jdoyle9293

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  1. May 7, 2039 A few weeks ago, Mark Stephens personally booked the hotel for their final day away trip to Morecambe. This came the day after Exeter’s trip up there in a 2-0 loss. The manager’s suite was penned for Mark and George Turley at The Midland. With one game remaining, the three promoted clubs had already been decided. Shrewsbury and Cambridge were battling for the right to be Champions whilst Tranmere were rooted to third place. All four teams in the play-offs were locked on 71 points with Plymouth a point back ready to pounce on any losing team, to take their place. Because of their vastly superior goal difference, Redditch were fourth with Eastleigh, Northampton and AFC Telford making up the rest of the play-offs. Eastleigh were away at 10th place Cheltenham with Northampton away at leaders Shrewsbury. Telford were at home to Scott Turley’s Exeter. The club’s coach pulled into The Midland in Morecambe after a 3-2 win courtesy of a Lee James hat-trick confirmed fourth position and a play-off tie with Northampton Town. Mark and George silently take their cases up to the manager’s suite on the top floor. “Do you know anything about Scott Turley and my wife, Karen?” Mark barely had time to lock the suite’s door and drop his case before catching George unawares. “I, what—I don’t know.” George stumbled over his words. “Scott left us in the most successful period in our career, one of the only applicants for his successor was you. Always rung strangely for me.” Mark’s inquisition moved him closer to George in the middle of the room. “Very abrupt. Then I get threats of not getting promotion.” George curls into a shell, slumping into a chair in the corner of the room. “Then, as you know, my wife gets beheaded,” George says nothing—neither confirming or denying, “tell me where your brother is.” “Wilmslow—he lives in Wilmslow, now.”
  2. April 11, 2039 Kamva Modise from the spot once again and, once again, Redditch United are dreaming of promotion. Shrewsbury Town had their League Two lead dropped as they sunk as a stone would from the summit of the division to third in one afternoon. Wins for Cambridge and Tranmere allowed them to overtake as Plymouth’s draw allowed Redditch to saunter into fourth place. AFC Telford and Northampton made up the play-offs with three games remaining as the scavengers of Wycombe Wanders, Eastleigh and Scunthorpe United waited to pick up the scraps. Five points ahead of eighth place, Redditch have practically sealed their play-off place. They were as far from eighth as they were from Shrewsbury in third. Meanwhile in Manchester, Tom Stephens was on a similar cusp of glory in three flights promoted from Redditch: his first league title. With six games left, there was an intense three-horse race for the Premier League crown. United were on 75 points with Spurs a point back and Manchester City two, all had to play one another in a thrilling finale to the 2038/39 season. Mark watched his son from the comfort of his own home—he was in Naples for a Champions League quarter final first leg. At the precise moment that the half-time whistle blows, Mark’s phone rings in the completely silent room. Scarlett. Mark, Mark! Can you get up here now?! Mark’s words trembled. A baby all-in-one just got delivered to my house. There were four people that knew about the content of the scan: Scarlett, Tom, Mark and the sonographer that participated. It’s covered in blood.
