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CFuller

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About CFuller

  • Rank
    Youth Team

Biography

  • Biography
    Football Manager storyteller from Romford, Essex

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  • Favourite Team
    Arsenal

Currently Managing

  • Currently Managing
    Dag & Red (FM13), England (FM17)

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  1. Another Final

    Your international stories are always a joy to read, ED. This is a fantastic idea that I rather wish I'd thought of myself, so I look forward to seeing how this one pans out. (And I'll try not to spill out any obvious jokes about Scotland... oh.)
  2. An Impossible Man

    And so we come to the 2018 FIFA World Cup... but I'm afraid you will have to wait until after Christmas to find out how England get on. Before then, there are some things I need to get off my chest. As I write this, I am quite a few years into the save game, and I've come to a bit of a crossroads. For the first time in a long time, I am feeling a little bit burnt out from FM. In addition, a few things have crept into my game that have pretty much limited its shelf life as far as I'm concerned. I was never going to manage England for 20+ years or something ridiculous, but now it's highly unlikely that I'll even reach double figures. In addition, while this story does have a decent level of support as far as FMS goes, it doesn't seem to have captured people's imagination as much as my FM13 stories, or even "Jeux Sans Frontières". I'm not sure why that is. Don't get me wrong - I am still enjoying writing "An Impossible Man" and posting it up on FMS. I'm just having some trouble motivating myself to continue with it long-term, especially with all the stress that will come with moving house in the new year. Maybe I need a prolonged break from FM, and possibly even FMS. I will commit to concluding this season (including the World Cup and the European Under-19s Championship) after Christmas. Once that's all finished... well, I don't know yet. In the meantime, any feedback on this story would be greatly welcomed. Christopher Fuller (CFuller) 15 December 2017
  3. An Impossible Man

    *** The England squad's flight from Heathrow touched down at Bucharest's Henri Coandă International Airport on the evening of 7 June. Mark Catterall and his team would spend the next four days in Bucharest, culminating in their final FIFA World Cup warm-up fixture against Romania. FIFA's World Rankings had Romania down as the 13th-best national team on the planet - one spot below England's previous opponents Chile. Though the Tricolorii had been very underwhelming at UEFA Euro 2016, a strong World Cup qualifying campaign - and a favourable draw for the Finals - had their fans dreaming of another lengthy cup run to rival their efforts from the 1994 World Cup. Gheorghe Hagi - the volatile but brilliant attacking midfielder - was the undisputed superstar of that 1990s 'dream team'. The Hagi name lived on within the Tricolorii in the form of Gheorghe's 19-year-old son Ianis, who won his eighth senior cap here. Hagi junior was a two-footed winger on the books of Fiorentina, though he'd spent this past season on loan at Leicester City, for whom he scored four Premier League goals. Crystal Palace fans had mixed opinions on striker Denis Alibec, who'd found the net just six times for the Eagles since his £2.8million summer transfer from Steaua Bucharest. Two other Romanian players with Premier League experience were centre-halves Vlad Chiriches and Florin Gardos, formerly of Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton respectively. Romania's head coach was Christoph Daum - a 64-year-old German who'd been in football management for over three decades, winning numerous trophies. Catterall's CV wasn't quite as impressive as Daum's, but the vast amount of quality in his England team would more than make up for any shortfall. The four outfield players who did not feature in the draw with Chile - Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Kyle Walker and Daniel Sturridge - all started this match. Catterall would also give 45 minutes apiece to each of Joe Hart's goalkeeping understudies - Stoke City's Jack Butland and Southampton's Fraser Forster. Chelsea centre-back Cahill took the captain's armband, but he didn't get off to the best of starts. In the sixth minute, Romania's diminutive attacking midfielder Nicolae Stanciu got above him to nod Alexandru Maxim's corner goalwards. Luckily for Cahill, Danny Rose managed to clear the header away from the left-hand post. Tottenham left-back Rose then won England a couple of early corners after having crosses deflected behind by Romanian defenders. However, it was a cross from a rather more surprising source that resulted in the Three Lions going ahead after 16 minutes. Chelsea striker Callum Wilson surged clear of Chiriches to run onto an excellent pass from Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere. Wilson then took the ball to the byline before floating it across to Sturridge, who marked his international return with a lethal bullet header. Romania attempted to hit back quickly, registering three shots on target between the 17th and 21st minutes. Florin Andone, Dragoş Nedelcu and Hagi were all kept off by the scoresheet by Butland, who desperately wanted to impress Catterall enough to earn some gametime at the World Cup. England's defensive players were eager to get stuck in. Separate incidents in the 24th minute saw Cahill booked for upending Andone, and Dier take out Maxim with a firm tackle that sprained the VfB Stuttgart midfielder's ankle. Maxim's match was over, and there were now serious doubts over whether he would play any role in the Tricolorii's World Cup campaign. Daum had another injury concern on his plate in the 30th minute. Napoli striker Andone, who'd scored 12 goals in his first 14 internationals, strained his neck in an aerial challenge with Cahill. Andone would come off at half-time for further assessment of that injury, though it transpired to be nothing serious. He certainly hadn't shown any ill effects in the 35th minute, when he drew another save out of Butland. Sturridge and Wilshere each missed chances to double England's lead late in the first half, with the former volleying an Adam Lallana chip against the post after 38 minutes. Sturridge would later have a couple of shots saved by Romania goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu, leaving him wondering if he could've killed the game off before half-time. England again struggled to find a way past Tatarusanu early in the second period. The Fiorentina shotstopper palmed away a 51st-minute drive from Wilshere, and he produced an even save six minutes after that. Romania left-back Steliano Filip could only nod Jordan Henderson's corner as far as Lallana, whose half-volley was parried away from goal by Tatarusanu. The Three Lions missed another trick after 67 minutes. Walker floated an excellent right-wing cross into the Romanian penalty area, where Sturridge got in front of Gardos and flicked it over the bar. Two minutes later, Sturridge played the ball through to his strike partner Wilson, who fired tamely into Tatarusanu's hands. England upped the tempo in the final 20 minutes to try and force a second goal. Their gamble paid off in the 75th minute. Sturridge played a one-two with substitute midfielder Dele Alli and then swerved in a shot that bent past Chiriches and Tatarusanu before finding the net. Sturridge was once again looking inspired in an England jersey. Three minutes after that second goal, the Liverpool hotshot secured his hat-trick. Sturridge picked up a pass from club-mate Henderson and sprinted clear of Gardos before lifting an excellent effort beyond the goalkeeper's reach. England's three-goal hero then came off to a tremendous reception from the away supporters. Harry Kane replaced Sturridge, but he couldn't join him on the scoresheet, with his only attempt being parried wide by Tatarusanu in the 85th minute. Tatarusanu then pushed Rolando Aarons' immediate follow-up shot back to the young Newcastle United winger. Aarons crossed the rebound to Lallana, whose finish made it third time lucky. England's Liverpool boys had once again come good for the Three Lions. A 4-0 win against a team of Romania's standing was the perfect way to conclude their preparations for Russia 2018. 