis of confidence can sometimes have issues.

Unfortunately, as the first half wore on, Sunderland started to get it right themselves. We were earning less and less of the possession, while our hosts played with increasing confidence around our penalty area.

We didn’t let them have a good look at goal – but that didn’t stop them from shooting.

With the thought that sooner or later someone might get lucky from one of the missiles they kept launching in Lobont’s general vicinity, I watched Sonko and Huth parry the Black Cats away from decent positions in front of our goal.

They were starting to really understand each other, almost as well as Sonko and BIkey had last season. The hard truth of the matter, though, is that Huth is a better defender than Bikey and that’s just all there is to it.

To see them playing so well together was enough to make me go back and sit on the bench.

As soon as I did, Kieran Richardson carved us open and smacked a shot off Lobont’s right post that had my heart in my throat.

Vincenzo Iaquinta barely missed a few moments later as Protasov had switched to a 4-3-3 of sorts that was giving us a great deal of trouble and had me contemplating moving out of the 4-1-3-2.

Inexplicably, though, with his team generating chances he soon pulled back into his original 4-4-2, which was much easier for us to handle.

Craig Gordon, meanwhile, was doing his level best to stop a second goal, first off Dicã’s head in thirty-five minutes and then off his right foot three minutes later. The Romanian smelled blood and smelled yet another goal from his position off the strikers, and it seemed only a matter of time until he got what he was after.

Our next chance didn’t come from Dicã, though – it came from Kitson, who was played through on a brilliant dummy from Baptista after Magallón had started the play by running right past Daniel Braaten.

Kitson was in clear, rounded Gordon, and shot wide. It was the kind of miss that you rue if you don’t win, so the look I shared with an apoplectic Downes on the bench said all that needed to be said.

Rosenior then wound up in the book for a simply silly foul on Diomansy Kamara in the only minute of added time in the first half. There was no need for it, and as the Senegalese took treatment, I realized I had seen two rather amazing mental lapses that I hoped would not cost us later on in the match.

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tv, thanks so much. Glad you are following along ... only about another three weeks to go and then things ease up for me just a bit.


After a stern reminder to the team to remember its task, we went out for the second half to do what we do best – counter.

Kitson had taken a knock just after missing the open goal so I removed him at half in favor of Bikey, giving us a very solid central midfield. I had Dicã move up for the first time all season, pairing him with Baptista as we moved to a flat 4-4-2.

Kamara, returned to the field after his treatment, celebrated by getting away with a hard two-hand push to the chest of Rosenior after the ball went out of play in the first minute after the restart.

Referee Rob Styles, who I had last seen on the touchline in the contentious Blackburn match, simply ticked off Kamara. He ticked me off in a different way.

The push had happened right in front of the benches, meaning everyone saw it. I yelled out at Styles for a bit of consistency while Kamara simply stared at me and the crowd behind our bench got into the proceedings as you might have expected.

There’s something about Styles. I’m not sure what it is, but we don’t seem to do very well when he’s got the whistle.

Not that it mattered to him, or to us once play resumed. Kalou did moments later what Kitson had done in the first half – he got behind Protasov’s pushed-up defense, went in on Gordon, rounded him, and failed to score.

This time it wasn’t the player shooting wide, but rather defender Paul McShane sliding across at the last second to clear off the line.

“We are snakebit,” I moaned, after throwing my hands up in the air in a brief moment of disgust.

“We’re ahead,” Dillon reminded me. “Don’t display so, Rob.”

After a glare at my deputy that was intended to remind him I can do what I want in my own dugout, Pazienza teed up Braaten for a drive that Lobont parried with a magnificent save.

Choosing to say nothing, I simply gazed at the pitch. Sunderland looked a lot better than we did at that moment, and were doing so thanks to play through the middle of the park.

In a 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders, that shouldn’t have been happening, so my first foray to the touchline in the second half was to ask Bikey to mind his responsibilities. Only, I wasn’t quite that nice.

Dean Whitehead teed up Braaten again just before the hour and with Bikey this time closing down his man, forced an attempt that went well wide of the goal. That was better stuff from my defenders.

Pazienza then wound up booked for a rash challenge on Maloney that I found a bit surprising, but the Italian had a job to do as well.

Meanwhile, the Black Cats were turning up the heat on us – something they really hadn’t done against most of the teams they had faced to this point. Lobont made a fine save on a deflected effort off the boot of McShane, but whereas the home team had flailed away from distance in the first half, in the second their chances were getting better and better.

A second deflected shot, this time from a Richardson free kick, went close and it was time to think about a change of formation. We were getting overrun, by the tail-end club in our league.

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macca, great to have you back! And ChampPunk, welcome to the Rat Pack! It's a daunting read by now, I know, but I'm glad you made it through.


Kenwyne Jones came on for Iaquinta, who had lost a step by this time, and I removed the carded and by now fairly timid Rosenior for Gaspari on the left side of defense.

Just after he came on, Gordon robbed Kalou on a quick counterstrike from a great cross from Maloney, who put it right on his teammate’s boot. It was the third glorious chance we had spurned, but still we led.

Youngster Philip Ifil replaced Pazienza as Protasov went to a more attacking shape with ten minutes to go. The inevitable 4-2-4 was sure to follow, but having learned a few things about the formation since it has repeatedly burned us, I felt we were ready to handle it.

With our numerical advantage in midfield, getting the ball to the flanks and keeping it there was the obvious solution, and we started in on this task as the match moved to 85 minutes.

Richardson was booked for a push on Pazienza at that time, and Maloney took his sweet time with the kick, risking a card for time-wasting in the process. Sonko headed his kick wide and Gordon quickly restarted play, with Braaten eventually crossing at our right post looking for Jones.

Huth controlled and cleared to the left side of the penalty area, racing after the ball along with Jones.

Looking for Gaspari on his left, Huth’s feet got tangled with Jones and the striker fell.

Styles pointed to the penalty spot. We went nuts.

Assistants, coaches, players, and above all the manager, were up and screaming as the home crowd celebrated a truly unique early Christmas gift from the referee.

Like a pole-vaulter, I was off the bench and to the touchline, waving my arms at Styles.

“My guy’s in possession!” I screamed, my face turning red. “How on earth can you give that?”

It wasn’t like I was going to get an answer, but fourth official Danny Gobern came out to try to lead me back to my bench. His hands grasped my shoulders and I wheeled to face him.

“Don’t even think about grabbing me again,” I said, turning to face the young referee. “Just do not touch me. Keep your hands off me.”

The resulting staredown wasn’t pretty but there’s really no reason for an official and a manager to ever touch each other except to shake hands, and I knew it.

“You will go to the stand if you don’t sit down,” Gobern said.

“We may go to second place because the referee wrongly gave a penalty,” I snarled. “Do not touch me again.”