  3. April 9, 2039 The move away from Worcestershire was a no-brainer after the previous summer’s events. Redditch was replaced with Stoke, almost equidistant between Tom and his new fiancé, Scarlett and his job back in Redditch. Five months he hadn’t received anything of note from the ‘anonymous’ sources threatening his life and killing his wife. There wasn’t a doubt in Mark Stephens’ mind that Janice was the perpetrator behind the killing of his wife but he couldn’t prove as much. The private investigator had turned up little to no information. She had obviously paid a pretty penny for the quality of hitmen she used. For five months, Mark hadn’t been worried by a note through the post. A game at home to Exeter with a play-off place beckoning come April was perfect. A second half Kamva Modise penalty sealed a 1-0 win and Redditch’s leap from 8th to fifth in the space of one afternoon. Mark was beckoned to Cheshire for “some big, exciting news” as Tom had worded it via a text message. On the drive up to Wilmslow, Mark studied the league and upcoming fixtures as he car guided him north. The top three were in a comfort zone beside the play-offs and the entire top half vying for a position in the top seven. Four games remained and six points separated a third placed Cambridge, whom Redditch hosted in a week’s time, and Plymouth in fourth. Six more points separated Redditch in fifth from twelfth placed Cheltenham. Redditch were just a point deep into the play-offs. Blue balloons floated outside the bay windows of the luxurious mansion. Mark gingerly stepped into the house to the elated face of Scarlett and a more haggard one from Tom, worn down from the bastard of a year he had just had. Scarlett’s almost burgundy hair stopped dead in her tracks below the ear, a similarly coloured lipstick and the white pearly pegs of teeth showing from her undiluted joy. Extended before her was a car. A baby foot print in the bottom right corner. Mark hobbled into the patio, a disbelief as the card unfurled itself to reveal a flimsy, polaroid-like picture inside. The grey on black, kidney-bean like stain etched onto the middle of the paper. A new life. “We have a few names in mind,” Tom’s excitable words were drowned out as Mark clasped onto the pregnancy scan. Tears formed in his eyes. He pulled out the scan, turning it in his palm in disbelief. Black writing was on the back, familiar writing. Eighth place. Maximum. Love, ‘Grandma’.
  4. January 8, 2039 Over the course of the summer, there was no doubt in Mark Stephens’ mind that he would renew his contract at Redditch. Only the weak would cave in after what happened after Redditch’s previous promotion. Joining Shrewsbury in the Football League, the two went at it immediately, Redditch pipping their fellow promoted club to a 4-2 win at the New Meadow. Both would make up the top two places in the division at the turn of the year however as a late surge from Redditch, one loss from nine had dragged them three clear of Plymouth in fourth but seven off leaders Shrewsbury. Nine points ahead of Cambridge and AFC Telford on the wrong side of the play-offs, too. The third round of the FA Cup finally came back around—the perennial yo-yo team of the Premier League, where in the past six years, Leicester had either been promoted from the Championship or relegated from the Premier League. Mark is on the touchline at the King Power stadium, slightly worse for wear after finally, the funeral of his second wife, Karen, took place. No further leads on her murderer. Prowling the touchline alongside him is new assistant manager George Turley, after his brother, Scott Turley swapped the Redditch #2 seat for the Exeter City manager’s job after a three-year partnership with Redditch and Stephens. Leicester manager, Arda Turan had beaten Mark Stephens twice before, and would add a third triumph onto his tally with goals from Laurie Logan and captain Des Kelly either side of the half. Redditch’s cup run fell at the third round hurdle again.
  5. May 29, 2038 I think we were all surprised here in the studio, Dele, that Tom Stephens made the journey to Paris for the Champions League final with the Manchester United. Definitely. The former Tottenham Hotspur central midfielder and one-time Champions League finalist sat across from an excitable presenter cuts more of a here-for-the-money look. Hold that thought, Dele. Breaking team news coming from the Stade de France. Pitchside we have Jeremy. Thank you. Tom Stephens starts for Manchester United in this final against Manchester City. Mark watched on the television as pictures of fans filtering into the stadium transitioning into both Manchester teams warming up and finally, the whistle being blown for half-time. Life was passing Mark Stephens by, in a blurred fashion. He had barely moved in the near two weeks of his son’s kidnapping and re-discovering and his wife’s brutal beheading. The reasoning behind these atrocities? Inconclusive as of yet. Mark knew who to turn to and his private investigator still hadn’t dug up any leads. Paris, where Mark thought his former wife Janice was effectively killed. Paris, where Tom Stephens, the son doing his father proud on the biggest stage of them all, slotted in Jordan Sanchis for the equaliser. Paris, where Tom Stephens scored in the penalty shootout. London 1968 Barcelona 1999 Moscow 2008 London 2019 Amsterdam 2020 Manchester 2022 Vienna 2023 Paris 2038, where Manchester United sealed their eighth Champions League title.
