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Luton Town : Staring into the Abyss

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Was far worse than that mate. It was easily the worst thing I've had in years. I almost missed the Hinckley match I felt that bad.

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25/10/10 - The rights

I was having a good day today. Despite spending most of it in that wretched port-a-cabin, I did do some good work. I’m not going to mention any names for fear of jinxing anything, but two good signings could be on their way to the club soon. Watch this space.

So yeah, as I parked the car up outside mine and Chantelle's apartment just after four, I was definitely in high spirits. I was even whistling out loud as I beeped the car shut and walked up to our floor.

And then I went into the living room and my mood changed..

Sat on the sofa was Andy Branston. That’s Andy friggin' Branston! In my house! In my living room! On my sofa! That’s not all either. Sitting across from him in one of the armchairs was Bill Tulip. Two annoying local hacks! In my living room. What the f__k was going on?

As the three of us eyed each other in a triangle without saying anything, a bit like those bandits at the end of The Good The Bad and The Ugly, Chantelle walked in from the kitchen. She was carrying a tray with three hot drinks on it.

“Oh, hi” she said, putting the tray down on the coffee table.

“What the hell is this?” I asked.

“These guys are from the local newspa – “

“Yeah I know who they are! What are they doing in our apartment?”

She didn’t rush her next reply. First she handed Bill his drink and then she saw to Andy. Then she came and stood to face me. Only then did she reply.

“They’ve agreed to buy the rights to our wedding”.

To that, my ears almost expanded to twice their normal size. And I’m pretty sure my face went instantly red.

“Can I have a quick word with you in the kitchen, Shan?”

“Err, okay”.

Off we went. There was no sign of Luke, by the way. Obviously he was upstairs and had taken Bambi with him.

Once we were in the kitchen, the first thing I did was shut the door behind us. Then I began to pace up and down. Chantelle meanwhile leaned back against the sink. She had an extremely bemused look on her face.

“You – you – “

I was so shocked at what she’d done I was actually struggling to get my intended sentence out!

“You – you sold our wedding?!”

“Well – yeah – kind of – Not majorly though. They’re just going to turn up and take a few pictures for the papers. It’s not a big deal. Oh, and they might do an interview too. I thought you’d be pleased! They’re gonna pay eight hundred EACH. That’s one thousand six hundred total. At first they wanted solo coverage for one grand exactly, but I said I wanted both papers to have access. That way I could drop the price to eight hundred and charge them both for it. You see? Good business sense”.

“One thousand six hundred” I repeated back softly. “Jesus. Were Hello and Ok not interested then?”

“No. They weren’t. Neither was anyone else”.

It would have been easy to assume she was being sarcastic with the words they weren't, but I caught something in her facial expression that informed me otherwise.

“Please tell me you didn’t seriously get in touch with Hello and Ok?”

“Well – yeah” she replied slowly, shuffling awkwardly. “You’re a footballer. Why not?”

'Good lord!'

“Okay, first of all, I’m not a footballer. I never made it as a professional footballer back in the day and I never will now. The playing I’m doing at the moment is just emergency cover until I can find someone better. Secondly, even if I was a proper player, I’m at Luton friggin' Town! It’s the club your son is too embarrassed to support, remember?! The only publication who would be interested in any wedding of mine is a local rag, and quite frankly I’m surprised even they’re interested!”

“I didn’t mean I was hoping Hello or Ok would do a huge eight page spread! I’m not stupid, you know! And I know Luton aren’t good. I just thought they might put us in one of those small little squares of writing they have towards the back, you know, for the lesser known people”.

Shaking my head disbelievingly, I began to pace up and down again. Then I thought I heard a noise behind the kitchen door and went to investigate. When I opened up though, nobody was there. If either Branston or Tulip (or more likely both) had sneaked up on us to eavesdrop, they’d now retreated back again.

“Look” I began. “This is supposed to be a private ceremony between me and you, not some media circus. I get enough crap off those guys each week at the office!”

“They only want a few pictures and some words! They’ll probably bugger off by the time the reception starts!”

“Yeah well I don’t like it”.

“Yeah well tough s__t! I’ve been working all day on this! I thought you’d be really happy I was making some money for us for a change”.

“Chantelle, don’t think I’m not impressed with the gesture. However, my idea of a wedding is – “

“No no!” she interrupted, wagging her finger and sauntering up to me. “You’re not gonna talk me out of this. It’s too much money to turn down. And besides, I’ve already compromised on tons of things for this wedding. Every time you’ve said we can’t have something because it will cost too much, I’ve always been really understanding about it and not kicked up a stink. Well this time I’m not going to! It's just a few pictures! And there’s a grand a half on the line!”

I wanted to reply to say about all the compromising I’d already done picking a damn house for us, but Chantelle’s next actions made me think twice. What she did was push past me and reopen the kitchen door. This meant I no longer wanted to continue the conversation in case Branston or Tulip overheard any of it. Chantelle however had no such compunctions.

“Look, you can get married without these guys being there if you want, but at my wedding I can promise you they will be there”.

And with that parting shot, off she went.

Curling my lip, I made myself my own hot drink and then begrudgingly went to join them.

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Thanks, Larakin.

And yeah, the mercury in James' doubt'o'meter has probably shuffled just ever so slightly right again after that last update.

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21/08/04 - The golden window

When Brass called me to his office this morning I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Was I in line for praise, or criticism? Or maybe even something completely different? Even as I entered the largely deserted stadium I was still bouncing the possibilities around in my head. Only one way to find out, I guessed.

Like a lot of managers, football or otherwise, Brass had a secretary in the room directly in front of his office. In this instance, the secretary’s name was Briony.

“Morning, James” she smiled. “He’s waiting for you. You can go straight in”.

“Thanks”.

I knocked and entered. Brass looked up to see who it was and then waved me to a seat.

“James” he said.

“Mike”.

“Got some news for ya, lad. A club’s come in for you”.

Nothing new there. Even though I was still contracted for the coming season, it was no great secret I was open to the idea of leaving. Various places had enquired after me over the past year or so but all had proven unattractive, either because the wages were lower than Halifax’s or because geographically they were too far away for me to be bothered.

“Okay. Who is it this time?”

“Swindon”.

“Eh?”

“Swindon. You know - Swindon Town. They’re in Wiltshire”.

“But they’re in League One!”

“Aye. I know”.

Brass smiled through his moustache, allowing me a few moments to absorb the news.

“I know it’s probably a bit of a surprise to you” he eventually continued. “Not too many players turn pro after twenty five. But you know what? You've earned it. Also, I think professional football will suit you a lot better than this amateur stuff. I’m not blind. I know you’ve never fitted in here. Got a lot of tosspots here; that’s the trouble. Not your fault. Half of them can't even spell their own f__king name".

“But Swindon? How?!”

“Just one of those things, I suppose”.

“Oh come on. I haven’t heard anything about any Swindon scouts coming up here. Or any other football league scouts, for that matter”.

To that, Brass smiled again and shuffled in his chair. A fly was buzzing around near the window. Briefly it bumped itself against the pane a few times, then gave up and flew someplace else.

“One scout did come actually. Last game of the season. Truth be told though, I had to pull a few strings for this one. Manager of Swindon is Andy King. Me and Andy go way back. It’s not as if he owed me any favours or anything, but I managed to sell him the idea of giving you a one year deal to show what you can do. This is your big stepping stone, boyo. So don’t let yourself down. And don’t let me down either. I’ve really put myself out on a limb on this one. I've really put my reputation on the chopping block".

“Look – I don’t know – I really – “.

“James” Mike interrupted with a chuckle. “Do me a favour. Just take the opportunity. You might not get another. And there’s not much future here, lad, believe me! This club’s going down the s__thole. Do you know I haven’t had a meeting with the board for five months now? Quite simply nobody’s bothered anymore. The whole place is on auto pilot. Nobody knows what’s going on with anything”.

Rubbing my forehead, I said nothing.

