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EvilDave

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  1. Also, I haven't touched FM in a while, and yet this has already got me thinking up new ideas...
  2. Sorry for being late to the party again - working for a church will do that on a Sunday! - and thank you @mark wilson27 for a fine ceremony and for all the hard work that goes into making this happen. Seven straight Builder's Awards is testament to the sterling work that you do, and it's fully deserved! Well done @Tikka Mezzala and @Rien102 on your gongs - you've brought new life and great work to FMS, and I look forward to reading more of your stories in the future. It's great to see awards in new hands, especially ones as gifted as yours! And huge congratulations to @CFuller - you've cemented yourself as one of the all-time FMS greats with this haul, and it's easy to see why. I know it's been a tough year for you, and so for multiple long-running stories to maintain their excellence is no mean feat. I'm thrilled to share Writer of the Year with you - especially as a fellow Gooner! Finally, thanks to all who voted, took part, read and wrote. I may not have been as active in these parts over the past year, but FMS is always somewhere I find myself coming back to, and is one of the best online communities I've come across. To be recognised at these awards is a genuine honour, and I look forward to reading what you guys have in store for 2020!
  3. Votes sent and claimed - apologies for cutting this so fine! I've not been around as much lately, but I wouldn't want to miss celebrating the great work that goes on here. Thanks Mark for sorting all this out, and I look forward to catching up at the ceremony!
  4. That is, of course, the end of the Hudsons' tale - thanks for reading along!
  5. @Mandy42, your timing is impeccable. __ Thirteen It had been the greatest single performance of Scunthorpe United’s season. Luton had started the game well enough, having the better of the opening exchanges and seeing an early Nathan Goldsmith strike ruled out, perhaps harshly, for offside. However, three minutes later Adrian Dowridge threaded the ball between the goalkeeper and his near post against the run of play, and Sam Hudson’s Iron never looked back. The ever-dangerous Levitt struck his 29th goal of the season on the stroke of half-time with a fine half-volley, and with the score at 2-0 at the interval, Luton’s spirits were crushed. Levitt made it a round 30 10 minutes into the second half, before an own goal from a Luton full-back with 67 minutes on the clock rubbed salt in the Hatters’ wounds. After a trio of substitutions took some of the sting out of the game, Scunthorpe continued to press. Young winger Curtis Wyles tapped in at the far post for just his second goal for the club, and then with three minutes remaining, Levitt claimed the match ball by slipping a shot through the goalkeeper’s legs. 6-0 was the full-time score, and with the Luton stands all but empty, it was left to the Iron faithful to sing the praises of their players and manager. For that manager, this was the moment of redemption. After being forced out of QPR under a cloud, he had taken a significant step down to take the reins at Glanford Park after 18 months out of the game. A flying start had been followed by some shaky midseason form, but a strong end to the campaign and three superb playoff performances had earned Scunthorpe a place in next year’s Championship, and their manager a place back on the list of rising stars of the English game. After the celebrations had finally died down, that same rising star insisted on returning to Scunthorpe that evening. His players could look after themselves after all, and he needed to be back home – with his wife. The realisation that he had come to after the second leg of the semi-final continued to ring true in his mind, and a night of revelry with his squad was not going to accelerate the process. He would not be back in North Lincolnshire until after 9pm and the taxi was expensive, but the alternative was to wait until the following morning, and it didn’t bear thinking about. Jo hadn’t travelled for the match – she couldn’t have coped with the tension – and wouldn’t be expecting him until the following morning. Surprise would be an excellent opening gambit. … “Guess who’s home?” Sam came crashing through the front door with the energy and grace of a hyperactive child. The taxi driver had been all too happy to oblige his well-paying passenger and stop off for refreshment before leaving the Wembley area, and Sam had indeed partaken of a celebratory drink or several – partly to calm his nerves, partly out of habit. His wife, watching at home on Sky Sports, had done the same, and was startled by the door opening with such force. “The **** are you doing here?” “That’s no way to treat a Championship manager of a husband is it? Come on, let’s celebrate!” In his urgency to be with his wife, Sam exuberantly kicked over two or three of the bottles that had made their way into the doorway – a barely touched bottle of Austrian rum, half a bottle of brandy, one of Sam’s many Lagavulins. The contents poured over the stained living room carpet, but neither was paying any attention to that. “Calm down you stupid ****, I can barely hear myself think!” “What is there to think about? We’re going to the big time!” “Big time? How much are they going to pay you then? Is it going to get to the ****ing Premier League? We’ll still be in this ****ing cesspit!” Sam stood, mouth open as Jo turned her head back to the rerun of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on the television – a rerun he was sure he had seen not all that long ago. Angry at her lack of interest, he stubbed his cigarette out against the doorframe, dropped it on the floor and immediately lit a new one. Stepping over the sodden carpet, he instead positioned himself between the television and his wife. “What’s the matter Jo? What is it? Can’t we share joy anymore? Can we not be happy?” Jo stood up, her eyes burning with anger at her husband’s challenge. She knocked her ashtray off the arm of the sofa as she did so, clutching her glass of wine tightly in her left hand. Breathing heavily, she leaned in towards him. “Happy? Joy? Look at us! Do it!” Sam did as instructed – taking in the stained grey carpet, the cigarette burns on the wall, and the bottles littering the room. In