EvilDave

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  1. The Telegraph’s report was fair, but the local rag could have knighted me for all the good it would have done. Chesterfield’s late goal meant we fell short, failed, lost the race. However you put it, the fact of the matter was that Grimsby Town were no longer a Football League club, and I had presided over the process. Of course things may have turned out differently had I been given longer at the helm – even one more game – but I had not. I had been appointed for seven matches and taken a respectable 11 points from them, but respect would not save the Mariners from the horror of non-league football. It would be my name in the history books next to that particular accolade, and no amount of alternate history could do anything about it. The defeat hurt. On another day, we would have won comfortably – Newton’s late chip dropping in, Bryant’s deflected effort nestling in the corner, the Blundell Park faithful sucking the ball into the net. We had been the better team on the day, and came away with worse than nothing. Applauding the fans at the final whistle was the right thing to do, but every one of us in Grimsby colours would rather have disappeared. Many of the players were able to do just that, should they desire. Plenty of them had clauses in their contracts allowing to leave Town in the event of relegation, and I did not know how many of them would exercise that right. Some would respond to the pain of relegation by hawking for another Football League contract, others would react by digging in deep for the fightback and longed-for promotion campaign. I would do neither. Despite this being my club and my town, I could not in good faith continue at the helm. I had taken the team down, the buck stopped with me. The board urged me to stay – something I had not expected – but I was done. I had too much invested in the club to deal with a full season in the dugout, and there were better men than me able to return the Mariners to League Two. No, that was me done. My footballing life had come full circle, bowing out as a manager at the same place I pulled on my first boots as a professional, the suited tactician and the awestruck schoolboy one and the same. Some dream of winners at Old Trafford, others of travelling the globe with a ball at their feet. For me, all I asked for was the adoration of Blundell Park. I had been fortunate enough to live that dream. Not for me was the merry-go-round, the constant worry of whether or not the next result would be enough, where the next job might be, what someone else’s fans might think of me. Football had given me a career – it was now time for me to live the life it afforded me. Relegation, I resolved, would not be the end. It was only a new beginning. -- That concludes this short story - I hope you've enjoyed the ups and down of Paul Blackwood's brief managerial career, and I hope to be back before long with my next tale!
  2. A steepling clearance into the clouds, the ball re-emerging out of the sun as spectators squint to follow the action. Three men converge beneath the up-and-under, none sure of the descending ball’s path. All leap, two collide, and the ball skids off the head of the third, maintaining its onward direction. From three jumping, the actions moves to three racing. Two of one colour, a third of the other, each man grasping for every pace, every sinew straining after 88 minutes of frenzied football. Every step harder than the last. One man slips, his aching knee buckling beneath him and seeing him fall to the ground in horror-movie slow-motion. One-on-one, a victor emerges, ball pushed in front of him as the white line of the penalty area approaches, his rival breathing hard and fighting to get back in position. The crowd holds its breath, a manager closes his eyes. The striker, anticipating a challenge, feigns the shot. The defender slides in vain, the ball escaping his desperate lunge. Only the keeper to beat. The gloved man in yellow approaches, arms wide in an act of primitive psychology. The striker, head over the ball in a posture straight from the textbooks, takes aim, fires. Time slows to a crawl. A left hand instinctively shoots out, fingertips brushing the ball but unable to divert it from its course. Head turning as he falls to the ground, the keeper watches as the net ripples, his foe wheeling away to celebrate the match-winning goal. Grown men begin to cry. A town falls silent, its team vanquished. Years of rebuilding, restoration, revival – gone. A season’s work up in flames. The cruellest of conclusions. Matchday 46 Results and Table Grimsby (23rd) 1-2 Chesterfield (10th) 22nd York 43 -23 Oldham (3rd) 3-0 York (22nd) ---------------------- 23rd Grimsby 42 -25