10 June 2018: International Friendly - at National Arena, Bucharest Romania - 0 England - 4 (Daniel Sturridge 16,75,78, Adam Lallana 85) ENGLAND LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Jack Butland (Fraser Forster); Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill (Michael Keane), Phil Jones, Danny Rose); Eric Dier (Rolando Aarons), Danny Drinkwater (Jordan Henderson), Adam Lallana; Jack Wilshere (Dele Alli); Daniel Sturridge (Harry Kane), Callum Wilson. BOOKED: Drinkwater 13, Cahill 24, Jones 52. Catterall congratulated his team on an excellent performance, but he was keen to wipe out any complacency before their opening World Cup fixture. After all, a bad start against Brazil would put them under real pressure to perform in later group matches. The following day, England's team departed Bucharest for their final journey before the start of the World Cup. A six-hour flight east would take them to Volgograd, which would be their home base for the coming weeks. Catterall's first two years as England manager had shown promising signs that his team were capable of achieving something truly special. Now 'Catts' and the Three Lions had to prove it.
  4. CHAPTER 19 - Anything Is Possible By the end of February 2016, the war between Gary O'Hara and most of the British sports press was intensifying. The Sun had responded to O'Hara's boycott of them by fighting fire with fire - and boycotting Arsenal themselves. Their match report for the Gunners' chastening defeat at the Vitality Stadium was very provocative. The scoreline was printed as "BOURNEMOUTH 3, NORTH LONDON 0", Arsenal were referred to as simply "the visitors", and neither O'Hara nor any of Arsenal's players were explicitly named. Instead, there were subtle references to "the visiting goalkeeper" and "the away team's striker". The Sun also issued a strongly-written warning in bold type: "SunSport will not tolerate any attempts to censor our world-leading sports coverage from any individual or organisation, no matter how big or small." This stand-off between O'Hara and the media was very troubling for the Arsenal hierarchy, and for owner Stan Kroenke in particular. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis said, "Stan got in touch with me after the Bournemouth match to express his concerns about how Gary was managing the team, not just on the pitch and also off it. As far as Stan was concerned, Gary's attitude was damaging the Arsenal brand. "He told me, 'We've got to sort out this mess pronto. If he doesn't get consistent results soon, or he can't come to a truce with the media, then we've got to look for a new manager.' "Stan added that he would give Gary six more matches, up to the Manchester City game before the international break. If our situation hadn't improved by that point, then I would be instructed to terminate Gary's contract." Arsenal went into the new month in 7th place, 11 points adrift of the top four with 11 matches left to play. Their first fixture of a busy March schedule saw them pitted against Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium in midweek. The bad news for Gunners fans was that Swansea were still at the Premier League's summit, where they had resided for much of the season. The good news, as far as Arsenal were concerned, was that Francesco Guidolin's underdogs were finally starting to feel the heat of leading the title race. Following defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool, and a draw with Manchester United in February, Swansea's lofty position was now in real jeopardy. Defeat in this match would potentially see them drop as low as 4th, with Chelsea, Leicester City and Liverpool all primed to pounce if given the opportunity. Mind you, it was Arsenal who looked on edge in the opening minutes. In the third of those, a slack pass from Santi Cazorla was intercepted by Swansea midfielder Pablo Hernández, who drove the ball deep into the hosts' half. France striker Bafétimbi Gomis got to the ball ahead of John Stones and then slotted it to Petr Cech's left, drawing first blood for the Swans. Arsenal fans were already fearing the worst, though their players would soon give them reason for optimism. Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was forced into a couple of unorthodox saves from the Gunners' Spanish duo of Héctor Bellerín and Cazorla at around the 15-minute mark. The third of Arsenal's Spaniards - left-back Nacho Monreal - would also make his mark in the 24th minute. His long throw into the Swansea box evaded the jump of visiting defender Federico Fernández and landed at the feet of Danny Welbeck, who stroked it past Fabianski. The England striker looked towards the referee's assistant for an offside flag before being given the go-ahead to celebrate just his second goal this season. Fernández might've been culpable for that Arsenal equaliser, but he was determined to see Swansea through this storm of home attacks without conceding again. The Argentine centre-half produced a host of sublime interceptions later on to try and keep the Gunners at bay. Arsenal's best chance to take the lead before half-time came from their captain Laurent Koscielny in the 43rd minute. Koscielny - who'd been booked just prior to that equaliser following a trip on Swans striker Alberto Paloschi - met Mesut Özil's corner with a looping header that went over the bar. The Gunners pushed forward again ten minutes into the second period. Welbeck's powerful header from a deep Bellerín cross was met by another great save from Fabianski, who seemed to hurt his wrist in the process. Although the 30-year-old Pole was in some agony, he was adamant that he could continue playing. Fabianski confirmed his fitness in the 57th minute, when he pushed a Joel Campbell strike against his near post after the former Swansea loanee had burst past Ashley Williams. Swans captain Williams then recovered brilliantly to tackle the rebound away from Welbeck before Özil scuffed the follow-up wide. Three minutes later, Cazorla whipped a corner into Swansea's penalty area. Up leapt Stones, who flicked it into the far end of Fabianski's net and completed Arsenal's turnaround from 1-0 down to 2-1 up. There was still half an hour left for Swansea to strike back, so the Gunners couldn't afford to leave themselves open. They did just that in the 65th minute, when Gomis lobbed the ball through their defence and found the run of Ángel Rangel. The substitute wing-back evaded some late pressure from Monreal to get a shot in, but the upright came to the hosts' rescue on that occasion. Gomis exploited Arsenal's high defensive line again in the 72nd minute by playing a wonderful pass ahead of Nicolai Jørgensen. The Denmark forward - who'd been signed from FC Copenhagen in January - burst through the channel and then attempted to lob Cech, only for the ball to drift wide. Arsenal would survive a few more mini-scares before they looked to kill the game off late on. Bellerín could've settled their nerves in the 86th minute, but his attempt to beat Fabianski from a tight angle only resulted in him hitting the post. Nevertheless, the Gunners had still done enough to claim a 2-1 win, and some vengeance for their late defeat to the Welsh side in October. The final whistle ended Swansea's lengthy spell at the top of the Premier League, with champions Chelsea taking over as the new leaders. Meanwhile, Arsenal's top-four hopes were given a much-needed boost, and team morale was high again as they prepared for a second successive weekend on the south coast.