his mind’s eye, he saw the rotting banister, the bombsite of a kitchen, the hallway that resembled a recycling bank. He looked back into his wife’s eyes. “There’s nothing here, Sam. We’ve got nothing. If I smash this glass, we’re no worse. If you manage in the ****ing Premier League, we’re no better. We’re in Scunthorpe, we’re drinking ourselves to death, and there’s no ****ing point to any of it.” “Jo…” “No Sam, I don’t lo…” Before she could utter another word, Sam locked eyes with his wife and kissed her deeply and passionately. After a half second of resistance, she gave in to his embrace, a smoky spark of something long forgotten flicking between them once more. Sam dropped his cigarette to the floor as the two clawed at one another, and only with some force did Jo gaspingly manage to break free and attempt her sentence a second time. “Sam… I don’t… love you… anymore.” Sam stood for a moment, stunned into silence. The walls of the house seemed to swirl around him as the words struck him square in the face, again and again. A second cigarette, freshly lit, dropped to the ground like its predecessor, and instead of lighting a third, he swiftly snatched the wine glass from his wife’s hand. As she started with surprise, he smashed the glass against the wall, withdrawing it as if to strike. Jo’s voice, strong but with a hint of trembling, stalled the next move. “What would I do if I didn’t have you?” This time Jo initiated, and the two were once more locked together. Before long they were pawing at one another on the floor, bottles rolling against each another as they took over the living room. Their passion was angry, aggressive, bordering on violent – as they attempted to rekindle their flame in the most primal way they knew, there would be cuts, scratches and even bites. So involved were they in their carnal combat, that neither of them noticed the change in the smell that dominated the house. Once stale smoke, the prevailing sensation was one of burning, and the first cigarette Sam had dropped came into contact with the alcohol-soaked carpet. The second had not helped matters, catching the bottom of one of the armchairs, and as the Hudsons lie locked in their vicious, passionate struggle, the flames began to grow and spread – both armchairs were soon consumed, and as the earlier spillage gave the blaze an easy passage to the staircase, the old rotten wood offered a quick route to the rest of the house. By the time Sam noticed – lifting his head for breath only to find it hard to come by – it was almost too late. Once he had seen the flames, the heat seemed unbearable and the air thick with smoke, and there was no clear escape route. The roaring armchairs blocked passage to the windows, while the doorway too was ablaze. Sam glanced back down at Jo, her eyes closed in a drunken blend of agony and ecstacy, then back around at the fire surrounding them. When he looked again, he saw the two crows that had become somewhat familiar to him over the last few months. He breathed as deeply as he possibly could, and returned his attentions to the writhing body of his wife.
  6. Twelve “It’s a great save from Kershaw, and that could be the last throw of the dice for Coventry. They’re out on their feet, but it’s a quick throw from the goalkeeper and Scunthorpe could settle this here. “Beeley collects it at left-back, and that’s a fine ball out to the right wing and the flying Dowridge, full of running having not long come onto the field. He goes past his man and Scunthorpe have two against one here, surely… “Yes! Dowridge rolls it across to Levitt, and the Iron’s top scorer makes no mistake with Johnson already committed. The Iron came here with an advantage from the first leg, and they’ve hammered it home here at the Ricoh Arena. It’s Coventry City 1, Scunthorpe United 2, and the Iron are going to Wembley!” It was glorious moment for the small pocket of fans clad in claret and blue, who drowned out their home counterparts in celebration. Having qualified for the League One playoffs in the final spot, Scunthorpe had upset the table with a 1-0 win over Coventry at Glanford Park. In the return leg, which concluded less than a minute after Kieron Levitt tapped into the unguarded net, Sam Hudson’s side had set themselves up perfectly on the counter – scoring early, not panicking when the hosts replied, and then striking at the death to book a place in the final. They’d go up against Luton, who had overcome Barnsley in their two-legged encounter, with a spot in the Championship at stake. Before then would be the build-up. Fans, players and staff alike would be interviewed countless times before and during the trip to Wembley, and one repeated refrain – albeit never one that passed through Sam’s own lips – was one, understandably for many of the players involved, of ‘the biggest day of our lives.’ After having a training session interrupted by yet more reporters asking his players about the biggest days of their lives, Sam retreated to his office. After reading and re-reading his notes on a Luton side that had only just missed out on automatic promotion, he lost the motivation to continue the charade. Instead, removing the battery from the smoke detector and lighting a cigarette, he allowed his mind to drift to some of his own ‘biggest days.’ There were footballing memories aplenty – his first team debut at Fulham, his first professional goal. Taking the captaincy at Crystal Palace, and joining the England squad for the first time. There were particular derby victories, wins over former clubs, particular performances that drew national acclaim. But attached to each of those memories was a second, often dominant recollection – and each one featured a prominent central character. His mind wandered to his first meeting with Jo, a less than romantic encounter outside a West London nightclub. Despite her turning the air blue in protestation, he had put her in a taxi home after finding her sat in the street with a twisted ankle, and left the taxi driver with instructions to pass his address and number on. Then to their engagement, a rushed affair at which Sam had brandished the ring to divert attention from a disagreement over the wine which threatened to tear them apart and take their fellow diners with them. There was their Jamaican honeymoon, which turned into a combination of heavy petting, heavier drinking, and weighty arguments. They had returned to London with impressive tans and stolen bath towels, both of them utterly convinced of marital bliss and yet with significant doubts over their future. When injury had forced him into a retirement he had hoped to delay for another year or two, Jo had cossetted him as best she could, but when it became apparent that he would never return to playing, the resentment grew to the point where it became outright bitterness. In truth, his move into coaching may never have happened otherwise. Latterly – before the wealth of flashpoints from even the last 12 months – there was promotion to the Premier League with QPR. It was perhaps a high point of passion between the two of them, sparks flying whenever they were in the same room, and yet that too ground to a halt with the realisation that Jo had spent a sizeable chunk of Sam’s promotion bonus on the beginnings of a wine ‘collection.’ They made terrible collectors, and even worse stewards of the remaining payment. For all the strength that brought them together, there was something even stronger, more powerful, deeply rooted, that pushed them apart. For every night of passion, there were two which ended in stony silence and cold shoulders. The fire that burned between them left little safe from danger, and it seemed to Sam that all that was left was the daily silence – TV gameshows, alcohol in growing quantities, cigarettes to match. Neither could cope without the other, but their very life together had no substance, nothing to keep it alive. At that realisation, Sam woke from his daydream, hair plastered to his forehead with sweat. It wouldn’t do. This couldn’t be all there was – here he stood, on the brink of redemption in his managerial career, and yet his marriage was barely breathing. He couldn’t stand back and let it happen. No. As soon as the playoff final reached its conclusion – for better or for worse – he would work on things with Jo. The summer would bring the ideal opportunity for the two of them to spend some real, quality time together. A holiday, that was what was needed – the best hotels, the finest wines, that would set them straight. A new house somewhere nicer, freshly decorated. They’d eat properly, know their neighbours. When he got back to Diana Street that evening to the sound of Jo’s snoring drifting down the stairs, he smiled. Everything was going to change.
  7. Eleven Scunthorpe had almost done it. Even a late howler from Lee Kershaw had not been enough to deny them a win in Swindon, and victory over the Robins meant that only every conceivable result going against them would deny the Iron a playoff spot. Andy Middleton’s thunderbolt from midfield had got things going before Kieron Levitt’s second-half brace sealed all three points, and the journey home was a lively one. At his captain’s suggestion, manager Sam Hudson had even allowed beers to be opened on the bus home, and he had enjoyed partaking in a beverage or four every bit as much as his players. On returning to Scunthorpe, Sam noticed that the town was unusually dark. It was now April, the clocks had changed, the nights were beginning to feel a little longer, and the town was coming out of hibernation. Yet despite spring having well and truly arrived in North Lincolnshire, when the bus returned from parts further south, not a single house had its lights on. It had just passed 10pm – it seemed implausible that the whole town had called it a night. “What’s going on?” Sam’s first question to his taxi driver was related to the darkness, and it was quickly explained – a power cut. Apparently the whole town had been cut off since around 1pm, and Northern Powergrid were at a loss to explain it. Burglar alarms had already run out of their emergency batteries, and it was only the streetlights that continued to function. Jo heard her husband before he came through the door, the usual hum of the television drowned out by the electrically-induced silence. Still, there was no reaction to the sound of the taxi pulling up outside their home, and she allowed him to open the conversation when he stepped through the door. “How long has this been going on?” “All afternoon. No telly, no fridge, none of the shops open. It’s ****.” “Was there anything in the fridge?” “Nothing important. I chucked some milk that wouldn’t cope, but the microwave stuff will last forever anyway. Beer will be warm.” “What are we down to?” “What do you mean?” “I mean what are we ****ing down to!” “I don’t ****ing know – go and look yourself!” Sam almost ran through to the kitchen as a realisation hit him, and it was a great deal slower that he returned to stand in the doorway. In one hand he held a bottle of gin with perhaps as little as a third remaining inside, and in the other the dregs of a bottle of long-forgotten rum. “**** all! That’s what we’ve got. Couldn’t you drag your lazy ****ing arse to a ****ing shop?” “No power, they’re all shut.” “****!” “There’s still beer in the fridge.” “That won’t last very ****ing long, will it? Well, what a ****ing state.” Sam poured himself a large measure of gin, handed the bottle to his wife, and sat down. The two of them sat in silence, facing the muted, blackened television. With no sound coming from the box on the wall, you might have expected the two Hudsons to strike up some form of conversation, but none was forthcoming. In one chair, Sam longed to talk through the match he’d just returned from – it was one of the best performances of the season from his Scunthorpe side and had almost guaranteed playoff football – but he could not find the words. He knew Jo wouldn’t care, he knew it would only descend into argument, he knew it wasn’t worth the effort. There was no point in trying. In the other, Jo wanted to talk to somebody, anybody. She had fallen back to sleep after her husband had left for Swindon, and woken shortly before noon. By the time she had dressed and eaten, the power cut had struck, and on realising that the shops were closed as a result, had been sat on her own for some eight hours. Too anxious to spend time in public, denied access to the companionship of the television, she longed for some form of human interaction. She knew Sam would be enraged by the lack of drink, absorbed in his football, buried beneath layers of resentment built up over years of denial. There was no point in trying. And so they sat. But for the short distance between their chairs, they could hardly have been any closer. Never had they been further apart.
