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Amaroq

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  1. Tuesday, 13th July, 2004. I had a meeting this evening at the club's offices with club Chairman Steve Johnston and Vice Chairman Andrew Pye, and they outlined the side's budget. I was surprised to find that the team wasn't carrying any loans or debts, and in fact had a slight positive balance: £13,423. Johnston wasn't cheery about it, however, pointing out that we'd already lost £3,350 this year, and that he was expecting worse. The wage bill is somewhat fat already - £185k p/a when he would recommend something more like £170k. Most of that difference, he reminded me, was in the salary of Stewart Clitheroe, the hot young central midfielder. He spent a few minutes enthusiastically describing a player that sounded like the next Zinedine Zidane, but didn't at all resemble the Clitheroe I'd seen so far. I didn't have the heart to tell him I wasn't sure Clitheroe was even the best midfielder on the side. We turned to a discussion of the transfer budget, and he explained that he could not afford to allow us any transfer funds due to the club's precarious financial state. Thinking quickly, I negotiated a deal with him - if the net effect was to bring the wage budget down, he'd let me have 40% of any outgoing transfer to bring in another player. I told him I felt there were about ten players of our 31 whom I didn't expect to need - if I can get them off the books, then we'll have the budget under control. Then we turned to other things - the stadium, The Giant Axe, seats 513, though he assured me that there's room for 3,153 standing. I think my high school gym seated 486. No wonder we'd only made a pittance from season ticket sales! The training ground, I told him, appeared adequate, though of course I'd love to have better if we could get the financial situation under control. Then I asked about youth facilities, and he actually laughed out loud! "Do you think you're in Liverpool? This is Lancaster City! We're a semi-professional club. The ground IS our youth facility." I had to probe a little more, and it turns out we are allowed to field a Reserve team and an Under-18 team, but that the club has never done so. Steve avowed that it would be a waste of money. "Any kid worth 'developing'," he told me, "Would be snapped up by bigger clubs. We're only going to see those local boys who didn't have enough talent to attract attention elsewhere. And if they play well, they'll move on up." Finally, he turned to the matter of expectation. "We expect you to secure a safe mid-table position," he informed me. "I don't want the club to be in danger of getting sent down - by Christmas, we'd better be several places clear of the relegation zone." "I see," I said. "And what do the media expect?" "Oh, they don't expect us to avoid relegation." Yes, now I began to see why they'd turned to a naive American. A side too weak to achieve the chairman's goals, but no transfer funds and already over budget? No manager worth his salt would have accepted this job - surely a number of wiser managers had turned it down.
  2. Monday, 12th July, 2004. I spent the morning settling in to my hotel room, unpacking a bit, and familiarising myself with town. This evening, I got down to The Giant Axe and watched my first training session - we're a part-time club, so the training sessions are after working hours for most of the players. After training, I had a meeting to go over the entire squad with my staff - it went fairly late into the night, but it was a conversation we needed to have. Here is the side I start with: Goalkeepers: GK Jamie Speare, 27, English: Speare only joined the club a week before I did, so my coaches feel it would be unfair to rate him fully, but most nodded in agreement with Stimpson when he said he thought of Speare as one of the top players on the club. They agreed that he has all the mental tools of the trade, but suggested that some of his physical skills - handling, reflexes, aerial ability - are lacking. According to Parkinson, Speare isn't the most athletic member of the squad, and it is this that has held him back from reaching a higher level. Originally a product of the Everton youth programme, he spent the last six seasons with Accrington Stanley, in the Conference National, finally breaking into the starting side for eleven matches last year. GK Kevin Welsby, 23, English: My coaches are in agreement on Welsby, stating that he has the potential to become a very good player for the club. He seemed very determined and had good concentration, I thought, but I was unimpressed with the two goals conceded against Blyth, and his training session today did little to change my mind. GK Ryan Yeomans, 18, English: All three of my coaches are in agreement that Yeomans is an 'outstanding prospect for the club'. The qualifier makes me wonder if he will ever be better than a Conference-level player, and judging from the one day of practice, his decision making and concentration leave a bit to be desired. Still, those will come with experience. GK Glenn Johnstone, 37, Scottish: In the final year of his contract, the veteran keeper is transfer listed for free. The coaches think of him as a bit player, and surely he is at best the number four keeper on the side - a little better physically than Speare, but no match for the starter's mental ability or Yeoman physically. I wondered if he'd apply for his coaching badges - I could use a goalkeeping coach. If not, he was superfluous. GK Mark Thornely, 29, English: He, too, is transfer listed for free, a decision all of my coaches support, regarding him an 'average player who adds nothing to the club'. I can't see keeping five keepers on such a small side, so he'll be gone shortly. Defense: D LC Andy Scott, 