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About wesleysonck

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    17/12/11 Newcastle 0-0 Swansea

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  1. CHAPTER TEN Well, we didn’t win. Of course we didn’t win, but by golly we went in at half time one up. Three thousand people came to watch, no doubt hoping to grab a glimpse of Beckham. They were disappointed though, as he didn’t even travel. There was no sign of Landon Donovan either, or their recent $21 million signing Michael Bradley. As crazy as that signing had been it wasn’t the biggest fee in the MLS at that time, as Brek Shea had moved from FC Dallas to DC United for $27 million. Unbelievable fees, I should have become an agent. Anyway, I’m getting off the point. I rocked up at the River City High School Field good and early, and there were already people milling around. I began to feel a burn of shame as my car belched black smoke into the crisp winter air. I shouldn’t have worried, as no-one pointed and nudged their friends at the approach of the new Sacramento manager. In the dressing room I gave the lads a bit of a pep-talk, but I didn’t really feel any kind of response from them. It was only natural I suppose, we were effectively strangers. Serves me right for slacking off over the close season I suppose. The game began, and after seven minutes Acosta played a wonderful ball to Rangel, who received possession on the edge of the area and slid the ball into the net. It was a wonderful moment. Three thousand people cheering, and two of my signings having scored against the MLS Champions. I felt like a champion, like a proper manager. Although it was only a pre-season friendly I still remember that moment like it was yesterday. Anyhow, it couldn’t last, and it didn’t. Galaxy came out for the second half and showed their class, scoring twice and condemning us to defeat. Did I care though? Did I hell! I was having a whale of a time, acting all chummy with Bruce Arena, who had lovely things to say about me in the post-match press conference. We didn’t have much time to chat after the match, but I stalked him like a teenage girl around a pop idol, and managed to have a few words. It was quite an honour, let me tell you. The man is the former USA manager, three times MLS manager of the year. I asked him if he’d ever fancied managing in Europe, and he told me that the development of the game in the United States was his overwhelming priority. All very noble eh? Two months of training followed, with a liberal smattering of friendlies along the way. I could tell you about the drills we made the players do, and the tactics we developed, but in the first case it would be a boring paragraph and in the second case a short one. I was getting a little bit worried about my lack of tactical nous. I was the manager of a professional football side with a book value of some two million dollars, and I was picking players to fill a 4-4-2 formation and telling them to go out there and get stuck in. I decided I needed a mentor, so I flew over to Bilbao and knocked on the door of Marcelo Bielsa. I didn’t, of course, but I started seriously studying football tactics. As well as hitting the books, I brought in a couple more faces to bulk out the squad. I made the first cash signing of my managerial career when I brought in Stephen Basso from the Harrisburg City Islanders. Basso was a Costa Rican with that all important American citizenship, and could play anywhere up the left hand side of the pitch, as well as central defence. The other new face was Anthony Topka, a thirty-four year old goalkeeper. He was a Liberian who had played in Croatia for the formative years of his career before coming over to the US and like Basso had been Stateside long enough for citizenship. Our first competitive game of the season was in the Golden Cup Qualifying round against Santa Cruz Breakers. We travelled the short distance to the city of Salinas by bus, and managed to win by the narrowest of margins on a cold and blustery day. They opened the scoring through a young Kenyan fellow called Bongani Zakazaka, a name of such magnificence I was determined to sign him, or at the very least a replica shirt with his name on. A few words of encouragement at half time were enough to inspire the lads to get us the win thanks to a Sten Jensen penalty and a Kenney Bertz tap-in. I don’t mind telling you I was scared to death of Kenney Bertz. A 28 year-old native of California with a stare that could melt steel, Kenny gave of a vibe of barely contained violence, and I had the feeling that given the chance he’d like to do me some harm. With that in mind, I was careful to give him plenty of credit for the turn around, but he just gave a barely perceptible nod and then turned away. Our first league match saw us flying out to Des Moines, Iowa to play the Des Moines Menace. Like us they were tipped to do well, and like us they were managed by an Englishman. The key difference however was the vast experience of my opposite number. Lawrie Calloway had done the rounds of the old NASL back in the seventies, and had been managing here and there in the States for the past decade. I’d never heard of him to be honest, but when my assistant Rui Jorge started chattering away about him in near-reverential terms I nodded sagely, whilst surreptitiously googling under the table. There was quite the buzz around in the build-up to the match, and I was railroaded into a press conference the morning before the game. I kept in neutral, but the press-pack were aggressive. Apparently the managers of some of the other teams tipped for promotion were running down our chances. I felt like a rabbit in the headlights, knowing that my words would be twisted and scrutinised before making it into print, so I refused to comment. I noted down some names though, these men who were bad-mouthing me – Michael Jackman of the Oklahoma City Oilers, Julian Sarkodie of Dallas Roma FC and Gabriel Garcia of Real San Jose. I’d marked their cards, believe you me. We were without the talented Philippe Davies for the match, as he was away with the Canadian Under-23 side trying to qualify for the Olympics, but other than that we were at full strength, and as the game kicked off I felt a queer mix of optimism and dread. Ten minutes in and all that was left was dread, as one of their strikers rose above Jensen to nod in a corner and send us a goal down. The crowd, which was a decent size, roared their approval and I watched my lads trudge back into position for the kick-off. Glancing over at my counterpart I saw him clapping his hands, ruddy faced in the noonday sun. I felt sick. We were far too flat; my time on zonalmarking.com was telling me that. Our defence, midfield and attack were playing in straight lines across the pitch, and our link-up play was terrible, with long balls either to our strikers or for the wingers to run on to. It was typical hit-and-rush football, exactly what you’d expect from a talentless English gaffer, and I was embarrassed. I was still pondering how to make our play more fluid when Tadeu Terra drifted in a corner which was met by the magnificent Danish head of Jensen. The ball rattled off the underside of the crossbar and into the net. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at my watch. Twenty-eight minutes gone. Half time came, and I looked around the dressing room, trying to gauge the mood of my players. What I was lacking in tactical acumen I hoped to make up for in man management. Rich Costanzo, looking focused and motivated; Acosta, my new signing looked nervous. Bless him, he didn’t have a word of English; Anthony Allison, the Liberian international, he was well motivated, and looked ready to go to war, let alone play football. I had a quiet word with Rui Jorge before addressing the team. He suggested a little gentle encouragement, to try and boost morale. I took a different tack, however. I praised their first-half performance, and exhorted them to greater efforts in the second. I felt Churchillian, but there was no great response, no cheering, whooping and high-fiving I would have expected from an American side. I watched them run out with a sense of disappointment. As he passed me I grabbed Acosta by the arm and took him to one side. I told him to relax, just to play his natural game. He smiled at me, and followed his team-mates out onto the pitch. I knew he couldn’t understand I word I’d said, but hoped the empathy in my eyes had told him what I’d meant. The second period was far more delicately balanced than the first, and it became apparent that the next goal would be vital. We carved out some half chances, as did they, but neither side seemed able to make the decisive move. With twenty-five minutes remaining I sent on Neil Krause for the tiring Doug DeMartin. Ten more minutes passed, with still no sign of the deadlock being broken. I made another substitution, with José Parada replacing Daniel Rangel. Then came our gilt-edged chance, and we wasted it. The increasingly exhausted-looking Tadeu Terra picked up the ball out on the right, and whether by accident or design is unknown, but he managed to play a superb ball through the Menace defence onto the feet of Allison. With only the goalkeeper ahead of him, the Liberian lost his nerve and attempted a little flick into the far corner, but got it all wrong and the ball dribbled over the touchline in a most feeble fashion. Goal kick. Ten minutes left, and I threw caution to the wind. I was convinced we were too flat, so I brought off Terra and replaced him with the central midfielder Dayton O’Brien. This changed the whole shape of our team, and I watched O’Brien relay my instructions to his team-mates. We now had a tight diamond shape in the middle, with no wingers. Acosta was the anchor, Parada the point. I felt proud of myself for having attempted a tactical change, maybe I would make a name for myself as a tactical genius after all. Two minutes later and my plans were undone. Off came Ernesto Carranza, howling in pain. With no more substitutes allowed, I was forced to watch my players see out the remaining few minutes a man down. Thankfully, we saw the game out, and afterwards I praised my players for a resolute performance, before leaving them to their showers in order to find Ernesto. I found him in the corridor outside the dressing rooms, his right elbow heavily strapped. He was talking to a handsome black man, who he introduced to me as David Amoah, the manager of the Liberian national side. I shook hands with the fellow and asked what he thought of Allison’s performance. He replied in a noncommittal way which made me think he hadn’t been too impressed. Taking my leave, I went off to meet the press once again. I walked into the press room only to find it completely empty. I looked around, then under the chairs and behind the curtains, certain I was the victim of some elaborate prank by the playful hacks. Of course there were none hiding away, and I walked back to the dressing room in a state of confusion.
