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About CFuller

  • Rank
    Third Team


  • Biography
    FM storyteller from Romford. "House of Flying Daggers" - 2017 FMS Story of the Year.

About Me

  • About Me
    28 years old, not your typical Essex man. Possibly an eccentric.


  • Interests
    Football (obviously), darts, snooker, indie/alternative music, video games... and cats.

Favourite Team

  • Favourite Team

Currently Managing

  • Currently Managing
    on hiatus until FM19

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5,861 profile views
  1. CFuller

    An Impossible Man

    *** Portugal's wily coach Fernando Santos made two changes to his line-up for the resumption of the Euro 2020 Final. Midfield creator Rúben Neves and striker André Silva were brought on as the respective replacements of João Mário and Diogo Jota. In the England dressing room, Mark Catterall acted with rather less urgency than his Portuguese counterpart. Catterall's only personnel change during the interval was in attacking midfield. Dele Alli had enjoyed the tournament of his life, but the Final was a bridge too far for the Tottenham Hotspur playmaker, who'd run out of steam after the first 45 minutes. Alli's club-mate James Ward-Prowse, who had himself won plenty of new admirers during these Euros, would come on in his place. Both managers demanded more fight of their respective teams at half-time. Santos was undoubtedly annoyed, though, to see Neves recklessly fly in on Marcus Rashford and receive a yellow card just seconds after the restart. The young Porto midfielder was already walking a disciplinary tightrope. Portuguese pulses would race again in the 48th minute, with goalkeeper Anthony Lopes having to desperately track back and tip over a wicked Ross Barkley cross before it could fly into his top corner. Lopes had another scare a minute later after his clearance was intercepted by Rolando Aarons. The England forward exchanged passes with Ward-Prowse before sending a tame shot straight at the goalkeeper. The temperature then rose a few notches, with England captain Jordan Henderson being booked on 52 minutes for bringing Renato Sanches to ground with an outstretched leg. Sanches himself would be cautioned by referee Pavel Kralovec four minutes later, having clattered into Rashford. Barkley's subsequent free-kick led to another save from Lopes. Portugal's legendary attacker Cristiano Ronaldo barely threatened England's goal until later in the 56th minute. That was when he jumped salmon-like above defender John Stones to get his head to a free-kick delivery from Bernardo Silva, which he could only nod into Hart's grasp. As Catterall continued to assess the situation and weigh up his options, Santos took further action for Portugal by making his final substitution after almost exactly an hour. Sanches' race had been run, so Barcelona midfielder André Gomes would be involved for the next 30 minutes, if not longer. With few chances being created from open play, this was turning into a battle of free-kicks. The first telling blow would be dealt from such a situation after 65 minutes. Bernardo Silva fearlessly dribbled into the England half upon receiving a pass from Neves. He rode past a mistimed slide tackle from Henderson, only to be knocked down by Stones as he neared the penalty area. Kralovec blew his whistle and awarded Portugal a free-kick, 25 yards from goal. This was very much Ronaldo's domain. The preening 35-year-old stood in his trademark free-kick pose - legs apart, eyes on the goal - before swinging the ball towards the target. His free-kick swerved over the England wall, in which Ward-Prowse appeared to duck, and found the 'postage stamp' of the goal frame. Joe Hart did not have a prayer. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro had scored his 100th international goal - a feat only Iran's Ali Daei had previously achieved in the men's game. It was surely his most important ever. With England 1-0 behind, Catterall now had to go for broke. He switched to a 4-4-2 diamond and used up his two remaining substitutions. Eric Dier - his right hand now bandaged up after an earlier confrontation with a wall - joined the midfield in place of Aarons. Meanwhile, home fans were more relieved than delighted to see Harry Kane finally come off the bench, replacing Daniel Sturridge to recreate a popular strike partnership with Rashford. Whenever Portugal had a narrow lead, though, they tended to sit on it. Santos wasn't regarded as one of world football's most pragmatic tactical geniuses for nothing, and he instructed his players to keep things even more compact at the back. England wouldn't have much room to exploit in the Portuguese third. The Three Lions produced nothing in the first seven minutes following Ronaldo's opener. A chance finally arose when Bernardo Silva's trip on England left-back Luke Shaw earned him a yellow card, and the hosts a free-kick. Ward-Prowse swung it into the box from out wide, but Lopes charged forward to comfortably pluck it out of the air. Ward-Prowse's next attempt came rather later, in the 82nd minute, The England fans held their breaths as Ward-Prowse closed in on a left-wing centre from Shaw, only to groan in frustration when his drive was deflected behind by the Selecção's Real Sociedad defender Paulo Oliveira. Portugal were now protecting their lead in numbers, with even attacking players like Bernardo Silva coming in with vital tackles. England simply did not have the tactical nous to break them apart, and thus the Euro 2020 Final descended into somewhat of an anti-climax. England's frustration was clear to see in the final minute of regulation time. Shaw lost his head momentarily, sending Semedo flying on the touchline near Catterall's technical area. A yellow card for the left-back duly followed. After two minutes of injury-time, during which they had never looked like securing a dramatic equaliser, the hosts were at last put out of their misery. Kralovec's final whistle prompted wild celebrations from one team, and scenes of utter despair from another. With a single sensational free-kick from arguably their greatest ever player, Portugal had mounted a successful defence of the European Championship. England's best chance of claiming silverware for over half a century had come and gone. 12 July 2020: UEFA European Championship Final - at Wembley, London England - 0 Portugal - 1 (Cristiano Ronaldo 65) ENGLAND LINE-UP (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Nathaniel Clyne, Michael Keane, John Stones, Luke Shaw; Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson; Rolando Aarons (Eric Dier), Dele Alli (James Ward-Prowse), Marcus Rashford; Daniel Sturridge (Harry Kane). BOOKED: Henderson 52, Shaw 90. After just over 11 hours of football, England's players were physically and mentally spent. Many collapsed to the turf in exhaustion as their Portuguese counterparts wildly celebrated victory. Meanwhile, Catterall graciously shook hands with Santos and offered his congratulations before walking onto the pitch to console his team. Ten minutes later, the beaten finalists made their way up Wembley's famous 107 steps to collect the runners-up medals at the Royal Box. They were greeted by Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, and the FA's own President - William, Prince of Wales. After collecting their medals, the England contingent watched on as their Portuguese conquerors moved up the steps to collect theirs. At the back of the line was Selecção captain Adrien Silva, who was handed the Henri Delaunay Trophy by a smiling Čeferin before hoisting it triumphantly into the air. On another night, it could well have been Henderson in his envious position. In the ITV studio afterwards, a downhearted Ian Wright sighed, "You know, I think we've missed a huge trick here. This was the European Final, in front of our own fans, against basically a one-man team. The lads should've gone for it, but I think they were... a bit scared, y'know. We were scared of failing, and that's what we did. We failed. "Remember the team that gave it absolutely everything in Munich? Remember Harry Kane's hat-trick, and the intensity with which we destroyed Germany? Well, we never saw none of that tonight. "I know that Catts loves Studge like he was one of his kids... and I do too, y'know, but he shouldn't have started. In the biggest game of your career, you need your very best players. Not starting Harry was a mistake, even if he weren't fully fit after Denmark. He can lead an attack on his own, but Danny can't, as you saw when Rúben Dias basically marked him out the game." Lee Dixon said, "I agree with a lot of what you're saying, Ian. Tactically, I don't think Catterall got a great deal wrong, but you have to ask questions about his team selection now. You can prioritise your fittest players, yes, but at the end of the day, this was the European Championship Final. For me, there was no point in leaving Kane on the bench until England went 1-0 down. "I have to say, also, that Dele Alli was hugely disappointing. He has been a fantastic creative outlet for England throughout this tournament, but he was very cautious tonight. He didn't try to penetrate the Portuguese defence all that often, and when we did, he tended to go with the wrong option. Portugal's defence had it a little too easy out there for my liking." Wright then said, "We were saying before kick-off about how great this Final was gonna be. To be honest, it was an awful match, probably the worst Final I can remember, apart from maybe Holland vs Spain at the 2010 World Cup. England never really got going, but Portugal were nowhere near their best themselves. If it weren't for Ronaldo's free-kick, we wouldn't remember none of this in five, ten years' time." Dixon added, "That was a fantastic free-kick, to be fair, but England's defending of it was very poor. I swear I even saw James Ward-Prowse duck down to get out of the way of Ronaldo's strike. As a defender, I thought that was unforgivable. Instead of putting his body on the line for his country, Ward-Prowse put his own safety above the team's, and that's something he simply cannot afford to do again moving forward." The BBC's punditry team were also very critical of England's performance, with Alan Shearer in particular refusing to hold back. The former Three Lions captain stated, "Tonight was an absolute disgrace. This was a return to the bad old days when England would collapse into themselves whenever they came up against a decent team. "In a way, we were very, very lucky to even get this far. We got away with draws against Turkey and Romania because we turned up for that final group game with Switzerland. Apart from that game, and the Quarter Final with Germany, the performances have generally not been anywhere near what you'd expect from this group of England players." Another ex-England captain - former Manchester United centre-back and current Milton Keynes Dons manager Rio Ferdinand - added, "Nobody on our end was taking any risks. Nobody was taking the game by the scruff of the neck. On the Portuguese side, you had Cristiano, who was a man on a mission after being injured in this match four years ago. He wanted to make this his Final, which he did. "The only time I can think of when an England player showed any passion, any commitment was when John Stones fouled Bernardo to give away the free-kick what Cristiano scored. It was badly mistimed, yes, but at least he was willing to take one for the team and stop that attack. I just hope Stonesy don't dwell on that too much, 'cos he's a top, top defender, and he could be absolutely pivotal for us when the World Cup comes round." Presenter Gary Lineker asked, "How do you rate England's chances at the next World Cup? Do you see them having any chance of winning in Morocco in two years' time?" Ferdinand nodded, "Absolutely, Gary. I'm 110% certain we'll be there or thereabouts. We don't have a team full of elite players, but Catts has got a lot out of them. He's took us to 3rd in the World Cup and now 2nd in the Euros, so now it's all about taking that last, final step onto the top of the podium. For me, we just need another top midfielder to come through and another striker to challenge Harry Kane." Shearer argued, "Personally, I think the FA have to make some changes at the top for us to stand a chance in Morocco. I'm not entirely convinced Catterall is still the right man to lead England forward. Okay, he's taken us this far, but to win things, you need to be absolutely ruthless. If you're playing it safe in a major Final at Wembley, if you're not being proactive, what hope is there for you?" Lineker said, "So, football may or may not be coming home soon, depending on which side of the fence you're on. Now, where do you think England go from here, André?" Everton's suave Portuguese manager André Villas-Boas said, "In terms of going forward, you have to say... er.... the outlook is... er... significantly positive from an England point of view. You must look at the eventuality of... er.... upgrading the senior set-up by replacing some experienced but less-skilled players with developable technicians from up-and-coming businesses... erm, I meant less glamourous clubs. This should be an integral component of the FA's thought process with regards to... er... taking England to the next level of their project road-map. "I also believe that... er... Mark Catterall should go out of his comfort zone and... er.... outsource some of his workload with the development squads to other departments. I mean, what is this 'remote management' bollocks? Did Don Draper come up with that?" As he turned to the camera and smiled awkwardly, Lineker muttered, "I took a 500 grand pay cut to keep this job, you know. I could've been sunning it up in Dubai if I hadn't." The Euros might not have ended in success for England, but some of their players would come away with their reputations enhanced. With four goals, Kane finished amongst the top scorers, becoming the first Englishman to do so in this competition since Alan Shearer in 1996. However, he would not take away the Golden Boot. That award went to André Silva, who'd scored his four goals whilst playing fewer minutes than either Ronaldo or Kane. Kane was also surprisingly left out of the championship's Dream Team. Alli was the only England player named in the starting line-up after some fantastic performances, especially against Switzerland and Germany. Clyne and Stones were both amongst the substitutes. Kane and Alli would look fondly on Euro 2020 in time. Right now, though, their anguish couldn't be more palpable. 2020 UEFA European Championship Final Result England 0-1 Portugal 2020 UEFA European Championship Award Winners Best Player: Ousmane Dembélé (France). Golden Boot: 1st - André Silva (Portugal, 4 goals). 2nd - Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, 4 goals). 3rd - Harry Kane (England, 4 goals). Best Young Player: Oleg Kalinin (Russia). Goal of the Tournament: 1st - Roman Zobnin (Russia, vs Denmark - Group Stage). 2nd - David Alaba (Austria, vs Portugal - Quarter Final). 3rd - Saúl (Spain, vs Armenia - Group Stage). Dream Team: Hugo Lloris (France); Nélson Semedo (Portugal), Rúben Dias (Portugal), Andreas Christensen (Denmark), David Alaba (Austria); Marco Reus (Germany), Dele Alli (England), Adrien Silva (Portugal), Ousmane Dembélé (France); André Silva (Portugal), Diego Costa (Spain). Substitutes: Manuel Neuer (Germany), Mehmet Topal (Turkey), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Antoine Griezmann (France), Gonçalo Guedes (Portugal), Nathaniel Clyne (England), Moussa Dembélé (France), John Stones (England), Leroy Sané (Germany), João Mário (Portugal), Hakan Çalhanoglu (Turkey), Raphaël Guerreiro (Portugal).
  2. CFuller

    SI Bring FML back !!