29, English: Barrie Stimpson rates Scott the best defender on the club, and the other coaches agree that he is playing an important role for the club. Watching his play, his defensive game and tactical understanding are reasonable, but I don't expect him to contribute much offensively. Though his lack of stamina and his early injury in our first match are causes for concern, I am pencilling him in as the starting left back if he can stay healthy. D/DM RC Paul Sparrow, 29, English: The coaches report that Sparrow is a firmly entrenched member of the first team, who has spent the past five seasons with the squad. Personally, I am not convinced: he doesn't meet my expectations for a central defender, and as a right back Neil Uberschar looks like a good match for him in many respects. Sparrow did play quite well in the opening friendly. His heading, which had so impressed me from the bench, turned out to be a weakness of his game in practice today. D/DM R Neil Uberschar, 23, English: The coaches all agree that Uberschar has shown a great deal of potential, and they unanimously recommended first-team action for him to help aid his development. I am not so sure - though he looks a match for Sparrow, I thought I saw his concentration waver a few times in practice today. Maybe he'd do better in a match. He'll have to earn his starts over Sparrow, anyways. D/DM RC Martin Clark, 33, English: This driven defender looks like captain material. He's a natural leader with determination, composure, teamwork, and influence. He may lack some of the technical abilities, but I am willing to put up with that in exchange for his leadership and mental acuity in the central defense. D C Joe McMahon, 20, Welsh: Another recent signing, McMahon was part of the starting lineup in that first match. Coach Bauress is worried about his lack of determination, but he looks like the next best of the lot at centre back, and with his height seems better suited to the position than Sparrow. If he has the potential to improve over the next year or two, he might become a good starting-quality back. D R Andy Fensome, 35, English: Fensome has good teamwork, pace, and stamina, which are all pluses, but other than that his abilities were fairly mediocre. I would have expected better positioning, decision making, and marking from one whose 'experience is an asset to the club'. He has two years left on his contract, both unprotected. I think he is likely to be one of my first 'culls' - I don't need three right backs, and unless he impresses during the preseason, he may find himself transfer listed. D RLC Chris Whittle, 23, English: My coaches say that he is showing signs of developing into a quality player, but honestly I'm having trouble seeing it. He only really impressed in a heading drill today. In most other areas, he seemed weaker than I'd have liked to see, but his versatility might earn him a regular place on the substitute's bench this season. D L Jimmy Graham, 34, Scottish: My coaches refer to him as 'a useful player'. I think that means 'a warm body who can play the position'. He is definitely not good enough to hold down a first-team place at this level. He is brave, I must give him that, but he lacks composure - he nearly got in a fight 20 minutes into practice. My passing is better than his despite the knee injury which ended my playing days at the tender age of sixteen. Defensive midfielders: DM C Gary Bauress, 33, English: Our player/coach looks like one of the best players in the side, technically adept and very experienced. He is also the slowest - I think I could outrun him myself, and I've been a desk jockey these past ten years. I'm expecting him to provide stability and leadership - there's nothing like having a coach on the field to help bring youngsters along. DM C Steve Birks, 31, English: Experienced midfielder Steve Birks is firmly established in the first team, report my coaches, and he did very well in training. He is probably one of the best in the side. However, his strengths aren't in the areas I think a defensive midfielder needs, and I was very unimpressed with his performance during the Blyth match. He's too offensive minded, and didn't respect his defensive duties at all. DM C Ryan Elderton, 20, English: Though he drew the yellow card I was so unimpressed with two minutes into our first match, my coaches think that the lad has 'the football world at his feet' and should move on into a full-time professional career at a higher level. He'll have some work to do to overcome my first negative impression, especially operating behind Bauress and Birks, but he does seem to have some talent. D/DM C Ricky Mercer, 20, English: My coaches think this lad has shown a great deal of potential, and though he started the first friendly at DC, I think he might be more naturally suited at the DMC position if I go to my 4-5-1 formation. Either way, he's going to see plenty of action this season. Central midfielders: M C Chris Beech, 29, English: Looks like the best central midfielder of the lot - nothing exceptional like the elderly DMC's, but he is solid in all aspects of the game, and I could ask for little more. M C Stewart Clitheroe, 23, English: Stewart is far and away the most expensive player in the squad on a salary of £26,000 per-annum - five times what anybody else is making! My coaches all think he has exceptional potential, but on that wage I want a player who has an exceptional ability to contribute right now. His mental game is quite advanced for a 23-year-old, they assure me, and we just need to work on his technique. M C Jimmy Love, 20, English: He looks quite similar to Clitheroe, honestly - a very good understanding of the game, especially for one so young, but a bit weak technically. My coaches all think he's an outstanding prospect, but I'm worried that