“And keep this to yourself but Briony’s only being paid half a wage at the moment. She’s still working full time, mind, you know, doing it for me. But she’s only getting half pay. We even had to cut our holiday down from two weeks to a week this year because of all the income she’s currently got withheld. But it’s not that that worries me. No. What really worries me is the precedent it sets. Who’s next? The players? Me? Both? Because personally I don't think it's just a case of the board thinking I don't need a full time secretary. And even if it was, why not just tell me? No, trust me, get yourself out of here. Take that contract”.

Still I struggled for words. I was trying to comprehend two things at the same time, the idea I could actually join the pro leagues (the proper pro leagues that is) after all these years of never believing it possible, and also the dropped hint that Halifax was struggling financially.

Finally I looked up at Brass again. Took me a whole minute to do so.

“I can’t do it. I’m sorry. I appreciate what you’ve done for me but – I can’t do it. Sorry. Just can't”.

“What?! James, this is Swindon Town we’re talking abo - “

“It’s too far! I’m happy living in Yorkshire. I’m happy with my life. I’m happy with – “

“You can’t be serious! Look, have you got any idea what mountains I’ve moved to get this chance for you?!”

“And I appreciate it. I do! I’m not going though. Thanks anyway but I’ll stay and play here. I’m a loyal player. I’m not going”.

“James, you can’t stay here. Not for long. You don’t fit in. You know it and I know it. And you’re too good for this mob anyway!”

“Then get me another Yorkshire club then. Ossett or Guiseley maybe. Or Farsley again. Anyone”.

“Fars – are you out of your mind?! All those places aren’t even worth p!ssing on!”

This was rapidly becoming far too uncomfortable. Rising from my seat unexcused, I turned around and headed for the door. Brass rose from his own seat in response.

"I don't understand" he called after me.

“Look" I called back. “It's my life and that’s the end of it”.

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I would have taken it. But then I've got no love for Luton.

If Leverkusen (in tier 1) and Holstein Kiel (tier 4) offered me a contract, I'd take Kiel's contract over the mighty Levekusen's any day simply cuz Kiel is my fav club.

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I confess I've never heard of Kiel

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26/10/10 - At wit's end

He looked almost as shocked as he did the last time I surprised him unannounced.

“Evening, Eugene”.

“Err – “

“Relax. I haven’t come to throw you up against my car again. Can we talk for a few minutes?”

Eugene craned his neck forwards and glanced left and right up the street, almost as if I was a male gigolo and he was a bit worried someone would see me enter the premises. It was a surprisingly rundown area he lived in given how much dough he apparently earns. Terraced housing was king around these parts.

“What is it you want to talk about?”

“Luke”.

“Okay. Come in then”.

“Thanks”.

Slowly and apprehensively, he let me through the door. Then he guided me into what looked like a dining room. As we entered, a rickety whirring noise started up from the next room over. When I looked to see what it was, I found myself face to face, albeit distantly, with some kind of robot. It was sat on the armchair in the living room (the door between the two was open).

“What the hell is THAT?!”

“That’s Megan”.

Uninvited, I went to have a look. Eugene followed.

Megan was literally a full size robot with two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head. Despite the female name, she looked male. She had a male looking face. Currently she was sprawled out on the armchair following my movements with her head.

“Did you make this?”

“Yep. Upstairs in my – my – workshop. Don’t be fooled by the presentation though. Megan doesn’t get up or walk or anything. She’s just a very basic learning computer. An experiment, if you like. I went a bit overboard with the shell but I do that sometimes”.

“If she can’t get off her arse then what does she do?”

“Well, until we came in she was watching that film”.

He pointed at the television. Pirates of the Caribbean : At World’s End was playing. I could recognise the exact film because I’ve seen them all. Nicky recommended them to me a while ago so I went out and bought the box set.

“Just because she’s facing the telly, doesn’t mean she’s watching it” I pointed out sceptically.

“No she really is watching it. Her sensors are recording keywords, and also some of the character’s facial expressions. I’m going to plug her up to my computer later and see what she’s picked up”.

“Is this part of your work?”

“No, this – this is just me messing about at home. At work I do far more serious stuff”.

I pondered that for a moment before glancing at my watch.

“Okay, let’s get on with my reason for being here”.

“Back through here then, if that’s okay. I don’t want to disturb Megan from watching the film”.

“If you say so”.

Into the dining room we retreated. Eugene closed the door behind us so we could no longer see Megan. Then he showed me to a seat at the dining room table before choosing another close by for himself.

Momentarily I hesitated, wondering if he was going to offer me a drink. None was forthcoming so I cracked on.

“Okay. As you know, me and Chantelle are back together and we’re getting married. Obviously this puts me and you in the situation that we’re guaranteed to know each other – through Luke - for a good many years. So, I just thought I’d come around today to briefly clear the air and let you know that I’ve got no intention of stealing your son away from you. As far as I’m concerned, he’s yours and he always will be. I’m just going to be his guardian. That's all. I certainly won’t be encouraging him to call me dad, put it that way. Although if he ever did, of course, then I guess – “

“You didn’t take my advice then?”

“What?”

“About Chantelle. I warned you the last time I saw you what she’s like. You’re making a big mistake”.

“Now look! I didn’t come here to talk about Chantelle; I came to talk about Luke. Sometimes people deserve the benefit of the doubt, and Lord knows I’ve never exactly been whiter than white myself during the course of my life”.

I paused, trying not to get myself irate. Eugene just sat and stared at me.

In the gap between words, I took in some of the finer details of my surroundings. There was a distinctly old fashioned feel to this dining room. I quickly guessed it belonged to Eugene’s mum, or maybe his grandmother.

‘His mum’s probably sat in a rocking chair down in the cellar. In skeleton form’.

“So anyway” I eventually continued, rising from my chair to leave. “As I was saying before, Luke is your son and I’ve no intention of trying to change that. I shall always encourage him to see you, and respect you, and love you. And as for me and you, I hope we can be friends. That’s all”.

“Okay” replied Eugene unenthusiastically. “Thanks”.

I walked back into the hallway, shadowed by my much fatter host.

“Oh, one more thing” I said. “You don’t read any local newspapers do you?”

“No. Why?”

“Well, I was just going to say that if you do, you should probably think about switching to the nationals. There’s some really good robot articles in the nationals every now and then. You don’t get that in the locals”.

“Right”.

Opening the front door again, I said goodbye and trundled on out.

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Next - Wycombe v Luton

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I confess I've never heard of Kiel

Holstein Kiel ( www.holstein-kiel.de ) is a fallen giant in Germany. They won 1. Bundesliga (Well, there wasn't 1. Bundesliga back then, but you get the picture.) once in 1920s. My best favorite club (Only rivaled by Man UTD). I long for one day that they enter 1. Bundesliga again.

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Just in case this is the final update before the 25th, I'd like to say Merry Christmas to you all, and also, in advance, thanks for reading the story in 2011. : )

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27/10/10, League Match 12

Wycombe Wanderers v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (14 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Charlie Daniels (64 apps, 5 goals)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (112 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Richie Byrne (52 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Dorian Moore (7 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (84 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Matthew Gill (45 apps, 1 goal)

ML – Glenn Poole (12 apps, 1 goal)

MR – Michael Taylor (49 apps, 3 goals)

FC – Scott Spencer (38 apps, 15 goals)

FC – Will Buckley (50 apps, 2 goals)

Another midweek game. Another away trip to a team beginning with W.

We had good history playing Wycombe. Two years ago when we were last in the same division, we won both fixtures 1-0. The second of those, in this exact corresponding game, was a surprise away win late in the season. Drew Talbot scored the winner on the counter attack.

I mainly remember that game though for the meeting with Cassie just before it. That was the day we kissed in the pub (never to do it again). I didn’t see any local sights that day and I didn’t see any today either. It was a midweek game; never any time to look around in the darkness of midweek.

The team news was encouraging today in that we could bring Gnakpa in for the first time in a month. We also had a slightly fitter Bowditch at our disposal but still not one I was comfortable playing a full ninety. We agreed forty five between us and I preferred that to be the second half – a secret weapon, if you will.

Our start was very good. Taylor found some space on the right and chipped an intelligent little ball into the area for Spencer. The striker got between his two markers but only had room for a first time prod. He sliced it a bit and it went just wide. Probably would have gone in had it been on target.