  3. Pressure was the name of the game – at both Blundell and Boundary Parks. We knew another goal would have us safe, while York knew a goal against 10-man Oldham would rule out the possibility of us sneaking above them on head-to-head. Time was running out for all four teams involved, and as the clock ticked relentlessly on, the tension in the two grounds continued to build. We needed a release, but it wouldn’t come. With Oldham holding York at arm’s length 100 or so miles away, everybody was abundantly aware of what we needed to do, but Chesterfield were not playing ball. Worse than that, they had even showed signs of spoiling our story, breaking out of their own half on a couple of occasions and forcing our defence to scramble back and clear the danger. It was something we had to be awake to. The 80th minute came and went with no further change to the score, and still we had the lion’s share of possession in the final 35 yards of the visitors’ half. McLeod was running out of space to exploit, but the presence of both Shields and Reynolds was enough of a threat to give him some room to work in. Newton was pushing gradually into his more usual advanced role, looking to thread needles with through balls. The crowd were getting desperate. Our main creator flicked a ball out to Smithson on the right, and a curling ball into the mixer was won by a Chesterfield head. Reynolds got to the rebound a split-second before his man, and tumbled as the defender’s leg rose to volley a ball which had been chested away. Nothing given. As Ash appealed, Shields flung a boot at the loose ball, sending it crashing inches wide. We were pounding on the door, but it remained shut. Two minutes later we came again, a hopeful punt forward from the punt again finding its way to Newton. This time he went left to the overlapping run of Tom Blake, the full-back rifling in a low cross which somehow missed everyone on its way through the penalty area, leaving McLeod on his back in the dirt after failing to make contact. From the throw, Chesterfield coughed up possession and could only watch as Bryant saw a shot deflected, wrong-footing the goalkeeper and dribbling over the line on the far side of the far post. Somehow they were surviving. The corner came in, high towards the back post. A clash of bodies sent the ball high again, the goalkeeper caught in two minds – should he stay or go? He eventually chose to go for it, leaping and landing a half-punch on the ball with a swatted right fist. Out towards the edge of the box it went, where Newton met it on the volley with his left instep. His cushioned effort floated serenely over a dozen or more heads, each turning to see where it would land. The roof of the net. Newton’s hands rose to his head, his strike just inches away from the goal which would have secured Football League safety. Instead, we were running out of time. Three minutes to go, and needing to regain possession. I couldn’t bear it any longer.
  4. Chesterfield got the ball rolling again and, as instructed, my men dropped subtly back towards their own goal. The visitors came at us without thinking, their wing-backs moving forward to link up with the front two, and we waiting for the moment to pounce. In their first foray into attacking territory, Daniels got his head to the anticipated cross and found Blake, but our left-back’s ball into midfield was misplaced and the opportunity for a break went begging. The second didn’t. This time the Chesterfield attack was cut off at source, Hinchcliffe getting a foot in in the middle of the park and rolling the ball four yards to his right for Newton to play with. His right boot carved a pass between two of the three visiting defenders, and before they could turn McLeod was onto it, his sprinter’s pace leaving them for dead. As Blundell Park rose to its feet in anticipation of the goal, the teenager thumped his shot beyond the advancing goalkeeper and against the post. Before the groans could reach full volume, Big Mike reached the ball to tap into the unguarded net from eight yards out. Disappointment was replaced by jubilation as my men mobbed their newest team-mate. Shields’ goal brought us level on points with York and just three goals behind them on goal difference. One more – or a barrage of goals from Oldham – and we’d leapfrog them to safety. We were nearly there. “Same again lads, keep it going!” was my doubtlessly unheard yell from the sideline. “Listen to the fans, feed off them. You can do this!” They could as well, as we were looking dangerous every time we got the ball. Jay Newton, sitting 20 yards deeper than he would normally play, was having a field day picking his passes from the centre of midfield, and the sheer pace of McLeod had the Spireites defence terrified. Everything was working to plan. It was almost a little too good. Five minutes after our goal, there was another – at Boundary Park. A second goal for the hosts meant we were now just two behind York, and in the ascendancy. Just over half an hour remained, and there was still every chance that Oldham could complete the swing for us. Still, I couldn’t allow my players to think in the same way. We needed a second goal of our own to make sure. The news from Lancashire, coupled with our leveller, understandably saw confidence levels soar. Whereas before we were a little nervous about inviting Chesterfield onto us, we were now doing so in an almost teasing fashion before stealing in and snatching away the ball. Not only that, but we were doing a fair bit of pressing ourselves, advancing well up the pitch in possession as we had done at the end of the