  5. Potential Ability cannot be variable because you cannot be any better than your best. Cristiano Ronaldo was always an exceptional talent destined to reach the top of world football, even while at Sporting CP. The only difference is that if he'd stayed at Sporting until he was, say, 23 instead of 18, he would probably never have reached his maximum PA. Moving to a better club should not increase a player's PA, but rather the chances of them reaching that upper limit. Manchester City could theoretically sign Charlie Wyke (25) from Bradford next month, but that wouldn't mean he would suddenly have the potential to be a Champions League striker. Training at better facilities with better players and coaches would just affect his current ability. An older player's PA cannot be equal to their highest obtained CA, because wasted talents do exist in professional football. Michael Johnson (Manchester City) could genuinely have become a fantastic midfielder had it not been for injuries and attitude problems. Just because he wasn't a ~170 CA player doesn't mean he wasn't a ~170 PA player. 'Variable' PA has been discussed to death on these forums, and I don't really want to ramble on about it much longer, so I'll leave it at that.
  6. An Impossible Man

    *** Thursday 7 June 2018. England's football team were about to embark on the first phase of their journey to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Mark Catterall's 23-man squad, along with his coaching staff, had all gathered at Heathrow Airport by 10:30am. They had chartered a British Airways plane, which would leave London within the next two hours and fly them off to a pre-World Cup training camp in Bucharest. They would spend a few days in the Romanian capital before moving on to their tournament base in Volgograd. Many of the England players' wives or girlfriends were also at Heathrow to see their loved ones off. Catterall had imposed a strict ban on players and their WAGs socialising or living together during the tournament itself, so as to avoid any distractions. Phone and video calls would be permitted every evening, except on match days. Catterall had himself said goodbye to his wife Jenny and son Luke early that morning, before he and his colleagues were driven to London from their Staffordshire headquarters. Catterall was in a discussion with the Football Association's communications chief Ava Leggett as they walked into the departures lounge. Leggett explained the itinerary to the England boss, "We'll be having lunch at half-past-11, then a photo-call on the runway at noon, and then we'll hopefully be flying out at half-12." Catterall nodded, "Thanks, Ava. So, how's this photo-call gonna work, then?" "First off, we're gonna have a team selfie on the tarmac for our social network pages. Don't worry, you don't have to be in that, just the players. Then we'll have everyone standing on the staircase for one big photograph before we board the plane." "By everyone, you mean players, coaches and physios?" "And other FA personnel, like me." "Okay. Anything else I should know?" "Yes," Leggett said, before pointing at the top of Catterall's shirt. "If you're not wearing a necktie, you shouldn't have the top button on your shirt done up. It's just not a good look. Unless you're Olly Murs. Then again, Olly Murs is the kind of guy who'd even look good in a bin liner." "Point taken," Catterall said as he undid the top button. "Jenny was giving me a funny look when I went downstairs this morning. Maybe that's why!" "Well, we women do know quite a lot more about fashion than you blokes do. Take it from me. My mum used to write for Woman's Own." Catterall expressed surprise as he said, "I didn't know that." Leggett and Catterall were then interrupted by a cry from FA chairman Clark Gregory. "MARK! Over here!" The pair turned their heads behind and saw Gregory, who was alongside the FA's chief executive David Whiteman. Leggett whispered in Catterall's ear, "I'll leave you to it. I've gotta go to the ladies' room." Leggett walked away as Catterall approached Gregory and Whiteman, shaking their hands in succession. Whiteman began, "How have you been, Mr Catterall? I trust you slept well." "Like a log," Catterall nodded. "I would say 'like a baby', but if Michael Burke hears me, he'd probably reply with another of his witty comments." Whiteman chuckled heartily, but Gregory was unamused. "This is serious business now, Catterall. And for Christ's sake, man, who dressed you this morning?" "I did. And you do know I never wear a tie, right?" "Yes I do, but in case you haven't noticed, you've got a shirt button undone. If you undid one more, you'd basically be Magnum P.I. with alopecia!" Catterall laughed, "Funny you say that, Clark! I actually had this button done up, but Ava told me to undo it because it 'wasn't a good look'." Whiteman interjected, "It may not be a good look as far as Miss Leggett is concerned, but such a style was considered 'de rigueur' back when yours truly was making one's own way in life. You might not believe me now, but back in the summer of 1965, I styled myself on Pete Townshend from The Who. He had every button on his shirt done up." Gregory growled, "We're veering so far off track that we'll be in the Atlantic Ocean at this rate. Mark, I obviously can't trust you not to make a faux pas on the fashion front. Can I trust you on the football front?" "Yes, you can. We're all ready to go to Russia and make the country proud." "I hope you do, especially after our poor results in recent friendlies. You do know that if you fail to get out of a group with Costa Rica and Georgia, then we'll have no choice but..." Catterall interrupted, "I know. My neck will be on the line if we f*** up, but we won't. You can be sure of that." Whiteman said, "Yes, excusing the somewhat coarse language, those were also the famous last words of a certain Roy Hodgson two years ago. Unlike my esteemed colleague, however, I happen to believe that your self-belief is justified." "I appreciate the vote of support, David." "You are welcome, Mr