  6. May 17, 2038 Mark’s pocketed electronic key allows the door to swing open as he tiptoes up the concrete steps ahead of the heavy mahogany doors. The vast foyer of his house was seemingly untouched, without the blemish of strewn shoes and coats that Tom often left behind upon visiting his father’s house. Mark continued to inquisitively search the house without result. The study was lifeless, as was the living room, the kitchen was devoid of activity, all shrouded in darkness. The staircase had its usual underfoot creaking as Mark edged up the spiral carpeted stairs. Still nothing. He reached the upstairs hallway, only lit by Mark’s presence and a torch. He replaced the light with the more reliable overhead ceiling lights. The sudden influx of light offered Mark no further conclusion. The silence was louder than Mark’s heavy footsteps towards the two split guest bedrooms. Tom and his plus one would have been tucked away in the right bedroom. Nothing. The left bedroom perhaps? Nothing again. There wasn’t a need to climb into the two bathrooms to check for life, their doors were swung wide open and the small rooms offered no life. Finally, the master bedroom. No sound, but a light. Mark pushes the door open with a thumb and index finger. The door’s swing revealed an untouched vanity table, floor and walk-in wardrobe. The whole room was completely lifeless. The bed came into view. You could contend that there wasn’t any life in the room but there was certainly a huge difference both in the bedroom and Mark’s outlook on life. It was sat atop of the bed and in front of Mark’s quivering legs. He buckled onto his knees, face down in the silk bedding, his sobs rattled the bed. He couldn’t escape the haunting stare that glared back at him. Vacant. With a red gloss. Karen’s severed head.
  7. May 17, 2038 Mark did not heed the words of his aggressors. They pushed on with gusto. Whilst Shrewsbury were racking up a hundred points, Mark’s men were doing their best to squander such an advantage over sixth place Lincoln City. Successive draws at Kettering and Macclesfield Town had Redditch limping over the line, dropping the fourth momentarily but a 90th minute Jeremy Martyn winner at home to Barnet guaranteed play-off football. The goal now became a home advantage going into the play-off semi-finals with York City also confirmed in third place. A draw at Ebbsfleet followed by a humiliating loss at home, 3-0 to St. Albans meant York leapfrogged them to tussle with Lincoln in the semi-finals whilst Redditch were fed FC United. York would progress into the Wembley final on penalties in the two-legged tie whilst Redditch put FC United away 2-1 in the North-west before returning to Worcestershire, putting them away 4-0 with a Scott Lloyd second half hat-trick, confirming a 5-2 victory. Thirty eight thousand turned out at Wembley in the middle of a sunny May afternoon, Redditch facing the pride of North Yorkshire, York City, who were plotting to bounce straight back into the Football League. Lee James, arguably the best in a red shirt all season, headed home on 17 minutes, with ten thousand of the Wembley faithful embraced in rowdy celebrations. Redditch held on until the half-time break to the slender one goal lead. York had barely been a threat but their second half record in the regular season spoke for itself. They had won 29 points in the second half of matches, accounting for their second place finish. It was almost attack and defence as Mark Stephens stood on the Wembley turf for the first time in roughly a decade. His glazed expression told the cameras nothing. Under the surface, however, he reminded himself of the threats faced towards him and his loved ones at the turn of the year. “Do not gain promotion with Redditch”, they said, and Mark had been fearless. Fearless, right until the cusp of promotion was in sight. The fourth official offered the allotted stoppage time to the half-full national stadium, Mark’s palms became itchy. It wasn’t that York were relentlessly pressing, Redditch had the better of the final ten minutes, but because he didn’t have Tom and Karen both in his eyeline—his only loved ones. The ones that were promised to be taken from him. They were both watching back in Worcestershire, and later on in that evening, so was Mark, his driverless car pulling past the gates. The celebration of promotion into the Football League was vacant. Mark had left his players and staff back in North London amongst heavy jubilation. Mark steps out onto the gravel of his driveway. For eleven p.m. and supposedly two people in the house, there wasn’t a light on in the house. With the exception of the master bedroom.