As a sop to the official, I backed away from the touchline and watched as Cypriot Michaelis Konstantinou smashed a perfectly taken penalty passed Lobont three minutes from time.

It was annoying. It was maddening. And five minutes later, it was over.

So much for topping the table. I shared a handshake with Protasov, who had gained a gift point he really needed.

The referees stood as a group, accepting handshakes from the players. Most of them wore red and white, and while a few of my players did the sporting thing, I couldn’t blame those who decided it was simply easier to applaud the support and go up the tunnel.

One of them was Huth. I couldn’t blame him at all.

Sunderland 1 (Michaelis Konstantinou 1st 87 pen)

Reading 1 (Huth 2nd 13)

A – 40,198 , Stadium of Light, Sunderland

Man of the Match – Bogdan Lobont, Reading (MR 8)

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Naturally, the discussion after the match centered around Styles’ decision.

However, having said my piece in the past and getting slapped down for it, I decided to try a different tactic when meeting the press in the Stadium of Light’s interview area.

All our hard work, at least for the time being, has been erased. With Chelsea’s latest win, we are now two points behind them and our match in hand is gone.

Weatherby was the first to test me. “Rob, your thoughts on the penalty decision,” she began.

I looked back at her and said nothing.

“Rob, did you hear me?” she asked.

“Yes, Jill, I heard you,” I replied.

“Well, then, your thoughts on the penalty decision?”

I said nothing.

“Do you intend to answer the question?” she asked.

“I am answering the question,” I replied. I then lapsed back into silence.

After an uncomfortable pause, the press redirected its line of questioning.

“You also missed a few chances today,” a second reporter said. “Would you care to use actual words to discuss this?”

“Of course,” I replied, turning to my new inquisitor. “Though surely you as a learned member of the press would understand a man making no comment. Wouldn’t you?”

I stared at him, and he at me. Without dropping my eyes, I answered his question.

“We should have scored four goals today. We didn’t, and that is how the game goes sometimes. We should have scored enough to make the end of the game a moot point. Yet we did not. Teams that want to win championships find a way to score in those situations.”

“Then you are displeased with your team?”

“Not in that sense, no,” I answered. “As far as I am concerned we played well enough to win one-nil. But I do not care who it is in this league, if you don’t do the business you will not win. We played the club at the bottom of our league today and we did not find a way to win the match. We played well enough to grind out a win but we didn’t get one. Simple as that.”

“And that would be due to the official?”

I maintained eye contact with my questioner and again said nothing.

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Thursday, December 17

The draw for the knockout stages of the Champions League is tomorrow night and we’re going to have a difficult time of it.

We can’t help that, of course – and we should expect it to be difficult given the heights we’ve attained – but we won’t have to worry about European competition for two months.

That’s good, because as I’ve mentioned, the January fixture list is murder for us. We need points during that time frame as we have rematches against three of the Big Four plus two League Cup ties against Arsenal during that month. I don’t want to have to worry about Europe on top of it all.

Of course, it’s fun for fans to speculate about who we might face. We’re the only English club entered in the league which did not win its group, so some of the biggest names in club football are on our list of potential opponents.

That’s all well and good. We want to go where the air is the thinnest, and if we get knocked out, we get knocked out.

Still, though, today was a day where I was stinging from the Sunderland match. We all felt it.

The plane trip home was quiet. Everyone there knew we had dropped two points, but there was a sense of defiance in the air that was the only refreshing thing about the whole sordid trip.

Huth was especially angry – having scored the first goal of the match while being declared culpable for our second, the big German was in no mood to discuss the merits of Rob Styles.

Still, I felt the need to discuss a few things with him on the trip back, calling him to the seat next to me as we reached cruising altitude.

We spoke in German, which was good for both of us even though his English is excellent. We could talk a little more freely this way and that was good since Huth needed to vent.

“Don’t let that referee get you down,” I said. “You were going after a loose ball, you were the last one to possess it, and it was simply never a penalty. Most referees are going to look at that and make no call. You need to not let it affect you.”

“It’s hard,” he said. “I thought the player got into my feet and fell down.”

“It was a good spot on the field to try to win a penalty, at the right moment,” I said. “That isn’t your fault. It isn’t your fault that the referee thought it was a penalty. You were in the right spot to clear the ball, and you worked hard to control it once you had it. There’s nothing you can do about that.”

“Except win the ball next time and give it up, I suppose,” he said with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

“No need for that kind of talk,” I said. “You have my full confidence, Robert. I just need you to understand that you didn’t do anything wrong from my point of view. We need you, we need you to play well, and we need you to move on from this. He didn’t even card you, for crying out loud. He just gave a penalty that we didn’t like. So we move on.”

He went back to his seat, and I tried to figure out how I was going to spend my upcoming weekend off.

We aren’t scheduled until next week when we go the Midlands to face Aston Villa. That leaves me this weekend free, and there’s a trip I want to take to scout players.

It’s going to involve leaving Patty behind and it’s going to involve traveling to a place where a warm welcome for me is a likely as seeing a newspaper advert for the Joey Barton Charm School.

The plane landed and while waiting for my luggage, I placed a call to a friend of mine.

In the east end of Glasgow.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There now follows the second collaboration in this series of stories. The next several posts were written in conjunction with my good friend Mikey, otherwise known as Celtic_1967. I'm proud to post these ... and I am also proud to say I have allowed him to write my signature character of Rob Ridgway both in my story and his own. Well done, sir!


Mike Kowalski is in line to be the next manager of Celtic Football Club.

Gordon Strachan is having difficulties, and those difficulties wear blue. And, if his club doesn’t get the result it needs this weekend, those troubles might be intensified.

Rangers lead the SPL by four points heading into the weekend Old Firm derby at Parkhead. I want to go watch, because I have been keeping tabs on players from both clubs.

I don’t get much opportunity to get north of the border these days but since we have one player who has played on the green side of Glasgow who is important to us (Maloney) and one player from the blue side of Glasgow who will be important to us (Fleck), scouting those clubs is worth my while.

There’s a lot to look at on the pitch between the clubs in recent days, as the Old Firm once again stand head and shoulders above the rest of Scotland in the first half of their fixtures.

But I digress.

Kowalski obviously knows Celtic and he’s also familiar with me, having provided a scouting report on Maloney that I frankly loved before I bought him from Villa.

Shaun hadn’t played much for Martin O’Neill, which was a bit of a surprise since they got on very well when both were at Celtic. So I needed to find out if he could still get a job done.

I turned to Kowalski, and his report convinced me to make the buy. I bought the English Player’s Player of the Year off O’Neill as a result.

So, I trust his judgment. I also trust him to bring me to Celtic Park for Saturday’s match.

From the airport baggage claim, I called the man and he wasn’t long in answering.

“Mike, I’d like to come up this weekend for the match,” I said. “Think you can help me?”

“You don’t need any help at Parkhead,” he replied, and I could imagine the smile he was probably wearing on his face as he spoke. Ex-Gers have been known to be wildly unpopular around Kerrydale Street.