Then a wonder moment from Daniels. He accepted a sideways ball from Nicholls before going on a little dribble. If a football pitch was a clock face, he would have been heading towards the one having started on the seven. It was that kind of angle. Anyway, still a full forty yards out, he touched it back onto the left peg and unleashed a monster. The ball flew like a rocket, clipped the bar, and went over.

We were playing well considering we were the away team. Wycombe’s first attempt – in the 18th minute – wasn’t even close. Harrold sliced wide from twenty yards and this one really was a slice! Harold Bishop would have made a better attempt at that.

I wasn’t so cocky in the 25th minute, mind. Wycombe turned the edge of our area into a shooting gallery and eventually Hunt’s shot whistled past Stubhaug to open the scoring. Prior to that, Harold and Spence had both pulled the trigger only to see their attempts blocked. The fact the ball kept falling to a Wycombe player each time can only be attributed to bad luck, I suppose.

The next chance was ours. Taylor stole a march into the area to be the first on the end of Poole’s centre. The resulting header was down and firm. When it bounced up into the goalkeeper Young’s face, he had to acrobatically swipe it over the bar.

“Oh come on” I said in frustration. “Something’s got to fall for us eventually”.

“It will” Brian replied. “It will. It has to!”

But it didn’t with the next chance. Or the one after that. First Nicholls lofted a surprisingly weak twenty five yarder straight down Young’s throat. Then Gill swopped a one two with Spencer before hammering a low right footer towards the bottom right hand corner. Young dived full length and just about stopped it. His hand on the ball was so strong he managed to keep it from going behind too. Defender Williamson then cleverly shepherded the ball until his keeper had recovered enough to get back up and collect.

Our next effort definitely deserved better. It was a free-flowing passing move bang down the centre. Gill, Taylor, Buckley, Nicholls, Byrne even; they were all involved. Shame the final pass from Gill – intended to send Buckley through – was just a shade mishit. Defender Lindegaard stuck a leg out and deflected the ball behind for a corner. Buckley would have been through there.

I didn’t want to look at the possession and shots column at this juncture. It would have depressed me too much.

If there was one crumb of comfort to nibble on as the half time whistle approached, it was the fact that Wycombe failed to double their tally when presented with a free run on Stubhaug. Spence was the guilty man. Gnakpa lost the ball when trying to turn with it and Spence galloped away. Stubhaug came out to make himself big and Spence fired low and straight at him. The ball deflected away and Moore was able to resume possession at the back.

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“I’ve got no complaints about the performance so far” I told them. “We played well; we were just unlucky. Okay, Claude, your slip wasn’t great but it could have happened to anybody. Fact is, we’re playing some good stuff out there. We just need to keep doing the same thing and keep believing. Sooner or later Lady Luck has got to turn the other cheek, and when she does, we’ll score a glut of goals. Keep going, lads. Just keep going”.

On at half time, as had been pre-planned, was Bowditch. He replaced Buckley.

A faint drizzle began to come down as we went back out for half number two. Halo by Texas was playing on the speaker system. I’d have rather been in Texas than Wycombe right now.

The half opened with a chance for the home side. With Luton defenders and midfielders all half asleep, Smith used a suspiciously high boot to beat Nicholls to the ball. Forwards it went to Spence, and he flicked it into the path of Harrold. The wobbly cheeked one then belted it at Stubhaug and it cannoned back out. Ouch (for both Stubhaug and Wycombe).

Despite that chance, Wycombe were generally set up much more defensively in the second half. The 45-60 minute period was very scrappy. We tried to knock the ball around and create something but our opponents were tenacious and energetic in the tackle. Often we would be forced into an aimless high ball and that would be the end of the move.

So it was no brainer really that I didn’t fanny about making a second change. On went Kearns for Gill. Wycombe also sent a couple of newcomers on – Woodman and Rigg. At least it wasn’t Riggs and Murtoch.

In my opinion, Bowditch was the key man in this game now. And so it almost proved in the 63rd minute. Taylor swung in a cross from the right which was pixel perfect onto the head of his intended target - Bowditch. Because it was a very loopy cross however, the resulting header also ended up being loopy. Young quickly scrambled along his line in a bid to keep it out. He succeeded but at the cost of his body clattering into the post.

This resulted in a two to three minute delay whilst Young received treatment for God only knows what. I felt he was over-egging it a bit in an attempt to run the clock down and I let the fourth official know of my feelings on the matter.

Desperate not to lose yet another game, I made my third substation much earlier than I would normally. Niven was the man to go on; he would replace Nicholls. It hadn’t El Skip’s evening. The captain’s armband, by the way, now passed to Gnakpa.

75 minutes and we went close again. Lindegaard headed away a corner at the near post only as far corner taker Glenn Poole. After touching it back onto his preferred foot, Poole then swung it in again and this time it was Spencer with the header. And again it was prevented from going over the line, this time by the forehead of the man on the post. I believe it was Johnson.

Niven then half-volleyed over from twenty yards in the 77th. But after that, further chances were at a premium. In fact, as the final ten minute began to tick over, it was Wycombe rather than ourselves who began to make the openings. They kept intercepting the ball and going on counter attacks.

82 minutes. Harrold over from twenty yards central. It was three on two there.

84 minutes. Riggs over-hit a pass out for a goal kick. Four on three that was.

85 minutes. Spence played through on goal. He was onside but pathetically overran the ball with his final touch into the box. A grateful Stubhaug sprawled himself down low to collect.

In frustration I prowled up and down on the touchline like a caged tiger that hasn’t been fed for a week. There wasn’t really much more I could do at this point apart from wave people further forwards and leave Wycombe even more openings. I didn’t have any subs left of course. I’d used them all up.

Our final attempt was struck by Kearns. The home side had six men on the edge of the box so there was no hope of threading it through to one of the strikers. Neither could we really go out wide. Poole and Taylor were both being heavily marked in these late stages. Wycombe literally had nine men back in their final third.

So the only thing we could conjure was a rushed swipe from Kearns about twenty yards out. It ended up looking a better effort than it was because Young was slightly too far off his line. Had he been where he should have been, he probably could have leaped and caught the shot no problem. As it was he had to carefully backtrack and palm over the bar.

But no worries because the corner came to nothing and our goose was cooked for the second time in five days.

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FINAL SCORE (att - 4333)

Wycombe Wanderers 1 (Hunt 25)

Luton Town 0

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(other results)

Accrington Stanley 3-2 Hereford

Aldershot 4-1 Grays

Bournemouth 0-1 Darlington

Brentford 3-1 Chester

Cheltenham 0-0 Grimsby

Chesterfield 1-0 Torquay

Lincoln 0-0 Exeter

Oldham 2-0 Rochdale

Rotherham 2-1 Shrewsbury

Walsall 0-1 Barnet

Yeovil 2-0 Notts County

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(top of table)

1 - Exeter (25)

2 - Darlington (24)

3 - Rochdale (23)

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4 - Notts County (22)

5 - Rotherham (22)

6 - Yeovil (20)

7 - Lincoln (20)

--------

8 - Chesterfield (19)

we have 18 points

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28/10/10 - Clutter

It was another cold afternoon hunched in front of my laptop in the port-a-cabin. Not much insulation in these walls, that was for damn sure.

“Look” I said to the guy on the phone. “I just want to move this along so there’s a chance we can get him in January. I don’t want to still be at the stage we’re at now come late December and then there’s not enough time left to thrash out the finer details. I’ve been stung before when it comes to these windows!”

The window I was currently being stung by was Cyril’s. It didn’t look thick enough to even qualify as single glazing.

The guy on the other end paused and sighed.

“Why are we talking about windows? You don’t need to wait until January for this guy; you can have him as soon as, if you want”.

“As soon as? But I thought we were aiming towards January here. I thought he wasn’t for loan?”

“No he isn’t for loan, but that’s because he isn’t under contract anymore. Technically speaking, it’s impossible for him to go out on loan. I think you must have misunderstood my E-mail”.

“Hang on – he isn’t under contract?! Why am I talking to you then if he’s already left you?”

“Well he’s still with us in a way. He’s been training with us to keep himself fit. Look, I think he’ll talk to a League Two club but you need to get in touch with his agent. Tell you what; I’ll get you the number”.