he may lack the pace to ever contribute at a higher level. M C Ian Dawes, 20, English: Though tastefully named, Ian looks barely more than a competent player at this level, not one to write home about. My coaches are all convinced he's showing signs of developing into a quality player, but I think he, too, is a bit slow for a midfielder. Wingers: AM R Lee Clitheroe, 23, English: Lee has great pace and good crossing, but very poor dribbling. Still, he's the best winger we have, and so relatively safe for now. As my coaches describe him, 'a useful member of the squad'. I don't see him as a long-term solution at the position, but there are other areas which need more immediate attention. AM L Neil Prince, 21, English: One of those areas is the left side. With decent crossing, but average pace and poor dribbling, to my mind Neil Prince looks like a reasonable reserve wing. Unfortunately, he's the only real choice. My coaches all think he has the football world at his feet, which I suspect may be vastly overstating the case. I resolved to bring in a new left midfielder at the earliest opportunity. Prince did have the assist on Yates' first goal, though, a beautiful long ball over the top. AM RL John Fowler, 29, English: Why, oh why, would anybody consider a man who can't cross a winger? I don't mean, bad at crossing, I mean absolutely abysmal at it. For ten minutes in a cross-to-head-on-goal drill, I watched him, and barely half of his crosses stayed in the field of play! Of those, only one was close enough to his intended target that the player could get a head on it. This is the first player I think can go, outright, without any further thought, even if he can fill either wing. To my relief, the coaching staff have already realized this, and he is on the transfer list. Attacking midfielders: AM C Phil Clarkson, 35, English: One of the leaders of the squad, my coaches inform me, whose experience is a valuable asset. He has very good composure and concentration, reasonable pace and finishing. He's more likely to blaze a long shot over the bar than in, but you can't ask for everything at this level. He's on a one-year contract, which, given his age, is probably appropriate. AM/F C Steve Jones, 32, English: An experienced forward, Steve is the one with the injured calf, so I haven't seen much of him yet. The coaches like him, and assure me that he's a real threat to score with his head. My brief impression of him from the Blyth match is that he's reasonably competent for this level, but Gary vouches for him, saying that Jones was a key part of the Stalybridge Celtic club which won the Unibond Premier League title, which Gary also played on. F C Ryan-Zico Black, 22, Northern Ireland: He has only just joined the club, the coaches tell me, but he was impressive in setting up our second goal. I saw that, but he didn't impress through the rest of the first half. Still, he takes an excellent corner, and can hit the long shot occasionally, both of which may assure him a place in the starting XI. Strikers: S C Michael Yates, 24, English: He mightily impressed his new manager with two first-half goals, and he's been with the club for four years now. The coaches are all pretty keen on him, and I think he'll do well for us. He's better with the ball at his feet than in the air, and he makes good decisions. Definitely in the starting XI, though as our highest valued player I may have to test the interest in him if our financial situation is poor. S C Peter Thomson, 27, English: A reasonable reserve player, I suspect, when the coaches all call him 'useful'. In practice, he looked a little better than Yates in the air, but didn't seem to have the polish to his game that the younger striker does. Definitely not of the same quality. S C Tony Sullivan, 29, English: He very much failed to impress in that first game, missing some easy chances, but my coaches all assure me he's been better in practice, and just needs some match fitness. He does hit the target repeatedly during this first training session. He's currently on the transfer list, and surprised me earlier in the day by mentioning it - he said that he's reluctant to leave the club, as he really likes it here. I gave him a non-committal answer. If I can bring in some better players, he really won't have a place in the side. S C Neil Morton, 35, English: Why is a player this bad, this old, on a two-year contract? He doesn't seem to have the requisite skills to play up front, and I've seen more creativity from a four-year-old with a crayon. Though he's only recently joined the club, previous management had already transfer-listed him, and I see nothing which convinces me that was a mistake. He'd be a bit player, at best. . Summary: I only have two wingers? This is... bad. Both of my preferred formations rely on strong wings sending in the crosses, which looks like a doomed tactic at this stage. Lee Clitheroe fills the bill on the right, but I suspect that's the position I'll need to upgrade the most; ideally, I'd like to bring in three more wingers. The dearth of central attacking midfielders rules out the 4-5-1 I was thinking of installing, which would rely on two AMC's to threaten the goal and feed the lone striker. A 'lone striker' formation still sounds good to me, as only Yates really impressed, but honestly our best pool of talent is at DMC. I'm already toying with the idea of a very defensive 4-5-1 with two DMC's on the field simultaneously, each willing to push up and join the attack occasionally... but that still relies on having two competent wingers. I wonder if I'll have time to develop some of these quality young players, or if I'll have to put the aging veterans on the field to secure the maximum number of points. I have my first meeting with the Board tomorrow, so I suppose I'll find out then.