“Well, I don’t mean that kind of help,” I laughed. “But I’d like to come up, see the city again and watch the match, and run the rule over a few players.”

“Well, you can’t have any of ours,” he replied. “We need every one we can get.”

“I didn’t say which ones,” I smiled.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “After the report I gave you on Maloney, I’m lucky they still let me into the place.”

“Okay, okay, I give,” I laughed. “But at least let me buy you a drink someplace.”

“That’s a given.” Kowalski wasn’t letting up.

“See you on Friday, if that’s okay,” I said. “I’m leaving here right after the Champions League draw.”

“Done. You’ve got it half right, your club wears hoops. I guess we’ll let you into our ground.”

# # #

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“We are ready to move.”

“That’s wonderful to hear. Did everything go as planned with Mr. McGuire?”

“It did. The recording is enough to hang him.”

“But is it enough to take care of all our objectives at the same time?”

“Well, I should think so. The point of the matter is that in about ten days, Peter McGuire will not bother us any more. Whether that takes down Ridgway too, well, that’s anyone’s guess.”

“I like a group that thinks big.”

“How big would you like to think? I mean, McGuire’s lucky to be alive.”

“A mistake I don’t plan on making again, I assure you. But when we’re done with him, he’ll wish he were dead.”

# # #

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Patty sat comfortably on the couch, her swelling stomach making it a little more difficult each day to walk around the house.

As she sat, she made an intercontinental phone call, to Levant. Her ace attorney was looking for a loophole in her contract to allow her to avoid working for Peter McGuire.

“Patty, I don’t know,” Levant said. “It’s pretty iron-clad. It’s up to you whether you challenge this or not but I don’t know if we could win a breach of contract suit. You may well have to go through with it.”

“Assuming you’re right, what protection do I have while I’m doing this?” she asked. “Can I at least have something written that will keep him away from me?”

“Both parties would have to agree to the terms,” Levant replied. “You can’t write a contract ex post facto.”

“He may not agree privately, but he might if I take it public,” Patty said.

“Come again?”

“Well, Adrian, what about releasing a statement that announces the shoot but mentions the possibility of terms?”

“You’d probably breach confidentiality,” the attorney replied. “He could hang you out to dry.”

“Not if someone reports the story,” she answered.

“Patty, if you’re talking about a leak, I don’t want to hear about it,” Levant laughed.

“Who said anything about a leak?” Patty replied. “Whether I like it or not, some style reporter is going to write something about new mom Patty Ridgway getting back into the modeling game. I don’t think it’s news but someone will. They’ll put two and two together.”

“They’re as likely to say you’re running off to Jamaica with your former flame,” Levant said. “And you know it. You’re trusting British tabloid media to report accurately.”

She sighed. “Adrian, I’m just so frustrated,” she said. “I don’t want to do this.”

“We could try to buy you out of the contract,” Levant said. “It would be pricey. There is a severance clause in it but you’d pay, probably through the nose. I’d need to study it to learn the ins and outs of consent and under what terms, if any, it could be unilaterally canceled.”

“Now you’re talking,” Patty replied. “I don’t want to travel abroad after the baby is born. And I want Peter to understand that.”

“If it’s possible, we’ll try to make that happen,” Levant replied. “I’ll get back with you.”

# # #

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Friday, December 18

Really, few groups are as good at managing pageantry as UEFA.

Even FIFA, which handles World Cup draws, has nothing on European football’s governing body, especially when it comes to pulling ping pong balls out of little plastic containers.

We gathered as a squad to watch the knockout round draw while somehow, some way, Richmond got the luck of the draw to go to Zurich as the club’s representative.

That was fine with me. The farther away that man is from me, the better I like it.

They gathered the sixteen club representatives and put them in a dais area, sort of like a jury box, while luminaries from the footballing world were shown in attendance as the ping pong balls were drawn.

It was all a lot of show.

As the television broadcast started, camera crews were just finishing their setups in our media room.

A pool photographer stood to the right of the doorway to the team lounge to get our reaction to the draw, with his video being shared by the all the participating electronic media.

No less a luminary than Zinedine Zidane stepped forward, sharing a handshake with Michel Platini as the festivities began. He would ‘do the honors’.

The first ball he drew, from the pot of second seeds, was Rangers’. For them, the wait would be short.

He stepped over to the other container and pulled out a second ball, handing it to Platini, who opened it.

“Bayern Munich,” he said, holding up the club logo contained inside. The clubs had met during Rangers’ 1972 Cup Winners’ Cup run, with the Ibrox club defeating the side which would form the backbone of West Germany’s 1974 World Cup winners.

“Real Zaragoza.” Platini waited for Zidane to do his fancy footwork to the other ball and determine their opponent.”

“Chelsea.” I could see Avram Grant’s stone-faced expression as the cameras cut back to London for the reaction of the English champions. I wouldn’t have minded his draw.

The draw continued. Past Real Madrid, past Manchester United, past Arsenal.

Zidane drew another ball.

“Reading,” Platini read, holding up our logo. As one, the players sat up, and even I couldn’t quiet the pounding of my heart in my chest.

Zidane moved to the other pot, and you could have heard a pin drop in our lounge. He pulled out a ball and handed it to Platini.

“Olympique Lyonnais,” he said, displaying the logo of the Ligue One leaders and the only French club remaining in the draw.

Now it was my turn for a stone-faced expression, while my players traded grins and handshakes. We weren’t on live television, but the camera was getting the reaction of my players. I had warned them against undue expressions of emotion, but they’re human beings. They can’t help it.

As the draw concluded, I prepared my remarks for the press. The final draw read:

Rangers / Bayern Munich

Real Zaragoza / Chelsea

Lazio / Real Madrid

Juventus / Manchester United

Valencia / Arsenal

Reading / Olympique Lyonnais

Steaua Bucharest / Inter Milan

IFK Goteborg / Barcelona

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“We’ll have our hands full and so will they.”

By sounding cryptic in my opening statement to the press I flirted with Ronglish while hopefully communicating my belief that I thought we had a decent shot to win over two legs.

As a group second seed, we play our home leg first, which we will do on the 17th of February. We’ve got two full months to prepare for our visitors, who are perennial champions of Ligue One and are well on their way to another triumph this year.

“Look at the table,” I said. “They’ve won fifteen, drawn two and lost two in their league. They’re nine points clear and they’re cruising. Obviously they can play and obviously we’ve been drawn to try to stop them. We’ll have a tough task ahead of us.”

“But so will they,” I predicted. “We’re going along pretty well ourselves and I would like to think we will give them a tough test. They’ll have to come here first and this much I can tell you for sure: we’ll make them earn whatever they get.”

Again, it was Weatherby who spoke. “Rob, your priorities,” she said. “Where will they lie at that time?”