  8. Ten Sam returned home a little later than usual from training. Chairman Graham Mallard had wanted to meet with his manager, and although the relationship between the two had deteriorated following the contract extension incident, Scunthorpe’s most recent result – a 2-0 win away at Rotherham that lifted them back into the final playoff berth – bought the man in the dugout a little bit of goodwill, and the meeting had been a cordial one. At it, the chairman had demanded to know his manager’s plans, and the latter had confirmed his intention to leave the club unless they achieved promotion – in which case he would be willing to sign a shorter extension. Mallard, knowing full well that his man harboured delusions of Premier League grandeur, was content to agree. Sam, for all the promise brought about by his blistering start, had proven a volatile leader, and if the owner was forced to recruit again in the summer, he would not begrudge parting company with his latest hire. The following day, Scunthorpe would host Bolton in another crucial clash – the Trotters were once again struggling financially and had seen points deducted, but were more than capable of throwing a spanner in the works of the sides above them in the table. It meant Sam was nervous, and Jo knew better than to ask him about the game on the eve of it. With Sam meeting the chairman, Jo had not waited for her husband’s return before eating. It was a hungry Sam that walked through the door, but on enquiring as to what he has to do about food, he was simply pointed to the kitchen, where the larger half of a ready meal would need re-heating in the microwave. The news was treated with a scowl. “Well thanks a ****ing bunch. It’s only Bolton tomorrow after all, not a big ****ing deal. Can’t imagine I’d need something to eat, would you? No, don’t worry about it.” “Sam Hudson, you lazy piece of ****! Three minutes in the microwave, and it’s too much for you. Who am I, your ****ing mother? Not that she’d know anything about cooking…” The mere mention of his mother saw Sam’s nostrils flare in anger – parents were a subject to steer clear of, and Jo immediately realised her mistake. “What did you just say?” “Nothing, I’m…” “I repeat, what did you ****ing say?” “Nothing, I said nothing. Get your tea.” From her seat in the living room, Jo heard a crash from the kitchen as Sam kicked the leg from beneath one of the two rickety wooden chairs they kept to maintain the appearance of having a dining table. Four minutes later – one more than necessary – she heard the ping of the microwave, smelled the fumes of the overcooked pasta concoction, and when Sam did not re-emerge from the kitchen – choosing to eat alone at the table rather than joining her in the front room, she simply turned her attention back to the rerun of Pointless being shown on the television. Eventually, Sam did indeed return to his usual position in the living room, sitting himself down with a notebook of tactical musings which he allowed himself to half-study whilst also fighting off the lure of sleep. His chosen method on this occasion was cigarettes, and on one occasion he was forced to react quickly to prevent his rollup setting his armchair alight, instead stubbing it out on the usual spot against the wall. Jo pretended to stifle a laugh, stood up and moved to the kitchen for another beverage. “Where the **** is my wine?” “What wine?” “You know what ****ing wine, the same wine I always have. There was another bottle in the cupboard.” “Oh, that wine. There was only half a bottle, and I had it with the pasta. Thought it’d go well.” “You did ****ing what! You don’t even drink wine, you *******!” This time it was Sam’s turn to fail to hide a smile. It was not what his wife wanted to see when she returned.
