EvilDave

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  1. "Thanks, but no thanks, not yet anyway. Other fish to fry." "It's been busy. Stupidly busy. Not that that stops us. We've blitzed through the CL group and into the next round, and quite frankly I don't know how Uzbek sides haven't done it before. Nasaf managed it with us too. "In the league, we've thrown away some stupid points, but we're hanging on in there. If we can cut that out - and my word there'll be some harsh words if we don't - we'll have a chance at the title. At the very least we should be nailing down a CL spot." The CL campaign was indeed strong, losing just once and dumping stronger sides by the wayside. Those careless draws could prove costly though... "There are four of us in this, and at the minute Nasaf has the upper hand. It's tight though, bloody tight. One win over a challenger and we're back up there. We can do this. "The best part of all this? Paxtakor in 12th. Glorious." Valeri was enjoying that a great deal. He just needed to make sure his side kept their focus now - fighting on all three fronts would prove a tricky task indeed...
  2. From the Grimsby Telegraph As ever, the sports section of the Telegraph was spot on, although it made me chuckle to see no mention of Andy Graves anywhere in John Christian’s piece. Our teenage defender had put in another solid performance as Boston chased promotion into the National League, and while he would no doubt play a role in next season’s squad, he would remain a Pilgrim for the remainder of this campaign. Back in training on Cheapside, the lads were excited. While the more intelligent of them knew that we were only in with a shout because of York’s awful form, they all knew that they had improved their games and upped their performances. That meant we still had a chance, and we were the form side in the survival race. With at least one bookmaker, our odds for survival were better than York’s. What that meant for me was that I had a difficult balancing act ahead of me. Southend would be the visitors to Blundell Park on Saturday, and they sat in the play-off places after three straight wins. I needed my men to be confident in their ability to get a result, but not excessively so - any overconfidence or arrogance on our part would almost certainly play into the hands of the Shrimpers and their promotion bid. I also had a choice to make tactically. We were playing at home, which to this point had meant 4-4-2 and the Shields/Claybourne strike partnership. However, we were also up against a superior side, which to this point had meant 4-5-1 with a midfield triangle and a deeper, counter-attacking system. If we got it wrong, we ran the risk of being overrun by the visitors. I had plenty of thinking to do.
  3. I woke up the following morning with bleary eyes and four missed calls on my mobile. That would be enough to worry any man, but Rachel was already up and pottering around the house, while Bethan and Rebecca had left for school earlier that morning. It wasn’t a family emergency, and so I was more curious than worried. Swiping to unlock my phone, I tapped my way through the apps to figure out who it was that had been trying to contact me. Dean Thomson. Four times. That woke me up. I rang him as soon as I had come to my senses, and he was not best pleased at my delay. “I’m sorry Dean, I was rather busy celebrating last night. What’s so important that you were ringing me in the early hours?” “Well, you might not be aware but I have a client that now has not one but two Champions League titles to their name on two different continents. I wonder if it occurred to you that such a client might be somewhat in demand?” “Already? Don’t these people know how to do things tactfully?” “These things move quickly Owain, very quickly - that’s why I wanted you when I did. Speaking of doing things well, that’s exactly what these gentlemen are proposing.” “Dean, I’ve just woken up and my head hurts. Who are we talking about here? QPR aren’t trying their luck again are they? I’ve told you I’m not interested in that sort of thing.” “Listen here, would I pester you like this if it was bloody QPR? I think this is something you’ll want to hear. Now, do you want me to tell you or not?” “I’m sorry Dean, you’re right. Who is it?” Dean took a deep breath, and then launched into the details. A Premier League club, with a manager moving on to bigger things at the end of the season, wanting me to take some time to bed in during the summer and then take things forward. They weren’t offering long-term security, but then nobody in the Premier League was. Nobody else in the Premier League was offering anything, full stop. I paused. This was big, there was no question about it. The way Dean spoke about the opening - the club talking about a fresh approach ‘within the club’s philosophy’ smacked of a team that knew what it wanted, that had a real identity, and anyone who knew anything about the English leagues would be able to recognise. This was a huge opportunity, of that there was no doubt, and they had got their bid in early - they knew I would need time. “I’m not going to lie Dean, I like the sound of it as a job offer. But I also like the sound of creating a dynasty here in Seattle, and you know as well as I do that it isn’t necessarily just down to me. Let me talk to Rachel, give me a few days, can they do that?” “They’ve asked if you could get back to them after the Philly game, is that reasonable?” We hosted the Union on May 6th, a full week from their initial advance. It sounded like they had their terms ready and sorted, and the fact I wouldn’t take official charge until the end of the month made it sound like they were not going to rush me. They had covered everything, and I needed to talk my wife. Probably not just yet though.