  2. Thanks for the feedback guys, sorry about the formatting in the last post - no idea what I did wrong... CHAPTER NINE I’d like to be able to say I hit the ground running at Sacramento, instigating changes and immediately stamping my authority on the team, but unfortunately I can’t. They were a relegated side with a handful of meaningless matches to play before the disaster area of a squad I’d inherited skulked of for their scarcely deserved summer holidays. Instead I handed over control of the first team to my new assistant – the handsome and charming Rui Jorge, stalwart of the FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon sides and current coach of the Portuguese national side – and settled down in my office to scour property listings and used car sites. Of course, I said I was preparing for the forthcoming season – couldn’t appear anything less than dedicated could I? That’s not to say I didn’t do a bit of business. Like the unscrupulous low life I seem to be, I was straight on the phone to all the senior Kent Titans players. It wasn’t tapping up, they were on amateur contracts, but it still felt a bit immoral. Never mind eh? Surprisingly, there was a distinct lack of interest. Jonatan Morán even had the gall to hang up on me. I got the one I really wanted, however. Neil Krause was only too delighted to come south and join me. Not surprising, as he wangled himself a better contract than I’d managed to get for myself. Anyway, enough football. It’s boring. The purchase I made which really set my heart racing wasn’t a footballer, or a nice set of cones, or even a tracksuit with my initials on – it was a car. A nasty, rusty, twenty year old car to be sure, but my goodness it oozed Americana. It was a bright red 1992 Cadillac DeVille, with a white (well, dirty yellow now) vinyl roof. Wire rim wheels, big as a supertanker. It didn’t go very well, belched black smoke everywhere and would probably not even last a month, but I loved it instantly. Hadn’t seen any of these pulling into the training ground during my formative years at Lincoln I can tell you. I got myself a lovely little house in the Parkway suburb of South Sacramento too. Only a rental, but I didn’t want to be tied down when LA Galaxy or Seattle Sounders came around calling. Only joking of course, I was a little bit worried I’d risen above my station already, what with a proper salary and professional players. One thing that kept my feet on the ground was our venue; another school. I’ll know I’ve hit the big-time when I don’t have to fight my way through a shrieking, grinning mob of pubescent children in order to get to my office. Anyway, I was telling you about my house. Single storey, detached garage for my sweet wheels, palm tree in the garden… No picket fence though, no fence at all. But a quiet little neighbourhood which seemed like it would be a pleasant place to lay my hat for the near future. Eventually though I had to get on with business. My squad was mediocre, although certainly good enough to be at least competitive in the USL-West division. That wasn’t to say it couldn’t be improved, and lacking any idea how things operated at this level I resorted to using my cunning. I spent several relaxing evenings browsing message boards and gossip websites to see who was being linked with whom. Suitably armed with ‘targets’, I called my scout and sent him forth on voyages of discovery. Among the more enjoyable rumours I found was one suggesting that I may be the Shrewsbury Town manager at some point in the near future. I reckon I could earn a few more quid back in the UK, but would I want to swap Sacramento for Shropshire for a few extra quid? Probably. It was all a moot point anyway, and I had work to do here. Work I’d been neglecting admittedly, but with Christmas out of the way and the new season round the corner I cracked right on. The number of players floating around looking for clubs was quite amazing. Unfortunately the vast majority of them were foreign, and with a four-foreigner limit in my forty man squad I had to be careful to only get the right man. I had two foreigners on the books at the time, a Croatian fellow by the name of Boris Vurdelja and a Brazilian called Tadeu Terra. Boris had knocked around the lower leagues in Croatia before crossing the Atlantic and signing for Hamilton Croatia. He’d left them and joined us for $50,000 at the start of the previous season and was a decent, if cumbersome centre-back. Tadeu on the other hand had been in the US for a while, and would in fact be eligible for American citizenship in six months or so. He was a versatile and talented midfielder with a sweet right foot and a frail physique. That left two slots available, and I had to make sure I didn’t waste them. I also managed something of a coup on the friendly front. Lounging around one afternoon I decided on a whim to pick up the phone and call Los Angeles Galaxy. After getting bounced around different departments for a while I finally managed to get through to a chap whose name I forgot as soon as he told me. I gave him some wonderful patter I have to say, and the upshot was that Los Angeles Galaxy would be coming to Sacramento for our opening friendly match of the pre-season. The icing on the cake was the decision by local station to broadcast the match on television. I was preening like a peacock I can tell you. I couldn’t decide between the tracksuit look and the besuited, European sophisticate look. It was going to be a wonderful occasion, and I gave myself a pat on the back for having pulled this one off. I was also doing quite well on the transfer front. In came the Danish Under-21 captain Michael Sten Jensen, a centre back and Mexican duo Daniel Rangel and José Luis Acosta. Rangel was a winger and Acosta a central midfielder. “Aha!” I hear you cry. “You said there were only two spots available!” Of course, you’re right, which is why I was forced to allow my Croat Vurdelja to seek alternate employment. When Real San José came calling I allowed him to depart on a free. I just hope he knew the way… I often wonder if I should write more about the minutiae of the signings I made, how the deals were done, that sort of thing. To be perfectly honest with you I’d be just as bored writing it as you would be reading it, so I skip the tedious details. In actuality once the targets are identified and initial contact made by myself or my scout, all the paperwork and related rigmarole is kicked upstairs to the chairman. I don’t have any legal training as you could probably guess, so am in no position at all to negotiate contracts. I also have no idea of the financial state of the club. I see a basic statement monthly, and of course I have budgets I must stick to. What’s that? You really want to know? Okay. Sacramento Gold had just over three million dollars in the bank. That’s cash, not assets. Of that, I’d been allocated a transfer budget of just over $400,000. Not a bad sum eh? In fact there was so much talent floating around for free that I didn’t envisage having to spend a penny. The club was spending around $1.2 million on salary, and I had another $200,000 to play with. That’s as far as it went for me, if I stayed within those limits I was accountable to no-one. That's about as much as I can bring myself to tell you, it's all so incredibly dull. If you really are interested in the financial dealings of a football club then you should probably read the memoirs of an accountant, rather than mine.
  3. Thanks a lot TheGreatTraveler, had to play a bit ahead of myself to see where the game was taking my story. Hope you continue to enjoy. CHAPTER EIGHT Ever had that feeling whereby things are out of your control, changes are occurring that you have no control over? I felt like the Captain of a rudderless ship, albeit one which somehow managed to be steering the charted course. I returned from my trip to LA and summoned Joe to my office. He reacted as I’d have expected him to – confused, angry, and upset. I felt bad as we’d all been working hard to bring this success to the Titans, but I couldn’t miss out on the chance of bringing a proven international coach into the Kent setup. It’s tough at the top, but I’m not one for causing people distress and I felt terrible. My new assistant was Faouzi Marzouki. He settled in immediately, and was soon running the training sessions whilst I stood by and watched. He had levels of professionalism I could only dream of. He made we feel like a bit of a clod to be honest. I’d tried to get the lads to have fun, whilst getting the basics right. Faouzi on the other hand had a series of complex drills and routines all worked out. He brought in sheets of A4 all nicely printed with dietary recommendations, fitness regimes to be followed outside of the club and my God if he didn’t have a tracksuit with his initials on. He really was the real deal. Contrary to my worst fears the loss of so many talented players hardly seemed to put a dent in our form. We travelled down to Eugene, Oregon to play Emerald City and won 4-1, Salem Stampede were beaten 3-1 in Kent and we travelled the short distance to Renton and beat the Cougars 3-0. Such was our lead that if we could beat the Lake Oswego Pioneers we’d be champions. Although it was a mere formality we destroyed them 5-1 and that was that. There was an astonishing sense of anti-climax to the celebrations. I suppose we’d all long known that we’d win the title, and when it finally came there was celebrations, but no upwelling of emotion – certainly not from me and I didn’t detect it from anyone else associated with the club either, and I thought I knew why. I was pretty sure that not one single member of the title-winning side – and I include myself in this – saw our success as a springboard to individual advancement rather than envisaging some glorious future for us as a team. Maybe a couple months back I could have imagined us progressing together, rising up the leagues, perhaps going semi-pro and signing up the key players on full time contracts, but the departure of so many of our main men had brought into focus the fact that as soon as any of us got a decent job offer we’d be off. With that in mind the very evening of our title win I cried off early from the celebratory meal, went home and began pouring over the internet. Didn’t take long to discover that Sacramento Gold had just that weekend been relegated from the USA Pro league and fired their manager Nicky Quirk. Before I changed my mind I cobbled together a CV using a Microsoft Word template and hit the send button. The minute I’d done it I was overcome by a sinking feeling, one that comes with having taken a decisive action which cannot be undone. The next day we held a short training session in the evening, and it passed me by in a blur. Faouzi was his usual efficient self, leaving me very little to actually do. We’d had some brilliant news that day as well, as Zach Melo had been called up for the Canadian Under-20 side for a match against Venezuela. He was over the moon, I can tell you and it was impossible not to feel delighted for him. There were tears in his eyes as he told me, and I’ve never felt like more of a rat. I should have told the lads I’d applied for the job in California, but I just couldn’t. I was justifying it by telling myself that nothing was confirmed yet, that I’d tell them if I heard, but I knew I was acting in a shabby manner. The next morning I woke late, very late. The sun was already high in the sky as I logged into my email with trepidation. There it was. I double-clicked nervously, but read with rising excitement. I’d been offered the job. No interview, no face-to-face meeting, nothing. Just a brief email inviting me down the following day to agree the terms of my contract. I sat stunned. The enormity of what I was about to undertake hit me. I frantically searched the internet to see exactly what I’d taken on. My research had been poor to say the least. I knew nothing about the club or the city other than what I’d read on their website and through looking at the league table. Now I was their manager, subject to agreeing terms. If there was one thing which highlighted the difference between the Kent Titans and Sacramento Gold, it was the attachment to the email which contained booking information for a flight from Seattle to Sacramento. I’d reached the big time. I killed time for the rest of the day, pottering around the house, watching thirty seconds of a programme before listlessly flicking over and napping on the sofa. That evening I scoured the web before eventually finding a low-quality feed of Zach Melo’s debut game for the Canadian Under-20 side. It wasn’t the best game I’d ever seen, but Zach played very well, setting up the Canadian goal in a 1-1 draw. I had a feeling I wasn’t going to be the only one leaving Kent in the near future. The next day I flew down to Sacramento for a meeting with the Board of my prospective new employers. I met the Chairman, a Mr Mark Wiley in his home, a large sprawling place which made me feel I was in an episode of MTV Cribs. There was no-one else present, no legal advisors, no board members, not even a wife. They wanted me to sign on $40,000 a year, so I came straight back at him with a counter offer of a cool quarter of a million. Well, if you don’t love yourself who will, right? I thought the poor man would choke. He was an odd looking cove, with the bottom of his head and jawline far wider than the top. It was almost conical. He had an enormous mouth full of magnificent, white, American teeth which made me quite ashamed of my British-style gnashers. As you can imagine, contract negotiations are tedious so I won’t go into the details, and talking about one’s salary is crude, but sod it. I managed to get $69,000 per annum for the next two years, which would be more than enough thank you very much. I would have complete control over player recruitment, which was important to me as I had very little faith in my tactical nous as I think I’ve already said. With our business concluded we agreed that I would return to Kent, hand in my notice and return immediately to begin work. I wanted to look around the city, but felt like it was more appropriate to go back north and wrap things up in an amiable way. I hadn’t really made any friends in Washington. Mayor Cookie had seemed quite keen on me, but we’d never really socialised. My staff and I had never bonded, but I’d really miss some of my players. They had been good kids, some of them with real ability, and I owed a large debt of gratitude to the senior players. It had been them who were primarily responsible for the success we – or they, as I should now think of them – had enjoyed over the past season, and the least I could do would be to face them and explain my decision. To counter-balance all the negative thoughts, I started spending all my money. Mr Wiley had offered a generous relocation package, and I still wanted my American car. I wanted something massive, something it would take a week to walk around. I wanted a nice house, white picket fence optional. I wanted the American dream. It wasn’t Mourinho’s wages, but I should be able to start building a nice life. I fancied a trip back to the UK in the off season, and with the end of the season only four matches away I would have some serious down-time. It had to be said – things were looking up!