Catterall," Whiteman acknowledged. "I would personally have loved to have accompanied yourself and the team to Russia. Alas, my dear wife Daphne is to undergo a knee operation next Tuesday, and thus I cannot leave her behind at this juncture." "That's fine. Send her my best wishes." Gregory said, "I won't be joining you, either. One visit to Russia was enough for my lifetime. If I wanted to see some ghastly, God-forsaken architecture, I'd rather go to Grantham." Whiteman stated, "One of my sons lives in Market Deeping, and he would respectfully disagree with Mr Gregory's critique of southern Lincolnshire." Gregory snarled, "I thought I'd got a reprieve from all this crap when Connie Millstone buggered off for the summer." "Where is Connie, then?" Catterall asked of the FA's vice-chair. "If you really must know, Millstone's on a big Asian tour, promoting the FA's bid to stage the World Cup in 2030. The last I heard, she was in Bhutan. The daft cow probably couldn't point to Bhutan on a map! And God knows how she'd cope in a country with no TV!" Whiteman then stretched out a hand to Catterall, saying, "Anyway, Mr Catterall. I wish you and your compatriots the very best of luck on your endeavours in the Russian Federation." Catterall shook Whiteman's hand again, and then exchanged another handshake with Gregory, who said, "All the best, Mark. Let's hope our next meeting is a happier one." Catterall then went off to have lunch with the rest of the England contingent, before the pre-flight photo-call. Midfield playmaker Dele Alli was in charge of taking the squad selfie, which Leggett later uploaded onto the FA's Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. After posing for another team photo on the airstairs, Catterall and his team boarded the plane. As the flight went airborne at just after 12:30pm, the Three Lions left British soil behind, hoping not to set foot on it again for six weeks.
  7. *** O'Hara's media boycott did not stretch as far as BT Sport, who were broadcasting the early Saturday afternoon kick-off between AFC Bournemouth and Arsenal at the Vitality Stadium. He was quite happy to speak to their reporter Andy May before kick-off, and was in a surprisingly boisterous mood. "I just want to put the personal business aside today and get a big win under our belts," he said. "Bournemouth are a good team, and Eddie Howe's a fantastic manager who deserves a lot of credit, but they're fifth-from-bottom. We really should be beating them; in fact, I reckon we'll beat them comfortably. You can mark my words." O'Hara's words were marked, but after just 10 minutes, he was perhaps eating them. Arguably the best player in Bournemouth's team was the on-loan Roma winger Juan Iturbe, who stunned the Gunners by dribbling past their right-back Bellerín and cutting the ball beyond goalkeeper David Ospina from a tight angle. The home fans' cheers were so deafening that the smallest ground in the Premier League was suddenly rocking as if it was Anfield. Striker Callum Wilson took a lot of credit for assisting Iturbe with that opening goal. The pair linked up for another great scoring opportunity in the 18th minute, but Iturbe put Wilson's through-ball into the hands of Ospina. Those Bournemouth chances were the exception rather than the rule. Arsenal would, in fact, dominate the first half-hour with regards to creating openings. It was largely down to some excellent goalkeeping from the experienced Artur Boruc that the Gunners' attempts to equalise would yield no fruit. Arsenal's plight would worsen further in the 31st minute. A fantastically-worked one-two between Wilson and Iturbe left Gunners defender Laurent Koscielny chasing after the young Argentine, who then popped the ball past Ospina for his and the Cherries' second goal. Everything that could've gone wrong for the Gunners was going disastrously wrong. Three minutes before half-time, Kieran Gibbs' cross into the Bournemouth box was met by a half-volley from Walcott. Boruc parried the initial effort, and Walcott's follow-up struck his near post before defender Tommy Elphick bundled it behind for a corner. Arsenal would have two bites at that 'cherry' before Boruc dispelled the danger by catching Gibbs' header. After the first minute of the second period, any hope of an Arsenal comeback was dead in the water. Gibbs failed to keep tabs on Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie, who prodded in a deep cross from Marc Pugh. The minnows were now three goals clear. BT commentator Darren Fletcher - no relation to the West Bromwich Albion captain - announced, "The writing's on the wall for Arsenal... and if Sam Smith was here, he would be singing it loud and clear." The rest of the match was torturous for those Gooners who had travelled to Dorset expecting to see their team hand out a thrashing, rather than get thrashed themselves. O'Hara threw virtually everybody forward after that third home goal to try and save some face, but it was all to no avail. Sánchez skimmed the crossbar with a free-kick in the 52nd minute, while substitute Welbeck fired a long-ranger into Boruc's hands about a quarter of an hour later. The Gunners would have a total of 23 shots at goal in this match. Only eight were on target, and none of them found the net. Bournemouth's statistics showed a rather more clinical team - nine shots, six on target, and three goals. AFC Bournemouth 3, Arsenal 0. Few travelling supporters at the Vitality Stadium had thought such a scoreline was even possible before kick-off. Even fewer had faith in the Gunners manager, and the chorus of "O'Hara Out" chants at the final whistle said it all. Shortly after full-time, May approached O'Hara in the tunnel and ambitiously asked if he'd do a post-match interview for BT Sport. O'Hara thrusted the microphone back towards May and replied, "You can shove that mic up your arse." The Arsenal boss then stormed into the away dressing room, and once again tore into his underperforming stars after their tenth league defeat of the season. A full transcript is perhaps not necessary.