“No one can predict, Jill,” I said. “And, we still have a January window to work with as well. We might try to bring in someone with European experience who isn’t cup-tied to help us along.”

“Sidney Richmond said from Zurich this morning that he expects to bring in reinforcements next month.”

“Well, as Bill Shankly once said, directors are there to sign the checks, so if that’s what he wants, then that’s what he can pay for,” I said. “I’ve identified targets.”

“Which you may or may not be able to bring in,” a voice declared from the back of the room. I had heard that voice before – he was the second questioner after the Sunderland match and he had evidently felt a need to show he was the baddest man in the room.

“I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know your name,” I replied. “Identify yourself if you please.”

“Rocco Abiatti, Il Gazzetto Dello Sport,” a man said, stepping out from behind a group of reporters. “And I wish to speak with you after this event if it can be arranged.”

Emiliani’s replacement had the look of a man who knew his way around a football pitch. He was tall, dark, and handsome, as the ladies might say. He was also slender, which made me wonder if he had played in his recent past. I racked my brain as he spoke, but couldn’t recall anyone in Italy playing by that name.

“Now, would you care to answer my question?” he asked. In that regard, he and Emiliani could have been twins.

“Ah, nothing like the Italian press,” I smiled, sizing up the new kid on the block. “Okay, to answer your question, you’re never sure if you can land a transfer target unless you have silly money to spend.”

“That wasn’t what I meant, and I think you know that,” he said. “Care to try again?”

“Not especially,” I said. “Next question.”

# # #

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“It is better to know nothing than to know what ain't so.” – Josh Billings

I granted the new man a quick meeting after the press conference ended, with Waters doing the honors as I prepared to head to the airport.

“I am not your enemy,” he said by way of greeting. “I’m just here to do an honest job covering the Premiership and I wanted to speak with you personally because I know you and Stefano went back a couple of years.”

“We did,” I said. “We had our ups and downs, like many in the press do with managers.”

“When we write the truth, we consider those the down times,” he said with a smile that was too ready for my liking.

“When you write the truth, we don’t have problems,” I corrected. “But, as long as you’re here, let me clue you in on something. You write what you write and I understand that. But if what you write is based on a feeling that you know my club better than I do, we’ll have problems. If what you write is based on your own research and beliefs, then we won’t.”

“I would expect no less,” he said. “But you must of course understand that I approach football journalism from the standpoint of calcio. The game comes first, the game comes last, and the game comes always.”

“Of course.” He turned to leave, but I wasn’t done.

“Oh, Mr. Abiatti, there’s one more thing. From time to time, Stefano felt it appropriate to write about my family. I’m going to tell you now: that is never an appropriate subject for a football writer. If you do it, I will pull your Reading credential as sure as I am standing here. Do I make myself clear?”

He gave me the same smile. “My hope, Mr. Ridgway, is that you never place yourself in a situation where I am forced to write about your family.”

“I never have,” I replied. “Unfortunately, Stefano never realized that. See that you do.”

In short, impasse. But the final decision on whether Rocco Abiatti enters my training facility isn’t his.

It’s mine.

# # #

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The fun is beginning for January, and today I got agreement on a player I really want for our future.

Even though Dicá is a having a marvelous breakout season for us, I’m already looking ahead for his long-term replacement.

The player I wanted, I actually got – 17-year old midfielder Matthew O’Brien, who is currently on loan at Worcester City but is a product of Wolves.

For £750,000 that I think is very well spent, we get a player with terrific physical tools, a cool head and above all, a keen sense for a pass that can knock out an opposing team. The boy already has 14 assists in 21 matches at Worcester and when the scouts looked at him, they came back foaming at the mouth. He will join us in January and may well go right back out on loan to keep his first-team football coming.

We also signed Gaspari to a contract extension, which I liked quite a bit. The boy has played all three positions along the back line for me this season and figures into my future plans, especially on the left side of defense.

The news of the signing came about ten minutes before Atalanta submitted a bid of £2 million for him. You know what they say in this business, though: you snooze, you lose.

Gaspari was one of my first signings when I came here and the boy’s development has been fabulous. He’s about ready for prime time, if you will, along with players like Golbourne and Osbourne. The pipeline is starting to crank out some pretty impressive young players and it comes not a moment too soon.

There are two players I also expressed interest in today, in a quick chat with Weatherby after Abiatti had left my office. One is serious; the other really isn’t but I wish it could be.

First the one that’s still reaching for the stars: Diego is doing everything but lighting himself on fire to get away from a very disappointing Werder Bremen club.

Coppell and Man United have already salivated all over themselves to the press about his talent, so just for fun I noted that since we’re ahead of the Red Devils in the table, he might not look so bad in hoops.

The other player is one of United’s. Kieran Lee is a very versatile young player who is the sort of super-sub I really want to have. He can play all over the park, at nearly every position except striker. He can be had for a decent price, and I know that because I contacted United to ask his valuation.

It was the first time I had talked with my predecessor as Reading boss since the last time our teams had met.

Coppell agreed that Lee was surplus to requirements and that for the right price he would allow the player to leave. That in itself was rather extraordinary, but what was more surprising was the other name I dropped.

That would be Wes Brown, Coppell’s England defender who is having a magnificent season when he plays, and is in the prime of his career.

Steve must have something else up his sleeve, because he said he’d consider moving Brown as well. His central defensive pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic has been superb, and Coppell has preferred captain Gary Neville to Wes on the right. If he’s thinking of bringing anyone else in, now would be the time to think about moving someone else out.

Before the afternoon was out, Lee had been approached by a website for an interview. So it was that as I boarded my flight, my smartphone showed the following story:

United’s Lee wants Reading move

Manchested United youngster Kieran Lee is a transfer target for Rob Ridgway’s Reading in the January transfer window.

Lee was told this afternoon by manager Steve Coppell that he’s free to leave if the right offer arrives, and the player admits that a move to Reading would be too good to turn down.

“They’re a good club, they play with some style and they get results,” Lee said. “I understand they would want me to fill in any gaps they’ve got in their eleven and at this stage of my career I want to play football. I love United and they’ve been great to me but if a bid comes in I’d really need to look at it for the good of my career.”

Lee has made only three senior appearances for United this season but is a versatile player who can play anywhere on the back line or in midfield.

It was time to go to Glasgow.

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It's taken about a month of reading when I have free time, but I've finally caught up with this masterpiece. I've held back the temptation to post in this topic until I caught up, and I'm glad I have. It's an absolute joy to read and I can't wait for the next installment! 10-3, thanks for providing us with this piece of writing, you have quite a way with words! I haven't read American Calcio yet, but I may well make a start on it now, I'd like to read more about the backstory between Rob/Patty/McGuire/Kate.

Favourite moments so far were the Patty/Hardcastle 'secret meeting', Stefano's death (really wasn't expected, I actually suspected he was behind the whole bugging thing for a while), and the whole interaction with Rob/Richmond. January (in-story) is going to be fun.