“You really think he’ll come, huh?”

“Well put it this way; if I didn’t think he’d come I wouldn’t bother giving the number out. They wouldn’t want me to hand it over to clubs he’s not interested in joining. Luton though? Yeah I think he could go for that, knowing him as I think I do anyway”.

“Excellent. Hang on, I’ll get a pen”.

Excitement coursing through my veins, I leapt up out of my chair.

Too quickly. My head clattered full pelt into something really hard above my head.

“F__K!” I shouted, stumbling sideways.

Such was the intensity of the pain, I didn’t for a moment even bother looking up to see what I’d hit. I just crouched down next to the laptop, grimacing, and tenderly touched my hair. When I did look up, I saw a storm trooper’s helmet spinning around slowly. It was dangling three feet off the ceiling attached to a piece of string.

‘Damn thing! What the hell did they hang that off the ceiling for?’

Recovering my composure, I began to hunt around for my pen.

But I couldn’t find it! There was too much junk lying around. Stars Wars toys of all shapes and sizes seemed to be piled up everywhere. If it wasn’t a Star Wars chess set it was a Star Wars bedspread still wrapped up in its cellophane. If it wasn’t a pile of old Star Wars VHS tapes, it was a box of Star Wars Lego. I’d be here all day if I attempted to list all of it.

Out the corner of my eye, I thought I spotted a pen over in the far corner. On the floor. Getting to it though would mean skirting around a pile of Star Wars board games.

As I then attempted this, I failed to spot the Yoda mask lying on the floor. It was the type that has a piece of string behind it so you can attach it to your face. Anyway, my right foot slid on it like it was a banana skin and I went arse over head. Lucky it didn't finally finish off my playing career that.

“F__K RIGHT OFF!” I shouted, starting to lose the plot.

I then proceeded to kick the nearest pile of Star Wars related crap around just to make myself feel better. Oh, and that thing I thought was a pen, over in the far corner, turned out it wasn’t.

“I’ll have to call you back” I told my caller, picking my mobile up again. “I can’t find a pen right now”.

“Okay, James”.

"Bye".

"Bye".

But first I wanted to call Erica and ask when the hell I could leave this wretched place and go back inside.

No answer though. The phone just rang and rang and rang. Wherever she was, she wasn’t near her phone. Unless she was in a meeting or something and her phone was on vibrate, and she was actually choosing not to pick up. Either way, it wasn't going to happen.

‘Christ’s sake’.

Time to get another pen then. I couldn’t be bothered hunting around under this garbage all day long looking for the one I'd been using before. Someone from the office would have to come out and bring me another one.

Still wincing at the pain in my knee from that fall, I moved the phone cursor from Erica all the way up to Communal Office and pressed the call button.

All I got though was Nicky and a damn recorded message.

“Hi! You’ve reached the voicemail of Luton United Football Club. Please leave a – “

Ending the call right there, I looked at my watch. It showed 1.16pm. Everyone would be out on lunch.

“Goddamnit!”

Taking aim, I kicked a pile of Star Wars fancy dress costumes over.

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I'll answer that one. No it wasn't the old man : )

--------

29/10/10 - Thrower way plot

Of all the scenes filmed up to this point, this one definitely had the biggest audience watching on at the side. Crammed into the back of the first floor corridor, just behind the main battalion of cameramen, were me, Brenda, Nicky, Darren, Kindra, Katrina, Kevin Nicholls, Dorian Moore, Richie Byrne, and Joe Dunbar the physio.

That’s right; I was back inside the building. At least temporarily. The scene being filmed today was so important that I’d been given special permission to come inside for half an hour (The Hatterettes weren’t scheduled to be on site today).

“Annnnnnd action!” Ricky called.

Gerald then snapped his snappy thing and we were away.

At the other end of the corridor, two young male actors in their early twenties began slow-walking towards the cameras. Neither of them were Luton employees. These two were principals.

“I’m telling you man, you’re doing the right thing. You need to fight for your place in the team, not just run off the moment you’re dropped!”

“Yeah I know that now, mate. Cheers. I’m just glad you managed to talk me around in time. I seriously owe you one”.

“Hey. Anytime”.

The pair then slapped each other on the back and smiled.

However, their attentions were then drawn towards the strange looking object behind the corridor bin. The bin was situated just a few yards away from the downstairs men's toilets.

“Whoa!” said the one who’d done the other one that favour. “What’s this? It looks like a – like a - flamethrower”.

“Yeah it’s mine. Well, my dad’s. He collects really random army weapons. He has a huge collection in his garage”.

“Okay, but why is this one here?”

“Well I err – okay look, I’m not proud of it, but when I got dropped from the team I brought this in from home. I was going to torch the place for revenge. But then I thought better of it. Anyway, by the time I’d lugged it all the way here, I didn’t have any energy to carry it back home again. So, I just left it here for the time being next to this bin. I guess I was banking on no-one picking it up and moving it before I could get back to it”.

“Well you’d better take it back home pronto! You can’t just leave something like this lying around! What if the boss sees it?! What if someone picks it up and gets hurt?!”

“Yeah I know”.

The guy who'd brought it in then made to bend down and pick it up but his buddy stopped him by the arm.

“Not now though, man. We’re late for training. Later. Come on”.

Nodding a nod of agreement, the other guy smiled and let himself be moved forwards again. Then the two players/actors opened the door to the tunnel area before disappearing through it.

“Annnnnnd CUT!” Ricky cried. “AND THAT – IS – A – WRAP!”

To many cheers from around about, Ricky and Gerald began to jump up and down and hug each other. The camera guys followed suit. Before long it was like one big pile on but without the piling. Even the two actors who had just done the scene joined in; they returned from the tunnel area with joyous looks on their faces and began embracing everybody in sight.

Then the love spread to the Luton employees. Nicky gave Ricky a big hug. Then the excited director gave Kindra an even longer one. Darren high-fived some of his new actor friends. I shook a few hands here and there. The footballers whistled at the back. It was chaotic joy all around, all squeezed into this relatively thin corridor.

--------

An hour later, the same two dozen or so people all gathered out in the car park. It was time to say goodbye to Ricky and his film crew. A large truck had its engines revving. It was full of all the film equipment and props that up until today had been spread messily around Kenilworth Road for weeks on end. No longer.

“When’s the film coming out then?” Darren shouted over the crowd.

“Most likely mid to late January” Ricky replied. “The post-production stage is usually quite lengthy. Still, gives you all something to look forward to for when Christmas is finished”.

“Hokey-doke”.

As a parting shot from the crew, Gerald then retrieved a cardboard box from the back of the truck and handed it to Ricky.

“Oh, I almost forgot” said the main man. “A little gift for you all for being such splendid hosts. And splendid actors, of course”.

No prizes for guessing what he then began to hand out. Gorilla masks. He had enough for everyone. Just what I needed to take back to my cabin with me – another friggin’ mask with string around it.

“Byeeeeee” a chorus of people then cried out as those departing headed for their vehicles.

“Cheerio, folks” Ricky shouted!

“Bye!” Gerald called out.

Then, a couple of minutes later, once the procession of cars and vans and trucks had all rolled out through the gates, peace again descended on Kenilworth Road.

The footballers among us (me excluded) immediately turned on their heels and headed back inside. The office staff though stood around for a while reflecting on the end of an era.

“I feel really sad” Nicky commented.

“Because you’re no longer my girlfriend?” Darren queried.

Nicky smiled faintly but didn’t reply.

“Ah well. All is well that ends well, as they say” – Brenda.

Kindra looked thoughtful but didn’t speak. The future was uncertain for her now. As the star of the film, life was potentially about to change in an earth shattering way. Not for the rest of us though. For the rest of us it was back to work. And for me that meant trundling off to the port-a-cabin.

Pushing my gorilla mask into Darren's chest, I said my farewells and trundled off.

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Just finished reading this, it's an amazing story, thanks for writing it for us!

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Stocksbridge have signed Scott Hogan from Halifax and Matt Whitehouse a former Halifax player. They any good? Hogan looks very fast but can't finish for toffee!