    SI trialled Football Manager Online in the Far East a few years ago. I believe that game has now been discontinued, which says a lot. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a relaunched FML will be financially sustainable, let alone successful.
  3. CFuller

    An Impossible Man

    *** The 2020 UEFA European Championship had come down to this. England and Portugal were just moments away from going head-to-head in the Final at the iconic Wembley Stadium. England had reached their first European Championship decider and were on the brink of lifting their first piece of major silverware at senior level in 54 years. Mark Catterall had already overseen a FIFA U20 World Cup win and a European Under-21s Championship triumph during his four seasons at the helm, but lifting the Henri Delaunay Trophy would be unquestionably his finest achievement yet. Most of Catterall's starting line-up for this biggest of matches were drawn from players based in his native north-west. Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart was protected by his club-mates John Stones and Michael Keane in the centre, with Manchester United's Luke Shaw and Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne on the flanks. Captain Jordan Henderson - also of Liverpool - was accompanied in midfield by Everton's Ross Barkley. Ahead of them were Tottenham Hotspur's attacking midfielder Dele Alli, who'd been arguably one of the leading lights at this tournament. Inside-forwards Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) and Rolando Aarons (West Ham United) had also shone on occasion. The big news concerning Catterall's line-up was that Harry Kane - the Euros' joint-top scorer with four goals - was not in the starting XI. Kane had not fully recovered from playing 120 minutes in the Three Lions' Semi Final shoot-out win over Denmark and was named only on the bench. Instead, it was Valencia's Daniel Sturridge who would lead the line, at least to begin with. Catterall entered the home dressing room about 15 minutes before kick-off. The room fell deafly silent as the 11 players with England's fate in their hands awaited the manager's words of wisdom. Catterall began, "Look, lads. I know you weren't born yesterday, so you don't need reminding of how important this match is. You also don't need reminding of what happened the last major Final that England played right there. "As far as I'm concerned, you can forget about all that right now. What happened in the past has no bearing on tonight. If you all pull together and play to the highest standard you can reach, then you can make this a night to remember." Assistant manager Michael Burke added, "A lot of people have paid an awful lot of money for the chance to see us make history. Most of them have never felt excitement like this before, and they don't wanna be let down. Frankly, fellas, if you need motivation for a match like this, then you're in the wrong line of work. "Cup Finals can bring the very best out of the very best. Now's your chance to prove that you are among the elite." After the bell rang signalling the players to enter the tunnel, Catterall said, "The trophy's just around the corner, lads. Don't let Portugal take it." Substitute Eric Dier got up from his bench and roared, "LET'S F***ING KILL THEM!" as he approached the dressing room door. The Tottenham and former Sporting CP defender then angrily punched the bare wall to the right of the door, only to wince in agony after hurting his right hand. "ARGHH! S***!" Dier screamed as he grasped his injured fingers. Head physio David Fevre examined Dier's hand, telling him, "You've just sprained your knuckles. You're lucky you didn't break any bones, you muppet!" Captain Henderson then delivered a rather more sensible rallying cry, declaring, "Let's go, lads! IT'S NOW OR NEVER!" England's players roared with passion as they followed Henderson out of the room and into the tunnel, though one player could be heard saying, "Actually, we could still win something in 2022, right?" In the opposing dressing room were the men currently in possession of the European Championship. Fernando Santos' side had won six consecutive matches at the loss of just three goals, with defensive resilience playing a significant role in putting them on the verge of defending their trophy. Both of the Selecção das Quinas' full-backs - Raphaël Guerreiro on the left, and Nélson Semedo on the right - were regular features in the Manchester City defence. Midfielder João Mário and forward Bernardo Silva played on the opposite side of Manchester and had won the Treble in 2019/2020. Portugal's talisman, as ever, was a certain bronzed Madeiran perfectionist who used to call Old Trafford his home. Nearly 17 years after his international debut, Cristiano Ronaldo - now aged 35 but still in imperious form for Real Madrid - was about to feature in a Portugal jersey for the 179th and final time. He had scored 99 international goals up to this point, and it would surely be poetic were he to reach the ton here. However, it wasn't Ronaldo who led the Portuguese team out onto the Wembley turf, walking alongside Henderson and his English compatriots. Ronaldo had voluntarily resigned as Portugal captain in 2018, with Sporting midfielder Adrien Silva succeeding him in that role. There was actually a third Silva in Portugal's new 'golden generation'. Paris Saint-Germain striker André Silva was level with Kane on four goals for the tournament, but the 24-year-old would also start this match amongst the substitutes. After rounding renditions of national anthems "God Save The King" and "A Portuguesa", the 16th European Championship Final got underway. It was Portugal who kicked off, and there were few surprises when they created the first scoring opportunity after just five minutes. Guerreiro intercepted an attempted Clyne pass to Aarons and then found Ronaldo, who hoofed it between England's centre-halves for lone striker Diogo Jota to run onto. The 23-year-old from Porto had a pop from 25 yards out, but Keane got a thigh to the ball to deflect it safely towards Hart. Portugal goalkeeper Anthony Lopes' first save of the match, after 13 minutes, was also a comfortable one. Henderson took the ball off Adrien Silva just inside the Selecção half and then attempted a 50-yard chip over Lopes. In truth, the Lyon custodian was never going to be seriously troubled from so far out. Shaw's trip on Bernardo Silva in the 16th minute gave Portugal their next opportunity. Ronaldo whipped in a free-kick with the hope of sealing his international history, but a superb reflex save from Hart kept the megastar waiting. England had more defending to do a minute later. Keane got in a way of a vicious strike from Bernardo Silva, while Shaw then tackled the rebound away from his United team-mate Mário. Keane was proving a tough player to get past as far as Portugal's attackers were concerned. After 23 minutes, the 27-year-old Mancunian dispossessed Jota with a brilliantly-timed slide challenge that left the latter badly hurt. Jota soldiered on through obvious pain for the rest of the half, but he wasn't quite as threatening to England again and wouldn't return after the interval. Barkley gave Portugal plenty to think about at the other end on 28 minutes. The Liverpudlian midfielder enjoyed England's best scoring chance yet when he crashed a free-kick against the crossbar. Selecção defender Rúben Dias had to hack the rebound behind just before Aarons could reach it. Having come close to giving England the lead via a free-kick, Barkley stopped Portugal doing likewise at the other end a minute later. His determined block in the English wall deflected away a fierce strike from Bernardo Silva. That was followed shortly afterwards by the game's first booking, issued by Czech referee Pavel Kralovec after an injured and frustrated Jota fouled Stones. Barkley had a couple more attempts at goal in the 32nd and 34th minutes, only for the ball to sky over Lopes' crossbar on each occasion. Afterwards, the Three Lions would seldom threaten a Portuguese defence that was being protected strongly by captain Adrien Silva. As for England's backline, they continued to show the resilience that had resulted in them only conceding twice throughout the course of the tournament. Ronaldo and PSG midfielder Renato Sanches each saw attempts blocked in the closing stages before Guerreiro flighted a free-kick over in the 43rd minute. The half-time whistle blew a few minutes later, with the scores still at 0-0. Santos looked visibly more concerned than Catterall as both managers went down the tunnel and prepared to make changes that would surely either make or break their European Championship dreams.
  4. I often found myself having to use low-intensity tactics when managing England in FM17 for that very reason. When selecting my starting line-up, I typically won't pick anyone with < 92% condition unless I'm desperate, so you can imagine the headaches I had. Squad rotation became very important, perhaps more so than in real life. International management as a whole has been neglected in FM for years, and I won't go back into it until it receives a lot of care and attention. Training players and having the option to rest them are two improvements I really want to see.
  5. CFuller