Keep up the good work!

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Melv, thank you! Due to the length of this story it's not often that I get to say "Welcome to the Rat Pack", but it's always a pleasure to know someone has read from beginning to end. Thank you!


Saturday, December 19

“Welcome home, Rob.”

Shaking hands with Walter Smith is always a fun experience for me, because that usually means I’m around the club I consider my spiritual home.

For my old gaffer to make time for me the day before an Old Firm date was good of him. We sat in his office at Ibrox overlooking the pitch and I could relate to his words. Yes, I was indeed home.

“Not a bad run so far,” I observed, and in his typical, understated way, he agreed.

“We’ve been playing well for a wee while,” he offered. “Just tell me you aren’t here for our key players and I’ll be well pleased.”

“Not that you’d sell them,” I replied. “You’re in the same spot we’re in.”

In terms of the Champions League, Rangers are indeed right where we are – a second seed playing a Continental club that is topping its table.

We get Lyon. Walter gets Bayern Munich, four points clear in the Bundesliga and winning most of their matches at a canter.

“So, what brings you to us today?” he asked. “I’d have expected to see you at Celtic Park tomorrow instead.”

“Well, I’m going there,” I said. “I had a day to spend prior and thought I’d come here first.”

“They’re going to avoid you like the plague over there,” Smith observed.

“I’m going to get in there just fine,” I said, with a slight smile. “Getting out, I hope is just as good.”

“I’ve got just as much right to be there as any other manager,” I added. “I’m reviewing players on both clubs, to be fair.”

“Well, we’ve heard nothing about an approach for any of ours so fair play to you,” he replied. “We know where your heart is.”

“That you do,” I replied. “But I need to make my club better if I can.”

He changed the subject. “How’s Fleck’s injury?”

“Healing, but it will be awhile before the boy is ready for us again,” I said. “Damn internationals. Had he been injured playing for me it would at least have been easier to accept.”

“That’s football,” Smith replied. “I’ve been on both ends of it and someday, I suspect you will be too.”

“Not so fast,” I grinned. “I haven’t won anything yet, as the press is so keen to remind me.”

“You will,” Smith answered, without so much as batting an eyelash. “Believe me, lad, you will.”

Sitting in the immortal Struth’s office was kick enough for me. For an active player to be in here would have meant something really bad had either happened or was about to happen. So, I was glad to have never seen the place before.

I wondered what Struth himself would have looked like seated behind the desk, immaculately dressed as always and every inch the man in charge.

Smith had been nearly as successful, and was still going strong. Flipping the two men back and forth in my mind was not difficult to do.

“Anyhow, there’s a wee group waiting for you in the Symon Suite,” Smith said, rising to his feet. “I hope you’re hungry.”

# # #

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Before UEFA changed its rating system in 2006, Ibrox was one of two UEFA Five-Star stadia in Scotland, with Hampden Park being the other.

Now, Ibrox is listed as one of twenty-six UEFA ‘elite’ stadia. The Symon Suite is one reason why.

Located at one end of the club’s Argyle Restaurant, the Symon Suite is one of a host of gathering areas named for legendary Rangers players and managers.

So while it’s obvious there will never be a Ridgway Suite at Ibrox, I could still walk into a beautifully apportioned room overlooking the ground, set out for a full lunch.

About half the Rangers board was present, which I found quite surprising on a weekend non-matchday.

One of those present was the chairman, Sir David Murray. He’s come under a fair bit of criticism lately for not investing more into the club and there has been rampant speculation that he might soon sell up.

Today, though, none of that mattered.

“Good to see you, Rob,” he said, advancing to shake my hand. As always, he walked slowly, due to the loss of both his legs in that infamous automobile accident.

“Sir David, a pleasure as always,” I replied, as he showed me to a spot at the table. “Nice to be back.”

“You’re attending tomorrow, I hear.”

“I am,” I replied. “In the Celtic director’s box.”

“How on earth did you manage that?” he asked.

“Mike Kowalski,” I replied. “He was the one who put me onto Shaun Maloney.”

The mention of my friend’s name drew some startled reactions from the directors. And, I thought, had Mike known his name was being bandied about in the Symon Suite, he’d have had much the same reaction as my friends wearing those nice blue suits.

“It’ll be odd to have a Bear in that part of the ground,” Murray finally said. “Good luck.”

“Thank you, but I’m sure it will be fine,” I said. “I’d just like to see a few players and hopefully watch Walter bring home three points.”

“We’d like that,” Sir David admitted.

I sat to Murray’s left, while the club’s CEO, Martin Bain, sat on his right.

To my left was an old friend, my former teammate Ally McCoist. Rangers’ manager-in-waiting, I wondered how soon he might be the foil for Kowalski on the other end of town.

“Well, look who’s back,” he said in his customary chirpy manner as he sat down. “It’s our local boy made good.”

“Good to see you too, Coisty,” I replied, returning his ever-ready smile as we sat to lunch.

It was a great event, and it was wonderful to be back at Ibrox. However, as I thought ahead to where I was going and how I was getting there, I had a slight feeling of unease.

As everyone knows, I want to respect the game and its traditions wherever I can. Mike Kowalski is going to help me do that – at Celtic Park.

Lunch was great. But tomorrow, I’m going to be a bundle of nerves.

# # #

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There now follows a series of posts I consider to be special.

Earlier in this work, I entered into a collaboration with my good friend Copperhorse 21 regarding Rob's trip to Bluth.

Now, in the finest tradition of the Ne'er Day Derby, I present a series of posts written by my good friend Celtic_1967. Rob Ridgway visits Celtic Park, as seen through the eyes of the green and white.

Enjoy -- with my thanks to Mikey.


Sunday, December 20

Mike had insisted I stay in his house.

I had to admit that it made it less likely that we’d be spotted together; there aren’t always people hanging around outside his house like there would be with a hotel.

I guess, given the privacy issues, I shouldn’t have been surprised with his air of reluctance when I asked the former Celtic captain to show me the pre-match build up from a green perspective.

“If we do this, then we do it my way,” he said. “You do as you’re told until were inside Paradise.”

There was no arguing with this. We both had to be careful. Neither party could really afford to be seen with the other, especially as the press were touting my host as the next name into the green electric chair.

# # #

“Rob, you ready to go?”

I was indeed ready, although I was a little confused as why I’d be made to change into casual clothes. That isn’t normal attire for the Director’s Box.

Jen had been roped in to chauffeur her husband and me into Glasgow proper. She was already in the front of the car with the engine running.

She motioned for us to get into the back -- that way the dark windows would make us less conspicuous.

We’d been travelling for about ten minutes when the car pulled off the main road, into a smaller side road and stopped neatly in front of a tenement building. Mike climbed out of the car and stopped, staring at the building.

“Sorry about this Rob, Mike insists we do this every time he goes to the game,” Jen said.