  9. Nine Jo Hudson rose from her bed at long last. For what felt like several hours already she had been tossing and turning, unable to drift off into the land of slumber. The somewhat archaic digital alarm clock on the bedside table read an unhelpful 02:88, the batteries able to maintain a correct hour while foregoing the minutes entirely. After lengthy resistance, she had finally given in to the temptation to glance at the time, and the realisation that she had failed to sleep for more than two hours already led her to give in. As she tiptoed out of the bedroom, she looked back at her husband, who was entirely oblivious to her sleeplessness. Indeed, he himself had caused it initially. Sam’s Scunthorpe side had lost in front of their own fans at Glanford Park, and the loss to fellow promotion challengers and near rivals Doncaster, their third in a row, had dropped the Iron outside the playoff positions once again – and with even less time remaining in the season. As a result, he had returned home in a foul mood. Fouler even than the away defeat to Bradford, and the pointless trip to Peterborough the week previous. On both of those occasions he had at least conversed with his wife on returning home – albeit not particularly coherently – but tonight he had not even managed that. He had burst through the door, stubbed a cigarette out against the interior wall, and then followed the cigarette with a right-handed jab that served only to send a shooting pain through the assailant’s arm. Spewing curses beneath his breath, he had retrieved a selection of spirits from the kitchen, sat down in his chair, and stayed silent. In bed he was more talkative, but only after submitting to sleep. Once he had drifted off, it was apparent that he was reliving each of his team’s defeats. Muttered expletives, occasional shouts, resigned sighs – the 90 minutes against Doncaster had been added to by others like them, and his waking nightmares were being replicated by sleeping ones. While her husband could sleep through it, Jo could not. She walked down the creaking wooden stairs of their Diana Street home, careful not to put too much weight on the section of the bannister which was clearly rotten. On reaching the ground floor, she slipped on a pair of shoes, unlocked the front door with a key discarded on the floor, and stepped out into the night. For several minutes she stood in the darkness, soaking up sounds which, in another situation, would have been unnerving – urban foxes screaming at one another as they scavenged for food, the occasional squeal of tires as a drunk driver attempted to navigate Ashby High Street, and more regularly the scratching and shrieking of a family of starlings who had made their home in the attic space of the house across the road. Jo stood, becalmed by the night, watching and listening as the two adult birds tried desperately to satisfy the needs of their young. Some time later, Jo was snapped out of her trance-like state by a knocking on the door behind her. Starting, she turned to see Sam leaning on the doorway, bottle in hand, almost leering in her direction. “What are you doing out here love?” Jo made no reply. "Come back to bed, you don’t want to be stood out here in the cold.” Again, nothing. “I’ll make it worth your while, if you know what I mean.” As Sam’s lips formed a grotesque smile, Jo sighed. All too aware of the impasse, and knowing that she had nowhere else to go, she did indeed step back into the house and, followed by an almost stumbling husband, climbed the stairs back to the bedroom. As she settled back into bed, her husband undressed in the doorway. It was not worth her while.
  10. Eight Long away trips were a problem for Sam, and Yeovil was the worst of the lot. Five hours and change on a stuffy bus, with just a single stop to stretch his legs and smoke a cigarette, and no opportunity for a proper drink. Further back on the bus his players occupied themselves with music, cards, and video games, but his role necessitated him staying out of things. Instead, his conversation was limited to tactical matters and banal small talk with his coaching staff, all the while trying to hide his desperation for something other than water. If the trip down to Somerset was difficult, the journey home was even worse. On a wet Tuesday night in March with the darkness creeping in, the Glovers had turned over a miserable Iron with three unanswered goals. Sam’s defence had all but deserted Lee Kershaw in goal, and the defeat was an emphatic one. Not only that, but combined with a win for Millwall at home to Wigan, meant that a stuttering Scunthorpe slipped to 7th place – outside of the playoff berths on goal difference. All of which meant that the atmosphere on the bus was subdued to say the least. Around three hours into the journey, Sam found himself the only man on the bus, driver aside, who had succumbed to the lure of sleep. Two rows back from the driver – the very front row reserved for various bags of equipment – and with a bus full of lifeless bodies, Sam instinctively moved his right hand to the left inside pocket of his waterproof jacket. A smile formed on his lips as he felt the familiar shape of his hip flask behind the lining. The last couple of hours passed rather more quickly. By the time he stepped off the bus at Glanford Park, Sam’s mood had lightened at a similar pace to the hip flask. With the rain bouncing off the tarmac of the car park in the small hours of the morning, he perhaps wisely chose to take a taxi back to Diana Street. That cut his journey from 50 minutes to little more than 10, and for once he was looking forward to little more than joining his wife in bed. His wife was not in bed. Instead, Jo was sat by the kitchen table, roll of tissue paper by her side and whimpering noises coming from her lips. As she heard the front door open, she turned and addressed her husband. “Where the **** have you been?” “The arse end of nowhere, that’s where. What the hell has happened here?” Jo removed her tissue-covered left hand from her shin, and Sam recoiled in shock. Before he had chance to question what he was seeing, Jo filled him in. “****ing tripped didn’t I? Right onto a sodding bottle. Hurts like a *******.” “Shouldn’t you be at the hospital?” “And how the hell was I going to get there?” “Well I can hardly drive you there, can I? There’s a taxi outside, come on.” Sam draped Jo’s arm around his neck, and managed to negotiate the bottles in the hallway while on the phone to the taxi company urging them not to drive away. As he went to put the phone back in his pocket, an almighty crash of thunder boomed from the clouds above them, causing Jo to jump – and crash her lacerated leg into the doorframe. Fortunately, there was not too much demand for the emergency ward at Scunthorpe General on a Tuesday night, and after a few routine questions and some careful stitching, the Hudsons were back at home by 6am. Scunthorpe were not expected in training the following morning anyway due to their lengthy travels, and so there was no damage done on that front. On the other hand, there was the potential for plenty of damage to be done by the weary hospital staff, many of whom would have been somewhat surprised to see the local football club’s manager bring his bruised and bleeding wife into A&E just hours after a vital loss – and with alcohol on his breath to boot.