first half. There was an element of risk involved as we had previously found, but we needed a goal by any means necessary. Ten more minutes passed without a goal, the closest being a Big Mike header tipped over the crossbar by a stretching Spireite keeper. The resulting corner almost crept in at the near post, but the man on the line was on hand to deny Smithson what would have been a most welcome fluke, and we remained locked at 1-1. Over in Oldham, the longed-for flurry of goals was yet to come, and so despite our high spirits and head of steam, we were still down. Twenty minutes to go, and the dice was well and truly rolled. Hinchcliffe came off for Reynolds, leaving us with Newton sat in front of the back four, Bryant and Smithson as wide midfielders, and three out-and-out strikers in Shields, McLeod and the substitute. It was unorthodox, but we needed another goal. It was increasingly obvious that we couldn’t simply sit back and hit Chesterfield on the break – they were wise to our plans and were leaving men to cover. We would have to go for it, and even though I was a huge doubter of Reynolds’ ability, he was infinitely more likely to score on the pitch than on the bench. A massive cheer from the crowd, followed by uncertain murmuring. Oldham had scored a third, and in the very next minute been reduced to 10 men. If they scored just one more goal, we’d tie them on goal difference and jump ahead of the Minstermen – not on points, goal difference, or even goals scored – but by virtue of a 2-0 win at Blundell Park in November and goalless draw at Bootham Crescent in late January. We were playing with the finest of margins, and if failed to score ourselves, even a consolation for our relegation rivals could mean the difference between survival and failure. In many ways, nothing changed. Another goal for my Mariners would settle things emphatically. We had 20 minutes to get it.
  5. “Gentlemen, as it stands, we are going down. York are behind, but so are we, and that’s all there is to it. I want you to drink that in a moment.” The silence lingered for an uncomfortable amount of time. I wanted them to feel it, to see the pain in their eyes. Only then would they be able to dig themselves out of the hole. “Now I don’t want you to think I’m angry. Not at all. We shouldn’t be behind – they scored with their only chance. But we need to take ours. Unless Oldham get greedy, we need to take two, and keep that lot out. That’s the deal here boys. “Now, the last 10 minutes have been great. High pressure, lots of the ball, forcing the errors. But it hasn’t worked. So, I want us to switch things up a bit. Jay, I want you on and sitting deep with Rob in the middle. For the first few minutes, we’re going to drop deeper, let them at us. “They’ll come out at us – they won’t know any different. As long as you don’t let them through, that’s when we strike. Get the ball to the middle, and let’s see if Jay can’t find Leo over the top and use that pace. If we level, they’ll come out again, and we can repeat the trick. Two goals is what we need, so two goals is what we’ll get. “What I want you to do is scrub the York game out of your mind. The crowd will let me know what’s going on, but you’ve got to ignore it. Even if they go six down, they can still score. We can’t rely on Oldham for anything, this has got to be us. “And gentlemen, if we pull this off, we go down in the history as architects of the greatest footballing escape this country has ever seen. You will be worshipped as heroes from now until August and even beyond, you’ll never have to buy a drink in this town again. “I want you to listen to the men and women in the stands out there. The ones who pay your wages. The ones who follow this club through thick and thin, from Dover to Carlisle and every dive in-between. The ones who will, one way or the other, be shedding tears at the final whistle today. “Whether I’m here next week or not, they will be. And the week after that, the one after that, and until either Grimsby Town is no more or they are. If we go down today, you will all find other clubs if you choose to leave. Sure it’ll hurt, but in a few weeks you might well rock up in Chesterfield, in Lincoln, in Barnsley – God forbid even in Scunthorpe – and you’ll get on with your lives. “These guys won’t. They’ll feel every single day out of the Football League, every match in the non-league wilderness. Now, get out there and make them proud. Make them proud to declare themselves Mariners. Proud to hold their season ticket, to sing their songs and wear their shirt. For the next 45 minutes, forget yourselves. Forget your manager. Get out there, and win this thing for the thousands out there would worship the ground you walk on.” It may not have been the most original theme in the world, but as the referee ushered us out of the dressing rooms to a rousing chorus of ‘Mariners’ from the Blundell Park faithful, my simple message hit home. Other managers have done the same thing to little effect – foreigners with no link to the club. Coming from this manager, a one-club hero returning to try and save them, it carried rather more resonance. All they had to do now was execute the new plan.