  4. Thanks ZoSo-Scouse, glad you're enjoying. Had to put my plot on hold due to in-game events, but they should be resolved in the next couple of chapters. Hope you continue to enjoy! CHAPTER SEVEN We took the ferry back to Kent, which provided me with plenty of time for pondering life, the universe and everything. Well, that was the plan. What I actually ended up pondering was a possible mini-exodus of my playing staff. Ensconced in my usual place on deck, watching the seabirds swirl above our wake I found myself approached by young Greg Vicars. Not a regular in the side, but bursting with potential, he was certainly one of the better teenagers in the squad. He sat down next to me and in a quiet, almost apologetic voice told me that he had received several offers from bigger clubs. I asked who, and he told me that representatives from Boise Roughriders, Minnesota Twin Stars, Raleigh Pioneers, Victoria Highlanders and the Santa Cruz Breakers had all been in touch. I was impressed, all of those clubs were semi-professional outfits, and all of them were serious contenders to step up to the pro leagues. I told him exactly what you’d expect me to say, namely that we didn’t want to lose him but wouldn’t get in his way etc. etc. etc. Of course, he was on an amateur contract, we couldn’t get in his way but I think he understood the sentiment. If I’m honest with you, I was a little bit jealous. I was enjoying my time here in Washington, but there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that if I had the opportunity to move to a bigger club I’d not think twice. Anyone that would pay me an actual, real-life salary would be a start. I watched Greg walk away, and as he re-entered the interior of the ferry he was passed by Adrian Chevannes. They stopped and talked, shook hands and then Adrian approached me. I knew what was coming. Greg had been the warm-up act; here was the headliner. I was right. It looked like Chevannes was off too. He’d been offered a pro contract with the Puerto Rico Islanders, who looked very much like they were on their way to the MLS. I was impressed, but not surprised. Adrian had been a steady influence on the side, and would be a big miss if he decided to go. He said his mind wasn’t made up, but I couldn’t believe that for a minute. He’d be mad not to go. I told him I appreciated him telling me, and everything he’d done for the club, and he too got up and left, leaving me to my thoughts. Five minutes later the phone rang. It was Jordan Palmer, my scout. To be honest I’d sort of forgotten he existed. I knew he was out and about looking for talent as according to the finances we’d spent $14,000 on scouting this year. Money well spent, I don’t deny but he had gone a bit quiet recently. That had changed, he’d found us another cracking player apparently – a young man from Virginia Beach called Josh Boemecke. He’d be arriving in Kent later that night and would be available for the weekend’s game against Beaverton Beavers. I felt like saying that I was in charge, I’d decide if he was suitable for the squad and to leave such decisions to me, but delegation is an art-form, and with two players seemingly on the way to bigger and better things an injection of fresh blood was welcome. Our next league match was upon us, and being the sentimental fart I was both Chevannes and Greg Vicars started. We won 3-0, and there were lovely scenes as the two departing players said goodbye to their team-mates and fans. It was nice I suppose, as it was what all of these lads aspired to, but none would probably achieve. Our new addition Boemecke had a decent game too, and seemed a nice lad. I then began to prepare for our last away match of the season, but found my preparations disrupted by more bad news. The exodus had not yet finished. Cristian Nuñez left to join San Diego Surf on a pro contract, and Manuel Mejía joined the California Development Academy. Now Manuel, to be perfectly blunt, was no great loss, but losing Cristian was a terrible blow. He was by far and away our best midfielder, and I began to have serious fears that our team would crumble. I knew it was the price of success, and if some side from the sandy shores of the Sunshine State offered me a pro contract I’d snap their arm off, but they hadn’t. My responsibility was to Kent Titans, and we were being seriously denuded. I needed something to shake up the side, so I decided to attend the big Soccer Expo which would be taking place in Los Angeles after the final game of the opening stage in a couple of weeks’ time. We travelled to Missoula in Montana to play Garden City, battered them 4-1 and returned home to more bad news as my players continued to leave in droves. We had become victims of our own success, a success that was looking increasingly more difficult to keep going. No-mark midfielder Steve Todd headed off down to the California Development Academy, who seemed to have us pegged as some kind of feeder team, my beloved Paolo Guiotto moved to Idaho to join the Boise Roughriders and John Fishbaugher followed Cristian Nuñez to San Diego Surf. I was grief-stricken. I felt like a man who’d built a wonderful house, only for people to walk by and take a shine to my windows, my doors, damn – even the pigging crap in the shed was being pillaged. There was a strange atmosphere as the team prepared in the dressing room before our final game before the league split in two, against the Lake Oswego Pioneers. It was almost funereal. I could see people looking at the empty spaces next to them where only a short while before valued team-mates had sat. I took the only option available to me and just carried on, but my heart wasn’t in it any more. I felt like leaving myself, but to where? Come full time the mood had completely changed. The team were jubilant, full of optimism and seemed to have completely forgotten that the heart of the team had been ripped out over the past few weeks. Well, that’s what 6-0 wins do for a squad I suppose. The return of Jeff Deren to match fitness had proven the catalyst, relieving Neil Krause of the burden of leading the line. A small shuffle in the middle of the park had seen me play my central midfielders in a line, sacrificing Zach Melo in the defensive midfield role. I was feeling still feeling down however, and knew that the more my players shone the more they’d be picked off by the professional sides hovering around. I’d tried to spot anyone in the crowd with a notebook in order to go and give them a grade A hiding, but it just seemed the usual collection of teenage girls, parents and the occasional genuine soccer fan. I set off the following day for the drive down to Los Angeles. I had my doubts as to whether my little Honda would make it, but as it was a Sunday and the conference didn’t start until the Wednesday I didn’t really care. It was going to be nice just getting away from it all for a while. Maybe it would blow the cobwebs away, reinvigorate me in the way that the first ferry trip up to Alaska had. I wasn’t sure. Maybe I was just homesick. I’d been thinking about the UK a lot recently, remembering the good times. I headed straight down the I-5. Destination? Eureka California. It was a pleasant drive, but nothing special. I rolled into Eureka mid-afternoon and headed straight for the one thing I really wanted to see. The Carson Mansion had been built by some lumber baron back in the mid-eighteenth century. It was proper haunted house stuff, and I’d wanted to see it for ages. I arrived on a balmy afternoon and spent a pleasant ten minutes looking at the intricately carved balustrades and jumbled roofline before realising there was very little else to interest me. I wasn’t allowed in – no-one was – as it was the private preserve of some Gentleman’s Club, so feeling more than a little disappointed I heads south for my overnight stop. It probably wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had, as it was gone ten pm as I passed over the Golden Gate Bridge, too tired and fed up to raise any enthusiasm over transiting such an iconic structure and almost three in the morning when I finally reached Monterey. I checked in at the Holiday Inn, found my room and fell immediately into a deep sleep. I woke surprisingly refreshed, and made my way down Cannery Row, which had been described by John Steinbeck as ‘a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream’, but to me it just seems a little bit dull. I wasn’t surprised, as Steinbeck had been writing when it was a fishing boom-town, with all the sights and smells associated with that industry. In honour of Monterey’s piscine past I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium which turned out to be a rare treat. Some of the tanks were enormous, and as my experience of Aquariums was limited to the Anglesey Sea Zoo I was entranced. Apparently they’d had Great White Sharks there in the past, but I was a little disappointed that there weren’t for my visit. I did see huge Sunfish, Sea Otters and random fish beyond counting. My favourite exhibit was the seahorses. Tiny, delicate little creatures, for some reason they made me think of left-wingers. Feeling a warm glow I returned to my car and headed on down to Los Angeles for the conference. I don’t know what I was thinking of when I’d decided to go, because it was the most tedious two days of my entire life. I sat through endless seminars with titles like “Revenue Streams for the Semi-Professional Game in the United States”, “Resource Management in Soccer” and my personal favourite, “Soccer’s Tactical Development in the American Amateur Game.” I had to laugh, my tactics involved cramming as many decent players on the pitch as possible, and I didn’t seem to be doing too badly. On the last evening there was a big gathering, with loads of people milling around eating plastic food with their name emblazoned on badges stuck to their fronts. I was approached by a diminutive Arabic looking chap, who seemed to be aware of what we’d been achieving up in Washington. He seemed to be angling for a job, the nutter, but I didn’t want to be rude so I asked him what he was doing at the moment. “I’m the assistant manager of Tunisia.” He said. I laughed, and asked him to be serious. “I am serious,” he said “I want to be challenged, I enjoy developing youth, and of course,” he went on with a smile, “living in America would be a dream.” I pondered this, whilst the hubbub went on around us. I hadn’t really considered changing my staff. They’d all been on board when I was hired, and just seemed part of the furniture. But this guy was the assistant manager of Tunisia for goodness sake, I’d be a mug to let him slip through my fingers and disappear off to the California bloody Development Academy like so many of my youngsters “I already have an assistant,” I said, because it was true. “Ah, never mind.” Says he, and starts to walk away. I didn’t have time to consider the wisdom of my move. This was too good a chance to miss. I called him back and told him that I’d be delighted to work with him. He seemed pleased, and said he’d be in Kent for the weekend. I was stunned, I didn’t think he meant immediately. I thought I’d have a chance to break the bad news to poor Joe Donaldson gently. Instead I was going to have to treat him shabbily. That was football though, it’s a cruel old game and I’d been sat in a gaffer’s office while he told me my contract wouldn’t be renewed enough times myself. Assistant manager of Tunisia eh? What a funny path life takes us on sometimes. I shook my head and made my way back to the buffet - the mini-cheeseburgers were delicious.