  4. “Owain, how does it feel to be the first American winners of the Champions League?” We hadn’t even managed to get the podium onto the Amazon turf before the press pack engulfed us, but at this point I didn’t care one jot. I can’t even remember what my answer was, but it satisfied the cameras. “Owain, what did you say to your team at half-time? They were unstoppable in the second half.” She wasn’t wrong. For 25 minutes after the interval, we were simply unplayable, putting in perhaps the best performance I had ever seen from my Sounders. It took just 90 seconds for us to make it 2-1 on the night, a corner from the left allowed to drop in the penalty area and Hunter Robertson transforming into a world-class poacher to stab home the loose ball. Ten minutes later it was 3-1 and all over barring a disaster. This time it came from a León free-kick, our wall doing its job and then releasing Lawton to break down the right. He had the beating of his man for pace, reached the edge of the penalty area, and then crossed low for Shannon to open up his body and sidefoot across the goalkeeper and into the far corner. Then, with the aggregate score at 4-1 and the game all but dead, we drove not one but two more nails in the Mexicans’ coffin. In the 67th minute, Cho took advantage of a small pocket of space to drive in from the edge of the penalty area, and then immediately from the restart we won back possession, released Bustos, and the diminutive Argentine finished off the visitors with an exhibition goal, dummying the goalkeeper, checking back past the covering defender, and then chipping into the corner to seal the deal. Five on the night, six on aggregate, and we had handed León an absolute hammering. “Owain, what happens now? You’ve made history, you’ve added the Champions League to your MLS success, where do the Sounders go from here?” It was a much harder question to answer, and given that we were back in domestic action at the weekend it was not one I had particularly long to think about. I said something clichéd about business as usual and maintaining our focus, and then finally joined my players to celebrate in front of the adoring Amazon crowd. After the León players received their runner-up medals from the CONCACAF dignitaries, we were finally ready to step up to the podium. In numerical order my men marched up one by one, with captain Andrew Perez joining me at the back of the queue. With the crowd still singing and the now-familiar green confetti falling from the rafters once more, I took one side of the hefty trophy while my captain took the other. As the stadium announcer finally reached our club’s name, he hoisted the silverware into the Seattle air. Eyes closed, my mind travelled back to the corresponding moment in China when, against the odds, my Adelaide side overcame Shandong Luneng in the final of the Asian competition. Back then, I had not only to battle through against superior opposition, but also internal strife, having to contend with a reduced squad thanks to the financial mismanagement of one Brett McGregor. It was vindication for a struggle. This time, the sensation could not have been more different. I knew that Rachel was about to send the girls out onto the pitch to join the celebrations, and I also knew that Adrian Haneuer, Paul Allen and Erik Nordstrom were stood in their box, applauding with beaming smiles, ready to produce an official statement of congratulations, and in all likelihood reward me with an improved contract. From the owners to Jide and Clint, from the scouting staff to the cleaners, this had been a real team effort, and it felt wonderful. We only had three free days before an MLS game against San Jose, but there was no way I was about to tell my players to tone down the celebrations. We had made history - and in some style - and everybody involved deserved the chance to enjoy it. And, it goes without saying, we did.