    An Impossible Man

    *** After his mother's death on Thursday, England manager Mark Catterall was granted a short spell of compassionate leave by the Football Association. Assistant manager Michael Burke took charge of England training at St George's Park on Friday while Mark and his siblings made arrangements for Barbara's funeral. Catterall spent a couple of nights in Blackpool before returning to Staffordshire on Saturday afternoon. From there, he travelled with the England team to north London, where they would spend the evening before the biggest match of their lives - the UEFA European Championship Final, against defending champions Portugal. Tottenham Hotspur had given the Three Lions permission to use their facilities at Bulls Cross in Enfield on the morning of Sunday 12 June 2020. No club had more representatives in the England squad than Tottenham's five - Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Harry Kane, Danny Rose and James Ward-Prowse. While at Bulls Cross, England's two injury doubts were put through their final fitness tests. Captain Jordan Henderson was passed fit to lead the team out at Wembley Stadium that evening. His fellow midfielder Jack Wilshere, whose ankle injury was originally feared to be tournament-ending, was given the all-clear to take his place on the substitute's bench, having recovered more quickly than anticipated. Meanwhile, Catterall conducted a host of interviews with Britain's major TV networks. ITV, Sky News, Channel 4, the BBC - they all wanted a word with the first man to lead England into the Final of a senior football tournament since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966. It perhaps went without saying that there was an air of excitement and anticipation across the country. It was estimated that nearly 30 million Britons would tune in to either BBC One or ITV for the match, which would make it the most-watched television broadcast in the United Kingdom since the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. As BBC presenter Gary Lineker and ITV anchor Mark Pougatch prepared to begin the biggest battle for viewers in years, the England team coach departed their hotel at 5:00pm. With thousands upon thousands of people lining the streets of north and west London, what should've been a half-hour drive south-west to Wembley took more than three times as long. They eventually arrived at 6:35pm, which was still more than an hour before kick-off. The players and backroom staff were given an emotional guard of honour by FA and Wembley staff as they got off the coach at the Wembley car park. Even the manager's eyes welled up a bit as a group of rowdy England supporters chanted, "There's only one Mark Catterall! There's only one Mark Catterall!" Another group of fans could be heard chanting, "It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming! FOOTBALL'S COMING HOME!" Burke's cover version of 'Three Lions' with Blossoms and David Baddiel, which had initially flopped upon release, had soared into the Top 5 of the UK Singles Chart off the back of England's most recent victories against Germany and Denmark. As the England team made their way towards the home dressing room, Catterall was greeted by FA chairman Clark Gregory, who said, "Evening, Mark. You ready for this?" "You bet I am, Clark," Catterall nodded confidently as Gregory pulled him to one side. "We've got plenty of time to kill, so how about I invite you upstairs, into the VIP area?" Gregory suggested. "There are some great men I'd love you to meet." Gregory then showed Catterall into Wembley's VIP section, where FA chief executive David Whiteman delivered a hearty welcome, "Mr Catterall! We are so privileged to have your company before the big match!" "The privilege is mine, David," Catterall blushed. "I heard about your dear old mother. Daphne and I send our condolences." "Thanks, David. I wish she could've been with us today, but I know she's watching somewhere." Gregory then pointed Catterall to a table, at which sat four of the surviving members of England's 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning squad. Hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst was accompanied by defender George Cohen, backup goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, and former record goalscorer Sir Bobby Charlton. "Would you like to meet some of the men you're hoping to emulate?" Gregory asked. Catterall nodded, "I'd love to." Catterall then walked over to the 'table of legends' and said, "Good evening, gentlemen." Hurst smiled, "Ah... Mark Catterall! The new Sir Alf! They'll be calling you Sir Mark if our boys win tonight!" "I'm not sure about that, Geoff," Catterall laughed. "We've still got a long way to go to match your achievements." "You never know, Mark. Tonight could be the start of something special. I'm pleased to still be alive to see it." Charlton asked Catterall in his strong Northumbrian accent, "You're... you're Brian Catterall's lad, aren't you?" "I am, Bobby. So you knew Brian, then?" "Oh, yes. I played against his Blackpool team with United in 1971. He were a tough defender, very strong, very talented. He could have played for England if Alf had took more notice." "I've heard a lot of people say that about him. Hearing that from you, though... that really means something." "You're as humble as he was, lad. The FA should be honoured to have you managing England." "Cheers." Catterall continued to talk with the four World Cup winners before moving on. As the manager bade farewell, Hurst told him, "Good luck, Mark... and bring that trophy home!" The manager also greeted several other legendary England players from subsequent generations - Trevor Brooking, Peter Shilton, John Barnes, Andy Sinton, David Beckham, Ashley Cole. Eventually, he came across Wayne Rooney - his former captain, and the Three Lions' most prolific international scorer. "Good evening, Wayne," Catterall smiled. "How have you been?" "I'm great, Mark," Rooney said as the pair shook hands. "How about you?" "A bit nervous, but then again, this ain't just another match," Catterall laughed. He then asked Rooney, "You, er... you don't have any hard feelings about how your England career ended, do you?" "No, we're good. You was probably better off without me, to be fair." "So I hear you're retired now. When did you decide to stop?" "A year ago, after me contract with United ran out. I'm not doing nothing right now. I just stay at home with Coleen and our four kids - Kai, Klay, Kit, and Cass. We've got another on the way now; Coleen's promised she'll name 'em Kane if Harry scores tonight." "Ah... so you're expecting another boy, then?" "No, it's a girl this time. Coleen's well chuffed. She's always wanted a girl." Catterall raised a chuckle, and then said, "Alright, Wayne, I'd best be off, otherwise Burke will have to do my team talk for me!" "Cheers, Mark. Good luck for tonight!" Catterall then made his way towards the exit, only for a woman to exclaim, "Excuse me, Mark Catterall!" Mark turned his head around to see his wife Jenny and their son Luke. Jenny smiled, "You weren't seriously going to leave without seeing us, were you?" Mark stammered, "No, no, of course not!" He then exchanged a kiss with Jenny before gently touching Luke's shoulder, telling him, "Are you excited, Luke?" "I'm really excited, Dad," Luke beamed. "England against the mighty Ronaldo! I am hyped!" "You think we've got a chance, son?" "Definitely. Portugal have one incredible player, but we've got 11 very good ones. And it's about time we won something, isn't it?" "I'll see what I can do." Jenny said, "Whatever happens, it's been an incredible journey, hasn't it? It seems like only yesterday that we were in Copenhagen and you were telling me you weren't confident about beating Switzerland and getting out the group. Now you're 90 minutes away from being a national hero!" Mark laughed, "I'm no hero! Admiral Nelson, now he was a national hero!" He then muttered under his breath, "Even if his views on slavery were a bit backwards by 21st-century standards." "I'm just saying our lives will change forever if you can pull this off." "Of course," Mark nodded. He then took a quick glance at his watch and said, "Okay, I've really gotta scoot off now, so..." "Yeah, of course, go," Jenny said, before Luke added cheerfully, "Good luck!" Mark hugged Jenny and then Luke, telling them, "Enjoy the match!" Jenny smiled, "We'll try to!"
  6. Looking at just the first 15 years of my FM13 save, Porto won the Champions League three times (more than anyone else except Man City, who also won three times). They have dominated the Primeira Liga and have traditionally been one of Europe's elite teams throughout the save. Also, Empoli won the Europa League in 2020, and then the Champions League in 2025 under Neil Lennon. To be fair, they had a tycoon takeover very early on and went on to build a Serie A duopoly with Juventus. Other than that, nothing truly outlandish. It certainly wasn't the free-for-all that I saw in an old CM00/01 save, where teams like Anderlecht, Wisla Krakow and Grimsby all won the Champions League at some point during the first nine seasons.
  7. CFuller

    House of Flying Daggers

    FEBRUARY 2042 (continued) 22 February 2042: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Liverpool This was without doubt the biggest match of Eric Knox's Dagenham career thus far. He was a tad anxious in the opening stages, and it showed when he tripped Liverpool midfielder Patrik Horak in the third minute. Referee Adam James quickly reached for his yellow card, and Eric had to watch his step from then on. Liverpool first attacked us in the sixth minute, but when Mirza Korajlic's left-wing cross was cleared away by George Darvill, we prepared to hit the Reds on the counter-attack. Within moments, Antonis Siafos had collected an excellent pass from Thulani Mazibuko and was dribbling into the Reds' penalty area. Tony powered the ball goalwards with all his might, but the shot ricocheted off the crossbar and went wide for a throw-in. Another Dagger who was unlucky not to score an early opener was attacking midfielder Michal Twardzik. In the 15th minute, Twardzik latched onto a threaded pass from Siafos and tried to drill in a daisy-cutter from 20 yards. Michal missed the target by a matter of inches. Liverpool then put our defence under a bit more pressure before Kevin Schaeffer was forced to concede a corner in the 20th minute. Korajlic's delivery from the left was cleared by Darvill, but only as far as Leo Veenboer. The Liverpool captain sprayed the ball back to Korajlic, who drilled a follow-up centre across goal for Doug Higgs to drive home. The former Arsenal striker had broken the deadlock in the League Cup Final. Thulani looked to draw us level in the 26th minute, only to see his direct free-kick blocked by Frans Neven in the Reds' wall. Two minutes later, Daggers captain Mark Washington showed real determination to incept Neven's attempted back-pass to defender Alessio Beretta. The ball was knocked on to Siafos, who advanced goalwards before being stopped by a fantastic slide tackle from right-back Sebastian Beck. Liverpool's left-back Erick Rodriguez then hacked the ball behind the byline before it could reach Washington. We would later a couple of corners, which were headed the bar by Schaeffer and Darvill. To be fair to Kevin and George, their defensive interceptions at the other end were arguably keeping us in the game. It was just a shame that our attacking players weren't quite living up to expectations yet. It took us 36 minutes to register a shot on target. Siafos got above a host of red shirts to flick Washington's cross towards goal, only for Liverpool goalkeeper Oliver Piper to claw it behind. That was followed by a couple of wayward shots from captain Mark. Our 1-0 deficit remained at half-time, leaving me with a big motivational job to do in the dressing room. "That wasn't great, lads, but I think you've been unlucky," I told the players at half-time. "I've seen you rush into a few shots, and a few passes have gone a bit wayward. If you can just relax a bit more and forget about the occasion, then you can play your natural game, and maybe we can pull Liverpool back." I also made one personnel change during the interval, with Orlando Salvador taking Knox's place as our central midfield playmaker. Liverpool had the opening shot of the second period, but Korajlic's 47th-minute strike was pulled well wide. A minute later, we got another opportunity to hit the Reds on the break. Schaeffer's upfield punt was volleyed by Siafos to Twardzik, who then lifted it ahead of Washington. As Mark surged up the right flank, Tony made his way to the near post, where he powered in the American's cut-back and equalised! A joyful Siafos celebrated his 15th goal of the season, but almost as soon as one Greek striker had erased Liverpool's lead, another had restored it. That man was 27-year-old Reds substitute Thodoris Karabatos, who'd replaced the anonymous Aleksandrs Lapkovskis at half-time. A minute after Siafos' leveller, Liverpool's danger man Korajlic cut inside from the left flank and lashed in a shot from the edge of our area. Dagenham goalkeeper Antoni Giménez parried the Bosnian's drive, but he couldn't keep the rebound away from Karabatos, who put us 2-1 behind. It soon became abundantly clear that our largely second-string attack was struggling to make inroads into a first-class Liverpool defence. Twardzik missed our next scoring opportunity in the 51st minute, curling it past the post. Siafos then had three chances in the space of two minutes, but two missed the target and the other was tipped behind by Piper. As we continued to toil, I considered my options, and then prepared winger Milen Danchev and target man Gianfranco Torre to come on. They were warming up on the touchline in the 67th minute when Veenboer attempted to drive in a third Liverpool goal from distance. Thankfully, Giménez didn't have too many problems in securing the ball. Danchev and Torre would come on about a minute later, with Twardzik and Washington the men who made way. We were now going for a more direct, attacking approach, but that left us a bit more vulnerable to counter-offensives from the Reds. Had Karabatos been more accurate with a couple of shots in the 70th and 72nd minutes, the contest would surely have been over. As it was, we were still in the running, and Darvill could've got us back level on 73 minutes. George got his head to an outswinging corner from Orlando, but Piper heroically tipped it over his bar. That won us another corner, but this time, Darvill couldn't threaten the target from Danchev's delivery. That was as close as we would come to equalising for a second time. The match came to a scrappy conclusion, with Mr James issuing a couple of late yellow cards. Daggers midfielder Frédéric Pereira was booked in the 80th minute for holding back Veenboer, and Higgs was then cautioned a couple of minutes later for tripping Warren Johnston. In between those fouls, Liverpool manager Marcus Appleton decided to bench Korajlic and give Javier de Gregorio a late run-out on the left wing. Appleton would keep his third and final substitution in reserve, and with good reason. We never came remotely close to threatening Liverpool in the dying moments, and Mr James' full-time whistle confirmed that we had lost successive League Cup Finals. Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Siafos 48) Liverpool - 2 (Higgs 20, Karabatos 49) League Cup Final, Attendance 90,000 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Giménez, Álvarez, Schaeffer, Darvill, Mazibuko, Johnston, Knox (Salvador), Pereira, Twardzik (Danchev), Washington (Torre), Siafos. BOOKED: Knox, Pereira. George Darvill was given the Alan Hardaker Trophy after a valiant man-of-the-match performance in the Daggers defence. However, the trophy we really wanted was in the hands of Liverpool captain Leo Veenboer, who proudly lifted it up in the Royal Box as his team-mates celebrated. Still... the League Cup wasn't that important in the grand scheme of competitions. Our next match just three days later would carry rather more significance for Dagenham supporters. For the third time in a little under 15 months, we graced the Grand Stade Paris and did battle with Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League. We'd won once and lost once on our previous two visits to the French capital, but PSG would be gunning for revenge after the Daggers ended their continental dreams in last season's Quarter Finals. This particular match was the first leg of our Round of 16 encounter. George Darvill stayed at home with exhaustion following his exploits at Wembley. However, the likes of Kayo Rowe, Kenneth Jorgensen and Elliot Cook did return to action, having been rested over the weekend. 25 February 2042: Paris Saint-Germain vs Dagenham & Redbridge Paris Saint-Germain's first attack in the fifth minute ended with winger Matteo Caurla being flagged offside. Dagenham goalkeeper Kayo Rowe quickly lifted the free-kick up to striker Elliot Cook, who dribbled towards goal before having a shot blocked by PSG centre-half Joe Osman. Fortunately, Milen Danchev was on hand to reach the loose ball and cross it to Daggers captain Orlando Salvador, who drove us into an early lead! With an away goal to our name, the onus was now on Les Parisiens to try and restore parity quickly. Their captain and record goalscorer Mario swerved a banana shot at goal in the 14th minute, but Rowe gathered it easily. Kayo made similarly light work of Mario's next attempt in the 17th minute after the 34-year-old Spaniard had latched onto a through-ball from Julián Vargas Sánchez. As it transpired, Vargas Sánchez was the PSG player that we should have been most worried about. The Colombian winger flummoxed Thulani Mazibuko in the 20th minute by cutting past our right-back and entering the penalty area, where he stroked a clinical equalising shot beyond Rowe. Vargas Sánchez would cause defence us more problems on 25 minutes. His pass set up an edge-of-the-area strike from Mario that Rowe only just managed to push away. A minute after that, Salvador committed a costly foul on the hosts' holding midfielder Emanuel Hontoria. Orlando was issued with his third yellow card in the competition this season, which meant our captain would be banned from the return leg. Suspension was far from Salvador's mind in the 32nd minute, when his free-kick was flicked towards goal by Michael Walters, but PSG goalie Fabián Acosta clawed the young centre-half's header away just in time. There were no further shots at goal before half-time, though the hosts' defence produced a couple of strong interceptions to snuff out Dagenham attacks. Strikers Cook and Gianfranco Torre would need to be savvier in the second half if Salvador's away goal wasn't to be our only one. Mario had scored 40 goals for Paris Saint-Germain in all competitions this season, but Rowe was determined not to let him add to his tally here. Kayo thwarted the evergreen home skipper again about half a minute after the restart, tipping behind a 25-yard drive. PSG's goalkeeper was also alert early on, as Acosta showed when blocking Dagenham midfielder Lee Allen's attempt in the 49th minute. Five minutes later, Torre weighted a lovely ball ahead of Cook in the penalty area. Elliot tried to get to it and then cut a cross to Salvador in the six-yard box, but he was stopped by a firm tackle from PSG defender Henry Enyeama. Our leading scorer sustained a dead leg in the challenge, so I quickly subbed him off for Antonis Siafos. Unfortunately, with Les Parisiens defending so doggedly, Siafos wasn't able to make much of an impact during his 35-minute cameo. PSG began to increase their attacking efforts after 70 minutes. Caurla's close-range header from left-back Carlos Alí's cross was kept out by Rowe's fingertips, though the offside flag would've spared Kayo anyway if the shot had gone in. It was at that moment that I rested Salvador in favour of Eric Knox. Seven minutes later, with Allen visibly tiring after another all-action midfield display, I gave 19-year-old reserve Kurt Walker his first taste of senior Daggers action this season. Kurt didn't show too many nerves against a world-class PSG team, though he almost gifted them a potentially crucial goal in the final minute. Walker's tackle on midfield counterpart Mikhail Puchkov only diverted the ball to Parisiens striker Tony Mathieson, who then found an unmarked Vargas Sánchez out left. Vargas Sánchez collected the crossfield ball and drove it at goal, but Rowe's save ensured that we would return home with a creditable 1-1 draw. Paris Saint-Germain - 1 (Vargas Sánchez 20) Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Salvador 6) UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Leg 1, Attendance 69,368 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Rowe, Mazibuko, Schaeffer, Walters, Olvera, Allen (K Walker), Jorgensen, Danchev, Salvador (Knox), Torre, Cook (Siafos). BOOKED: Salvador. We would take a potentially priceless away goal into the second leg at Rainham Road on 19 March... but we would also be missing Orlando Salvador through suspension. It was still anyone's guess as to who would prevail.
  8. CFuller