  11. Seven Like any other Thursday afternoon, Jo was sat at home. An open bottle on one side of her armchair, a half-empty glass in her hand, old gameshows on the TV. Like any other Thursday afternoon, she was waiting for her husband to return from training. But this was not any other Thursday afternoon. Sam, on the other hand, was in a rare good mood. Three wins in a row had taken Scunthorpe second in the table, and morale around the training centre was high. The Championship was now emerging as a realistic target, the players were performing, and their manager was enjoying the plaudits coming his way. His walk home was a brisk one, and on this occasion neglected to take in a pit stop at McColl’s for refreshment. He would regret that decision. His entrance to 14 Diana Street was greeted with a shriek from the front room, and as he turned to see what the problem was, he was almost struck in the face by a flying glass which had been hastily drained at the sound of keys. His relative sobriety at least allowed Sam the presence of mind to step back out of the firing line, but it was at this point that the verbal projectiles began to take flight. “Now then you ****ing son of a whore, you dirty *****. Show me your phone, now!” Sam instinctively plunged his right hand into his pocket, but came up dry. He intended to rummage through his bag, but was stopped short. “Don’t bother you lying ****, I’ve got it. And I’ve had a phonecall from your boss today.” Sam had stepped tentatively into the front room after dodging the glass, but his heart dropped with a sickening thud onto the stained carpet at his wife’s words. He said nothing. “Cat got your ****ing tongue, has it? Well, let me tell you what Mr Mallard wanted, shall I? Asked me whether we’d had chance to look through the ****ing contract extension he’d offered you, didn’t he? Wondered what we thought of it, whether money was the ****ing issue or something else. Wanted to know if you’d had your head turned by the Premier ****ing League!” Sam gulped, resisted to temptation to calm himself, and responded with barbed tongue. “And what exactly did you tell him?” “I told him we hadn’t had the ****ing chance yet, but were going to talk it through soon. That’s what we’re doing now, you lying, cheating piece of ****. Premier League? That was the promise, wasn’t it? Premier ****ing League indeed. You’re a joke, that’s what you are, a ****ing joke. Too big for your filthy boots, and full of ****.” “And what are you going to ****ing do about it? Let me guess, sweet **** all? Or more precisely, you’ll sit there, taking my money and spending it on ****, wasting away in this dump and waiting for my work to pay off – is that right? Is that ****ing right?” His sobriety paid off once again, as this time an almost-finished bottle of port came flying towards him. He’d seen the throw but reduced the distance from the thrower, and while his evasive action was quicker than usual, he couldn’t stop the bottle crashing into his right shoulder. It didn’t smash, but instead dropped to the carpeted floor with a dull clunk. As his wife began to cry in her chair, Sam took himself through to the kitchen for a bottle of his own. His next move was upstairs, into the bathroom, and behind a locked door. There, over the space of the next hour or so, he worked his way through an entire bottle of Lagavulin while treating his face to a hot shave. A couple of nicks were inevitable, but it wasn’t worth stopping the bleeding. If they never stopped, he wouldn’t mind. He opened the window to let the steam out, and saw the thick black smoke of the steelworks belching into the afternoon air. When he closed his eyes, he imagined it filling the tiny bathroom and choking them both. He felt nothing. Eventually, around 90 minutes after taking a bottle to the shoulder, Sam returned downstairs. Cautiously, he peered round the doorframe – keen to avoid another bottle launched in his direction – but he needn’t have worried. With the gameshows still running, his wife was snoring with glass in hand. A thousand thoughts and ideas burned white-hot in his brain in that same moment, and once again the two plump crows made an appearance in the living room.