  3. Sunday, 11th July, 2004. Evening. The bus ride home was less comfortable than my madcap trip to Blyth, if possible, and we didn't reach Lancaster until just after midnight. I took the opportunity to chat with my Assistant Manager about the state of the squad. I wanted to see if we could sort through the squad's list of players, and perhaps pencil in a starting XI. We had 31 professional players, Stimpson told me, though most were part-time, and no more than about eleven of them were really fit for the Conference North. Jamie Speare, in net, he rated as the best player in the side in this initial discussion, which I was glad to hear - I was a former goalkeeper myself, in my playing days, and had even brought my old gloves just in case I needed to take on a player/manager role. It didn't look like that would be necessary: Speare had made a few impressive saves in that first match, and at 27 years old I thought he should be just maturing into his prime. I was happy to have at least one position I could pencil in as solid, and a good keeper can make up for a lot of deficiencies. Andy Scott, the injured left back, Stimpson declared the best player in the defense, but we had five experienced defenders and two capable youngsters. He thinks the defense is about average - neither a strength or a weakness. Steve Birks was reportedly my best midfielder. Birks had caught my eye during the match for failing to track back and defend properly - in fact both of my central midfielders had shown a similar failing. Stimpson suggested we get a midfielder capable of providing competition for the first team, a suggestion I wholeheartedly agreed with. Unfortunately, the wings seem like the club's true weakness: we have only three wingers on the squad at all, and only one of those is worth starting. Barrie also suggested another striker to partner with Michael Yates, whose quality I'd already seen, and downplayed Sullivan's ability to threaten even an open net - which I had already observed myself, though Black's play on the assist had been exemplary. Stimpson then hinted that he was interested to know what my preferred tactics were, but truthfully, I hadn't decided. With a side this bad, it might be a bog-standard 4-4-2 and a 'hit and hope', 'route one' philosophy - that had produced both of our goals against Blyth, but the Spartan defense wasn't quite Conference North standard either. If I could bring in some talent on the attacking side, I'd rather run a variation of the 4-5-1, with one DMC, two wingers, and two AMC's - a flowing, passing sort of game, equally adept crossing from the wings or working it up through the middle, depending on the weaknesses of the opposition. No, that was probably too sophisticated for this lot. We turned our attention to training for a bit - the squad had only started training last week, he told me, and he had them working a fairly vanilla training session. I told him to devise a schedule which is more pre-season fitness oriented, as most of the team had appeared far from fit for that first match. I promised we'd speak more of training once I had a handle on the squad, so to speak. Then Barrie introduced me to the rest of the staff - in the darkened, quiet bus it was a bit hard to recognize them. Coach Mick Parkinson he introduced as running most of the outfield player drills, while player/coach Gary Bauress was a midfielder who specialized in explaining the nuances of the game to young players. The scout was Carl Richardson, and one short conversation with him left me convinced that I knew more about judging player potential than he did. Nonetheless, I told him to leave Lancaster on a scouting tour of England, with an eye towards players (especially wingers!) whom we could bring in on a free or loan. Finally, I met with Physio David Hughes, who told me that our swift substitution of Andy Scott prevented any further injury, but that Andy Jones (a midfielder injured in the final minutes of the match) had pulled a calf and should be out for about two weeks. He thought Jones should be back in time for the last few friendlies on the schedule.