  6. League Two Matchday 46 Blundell Park, Cleethorpes Grimsby Town vs Chesterfield This was it then. The 90 minutes or so that would define our season and possibly so much more – including my own managerial career. Strip away all the trimmings, all the side stories and speculation, and what we had in front of us was Grimsby Town against Chesterfield, with the home side needing to better the result of York City away at Oldham to survive. Their goal difference was four better than ours, and we had been through every permutation dozens of times. The simplest thing was us to do was win. Anything else was secondary to that. Referee David Sanderson blew his whistle, and Mike Shields knocked the ball sideways to his strike partner for the day, Leo McLeod. You don’t find too many Leos in North East Lincolnshire, but McLeod could pull it off – 19 years old, with Antiguan heritage and a confidence not usually associated with our neck of the woods, he had been scoring at a rate of a goal every 120 minutes or so for the under-21s all season, and was itching for his shot at the first team. His workrate sometimes had a little to be desired, but in Claybourne’s absence, I was happy to gamble on his blistering pace and keen eye for goal. Goals, after all, were what we needed. Five minutes in he got his first sniff of the action, and came close to becoming a Mariners hero immediately. A long ball from Leach in goal was flicked on by Shields into the left channel, and in a flash Leo was there, beating his man to the ball, going past him with a stepover, and flashing a shot high past the angle of crossbar and far post. Blundell Park showed its appreciation and roared on their side – we had started well. Chesterfield, for their part, could have phoned in this particular performance. They had finished firmly in midtable, a slightly disappointing result after falling in the play-offs the year before, and were ready for their summer holidays. But Alan Washington was not a man to let his team go at anything less than 100%, and in setting up in a 3-5-2 system with wingbacks running relentlessly, made it clear that he had not come to the seaside to get rolled over. If we wanted to stay in the division, Alan was saying, we were going to have to earn it. Midway through the half, we had our first scare. Tom Blake missed a tackle on the right wing-back, and his man allowed the freedom of Cleethorpes to get to the byline and chip the ball to the back post. There it was met with a powerful volley from Jack Campbell, but Leach was well positioned to parry the ball into the ground and then catch it at the second attempt. The shot drew a hearty round of applause from the fans who had travelled from Derbyshire, and let us know our opponents were very much in the game. Just three minutes later, a faint noise was heard in the Pontoon, which quickly gathered momentum into a full-throated cheer from the fans. It didn’t take long to figure out what had happened either – York were a goal down at Oldham, meaning that a win for us, or a draw coupled with a big win for the Latics, would see us safe. The promotion battlers were holding up their end of the bargain. All we needed was a goal. Buoyed by the news, we pushed on. Shields won yet another header in the Chesterfield half, but this time his flick was cut out before it could reach McLeod, and the Spireites could break against us. Their five at the back quickly became five in midfield as they came forward, the wing-backs causing chaos on our flanks, and the space opened up much more than I was comfortable with. A cross from the left was whipped in, arcing gracefully over the head of McGregor’s attempted header and being volleyed beyond the dive of Leach to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Blundell Park fell silent. A goal down, we had little choice to throw caution to the wind. Even if Oldham were to put a cricket score past York, no points for my Mariners meant non-league football next year. There were no complicated calculations, no waiting on results from elsewhere. Unless something changed in the next 60 minutes of football, we were down. At least that made things simple. Half-time approached, and we still trailed 1-0, albeit it with Chesterfield pinned back into their defensive third. Frustratingly, that meant the pace of McLeod was somewhat nullified – he was undoubtedly on his best running in behind off the shoulder of the last defender, impossible in a packed penalty area – but if we could force the error, we’d be back in with a chance. One single minute of injury time was called for by the fourth official – a fair reflection of a busy but clean opening half. Hinchcliffe found McLeod 25 yards out, and immediately his man got tight, not allowing him space to wind through the gears. Instead, our teenage debutant stroked a pass wide to Bryant on the left, who shaped to cross before checking back inside onto his weaker right foot. His defender fooled, our winger had an extra second to make his move. Coming forwards, he played a give-and-go with Shields before collecting the return, dropping his left shoulder and taking a tumble over the outstretched leg of the centre-back who had moved across to cover his flank. The whistle blew. Penalty! No. After consultation with his linesman, Sanderson ruled that the foul had taken place a couple of inches outside the penalty area. Free-kick to Grimsby. Blundell Park told him what it made of that particular decision, but his mind was made up. The wall formed, and Liam Smithson came across from his right wing to assume dead ball duties. Three strides back, then the same again forward. In came the shot. Into the wall, out for a throw, and done for the first half. A goal behind, we had everything to do.