    An Impossible Man

    *** Having spent the night at a luxury hotel by the River Thames, Mark Catterall and his England team travelled back to their St George's Park base early on Thursday morning. All along the route from west London to Staffordshire, they were greeted by scores of cheering supporters, all of whom were showing their appreciation for a tremendous run that was now on the verge of ending in triumph. Early on in their journey, many of the players listened to a pre-recorded message from Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn, who told them, "On behalf of every football supporter across the United Kingdom, I would like to congratulate them on your qualification for the Final of the UEFA European Championship. You have all shown a great deal of resilience, work ethic and humility during the tournament, and we are all tremendously proud of your achievements so far. "All I ask of you now is to simply put on one final lion-hearted performance on Sunday and secure the country's first major international trophy since that unforgettable evening of 30 July 1966. Come on, England!" Meanwhile, Catterall perused a collection of national newspapers. As expected, many of the front and/or back pages were dominated by an iconic photograph of Danny Rose roaring in delight after he converted the winning penalty against Denmark. The Tottenham Hotspur left-back featured prominently on the front of the Daily Mirror, which bore the headline: "ENGLISH ROSE: Danny's penalty sends England into Euro Final!" The Sun pictured Rose blowing a kiss towards members of his family in the Wembley crowd under the headline: "KISS FROM A ROSE: X Marks the spot for Catts' Lions". Just weeks after calling for Catterall to be sacked following two unconvincing draws in the Group Stage, The Sun also issued a grovelling apology, with their new chief football writer stating, "Many of us journalists have been quick to dismiss Catterall as an egocentric left-wing buffoon with ideas above his station. As it turned out, we were wrongly writing off the greatest football coach this country has produced since Brian Clough." "England break penalty curse and close in on history" was the headline on The Times, while The Daily Mail simply asked, "IS THIS OUR YEAR?", above the tag-line, "Only Ronaldo stands been England and Euro glory". Catterall was reading an article in The Times when he felt his phone vibrate. He quickly answered the impending call, from his sister Gemma. "Hello, Gemma," Mark answered, with a sense of foreboding. "What is it?" "Mark, you have to come to the hospital... as soon as you can," Gemma said, her voice strained with angst. "What's wrong? Has summat happened to Mum?" "Just come!" When the England coach stopped at St George's Park two hours later, Catterall hurriedly told his assistant Michael Burke, "I've gotta shoot off. I think Mum's taken a turn for the worse." "Do what you have to, Mark," Burke said. "I'll look after the team for you." "Cheers, mate. See you later." Mark quickly left the England party and drove north-west to Blackpool, arriving at the Blackpool Victoria Hospital just before 2:00pm. He was immediately greeted in the meeting room by Gemma, who looked like she had been crying. "Mark," Gemma sighed. "You're the last one here." Mark looked to his left and found his other sister Joanne seated anxiously alongside her wife Katie. To the side of them was Andrew - the fourth Catterall sibling, who had not been in touch with the family for several years. Mark gasped, "Andy, what the f-", before spotting that Andrew too appeared to have tears in his eyes. "Oh... God, no!" Mark stammered, before collapsing into Gemma's arms and burying his head on her shoulder. Gemma told him, "I'm afraid so, Mark. Mum slipped into a coma last night, and she ain't waking up." Joanne then stood up to explain, "Her vital organs have failed. She's on life support, but the docs say she won't survive much longer. We've been waiting for you to arrive before we..." "I know, Jo," Mark choked, as he stood back up and took off his glasses to rub his eyes. "Let's not... prolong the agony." Joanne said, "Dr Vaswani will be here any moment. I'll ask her if we can say goodbye to Mum... and then we'll end it." Andrew then spontaneously burst into tears, sobbing, "I'm so sorry, Mum! I wish... I wish I saw you again sooner!" A minute later, Dr Samia Vaswani arrived to explain to the Catteralls the procedures of switching off life support for their mother Barbara. They were then taken to her bedside to deliver their final farewells. Youngest sibling Andrew was first to speak, saying, "Goodbye, Mum. I'm sorry that... we didn't end on good terms, and I'm sorry I didn't reach out sooner. I hope you'll forgive me. I'll always love you." Gemma then spoke as she held back more tears. "Thank you for always being there whenever we needed you. Thank you for helping make us what we are today. And tell Dad we still miss him very, very much." Her twin Joanne said, "I couldn't have wished for a more caring, thoughtful mum than you. I'll always remember how helpful you were that day... when I told you I was gay. You were just as much a friend as you were a parent." Mark - the eldest sibling - was the last to say goodbye. He spoke softly as tears slowly trickled down his face, "I don't know what else to say, Mum. You've done everything you could to help us succeed in all our lives, in all our careers, and we'll always be thankful. "England won last night. That was for you. And if - when - we win again on Sunday, I hope you and Brian are sharing a ginger ale somewhere. The drink's on me!" After giving Dr Vaswani the go-ahead to switch off Barbara's life support machine, Mark said, "Ta-ra, mum. See you around," and then burst into sobs.
  9. CFuller

    Third Uefa competition

    Since nobody has any idea of what this third European competition will look like, let alone which leagues/teams will feature, I don't think it will be in FM19.
  10. CFuller