  12. Thank you! Glad to have you along for the ride -- Six Into the final five minutes of the game, Scunthorpe were pushing hard. Locked at 1-1 with league leaders Barnsley, a win in front of a vocal home crowd would ensure that the Iron would head into the New Year just two points behind the Yorkshire outfit, and in a strong position to kick on for promotion in 2022. With the pressure rising, Sam instinctively reached for a drink before realising it was futile – while the bags beneath his eyes and yellowing complexion may have given away his poison of choice, alcohol in the dugout was simply not an option. Nor was smoking, thanks to draconian laws passed decades beforehand, and so he instead resorted to pacing up and down his technical area, almost wearing a groove into the turf with his footsteps. Eyes firmly on the turf as his team poured forward, he did not witness Jayden Richardson’s towering header that put his team into the lead. He lifted his eyes only as Glanford Park roared its appreciation for the dreadlocked defender, only to see the linesman’s flag raised. Despite having not seen the incident, Hudson wasted no time in remonstrating with the fourth official. No reversal was forthcoming, and moments later the final whistle blew. Lifting his eyes to the heavens, he saw a single buzzard circling in the darkening skies over Glanford Park, the bird of prey as majestic as it was ominous. Still, even a point against the League One leaders was a decent result for the Iron, keeping them very much in the hunt for both promotion and the title. Still, Sam was in no mood to hang around. Cursory commiserations were passed to his players before he made his way to the manager’s office, exchanging his mandated training jacket for his own waterproof coat – a coat which, as if by magic, contained a half-full hip flask in the inside left pocket. Smiling at his ingenuity, the Iron boss then left the stadium on foot, hood up and barely visible as the first raindrops began to fall in the gloaming. Only a pair of overweight crows seemed to recognise his presence, hopping nonchalantly out of his path as he strode purposefully through the puddles. His altercation with the fourth official would no doubt land him in hot water with the FA, and at least initially it was to the inevitable hearing that his mind began to wander. However, as he passed the Kingsway Gardens and neared the hospital, his hip flask was rather lighter in his pocket, and so his mind felt freer. Into the footballing courtroom entered figures from first his QPR past, and it was not long before they were joined by Graham Mallard and his own wife. Instead of imagining his own interrogation, Sam was now in the judgement seat, cross-examining key players in his own life story on their various failing. The walk home would take an average man of Sam’s age around 45 minutes, but he allowed an extra five – time to stop in at McColl’s for something to boost his spirits. He had quickly learned that the friendly shopkeeper, another of Scunthorpe’s many Lithuanians, had little interest in football, and so the manager of the local side could go unrecognised. That short stop refreshed him for the second half of the journey, but did nothing to calm his thoughts. When he eventually reached his front door, he was greeted by the indistinct hum of an old episode of The Weakest Link, the fragrant fumes from an open gin bottle, and his wife snoring softly on the sofa. After removing his shoes in the hallway, a closer look into the living room revealed a fattened crow on each arm of Jo’s chair, each pecking gluttonously at her lifeless limbs.
  13. Thank you! Hopefully your interest remains piqued! -- Five Sam returned home, drenched. A quick glance into the front room told him that Jo hadn’t waited for his return – an empty bottle of vodka and a muted television letting him know she was in bed already. It was probably for the best. Had she waited for the storm to hit, she might never have slept. Stepping over other bottles of different shapes and sizes in the hallway, he made it to the kitchen, where he quickly located the whisky. He took a swig from the bottle, poured and drained his first glass with one swift motion, and then took a little more time over his second. The third was moved over to the small kitchen table, an undersized piece of furniture that doubled up as breakfast bar and home office according to their needs. Out of his jacket pocket, Sam withdrew a folded document that had somehow avoided the downpour. Chairman Graham Mallard had asked to meet him as soon as the team bus returned from Milton Keynes, Hudson’s Scunthorpe triumphing over the local Dons by a convincing 3-1 scoreline. Apologising for the lateness of the meeting, the Iron’s majority owner had got straight to business. “Sam, it’s late and I’m sure you want to get back to your wife, so I’ll keep it brief. Scunthorpe United haven’t had much of a reason to get excited in the last few years, and you’ve changed that. Performances like tonight have got us looking good for promotion, and the fans are coming back to Glanford Park. “The rest of the board are urging me to wait until later in the season, but they don’t own nearly 90% of the club so **** ‘em. We offered you a one-year deal when we approached you – you had baggage, and you were a gamble. “That gamble has now paid off. These papers here are a three-year extension, with a 10 per cent wage boost off the bat, 10 per cent more every year, and 20 per cent if we go up. I’m not stupid, Sam – I know you want to get back to the big leagues – but I am at least asking you to consider doing that with Scunthorpe. “Don’t answer me now. Take it home, sleep on it, read it over with… Jo, isn’t it? Come to a decision together. There’s no hurry. But think about it, won’t you?” The wind howled down Diana Street as Sam’s eyes tracked down the page. Mallard’s offer was a good one for a club like Scunthorpe, but did he want it? The third whisky disappeared, and this time the bottle came back to the table with him. Sam Hudson was nothing but efficient. The paper still on the table, Sam rose to his feet, bottle in hand, and paced. Their terraced house was too small and there were too many wayward bottles to gather any sense of momentum, but three laps of the ground floor were completed with minimal alcohol consumption. Then, despite the squall picking up outside, the Scunthorpe United manager opened his front door, took two steps into the concrete front yard and stood statuesque, soaked in an unholy combination of the night rain, 16-year-old Lagavulin, and a flood of memories. First, the wedding day. Plenty of people had warned them against marriage at their age and so early in the relationship, but they had gone ahead anyway. Plenty of people had left them high and dry on the day itself, but they’d enjoyed themselves regardless. Jo had needed to be put to bed by the only one of the three bridesmaids to stay the duration, and Sam hadn’t fared much better. Second, his retirement. His tears had been of loss, loss of a career he had loved and which had so often been a case of nearly, but not quite. Hers were of anger, infuriated that her husband should throw away a weekly fortune just because it meant putting his body through a bit of pain. The outcome was much the same, but with no-one else around to see. For some reason, his dismissal from QPR and taking the job in Scunthorpe blurred into one – a minefield of frustration, regret, resignation and despair. That first night in Diana Street, the bitter reaction to his first defeat, the sense of being cut off from the rest of the world every time he turned onto the M180. Recent memories drifted in, and while the arguments had lessened, the drunken silences and cigarette burns were undoubtedly on the rise. The door of their home had become an open throat, slowly devouring all that entered in. Suitably sodden, Sam turned and walked back into that gaping mouth, closing the door behind him and returning to the document on the table. One more swig from the Lagavulin later, Mallard’s contract was first in half, then quarters, and latterly in tiny scraps strewn over the kitchen table. Those scraps were swiftly hurled out of the kitchen window into the tempest, and a bedraggled Sam took off his shoes, socks and coat, and slumped into his armchair at something resembling peace. He didn’t need a bed to sleep tonight.