  8. In my FM13 save, I once got a touchline ban for a cup game after criticising a bad call in a league defeat. I could select my starting XI, but tactical changes were out of my control. Anyway, my assistant manager didn't make any substitutions at all during the match, not even when our left-back was sent off. We led 3-2 with 10 minutes remaining, and lost 4-3. I haven't dared risk a touchline ban since.
  9. An Impossible Man

    *** Following a less-than-impressive goalless draw at home to Chile, England's players and coaching staff had one more full day of training at St George's Park. Wednesday night would give them some much-needed time to wind down before they flew out to Eastern Europe. After a long day at work, England manager Mark Catterall returned home at 6:45pm. As the front door was opened for him, he announced his arrival, "Jenny? Luke? I'm home!" Mark's 10-year-old son Luke had opened the door for him. Luke asked, "How was your day, Dad?" Mark said, "Hard but worthwhile. Where's Mum?" "She said she would be in the study upstairs." "Cheers, son," Mark smiled. He gently ruffled Luke's hair before heading upstairs and changing out of his training attire. After a quick shower, he put on some more casual clothes and approached the study, the door for which was closed. From inside the room, Mark just about heard the former BBC football commentator John Motson calling, "CATTERALL SCORES!" He then heard the Geordie tones of ex-England winger Chris Waddle, who stated matter-of-factly, "Yes, good skill, and a tidy finish. Nice goal." Mark opened the door and said, "Hang on, was that John Motson I heard? I thought he'd retired..." Mark then hesitated as Jenny - sat down by her desk - turned her head from her computer monitor and towards him. She appeared to be playing a retro football video game. "What's this, Jen?" Mark asked inquisitively. Jenny stammered, "Oh, Mark, oh... I, er, have just been playing an old FIFA game. World Cup 98." Mark laughed, "France '98! I played in that!" "Yes, you did. In fact, you've just scored in the Last 16 against Argentina!" "I don't think that's what actually happened, Jen," Mark quipped. Mark then sat down on a chair beside Jenny as she paused the game. A mid-1990s drum 'n' bass track - "Soul Beat Runna" by Boymerang - blared through the speakers, prompting Mark to cover his ears and exclaim, "CAN YOU TURN THAT FREAKIN' RACKET OFF?" Jenny quickly navigated to the 'Settings' screen and turned the music volume right down. Mark sighed, "Thank you. So, what brought this on?" "Well, the World Cup's just around the corner, obviously. So I thought I'd get into the spirit of things, go back to my first ever football video game, from 20 years ago." "I never had you down as much of a gamer," Mark said. "You'll be surprised by some of the stuff I like, Mark. We've been together 11 years now, and I still haven't told you everything about me. Now this was a game I absolutely loved playing when I was, like, 14 or 15. I won the World Cup so many times that I'd lost count by the end!" "And now you've got back into it, just like old times." "Yeah. It still works fine on a modern PC, though I had to install a Windows 98 'virtual machine' on Windows 10 first, and then I needed to tweak some settings under the hood." Mark stared at Jenny blank-faced and open-mouthed. Jenny laughed, "Yeah. Now you know what I was thinking the other day when you tried to explain the difference between a regista and a half-back!" Jenny unpaused the game and started to play again, as Mark watched on. He observed, "Video game graphics have come a long way in 20 years, haven't they? Those players look like deformed Minecraft characters! Still, at least they got my likeness spot-on!" Jenny nodded, "Yeah, and you actually had hair back then, didn't you?" Moments later, Jenny celebrated as the in-game 'Catterall' scored another goal, promoting the virtual Motson to call, "Yes, he's scored! Into the top corner! No mistake! What excellent finishing!" Waddle - then arguably at the height of his punditry career - added, "A tremendous goal, John. They don't come much better than that." The real Mark then told Jenny, "You're quite good at this game, aren't you?" "I'm not as quick as I used to be, but you never really lose it," Jenny claimed, before pausing the game again. She turned to her husband and said, "Mark, I'm a little worried about you..." Mark tried to reassure her, "Don't worry, Jen. Like I always say, air travel is very safe nowadays, and I don't think there's much chance of our plane being sh-" Jenny interrupted him, "It's not that. Part of me fears that you'll come back from Russia feeling... you know, all right-wing, crying about 'fake news' and saying that President Trump is the greatest politician of our time." Mark chuckled, "You don't really think that, do you?" Jenny burst out laughing. "No, of course not, you idiot! What do you think I'm like? I know you'll be safe and sound... at least if England do well." "Yeah, we'll see. Anyway, I'll just leave you with your game and see what Luke's up to." "Alright, love. See you later." The couple then kissed before Mark went downstairs and sat down on the living room settee beside Luke, who was playing his guitar. Mark said, "You really enjoy your guitar, don't you, Luke?" Luke nodded, "Hmm hmm," as Mark added, "I can tell you're getting better at that every day. You know, Uncle Andy was a mean guitar player when he was growing up, and Aunt Gemma's husband plays in a band." "I know," Luke said. "Gemma told me the other day. But what happened to Uncle Andy? Why doesn't he see us anymore?" Mark said, "It's a little complicated, son. Anyway... I don't want to interrupt you or anything, but would you mind if Daddy watched some telly?" "I don't mind," Luke said as he continued to strum. Mark switched on the television and then navigated to the family's Sky+ planner before playing a recording of the England vs Chile match from the previous night. He fast-forwarded to the kick-off, where ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley announced, "Following defeats against Argentina and Mexico, England have the opportunity to give their home fans cause for optimism before the World Cup in Russia. Anything other than victory against this robust team from Chile will provide more questions than answers for Mark Catterall." Luke stopped playing his guitar and asked Mark, "Didn't England play last night, Dad?" "Yes, they did," Mark answered affirmatively. "I'm just watching the match again to... work a few things out." "What things?" "Basically, Luke, I have to figure out why we're not scoring as much as we used to." Luke said, "Daniel Sturridge didn't play last night. He always does great for England. Maybe that's why they don't score without him." Mark nodded, "Yeah, Luke. You might be onto something there. Of course, there's more to football than just picking the best players, but I'll definitely give Sturridge a chance next week." "Dad? Where are you going tomorrow?" "Romania. We'll stop there for a few days, and then we're going to Russia for the World Cup. You do know I'll be gone for a few weeks, right?" "Yeah." "And you're alright with that? I know how upset you were when I went away last summer." Luke insisted, "I'll be okay this time, Dad. I promise. And I can't wait for what you bring me from Russia." "You like my gifts, don't you, son? You enjoyed that phone message I got Lionel Messi to record for you at the World Cup draw, didn't you? And that puzzle from Switzerland. I held up the rest of the team for over an hour just to buy you that." "Thank you for all the gifts," Luke said. "You don't have to get me one from every country you go to, but I would love something from the World Cup. Please?" "Sure thing, mate. If you are a good boy for Mum, and England do well over the next few weeks, then maybe I'll get you something extra-special."