I was still none the wiser and that much must have been obvious to Jen.

“It’s okay...”

Jen continued before I got a chance to say any more.

“This was his grandma’s house; he used to walk from here to Celtic Park when he was a kid. Unfortunately for him he’s too famous around here to do that without being mobbed any more but he still insists on coming here and driving the same route he walked.”

I nodded in understanding just as Kowalski climbed back into his seat. I could have sworn I saw a wry smile flash across his lips.

The rest of the journey passed in near silence. Finally, Mike issued the instruction to stop the car. There was a large and rapidly expanding sea of green all around us.

“Mike, I’m not sure getting out here is a good idea after all.” It was a fair assessment to say I was nervous. I wouldn’t last two minutes if this lot saw me.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered. Just do what I tell you and you’ll be fine.”


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Thank you, gentlemen! I appreciate your sticking through!

And now, more from Mikey - Celtic_1967 writes about Rob's visit to Kerrydale Street.


That wry smile was back, and with good reason. From under a seat he produced a disguise. Mike jammed a Celtic cap onto my head and wrapped a scarf around my neck.

“Keep your head down and don’t draw attention to yourself.”

I had absolutely no intention of doing anything else. Dressed like this, I dared not get caught.

Cautiously I slid out of the car and followed Mike into the aptly named ‘Turnstiles’ bar. The noise in the place was incredible.

Pro-Celtic and anti-Rangers songs poured from every mouth. Rangers’ fans would have had every right to feel intimidated in this atmosphere. They did.

I almost dared not speak for fear of my accent giving me away.

I mustn’t draw attention to myself, I thought.

I just held tight to the pint that had been passed back and tried to relax. That’s easier said than done when I heard some of the songs being sung. Thankfully, none of them used my name.

Despite press coverage that often suggested otherwise it was abundantly clear that the Celtic fans are not angels, and a have a bigotry problem not unlike my club.

Both clubs like to pretend that the other is worse. It simply isn’t true.

To be honest, I was glad when Mike drained his glass and pulled me out of there. It’s a strange feeling when you’re happy, even as a Rangers fan, to be heading for the relative safety of Celtic Park.

“I bet you never thought you’d simply walk up Kerrydale Street?” he asked.

“Not in a million years.”

I didn’t look up. I kept my eyes on my shoes and kept moving.

“If you’d been dressed in that suit you wanted to wear then you couldn’t have done. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this.”

I really wished I’d insisted on my suit. All of this would have gone away.

“I don’t understand why I couldn’t wear it. It’s a Reading suit and tie.”

“And you’d still be Rob Ridgway,” the last two words were whispered, “in the east end of Glasgow on Old Firm Derby day.”

The man had a point.

Getting to the top of Kerrydale Street was nearly as much a relief as walking into the foyer of my least favourite club. Yet, the reception I received was pure class.

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Another fine installment from the keyboard of Celtic_1967.


“Mr. Kowalski, Mr. Ridgway.”

The receptionist stared a second too long at me. “I’ve been asked to take you down to the assistant manager’s office, Mr. Venus.”

Mike bristled. “He’s not there just now, is he?”

“I don’t believe so, sir.” The receptionist was still staring in my direction. “Mr. Ridgway, can I take your hat and scarf for you?”

Dammit. I’d forgotten to take them off.

I laid them on the reception desk, with a sigh of relief. I liked Mike but the colors were very strange to wear. “Thanks.”

As the young girl began to lead the way down to the office we’d been allocated, Mike stopped her.

“Rob, Rob, you must see this. I wouldn’t want you to miss it.”

I turned to find my host pointing at the four-fifths sized replica of the European Cup that all previous winners are afforded for display purposes. Of course, he was there to pay homage to the Lisbon Lions, the first British club ever to win the trophy.

“Great, Mike, thanks for that.” I forced a smile.

“I know you don’t have one of these at Ibrox, I wasn’t even sure you knew what the European Cup looked like.”

I had to laugh. In fairness, I’d have done the same if the boot was on the other foot.

“Okay, I’ve had enough teasing for now. Let’s go.” Mike signalled the receptionist to carry on guiding the way. “But when we get there, can you check Venus isn’t in the room please.”

Less than two minutes later we were sat in the vacated office of Mark Venus.

“You don’t like Venus much?” I was intrigued.

“It’s nothing specific, there’s just something about him I don’t trust.”

“So you won’t be keeping him on when you become Celtic’s next manager.”

Kowalski seemed shocked at the question.

“Come on, Mike, surely you’ve read the papers and thought about it?”

“Here’s the thing Rob, if the club have to lose out on the title for me to get the job, then I’m not sure I want it. Gordon’s in the chair and whilst I wish the football was prettier I could never speak out in public against my club or its manager.”

A small nod of the head was all it took. Mike knew I understood.

Football chat took up the rest of the afternoon; the state of the game in Scotland, Reading’s chances in the Premier League and European football, until there was a knock at the door. The receptionist was back.

“Kick off in five minutes, gents. Mr. Kowalski, I believe you know your way to your seat. Mr. Ridgway, would you follow me please?”

Mike headed for the door before he turned to face me and extended his hand. “See you after the match. I’d wish you good luck, but well, you know...”

I did know. All too well.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ori, that's laying it on a bit thick but thank you for the kind words :D

And my thanks to Mikey for his work here ... I take over for this post once again.


The teams headed onto the pitch at Celtic Park to the cacophony of noise that is endemic to the Old Firm.

Taking my seat in the Celtic directors’ box, I drew quite a few stares but here at least it was understood who I was and that it was all right for me to be there.

Two rows ahead of me and to the left sat the Rangers management team, including Walter and first-team coach Ian Durrant, who tossed me a quick and careful wave upon seeing me enter the box.

As devious as Mike had been about entering the place with me, and with the undoubted satisfaction he had gotten from seeing me wearing green and white, he had also had the good sense to see that a Reading FC windbreaker was waiting for me to put on as I headed into the seating area proper.

Rangers led the SPL by four points at kickoff and with several months of the season still to play, there was of course all to play for. However, the home side wanted to cut the arrears in the table early on, and stormed the Rangers goal to a wave of noise from their faithful supporters.

Giorgios Samaras went close just six minutes into the match, forcing Nigerian national keeper Vincent Enyeama into a snazzy save in front of the Rangers supporters in the Lisbon Lions End.

This brought about a special sense of satisfaction from the blue legions, as Samaras is about as popular with them as skin cancer.

The home side continued to pile on the pressure, bending Smith’s 4-5-1 formation but not breaking it. It was a classic Rangers alignment, defensively responsible but with players on the wings who could get forward if needed.

However, it was also the kind of alignment that had got Walter a great deal of stick from supporters through the years. It wasn’t offensive-minded enough for some, but I couldn’t fault him in the slightest for the way he had set out his stable.