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Cheers, CLS. Glad you enjoyed

Hogan will be superb at that level, I should think. Unsure about Whitehouse. He didn't even light it up at Unibond Division One North level, and the fact he was lazy in training didn't help his cause. Who knows though? He was excellent at BPA once upon a time apparently so you never know. Maybe he just didn't gel with Halifax?

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29/10/10 - Schematic

Me and Chantelle were lying down together on our bed.

Sounds pretty good that sentence until you learn we were fully clothed and separated by a large piece of A2 paper. It was a top-down diagram Chantelle had cooked up whilst I was at work. It showed her proposed seating arrangements for the wedding reception dinner. She’d done it in black ink pen. It was very neat and tidy. No love hearts had been sketched onto the corners or anything like that. It was all very business-like.

“So what do you think?” she asked.

“Not bad, I suppose. I like the fact you’ve put Branston and his chums on a table right at the back. That should keep them out of harms way”.

“No, you’re looking at it the wrong way up. They’re at the front”.

“Eh?! What do you mean they’re at the front? Why are they at the front? I don’t want them at the front”.

“It’s part of the contract! Nothing I could do about it. They want to be as close as possible to the top table. They can get better pictures from there”.

Nothing I could do about it. Do you like that? I know liked that. Nothing I could do about it. It was as if she was trying to make out Branston and Tulip had held her down and pinned her arms tight behind her back until she agreed to all their terms.

“Why don’t we just give them the top table and be done with it? Me and you can sit in the audience somewhere”.

“Don’t be like that. And anyway, it’s not like you’ve got tons of people coming from your side of the family all fighting over the best seats. I counted all the people from my side earlier and then I counted all the ones from yours. I’ve got about six times more guests than you do. You've hardly got any.

“Yeah well”.

Satisfied that was the best I was going to muster by reply, Chantelle flipped over onto her back and arched her knees up. Then she ran her hands backwards through her hair and gazed at the ceiling as if in contemplation. Maybe she was imagining riding through the streets of London on an open top horse and carriage, millions of adoring citizens waving and cheering from the sides of the road, all waving their miniature British flags?

“Did you get around to booking the registry office today?” I enquired.

“Yeah. November twenty sixth it’s booked for”.

“November the – I thought we’d agreed on the first week in December?"

“Yeah I know. Thing is though; I checked the Luton games like you told me and it just happens there’s a big gap between games at the end of November. You’ve got one on November twentieth and then the next one isn’t until December first. Might as well get married in that gap to make things easier for you”

“But November twenty sixth is my birthday!”

“Yeah I realised that. But I didn’t think you’d mind. You hate celebrating your birthday! This way no-one will even notice”.

She had me there.

“Okay. So how do we need to pay for this registry office? Do I need to send them a cheque or what?”

“No it’s alright I’ve already paid them. The pins for our joint bank cards turned up today”.

‘The good news just keeps on rolling in’.

“Well I guess that’s that then” I said. “November twenty sixth – the day of destiny”.

Chantelle responded to this by shuffling herself past the A2 and wrapping her arms around me.

“Hey” she said in a low tone. “Relax. The wedding day is going to be amazing. I love you so much”.

Being reassured of that last bit instantly expelled my cynicism, and I began to apply some soft kisses to the neck.

“Love you too” I whispered, pausing by her ear.

“Well, in twenty seven days you can prove it – signed, sealed, and no going back”.

“Bring it on”.

--------

Next - Luton v Aldershot (League two fixture)

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30/10/10, League Match 13

Luton Town v Aldershot Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (15 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (53 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (113 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Tony James (69 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (8 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (85 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Daniel Kearns (11 apps, 0 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (65 apps, 5 goals)

MR – Michael Taylor (50 apps, 3 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (41 apps, 19 goals)

FC – Scott Spencer (39 apps, 15 goals)

Today was the debut of The Heavenly Hatters. As myself, Brian, and the players came out of the tunnel at five to three, we saw the cheerleaders were already out there. They were dancing to that Cha cha slide song by DJ Casper.

Once in front of the dugout, I turned to face the crowd and stood there with my arms crossed.

“What are you doing?” Brian asked.

“Making a point” I informed him. “See? I don’t look at underage cheerleaders. I’m not a pervert”.

“A cynic might argue that you looking away makes you look like you’ve got something to hide”.

“And if I turn around now, having started off facing the other way, it might look like I’d tried to hide my true colours but then couldn’t resist turning around to look after all. I’m staying put. Tell me when they’ve left”.

Brian sighed, shook his head, and turned away.

The team news was very positive. In fact, Keith Keane aside (serving the third of his three match ban), I was able to field my strongest line-up in a long time. Bowditch and James were the notable returnees to the starting eleven. I did leave Poole out though. He wasn’t fully 100%. Daniels would deputize.

Luton were in orange today and Aldershot in red. Our two previous meetings, back in that relegation season of two years ago, produced a 1-0 win for Shot at The Recreation Ground followed by a 2-2 draw at Fortress Kenilworth much later on. We came into today’s game three points better off than our visitors.

We got off to a horrible start. Truly horrible. In the third minute, Soares went on a jaunt down the right before tormenting Gnakpa near the dead ball line. He then rammed in a low ball that O’Grady intercepted at the near post. He stole a march on Moore and flicked a deft little side-foot with his right boot. The ball crossed the line bang down the centre of the goals – beneath Stubhaug – and into the net. Nil-one.

For the first time in a long while I could sense mass discontentment around the ground.

Our recovery was a slow burner. At first we were all in a fuddle; missing passes, headers, knock downs. All very disjointed. Then Nicholls hammered a low bullet just wide from thirty yards and that perked everyone up a little. A few more passes began to connect. The two banks of four pushed up a little further. One or two Aldershot players began to get coaxed into mistakes. Encouraging.

But despite all that, it was the visitors who had the next great chance. They were proving to be quite the handful going forward. On this occasion it was a run and chip from Harding that started it all. His pass might have been controlled by Grant in the penalty area but James appeared to nudge into his back. The ref didn’t give the penalty (despite Grant’s animated protests) and the ball deflected sideways to Soares. Good chance on the diagonal but the guy volleyed over the top.

And then there was another effort from Aldershot. Welsh swung in a free kick – far too short and low – but that meant it fell to Chambers. A quick snap shot was the order of the day here and he might have scored but for the ball cannoning unluckily into James’ foot. I’m not so sure Stubhaug had that one covered.

The frustration levels around the ground were beginning to sky-rocket. Lucky then the Chambers effort signalled a change in the wind. Kearns kicked things off with an unbelievable sixty yard dash past about eight players. He got lucky at points, the ball bouncing off shins and legs to somehow always end up back in his path. The final shot was one he would want to have again. It went a yard wide from the edge of the area. He pulled it too much. Could have been a miracle goal.

By more conventional means, we created another chance in the 32nd minute. Daniels rolled back the – years? – with a dribble down the left before finding Bowditch perfectly with a dipping, curling cross. Golden chance to score but Bowditch’s header, although on target, went in one of the few places that would have given Aldershot keeper Bull a chance to save it i.e. central and just under the bar. Even so, he showed very good reflexes there to tip it over.

A few corners followed for us but nothing that resulted in a chance, or a half chance. Then, unbelievably, we got stung on the break.

Soares it was who did the damage. He positively soared down the right flank before pulling back across goal. The breakaway had been so quick here there were only about two players from either side in the area. All missed it and the ball bobbled out towards Chambers. He was about twenty yards out and on a slight diagonal. I could tell from the way he was shaping his body that he was going to shoot, even when he was still five yards from the ball.

I could also tell the ball was going to end up in the net. Don’t ask me how. I just knew. And sure enough, Chambers’ shot clipped O’Grady’s thigh, then brushed James’ waist, before nestling perfectly in the bottom corner. Not one deflection there, but two. Unbelievable. Nil-two to Aldershot.

The goal was timed at 41 minutes. When the half time whistle went not long after, I disappeared down the tunnel faster than I can remember doing for a long time.

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“I have but this to say to you all – on Monday it is highly likely I’ll be bringing a couple of freebies in. I’m not going to tell you who they are or what position they play. But I will tell you this; if this second half isn’t three hundred percent better than the first, said two players could well be thrust into immediate debuts next week. And who knows? The ousted player or players could be YOU”.