  7. From the Grimsby Telegraph There were nearly two men on the injured list after Claybourne pulled up, the bones in my right hand lucky not to be broken as I punched the wall in frustration. It was my own fault – I had encouraged the players to train hard in the build-up to the big game – and now we would be without a key man against Chesterfield. The Telegraph was right in that I didn’t trust Reynolds, and I had no intention of using Newton as a makeshift striker. Had it been Shields that had gone down, I might have considered it, but he too lacked pace and would be no use in tandem with the big man. Nevertheless, we played 4-4-2 at home, and I was not about to reduce our number of attacking options in a game we needed to win. My solution to the problem would raise a few eyebrows, but it would hopefully throw Chesterfield off-balance too. We needed every bit of help we could get.
  8. I am indeed. I'd apologise, but it wouldn't be sincere
  9. It had to happen eventually. Fed up of our suddenly understaffed press office being unable to land them the story they wanted, and with the ups and downs across most of the Football and Premier Leagues sorted long before the last day of the season, we were the story of the week. Written off as relegated as recently as my appointment, the BBC, BT and Sky Sports all now wanted a piece of the little club that could as they prepared for the biggest match of their lives. We could hold it off no longer, and so it was agreed that we would open up one of our training sessions in the week to the media. It would be busiest in living memory. And so I played with them. If they were coming to interrupt our routine, they would at least do so on our terms. Instead of our usual Cheapside sessions, the media hordes were invited to continue a little further, turn right along the A1098, and meet us for a series of drills on the beach at Cleethorpes. With the North Sea wind blowing in off the Humber and sand swirling indiscriminately, it was something my players were used to. The sharp suits and high-tech world of national media, less so. “Paul, you’ve taken 11 points from your last six games and won a gruelling match against Doncaster last time out. How do you rate your chances of survival?” Perhaps because of the conditions, or because they weren’t particularly keen on the backstory, the Sky reporter got straight to the point. Which was fair enough – I wouldn’t have wanted to hang around either. “I think our chances of survival are a great deal better than they were six games ago, and there’s no doubt that the momentum is with us. That said, Chesterfield are a very strong outfit, and ultimately if York win at Oldham it won’t matter what we do here. The lads are confident, training has been hugely positive, and we’ll give it everything on the field.” “Paul, will you have half an eye on the score at Boundary Park?” “For me to be paying attention to what’s going on in Lancashire would be madness with such an important game in front of me, so you won’t see me reading your live text updates in the dugout. However, I know there’ll be plenty of fans who will be doing just that, and if anything happens I’m sure we’ll hear all about in good time. It won’t affect the way we go out and play though – we’ve got a plan, and we’ll be looking to execute it and get the three points.” “Do you think Grimsby would be in this position if you’d been given the job earlier in the season?” That was a curveball, and a dangerous question to answer. My own future was not yet certain, as so to cast aspersions on the board would not be a good idea. Nor would it be very professional of me to criticise my predecessors. Conversely, denying any responsibility for our upturn in fortunes would smack of false modesty. So I ducked it. “Speculating on what might and could have been is not something I’m particularly keen on doing – the fact of the matter is that unless we get a result on Saturday, this club will find itself in the National League. What’s done is done, and my job this week is making sure we give ourselves every opportunity of avoiding that fate.” “Paul, have there been any conversations about you continuing in the job beyond the end of the season? Is there a clause in your contract if you stay up or go down?” That was what they really wanted to know. “I can confirm that there is no extension clause in my contract in the event of survival or relegation – I was appointed for these seven games, and beyond that, I’ll sit down with the board on Monday morning and see where we are. I don’t want to let my personal future in any way affect Saturday’s match or our preparations, that’s what we’re focusing on right now.” “Would you like to stay on?” “As I’ve just said, I don’t want my personal future get in the way of what we’re trying to do on Saturday. There’ll be time for those questions at another time. Not now.” “If the club offered you a contract today, would you sign it?” “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve already been quite clear – we aren’t here to talk about my future. Now, if anyone has a question about Saturday’s match I’d be delighted to answer it.” Sometimes, shutting them down is the only option.