  8. April 3, 2038 Redditch’s season was split between the events of February 6th, 2038: their elimination in the FA Trophy third round at The Hive, a 1-0 loss to Barnet. Mark Stephens didn’t care much for the competition but did for promotion. Dropped points at Bury and Barrow prior to this match had been the benchmark for a disappointing January. They had remained in eighth place but had drifted out to seven points behind the play-offs. What succeeded that loss to Barnet was nine wins and a draw in the league, taking them full guns blazing into the play-offs at the perfect moment, like a racehorse timing his final furlong burst. The run began in perfect fashion: a 2-1 win at home to champions elect Shrewsbury Town. They won beat two more of the seven teams above them, away wins at Accrington and FC United of Manchester, without concession of a goal. The only blemish was a failure to score and a 0-0 at home to Bromley, but they had marched into third place with five games left on the clock. Shrewsbury were a point away from coronation, leaving York, Redditch and FC United as favourites to follow them into the Football League. Maidstone and Lincoln were on other sides of the play-off places but on the same points tally with Accrington Stanley not too far behind. Redditch were six points deep into the play-offs with none of the top half left to play. Another package had arrived for Mark Stephens in the meantime upon his return from a comfortable 3-0 win over Gainsborough on a calm April Saturday evening. It was inscribed with the words: This is your last warning. Mark lifted the card from the small box, to reveal a bubblewrapped cylinder. Blood and nail could be seen through the bubbles. The delicate wrapping unravelled onto Mark’s kitchen table. The stench was unbelievable, Mark covered his nose and prodded the cylinder with the wrapping. Skin. A severed finger.
  9. December 29, 2037 The private investigator Mark Stephens had set out on Janice hadn’t retrieved any results in the six months. With no signs of life from her or any of her hired goons, Mark began Redditch United’s first season in the top flight of non-league football. Twenty five games had passed in the Conference and it took until the October/November period for the early season inconsistencies to be ironed out. The six wins of August, September and early October were contrasted with six successive wins following the FA Cup’s fourth qualifying round win over Stockport, a 3-2 away win thanks to a hat-trick from Julle Kayombo. Wins over Truro, Bromley, Margate, Gainsborough, Barnet and Torquay soon came naturally and Redditch were soon staring at a play-off spot. Lewes were picked off after a replay in the FA Trophy whilst Redditch fared much better against bigger, Football League teams. Southend and Peterborough United came and went in the FA Cup, both away from home. Another Redditch United fairy tale was coming true. Scott Lloyd, Jeremy Martyn, Julle Kayombo, Lee James and Jody Ramsey all got on the scoresheet in a 5-2 win at Roots Hall after being 2-1 down. James and Lloyd also netted late on at London Road against League One side Peterborough in a 2-0 win. This granted Redditch the trip to Hillsborough at Premier League outfit Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls were thriving as a mediocre mid-table side in the top flight, in their current six-year stint in the Premier League. Lee James, quickly becoming a club legend, opened the scoring for Redditch on 49 minutes. For six minutes, Redditch dreamt big, the FA Cup spectacle, the prize of Wembley at the end of the season, a pass into the Football League come May. Andy Marshall and Liam Anthony crushed them inside twelve minutes with three goals and by the 67th minute, Sheffield Wednesday were in domination, 3-1. So ended the cup ballad of Redditch, and with losses at home to St. Albans and Maidstone, Redditch were slipping in the league—down to eighth. On the Hillsborough touchline, Mark Stephens wasn’t entirely focused. Six days previously, on a Sunday no less, a letter without a stamp was pushed through the letterbox on Mark’s front gate. Do not, under any circumstances, gain promotion with Redditch United in the 2037/38 or any other season. We do not want you or your kind in the Football League. If you do not comply, you will lose somebody close to you. The pen stained letter had remained etched into Mark’s mind ever since.