  5. Cheers Makkonen, it's a bit rambly I think, but football events keep getting in the way of the storyline. It's a fun challenge trying to shoe-horn some kind of plot in amongst the effectively random events thrown up by the game CHAPTER SIX Well the good times kept on coming, and the Titans kept on winning. June turned into July, the weather got warmer but the rain kept pouring. Prince George Fury, Shoreline Wave and Salem Stampede – we beat them all. Looming on the horizon however was another massive coach journey. The day of our departure soon came around, and we gathered in the High School car-park just as dawn broke. Forty hours of travel ahead. Butte, Bozeman, Billings, Bismarck… All just blurs out the window. Miles City, Montana and there was still miles to go. We went through Fargo and there was still too far to go. Passing Elgin, Illinois I thought I was going to lose my marbles. We entered New York State with Lake Erie a dark and forbidding presence on our left hand side, and I saw signs for a town called Barcelona, which made me chuckle. Don’t know why though. Cabin fever I guess. Anyway, Syracuse turned out to be a wonderful place, full of marvellous old buildings. I felt strangely at home here, perhaps because it felt more European than the West coast. There was no time for sightseeing though, as we’d only an hour before kick-off. There was no way we were in a fit state to play, and I felt my frustration at the travelling distances growing again. Why not have state championships, whittle it down before forcing people to travel thousands of miles to play on a Wednesday, before trekking all the way back for another match on the Saturday? Madness. The facilities at the venue - Nottingham High School – were second to none. In the changing rooms I noticed an honour wall, with pictures of notable alumni. My favourite was the chunky, balding moustachioed visage of one Doug Swift, who had been a member (according to the plaque) of Miami Dolphins unbeaten 1972 side. I began to drift away, and found myself six months from now, in the Kent-Meridian changing rooms, gazing with pride at the photos of Kent Titans’ unbeaten 2011 Northwest Soccer Conference winning side. I could see my own picture clearly – handsome, erect, the very paragon of sporting leadership… I shook my head quickly. As our chickens had not yet hatched, it seemed foolhardy to begin counting them. We then went out onto the pitch, played heroically and beat Empire United Soccer Academy 6-0. Well, that’s what I’d like to tell you, but we didn’t. We played dismally and lost 1-0. It wasn’t even like they were any good, at least not in my opinion. They were all high school lads, and I’d not exactly fielded a weakened side. Still, all the travelling was the perfect excuse. See, I’m not adverse to a bit of self-delusion. Perhaps the real kick in the teeth was an injury to Jonatan Morán, a nasty knock to the ankle which would rule him out for the foreseeable future. There was nothing we could do about it: injuries; scheduling; it was all taking its toll. So we were back on the road for another two days of travelling. There wasn’t even time to go back to Kent, so we headed straight up to Alaska to play the Juneau Ice Bears. I’d decided to shuffle things up for this game, and damn the result. We were ten points clear and if we lost, so what? With almost no training to speak of and an almost constant cycle of travelling and playing something had to give. You have to remember the majority of these players were children, and I was expecting too much in my relentless pursuit for victory. So it was a much-changed side that took to the pitch against the Ice Bears. It didn’t seem to have made any difference however, and we took the lead when Nicky Webb lashed home from just outside the area. ‘Oho,’ I thought, ‘business as usual!’ Then the tide turned, and the Ice Bears equalised on 35 minutes. Half time came and went without any noticeable improvement in our form. The good players were too knackered and the fit players were useless. One of their strikers - don’t know who as his number had peeled off the back of his shirt – went for a leisurely jog through our defence and slotted the ball past Pierce, whom I’d decided to play instead of Mr Adam Gauss. When Nicky Webb gave away a soft penalty for shirt-pulling which was duly converted I knew we were dead and buried. Twenty minutes to go, and nothing I’d seen led me to believe we’d turn it around. When Johnny Fishbaugher got his first goal for us a couple minutes later I began to believe. What impressed me most was the way he ran into the back of the net, elbowing teenage Ice Bear players out of the way in order to grab the ball and race back to the centre-spot for kick-off. This was a man who’d played in the MLS remember, and here he was busting a gut down in the depths of the American amateur game. It’s that sort of thing that makes winners I suppose… Anyway, you know we didn’t lose by now don’t you? I’d be glossing over this match and moving on otherwise. The manner of our escape was a little bit Hollywood. I’d grown up on American culture, like a lot of British people. I loved the theme music to Airwolf, could recite the little monologue at the start of the A-Team from memory, and loved all-American action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Well, just like an American blockbuster our salvation came about through our action hero Neil Krause and two of the debutants I’d chucked on. After all, Hollywood loves an underdog. Two minutes into injury time, and Kent native and debutant Jesús Alberto Madrigal made a bombing run down the left wing using an inventive style of dribbling which I shall dub The Stumble. Somehow he managed to dig the ball out from under his feet and lay it off for Krause, who whipped in a dreamy cross. Up leaps Michael Gutiérezz, like an Alaskan salmon. His header was powerful, his neck muscles bulged like one of Hulk Hogan’s biceps, and the ball hurtled at the Ice Bears goal, only to ricochet off the crossbar. In the Hollywood movie playing out in my mind’s eye there were slo-mo cuts of horrified faces painted in the red and black of the Kent Titans. I dropped to my knees and looked imploringly at the giant electronic scoreboard as the final few seconds ticked away… But life isn’t like Hollywood is it? What really happened was a mystery, even to me. The ball bounced back into a crowd of bodies, bobbled around for a bit and ended up in the back of the net. I assume it was Gutiérrez who scored, because he burst from the melee and ran screaming back towards our own half, howling like a lunatic. I raised an eyebrow – well, I would have if I could – and thought to myself, ‘no picking up the ball and searching for a winner there! All in all a draw was a decent result, and I let the lads know. They were understandably delighted, bless them, and I watched them lark and frolic with a paternal twinkle in my eye. I'd have been less pleased with things if only I'd known that this would be almost the last time this group of players would leave the pitch together.
  6. DeadPanda - thanks a lot mate, and tenthreeleader - will my narrator overcome his prejudices about America and particularly American sports? Who knows, not even me at the moment! I think my narrator expresses many of the ambivilent feelings some Europeans have towards America - a bizarre mixture of both superiority and inferiority. I've hardly ever been to the US, just a few ports on the East Coast so you'll have to forgive any glaring errors! CHAPTER FIVE If we hadn’t been so wonderful to begin with I could have credited our new mascot Ogopogo the Log with the victory against Kelowna. He sat in the back of our net for the duration of the match - silent; brooding; wooden. The referee had looked at it askance, but said nothing. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was against the rules to have lumber in the goal, but I wasn’t going to be a killjoy. The game was comfortably won 2-0, with a goal from Krause and a penalty from Melo. We were now on seven wins from eight league matches, with the draw against Longview Volcanoes on the opening day of the season the only blot on the landscape. And so we moved on to the Amateur Cup match against Lynch’s Irish Pub FC. According to the press we were massive underdogs, but I chalked that down to the fact they were in the tier above us. I was in no doubt that we would win. Before the match we had a bit of a gathering to honour our special guest, Mayor Cooke. She had obviously done her research, as she asked me if I preferred to play Tiki-Taka, Catenaccio or – and I swear this is what she said – ‘to get it in the mixer and look for the big man.’ I tried to explain to her that when your players are as ‘raw’ as mine are that tactics didn’t really come into it, and she seemed to take that on board. For the match itself I invited her into the dugout. Probably not the done thing but this wasn’t Old Trafford so I didn’t give a monkeys. I’d made a couple of changes for the match, resting Morán and Melo, with Chevannes moved from right-back to striker. Rafa Ramírez took the right-back slot and young Nicky Webb came into the midfield. Ramírez was a talented youth, and probably should be seeing more playing time but Chevannes was far too good to omit. Webb was a versatile chap, able to play anywhere across the middle, a talent which had seen him feature in all our league games so far, whether starting or as a sub. The first real chance fell in the third minute. Ramírez sent a looping cross in from the right, and Neil Krause popped up to volley it home, only for the Irish’s keeper to save well. To my right Madame Mayor let out a little squeak of excitement and I thought ‘hello, we’ve got a convert here.’ Shortly afterwards Ramírez took a kick to the ankle which left him limping. I let it go to see how he’d hold up. The Irish were knocking the ball around nicely, certainly better than anyone we’d faced in the league, but we were containing them nicely whilst carving the occasional chance for ourselves. Half an hour in Paolo Guiotto went down under a harsh challenge. He was clearly injured and I immediately indicated that Johnny Fishbaugher should strip off. Madame Mayor was tugging at my sleeve, asking if the ‘young man’ was alright. I politely told her that I was as much in the dark as she was, and watched as he was carried towards the school buildings for treatment. This had been bugging me for a long time, putting players through such a rigorous programme at such a young age. Injuries were bound to occur, and it was inevitable that some would be serious enough to do real harm to their developing bodies. Half time came around with the tie finely balanced. My assistant Joe Donaldson was like a walking Opta feed, and gave me the rundown on the vital statistics. Mayor Cookie was still at my side, which I thought was a little inappropriate in a dressing room full of teenage boys. ‘What the heck,’ I thought, ‘she’s not young. Probably has sons of her own.’ We’d managed nine shots, five of which had been on target whilst our opponents had managed just three wayward efforts. Nuñez was looking dead on his feet however, so I told him he’d be sitting out the second half, and told Mr Melo to get his shin-pads on. We now had only one substitution left, and I hoped to be able to use it to bring on Morán if we still hadn’t grabbed a goal later on. I kept the team talk brief, just telling the lads they were doing well. The Mayor was stood next to me all the while, arms folded across her chest, looking from player to player as if gauging their reaction. She was really taking this guest of honour thing seriously, and not in way’s I’d imagined. Almost immediately after the restart Jake Prideaux went down injured, and I cursed under my breath. With no cover available on the left wing I was really in a sticky spot. I watched him get up and gamely hobble on, but there was no way he’d be able to continue. I was still pondering the situation when an Irish goal kick was headed powerfully forward by Lewis White. The Irish defence was caught on the back foot, with the ball dropping behind them. They turned like battleships, only to watch Neil Krause race through and slide the ball past their keeper and into the net. One-nil Titans, and my decision was now made much easier. Off came Prideaux, and on came Roberto Enríque Pérez, with Brad Kelly pushing up a little further. We were now playing with two left backs effectively. This is what I meant about tactics counting for nothing at this level, and it probably wouldn’t make a jot of difference. It didn’t. Three minutes later and Krause headed home a Fishbaugher cross to double our lead. Mayor Cookie was dancing round the touchline like a lifelong fan, and the disappointing crowd of around 200 chanted Krause’s name. From then on the Irish looked like a beaten team, we continued to carve them open at will, but we failed to add to our tally. The final few minutes were unnecessarily tense when Matt Allen pulled a goal back for the visitors, but we held out and the final whistle saw our esteemed guest, a dignitary but certainly not dignified, run on to the pitch and embrace Neil Krause, who seemed shocked, but pleasantly so. I left the Mayor celebrating with the players and went off to find our physio, ‘Handsome’ Dave Willis for the butcher’s bill. It was worse than I thought. Guiotto had badly twisted his ankle, and wouldn’t be available for at least two months, and Rafa Ramírez had pulled his hamstring and would need around six weeks to recover. It took the gloss off the victory, I can tell you. I made my way back to the dressing room, where I found the entire squad crowding round the mayor, who sat with a laptop open on her knee awaiting the draw for the next round. There were audible groans as our name came out of the hat, or whatever they were using to pull balls from. We’d drawn an away tie against Empire United Soccer Academy, from Syracuse, New York. Another trans-continental fixture was the last thing we needed, but Mayor Cookie came into her own, encouraging the exhausted squad in her own charming way. A quick look at my calendar revealed that the tie – to be played on a Wednesday – would be followed three days later by an away fixture in Alaska. I was gutted. Winning should be something to celebrate, not regret. The five hundred piddly dollars we’d got for winning wouldn’t even cover the diesel for the coach to Syracuse, let alone back again. Mayor Cookie came over as I stood staring forlornly at the calendar. She put a hand on my shoulder in a most maternal fashion. “It’s the price of success, coach.” She said, wise as Yoda. I nodded agreement, I’d have been moaning if we’d lost, so it was a bit rich to be sat here all mardy despite winning. I smiled, and asked her if she’d like to come again. “Of course, I’m a Titan now” she replied, with her tongue nowhere near her cheek. I couldn’t help but smile. We were certainly collecting mascots with a vengeance now. We had a Canadian sea creature and the Mayor of Kent - a ragtag bunch certainly, but ours.