  5. League Two Matchday 43 Blundell Park, Cleethorpes Grimsby Town vs Chester FC As I’ve previously suggested, it wasn’t Andy Graves who stepped in at centre-back to deputise for the suspended Daniels. A relegation crunch match was no place to hand a teenager their debut for the club, especially given as the teenager in question was currently 50 miles away with a different team. I’d spoken to Andy, and he was finding his loan spell with the Pilgrims very useful. I had no desire to interfere beyond a phonecall. Instead, we turned to to the only non-Brit in the paying squad, Irish youth cap Richard O’Donoghue. Now 33 and very much on the fringe of the first team squad, he was nonetheless a capable central defender, even if he did prefer to play his football on the left of a back four. He was thrilled to be given the nod, and the extra skip in the veteran’s step in the run-up to kick-off brought a smile to the face of even the most cynical Mariner. Chester had, unsurprisingly, identified him as the weak link in our defensive chain, but even so he had very little to do in the first half, heading one cross away and a long ball back to Leach in goal. The problem we had was that the same could be said for the visiting defenders, a thoroughly dismal 45 minutes in the North Sea wind doing little to justify the ticket price for the 5,000 or so fans who had parted with their hard-earned cash. When the half-time whistle blew, the overwhelming sensation was one of relief. Inside the dressing room, that sensation quickly turned to mild panic, as we heard that York had taken the lead against Newport. If things stayed as they were, the Minstermen would move six points clear of the drop zone and, more critically, us. With a superior goal difference backing them up, we would be left hoping for a miracle in the final three games of the season if we were to catch them in that case. But there was still time, and Chester hadn’t looked like threatening our goal. That meant we could afford to be that little bit more adventurous in the second period, and with the scene already, it didn’t take any additional encouragement to highlight the urgency of the situation. From the outset, we began the second half looking a little sharper, daring to try the killer ball even if didn’t come off, and pressurising the Chester midfield to try and get the edge. The visitors gave as good as they got, and all of a sudden the match transformed from a dull end-of-season exercise in futility to one of the more lively goalless draws on offer in League Two that particular weekend. While the scoreboard remained goalless, the escalation did at least bring the crowd into play, the Mariners in the stands finding both their collective voice and inflatable Harry Haddocks in a bid to spur us into the ascendancy. Just after the hour mark, I played my first card. Off came Danny Claybourne, the smaller and quicker of our front two having run himself into the ground without really getting a sniff of goal. On his place went Jay Newton, a more technical player not always suited to the rough and tumble of League Two, but with the ability to pick a team apart on his day. Today was his day. Within 10 minutes of his introduction, he supplied the only goal of the game, a simply crucial goal which ensured we stayed in the hunt for survival. Collecting a routine ball from Rob Hinchcliffe in midfield, he strode into the space created by his dropping deep and broke through the incoming challenge. Looking up, he then pushed a pass to his left for Mark Bryant who, coming off the left wing, took one touch to cross the white line into the penalty area, and a second to drill the ball hard and low in at the near post, wrong-footing the Chester goalkeeper and delighting all in black and white. From then on, we held what we had. O’Donoghue completed a comfortable afternoon with a classic clearance into Harrington Street, much to the joy of the crowd, and eventually the referee blew his whistle on a second win in four matches. We had kept pace with York, and would remain just four points behind going into those all-important final three games. Or so we thought - while Bryant’s goal had sparked wild celebrations, perhaps the biggest cheer of the afternoon met the scores from around the ground. One score in particular, from Bootham Crescent - York City 1, Newport County 1. A late equaliser had extended York’s winless run, and meant we were now within striking distance of our rivals. Two points were all that separated us. Two simple points. Matchday 43 Results and Table Grimsby (23rd) 1-0 Chester (11th) 19th Tranmere 48 -9 York (22nd) 1-1 Newport County (9th) 20th Lincoln 44 -14 Dover (24th) 0-0 Torquay (21st) 21st Torquay 43 -10 Doncaster(15th) 2-0 Lincoln (20th) 22nd York 40 -18 Tranmere (19th) 1-1 Bolton (4th) ---------------------- 23rd Grimsby 38 -25
  6. Thanks chaps, your kind words are much appreciated! -- From the Grimsby Telegraph I enjoyed the paper’s representation of my interview, even if their wily old reporter John Christian had tried to throw a curveball with his question about Graves - there was no way he was coming back from Boston for such an important game, and I knew perfectly well he didn’t have any ‘sources’ telling him otherwise. Not unless they were having him on. Nevertheless, he was right - I was confident, and having watched hours of footage of Chester during the week, I honestly believed we had enough to send the Blues home with nothing to show for their efforts. I had faith in the Blundell Park fans too, and was expecting another bumper crowd for the occasion to spur my lads on. Chester, on the other hand, had little to play for, being lodged in midtable and both safe from the drop and incapable of breaking into the play-offs. No matter what their coaches drilled into them, some of them would already be on holiday, and we had a real opportunity to take advantage. If we could, we would be doing ourselves a huge favour.