    An Impossible Man

    *** After 90 gruelling and goalless minutes at Wembley, the England and Denmark players were out on their feet. It would take at least another half-hour to determine which team made it through to the UEFA Euro 2020 Final, but some players could be excused for showing signs of tiredness. When Michael Keane tried to sit down on the turf while England manager Mark Catterall was addressing his team, the Manchester City defender was instructed to remain standing. "Don't sit down, Michael," Catterall demanded. "You can't show Denmark anything that says you're struggling. You need to stay strong and throw everything you have left at them. I don't want you leaving here tonight with any regrets." Catterall had briefly considered replacing Keane with his City team-mate John Stones, even going so far as to ask the fourth official for clarification on whether teams could use more than three subs. The Swedish official said that the UEFA ruling which allowed teams to bring on a fourth substitute if a match went into extra-time only applied to the age-group European Championships. It was not in effect at the senior tournament. "That's bollocks!" Catterall exclaimed. "How the f*** has that rule not been brought in to this tournament?" "Return to your area please, sir," the official stated. "And if you swear at me again, I will report the referee." Catterall let out a sigh of frustration as he returned to his technical area. He then grumbled to his assistant Michael Burke, "Those f***ing jobsworths at UEFA don't give a s*** about player welfare!" "Just let it go, Catts," Burke said. "We'll be fine, trust me." Each side therefore had to plough on with just the 11 players who were on the field when Spanish referee Antonio Miguel Matéu Lahoz blew his whistle to kick off extra-time. Stamina would now be as important a factor in the outcome as ability, if not more so. England attacked from the outset, with Dele Alli putting a weighted pass into the Danish penalty area just moments after kick-off. The ball evaded its intended target of Daniel Sturridge, but Denmark's chief ball-winner Thomas Delaney knocked it behind for a corner instead of taking any chances. James Ward-Prowse's corner was hacked away by Danish skipper Simon Kjær, though the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder would get another chance to make something from a set-piece. As the first minute of extra-time neared its conclusion, Denmark defender Jores Okore hacked English counterpart Gary Cahill down on the edge of the box. Matéu Lahoz awarded England a free-kick in a dangerous position. Ward-Prowse was a master when it came to free-kicks, and he would show that here. He floated the ball majestically beyond the Danish wall, and just past the dive of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Wembley suddenly erupted. England were leading 1-0 in a Euro Semi Final. Denmark now had to push the hosts and go on the attack. Delaney was caught offside twice in the 93rd and 97th minutes, though the Crystal Palace midfielder's runs showed good intentions. When Danish winger Jacob Bruun Larsen tackled England middleman Danny Drinkwater to win the ball in the 99th minute, he played a hefty long pass to Martin Braithwaite just inside the English half. Braithwaite then hit a glorious searching pass to substitute striker Marcus Ingvartsen on the left. Ingvartsen breezed past the strong but sluggish Cahill to go one-on-one with the onrushing Joe Hart, who was helpless to prevent the ball from slipping past him. Ingvartsen was making just his third senior appearance for Denmark. The 24-year-old Chievo Verona striker had drawn them level with his maiden international goal. The Danish Dynamite were now ready to explode, with Hoffenheim midfielder Viktor Fischer looking set to give them the lead in the 101st minute after being played in by Braithwaite. Fischer drove the ball towards Hart's top-right corner, but the England captain got just enough of his glove to the ball to divert it away. The Three Lions would then have a chance to restore their lead two minutes before half-time. Daniel Sturridge found Harry Kane just inside the Danish area, but the Tottenham forward's fierce drive was parried behind by Schmeichel. Nothing came of the subsequent Ward-Prowse corner, and the scoreline remained 1-1 heading into the final 15 minutes. There were cries for an England penalty in the 107th minute. Delaney was accused of pushing Kane in the Danish area as both men went after a long ball from Three Lions right-back Calum Chambers. The referee did blow for a foul against Delaney, but only awarded England a free-kick - right on the 18-yard line. Being so close to goal didn't give Ward-Prowse much to aim at. Although this free-kick did clear the wall again, there was to be no repeat of his heroics at the start of the first extra half. Instead, it sailed comfortably over Schmeichel's crossbar. England were very much the more aggressive team in the closing stages. Drinkwater hit a fantastic long ball ahead of Kane in the 114th minute, only for a superb saving tackle from Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko to prevent Kane from getting a shot in. Kane was also involved in what would prove to be the final attack of the match. As extra-time went into stoppage time, Kane lobbed Drinkwater's pass out left to Sturridge. The Valencia forward got past Bruun Larsen to strike the ball on the half-volley, but Schmeichel held his nerve once more, tipping the ball behind. Time had now run out for either team to break the stranglehold. With the final score at 1-1, penalties would be required to determine whether England or Denmark would earn the right to play Portugal in the Euro 2020 Final four days later. England's record from shoot-outs was abysmal. They had not prevailed in such a situation at senior level since defeating Spain in the Euro 1996 Quarter Final, also at Wembley. However, their Under-21s and Under-20s had each won major championships on penalties in 2019, so perhaps England's spot-kick curse had already been broken. England captain Hart won both coin tosses with Kjær, and he elected for his team to take the first penalty right in front of the West Stand, which was chock-full of home supporters. The Three Lions' nerve would be tested straight away, but Kane showed no signs whatsoever of cracking under the strain. He emphatically drove his opening spot-kick into Schmeichel's top-left corner, and England were off to a flyer. Fischer's opening penalty for Denmark also went to the keeper's left. Similarly, Hart was unable to keep it out, and thus both teams had got off the mark immediately. One-all. Alli also demonstrated great composure to convert England's second penalty, leaving Riza Durmisi under real pressure to do likewise for Denmark. The Sampdoria left-back drove the ball down the middle of the goal... and straight at Hart, who palmed it wide. The Three Lions had a clear advantage, or at least they did until Drinkwater came up against his Leicester team-mate Schmeichel. It was the latter who prevailed, pushing Drinkwater's tame penalty onto his left post to cancel out that save from Hart just moments earlier. Like most of those who'd come forward before him, Braithwaite sent Denmark's third spot-kick to the left of his opponent. However, Hart guessed correctly again, delighting the home supporters with an excellent save. England were still leading 2-1 after three rounds of penalties. Sturridge was next up for England, and an unstoppable drive to Schmeichel's right made it 3-1. That meant Hart would now only need to save from Sviatchenko to send the Three Lions. He did get a glove to the Valencia defender's kick, but it wasn't quite enough to keep it out. England's lead had been cut to 3-2, but now they were effectively 'serving' for the match. England's hopes and dreams rested on the shoulders of their left-back. If Tottenham's Danny Rose could get the better of Schmeichel, he would put his country into a maiden European Championship Final. The 30-year-old Yorkshireman looked the epitome of coolness when he placed the ball on its spot. Rose took a few steps back and nodded to himself before running back to the spot and planting a left-footer to his left-hand side. Schmeichel correctly dived to his right, but the shot was just too powerful. A cacophony of cheers went up across Wembley as Rose wheeled away, roaring in ecstasy as his team-mates sprinted towards him. Meanwhile, any hint of impartiality in the commentary of ITV's Clive Tyldesley went out the window as he screamed, "YESSSSSS!!! Football's coming home, ladies and gentlemen! ENGLAND ARE IN THE EUROPEAN FINAL!" England had beaten Denmark 4-2 on penalties. They were now 90 minutes from continental glory. 8 July 2020: UEFA European Championship Semi Final - at Wembley, London England - 1 (James Ward-Prowse 92) Denmark - 1 (Marcus Ingvartsen 99) [after extra time, England win 4-2 on penalties] PENALTY SHOOT-OUT: Kane 1-0, Fischer 1-1, Alli 2-1, Durmisi saved, Drinkwater saved, Braithwaite saved, Sturridge 3-1, Sviatchenko 3-2, Rose 4-2. ENGLAND LINE-UP (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Calum Chambers, Gary Cahill, Michael Keane, Danny Rose; James Ward-Prowse, Eric Dier; Rolando Aarons (Danny Drinkwater), Raheem Sterling (Dele Alli), Marcus Rashford (Daniel Sturridge); Harry Kane. BOOKED: Dier 6. Tyldesley wasn't the only ITV employee to let his emotions run wild after Rose's decisive penalty. A video of pundits and former England team-mates Lee Dixon, Gary Neville and Ian Wright celebrating their country's victory quickly went viral on the internet. Once the trio had calmed down and regathered their thoughts, presenter Mark Pougatch asked them, "Ask a silly question, fellas, but how are you feeling right now?" Wright replied rather hoarsely, "I'm over the moon, man. 24 years - that's how long we've waited to win a shoot-out. And to do it in a Semi Final as well, in front of our own fans, is really special." Dixon said, "As a former full-back myself, I am so pleased for Danny Rose that he scored the winning penalty. He showed tremendous composure just when the country depended on him. There were no nerves at all in his run-up or in his striking of the ball. Kasper Schmeichel is one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, but Rose didn't give him much of a chance with his penalty. "I've been following Rose's career for a long time, and the progress he's made over recent years has been great to see. For whatever reason, it took him longer than we maybe expected to bloom as an international defender, but now he's 30 and arguably in his prime. We're very lucky as a nation to have been blessed with two outstanding left-backs in Luke Shaw and Danny Rose, and Mark might have a tough decision to make on Sunday as to which one starts." Neville said, "I'd be very surprised if Shaw didn't start the Final. Those lads who played tonight will only have three days to recover beforehand, so you can expect Catterall to make a whole raft of changes and perhaps rest those who are still struggling. The line-up we'll see against Portugal will be a lot closer to his strongest XI than we saw tonight." Pougatch asked, "England were clearly missing Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere tonight; hopefully they'll be back for Sunday. What did you make of the England midfield without two of its key cogs?" Neville responded, "You could tell that we were missing some of the stability Henderson gives us. Eric Dier is a wonderful, wonderful ball-winner, but as a holding player, I had too many doubts about him. You need a cool, calm head sitting between the defence and the midfield, and Dier is a bit too reckless as far as I'm concerned. "In terms of James Ward-Prowse, I thought he acquitted himself very well. He's unbelievably versatile and has a vast skill set, and the impact he made at both ends of the pitch was always very positive. He also obviously takes a mean free-kick, as we saw right at the start of extra-time. That should have been the match-winner for me." Dixon added, "I thought England dozed off after that free-kick, thinking that they'd broken Denmark's spirit when, in fact, they came back even more determined. As Denmark pushed higher up the pitch, and England lost focus. You can see right there that only one white shirt was picking out Braithwaite's ball across to Ingvartsen - a 34-year-old Gary Cahill. Once Cahill was left as the last man between Ingvartsen and the goalkeeper, you always felt that an equaliser was on the way, and so it proved." Wright nodded, "Yeah, we can't go doing that against Portugal, else [Cristiano] Ronaldo and Bernardo [Silva] will destroy us. I love how Catts takes the game to his opponents, but every now and then, he just needs to be a bit more measured, a bit more controlled. If we're gonna have any chance of winning the Final on Sunday, he will have to strike a better balance between defence and attack." 2020 UEFA European Championship Semi Final Results England 1-1 Denmark (aet, England win 4-2 on penalties) Portugal 2-0 Russia
  11. CFuller

    House of Flying Daggers

    FEBRUARY 2042 (continued) 19 February looked like being a seminal day in Dagenham & Redbridge's season. If we could defeat Reading by at least three goals at Rainham Road, we would go above Manchester United and lead the Premier League, with 12 rounds left to play. The Daggers had not lost a home match in any competition for nigh on 17 months. The Royals were 18th and had not won away from home in the league all season. Many people thought the outcome was a foregone conclusion, but not me. 19 February 2042: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Reading My first cause for concern came after just three minutes. Dagenham goalkeeper Kayo Rowe appeared to hurt his thigh when punting away a back-pass from full-back Enrique Álvarez. Kayo was thankfully able to carry on after receiving some strapping from our head physio Adam Hutchings. Reading's number 1 Patrick Braspenning was first tested in the 7th minute, when he caught a deflected shot from Daggers captain Orlando Salvador. A minute later, our wounded warrior Rowe produced his first save to deny Royals skipper Ryan Galbraith. The visitors would have another chance to hit us on the break in the 13th minute, when Galbraith intercepted a miscued volley from Daggers forward Gianfranco Torre. He then exchanged passes with fellow Reading striker Carl Hubert, who drew our central defenders towards him before returning the ball for an unmarked Galbraith to finish. A collection of errors had seen us fall behind, with Torre's mistake arguably the costliest in my eyes. Franco attempted to make amends from a free-kick in the 22nd minute after midfielder Lee Allen had been upended by Royals legend Ricky Hales. Unfortunately, Torre's powerful set-piece deflected behind off Hubert's shoulder. Reading centre-half Keith McDonagh cleared Milen Danchev's follow-up corner, but we would soon be back. On 28 minutes, a poorly-executed slide tackle from Hales on Salvador diverted the ball into the away penalty area. Dagenham's top scorer Elliot Cook pounced on it and then gobbled it up, with a tidy finish levelling the scores! Salvador then eyed up a second Daggers goal in the 31st minute, only to power it beyond the far post. Three minutes after that, our Mexican left-back Juan Esteban Olvera sustained a knock and was forced out, with Thulani Mazibuko replacing him. The closing stages of the first half would be nerve-wracking for both teams. Galbraith could have restored Reading's advantage from a Ziva Djuric cross in the 40th minute, but his header was caught by Rowe. We then went very close to going 2-1 up ourselves on the stroke of half-time, when Braspenning pushed a Salvador header against his crossbar before Dale Shotton cleared. Antonis Siafos replaced the disappointing Torre for the second half. Within seconds of kick-off, Tony had been fouled by erstwhile Daggers right-back Nolan Barber, prompting the referee to bring out his yellow card for the first time. Standing at only 5ft 7in, Barber was a potential weak link in the Reading defence, and we looked to exploit his lack of height in the 51st minute. Elliot got above Nolan to head Milen's right-wing cross goalwards, but Braspenning caught it with ease. Siafos and Cook each missed further shots in subsequent minutes before another mishit Daggers pass threatened to unravel us. Álvarez was the guilty party this time, with Shotton cutting his pass out before starting a counter-attack. The move ended with a one-two between Shotton and Galbraith before the former's shot was blocked by Rowe and punted into touch by a relieved Allen. Reading had us on the back foot for a while, but the introduction of young playmaker Paddy Rattle appeared to turn the tide. In the 76th minute, Rattle sprayed an excellent long ball out left to Siafos. The Greek forward knocked it past Barber - now hampered by an injury - and then dribbled to the byline. Once Orlando had made his way into the six-yard box, Tony whipped in a cross, only to watch in horror as the captain glanced it wide! Salvador knew that his wasted sitter was a crucial one. Siafos did try to rectify matters by having a couple of late attempts, but one went well wide and the other found its way into Braspenning's hands. Had our main men been more lethal in front of goal, we would have surely ended up with more than a draw - only our second at Rainham Road this term. Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Cook 29) Reading - 1 (Galbraith 13) Premier League, Attendance 26,358 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 2nd, Reading 18th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Rowe, Álvarez, Charles, Walters, Olvera (Mazibuko), Allen, Jorgensen, Danchev (Rattle), Salvador, Torre (Siafos), Cook. This was very much a case of "two points dropped" as far as I saw it. We could and arguably should have been level on points with Manchester United, but our failure to kill Reading off left us with some ground still to make up. P W D L F A GD PTS 1. Man Utd 26 17 6 3 58 28 +30 57 2. Dag & Red 26 17 4 5 52 24 +28 55 3. Arsenal 26 16 5 5 48 24 +24 53 4. Derby 26 15 4 7 60 41 +19 49 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5. Man City 26 15 3 8 58 30 +28 48 6. Wolves 26 13 6 7 43 34 +9 45 We will discover in March if that draw is a costly one with regards to challenging for the title. In the meantime, we had a couple of cup matches ahead, the first of which saw us pay another visit to Wembley Stadium. The League Cup Final didn't usually take place on a Saturday, but 22 February 2042 was no ordinary Saturday. A victory against Liverpool would see us regain the trophy, which we'd lost to Fulham 12 months earlier, and take it home for the third time in five seasons. Hicham Martin had to miss this match through injury, as did Croatian duo Dzenan Genjac and Mirko Saric. I also left several regular starters out of the XI, instead maintaining faith in some of the fringe players who'd taken us this far. Dagenham & Redbridge Starting XI - 2042 League Cup Final Antoni Giménez (Goalkeeper, age 25, Spanish) - Backup goalie Antoni had kept an impressive 11 clean sheets in 20 games this season. The agile Catalan's spellbinding display against Southampton in the Semi Final second leg was arguably the main reason why we'd made it to Wembley. Enrique Álvarez (Right-Back, age 22, Spanish) - Enrique had finally justified his club-record transfer fee with some consistently strong performances in defence. His decision-making under pressure had certainly improved, and he'd occasionally captained the team to some big wins. Kevin Schaeffer (Centre-Back, age 23, French) - After nearly a fortnight out with a thigh strain, Kevin returned just in time for the Final. The big covering defender had done well thus far this term, but his long-term Daggers future probably depended on how he fared in high-stakes matches. George Darvill (Centre-Back, age 28, English) - Was there anything that hadn't yet been said about King George of Dagenham? We could always depend on this rock-solid veteran of over 450 senior matches, who was an especially imposing figure when playing in big matches such as this. Thulani Mazibuko (Left-Back, age 28, South African) - Thulani was deputising for the injured Hicham Martin and the rested Juan Esteban Olvera on the left side of our defence. Though no longer a league regular, the versatile Daggers stalwart had started in all but one of our cup matches this season. Warren Johnston (Defensive Midfielder, age 21, English) - Warren was our only League Cup ever-present, so it was only right that he got a start here. The Londoner's first full season of senior football at Rainham Road had not been easy, but he'd proven himself to be a solid anchor man. Eric Knox (Central Midfielder, age 22, Canadian) - After three years out on loan, this season had seen Eric emerge as a potential Premier League playmaker. This native of Hamilton, Ontario possessed sublime vision and a deft first touch, which had helped him to thrive in recent months. Frédéric Pereira (Central Midfielder, age 29, French) - Frédéric was a truly world-class midfield dynamo who could cause mayhem in all areas of the pitch. While his recent form has been hit-and-miss, I still expected total commitment from one of Dagenham's hardest-working players. Michal Twardzik (Attacking Midfielder, age 21, Czech) - Michal's season, much like his rival Dzenan Genjac's, had often been disrupted by injuries. I hoped that a strong showing at Wembley would see this young midfield runner kick on and live up to his exceptional potential. Mark Washington (Forward, age 30, American) - Daggers icon Mark would lead us out onto the Wembley turf, quite possibly for the final time. The cool-finishing striker had three FA Cup Final goals amongst his 111 club strikes, but he had yet to find the net in a League Cup decider. Antonis Siafos (Forward, age 24, Greek) - Antonis had 14 goals and 12 assists to his credit this season, though the often deadly deep-lying forward was going through a mini-drought. We perhaps needed the Greek god's penchant for tidy finishing to return quickly if this Final was to end in glory. This was the fourth time we had travelled to north-west London to contest a League Cup Final. For the first time, though, we wouldn't be facing another team from the capital. Liverpool had made it to their first domestic cup decider since 2035, and they were desperate to end a 26-year wait to lift one of the three major English trophies. Though Liverpool's recent league form had been indifferent, they had made their way to Wembley after an excellent aggregate victory over Manchester City. Reds manager Marcus Appleton had almost his entire first-team to choose from, save for injured goalkeeper Gavin Stopforth and cup-tied former West Ham United midfielder Shaun Greaves. Liverpool Starting XI - 2042 League Cup Final Oliver Piper (Goalkeeper, age 30, English) - Piper spent five seasons at Blackburn Rovers before moving to Liverpool as understudy to the long-serving Gavin Stopforth. A serious injury to the latter had given this commanding Mancunian an extended run in the Reds' starting line-up. Sebastian Beck (Right-Back, age 27, German) - Despite having been capped five times by Germany, Beck was merely a peripheral figure at Anfield. The pacey and energetic full-back was a very strong tackler, though his decision-making sometimes left plenty to be desired. Aykut Inanc (Centre-Back, age 30, Turkish) - Inanc is Liverpool's other German-born defender, though the Turkish international is very much a first-team regular. His excellent positioning and awareness made him a quality covering centre-half who many strikers didn't want to face. Alessio Beretta (Centre-Back, age 24, Italian) - Beretta was a man in demand in the summer, and it was Liverpool who won the race to sign him from hometown club AC Milan for £17million. Imposing in the air and calm on the ball, it wasn't hard to see why the Reds wanted him. Erick Rodriguez (Left-Back, age 33, Costa Rican) - Rodriguez was in his seventh season as Liverpool's first-choice left-back. The resilient and consistent Central American was a strong man-marker when defending, not to mention a serious threat out wide when attacking. Leo Veenboer (Right Midfielder, age 31, Dutch) - Reds skipper Veenboer was a light-hearted character, but we wouldn't let that fool us into a false sense of security. The flying Dutchman was a lethal poacher who occasionally played on the right wing, as he would do here at Wembley. Patrik Horak (Central Midfielder, age 31, Czech) - Horak missed much of the first half of this season with a torn groin muscle, but the anchor man was now back in business. I expected this energetic workhorse to hassle our midfielders all day long and come in with some tough tackles. Frans Neven (Central Midfielder, age 25, Belgian) - A bargain £11million buy from Napoli in the summer of 2040, Neven had truly flourished for Liverpool this season. This creative pass master had four goals and 12 assists to his name, and there would surely be plenty more to come. Mirza Korajlic (Left Midfielder, age 27, Bosnian) - Korajlic was a left-sided, right-footed attacker with a knack for taking a mean set-piece, as we found out in a league fixture last year. The flamboyant former Bayern Munich trickster also loved to knock the ball past his opponents and then cut inside. Doug Higgs (Forward, age 24, English) - Former Arsenal poacher Higgs joined Liverpool last summer following an excellent season in Scotland with Hibernian. The talented and intelligent frontman had not yet met expectations on Merseyside, but it was surely only a matter of time before he did. Aleksandrs Lapkovskis (Forward, age 25, Latvian) - Lapkovskis was the Reds' joint-top scorer this season, with 13 goals. He'd quickly become a fan favourite after his summer move from Donji Srem in Serbia, with his majestic dribbling ability proving particularly captivating to Scousers. We'd already won the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Championship this season. Could we now claim a third trophy, and make it halfway towards a potential sextuple?
  12. CFuller