  7. Thanks Lainedil, getting some ideas for a plot now, so hopefully there will be some structure soon! CHAPTER FOUR There was no doubt about it, I was now a celebrity. I stood in front of the town of Kent’s latest amenity, gripping one half of an oversize pair of cardboard scissors whilst the town’s Mayor, a chipper lady called Suzette Cooke gripped the other half. I glanced over at my fellow dignitary, and she gave me a smile which calmed my nerves at being part of such a major civic function. Before me a vast crowd of maybe a dozen faces watched my every move. Behind me the gleaming façade of Butchie’s Mini-Mart stood ready to satisfy the demands of the populace for groceries. Hey, I’m being facetious I know, but if I’m perfectly honest with you I did feel proud. Just an hour ago my team had been applauded off the pitch by nearly three hundred delirious supporters after spanking Hub City United 4-0, and now here I was, firmly ensconced in the public life of my adopted town. If opening Butchie’s was good enough for the Mayor, it was certainly good enough for me. With flashbulbs popping the ribbon was cut, and Suzette, or Cookie as I didn’t call her gave a wonderful little speech about civic pride and accredited police forces as various other minutiae of small-town American life. I just stood there beaming like a fool. After the little ceremony myself and Cookie went into the store for some more pictures of us pretending to be impressed with the merchandise on offer, and to answer a few questions put to us by the press. Cookie wittered on about sandbags (I was too embarrassed to show my ignorance by asking what the deal was with sandbags) and I answered questions put to me by Karl Hammond, sports hack for the local rag, The Kent Enquirer. It was pretty mundane stuff, I’d tried to charm him on each occasion I had spoken to him, but he seemed indifferent to me. I assumed he’d rather have been watching 8-foot monstrosities playing netball than discussing the beautiful game. After I’d spent ten minutes wasting my time trying to enthuse Mr Hammond I was invited to give a little speech by our lovely mayor, who I was growing rather fond of. She was a little ball of energy, who spoke at length and with great passion about her plans and policies for the betterment of the town she had been elected to lead. Caught on the hop and full of warmth for Cookie, I invited her to be guest of honour at our forthcoming North America Amateur Cup Preliminary Round match against the improbably-named Lynch’s Irish Pub FC. They would be making their way from Jacksonville, FL to play us, the poor saps, and I was sure that after a journey like that they’d be in no fit state for football, and we’d trounce them. Dear old Suzette appeared on the verge of tears, so filled with joy was she at the prospect of being guest of honour at our humble club. She spouted on for a good five minutes about what a credit we were to the town, putting the place on the map and other such nonsense. She was impressive I have to say. Either she was the consummate politician, always saying the right thing or she genuinely cared about her town. I’d convinced myself it was the latter, and I hoped I was right. Before we could host Mayor Cooke we needed get another league fixture out of the way. There was no doubt, I was becoming extremely confident in our teams ability. We were travelling north, over the border into Canada to face the Kelowna Grizzlies. The morning of the match arrived and the weather had turned. I flipped on the Weather Channel, and the forecast was for highs of 93 degrees. I began to panic. ‘By God, that’s enough to boil my blood’ I thought, and began to size up the dimensions of the refrigerator before I remembered that Americans use the wrong scale for measuring temperature. I vaguely remember being told once that to get from Celsius to Fahrenheit one must double the temperature and add twenty, so I did the reverse and came up with thirty-six and a half degrees. Still a scorcher, but hopefully not fatal. For a pleasant change we arrived early in Kelowna, and had time to have a look round. We parked in a picnic area on the banks of Lake Okanagan and enjoyed the pleasant weather. I went over to an information board, and was stunned to find that the lake was inhabited by a sea monster called Ogopogo, which bore more than a passing resemblance Britain’s very own Loch Ness Monster. Our young goalkeeper Adam Gauss wandered over and had a look. Now young Adam is a bit of a card, and could be described as an eccentric. He reminded me a lot of the Liverpool legend Bruce Grobelaar, but when I’d mentioned this to him he had looked at me askance, and asked ‘Bruce who?’ Mr Gauss became quite taken with the idea of the sea monster, or lake monster, call it what you will. He enlisted the help of some of the other youngsters and began scouring the water for signs of his elusive prey. Participating in such a futile task soon bored the majority, who drifted away to splash about on the foreshore or whatever other diversions took their fancy. Gauss though, along with talented winger Paolo Guiotto and useless striker Peterson Chassange refused to give up the hunt. They climbed up a nearby promontory to gain a better view, and after watching them to ensure they didn’t fall and break their necks I turned my attention back to matters at hand. Tactically I wasn’t really doing anything other than sticking my best players on the pitch and telling them to go for it. I’d read articles online hailing me as a tactical genius, but they just made me laugh. It wasn’t tactics winning the games for us, it was the calibre of players that had been scouted and then implausibly signed up on amateur contracts. The aforementioned Gauss was between the sticks, and despite another young talent – the fourteen year old Daniel Pierce – being arguably the better custodian I couldn’t find it in myself to drop Gauss when he’d done nothing wrong. As I’ve said before, I had twenty-three year old Adrian Chevannes at right back, and he was the rock gluing together the remainder of my almost pre-pubescent back four, which consisted of Mark Suckling, Lewis White and Brad Kelly. Each of them was fifteen, and I could see all three playing much higher up the ladder in the future. Anchoring the midfield was the Canadian Zach Melo. Another youth in his mid-teens, he nevertheless had impressed me when I brought him in earlier in the season, and who always seemed to pop up in the right place, sweep up any loose balls and distribute them intelligently. Just in front was his compatriot Cristian Nuñez, whose talents I’m sure I’ve expounded in previous posts. I’d been playing two advanced wingers just lately, with my golden boy Giotto on the right and yet another whipper-snapper in Jake Prideaux on the left. Young Jake had a semblance of talent I suppose, and could certainly pull the odd trick out of the bag, but he would never become a player of note, but he was good enough for me. Up front were Krause and Morán, neither of whom should be playing at this level. They were far too good, and it was only a matter of time before someone came sniffing around I was sure. It was a good squad of players backing them up, and with the reserve and youth competitions starting up soon I hoped for some of the other youngsters to make an impact and stake a claim to a berth in the first team squad. All my ponderings were soon brought to a sharp end by a cry from Adam Gauss. “There it is! It’s Ogopogo” I smiled inwardly at the folly of youth, and looked in the direction he was pointing. I scanned the surface of the lake, and to my astonishment could see a dark object moving through the glassy water, leaving a V-shaped wake. I jumped up and ran to the water’s edge, damning myself for not having binoculars. There really was something there, swimming from right to left about fifty metres off the shore. Gauss had attracted everyone’s attention with his shout, and there was a clamour as the entire squad jostled for position, desperate to see this denizen of the deep. I think I said Adam Gauss was unpredictable, and so he proved by jumping from the outcrop, executing a perfect dive which left barely a ripple as he entered the water. Surfacing, he struck out for the creature, swimming with powerful strokes of his arms. People were shouting at him to not be such a fool, and I’m sure someone behind me was crying. I was struggling to believe my eyes, and as Gauss drew near the beast there was a sudden burst of splashing, and both Adam and the creature disappeared beneath the surface. I felt panic welling up inside me. I was about to lose my goalkeeper to a prehistoric beast, which would surely feature in any list of ridiculous injuries for a long time to come. Just as I was considering digging in my pocket for my mobile and calling the coastguard (we weren’t on the coast, but I didn’t know who else to call. The A-Team?) Adam burst to the surface, his arms around the creature’s serpentine neck. Gripping it like a Baywatch veteran he began a steady backstroke towards the shore. I thought it was a bit small to be a monster, but maybe the damn thing had spawned? By now the crowd lining the shore were silent; clicking away on their camera phones, no doubt imagining the fortune The National Enquirer would pay for such shots. As he reached shallower water Gauss stood, the water running off him, black hair plastered to his head, eyes twinkling as he lifted his quarry above his head. A sodden, weed-encrusted log. The silence was broken by Adam’s laughter, and immediately the squad erupted. Some were laughing, others shouted in fury at being duped. I shook my head, feeling foolish for having believed even for a moment. Deciding enough was enough, I ordered everyone to get dressed and return to the coach. Gauss insisted on taking his sea-beast with him, insisting it was to become our mascot, and that he was the embodiment of the Titan’s spirit for confronting such a foe. He looked so genuinely proud that any remaining animosity turned into frivolity, which continued all the way to the stadium for our match.
  8. Thanks a lot STFCDP1990, hope you continue to enjoy! CHAPTER 3 As you can probably imagine, witnessing such a terrible thing really shook me up. I gave a statement to some dapper black detective with a massive cigar, and then went home to bed. I had a sleepless night too. I remember something on TV back home, I think it was one of those shock ads that the government broadcast to warn people about the dangers of drink-driving. Anyway, some bloke knocks over a little girl, and everywhere he looks he can see her little twisted and mangled body. It was a bit like that for me. In my mind’s eye I kept replaying the moment when the guy got shot. It was the way he just dropped. He didn’t fly backwards or anything, just went straight down. You know that scene in Star Wars where Obi Wan Kenobi is fighting Darth Vader, and when Vader kills him his brown robes just fall to the floor? Well that’s how this guy went down. I have to admit, I was in a bit of a funk for a while afterwards, and life just passed me by. The league campaign kicked off with a 2-2 draw with Longview Volcanoes. We then hosted the Quakers from High Point, NC in the North American Open Cup. That was a bit of a thriller. They took the lead 25 seconds in, before we’d even had a kick. I thought it was going to be curtains for us, and with the score at 2-1 to them young Pablo García equalised with seconds to go. I had a lot of sympathy with young Pablo. He’d been left out of the squad for the league matches, and with hindsight he definitely had the talent to contribute. Anyway, Jonatan Morán grabbed us a winner and earned us a massive journey to Mississippi to play the Jackson Red Shirts in the next round. We then went on a lovely little run, travelling to the other side of Seattle to play Bothell Loggers and winning 2-1, followed by two home wins, 4-2 against Emerald City, and 5-1 against Richmond Tide. The latter game saw Paolo Guiotto score a hat-trick, and I can tell you there is nothing to fill you full of pride like seeing a fifteen year old lad play like he did. It made it sweeter that he was a local lad, from Tacoma. The good times had to end at some point, and it was that massive journey down to Mississippi that did it for us. The lads just didn’t perform. We went a goal down after five minutes, and then a Cristian Nuñez own-goal pretty much killed the tie for us. We clawed one back, but shortly afterwards the Red Shirts scored a third to put us out. Now a more cynical man than myself might have thought that the lads were sick to death of spending vast amounts of their time on coaches, and to be honest I couldn’t blame them. In my day we used to have card schools, someone might stick on a movie – always terrible, but what do you expect from footballers, black and white arty cinema in a foreign language? Almost to a man the squad spent the whole journey with ears encased in ridiculous oversize earphones, banging away on their mobiles or playing on iPads. There was no conversation really, no noise, no arguments. I considered slapping a ban on these introvert activities, but I had to factor in the tender age of the squad, and I didn’t want to alienate them. It was a blow to be knocked out, not so much because the trophy was an attainable target, but because the money was so damn good. Consider that we received $10,000 for winning against the High Point Quakers in the first preliminary round, and then consider that if we win the Northwest Soccer Conference we’ll get a meagre $25,000. Well, meagre in comparison but you get my point. Another silent coach trip back home, and back to the routine of league matches. Out third home league game on the trot saw us spank Renton Cougars 5-0. It was slowly dawning on me that we had assembled a squad which was head and shoulders above anyone else in the league. We were the only team in our conference with anyone out of their teens, and it was a telling difference. We’d lost one of our experienced players, the striker Jeff Deren to a hip injury which ruled him out for three months, but our other two front men were taking the league by storm. Morán had nine goals in twelve games and Krause had seven from eleven. It wasn’t just up top we were strong. Adrian Chevannes was marshalling an otherwise inexperienced defence, and I’ve already banged on about the talents of Paolo Guiotto so I won’t bore you with superlatives again. All in all we were looking ferocious. Without the fag of midweek travel I could see us building an unassailable lead before the conference split in a couple of months, although we’d not had any of our long away trips yet. In fact, our next tie would see us heading off up to Alaska for a game against Fairbanks Freeze. Logistically it was going to be a nightmare. Impractical by coach, it was a choice between flying and getting a ferry. The chairman went visibly pale at the thought of shelling out for flights, and to be honest I couldn’t blame him. A squad of sixteen players, myself, my assistant and the physio were a minimum so it was looking like the Titans were going for a boat ride . And what a boat ride it turned out to be. I met a lovely upper-class English girl, but then we hit an iceberg… Of course we didn’t, but it was stunning, and possibly the nicest scenery I’ve ever seen. Believe me, I’m an old hand at seafaring – I once went mackerel fishing out of Whitby when I was playing for Scarborough back in 2003 – but this was something else. We started off with a long old coach trip up to Prince Rupert