  4. Thank you, gentlemen. Praise from two whose story-telling I respect goes a long way! Author's Notes: WWSM (aka FM) 2005, v5.0.5. All English leagues, small database. Retained all players from U.S.A. and Jamaica. I had noticed three things with my favorite stories elsewhere; one was that I missed suspense in the telling of an individual match-story; two was that it is easy to lose 'context' when revisiting the most recent post of a story; and three was that it was rare for the players to become characters in their own right. So, rather than surround football with another story, I've tried to bring the football to life by addressing those points. Of course, they slow the pace down a lot. Whether I've succeeded or not, we'll learn if I still have readers on Page 3.
  5. Table of Comments Book I: Chapter 1: July 2004 (Page 1) Chapter 2: January 2005 (Page 5) Chapter 3: June 2005 (Page 9) Interlude: World Cup 2006 (Page 16) Chapter 4: June 2006 (Page 17) Book II: Chapter 5: April 2007 (Page 1) Chapter 6: June 2007 (Page 3) Chapter 7: July 2008 (Page 16) Book III: Chapter 8: July, 2009 (Page 1) Interlude: World Cup 2010 (Page 12)
  6. Sunday, 11th July, 2004. Friendly, at Blyth Spartans I strode into the dressing room, feeling disarrayed, but hoping I projected 'confident'. Though afternoon in Blyth, it was before seven in the morning on my body's clock, which was still on Pacific time (Greenwich minus eight). My day had stretched well over 24 hours now: a transatlantic flight, the London Underground, a night train to Liverpool, a commuter train to Lancaster, a short walk downhill, a run back uphill, followed by a madcap train escapade across the width of northern England to Blyth. The 8:24 had gotten me back to Liverpool. The 10:22 took me to Newcastle-on-Tyne at 2:17, and from there I caught a cab to Blyth, hoping all the while that it was a late afternoon or evening start... The start time was 3:00pm, and with my late arrival, I had missed any chance to see my new squad warming up. I could only hope the coaching staff proved more competent than the administrative assistant who'd booked my ticket, as I'd have to rely on them to select a lineup. "Who's in charge, here?" I demanded, surveying the room with authority. "I am," answered a chap in a suit and tie, middle-aged, hair just starting to thin. "Who wants to know?" "Your new manager," I answered, conscious of my American accent ringing out across the room. Sudden silence followed; you could have heard a pin drop. Just as abruptly, everybody found something to do: laces that needed tightening, a locker to close, tape to tighten, or the like. "Barrie Stimpson," answered the middle-aged man. "Assistant manager." He reached out a hand to shake mine, and gave me a piercing once-over. "Ian Richards," I replied, sizing him up in return as we shook hands. He looked to be about forty, maybe forty-five. His hairline was just beginning to recede, with a bit of grey showing in his hair. I felt young. "What's our lineup?" "I'll introduce you to all the lads later," he said, and offered a sheet of paper to me. "But here's what I have for today." I saw he had a straight, uncomplicated 4-4-2 drawn out, and figured that ought to do for a first match. I didn't recognize any of the names. "Right," I told him, "Make it so." "Most of the lads are lacking match practice," he added, "So I was figuring on wholesale changes at halftime." "Fair enough," I told him. Mentally, I noted that our colors were blue and white, a mid-tone blue, not what you would call dark or pale, and darker than a sky blue. I'd have to remember it. "Wear this," he said, handing me a garment - do the Brits call this a blazer? - in the team colors. I pulled it on over the rumpled, slept-in white polo shirt I'd chosen back in California. "Normally you'd wear a tie," he told me, "But this will have to do. Come on, its time to go." 'I knew that!' I grumbled to myself - its not like I'd had time to change! We followed the players as they trotted out to the pitch, and I felt the stress of my journey fade away, to be replaced by excitement - my first match as manager of a side! I'd pay close attention, of course, to see who performed and who didn't. The whistle, the kickoff! And two minutes in, the first of my players to make an impression was young Ryan Elderton, who disagreed vociferously with the ref's call. I learned some British slang I'd never heard before - profanity, I'd guess, but I'd have to ask what it meant - and Elderton had earned our first yellow card. One of our chaps, wearing number two, a defender named Paul Sparrow, made a few good headers early on to shut down the first Blyth attacks, and then we were off on the counter. Striker Michael Yates ran down a long ball along the left wing, dribbled past the last defender, and beat the keeper for our first goal! 1-0 up, and only six minutes in! Perhaps this was management thing would be easier than I'd thought! Ten minutes later, I was holding my head in utter dismay. Surely the standard of play in an English professional league was better than this! Yates took a second long pass, but dribbled harmlessly into the corner, where he let himself get caught from behind. One of my center backs picked up a yellow for the clumsiest tackle I'd seen since leaving the pads of