  10. June 9, 2037 The tape had begun to itch at the corners of Mark Stephens’ mouth. His legs were bolted to the wooden chair and, in a self-schadenfreude way, comfortable. His arms were contorted behind the chair, less so comfortable than his lower limbs. Staring back at the National League Premier manager were darkened by the familiar walls of his cellar. Engine oil, rusty ladders: stereotypical cellar items adorned the basement walls. His bare toes tap the uncarpeted concrete. There is no escape. His eyes were left unblemished, however, he scouted the exit. The exit was as dark as the remainder of the room, a brief staircase followed by a heavy door leading to nothing. A blue glow from the crack underneath the door. An excitement. On the second day, he had escaped his prison. Karen appeared from behind the door, allowing the blue glow to flood the room. Mark’s eyes were involuntarily clasped shut until they had gotten used to the light. “Call the police.” Mark muttered as Karen edged into the room incredulously. She had barely believed that it was her husband bound by a chair in the middle of the cellar. On the floor behind Mark was a toolbox of various rusty items: screwdriver, drill, hammer, anything that would be able to end Mark in an instant. By the time Tom visited, Mark hadn’t made any roads in on the kidnapper, nor had Karen.
  11. June 4, 2037 Mark’s fingers dance across the glass phone in front of him: Listen, guys, I don’t want this on Twitter or any murmurs to anybody, okay? Was the previous message until Mark’s furious fingers pound on the glass screen. He presses send on the near-dissertation level of detail on his message before returning to the previous app: The Reds are pleased to announce a one-year contract extension for manager, Mark Stephens. Mark launches the phone onto the dashboard of his car as it swings him out of the main road and into more private climbs. He shakes the cobs of the morning out of his head, retrieving a shopping bag and his phone with one hand whilst patiently waiting by the door handle until the car crawls onto the private estate. An unknown, and empty, 4x4 sits before the gates. For the first time in a few months, Mark slams on the car’s brakes, steering it towards some large shrubbery. Beyond the gates, the doors open. A male hand beckoning him in.
  12. June 1, 2037 “Mark, we’d like you to come down to the club. Your contract is up and we’d like to discuss this further.” They gave him twenty minutes before Mark appeared before both chairman at the clubhouse. “Look fellas,” Mark began in his tracksuit, sat upright in a slumped office chair, “this was a one year deal on my behalf, I don’t intend on staying another year.” The shellshocked chairmen, once perched expectedly in front of Mark are now slumped in their desk chairs. Mark got up from his seat, flashing a weakened smile. “But, the year I’ve spent here has hooked me onto English football again. I will give you one promise and ask for one in return: I will take Redditch into the Football League, but do not announce this meeting, or a new contract, has taken place until next week. For my family, please.” Mark extends his hand, it is snatched by both board members at the same time, almost foaming at the mouth with their glee smiles. He escapes the room, leaving the popping of champagne and cheering of the chairmen behind in the boardroom. His phone vibrates instantly. “Do not accept their contract,” a husky male voice roars down the end of the line. The annoyed tone stops Mark dead in his tracks. The corridor is dwarfed by a couple of people, simply chatting away. Nobody looking in through the windows, nobody outside the windows. “And what’s more—you’re going to tell Tom the truth.”