in British Columbia. The ferry actually departs from Bellingham, just up the road from us, but it was far quicker to drive up to Prince Rupert and get the ferry to Anchorage. From there it was a six hour drive to Fairbanks to play the Freeze. Despite the cold, the ferry journey was magnificent. The air was crystal clear, the sea a magnificent, deep blue and the boat was well appointed. It hugged the coast for most of the journey, and a vista of vast pine forests and rugged mountains and hills was a constant backdrop. Even the teenage players came to life, snapping photos of one another and generally having a wonderful time. I sat back on a bench on deck, huddled deeper into my parka and felt a deepl glow of satisfaction. I’d been feeling terribly down since the incident in the diner, and as is the way when one is in a funk all sorts of other negative thoughts came into my head. I was a thirty-three year old ex-professional footballer, who had eked out a career at the lowest level, earning less than I could have earned had I taken a plumbers course, and since retiring I’d scraped what I could through freelance scouting – basically charity on the part of friends I’d made in the game – and was now managing a bunch of children in a fledgling league which involved so much travelling there was no time for coaching, living off expenses, having to stump up a receipt for everything I bought. It was no way for a man of my age to be living. But sat on that bench, looking out over the sea towards the awe-inspiring scenery rolling slowly by on the starboard side (told you I was salty) I felt a strange kind of peace. Life was about moments, about enjoying what you had. I thought about all the people who pay to watch football, how much they’d love to have had the experiences I’ve had, that I continue to have. So what if Kent Titans were a glorified school team? So what if I didn’t earn anything? We were top of the league, three hundred people felt it a good use of six of their hard earned dollars to come and watch us every other week, and I was on a slow boat to Anchorage, taking in the sights. I was churlish to complain. With a new-found sense of optimism, I took my seat at the front of the coach for the six hour drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks. If the scenery from the boat had been wonderful, this was unreal. We followed the Parks Highway and were soon climbing over the Hatcher Pass. On one side of us the land dropped away into the Susitna River canyon whilst on the other side jagged, imperious crags rose above the road. The road was almost impassable in places and our driver, a local Alaskan we’d hired for his expertise told us we were lucky to be able to traverse the pass at all, as it was usually closed for all but a few months in the summer. Eventually we reached Fairbanks, which was a moderately sized little town despite being the state’s second-largest. A night in a cheap but comfortable motel saw the squad wake and breakfast in high spirits. This continued into the game itself. We completely dominated the home side, who seemed to have nothing in their arsenal other than a series of wild tackles which saw them receive a spate of bookings. With five minutes of the first half remaining debutant Chris Webb whipped in a dangerous cross, which was controlled superbly and fired into the net by Neil Krause. The reckless fouling by the Freeze saw them reduced to ten men an hour in, and Morán bagged his tenth goal of the season when he turned on the shoulder of a Freeze defender, powered into the box and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net. It had been a tremendous performance and I made a point of shaking the hand of each and every one of my players as they walked off the pitch, strutting like peacocks in mating season. As we clambered back onto the coach, showered, fresh and excitable I pondered the irony that it was this trip – two and a half solid days of travelling there and the same back – which had caused this upsurge in my mood, despite the travelling being the thing which had been causing me to doubt the wisdom of my move to the States, and the viability of the league as a whole. We were going places, this team and I, and I swore to myself to enjoy every step of the journey.
  9. CHAPTER TWO The house the club had rented for me was no great shakes, but I wasn’t complaining. I was hardly Sir Alex come to lead the town of Kent to footballing supremacy was I? It was typically American though, at least my idea of American. Built of wood with a little patio running along the front, it stood on its own little patch of land, shaded from my neighbours by two small stands of trees. The back was a modest sized patch of grass, and the front had a slab of concrete which served as a drive. Sat on that slab was my car, also kindly provided by the Kent Titans. I had been thinking about a car on the flight over, and had dreamed of something quintessentially American, like a Lincoln Town Car. Instead they’d provided me with a second-hand Honda. It got me about, so it served its purpose. That morning I was driving up to Seattle to have a look at a coach which would become our team bus. They were all quite expensive, as you’d expect, but I’d argued successfully that the team had been spending so much on renting for our jaunts around this massive nation that it would save us in the long run to purchase our own. Why I was going to look at it I had no idea, I knew nothing about any form of automotive transport whatsoever. I certainly wasn’t going to take a bloody great thing like that for a test drive. Instead I’d content myself with kicking the wheels and rubbing my chin in thought. If the price was right, I’d have it. I’d had by heart set on one of those traditional American school buses. You know, those yellow things which Bart Simpson rides to school in and from the rear window of which Napoleon Dynamite dangles his action figures. This had been swiftly rebuked by almost everyone I’d mentioned it to. Not made for interstate travel they’d said, damn their bones. Instead I was off to look at a coach described on the website I’d found it on as a ‘classic European tourer’, which was as far from my desire for Americana as you could get. The wind was blowing hard as I eased myself onto the cold vinyl seats of my Honda and set off to the depot where our potential new purchase awaited me. Before I’d even driven a block my stomach started to rumble. I’m not the most domesticated of men, and I never really have anything in the fridge, so I started looking around for somewhere I could break my fast. There was no specific time for me to turn up and view this coach, so I could eat at my leisure. That was one thing about this job; there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do. I was basically managing a Sunday league side, as the vast bulk of my squad were at school all day. I’d like to have signed up the more senior players on full-time contracts – part-time at the very least, but there was no way that was going to happen, so my days were pretty much my own. Spotting a likely looking roadside diner, I pulled up into the gravel lot. It was a wonderful looking place, a shiny silver tube of a building. It looked like a 1960s version of the future. Inside was just as attractive. One side had a counter running its entire length, behind which to harried looking waitresses rushed around keeping up with the breakfast rush. I say rush, but the place was only half full. Still, the waitresses were rushing around flustered, so either half full was a good day or they were just bad at their job. Opposite the counter were a series of booths, and I slid into one and watched the world go by through the window. I’ve not yet got to grips with ordering food in America. To me it’s too much like an interrogation. Where I come from it only takes three words to get exactly what I want – ‘Full English please’, here everything is more of a hassle. I read somewhere that three options is the optimum number, any more and the human brain can’t process it. Perhaps that’s why psychoanalysis is so popular here. I plumped for blueberry pancakes, it seemed a nice American option and the bacon here isn’t worth a damn. My waitress poured me a coffee and I pondered the forthcoming season. Our first tie was only three days away, another trip down to Longview, scene of my first game as a manager and also my first defeat. We were in far better shape than we had been then, with the addition of the senior players and some of the more talented kids. Our form was second to none, and we’d added another skilful veteran to our roster. Jeff Derren had been playing in Massachusetts, but had come way out west to join us. He was another one of scout Palmers superb findings, having played professionally in Denmark but still willing to play amateur football in the 8th tier of American soccer, and for free to boot. I was beginning to wonder whether Mr Palmer was a talented scout, or just an excellent blackmailer. There was one black cloud on the horizon, and one of my own making. When I’d registered the squad for the Northwest Soccer Conference I hadn’t quite got it right. I can’t be blamed – well I can, I’m the boss, but you know what I mean – I had more than sixty fourteen and fifteen year olds all running around, kicking the ball, shouting and laughing. It had been very hard to make the decision on who to register for the season. Admittedly with a squad size of forty I shouldn’t have missed any of the more talented youngsters, but I did. As my coaching staff and I had slowly began to pick out those with talent to match their enthusiasm it was sadly too late, so there would be some gifted players in my squad not getting the game time they deserve. I justified it to myself by saying they’d be fresh for the cup games, and with the world put to rights tucked into my pile of pancakes with gusto. My reverie was broken when a scruffy looking chap burst into the diner. He shouted ‘this is a stick up, nobody moves!’ Despite the fellow sounding like a bad movie nobody did. Possibly on account of the unfeasibly large handgun he was brandishing wildly. I’m no expert on firearms – although I did try clay pigeon shooting with the Boy Scouts in my teens – but his pistol was huge, silver and scary. I was pretty sure it could do some damage. I may sound a bit flippant recounting the story after the fact, but believe me, I was terrified. The forkful of pancake in my mouth suddenly turned to ash, I couldn’t swallow it, but perversely some bizarre sense of decorum prevented me from letting it just fall out onto my plate. Scientists talk about the fight or flight reflex; I didn’t feel like either, I just added a third ‘f’ to the list: Freeze. At the same time my mouth became as dry as the Mojave, my bowels turned to water. The body is a strange thing eh? Anyway, this guy marched straight over to the counter and stuck his massive weapon right under the nose of the waitress manning the register. Fair play to her she seemed to be taking it better than I was, maybe this was a regular occurrence. How was I to know? Calm as you like she just opened the register, grabbed a handful of bills (funny how quickly living in America causes you to begin bastardising the Queen’s English. If I ever say Howdy shoot me) and slid them across the counter. The bandit snatched them up and stuffed them in his pocket, then spun round wild-eyed to survey the room. He clearly wasn’t a professional stick-up man, he couldn’t have taken more than a couple of hundred dollars from the register, and I hoped and prayed he’d just take off. He was quite a tall chap, with a shock of dirty blonde hair. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but he looked a lot like a homeless version of Nick Nolte. He had the look of a man in a panic, which made us two of a kind really, and he seemed unsure of what action to take next. His mind was made up as the high pitched shriek of sirens grew louder as the cavalry approached. I was rapidly regaining my composure even as I realised my situation had now gone from bad to worse. What had started as a common or garden stick –up looked like developing into a full blown hostage situation. I had no idea how these things usually ended up, but Ruby Ridge and Waco were the first words to enter my mind. Our captor seemed to realise things were going terribly wrong as well. He strode to the window and leaned over me to look outside. I could smell cigarettes, whiskey and fear on him. I knew his hand was shaking as I could hear the rat-a-tat-tat of the gun in his hand as he leaned on the plate glass to try and catch a view of the police. I thought about being a hero, trying to talk him into surrendering. I thought about how much good publicity it would bring to the club, and the boost it could give our attendances. I didn’t think any of that really of course, I just tried to make myself as small and insignificant as possible in the hope that the gunman wouldn’t see me as a person, but as a piece of the furniture. I didn’t want to be marched out acting as a human shield with cold steel pressed against my neck from behind and a platoon of trigger-happy lawmen in front. I watched as a single patrol car pulled up into the parking lot, and two beautifully attired officers of the law took their own sweet time climbing out, only to stand in front of their car, one of them talking on the radio, presumably asking for a SWAT team for immediate back-up. I’d imagined them diving behind their car, shotguns and pistols trained on the gunman, and due to his presence leaning all over me, at myself as well. Funnily, the calmness of the two police officers seemed to the gunman. His gun stopped beating a tattoo on the window as his hand stopped shaking, and he stood up and ran his hands through his hair. I was watching him out of the corner of my eye, still trying to be invisible. The robber seemed less scary now, somehow. He held his gun limply at his side. You could have heard a pin drop in the place I promise you, and the tension in the air was palpable as the deflated gunman walked steadily to the door. ‘He’s giving up’ I thought to myself, but he stopped and paused at the door, then looked back. By now all eyes in the restaurant were on him, waiting for his next move. Then the most bizarre thing happened. He looked around at every one of the patrons, as if trying to memorise every pimple and blemish on our faces. “Sorry” he said, before walking out of the door. Immediately everyone in the diner rushed to the windows in order to see the outcome. I watched as the two policemen drew their pistols and levelled them at the crook. He’d walked to about ten feet away from them, and was just stood there, gun hand still limp at his side. The plate glass of the diner’s windows blocked out the exact words, but the policemen were obviously screaming at him to drop his weapon. Silently I willed him to do the same. Instead, he slowly raised his gun to aim at the cops. ‘You bloody fool,’ I thought, ‘they’ll shoot…’ And so they did. Two loud reports and the gunman dropped to the ground like a stone. The police advanced on him, never once taking their guns off him. It was unnecessary, I was sure he was dead. “Suicide by cop,” said someone at the far end of the restaurant. I breathed out for what felt like the first time in an age. My head swam, and I held my head in my hands. Some of the diners were making their way outside for a better look. Incredibly, some resumed their meals. Me? I put my head between my legs and spewed by pancakes and coffee all over my shoes.