  10. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, that brings the second part of the Owain Williams saga to a close. From disappointment at being overlooked for the Gibraltar job to Champions League winner on two continents, it's been one heck of a ride for Owain, and it isn't over yet. There will be a third installment, but for the time being I'll be taking a short break from the series and looking at other ideas. Thanks to all of you who have read and commented - this has been my longest-running story to date, and probably the work I'm proudest of, and it's a real encouragement to see others enjoying the story. For now however, that's it from Owain and the family - although he'll definitely be back before too long!
  11. The final MLS match of my tenure would be at home to the Houston Dynamo, the club who had taken my first designated player, Vladislav Klepikov, away from us after a drunken skiing accident and inadvertently spurred us on to our first MLS title. They were not my ideal opponents, but in many ways a fitting one. The match itself was a fitting end as well, as it featured many of the classic Sounders traits we had demonstrated over the years. We conceded an early goal - Rodriguez unable to sort out his feet and bundling over his own goal-line after a dangerous low free-kick. We hit back almost immediately, Sibandze netting the equaliser before a Houston player touched the ball, and then proceeded to blow the visitors away in a classic Seattle blitz. Eight minutes after netting the first we scored our third, the big Belgian converting from the penalty spot minutes after a fine Shannon finish, and after a further 10 minutes he made it two braces for our strikers with a 25-yard effort into the top corner. The final box to be ticked was a slower second half, and we duly delivered, icing the cake in injury time with a curling effort from Cho to make it 5-1 and rub salt in the wounds of our opponents. The Amazon crowd gave us, and me in particular, a standing ovation as we walked off at the full-time whistle with our remarkable unbeaten record still intact - it was now 36 games and eight months across three competitions since we had last tasted defeat - and I only hoped the new man could keep it going. Nine days later, with Rachel and girls already setting up home in England, we would have the opportunity to make it 37 in what would be my fourth Open Cup campaign, kicking things off at home against Reading United. Before then, there would be plenty of goodbyes, not a few tears, and a fair amount of work for my new employers done behind the scenes. England was a regular source of communication in that final week, whether it be from my wife and kids as I simply wanted to hear their voices, the club as they finalised staffing arrangements and asked me various questions relating to my office set-up, or my scouting team as I rang to follow up on reports produced for my new squad. Haneuer was happy for me to do so, as long as I left suitable notes for my successor, and given that they were almost certainly already at the club, that was fine by me. I did have it in mind to let Clint lead the squad against Reading, but out of respect partly for due process and partly for our opponents, I chose to take the helm one last time. It was the right decision - the club chose to hold the cup game at the Amazon, and I was given a typically Sounders send-off - vocal, passionate, supportive. On the field, goals from Bustos, Kalenga and young Pete Rodgers settled things comfortably in our favour, and at the final whistle my players began their preparations for the World Cup - something the MLS commissioners had yet to figure out how to cope with. But fixture congestion, key players out of action and a month-long hole in the domestic season were not my problem, and all I had to worry about was getting out of Seattle without letting anyone know where my next move was taking me. The press had already established I was heading to England - they were many things, but not completely stupid - but had yet to reveal the identity of my next venture. Whether they would even care once I was out of the US and the World Cup was on was another matter, but at any rate they would only have to wait a few more days. As I flew out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for what would probably be the last time, I reflected that I would miss managing the Sounders. I would miss the atmosphere at the club, the honesty of the owners, the passion of the fans. I would miss having a dominant team - something I was unlikely to ever achieve in England - and winning at a canter. But I was ready for a challenge, ready to test myself against the very past. England was where I could do that, and England had invited me in. Quite how I would get on with the new team, only time would tell.