The kidology in that little speech just didn’t work.

As early as the 49th minute, Welsh played a neat ball to Harding. The midfielder then slid an inch perfect slide rule pass between Moore and James for Grant to run onto. James attempted a slide tackle at the last possible moment but cocked it up and Grant was officially away. Stubhaug came out but was once again passed beneath his body. The ball did touch him but not enough to alter the direction of the ball. Nil-three.

I reckoned that had just about killed our chances. I resisted the urge to make dramatic changes though. Okay, so Aldershot had scored one goal from one second half chance. That didn’t make our second half performance shocking; it just meant we’d conceded a goal. I would give our guys another ten minutes to see what they could do.

But hardly anything happened in said spell so I finally told some subs to warm up just before the hour mark. Poole and Beavon were the ones to go on. They would replace Moore and Daniels.

The two soon-to-be-introduced players were literally bouncing up and down by the linesman when something finally happened for us. It was a move that gradually went from left to right in about five different stages, almost like a rugby offensive.

Furthest man on the right was Michael Taylor. The angle wasn’t really there for him to shoot but he went for it anyway and Bull offered up a howler. The ball dipped just in front of him and either bounced or swerved funny (one or the other), before shooting up off his shoulder into the roof of the net. One-three.

I still sent the subs on.

There was a renewed air of optimism around the ground now. Players were being encouraged rather than discouraged. A minute after the goal and Poole almost found Bowditch in the area with a diagonal chip over the defence. The ball evaded Bowditch’s outstretched right boot and bounced out for a goal kick.

Panicking a little bit, Aldershot tried to slow the game down by making subs of their own. They didn’t just send two on the same time either. Cynically, they sent one on one minute and then someone else a couple of minutes later, just to disrupt our rhythm. Donnelly and Hudson were the new personnel to grace the stage.

The slowdown cost us a few minutes but didn’t kill our momentum. For a team with so much speed in the forward positions, I’m surprised the visitors weren’t better at counter-attacking once we started over-committing.

It took us until the 72nd minute but we did pull another one back. This time it came from a corner. Taylor swung it in and James powered in a header. Bull saved it but couldn’t hold onto the ball. Lightning quick to the loose ball was Scott Spencer, and with one nimble flick of the neck he’d reduced the arrears to just one.

Now Kenilworth Road was a cauldron of noise. Three minutes later and Byrne rode a couple of challenges before sliding Poole in on the corner edge of the area. Poole performed some kind of trick that sent him spinning past a bamboozled Blackburn. Then he fired low towards the far corner. Bull was beaten but so was the far post. Only by half a yard or so, mind. Bowditch hadn’t been far away from turning it into the net either.

We were now enjoying the kind of domination that makes you wonder why it couldn’t have been so from the first whistle. Aldershot weren’t going to score again now. At least that was my reading on the situation. It was just a case now of whether or not we could equalise. To help aid the quest, I used up my third substitution in the 81st minute. Niven for Kearns.

Half chances came and went for Bowditch and Taylor, but it was the opening for Spencer on 86 that was really key. Nicholls passed it into Taylor, and the right winger flicked a beautiful reverse pass into Spencer’s path between Ward and Hazell. Spencer’s first touch was brilliant, his second more questionable. It was a right footed side foot that was neither hard enough nor far enough towards the corner. Bull saved with his foot.

There would be no better opening. The usual pantomime was played out in the final stages; high balls into the boxes, free kicks whacked forward from deep, goalkeepers either rushing or being warned by the ref for wasting time, and groans whenever a move broke down. No more decent openings though. It was yet another defeat.

--------

FULL TIME (att - 6335)

Luton Town 2 (Taylor 60, Spencer 72)

Aldershot Town 3 (O'Grady 3, Chambers 41, Grant 49)

--------

(other results)

Barnet 1-0 Oldham

Brentford 2-3 Lincoln

Chester 0-1 Accrington Stanley

Darlington 0-1 Yeovil

Grays 1-1 Rotherham

Grimsby 3-1 Chesterfield

Hereford 1-0 Bournemouth

Notts County 1-0 Walsall

Rochdale 1-1 Wycombe

Shrewsbury 3-2 Chesterfield

Torquay 0-0 Exeter

--------

| Pos   | Inf   | Team          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Exeter        |       | 13    | 7     | 5     | 1     | 16    | 8     | +8    | 26    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | Notts County  |       | 13    | 8     | 1     | 4     | 16    | 15    | +1    | 25    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Darlington    |       | 13    | 7     | 3     | 3     | 21    | 11    | +10   | 24    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Rochdale      |       | 13    | 7     | 3     | 3     | 20    | 14    | +6    | 24    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Yeovil        |       | 13    | 6     | 5     | 2     | 15    | 9     | +6    | 23    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Lincoln       |       | 13    | 7     | 2     | 4     | 17    | 12    | +5    | 23    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | Rotherham     |       | 13    | 6     | 5     | 2     | 18    | 15    | +3    | 23    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Grimsby       |       | 13    | 5     | 6     | 2     | 14    | 10    | +4    | 21    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | Shrewsbury    |       | 13    | 6     | 2     | 5     | 23    | 19    | +4    | 20    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Barnet        |       | 13    | 5     | 4     | 4     | 12    | 9     | +3    | 19    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | Chesterfield  |       | 13    | 5     | 4     | 4     | 19    | 18    | +1    | 19    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | Wycombe       |       | 13    | 5     | 4     | 4     | 13    | 12    | +1    | 19    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | Grays         |       | 13    | 5     | 3     | 5     | 22    | 20    | +2    | 18    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| [b]14th  |       | Luton         |       | 13    | 5     | 3     | 5     | 18    | 16    | +2    | 18    | 
[/b]| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Walsall       |       | 13    | 5     | 3     | 5     | 12    | 10    | +2    | 18    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Aldershot     |       | 13    | 5     | 3     | 5     | 21    | 21    | E     | 18    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Torquay       |       | 13    | 4     | 5     | 4     | 14    | 14    | E     | 17    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Cheltenham    |       | 13    | 4     | 4     | 5     | 17    | 17    | E     | 16    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Accrington    |       | 13    | 4     | 2     | 7     | 16    | 22    | -6    | 14    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Bournemouth   |       | 13    | 3     | 3     | 7     | 11    | 14    | -3    | 12    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 21st  |       | Oldham        |       | 13    | 3     | 2     | 8     | 13    | 19    | -6    | 11    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 22nd  |       | Hereford      |       | 13    | 2     | 5     | 6     | 11    | 22    | -11   | 11    | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 23rd  |       | Brentford     |       | 13    | 1     | 2     | 10    | 12    | 29    | -17   | 5     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 24th  |       | Chester       |       | 13    | 0     | 3     | 10    | 7     | 22    | -15   | 3     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

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--------

October 2010 round-up of the other divisions

--------

Premiership

Top – Liverpool (25), Arsenal (22), Man Utd (22), Chelsea (21), Newcastle Utd (20), Man City (17), Aston Villa (17), West Ham (16)

BottomWest Brom (10), Fulham (10), Reading (10), Ipswich (9), Wigan (9), Sunderland (7), QPR (6), Blackburn (2)

Liverpool have stretched their lead at the top. Are they starting to dream on Merseyside?! The rest of the top four aren’t too far behind but Man City are underachieving given all the money they’ve spent. Torres leads the golden boot race with nine goals for the league leaders. His partner, Michael Owen, is only one back.

At the bottom, Blackburn continue to be shocking. Their supporters though are regularly winning plaudits for how magnanimous they are in defeat. They’re also extremely supportive towards their manager, even to the point of holding up banners during games with things written on them like – Keep trying. We believe in you!

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Championship

Top – Norwich (23), Coventry (22), Bristol City (22), Cardiff (21), Bolton (21), Wolves (21), Leeds (19), Sheff Wed (18)

BottomBurnley (14), Hull (14), Doncaster (13), Southampton (13), Barnsley (10), Preston (9), Blackpool (9)

While I was having the worst October in the history of Octobers, Pops was having a whale of a time. His Canaries positively surged to the summit despite having begun the month outside the top six. Huddersfield, who led the table when I last did a round-up, have gone in the other direction.