  10. wesleysonck


    It had to be said, life was treating me very well. The weather could have been better, to be fair. Wind, rain, hail, sleet, I’d seen it all since crossing the pond, but this was Seattle, a gnats nose-hair from the frozen wastes of Canada. I’d been lured over by the American Dream, well – someone else’s American Dream. Since Soccer impresario Mike Magnum had seemingly overnight revamped the league structure of Football in North America, European chaps like myself had been streaming across the Atlantic to get involved in Soccer’s Yankee boom. It was like the California Gold Rush of the 1850s, just without the disease and warfare. Some big names had come over, but expectations were high. Down in Arizona Henning Berg was under immense pressure despite just four months in the job. On the Atlantic seaboard Argentine Ricardo La Volpe was struggling with Buffalo despite a wealth of experience in Latin American football and Le God himself, Eric Cantona, was propping up the MLS with the New York Cosmos. Like the California Gold Rush some were making it big, whilst others stood to lose their shirts. And me? I hadn’t exactly aimed high. With no real experience of management other than the succession of bawlers, thugs and crooks that had masqueraded as coaches at the clubs I’d played for I didn’t have the strongest CV. I’d made a few desultory enquiries, and had been thrilled to be approached by Kent Titans. Admittedly there were a few drawbacks. They were an amateur club with a playing staff of zero, $3000 dollars in the bank and I wouldn’t be paid. Despite all that it was better than Loose Women and freelance scouting for Doncaster, so I hopped on the plane and took a chance. I didn’t know much about the area I was moving to, but wasn’t too bothered. It was America after all, the land of the free and the home of the brave. I was told Kent was near Seattle, and when I thought of the Pacific Northwest I thought of Frasier, Starbucks and Boeing. I didn’t need to be asked twice, I was in. The club would cover my expenses, and that would do to begin with. I’d either create a team from the ground up, build a legacy and all that good stuff, or I’d win a bit and attract the attention of a club with enough in the coffers to offer a salary. Worst case scenario, I’d wind up back in Blighty sending hopeful letters to a string of lower-league clubs, boasting about my ‘managerial experience’ in the States. So I flew out and started work. There was literally nothing to work with. We played in a stadium belonging to Kent-Meridian High School, and used their facilities. Aha, says I, that seems like a good place to start. With the other fifteen clubs in my division (The Northwest Soccer Conference) also starting out from scratch I had no idea what sort of opposition we’d be facing, so picking a load of fourteen and fifteen year old lads to fill my squad didn’t seem like too much of a problem – I assumed everyone else would be doing the same. I held trials, sought out anyone with even the vaguest interest in kicking a football. The Seattle Sounders had been playing in the MLS for a couple of seasons by this point, and thankfully it had created a bit of interest in the sport. After a week or so I had a group of nineteen lads who would be the founding fathers of Kent Titans. I’m not going to tell you any lies though, they weren’t the most talented bunch I’d ever come across. I had one kid, Manuel Mejía who was a decent little goalkeeper. I’d always thought that would be the easiest position to full in a land where the three main sports involve getting hands-on with the balls. Curiously, a few days after we’d started training a young lad called Greg Álvarez just stopped turning up. Initially I just thought he’d gotten bored, didn’t fancy Soccer, found himself a girlfriend or any one of a number of mundane reasons for quitting. Turns out he’d signed for Garden Grove Boomers, a Californian side at the same level as the Titans. To say I was astonished was an understatement. To move all that way just to play football for a different amateur team, and him only fourteen years old? His whole family must have relocated. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t even try; instead I just cast my own net a little wider. Of course I didn’t try and recruit anyone from California, but I certainly got around. Renton, Seattle, Auburn, Bremerton, Tacoma, Federal Way, there was hardly a High School within 100 miles I didn’t go to with a big smile, a PowerPoint presentation and a clipboard. It worked a treat too, with some proper little gems unearthed. In Auburn I found a young man called Greg Vicars, fourteen years old and six foot two inches. That’s something I’ve noticed since coming over here, the children are huge, and I mean upwards, not round the middle courtesy of MacDonalds. I’m no midget, but a lot of these kids tower over me. Pick of the bunch was Paolo Guiotto. He was six foot three (told you) and proud owner of a useful right foot. Powerful and pacy, he was admittedly lacking in the technical department, but they all were really. I didn’t really expect any different in a nation where the main sports are Rounders, Armoured Rugby and Netball for giants. My squad was looking in decent shape I thought, and a couple of friendlies saw use lose 4-0 to Kitsap Pumas from nearby Bremerton, and beat Tacoma Tide 3-1 away. That was a good win I can tell you, as the Tide played in the USL PRO West league, a full five rungs above us on Americas brand new league ladder. Around came our first competitive fixture, in the Evergreen Cup, a tournament for Washingtonian teams. Our opponents were Longview Volcanoes, an outfit in the same league as us. I was optimistic after beating the Tide, but we went and lost 2-0. Can’t say I was impressed, but their players were all a couple of years older than ours. I began to have concerns about the forthcoming season, but then a new influx of talent came my way, and I had our Scout, Mr Jordan Palmer to thank. Jordan had been at the club when I first arrived, and in fact I was the last member of the coaching staff to turn up. Jordan was an affable Californian from Huntingdon Park with absolutely no experience in football whatsoever. To be quite honest with you, I’d never met him and our only contact had been through email and the occasional phone call. Half the time I didn’t even know where he was. He could have been on a Californian beach or in a New York bar for all I cared, because he really did an excellent job. I should probably explain the fixtures schedule before I continue, in order for you to properly appreciate what an effect on our fortunes the work Jordan Palmer did for the club. I’ve mentioned the Evergreen Cup, which we were knocked out of. This took place in mid-February, and our next competitive fixture was scheduled for mid-March, in the North American Open Cup. This competition consisted of an opening group stage featuring eight teams. We’d play four at home and three away. The travelling distances were huge, with our three away games each taking place on the other side of the continent. Our chairman, one Andrew Moore, was an avuncular Washingtonian with deep pockets but short arms. He was not the most demanding fellow, so our ambitions were not high. However, I’d not factored in the Jordan Effect. Towards the end of February I started getting phone calls from him, incredibly brief phone calls such as “Jonatan Morán arriving tomorrow, striker, good player.” The next day I meet Jonatan, and rather than some kid from a suburb of Seattle it turns out he was an Argentinian ex-professional who’d until recently been playing for a second-tier Mexican outfit. Quick as a flash he was signed up. That wasn’t the end however. Over the next three weeks we saw the arrival of a seemingly endless string of talent. Next was the striker Neil Krause, a 29 year-old semi-professional from Boston. Ex-Seattle Sounders winger John Fishbaugher became a Titan, Canadian youth international Cristian Nuñez arrived in Kent having been released by his last club, Montreal Impact of the MLS. Right back Adrian Chevannes looked like a quality player too, despite not having played professionally despite being twenty-three. As well as these seasoned ex-professionals we had an influx of untried teenagers oozing potential, as scouted by the talented Mr Palmer. Canadian goalkeeper Adam Gauss, centre-back Lewis White and defensive midfielder Zach Melo among many others came to our little corner of Washington to help us live our dream. Ontario, Nevada, South Dakota… Was there anywhere my wonderful scout hadn’t been seeking talent? I swear I felt like Kevin Costner – except they were coming and we hadn’t even built it, just borrowed it from the local high school. We then began the serious business of the North American Open Cup. A journey of forty hours in a rented coach took us to North Bay, Ontario where we drew 1-1, our goal coming from an own-goal and theirs from a last minute equaliser. It wasn’t all sweetness and light though. Seventy-five minutes into his debut our ex-Sounders man Fishbaugher ruptured his hamstring, so we said goodbye to him for two months. Next up the Dothan Dodgers visited us from Alabama. It finished 1-0 to us, with the winning goal coming from fifteen year old centre-back Mark Suckling. Seven days later and Garden Grove Boomers travelled north to Washington. We swept them aside imperiously, scoring three goals with no reply. The Kent youngster Alvarez who had chosen to move to California instead of joining us was an unused substitute, so it was not a very enjoyable trip home for him. Another week and another forty hour coach journey, this time to Cleveland, Ohio to play the Cleveland Stokers. This one finished goalless, and the lads were clearly looking fatigued. The schedule in this competition is punishing, but our players went from strength to strength. The next weekend Arkansas side Pine Bluff Steel came to Kent and went home 2-0 losers. Our last away fixture was the worst of the lot, an epic 3,000 mile journey to New Hampshire to play the Manchester Mavericks. You’d think that 50 hour coach journeys would result in atrophied muscles and deep-vein thrombosis, but don’t believe a word of it. We set of for the 3,000 mile journey home with a 3-0 win in our pocket, and qualification secured. For the final group game we hosted Fargo, from North Dakota. My knowledge of that town comes entirely from the Cohen Brothers movie, and I so badly wanted them to be coached by Steve Buscemi, but of course I was disappointed. Chatting with their manager I did learn that their stadium is called the Fargodome, which is quite possibly the most awesome name for a sporting venue I can think of. Only works if your team is from Fargo of course… Despite being a dead rubber my players were immense, and we chalked up another 3-0 win. We were unbeaten in our group, confidence was high and the experienced players were helping the youngsters through the matches. There was more good news when we received a home draw for the next round of the North American Open Cup. With the travelling distances being what they are I was dreading a trip to the Florida Keys or some other far flung corner of the Atlantic Seaboard. As it was we would host the High Point Quakers from North Carolina. This was important as the regular league season was due to begin so the cup games would now take place mid-week. Whoever thought making amateur sides travel across a continent for ninety minutes of football on a weeknight was a good idea wants dragging out and shooting to be perfectly frank, but the prize money was delicious. We’d earned five thousand dollars for each win in the group stage, and would earn another ten grand if we could beat the Quakers. Cap in hand I went to the chairman and got the green light to invest in our very own team bus. I never for a minute thought a shopping trip for our very own set of wheels would be my introduction to the darker side of American life…