He was the manager with the four-point lead; it was up to the other manager to bring the game to him.

This, Strachan was doing with a vengeance. I looked over to my right and saw Mike in his seat, his face a mask of concentration, as he seemed to will his club onward.

He had truly meant what he said; he wanted the manager’s job but if it meant his club had to lose for him to get it, then heaven could wait.

Now Celtic were coming forward again, with Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink swerving around Kirk Broadfoot – and scoring the first goal of the match nineteen minutes in.

The noise was deafening, and a quick look to my left saw Walter sitting impassively, a red flush creeping up his neck. His men had forgotten their responsibilities and it looked like the gaffer had burned a hole through Broadfoot with his eyes.

Hesselink looked good. I couldn’t deny that. I didn’t think he was necessarily Premiership-level good, but he had been the outstanding player of the first part of the match.

Now Rangers asserted themselves for the first time, as Steven Naismith swerved a long shot around Artur Boruc’s left post in 23 minutes to give the visitors their first decent chance of the match.

Yet the first half was almost entirely green and white, and as Smith descended from the directors’ box to give the team the tongue-lashing it deserved at half, I wondered if this time the green and white home team would get the better of their ancient rivals.

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As the second half began, Rangers had assumed a much more attacking shape.

Smith had gone to two up front, which was against his milieu, especially on the road, but Naismith was still working alone ahead of a supporting attacking midfielder. As quick as the wee man was, he wasn’t quick enough to make a dent in the Celtic back line.

Strachan, for his part, appeared quite content to lay back and let his midfield dictate the pace of the second half. It was an immaculate defensive performance by his players, and even though Celtic never really looked like pressing forward for the first fifteen minutes or so, Rangers were unable to move ahead either despite clearly expressed intent.

The center of both midfields looked evenly matched, and the struggle took place there. Barry Ferguson was straining mightily to make his impact on the match, while central defender Oguchi Onyewu recovered from mild culpability on Celtic’s goal to comfortably command the defensive penalty area.

I was pleased with how my countryman was playing in the middle of the Ibrox defense, at least in the second half, and Walter didn’t look quite as pained as he had at times in the first half when the big man was on the ball. One to watch for.

My note sheet was starting to fill up as the match ticked past seventy minutes, and the home faithful began to sing.

The old Celtic standards soon filled up the old place, with Smith substituting the knackered Naismith ten minutes from time and replacing him with Kris Boyd. Rangers continued to beat their heads against the green and white wall with increasing disaffection.

Four minutes from time, Rangers earned their first corner of the second half, and Nacho Novo rushed to take it, looking to make something happen.

His effort landed right on the forehead of Onyewu, and the American drove a header right off Boruc’s left post.

The crowd gasped as the rebound fell directly to Boyd, who couldn’t miss.

On 86 minutes Rangers were level, the blue horde was ecstatic, and the singing had suddenly quieted.

Boyd had even exorcised a personal demon against Celtic, against whom he had traditionally had a dreadful time scoring.

I looked to my right to see Kowalski sitting in his seat, covering his face with his hands. He was gutted, as you would expect a former captain to be.

For my part, I smiled as a Rangers partisan but in keeping with the custom of the directors’ box didn’t display any outward emotion. I chose to make a mark in my book with reference to Boyd.

A few minutes later it was all over. Despite being dramatically outplayed, Rangers had kept their four-point lead and there was no question after the match who was the happier side at the outcome.

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I would have expected nothing less from the former Celtic captain ... but thank you for your help on this, Mikey.


Monday, December 21

In a way, it was ironic that the first person I saw upon my return to training should be the ex-Celt, Maloney.

Preparations for Aston Villa were proceeding apace, and we are ready for our visit to the Midlands for the match.

For a change, the press was quiet and I didn’t mind that at all. I had hardly thought about the new man from Italy while I was gone, but I seemed reasonably certain that I’d cross paths with him in the near future. He just seemed to be that kind of reporter.

First impressions aside, and paranoia aside, he just seems like the type of person who will write something to make a point. He’s slick, self-assured, and in short the type of reporter who can give a manager fits.

Of more interest to me, though, was a scheduled meeting with the scouts to go over the January target list.

I don’t give a hang whether Richmond bids for the club or not and I don’t care if he succeeds or not. I have a list of people who I think can make Reading FC a better club for the second half of the season, and even a few who can help me fill the holes when my players depart for the African Cup of Nations at the end of January.

So, here they are:

Pablo Aimar (central midfielder, Real Zaragoza) – valuation £1.15m

Wes Brown (defender, Manchester United) – valuation £4.3m

Antonio Cassano (striker, Real Madrid) – valuation £1.5m

Alberto Bueno (midfielder/winger, loaned to FC Nantes by Real Madrid) – valuation £3m

Cesare Bovo (defender, Palermo) – valuation £7.8m

Mario Balotelli (striker, Inter) – valuation £1.35m

That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t try for other players, and I may not even bid for some of these. However, to fill holes, these are the players the scouts have identified as being both useful to the club and within the budgets we’ve set.

Cassano is a risk due to his volatile and explosive temper. However, if someone comes in for one of my strikers during the window, I will want cover and he’s the best one who is affordable according to my scouts.

Brown interests me as a replacement for Ferreira, who has been a good servant to the club but is starting to really show his age. With him, Golbourne and Gaspari on the flanks, we have viable long-term replacements for Pogatetz and Ferreira. Rosenior can also be thrown into that mix and that means I can feel reasonably comfortable if I hang on to everyone.

Meanwhile, I’m going to have to fight off offers all through January, especially for Cathcart. He’s attracting a lot of attention and January is going to be his coming-out party in the Premiership when Sonko leaves.

The Northern Ireland international will have his hands full, but he’s going to have them full in the heart of my defense. I told him that today, and I also told him that he’s a huge part of my plans for the future. He’ll be the subject of much rumor over the next five weeks, and I want his head where it should be – focused on Reading FC.

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Villa are really struggling this season. They will enter the match in 15th place, with only four wins from their first eighteen matches. They have seven draws, which is what’s keeping their heads above water, but I’m sure Martin O’Neill is looking for better.

And, of course, whenever we play Villa, Martin gets some stick for selling Maloney to me for a song.

Shaun has a lot to play for whenever we play his old club, and since he was one of the players who moved with O’Neill when he left Celtic, he felt a bit abandoned when he was relegated to the Villa reserves before the start of last season.

Of course, the rest is history when it comes to Shaun, and his blossoming in the central midfield position last year was a big reason we made it into this year’s Champions’ League. His goal production is off from last season’s torrid pace but he’s been one of my most consistent performers since coming here. He has made plays for us, created plays for us, and I can’t replace that.

He looked at me as I walked toward Ridgway Towers to watch training.

“Got to Paradise yesterday, did you?” he asked.

I nodded. “Quite the match,” I said.

“Until the end,” he smiled, knowing my background full well.