    An Impossible Man

    *** After a grand tour of 12 cities, the 2020 UEFA European Championship had reached its grand climax. The four remaining teams would now descend on London's Wembley Stadium to determine which of them could claim to be the best in Europe. The first of the Semi Finals took place on 7 July, with holders Portugal - spearheaded as always by the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo - facing up against surprise packages Russia. The Selecção das Quinas set out their stall early, with André Silva of Paris Saint-Germain driving them into the lead after just three minutes. Despite some somewhat industrial tactics from Russia, Portugal continued to dominate proceedings, though they wouldn't strengthen their advantage until the 81st minute. Gonçalo Guedes - Manchester City's new club-record £81million signing from PSG - scored from the penalty spot after compatriot Paulo Oliveira had been pushed in the Russian penalty area by Fedor Smolov. Portugal were awarded another penalty on 84 minutes, this time after Georgy Djikia got too aggressive with Oliveira. This time, Guedes' spot-kick crashed against the woodwork, but it didn't matter. Russia's last hope of saving themselves was snatched away when left-back Sergey Petrov received a second yellow card in the penultimate minute. Portugal ran out 2-0 winners and were within 90 minutes of successfully defending the Henri Delaunay Trophy - a feat previously achieved only by Spain in 2012. Fernando Santos' side would now wait for their Final opponents to be determined the following evening. There was a fever-pitch atmosphere at Wembley less than 24 hours later, on the evening of 8 July. The second Semi Final would see England - the host nation for these latter stages - do battle with Denmark for the second time in almost exactly a month. It already seemed an age ago that Denmark had dismantled England 3-1 at the Telia Parken in Copenhagen, in what was both sides' final match before the tournament began. Few could have imagined that they would collide again so soon - and at this stage of the Euros, no less. Coached by Åge Hareide, Denmark had followed up their demolition of England by putting four goals past a sorry Montenegro side in their Group D opener. Despite subsequently losing to Germany and Russia, the Danish Dynamite snuck through to the Last 16 as one of the better 3rd-placed sides. It was in the knockout phase where the Danes really came alive. Centre-back Andreas Christensen headed in the solitary goal that accounted for Spain in the Last 16, while a brace from Yussuf Poulsen scalped France in the Quarter Finals. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was now potentially two games away from a shock European Championship triumph to rival that of his father Peter's legendary team from 1992. Denmark had shown an awful lot of fighting spirit against France - perhaps a bit too much for Hareide's liking. The 66-year-old Norwegian would head into the Semi Final without four players, including his two-goal hero Poulsen, who had incurred suspensions against Les Bleus. Full-backs Nicolai Boilesen and Daniel Wass, along with Chelsea midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, would also have to watch the match from the stands. Of those players Hareide did still have at his disposal, his main asset was still undoubtedly Tottenham Hotspur's Christian Eriksen. Accompanying the 28-year-old in midfield would be two other players with Premier League experience - Crystal Palace destroyer Thomas Delaney, and former Middlesbrough and Stoke City playmaker Viktor Fischer, who now played in Germany for Hoffenheim. Meanwhile, Mark Catterall had most of his England squad to choose from. Jack Wilshere's twisted ankle was keeping him out for another match, and though captain Jordan Henderson was passed fit to play after damaging his heel in the Quarter Final thrashing of Germany, he was only given a watching brief. With Henderson rested, Joe Hart once again assumed the England captaincy. The Manchester City goalkeeper's back four consisted of his club-mate Michael Keane in the centre alongside CSKA Moscow's Gary Cahill, with Danny Rose and Calum Chambers on the flanks. Tottenham's James Ward-Prowse and Eric Dier were in midfield, behind a potentially fearsome attacking quintet of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Rolando Aarons, and the tournament's joint-top scorer Harry Kane. Kane had been out on his own with four goals - three of which had been scored against Germany - until Portugal's Silva matched him in the first Semi Final. England had previously reached the last four of the Euros in 1968 and 1996, only to fall at the penultimate hurdle on each occasion. The latter defeat was especially galling, as they had lost on penalties to Germany at the old Wembley Stadium, behind the Twin Towers. Would the rebuilt ground, and its arch, provide better luck for the Three Lions? At first, it looked like the situation was affecting England more than it was Denmark. The Danish Dynamite won a corner after just two minutes, when right wing-back Jacob Bruun Larsen's cross was turned behind by Hart. Denmark's wing-back on the left flank - Riza Durmisi - saw his delivery headed away by Keane, and a follow-up cross was safely gathered by Hart. Four minutes later, Danish striker Martin Braithwaite - the man who'd scored the opener in that previous meeting back in Copenhagen - was tripped by Dier. Spanish referee Antonio Miguel Matéu Lahoz issued an early booking to Dier, who'd already received two yellow cards earlier in the tournament and served a suspension against Germany. After a nervy start, England began to attack their visitors in the ninth minute. Shortly after his corner kick was intercepted, Ward-Prowse retook the ball and crossed to Kane at the back post. A good connection would've made Kane the outright leading scorer at Euro 2020 again, but he could only flick Ward-Prowse's delivery long. A few more England corners followed over subsequent minutes, but the Danes stood their ground. It arguably helped them that the English front four were struggling to get shots on target. Manchester United youngster Rashford looked a bundle of nerves in the 18th minute, miscuing a shot from a Dier pass that perhaps should've at least got close to Schmeichel. Denmark's goalkeeper would have his first meaningful work to do in the 26th minute, catching a drilled cross from Chambers on England's right flank. Schmeichel then faced his first shot on target just moments later, with Sterling's crashing drive giving the Leicester City icon a stern test from 25 yards out. Durmisi also went for the spectacular at the other end shortly afterwards. The diminutive Sampdoria left-back had scored just once in a five-year international career with the Danish Dynamite, and it wasn't hard to see why when his edge-of-the-area shot sailed into the stand. When Ward-Prowse messed up a headed interception from Denmark captain Simon Kjær's long ball in the 31st minute, the visitors were gifted another opportunity. Feyenoord striker Nicolai Jørgensen ran onto the ball and had a pop from distance, though he only found the sponsor boards. Jørgensen later damaged his heel in a heavy collision with Cahill on 43 minutes. He played on for the rest of the period, even half-volleying Jannik Vestergaard's direct ball inches wide just before half-time. However, Hareide decided not to risk him aggravating his injury, so Marcus Ingvartsen replaced him up front for the second half. Another change by the Danish manager saw the tiring Eriksen cede his spot to Huddersfield Town midfielder Philip Billing. Catterall also made two changes in personnel after a goalless first period. The 4-2-3-1 made way for a 4-4-2 diamond, with midfield men Danny Drinkwater and Dele Alli taking the places of Aarons and Sterling. The opening stages of the second half were fairly uneventful, save for Schmeichel's comfortable 50th-minute catch from a Ward-Prowse corner. A minute later, Hareide sensed that one of his Danish defenders was struggling for fitness. He substituted Vestergaard, with former Aston Villa centre-half Jores Okore - now playing for FC København - coming on to add some more energy to the backline. England had enjoyed an extra day's rest on Denmark and were now hoping to take advantage of their opponents' increasing tiredness. In the 57th minute, Chambers whipped an excellent cross into the box for Kane, who tried to beat Schmeichel at his near post. The goalkeeper had other ideas. On 63 minutes, Denmark summoned up the energy to put together another attack. Bruun Larsen's cross found Delaney in the English area, but the tenacious 28-year-old had to shoot with his weaker right foot and predictably couldn't keep his effort on target. Three minutes after that, Ingvartsen's drive from the 'D' was deflected behind the England byline off Cahill. Dier comfortably cleared Durmisi's corner and kicked off a counter-attack from the Three Lions, though that ended with Schmeichel making light work of a deep Rose cross. England's next attacks were somewhat disappointing for many at Wembley. A rare Cahill strike in the 71st minute was charged down by Valencia defender Erik Sviatchenko, whose club-mate Daniel Sturridge would soon replace Rashford in the England frontline. Four minutes later, Billing produced another excellent Danish block from Alli's half-volley. Further attempts by Drinkwater and Ward-Prowse during the final 15 minutes of normal time failed to find the target. The home crowd gradually grew louder and more passionate, hoping to spur the Three Lions on to a dramatic winner in the two minutes of stoppage time that would follow. In the last of those extra minutes, Drinkwater cut out a drilled cross from Durmisi deep in the England half. Drinkwater moved the ball forward to Kane, who wonderfully lobbed it ahead of his new strike partner Sturridge. The 30-year-old surged clear of Delaney to breach the defence and go one-on-one with Schmeichel. This was his big chance to claim victory for England. Sturridge entered the Danish area as three red shirts approached him from behind. The striker tried to cut the ball past Schmeichel from a tight angle, but the goalkeeper blocked the shot with his left thigh. Okore then hacked the ball into touch, though that still left England with about half a minute to produce one last moment of magic. After collecting Rose's throw-in from the left, Sturridge drifted past Delaney and lobbed the ball into the box. Kane got above a crowd of defenders to meet the delivery with his head, but the connection wasn't powerful enough to beat Schmeichel. Shortly after the Danish custodian secured the ball, Matéu Lahoz blew his full-time whistle. England 0, Denmark 0. This Euro 2020 Semi Final was heading into extra-time.
  13. CFuller