  13. May 30, 2037 “Tom Stephens, rises above all in the Old Trafford penalty area, but for the fifth time tonight he cannot find the net. Another glorious Manchester United chance as the minutes tick by, Charlie.” The announcer runs through Tom’s missed chance twenty minutes from time. “He mistimes the leap all wrong—hold on, wait a minute, Francisco Bilbao. Goal! Manchester United! Eighteen minutes remaining and United take the lead on the night. One more needed at Old Trafford.” Mark sat in front of the television, goosebumps forming on his arms as the Stretford End roared as Bilbao and his son celebrated by the corner flag, soon to be followed by the other eight outfield players. United had lost 3-1 in Italy and returned to Manchester needing a miracle. Six minutes later: Tom Stephens had stuck home a goal at the sixth attempt. “Manchester United—name in the draw for the last eight of the Champions League. Who else but Tom Stephens?” United would progress on away goals but Tom would not appear for the remainder of the season for United. A groin tear in training the day prior to a match at Chelsea put him out for the season where they consolidated a top four position and lost in the FA Cup final to eventual double winners Tottenham Hotspur. Mark had hopped the border back into England, to Worcestershire. The limelight was shunned once more, just as Mark Stephens was beginning to file away job offers from Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Monaco, he knew he had to retreat once more. Enter Redditch United of the National League South. In terms of avoiding the limelight he had done himself no favours by treating Redditch United to their first ever run in the FA Cup proper. Ware, Shilden and the leaders of the National League South were all topped in the qualifying stages before Redditch were drawn against National League Premier’s Crewe Alexandra. Peter Kerr struck early on in a 2-0 surprise win in the North West. The run was just getting started, they topped League 2’s Braintree Town in a second round replay before besting Grimsby in a 1-0 nail biter at home in the third round. Championship club Swindon Town proved too much in the fourth round, pummelling Redditch 4-1. This run had hindered Redditch’s league form, they had drifted from a winter high of third place back to seventh in Spring. The aim was always the play-offs, though. Four points separated seventh from second going into the final day of the season—Redditch were back in the middle of the pack. A final day win over Stalybridge propelled them into second place, gifting them home field advantage against Nuneaton, calmly brushed aside with a 6-2 aggregate win (5-2 and 1-0 respectively) before the final against Curzon Ashton. Redditch hadn’t played football in the fifth tier of English football, it was only their fourth season in the sixth tier in their entire history. Yet, Craig Vaughan came up with the business in the final, two goals in the final twenty-one minutes helped Redditch claw back a one goal deficit and a 2-1 win.
  14. June 29, 2036 Worcestershire, England From a thousand miles away, Mark Stephens could see the pure dejection on his son’s face. Beamed to tens of millions the globe over, Tom Stephens slumped to the Portuguese turf inside the centre circle as Miguel Figueira netted a fourth Portugal goal. Tom would leave the tournament without a goal, Wales without any success. The ten man nation would bow out 4-1 losers, with minds now set towards Nations League promotion against Cyprus and Turkey in the autumn. Tom’s attention was the beach, and in six weeks, the opening game of the Premier League season away at Arsenal for Manchester United. The last message on Mark’s phone: “I think we’ll need it. Thanks anyway.” From Tom was pushed down the list by an unknown number: “Check your post box.” A handwritten note in all too familiar writing, Mark’s eyes widened, he couldn’t forget the immaculate calligraphy: “You can’t run away from me.”
  15. June 23, 2036 Aveiro, Portugal Another chapter in both Mark and Tom’s career was firmly shut, with one kindly, and perhaps in an unwelcoming manner, re-opened and re-visited for Mark. The sunnier climbs of Portugal were a welcome relief for Mark, escaping the clutches of a former wife. For Tom, June into July meant a new club—Manchester United, the club ran in the family. The trip was one as an unemployed man watching his son work. Mark had followed the Welsh campaign in the European Championships, from the island of Madeira to the North West of Braga to the port town of Aviero for the decider. The previous two trips had resulted in two leaked goals in both matches and no points as Wales were pipped to a 2-1 defeat to Scotland, the result that hurt the most, before a 2-0 defeat to Germany, the already crowned winners of the group. The third and crucial game saw Tom’s Wales face Montenegro where the winner was guaranteed to go through as third place qualifiers. Should Wales win, they were granted the hosts in the second round having watched all five groups conclude. Tragedy struck twenty-one minutes in. Montenegro’s Nikola Vujovic leapt over all in the box, heading home from a corner. Tom was at hand to feed Aaron Bamford an equaliser barely minutes later. A draw would put neither through, as they would both finish the group stages on one point and wouldn’t qualify as one of the best ranked third place teams. Three points were needed. The game was over by half-time but which team was going back home and which were on the first coach up to Porto? Tony Walton rattled the post with eight minutes of the first half remaining, only to pounce on the rebound into a seemingly open net. Walton turned provider four minutes later, whipping a dangerous cross into the six yard box which was teased onto the back post by a sliced Montegrin clearance. A tap in from Liam Morris was all that was necessary to drag Wales kicking and screaming into the last sixteen to face the hosts Portugal in a repeat of the 2016 semi-final.