  7. My head sunk into my hands, the Amazon fell silent, and the white shirts of León raced over to their manager in the next dugout to celebrate. Goalscorer Jorge Calderon eventually peeled his team-mates from the bundle, and saluted the travelling Mexican supporters one more time before taking up his position ready for the restart. Inside, everything was churning. Of all the possibilities I had talked through with Rachel, a goal midway through the first half for the visitors was not one I had given much thought to. Especially not when the goal came courtesy of a catastrophic goalkeeping error that would almost certainly ruin the confidence of one of our key players. Santiago hadn’t put the ball in our net, but he had done everything within his power to help Calderon do the job. Romo should never have played the pass back, but our goalkeeper had called for it despite a poor starting position, come out despite the striker having a significant headstart, and then watched powerlessly as the forward simply waltzed round him into the penalty area and slotted into the unguarded net. It was the nature of the goal as much as the fact of it that made me despondent. After hammering home the point that we were better than León and that it was the visitors who needed to force the issue, we had gifted them a way back into the match, gifted them the momentum, and inflicted a gaping wound in our own confidence in the process. Santiago’s chin was on his chest, and that in itself would not be doing our defence any good. But then again, neither would my own moping, and so reluctantly I dragged myself from my seat in the dug-out, doing my best impression of someone unmoved by the preceding calamity. Barking orders to Perez, trying to lift the spirits of Santiago, instructing our front four to give the midfield more options. I may not have believed it myself, but I couldn’t let the players know that. Whatever the impact of my gesticulating, it had the desired effect. For three or four minutes we had the ascendancy, and then Cho was bundled over on the edge of the penalty area to force a dangerous free-kick. Our Korean international dusted himself off to take the set-piece but was left disappointed as his effort bounced straight back off the four-man León wall. But Cho was still alive to the game, and immediately chipped one to the left of the penalty area into the path of Bustos, who controlled the dropping ball on his thigh before hitting a first-time shot low before the goalkeeper could react. The dive came too late to make a difference, and with 33 minutes on the clock we were back in charge. A few minutes later, the Jamaican official blew his whistle to signal half-time, and we were 45 minutes away from Champions League success. Of course, if the first half was anything to go by it would almost certainly not be that simple, but it was creeping ever closer.
  8. "Where to start? Usually, I'd go with the trophy we won, but that doesn't seem quite right this time. Maybe with how my board have no idea how to run a football club? "Let me clarify. Last season, with a sizeable debt, they sold our first-choice goalkeeper without so much as a consultation. Which made sense, other than sanctioning an incoming deal for twice as much. "This year, they're delighted at me shifting our back-up right-back and promising but unneeded teenage winger for big money. After all, we need it. "But only after they let me spend it in advance. On the country's best young keeper and midfielder, no less. Our loan signing should do the business, too." Valeri's business made little sense from a financial point of view, but the squad was undoubtedly strengthened. It just meant he was open to being pulled up by the board at a future date once again. "The football itself? Cups, tonnes of the damn things. The pre-season PFL Cup - done on penalties with a second-string - and the start of the Champions League - which we're destroying. "Oh yeah. We won one too. Did I mention that?" Yes, Valeri, you mentioned it. If I were you, I'd be mentioning the impressive ACL start more though - with only three Uzbek sides making it out the groups since 2016, two wins from two (Qatar's Al-Gharrafa are the final side) is an excellent way to get going. Shame