“I thought it picked up quite nicely,” I grinned, as we went our separate ways.

“The weekend will be just as good, I promise,” he said, as he started his dynamic stretching exercise.

I hope he’s right.

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Tuesday, December 22

I have never particularly cared for Steven Hardcastle, and most everyone around me knows it.

I get even angrier when he feels the need to get a Christmas present for my wife.

That sort of arrogance is going to earn him a punch in the mouth pretty soon and I don’t care how big he is.

I was about to leave for the ground and the team coach to Birmingham when the post arrived. I got to it before Patty.

“What’s this?” she asked, trying to remove the package from my hand. “It’s addressed to me.”

“It’s from Hardcastle,” I replied, my eyes narrowing at her tone.

“I didn’t expect anything from him,” she said. “Mind if I open my own mail?”

“Of course,” I said, handing the package to her. “So you won’t mind if I watch.”

“Not at all,” she said, heading to the kitchen table and the junk drawer near it.

She produced a pair of scissors to cut away the packing tape and sat down at her spot at the table.

I frowned as she pulled a wrapped box out of the packing. It was long and thin.

She opened it and gave a quick breath as she pulled out a small framed picture. It wasn’t of Hardcastle.

It was of Arthur Wellesley.

She opened a small card attached to it.


After our last conversation I thought you might like to have this portrait of one of our national heroes. I know you’ll accept this in the spirit in which it’s given. Happy Christmas!


“So tell me about this conversation,” I said.

“Nothing to tell,” she said, replacing the picture in its box. “We were on the way to London the other day and we were talking about how to avoid working with Peter after the baby is born. He talked about Wellington as an example of the kind of patience we’ll need if we’re to eventually be free of him.”

“Not the editorial ‘we’, I trust.”

“Certainly not,” she said. “He meant you and I, of course.”

“Of course.”

Her green eyes looked into mine with a tinge of sadness. “Rob, I don’t love him,” she said.

“I know why he sent you that picture and it has nothing to do with yourpatience,” I replied. “Do you see that?”

“I know he admires Wellington,” she replied.

“Read up on him,” I advised. “You’ll find, once you have done so, that this picture isn’t about you, it’s about him. Trust me. In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you’d throw that away.”

“Rob,” she began.

“No ‘Rob’ this time,” I insisted. “Please honor my wishes.”

With an expression of frustration, she did as I asked.

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The trip to Birmingham was uneventful, and by late afternoon the team was comfortably positioned in our hotel.

We hold a squad meeting the evening before each early kickoff when we are away. We go through video, we review assignments for the coming match and we discuss how we want to play the game.

Some managers are highly technical in that regard and will have a number of different alignments prepared for a match.

I’ve never been much for that. Everyone we play knows they’re likely to see either 4-1-3-2, 4-4-2 or 4-5-1/4-3-3 from us. My foray into 4-2-3-1 against Manchester City was therefore news, but I don’t see us doing a whole lot of it unless special circumstances arise.

That’s because I want us to play our game rather than react to what our opponent does. Except in the most unusual of circumstances, of course.

That kind of thinking often reminds me of the famous speech by General George Patton, which he supposedly gave to the officers of his Third Army on the day before D-Day in World War II. He was more concerned about what his team did as well:

“We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy's balls! We are going to twist his balls and kick the living s**t out of him all of the time. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like crap through a goose; like s**t through a tin horn!”

Let them worry about stopping us. I prefer it that way.

One of these days I’ll show the players that famous first scene from the movie Patton. We’ll have a good laugh about it, but I’ll have made my point.

With Christmas coming up, the annual team party is scheduled for Monday night the 28th, between our matches with Bolton and Everton.

Hopefully we’ll all be in a good mood after that time – the whispered fan protest is supposed to happen on the 30th so perhaps it’ll be a good idea to show up to the ground for that match in a well-oiled state anyhow.

The mood of the squad was good. The meeting went well and we think we have a good plan in place for Villa. The players would presumably rather be at home preparing for their own Christmases and holidays, but whoever made up the fixture list put us away from home on both ends of Christmas Day.

The only thing that bothered me was Hardcastle’s present to Patty. I know damn good and well what it means.

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The only thing that bothered me was Hardcastle’s present to Patty. I know damn good and well what it means.

I don't! :p Care to embellish so that I don't spend the next hour at work reading up on Wellington? :lol:

Quality as always Mr. 10-3.

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Mr. Balty, I refer you to Post 1533, diary entry of 24 September :D ... never leave a good story angle hanging. Rob knows his history.


These days, sitting at home in the dark was a bit of a frightening thing for McGuire.

He couldn’t get that night out of his mind, when he had been beaten to within an inch of his life – and for what?

McGuire couldn’t figure it out.

Now, though, with a security system installed that he was amazed he hadn’t thought to get sooner, he was planning his revenge.

He had his suspiscions as to who had done the deed, and about who had ordered it.

Time and place, Peter,” he mused to himself as he took notes on a pad.

He was formulating a new business plan for Happy Day for the coming year – one that wouldn’t draw attention from the SFO – and the only thing he liked more than making money was at the center of that plan.

“Steven, you think you’ll stroll in and bed Patty,” he said aloud. “That will not happen. It won’t happen because I say it won’t happen. I will tell you it won’t happen, at the time of my choosing, and I will tell you why.”

He smiled to himself. He enjoyed talking big, but wished someone else could be present to hear his words.

His flat was truly a bachelor’s pad. It contained no Christmas tree, no sign of the season anywhere in it.

His children, on the other hand, he would see Christmas Day as he always did. It was just how things were done in their split family. Their gifts had already been delivered to Kate – by an assistant.

Every now and then, he thought of what he had left behind.

Kate? Well, Kate was fine as far as she went. Pretty, yes, but she should have married that ******* Ridgway when he had asked.

He loved his children and all but really, what were they when he could have had what he really wanted in his life?

He sat back in his chair, placing the note pad on his side table. A new picture of a younger Patty Myers sat there, in a new gold frame. He hadn’t quite been able to clean the bloodstains out of the first one, and he had had to throw it away.

Not that he wanted anything to remind him of that night.

The picture, though, he would have done anything to save. That girl sure knew how to fill out a bikini.

But, back to business, he thought. Those Italians had been pesky. They were still pesky. They had plans, they had things they wanted to do, and the time was nearly right for those things to happen.

Yet, they had just been small-time operators, those Eye-ties. They talked a bigger game than they played.

A takeover of Reading Football Club was about to commence and Peter McGuire had no time for small-timers.

“You can’t just go about flinging brass knuckles at people and expect to get anywhere,” he said aloud, resuming his former conversation with himself.

He took a sip from a glass of scotch and water, and nodded with satisfaction as the liquid burned it way down to his stomach.

“Unless, of course, you’re me,” he said. He took the picture off the side table and slowly, rhythmically, stroked its frame.

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