    House of Flying Daggers

    FEBRUARY 2042 (continued) I forgot to mention this before the Manchester United match, but Under-18s defender Bradley Douglas went out on loan again. Bradley joined League One strugglers Northampton Town for a month, during which he would cover for one of their injured starting centre-backs. Anyway, back to Premier League matters, and we followed up our excellent win over the leaders with a midweek away game against mid-table Fulham. The Cottagers' on-loan Daggers striker Stevie Merson was unable to play in this match, but they still had Joe Shepherd, whose haul of 19 league goals had put him 3rd in the Golden Boot race. If we could keep the Scotsman schtum, it would go some way to earning us a win at Craven Cottage. 12 February 2042: Fulham vs Dagenham & Redbridge Joe Shepherd had his first opportunity to add to his goal tally after just five minutes. Fulham's star striker got his head to an excellent corner from Catatau, but Dagenham goalkeeper Kayo Rowe produced an even better save to push it behind. The second Catatau corner was then cleared by George Darvill as we held firm. That turned out to be the only real scoring opportunity in a tense opening 20 minutes, during which Fulham had veteran midfielder Lloyd Mulvaney booked for a clumsy challenge on Kenneth Jorgensen. The referee issued another yellow card in the 27th minute, this time to Daggers left-back Juan Esteban Olvera, who'd cut through Cottagers captain Dan Mortimer. The subsequent free-kick started a home attack that culminated in Shepherd driving his low shot inches wide. Fulham had another opportunity in the 37th minute, when Mulvaney lifted a free-kick into our box. Daggers striker Antonis Siafos climbed above Cottagers counterpart Fethi Yaken to head it behind, prompting the hosts to unsuccessfully claim for a penalty. Yaken then rifled a half-volley off target three minutes later. Up until the 42nd minute, our only shots had been a couple of blocked attempts from Lee Allen and Mark Washington. Captain Orlando Salvador would fare rather better just before half-time. After Dagenham right-back Enrique Álvarez was tackled by Fulham winger Ales Sterba close to the home area, Orlando rushed to the loose ball and lashed in an unstoppable strike! It'd taken a great effort from a truly wonderful player to give us the lead! The second half started off scrappily, with Shepherd and Allen each picking up minor knocks for their respective teams. Unlike in the first period, though, we went on the offensive early on. In the 54th minute, attacking midfielder Michal Twardzik delivered a warning shot that was well held by Fulham goalkeeper Luka Jishiashvili. Barely a minute later, Jishiashvili was looking rather less assured. Salvador looked for Siafos, who dribbled into the area and powered the ball goalwards. Jishiashvili could only palm it into the path of our vice-captain Washington, whose first senior goal since December gave us a 2-0 advantage! Mark was now looking for a brace. Washington had a shot blocked by Fulham left-back Ivo Vogel in the 63rd minute, but Salvador quickly headed the ball back to the American, who then drilled it beyond the far post. When Salvador was booked for tripping Catatau in the 67th minute, I quickly decided to take him off and keep him fresh for future matches. As Paddy Rattle entered the field, the captain's armband was passed to Mark, who soon helped us to kill the game off. After Yaken was booked for felling Álvarez on 71 minutes, Washington floated a free-kick into the area from the right. Jishiashvili tipped the delivery behind before Siafos could head it home, but the next set-piece would be too much for him. Thulani Mazibuko's outswinging corner was perfectly weighted for George Darvill to flick in his fourth league goal of the season, setting a new personal record! George's bullet put the seal on a 3-0 Daggers win, and we could even have finished on four goals had either Twardzik or Siafos not spurned late chances. Michal would also end the game on a yellow card after tripping Fulham defender Raúl Gomes on 88 minutes. Fulham - 0 Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Salvador 42, Washington 55, Darvill 72) Premier League, Attendance 30,000 - POSITIONS: Fulham 12th, Dag & Red 2nd DAG & RED LINE-UP: Rowe, Álvarez (Danchev), Charles, Darvill, Olvera (Mazibuko), Jorgensen, Salvador (Rattle), Allen, Twardzik, Washington, Siafos. BOOKED: Olvera, Salvador, Twardzik. We had now moved ahead of Arsenal into 2nd place, and there was a chance that we could overtake leaders Manchester United if we won our next league match the following week. Before Reading's visit to Rainham Road, though, we had another big home game to plan for. It was Round 5 of the FA Cup, and Derby County arrived at Rainham Road fancying their chances of scalping the holders. The Rams were on course to breach the Premier League's top four for the first time, and they had arguably the most fearsome attack in the division. Yassine Allali and company would surely push us all the way. 15 February 2042: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Derby County Derby certainly made their intentions clear from the off. After a mesmeric passing move in the 9th minute, England Under-21s winger Joby Lyons swung a deep cross into our box. Yassine Allali jumped above Daggers defender Bradley Charles to nod it down to another Rams youngster in Matty Holmes, whose diving header was caught by Antoni Giménez. Allali's first scoring opportunity saw him screw a free-kick wide in the 14th minute, but the Premier League's joint-top scorer would be back on target just two minutes later. Daggers playmaker Eric Knox paid a heavy price for having a pass intercepted by Derby defender Radek Pilar, who lobbed it upfield towards Allali. The Belgian beast glided past Charles and then powered home his 26th goal in all competitions this season! Trailing 1-0 to a fearsome County team was worrying enough, and it certainly didn't bode well for our chances of a comeback when Frédéric Pereira was booked in the 28th minute. Frédi's mistimed tackle on Leigh Cheetham left the French destroyer walking a proverbial tightrope, and he wasn't quite as threatening to the visitors thereafter. Thulani Mazibuko briefly ruffled the Rams' wool by driving a shot just wide on 34 minutes. On the stroke of half-time, though, we were rammed to the canvas by a devastating counterstrike. Dagenham captain Mark Washington's free-kick delivery into the Derby area was headed clear by rival skipper Paul Sherwood. The Rams then charged forward before Allali's byline cross was blasted into the net by 20-year-old midfielder Holmes. At 2-0 down, we were now in real danger of meekly surrendering both the FA Cup and our unbeaten home record! I used my half-time team-talk to remind the Daggers of what they were about to lose. They returned with a renewed hunger, and with two pairs of fresh legs in Lee Allen and Milen Danchev. Pereira was subbed to prevent him picking up another yellow card, while Michal Twardzik also came off after a similarly disappointing first period. Despite his earlier error, I kept faith in Knox. Eric would get us up and running in the 47th minute, with his piledriver forcing Derby keeper Frederik Bisgaard into his first save of the afternoon. The Danish custodian would then tip away a 52nd-minute cross from Gianfranco Torre, two minutes after counterpart Giménez had caught a header from Allali to stop us falling further behind. Washington next went close for Dagenham on 56 minutes, swerving a free-kick just off target. Six minutes later, Mark showed how willing he was to fight for the Daggers cause. A through-ball from Danchev looked like being hoovered up by Pilar, but Washington was just about able to divert it beyond the County centre-half and ahead of Allen. When Lee got behind the defence and stabbed the loose ball past Bisgaard, he cut our arrears down to a single goal! However, in the 67th minute, Derby threatened to go two goals clear again. Rams right-back Cheetham knocked the ball down the line for Lyons to cross to Allali. Home fans held their breaths as the striker jumped clear of Mazibuko... and flicked the cross off target. I then made my final substitution in the 73rd minute, taking Knox off to give Orlando Salvador the chance to save our skins. Orlando had just come on when an equalising opportunity arose for one of our earlier subs. Danchev ran onto a fine weighted pass from Mazibuko, but his shot was too close to Bisgaard. Milen would produce a moment to truly savour just three minutes later. The young Bulgarian right-winger evaded pressure from Derby left-back Ntesang Phiri and crossed towards the six-yard box, where Orlando slid the centre into the net! It was now 2-2, and the momentum was with the Daggers! Danchev looked to complete the comeback in the 79th minute, only for Bisgaard to make a comfortable catch. Five minutes later, Derby's 'other' Belgian striker was hoping to spoil our dreams. Roan Van Camp - a 22-year-old who'd come off the bench after Salvador's equaliser - latched onto a pass from Holmes and then struck from the edge of our 'D'. Giménez couldn't quite reach Van Camp's shot, but his near post saved him, as the ball was deflected wide! We then benefitted from another huge slice of luck in the final minute of normal time. Salvador was shoved by Derby defender Chris Moss right on the edge of the visitors' penalty box, giving him a free-kick in a great position. The Portuguese playmaker drove in a powerful set-piece that was blocked by Holmes in the Rams' wall, but then deflected beyond a helpless Bisgaard and into the net! Salvador the supersub had brought us from the brink of elimination and led us into the FA Cup Quarter Finals! Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Allen 62, Salvador 76,90) Derby County - 2 (Allali 18, Holmes 45) FA Cup Round 5, Attendance 23,157 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Giménez, Mazibuko, Charles, Walters, Olvera, Johnston, Knox (Salvador), Pereira (Allen), Twardzik (Danchev), Washington, Torre. BOOKED: Pereira. As Derby County wondered what the heck had happened, we got ourselves into the FA Cup Round 6 draw. Things had opened up nicely for us again, with Arsenal the only other top-six Premier League side still in contention. Indeed, we would be given a favourable away draw against Crystal Palace - one of no fewer than four Championship teams who had made it to the Quarter Finals. Is it too early to talk about the Daggers winning back-to-back FA Cups?
  14. CFuller