  14. Four The silence between them lasted some time. When Sam had come home, his first act had been to head to the kitchen and take a beer bottle from the fridge. His second had been to launch that bottle violently at the inside of the front door, sending shards of glass bouncing around the hallway. Not satisfied with the destruction, the Scunthorpe United manager repeated the trick with a second bottle, before slumping into his armchair, leaving the sticky, shimmering mess in his wake. There was plenty of football still to be played, but Scunthorpe’s rapid start was in danger of unravelling. Since being edged out of the Stan James Cup at Anfield, his Iron had gone four league matches without a win. Two of the quartet had been goalless draws – the winless run coinciding with star striker Kieron Levitt straining his calf in training – but it was the most recent defeat, the game from which Sam had just returned, that stung the most. Historically, Scunthorpe’s biggest rivals were Grimsby Town. However, over the last couple of decades, the Mariners had flitted between League Two and the National League, leaving the Iron bereft of genuine local competition. With next contenders Hull too far up the pyramid, there was a void to be filled. Step forward Lincoln City, whose resurgence had seen them firmly lodged in the same third tier for a number of years. Games between the pair at Sincil Bank and Glanford Park regularly led to violence between fans, multiple arrests, and trouble for the local police forces. This very afternoon, it had been the Imps faithful who had taken the bragging rights, and emphatically so – a red card after 25 minutes setting the scene for a 4-0 home hammering of Hudson’s men. “Don’t worry love, you’ll beat them next time. They got…” “**** it! **** Lincoln, **** that referee, **** this godforsaken town and its dead-end football club! They can all go to hell!” Silence reigned once more, the stars beyond their Diana Street abode drifting across the night sky interspersed with the smoke belching out of the steelworks that had come to define the town. Flicking on the television, Jo tiptoed through broken glass to the kitchen, returning with two glasses and an unopened bottle of gin. “Look babe, it was a bad day. But tomorrow will be better. You’ll make it better.” She opened the bottle and poured two generous measures, the spirit’s cascading notes out of time with the title music to a 20-year-old re-run of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. On the screen, a pixelated Chris Tarrant resumed his questioning of Mark from Nottingham, who would eventually leave, like so many like him, with £32,000 – lulled into an unforced error by a question on US Open tennis champions – while on the other side of the screen, Sam took the offered drink without a word. Jo persisted. “Do you remember when Darren got on there? All that time he put into it, finally won the fastest finger and only won a grand. And it was a football question too! As if he didn’t know Gerry Francis was the first million pound man!” “Trevor.” “What?” “Trevor Francis, not Gerry.” “Screw it. Another?” Jo smiled to herself as her husband made light work of the second gin. She’d finally started to break him out of his rage, and it was easy from here. “Anyway, we don’t need to go on some stupid ****ing TV show to earn our cash. By the end of the year we’ll be Premier League again, won’t we babe? That’ll show Lincoln who’s boss.” “Damn right it will. They can arse about in midtable another year for all I care, we’re going all the way!” Jo recharged the glasses once again, her hand a little less steady but taking care not to spill a drop. To her surprise, it was Sam who continued. “Anyway, sod Lincoln, they can do one. Where did the dustpan go? I’ll sort the…” “Don’t worry about it darling, I’ll see to it in the morning.” “Don’t be daft, I threw the…” “Don’t you think my idea is more exciting?” At the lightest of touches from his wife’s index finger, Sam dropped back into his chair from the half-stood position he had reached. After reaching her hands over his head to draw the curtains, denying the creamy white moon its view of their lounge, she shifted her attention to her blouse, which she slowly unbuttoned.
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