  9. Don't say things like that with Valeri around, it'll go to his head!
  10. I'm not one to say I told you so... but I told you so (minus the Canadians)! Great work, looks like one hell of a final too!
  11. The defeat was to be expected, but York’s 1-0 defeat at home to Chester, our next opponents, was not. I had earmarked at least a point for the Minstermen for that particular clash, and so in actual fact we were no worse off than we had been before the game - just with one fewer match in which to haul them in. We’d sent a couple of our scouts to take it in that particular encounter, and the general verdict was that Chester were nothing spectacular, and that if we executed our gameplan well enough, we stood every chance of picking up three points, especially at home. Speaking of home, the overwhelming loneliness of the managerial job was once again beginning to hit me. Across the water at North Ferriby, things had been going swimmingly for the first year. Family life was reasonably normal - as normal as it can be for a married couple desperately trying for children - but during the second things took a turn for the worse. As it became apparent that my Villagers were up in the promotion fight, my hours at the office gradually built up to the point at which our home was simply somewhere for me to sleep at night. Michelle didn’t like it, and made no attempt to hide it, whereas I simply hid behind my job, emphasising the importance of what we could achieve and telling her it would all be worth it in the long run. Disagreements turned into arguments turned into full-blown rows, and in February of my second season, Michelle walked out. Looking back, it’s easy to see where the fault was. At the time, I was completely blind. I should never have let her go. I’d met Michelle at the back end of my playing career, a couple of seasons before moving into coaching. We were, bizarrely enough, introduced at the local hospital when I was visiting one of the wards, and our romance blossomed from there. We didn’t hang around too long - partly because, with us both in our early 30s, we were both acutely aware of the pressure to be married, but also because she was determined to walk down the aisle with her grandfather, who had picked up the pieces of his daughter’s broken marriage and brought Michelle up. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and we were right to rush. Six months after our wedding, we returned to the same church for his funeral. With the relationship with her parents broken down and her grandparents all deceased, I was all Michelle had left, and I failed to fully appreciate the extent of that. She needed me to be constant, to be present, to be the rock she could depend on after the long days surrounded by death and illness at the hospital. Instead, she found the one man she loved consistent in his inconsistency, forever travelling the length and breadth of the country pursuing a dream she hadn’t been consulted on. She assumed that she was at fault for our inability to start a family of our own, and eventually something in her snapped. There was no blazing row this time, no verbal hand grenades lobbed into the mix. Just a cold, calm conversation which bordered on the detached. She had few demands, and I couldn’t argue with any of them. She left in a taxi, a friend collected her belongings a couple of days later, and I never heard from her again. Enquiries at the hospital informed me that she had requested a transfer to Lincoln, and that was that. Now, years later and under more pressure than I had ever been in my life, I felt her absence acutely. Gone was the knowledge that I was loved, wanted, even needed. Gone was the assurance that, at any given time, at least one person in the world was on my side. Now, my worth and value hung on my most recent result, and while victory and success would make the hero of an entire town, defeat would equally render me the villain of the peace - even if the damage had already been done by my predecessors. The highs of Dover had already been replaced by the lows of Stevenage and the crushing inevitability of Coventry, and there was no way of knowing which way Chester, Southend, Doncaster and Chesterfield would take me. And so, as our remaining dates with destiny drew ever closer, no amount of late-night tactical re-thinking or statistical analysis could fix things. Heading out into town was never really an option - firstly because the Telegraph was bound to whip up a storm if the local football manager was seen drinking late in the week before a crucial relegation match, and secondly because my home in Scartho was too far away from the town centre for that to be practical - and so instead I simply took to waiting, immersing myself in my work until it was time to turn in, trying hard not to think too hard about anything unrelated to the immediate affairs of Grimsby Town.