  11. You know you're reading an enjoyable thread when you get to the bottom and think 'aw, no more updates!' KUTGW
  12. Nobby, the man is paying me £950,000 a year... He can't be that bad surely!! POST SEASON REVIEW Dear Mr Moxey, And so our season ends, not with a bang but a whimper.Despite my best efforts it seems that once Premier League football was securedfor next season the players just switched off, although injuries certainly hada mitigating factor. We finished the season with 37 year old Craddock incentral defence, right back Ronald Zubar at left back and the walking woundedelsewhere. To be honest with you the end of the season has come as a bigrelief, and I look forward to a summer of restructuring in order to push onnext season, and aim to improve on this season’s thirteenth place finish. Beloware the results from the final matches of the season. WOLVES 2 Jarvis (23), Altintop (79) NEWCASTLE 1 Edwards (50) Attendance 26,995 STOKE 4 Etherington (13), Arismendi (36), Crouch (63),Walters (90) WOLVES 2 Ebanks-Blake (37, 82) WOLVES 0 NORWICH 0 Attendance 26,600 WIGAN 1 Rodallega (83) WOLVES 2 Craddock (7), Fletcher (81) WOLVES 1 Williams (own goal 29) Henry sent off (39) SWANSEA 3 Whelan (34), Dyer (45), Sinclair (72) Taylor sentoff (49) Attendance 26,995 QPR 5 Wright-Phillips (3), Campbell (44), Taarabt(49), Smith(79), Hennessey (og 90) WOLVES 3 Fletcher (29, 71), Hunt (81) MAN CITY 3 Milner (32), Agüero (42, 68) WOLVES 0 The restructuring of the squad will begin with thedepartures of Jody Craddock, Carl Ikeme, Scott Malone, John Dunleavy, JamieReckord, Ashley Hemmings, Jake Cassidy, James Spray and Louis Harris. The onlyone of these departures to have any real effect on the first team is that ofIkeme. With Hennessey first choice, and with the imminent arrival of Joe Lewisas back-up it remains to be seen whether we have sufficient quality in theyouth team to provide a third-choice keeper or whether a signing will berequired. Early transfer business sees the signing of sixteen year oldItalian Carlo Russo from Varese. It is very hard not to get excited about youngRusso, and I believe he will go on to become a real star. Although reasonablyexpensive at £750,000 I believe it will be money well spent. Elsewhere in the squad I believe some of our establishedplayers should be moved on. Jamie O’Hara disappointed with his form during thelatter half of the season, and the fractures skull suffered by Kevin Doyleseems to have had a real negative impact on his game. Stephen Hunt also seemsto have lost some of his ability towards the end of the season, and found hisplace in the starting line-up taken by Matt Jarvis. At thirty years of age itmay be an opportune time to cash in on him before he deteriorates any further.Of course, any attempts to sell these players will depend on the availabilityof quality replacements. The preliminary budgets allotted to me are very generous,and I cannot foresee a situation in which it will be necessary to spent all ofthe £40 million you have set aside for player purchases. Of course I will keepyou informed of any movements in the transfer market.
  13. Dear Mr. Moxey, March has shown us what a confidence game football can sometimes be. The month started with that humbling defeat to runaway league leaders Tottenham, and despite an improved performance in our next game against Arsenal an eighth straight defeat meant morale was rock bottom around the club. A team meeting did little to help matters, with many of the squad expressing dissatisfaction, but an own-goal and a fourth minute sending off gave us a win in a tight derby game against Villa and for the remaining two matches of the month we didn’t look back. Discipline still seems to be an issue in the squad, but I honestly believe referees are targeting our players merely because of who they play for. TOTTENHAM 5 Adebayor (37, 53) Huddlestone (68) Corluka (77) Pavlyuchenko (85) WOLVES 0 WOLVES 0 ARSENAL 2 Gervinho (12), van Persie (90) Attendance 26,649 ASTON VILLA 0 Hutton sent off (5) WOLVES 1 Collins (og 68) WOLVES 2 Fletcher (10), Jarvis (79), Ward sent off (1) WEST BROM 0 Attendance 26,995 SUNDERLAND 0 WOLVES 2 Kightly (12), Edwards (68) O’Hara sent off (55) Injuries and suspensions continue to ravage the squad. As I sit and write this report on the first of April we currently have seven first team players unavailable, including our best three stikers following Steven Fletcher’s thigh strain in the game against West Brom. In order to bolster the squad somewhat we have managed to make something of a coup in the transfer market, bringing in Turkish international and former Bayern, Schalke and Real Madrid player Hamit Altintop following his release by the Spanish side. Hefty wage demands threatened to derail the negotiations, but I am delighted to have secured his signature. He brings a wealth of experience which will help to settle our shaky squad, and he had a fine debut in the game against Sunderland. On a less salubrious note there has been something of a breakdown in the relationship between myself and Adam Hammill. He came to my office making assertive demands for first team football and I put my foot down. He is a talented youngster and is seeing plenty of playing time, if only as a substitute. Unfortunately things became heated and the following day he handed in a transfer request, which I accepted. He was immediately sent to train with the reserves, but maintained his position in the match day squad. I hope to salvage our relationship due to his potential, but I cannot let players dictate team selection, no matter how talented they are. In other transfer news we have secured the signing of Peterborough’s young goalkeeper Joe Lewis. Despite only being 23 years of age Joe has made 218 first team appearances, and has a wealth of experience in the lower leagues. With Carl Ikame unwilling to sign a new contract with us and set to leave in the summer I feel Joe will be an excellent understudy to Hennessy, and a more than able deputy should he be called in to action. So a month which began with a sound thrashing has ended with a real air of optimism around the club, something I have not noticed since Christmas. I think our revival couldn’t have come at a better time, as the home tie against Arsenal was the first time we had failed to sell out Molineux in a very long time, a sure indicator that the fans were beginning to turn. With 37 points on the board we are very close to securing our Premier League status for next season, and 11th place is a marked difference from where we stood at the end of last month, where only goal difference was keeping us out of the relegation zone. I wish to thank you for sticking by me during what was undoubtedly a terrible run for the club, and I am sure you had doubts about whether you had appointed the right man for the job. I can assure you that even in the midst of that dark period I had no doubts about my own ability to do an excellent job for Wolves, and I continue to both cement a decent finish to this season whilst planning for the next with vigour and confidence. Thank you once again for your faith.
  14. FEBRUARY Dear Mr Moxey, Another incredibly difficult month, which unfortunately saw us fail to secure even a single point. I am sure you are bitterly disappointed, as am I, but allow me to highlight some of the reasons for the four defeats. The match against Blackburn was a poor performance, but Scott Dann’s goal on the stoke of half time, immediately after we’d equalised really threw the team, and despite a workmanlike performance in the second half we didn’t do enough to secure a result. The Everton game saw us lose to two penalties, and was a good team performance. We were looking good for an away point but indiscipline cost us dear yet again. The same was true of the home tie against Bolton, a game we dominated. We would surely have won but for Ronald Zubar’s early sending off. I imposed the maximum fine after the game. This lack of self-control among the players is costing us points, and it cannot be tolerated. The final game of the month was another reasonable performance which was not matched by the result, and serious injuries to both Roger Johnson and Paul Dixon will rule them out for the remainder of the season. BLACKBURN 3 Dunn (22), Dann (45), Hoilett (79) WOLVES 1 Ebanks Blake (44) EVERTON 2 Cahill (pen 57, pen 87) WOLVES 1 Ward (82) WOLVES 0 Zubar sent off (18) BOLTON 1 Cahill (50) Attendance 26,995 WOLVES 0 LIVERPOOL 2 Kuyt (21), Suárez (90) Attendance 26,995 In other news from around the squad, George Elokobi won the Bundesliga Player of the Week during the month, and considering the injury to Dixon I have to question the wisdom of my predecessor in letting him move without a clause allowing us to recall him. Adlène Guédioura was selected to start in the final of the African Cup of Nations, but unfortunately his Algeria side lost narrowly to Ghana 1-0. It is nice to see Wolves players on the big international stages however. An attempt was made to sign ex-German international Arne Friedrich following the expiration of his contract with Wolfsburg. A generous package was offered, but the played instead elected to join Swiss side Sion. Perhaps it was the rigours of the Premiership which dissuaded him from joining us, and he would rather see out his latter years in the relative calm of the Swiss leagues, but whatever the reason I was disappointed as he would surely have added steel to our back line, especially in light of the injury to Johnson. We have five games in March, starting with ties against Tottenham and Arsenal. Given the current form I think we must look at these games with trepidation, but rest assured I will be implementing some tactical changes in order to shore us up at the back whilst making us more incisive up front. These are followed by midlands derbies against Aston Villa and West Brom, games for which the players will need no motivating. We round off the season with a visit to Sunderland, where the players will meet with their former manager. It will be hoped they can show him what he turned his back on. I am reluctant to talk about relegation battles, especially after my ebullient words in the first of these reports I wrote to you, but I think it needs to be addressed. It is looking like being a battle to avoid the 18th position. With Sunderland and Swansea adrift at the bottom with 17 points, it is the group above them, comprising of Newcastle, Aston Villa, Bolton, QPR, Norwich, Fulham and ourselves who will be duelling to avoid that last relegation place. With all seven of that group on between thirty and twenty-seven points the margins are very fine indeed. With only three points separating relegation with a mid-table finish our season could turn around quickly with a few good results. It has been customary for me to end these reports with a points target I have set the players. With no league wins since Boxing Day I think the focus must change, and picking up any points will be a marked improvement. Five defeats in a row is just not good enough Mr Moxey, and I want you to know that my staff and I are well aware of this and will not rest until we have remedied the situation.
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