  10. Don't count on it. SI did have commentary on one version of CM many years ago, but it was rubbish. They'll probably never bring it back, and neither should they.
  11. As far as I know, Fashanu was still playing, though his best years were behind him. The American player you're thinking of is Robbie Rogers. He came out at the same time he announced his first retirement. He came back for a few years, and has since retired again. Anton Hysen is the only male player I can think of who came out and continued to play professionally. He's now playing in the fourth division of Swedish football.
  12. *** "Gary was incredibly protective of our girls," Laura O'Hara said. "He wanted Adele and Lucy to live their lives as normally as possible, without having every single detail of their lives plastered all over the papers or the Internet. The Daily Mail crossed a line when it came to how they treated Adele." While O'Hara was overseeing his team's FA Cup win over Wolves, he was blissfully unaware that the Daily Mail had photographed his eldest daughter Adele, and a couple of her friends, at Barnet Market. Those photos were then published on their website - Mail Online - on Monday morning under the disturbing headline: "Meet Arsenal's new striker! Gunners boss Gary O'Hara's daughter Adele is looking swell at FOURTEEN". Gary was first alerted to the article by his secretary after overseeing that morning's training session at London Colney. In a state of distress and anger, he almost immediately phoned his wife Laura, who was at work. Laura recalled, "I was in the office when Gary called me, yelling 'Go on the Mail website right now, and see what those bastards have written about our daughter!' "I logged on to the website, and when I saw that article, I just wanted to scream. I phoned the Mail up and told them to 'take that f***ing article down or we'll take you to court'. "I knew that the Mail weren't exactly liberal when it came to their portrayal of women, but this was just too much. It was bad enough that they photographed her, but they wrote such lecherous things about her that the article seemed to be written by a paedophile. "Adele was only 14 years old, for God's sake! The Mail even emphasised her age in the headline, in capital letters!" The Mail received widespread condemnation for publishing the article, which they retracted later on Monday evening. They issued a public apology the next day. The journalist who had written the article - Salma Mazhar - was suspended from her job, and then sacked with little fanfare. The photographer also lost his role within the publication. The Mail's actions had staved off the threat of any potential legal action from the O'Hara family, but Gary was still not wholly satisfied. A press conference was held at Arsenal's training ground on the Thursday afternoon before the Gunners travelled to AFC Bournemouth for their next league match. Before taking questions, O'Hara asked the gathered journalists, "Which of you is from the Daily Mail?" Riath Al-Samarrai raised his hand and was told, "You can f*** off. I won't have anything to do with your lot from now on." As Al-Samarrai was escorted from the press room shaking his head in bewilderment, O'Hara continued, "If you're from The Sun, you can f*** off as well. The same goes if you're from the Metro, the Times, the Express, or the Daily Star. Or Sky Sports. I won't have anything more to do with you toerags." Although most media outlets had strongly criticised the Mail's article and refused to republish any photos of Adele, both The Sun and the Daily Express had printed the offending photos uncensored in their Tuesday editions. O'Hara therefore decided to ban all journalists representing those three newspapers - or any other organisations owned by their holding companies - from his press conferences. When it came to Premier League managers censoring the press, Sir Alex Ferguson's lengthy boycott of the BBC was about as far as things had gone previously. O'Hara's move was unprecedented. He was essentially distancing himself from over half of the UK's newspaper readership, not to mention its most prominent sports television network. From that point on, any 'blacklisted' journalist who tried to get in touch directly with O'Hara would be put on hold. They would then be subjected to a blast of the chorus from the Foals song "Inhaler", which sent out an arguably confrontational message. "So can you not go away? If just for one day? Impossible possible. How d'you feel now? How d'you feel now in a war? War sends out for you. Throw your fortune away, Cause I can't get enough space."