  12. “Now then gentlemen, you can hear the noise out there. This is the day we’ve all been waiting for, the moment your time at this club has been building up to, the moment you will tell your grandchildren about. “Never before has an MLS side won the Champions League. Today, we stand on the brink of history. There have been several people, many of them so-called experts, who have claimed such a victory would be impossible, that the cards are stacked against us and that we will always be inferior. “Today, we have the chance to prove them wrong. In my mind, we already have. We beat Monterrey when nobody expected us to, and then we sent América home when nobody gave us a hope. Those results have not been lucky, flukey flashes in a pain. We’ve been consistent, we’re unbeaten, we haven’t lost a game since October. We’ve earned this.” I began to pace as I found my rhythm, glancing down at my watch to see how much longer I had before the referee’s knock on the door. This was my last chance to assure my men of their ability, and I did not want to waste it. “León will be sat across this corridor worried about what you can do to them. We won in Mexico, and they aren’t used to people doing that. They’ve got to play better than they did a week ago, and they know that if they don’t deliver they will be seen as failures. “If you let them come back, you will not be seen as failures. You will be seen as bottlers, too nervous, no composure. You will go down in the record books as the team that couldn’t hold on. “But, gentlemen, that is down to you. You are better than this lot, and you have proved it already. You’re already a goal to the good, you’ve already put fear in their hearts, you’ve already starting writing our names on the trophy. “In 90 minutes’ time, I expect you to have finished the job. I expect you to have made history. I expect silverware. “We go out there now, and we play our game. I don’t need to tell you what that is. You’ve been doing it all season, and nobody, not one single team, has got the better of you. Tonight, you will not let that change. Tonight, you will be champions.” Andrew Perez led the roar from the players, who had listened intently throughout my speech. I had no idea how much it would affect them, whether I would crush them with pressure or instill them with confidence. All I knew is that everything would soon be settled.
  13. I know, isn't it just a great word? I'm hoping this qualifies me for a Super Kubogi next season!
  14. "Amazing what you can do with a goalkeeper who knows which hands the gloves go on. Five games out, we wrap things up unbeaten and take the cup too. "If the stupid board hadn't sold Kompalla..." The slump was quickly arrested and, as Valeri says, the run-in was negotiated well. But was it good enough? "Don't get too excited - it looks closer than it was. Nasaf had it wrapped up before a last-day loss. Navbaxor are probably sick of us now. "Third isn't bad - and we get the ACL football the board crave - but do you know what the best part of this is? Paxtakor led the league until round 27 and missed out entirely. The traitor Kompalla winds up empty-handed and behind us. I could almost cry." Third place and a cup win earns Asian football on two fronts, with Nasaf and Neftchi putting in exceptionally strong runs in the last 10 games to take the top two spots. Still, it'll be a long while before Valeri forgives the board for selling his keeper. "So, year end and time for a review. Third-best defence and second-best attack gives us plenty to go with, but with no money in the bank, I imagine I'll be working wit what I've got. Let's hope Neftchi don't start as strong as they finished next time." Bunyodkor had some of the league's top-rated players - notably centre-back and captain Komilov and marauding right-back (can anyone other than a full-back maraud?) Kobilov. Old man Abduholiqov got the biggest share of the goals, but is undeniably on the wane. Next season? Not that he'd openly admit it, but if there was any chance of a free transfer or two to bolster the depth, and he could keep his pesky board's hands away from his players... "We can win this. No doubt. I just need them to let me do my job." Simple really.
  15. "Did someone say Kubogi? "Sorry, it's just a reflex. Utter some weird Central Asian word and I'm compelled to come and lift silverware. It's like the Bat-signal."