Leading marksman in The Championship is a tie between Lita of Cardiff and McGarry of Barnsley. Both have nine goals. It’s quite remarkable in McGarry’s case because the side he plays for are second bottom.

--------

League One

Top – Colchester (27), Millwall (26), Crystal Palace (26), Hartlepool (26), Scunthorpe (24), Stockport (24), Brighton (22), MK Dons (20)

BottomSwindon (16), Crewe (15), Leyton Orient (14), Bradford (10), Bristol Rovers (10), Bury (10), Peterborough (9), Tranmere (8)

It was also a good month for Steve. His Eagles have gone from fifth to third. The party though finally seems over for Morecambe. Having incredibly found themselves in second place at the end of September, the minnows have now nosedived out of the top six. Plymouth and Sheff Utd have also dropped out. They’re not happy campers at Bramall Lane right now.

Paul Hayes of Scunthorpe remains the top sharpshooter. At the other end, Tranmere have slid to the bottom after a fine recovery by Leyton Orient. No real surprises down here, except maybe Bradford.

--------

Blue Square Premier

Top – Kidderminster (35), Dagenham & Redbridge (31), Burton Albion (29), AFC Wimbledon (29), Wrexham (27), York (26), Oxford (26)

BottomHiston (18), Fleetwood (18), Crawley Town (17), Altrincham (15), Forest Green (15), Stevenage (14), Woking (11)

A great month for Kiddie and Dag & Red, both of whom made significant strides. Burton surrendered their end-of-September lead and are now struggling to stay in the title race. Without the boy wonder in charge, AFC Wimbledon slipped a place from third to fourth. Division’s top scorer is Nathan Elder of Oxford with nine goals.

All change at the foot. Despite picking up a magnificent twelve points in October, Forest Green remain in the bottom four. Woking replace them as the basement club. Stevenage meanwhile fall further into bother.

--------

Blue Square North

Top – Redditch (24), Barrow (24), Stalybridge (23), Hinckley (23), Droylsden (23), Northwich (21), Southport (21)

BottomGateshead (16), Blyth (16), Telford (13), Workington (12), Harrogate (8), Hednesford (6), Guiseley (4), Cambridge City (2)

A definite turn up here with Redditch leading the way. Barrow had a poor month but still have a share of top spot. Hinckley, Droylsden, and Southport have replaced AFC Farsley, Stafford, and Boston in the playoffs. Top golden boot contender at the moment is a familiar face; Joynes of Stalybridge has ten goals.

A relatively clear cut relegation race this. Guiseley and Cambridge City have both been useless and will surely take the plummet with one of Harrogate or Hednesford to join them. Still time for things to change, mind.

--------

Blue Square South

Top – Havant & Waterlooville (27), Ebbsfleet Utd (27), Braintree (26), Bishops Stortford (22), Newport (19), Hampton & Richmond (19), Eastbourne (19)

BottomBognor Regis (14), Hayes & Yeading (13), Tiverton (13), Team Bath (10), Lewes (9), St Albans (8), Dover (7)

It would be nice to see Havant & Waterloovile capitalise on their recent FA Cup escapades with a promotion. Yo-yo club Ebbsfleet however are sure to push them all the way. Highest goal scorer is Jamie Slabber of Havant & Waterlooville with nine goals. Seems to be a common theme this month does people with nine.

Not much change at the bottom. The bottom four are the same as they were last month. Slightly further up, Maidenhead and Fisher have risen into mid-table to be replaced on the radar by Bognor Regis and Hayes & Yeading.

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01/11/10 - Getting into a Branston pickle

I wasn’t looking forward to visiting the press room this morning. I get a hard enough time in there when we’re on a winning streak, so going in on the back of four defeats and a draw from five games wasn’t the most appetising of prospects.

Still, I had a plan to distract the wolves.

“Good morning, ladies and gents” I began with, taking my pew.

Patiently, I waited for the cameras to cease clicking and for Brian to also sit down (on my left). Then I unfurled a piece of paper I’d been keeping in the breast pocket of my shirt.

“Now then, I would like to begin this morning’s session with an announcement. I’m very much pleased to inform you that next week will see two new arrivals to the club. I’ve secured deals to bring Edgar Snowden and Aaron Ides here. Both on frees”.

“Snowden of course needs little introduction. Twenty eight years old - a striker - his previous clubs include Bristol Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday, and Leeds. He was frozen out a little bit at Leeds last year but that’s no shame given what a big squad Leeds have. I expect he’ll fit in just brilliantly here at Luton. And then we have Ides, a youngster from Tottenham. Twenty one years old, Ides plays left back and looks a fine prospect for the future”.

I finished there and smiled. Andy Branston quickly put his hand up.

“Yes, Andy?”

“And you say these two are coming next week?”

“Yep”.

“A bit unorthodox isn’t it, announcing signings a week before they actually come?”

“Well – “

“Surely next week will be a better time to discuss Snowden and Ides? Snowden, by the way, has been horribly out of form for a long time now. However, I think what the Luton fans will be most interested in today is what’s been going on with these past few performances. One point from fifteen, James. It’s a mess. What’s your comment?”

I glanced awkwardly at Brian. He was no help though; he was rubbing his chin and looking up at something invisible.

“Oh!” I said dramatically, suddenly remembering I had a back-up plan (sort of). “Sorry to skip over that one, Andy, but it’s just occurred to me I have another very important announcement to make”.

“Which is?”

“I’m retiring. Have retired. From playing I mean. Permanently this time. With Bowditch now back from injury and Snowden on the way, I no longer consider it necessary to make myself available for selection. Not only that, but my thirty second birthday is fast approaching. I think, in the circumstances, this is the right time to hang up my boots and fix all my energies solely on the management side”.

Silence around the room. It felt like the sort of moment cameras ought to have been clicking, but none were. There was just the silence.

“Okay, but what about the one point from fifteen thing?!” Bill Tulip asked.

“The one poi – Hang on, let me get this straight; I’ve just announced my retirement and you’re immediately changing the subject?! I’d have thought you people might have more to say about my retirement than that. Questions and things”.

“Leave it out, James! You only played about three games. Not exactly a playing career for the ages, was it?”

“Now that’s not exactly fair” Brian piped up. “James’ playing career didn’t begin last month with Luton. James previously enjoyed a stellar non league career with such clubs as Morecambe and Halifax”.

Bill rolled his eyes and shook his head. He did though sit down again.

“Yes, Victoria?” I queried, pointing to the scraggly, silver haired Mirror reporter, who as always was sat on the back row.

“Are there any plans for a testimonial to honour your time as a Luton player?”

Immediate laughter around the room. Lots of it.

“Har-har” I said over the din.

“Or maybe a club shop DVD?” Andy added with a grin. “Three and out: The very best of James Martin”.

A bit more laughter but not as much.

“LOOK!” I boomed, trying to regain control. “I came here today to hold a serious press conference. If you lot aren’t going to – “

“Hey! Now don’t lecture us about being serious!” Andy interrupted. “I wrote in September how I didn’t think you’d be able to sustain your early season luck, and so it’s proved. No, we’ve been serious all season. If anybody hasn’t been serious, it’s you”.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well let’s just say a lot of people, some of them your own fans, think you’ve taken your eye off the ball this season. They think you’ve let winning that title go to your head, and that since then you’ve started to become less the manager of this football club and more some kind of local playboy. I mean come on; all of a sudden you’re acting in movies and marrying models? What's next? Letterman?”

“Okay, that’s it!” I called out, rising from my chair. “Press conference terminated at eleven oh six thanks to a string of disparaging remarks by Andy Branston of The Hertfordshire Herald. Thank you all and goodbye”.

Now the cameras did start clicking again. Looking bemused, Brian also rose and began to follow. Andy just stood there with hands on hips – looking bemused

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01/11/10 - Duel

Suffice to say I was in a rotten mood come lunchtime. One thing the press conference did do however was galvanise me into working really hard during the afternoon. All that stuff about taking easy and becoming a playboy really got into my head. Take it from me; I worked harder between 1pm and 3pm that afternoon than I had for a long time. I studied player performance statistics, transfer lists, match videos, all sorts.