  13. An Impossible Man

    *** The 23 players in England's final FIFA World Cup squad spent one more week training at St George's Park in the build-up to the tournament. They then returned to match action on 5 June - 11 days before they would formally begin their quest to bring that gleaming trophy home. The Three Lions' last friendly international at Wembley before the finals was against South American giants Chile. England fans were desperate to see their side deliver a fitting send-off, especially after the disappointment of the 2-0 defeat to Mexico in March. Just like their fellow Latin Americans from the northern hemisphere, Chile would prove tough nuts to crack. Not only were they ranked 12th in the world, but they were also the two-time defending Copa América holders, having beaten Argentina to win the 2015 and 2016 titles. Arsenal winger Alexis Sánchez was the star attraction, but the likes of Bayern Munich's ball-winning midfielder Arturo Vidal and Bayer Leverkusen playmaker Charles Aránguiz were also widely respected. Chile's last visit to Wembley in 2013 had ended in a 2-0 away victory, with Sánchez scoring both goals. La Roja would again give the hosts plenty to think about in this reunion. England made the more positive start, although a wayward shot from frontman Harry Kane in the 7th minute was a sign of things to come. Seven minutes after that, his Tottenham Hotspur colleague Eric Dier unleashed a half-volley that was deflected away from goal off Chile's Mauricio Isla. The Cagliari winger - and one-time Queens Park Rangers flop - was making his 101st international appearance, just a week before his 30th birthday. Dier missed the target again in the 19th minute, while Southampton's Nathan Redmond half-volleyed over in the 31st. It seemed that England had failed to heed the lessons of their shock failure against Mexico, when they had failed to break down a stubborn defence and were duly punished. Manchester City's much-maligned goalkeeper Claudio Bravo didn't have to produce a single save for La Roja until the 36th minute. Even then, the 35-year-old Chile skipper was untroubled by a powerful but straight shot from England forward Adam Lallana. Bravo's main rival for City's number 1 jersey - Joe Hart - had an even quieter first half in the England goal. This Chile team was built for direct, counter-attacking football, but they only threatened to hit England on the break once before half-time. That sole Chilean opportunity came after 40 minutes through striker Eduardo Vargas - another player who would rather have forgotten about his brief time in west London with QPR. Vargas was perhaps wishing he could have erased this shot from his memory banks as well, having blazed Sánchez's sumptuous long pass harmlessly over the crossbar. Chile's next scoring opportunity came from a close-range free-kick in the first minute of the second half. After England captain Jordan Henderson was booked for upending Vargas just inside the 'D', Aránguiz drove the set-piece over the Three Lions' wall. Much to the home supporters' relief, Hart rose high to catch the strike and keep it out of his net. After that scare, the English defence had a relatively stress-free evening. Hart's back four looked assured, especially with his City team-mates Michael Keane and John Stones in the heart of the defence. At the other end, though, England were rather less impressive. When substitute winger Demarai Gray latched onto an excellent crossfield pass from Dele Alli in the 63rd minute and drilled it across Chile's goalmouth, it seemed that an England breakthrough was imminent. However, Kane was hesitant to run onto the cross, leaving Lallana with a difficult shot from a tight angle. Bravo palmed away the Liverpool star's effort, and Isla then cleared the danger. A minute later, Aránguiz conceded a free-kick and picked up a booking for a clumsy challenge on England's box-to-box midfielder Danny Drinkwater. Gray stepped up and hoisted the subsequent set-piece towards goal. Bravo spilled the youngster's delivery onto his right-hand post, but he retrieved the ball at the second attempt just before Rolando Aarons could stab it past him. Gray was one of the bright sparks in an otherwise dull England display, forcing Bravo into another save three minutes before full-time. Kane had flicked a couple of headers wide of Bravo's target prior to that as the 24-year-old's inconsistency at international level continued. Chile had spent much of the second period defending against mediocre home attacks, but in the second minute of injury time, they almost secured a smash-and-grab win. Right-back Oscar Opazo - a key component of the Universidad Católica side that had won the 2017 Copa Libertadores - lifted an excellent long-range pass ahead of Argentine-based striker Carlos Muñoz, who got through a gap between Keane and Stones. Were it not for a last-ditch save from Hart, England would have surely been condemned to successive defeats. As it was, this was another underwhelming Wembley display from the Three Lions. It was also the first draw of Mark Catterall's England career, and a goalless one at that. Needless to say, they would have to perform much better over the coming weeks if their World Cup adventure wasn't to be a brief one. 5 June 2018: International Friendly - at Wembley, London England - 0 Chile - 0 ENGLAND LINE-UP (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Nathaniel Clyne, Michael Keane, John Stones, Luke Shaw (Danny Rose); Jordan Henderson (Jack Wilshere), Eric Dier (Danny Drinkwater); Adam Lallana (Rolando Aarons), Dele Alli, Nathan Redmond (Demarai Gray); Harry Kane (Callum Wilson). BOOKED: Henderson 46.
  14. *** Three days after that shock Champions League loss, O'Hara had to negotiate another home cup game - in Round 5 of the FA Cup. Few expected Arsenal's nerves to resurface when they hosted Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were sitting 14th in the Championship under the management of Kenny Jackett. O'Hara once again utilised some of the Gunners' hottest prospects in the Cup. The young trio of right-back Ben Sheaf, midfielder Donny van de Beek, and inside-forward Chris Willock retained their places after playing their parts in blitzing Tottenham Hotspur during the previous round. Centre-half Krystian Bielik, whose opening goal had helped to see off Bury in Round 3, made it a quartet of teenage starters for Arsenal. There was also a first competitive appearance of the season for homegrown playmaker Jack Wilshere, who'd finally recovered from a broken leg after several months on the sidelines. Wilshere could've marked his return with a goal after 14 minutes. His banana shot bent harmlessly wide, but Arsenal's next attack three minutes later would be more incisive. Wilshere cleverly knocked the ball beyond the Wolves defence and towards Welbeck, who attempted to drive it in from a difficult angle. Goalkeeper Carl Ikeme could only parry the shot towards his far post, where Willock snuck behind right-back Dominic Iorfa and prodded it in for 1-0. Arsenal struggled to build on their slender lead, with Welbeck being caught offside on a couple of occasions. The Gunners also left themselves open to a couple of visiting counter-attacks. Fortunately for them, Dexter Blackstock failed to capitalise, sending shots off target in the 27th and 30th minutes. A clearer opportunity came Blackstock's way in the 42nd minute, when he sprinted clear of the Arsenal defence to convert an excellent weighted ball from Swedish winger Alexander Kacaniklic, whom Wolves had recently signed from Fulham. However, the Antigua & Barbuda striker was caught just offside, and the hosts remained narrowly in front. In a mirror image of their last game, Arsenal sat deeper in the second half to try and nullify the threat posed by Blackstock's pace. O'Hara also deviated from his regular gameplan, and asked his players to slow down the tempo in a bid to take a firmer grip on the match. Wanderers quickly grew wise to this plan, and started putting more crosses into Arsenal's box. One delivery from Rajiv van La Parra in the 62nd minute almost caught out goalkeeper Petr Cech, who looked far from comfortable when pushing it behind the byline. Wolves had the Gunners running scared again in the 65th minute. van La Parra's corner was flicked across the goalmouth by Tommy Rowe, and captain Danny Batth looked a dead cert to tap it in until half-time substitute Héctor Bellerín made a last-ditch block for Arsenal. O'Hara threw on a couple more big guns - Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey - late on as he tried to secure victory with a second goal. Willock's opener would be all that was required in the end, though, as Wolves ran out of puff and Arsenal eked out a 1-0 win. The FA Cup holders remained on course for a third successive triumph, which had not been achieved since Blackburn Rovers dominated the competition between 1884 and 1886. Arsenal were now exactly halfway towards following in their footsteps. Next up for them in Round 6 - the Quarter Final stage, if you will - would be another home tie against another Championship team. There was a sense of déjà vu when Arsenal were drawn against Reading, whom they had knocked out at the Semi Final stage last season. O'Hara would have a big decision to make when the Gunners faced the Royals again in mid-March: would he keep faith in the youngsters, or would he risk his more senior players in pursuit of cup glory? Goalscorer Willock called on O'Hara to continue giving youth a chance, saying, "The gaffer's given us opportunities in the FA Cup, and we've made the most of them so far. Now we just want to keep on impressing him. We've taken Arsenal this far already, so why can't we play in the Quarter Final as well?" O'Hara had thrusted so many youngsters into the spotlight over his first eight months as Arsenal manager - Willock, Bielik, and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, to name but three. However, there were two young people in Gary's life that he did not want in the public eye.