  12. From the Grimsby Telegraph The Telegraph’s report was fair, if a little light on the actual details of our performance. It also omitted the crucial fact that a brick had been thrown at the bus as we sat static in the Keepmoat car park - although whether the police knew of the incident I had no idea. What it did mean however, was that my men were a strange mix of shaken and ecstatic on their return home. We’d been in a war on the pitch, attacked off it, and yet had emerged with all three points from the definition of a must-win encounter. Had we lost, that would have been it – game over, thanks for playing, don’t bother coming back next year. Instead, we were alive, we had the all-important momentum, and we had one more match to make it count. We would be at home to Chesterfield, 10th in the table and with no hope of scrapping their way into the play-offs. For them, it was a dead rubber. York, on the other hand, travelled to Oldham, flying high in 3rd and trying desperately to cling on to the final automatic promotion place. Given the Minstermen had won only one game in recent memory, and that against last-placed Dover, they surely weren’t about to start a run at Boundary Park. The maths was simple – if they lost, we needed them to lose by four and get a point ourselves. If they drew, we needed a win. If we lost, that was it. For the sake of the fans injured at the Keepmoat, for the sake of the fans who had come back to witness an old favourite drag their team to within one last chance of survival after looking dead and buried, for the sake of the fans who paid their hard-earned cash to turn out each week at our quaint, outdated and yet unique little ground on the banks of the Humber. And for the board, who had put their faith in a man with nothing like the experience they would have wanted for a task of this magnitude. It was for them, the life and soul of the club, that we would go at it hammer-and-tongs against Chesterfield on the final day. That we would sweat hard in training, that we would put in the extra time and effort. It would be the game to define an entire era of Grimsby Town Football Club. Whether the return to the Football League was deemed a triumphant return or a prolonged lapse back into insignificance would be determined largely by whether or not we stayed up against Chesterfield. So, we were just going to have to stay up.
  13. Right then folks, decision time. I'm enjoying Dinamo a lot - partly because of my own love for Tbilisi and the idea of bringing back a Soviet giant. Staying would be no bad thing, but may get dull after another couple of years. Earning some points in the CL and maybe reaching a Europa knockout round is not an unrealistic aim, particular if I were to sign players from elsewhere in the USSR. However, if Valeri is to meet his goal of winning every league in the former Soviet Union, he a) probably needs to get a move on and b) needs to think carefully about his next destination. Having already knocked off Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia, there are several leagues remaining with signficantly lower reputations than the Umaglesi Liga. There are also a handful higher. See below: Very low rep: Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Armenia Low rep: Moldova Similar rep: Azerbaijan Higher rep: Belarus, Ukraine, Russia Assuming Russia is last on the list - and it may not be - Valeri will need to be careful if he isn't to either get stuck in the super-low rep leagues, or alternatively leave them too late - if he wants a job to win things in Russia, he'll have a much easier time getting there from Belarus than Tajikistan. Plotting a path from here starts to get tricky. So, in short - is it time to leave Dinamo? And if so, does Valeri need to aim high or low? Answers on a postcard please!