    An Impossible Man

    Chapter 39 - Homecoming On the morning of Sunday 5 July 2020, Mark Catterall drove to the Blackpool Victoria Hospital in Lancashire with his son Luke. His mother Barbara, who had been battling cancer for several months, had been readmitted to hospital late on Saturday morning. As he and Luke arrived at Barbara's ward, Mark said, "Hello, Mum. It's Mark... and Luke." "Oh, hello," Barbara smiled, her voice somewhat drowsy as she lay in her bed. "I wasn't expecting you." Mark said, "When Gemma called me last night and told me what happened, I felt like I had to come and see you. I thought bringing the little fella would help you feel better as well." Holding a blanket, Luke said, "I got something for you, Nan." Barbara gushed, "Oh, a blanket! How thoughtful! That will make me a lot more comfortable." "Mum bought it last month and got it all nice and washed for you. I really wanted to get you some flowers or fruit, but Dad said the hospital might not allow them because they could spread germs." "That's true. I'm sure the hospital would've been fine with the flowers, but not so much the fruit. Besides, my immune system can't handle fruit anymore." "So what happened, Nan?" "I took a bit of a tumble," Barbara replied. "I fell down the stairs. Again." Mark sighed, "Oh, Lord, not again. We really should've got you a stairlift the first time round." "It's alright, love. "Did you call the emergency services?" Luke asked. "Of course, I did." "You know it's not 999 anymore, right?" Luke smiled, before bursting into song, "0118 999 88199 9119 725... 3." Barbara laughed gently, but Mark wasn't smiling. He rebuked his son, "Don't try and be funny, wise guy. Now's not a good time." As Luke looked towards the floor sadly, Barbara said, "He's only trying to lighten the mood, Mark. I could do with some laughter right about now." "Ah, alright, sorry. So you ain't been feeling too good recently, have you?" "I'd rather... be in my own bed than a hospital one, let me put it that way. Mind you, the doctors and nurses are doing their best to try and make me feel happier and more at ease." Luke then came back into the conversation, gently stroking Barbara's right hand before asking, "You went into hospital last month, didn't you? Are you in the same room?" "Same room, yes," Barbara nodded. "I even recognise a few friends from last time. Elsie, two beds to your left... she's been here for six weeks. There was also a young woman called Tracey across the room who had cancer... but she passed away this morning." Mark said, "That's sad." Barbara's voice then broke as she added, "She was only 31 and all. That's no age." "Jesus," Mark sighed. "That's how old Jenny was when we got married." "It makes you think, doesn't it? And it makes you appreciate what time you have. I've had 72 years so far and have lived a full life. That poor girl never really got a chance." After a brief pause, Barbara said, "Mark. I want to speak to you alone... without Luke." "Okay," Mark nodded. He asked Luke, "You don't mind leaving us two for a while, do you, son?" "No, I don't mind," Luke said. "Meet you soon, Nan." After Luke was escorted out of the room by a young nurse, Barbara told Mark, "Listen, love. I think my time is running out." Mark shook his head. "What, Mum? What are you saying?" "It has been seven months now, and the chemotherapy's just not working. I'm as weak as a kitten..." "That's what chemo can do, though, can't it?" "Let me finish. I'm as weak as a kitten... my bones are like dust... and my body is failing. I can't live like this. I can't let you see me live like this." "So what are you going to do?" "I'm thinking of stopping the chemotherapy... and perhaps..." Barbara then took a gulp before saying, "And perhaps going into palliative care." Mark was stunned. "End-of-life care? Are you sure?" "I've had a good innings, as your father would have said. He did like a bit of cricket, did Brian. Anyway, I would rather go quietly and peacefully... than suffer prolonged pain." "I can understand that, Mum. If that's what you want, that's fine." "If the Good Lord says that my time has come, then I'll go with him. I've lived a life that's been good. I've seen all four of you grow up to have successful careers... well, three of you, actually." "You're not still bitter over Andy, are you?" Barbara slowly shook her head, "Andrew has had a very long time to get back in touch with us. If he doesn't want to say goodbye to his dear mother, then that's his problem." "Fair enough." "But that's enough about me. What about you, Mark? I hear you've had more success in Europe. Both your grandfathers fought the Nazis in the War, and they would have been so proud of how you defeated the Germans." "We might have beaten Germany, but I wouldn't call it success yet, Mum," Mark blushed. "Success would be at least getting to the Final, if not winning it." "And I think you will succeed, love. I hope that God can give me one more week, so I can see my big boy win the European Championship. Then I really would die happy." "We'll see what we can do."
  15. CFuller

    An Impossible Man

    *** There was an air of excitement in the England dressing room. The Three Lions had just thrashed Germany 4-0 in Munich to reach the Semi Finals of UEFA Euro 2020, representing only the third time they had progressed that far at a European Championship. Harry Kane was the man of the hour, having bagged three of the four goals. He was congratulated by attacking coach David Platt, who told him, "You were incredible, Harry! That's 28 England goals you've scored now - one more than I ever got!" Kane said, "Cheers, Dave, but y'know, I don't think about records. All I care about is going out there, getting some goals, winning games, y'know, all that good stuff." "Get one more goal, lad, and you'll be among the top 11 England scorers of all-time - level with Frank Lampard and Vivian Woodward!" "Yeah, y'know, obviously Frank was a great player, y'know, a top player. Don't know who Viv Woodward is, to be fair, y'know. Did you used to play with him?" A huge roar then went up across the dressing room when manager Mark Catterall entered. Left-back Luke Shaw called out, "There's the man who helped us beat the Germans! Sir Winston Catterall!" Catterall raised a wry smile at Shaw's remarks. As the room slowly quietened down, Catterall addressed his players, "Lads, I thought you were bloomin' marvellous out there. You carried out the gameplan to the letter. Germany didn't know what had hit them! "You're in the Semi Finals now, but don't get complacent just because we've got home advantage from now on. Wednesday's match will be tougher than anything you've come up against so far. Denmark and France are two brilliant teams with outstanding technical players, so we'll have to be prepared for a battle, whoever we face. "Enjoy the rest of the evening, lads, but remember that I want you up bright and early tomorrow. We've got a flight to catch." Catterall was then applauded by his players, including captain Jordan Henderson, whose right foot was now heavily bandaged. "We wouldn't have gone this far without you, boss," Henderson said as he put his hand on Catterall's shoulder. Catterall said, "Don't thank me; thank yourselves. You're the ones who made it happened. Anyway, Jordan, how's your heel?" Henderson sighed, "It's not great, to be honest. The physio says I can't train for a week, so that's me out of the Semi. Hopefully, I'll be fit for the Final if we go through." "That's good to hear, Jordan, but don't think too far ahead," Catterall said. "There's still lots of work to be done." After showering and changing, the England players returned to their lodgings in Munich, staying for one more night before their return to the United Kingdom. The squad landed back on home soil the following morning, arriving in Birmingham after a two-hour flight. They were then driven to the team hotel near St George's Park in Staffordshire, where they would continue their preparations for the Semi Final. Unsurprisingly, the hype surrounding a potential end to England's century of hurt was only growing as far as the sports media were concerned. The 4-0 demolition of Germany received almost blanket coverage on Sky News, let alone Sky Sports News, from Friday night until Saturday lunchtime. To be fair, it had been a slow news week, with Sky's main story on Friday morning being that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had fallen off a scooter in north London. As for the newspapers, even the Daily Telegraph were getting carried away, as their chief football writer wrote, "The 2018 World Cup was a boon to many long-suffering England supporters, though there was no stand-out result to stir belief that victory at a major championship was possible. The ruthless and efficient manner in which Germany were despatched at the Allianz Arena indicates that, for the first time in many years, England are bona-fide contenders." The tabloids had shown even less restraint. The Daily Mirror channelled their inner Basil Fawlty with the front-page headline: "DON'T MENTION THE FOUR: Kane destroys Germany as England reach Euro Semis". The Sun also referred to previous Anglo-German hostilities, albeit in a rather less subtle manner, by declaring, "BLITZKRIEG! Hat-trick Harry bombs clueless Krauts". Later on Saturday evening, Catterall and some of his players sat down to watch TV coverage of the last of the Quarter Finals. They already knew that holders Portugal would contest the first Semi Final with Russia, following the latter's penalty shoot-out win over Turkey at the end of a goalless draw in St Petersburg. Now it was time for the Three Lions to discover who they would be playing next. France - runners-up at their last two major tournaments - were expected to overwhelm Denmark at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Les Bleus had blitzed through to the Quarters with 13 goals from their first four matches, while the Danes had been very fortunate to get this far after losing two group games. The knockout stages of Euro 2020 had thrown up more than a few shocks, and after a goalless first half, another looked to be on the cards. Then, in the 47th minute, the pressure of being the new tournament favourites really took its toll on France. The French defence was left horribly exposed when Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen's pass into the area was squared by Nicolai Jørgensen to Yussuf Poulsen on the left side. Poulsen's first strike was pushed back towards the RB Leipzig striker by Les Bleus captain Hugo Lloris, who then watched the follow-up fly past him and into the net. Things then got a bit heated, with plenty of tough tackles flying in, mostly from the Danish Dynamite. The referee would ultimately hand out a total of seven yellow cards - five to players in red jerseys. Despite their lack of discipline, it was Denmark who would keep cool when it mattered most. With seven minutes to go, Denmark right-back Daniel Wass evaded the presence of France's left-back Theo Hernández to play in Poulsen, who drilled his second goal into the far corner. The Danes were on their way to London after a 2-0 win, while Didier Deschamp's French side would have to stew over another golden opportunity that had gone begging. England could now make concrete plans for a Semi Final against Denmark at Wembley on 8 June. Win that, and they would return four days later, with the opportunity to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy for the very first time. As the final whistle blew, England assistant manager Michael Burke sighed, "So... it's the Danes. Again." "Yeah, that ain't going to be easy," Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater admitted. "We all remember what happened last time, don't we?" Catterall was more upbeat, claiming, "What happened in Copenhagen doesn't matter now. As far as Denmark are concerned... it's one thing to beat us on their own pitch when there's nothing riding on it. Trying to do that at Wembley in a tournament Semi Final is completely different." "I agree," Joe Hart nodded. "We should beat them, but we've got to stay focussed. There are no easy games in international football... except when you're playing Gibraltar, maybe." Catterall then felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Upon discovering that he was receiving a call from his sister Gemma, he stood up and told Burke, "I've got to take this call. I'll be back in a minute..." Mark left the room to answer Gemma's call. Meanwhile, Burke and the players continued to discuss the upcoming test. "The strikers will have to be bang in form on Wednesday," Drinkwater said. "I know Kasper Schmeichel very well from Leicester, obviously, and he's a quality keeper." Burke retorted, "Yes, Danny, but he's not exactly a world-beater like his old man, is he?" "I wouldn't go slagging him off so easily if I were you. It could go to penalties for all we know, and Kasper's a mean beast when it comes to stopping them." Burke scoffed, "Of course, but we have got a keeper who's renowned for saving penalties as well." Hart's eyes lit up, only for Burke to then say, "Freddie Woodman." Hart laughed nervously before asking, "The gaffer's not seriously thinking about putting Freddie in goal, is he? He's a good keeper and a top bloke, all right, but big games like these demand big-game players." Burke stated, "No one's guaranteed a start right now, Joe. Not even you. But if you keep impressing our goalkeeping coach... what's his name... Tom Blossoms?" "Tim Flowers." "Yeah, him as well. Anyway, if you do impress Ted Flanders, then maybe Mark will keep you... hang on a minute. That ain't Mark's ad on the telly, ain't it?" The England contingent cheered as Catterall appeared on the TV screen, promoting the betting company BetVictor. Standing on a training pitch in Copenhagen, the manager recited to camera, "I specialise in 'remote management', but you can now specialise in 'remote management' of your bets with the new BetVictor app. It's now faster and more responsive than ever. "Want to know summat else? BetVictor will refund all losing bets on the Euros if England win the tournament. So if we win, you win as well." Catterall re-entered the room just seconds later, causing Burke to call out, "Hey, Catts! Your advert's on!" Burke then realised that Catterall had a stunned look etched across his face, and then asked, "What's wrong, mate?" "That... was my sister on the phone," Catterall said, his voice wobbling. "It's about our mum." 2020 UEFA European Championship Quarter Final Results England 4-0 Germany Denmark 2-0 France Turkey 0-0 Russia (aet, Russia win 4-3 on penalties) Portugal 3-2 Austria 2020 UEFA European Championship Semi Final draw England vs Denmark Russia vs Portugal