  15. CHAPTER 18 - In A War The UEFA Champions League kicked back into action in the middle of February. For Arsenal fans, it was that time of year where they would typically get their hopes up for a 2006-esque dream run to the Final, only for those dreams to be dashed by elimination at the Round of 16. This year, though, there was a sense that things would be different. The draw had given Arsenal a favourable tie against Zenit St Petersburg - not one of the most feared teams in Europe by any means - and it was assumed that the Russian Premier League side wouldn't pose them much of a threat. Mind you, Zenit's head coach would have something to say about that. After all, André Villas-Boas had won the UEFA Europa League with Porto in 2011, when he was a mere 33 years of age. Unsuccessful stints in England with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur had rather sullied the suave Portuguese's reputation since then, but he was still only 38, and still seemingly had his best years ahead of him. Villas-Boas' meeting with Arsenal boss Gary O'Hara would be an intriguing battle between two of the highest-rated young coaches in European football. O'Hara - the younger man by one year - was the hot favourite to come out on top, but Villas-Boas could not - and would not - be underestimated. Having finished runners-up in their group, Arsenal would have home advantage for the first leg of their Round of 16 tie. However, the Gunners' desperation to take control early on at the Emirates Stadium would see them get off to a very nervy start. Then again, one could have said something similar about the visitors. With the first goal likely to be vital, both teams struggled to get any of their opening shots on target. Forwards Alexandr Kokorin and Hulk looked profligate for the Russian visitors before Arsenal's Santi Cazorla fired a free-kick towards their goal in the 26th minute. Zenit goalkeeper Yury Lodygin pushed it against his crossbar, and right-back Alexandr Anyukov cleared the rebound into touch. The Gunners sensed another opening in the 32nd minute, when left-back Nacho Monreal slid a loose ball away from Zenit playmaker Axel Witsel and towards Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean managed to cut inside and find space deep in the opposition half, but his shot was pushed away by Lodygin. Monreal's bravery had helped to fashion an opportunity there, but his positional awareness - or lack of it - would let Arsenal down badly in the 44th minute. A crossfield ball from Zenit counterpart Domenico Criscito caught Monreal completely unawares, allowing Hulk to slip past him and bend a shot into the net off the far post. Nobody liked the 'Incredible Hulk' whenever Bruce Banner got angry in the comic book franchise, and O'Hara was a similarly temperamental character. Arsenal were 1-0 behind at half-time against a team who'd travelled over 1,000 miles from St Petersburg for what many had expected would be a towelling. A furious O'Hara berated his players at half-time and then made two changes, bringing on Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott as replacements for Cazorla and Joel Campbell. Özil and Walcott were both regular sources of goals, but they would be left frustrated in the second half. Villas-Boas was a former protégé of two managerial greats in Sir Bobby Robson and José Mourinho. Although the Zenit coach preferred a Robson-esque attacking philosophy, he'd also learnt more than a few tips in the art of defending from his compatriot Mourinho. Zenit effectively 'parked the bus' in the second half and sat very deep to minimise the threat posed by Arsenal's pacey forwards. O'Hara - so used to playing in a fast-paced and attacking manner - had no answer to Villas-Boas' tactical mastery. Even replacing Olivier Giroud with Danny Welbeck failed to catch Zenit's defenders out, and after Sánchez missed a hatful of half-chances in the final 15 minutes, Arsenal resigned themselves to defeat. The Gunners had been downed by the Zenitchiki - the 'Anti-Aircraft Gunners'. O'Hara now faced a difficult task to try and keep Arsenal in the Champions League. In three weeks' time, they would have to travel to Russia and get a win, otherwise they would be facing yet another early elimination from Europe's premier club competition. Mind you, the manager had at least one reason to feel optimistic about his team's chances. "It's only half-time, and Zenit have only got one away goal," he said. "They reckoned that one goal would be enough and sat back in the second half, but I think they've missed a trick. There's no chance we're not going to score at least twice in Russia - not a cat in hell's chance. We ain't out of this tie yet." Few Arsenal fans were convinced by O'Hara's words. Billy Khan - presenter of 'We Are The Gooners' - was most certainly not. "You're having a laugh, aren't you, O'Hara?" Khan asked at the start of his latest YouTube video. "We ain't out of this tie yet? We lost at home against AVB and his Russian clowns! That's AVB, who f***ed Chelski up, and then f***ed Spuds up as well! "I knew us winning five in a row was too good to be true! Then again, just look at the so-called teams we beat, bruv! Palace were crap, Spuds were crap, Newcastle were... Newcastle, Albion were s***, and do I really need to tell you what Wet Sham were like? "The moment we come up against a team who actually know how to play football, we fall apart! That's how we are under that f***ing chief man! I tell you, bruv, he won't change until he's gone... and WE WON'T STOP UNTIL HE'S GONE!"
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