  14. "Europe - nothing to see here. Especially not a 9-0 defeat. Nope." "The cup? Well, that went a little better. Kolkheti were breezed past in the last four to set up a final against title rivals Dila, and on neutral territory we had their number. Another trophy in the bag." "Now, the league. A thumping win over WIT was exactly what we needed, but defeat in Gori meant the title race tightened in a major way. Bouncing back with a 5-1 win helped the nerves before a stupid home loss put the brakes on once more. Loko were brushed aside, and that meant a point at home to Dila would seal title #3, and leave us with two more matches should we need them. "We didn't" Despite some wobbles in the second half of the season, Valeri's men were able to wrap things with a couple of games to spare, thanks largely to their exceptional form in the second quarter. The cup came as a welcome bonus and completed a personal sweep of Georgia's available silverware for Soldatkin, while an historic first Champions League point eluded Dinamo. It had been another successful year, another learning experience, and another boost to Valeri's growing ego. "Four points make it look closer than it was really - those two draws in the last matches let Dila claw a few back on us. Ultimately, with a squad made up almost entirely of domestic players, we dominated the local scene. WIT are inconsistent, Dila can't quite match us, and the rest are a decent way back. With the Champions League money sitting pretty in the bank, there's everything here for the club to dominate for years." Valeri was right. A fortune amassed, three titles won and the cream of Georgian talent at their disposal - the likes of Kupradze and Kvirkvelia particularly proving themselves this time round - Dinamo were well set to take a real grip of the domestic scene. Whether progress in Europe was possible was another matter entirely, and after three successful years - his longest stint at a single club in his career - Valeri was having doubts. "What is there to do here now? Tbilisi is my home - I'd love to retire here - but the challenge is drying up. If I leave now, I leave the club with enough in the bank to pay all its debts, buy the entire national team, and with a winning mentality that would leave them well-placed to win titles for a decade. Staying with that sort of club certainly has its appeals, and to boost my reputation in Europe is something that, one day, I intend to do. To create a dynasty, I stay. "However, if I am truly to bring the Union back together, my talents must be spread. Neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan have some interesting possibilities, as do the remaining Central Asian states. Moldova sits an an awkward outlier in my plans, and there will always be the 'big three' of Belarus, Ukraine and my homeland to conquer. Is now the time, or do I wait another year? I don't know."
  15. "Let's start with Europe. You've all seen the qualifiers, so I won't dwell on them. In fact, although we pushed Ajax and lost an unlucky late goal to Sporting, I won't dwell on the group fixtures either - at the moment we just aren't good enough or consistent enough to compete in the Champions League. Not yet. "Back home, the fixture pile-up has meant a tricky time. We've moved on the cup - although we could have done without extra time in Batumi - but three straight draws and a couple of narrow defeats mean the four wins - including a massive 7-2 in Kutaisi - were crucial. We're not in the finest of form, but we should have enough of a cushion to see things home, especially with two teams. Should." European defeats and fixture congestion meant Dinamo's momentum was slowing, with defensive errors creeping in and costing them points. Valeri was still confident, but was remaining cautious before announcing a third straight title. "The title fight is down to two, and realistically we have to lose it now. Dila have been just as clogged up as we have thanks to the Europa qualifiers, but we lose that advantage now and need to fight. We play Dila twice in the back nine, and if we win one of them plus another four, the title is ours. That's well within our powers, and with a cup semi against Kolkheti Poti as well, we're on to take on Dila for both trophies. How I'd love to rub their noses in our dominance." An 11-point gap looked very good, and with the Gori side stuttering too, Dinamo just needed to hold firm. They managed it last year and came from nowhere the year before, so the odds were very much in favour of the Tbilisi side. Valeri's rotation policy would be put to the test, but things were looking good.