my high school (American) football team. We even had a throw-in which went directly to the opposition: not directed to any of my players at all. Why, one or two of the lads from my lunchtime kick-it-around session back in the States could match these fellows! In fact, I might have to give some of them a call... By the 20th minute, we'd picked up our first injury, to starting left back Andy Scott. We passed most of the first half with the better chances, though goalkeeper Jamie Speare was tested a few times. I was concerned with the midfield's apparent inability to cover or slow down Blyth, but the defense had so far proved up to the task, even if they were frequently outnumbered. Up front, Yates missed an easy chance, but in the 43rd minute, his strike partner Ryan-Rico Black ran down a long-ball into the right corner. He cut it back to Yates, who drove it home from about the penalty spot. We went into the half with a 2-0 lead, and as promised, it was wholesale changes for our side. Stimpson swapped out eight players, including Yates and Black, while Blyth stayed with their starting XI. With our subs against their starters, the run of play quickly turned against us. It was only a matter of minutes before Blyth got on the board, which they did through a header by Ian Dixon in the 52nd minute to trim our lead to 2-1. Blyth continued to dominate the second half, and though we settled in to defend, Spartans substitute Michael Rogers scored the equalizer in the 77th minute on a deflected free kick. My reserve goalkeeper Kevin Welsby was failing to impress his new manager, and really ought to have gotten to that second goal. In the waning minutes, our third striker, Tony Sullivan, generated several chances, but his shooting was abysmal, and privately I thought he was more of a danger to the fans behind the goal than to the net itself. The final whistle blew, and we had our first result: a 2-2 draw. Blyth 2, Lancaster 2 Dixon 52, Rogers 77; Yates 6, 43 MoM: Yates With competent finishing, we might have won 4-2, and with better defending in the second half, we might have won 2-0 - but I guess I couldn't expect too much from the reserves for a Conference North side. I was starting to wonder if I'd find myself explaining the concept of an offsides trap, though. I'd seen one defender blow it during the second half, a full-back single-handedly keeping the two central strikers on-side - and wide open in the middle of the field. Horrendous! Even my youth team had understood the offsides trap better than that, and they were eleven years old - and American!
  7. Sunday, 11th July, 2004. I looked around the platform of Lancaster Railway Station, looking for those placards with my name on it. It was just before 8:00am on a Sunday. The platform was empty. Nobody had come to greet me. Ah, well, surely the cab driver would know where the local stadium was. I gathered my few bags, and worked my way off the platform and down to the parking lot. There was no cab. I looked around, taking stock. The station is partway up a hill, overlooking a town whose population is listed at 45,952. It is very similar to my home town of Santa Cruz, California, in the United States - save of course, that it is in Lancashire, England. Both are university towns, of similar size, and set along the coast. The River Lune runs scenically through the middle of town, much as the Santa Cruz river does back home. Just down the hill, I could see a sports complex: had I taken the cab, it would have been a ride of some ninety seconds. Even with my assorted luggage, I chose to walk. I'm male. I travel light. I tried to marshall my thoughts, and compose my first speech: I'd been invited to manage the Lancaster Dolly Blues, a semi-pro club in the English Nationwide Conference North. I'd been lucky, in that I'd actually known where Lancaster was, unlike the other semi-pro sides who'd been willing to speak with an unknown American. No, don't be impressed with American geography lessons. I knew it only from playing a board game set during the War of the Roses. Despite the trans-Atlantic flight, I still didn't know what I would say. My presence must be coming as an equal shock to the my new club's players and fans alike. A thirty-year-old Californian computer programmer, who had never played professionally, and whose only prior management experience was at an amateur American youth side, can't have been their ideal answer to the club's recent management upheaval. All too soon, I arrived at the gates of 'The Giant Axe'. Such a colorful name! But ... the place had a strangely deserted feeling. I knew it was a Sunday morning, but surely they knew I was coming today - the club had booked my ticket! My coaching staff, at least, should have turned out to greet me. I had a sudden, sinking suspicion. I poked around the offices for a minute, before finally rushing out to the pitch itself, which I found empty save for a groundskeeper working on the turf. "Hallo," I called, "Where is everybody?" He looked up from his work, and gave me a once-over, clearly wondering what sort of lunatic had chosen to grace his morning. "What do you mean?" "I'm the new manager! Where IS everybody?" "Dear God, man, you don't know? It's an away match today. In Blyth!"
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