Then, just as I was designing a power-point presentation to show the players where they were going wrong at defending long throws, a knock at the door sounded.

‘Christ’s sake!’

Getting ready to unleash my mood on whoever had disturbed me, I strode to the door and yanked it open.

“Hiya!”

“Oh. Nicky”.

“I just thought I’d come see how you were getting on out here”.

“Well, I’m doing okay, I suppose. Come in”.

Instantly I felt my demeanour relaxing. That’s not to say I didn’t want her gone, mind. I was a man on a mission this afternoon. Not even the sight of Nicky in a short brown skirt was going to distract me.

Well, not for too long anyway.

"This is the first time I’ve been in here” she remarked, beginning to inspect all the Star Wars guff.

“Cyril would probably see a very depressing irony in that statement”.

“What?”

“Never mind. So how's things in the office? Is everyone missing me?”

“Hmm not really”.

She turned to grin at me and then picked up an Attack of the Clones board game.

A silence descended. Not an awkward one. Just a normal one. Still, maybe this signalled it was time already to make my excuses and get rid? No point driving myself to distraction over other women now I’m engaged. Especially Nicky. It’s just a waste of nervous energy.

“I’ve got shed loads to do today” I said tactfully. “I am soooo so busy”.

Surprisingly, Nicky actually identified that hint straight off the bat.

“Are you trying to get rid of me?!” she gasped, albeit in jest.

“No, I just – “

“Shame on you, James Martin! Shame on you”.

She put the board game down now and picked up a light sabre. It was light red. In the style of someone who’s never held such a thing before, she then began swishing it from side to side.

“Nicky, sadly I really do have lots of work to – “

“Quiet, weakling! Or I’ll cut you down where you sit! I dispute your right to this port-a-cabin and challenge you to a dual in order to settle the matter”.

“Nicky – “

I broke off because she was now attaching a CP3O mask to her face. CP3O, by the way, if you’re unaware, is the name of that tall gold robot from the early Star Wars films. And I swear to God I had to research that on Google!

The sight of Nicky in a CP3O mask waving a light sabre at me was just too much to take. My barrier instantly crumbled and I began chuckling myself stupid. I also got back up again and gathered up my own light sabre. A blue one. Then I grabbed a nearby Darth Maul mask (again, I had to look that up on Google images) and put it on.

Next move came from Nicky. Pointing her light sabre at me with one hand, she used her other to just slightly lift up the CP3O mask so she could talk.

“That’s the spirit! Now brace yourself and prepare to die. Ye heavens await ye!”

“My lady” I replied, slightly bending my own mask up. “I have spilled the blood of hundreds of men with this sword, and thousands of women! Leave now or I will spill your entrails far and wide across this kingdom. So help me God!”

“Ha!” Nicky cried, letting her mask back fall into place.

I did the same and the battle commenced. Obviously this wasn’t for real so there was no great effort on either side to penetrate the defences. Indeed for a while we just slowly banged the sabres together whilst skipping back and forth on our feet. I found it a fun way to get some exercise actually.

Eventually Nicky upped the ante, slipping a sly one under my rearguard and connecting tip first with my ribs. It didn’t hurt but it did take me by surprise.

Still, I got my own back. Giggling to myself long before I pulled the trigger, I waited until she next overreached before arching a loopy swing around the outside. It connected square with her bum, and instantly she shrieked and giggled.

Now she was really coming hard. Big long swings left and right. She was determined to land another one on me before we finished. Suddenly it was all I could do just to weave and parry to protect myself!

Then the door to the port-a-cabin burst open.

It was Erica.

Instinctively I grabbed Nicky’s incoming light sabre with one hand whilst using my other to pull my mask down. Nicky spotted Erica a split second later than me. When she did, she flinched as if experiencing one of those static electricity shocks. Then she slowly pulled her own mask down.

For a few more seconds, Erica just stared at us both with a completely dumbfounded look on her face. Then she composed herself.

“I came to tell you you can go back in the building, but from where I’m standing you seem to be having much more fun out here”.

“No I’ll go back in” I said quickly and with my serious face on.

“Well get going then, and once you’re in there, might I suggest you spend a bit less time messing about and a bit more time working out how we can improve our league position”.

I nodded acceptingly. Didn’t reply.

“As for you” she then began, switching her glare to Nicky. “My office in five minutes”.

And that was that. Erica turned on her heels and walked away. Nicky wasn’t long in following. Five minutes isn’t a lot of time to cross a car park and go up two floors, so all I got from her before she left was one sheepish little glare that definitely said something like this – Of all the rotten times she could have come to see you!

What Nicky maybe isn’t aware of is that Erica has a habit of sitting in her car throughout lunchtime and beyond. I’ve seen her doing all sorts in the driver’s side of that car of hers; eating, drinking, texting, talking on the phone, reading documents. It’s because she likes to get out of her office from time to time but doesn’t want to mix with the others in the canteen. That's what it is.

Anyway, it was dressing down time for poor Nik-nak. That was for damn certain. Briefly I stood in the port-a-cabin doorway and watched them both cross the tarmac, Erica about ten yards in front.

Then I went back to my laptop and began packing it away.

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Thanks, Johnny

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02/11/10 - The new tenant

Sigh. I didn’t expect to be back in Dilic’s flat so soon!

No, I hadn’t fallen out with Chantelle; I was just here playing the role of estate agent, showing Kindra the place. She’d expressed an interest in moving out of the family home (the one above her Dad’s shop), and I’d suggested my old place.

And why not? The market price for renting a flat these days is ridiculous, not to mention the size of the deposits you need. If I could offer up a place for Kindra on Dilic's mate’s rates then so be it. Dilic himself was fine with the idea just so long as Kindra agreed to move out the minute she stopped being a Luton Town employee.

“Very nice” she said, inspecting the living room. “It’s better than I expected. Lots of space. Nice and clean. Fully furnished”.

For a few moments I didn’t reply, too busy as I was wallowing in the memories. I’d spent two years in this living room. Mostly it had been me and Bambi. Sometimes Chantelle as well. Occasionally Brian. Very occasionally Nicky or Darren. Good times.

“Yep. You certainly can’t go wrong on £100 a month. Darren pays three times that much where he lives”.

“Did you never think of offering it to him? Or Nicky?”

“No, I didn’t actually. Mind you, I only moved out quite recently. And I think Nicky and Darren are happy enough living with their mates anyway, even if it does cost them more. One of them might have taken me up if I’d made the offer but I don’t think they’ll lose sleep over you getting it instead. They certainly didn’t look that bothered in the office when we were first started talking about this”.

Kindra nodded, satisfied. Then she walked over to the window and bent down to check the phone connection. She had the afternoon off work for this and was dressed a lot more Indian for the occasion. I’m guessing her family only accept her not wearing Indian when she’s working. Maybe that’s a factor in her decision to move? She’s always struck me as a very independent person. At heart anyway. I wonder what their reaction was to her starring in that film.

“Speaking of Nicky” Kindra then added. “When’s her disciplinary meeting?”

“Next week”.

“Think she’ll be okay?”

“Yeah”.

‘She’d better be, or I’ll seriously resign’.

“Anyway, Kindra, I’ve got to go. Big match tonight, and it’s away, so I’d better get going”.

“Oh. Okay”.

“I’ll leave you to it. Keys on are the kitchen table, remember? And don’t forget to set up that direct debit to Dilic”.

“Will do. And thanks, James. I appreciate you helping set this up for me”.

“Really no problem”.

I said my goodbyes and she said hers. Then I headed for the front door hopefully this time for the final time.

I no longer had a parking space now I didn’t live here. As such, on arrival I’d had to park about five hundred yard due west. It’s seriously that crowded an area.

Rattling my car keys in my right hand as I walked, I hummed an old Suede tune and let the afternoon wind assault me in the face. It left a feel good factor in the veins doing a good turn for someone. I just hoped I’d still be smiling come 10pm when I left Rotherham.

I wasn’t far away from the car when it happened. I had maybe a hundred yards left to walk. Up ahead in the distance I saw a car coming towards me.

It was pink.

It was The Beghermobile.

No doubt about it.

For a few seconds I just stared transfixed as it continued to hurtle in my direction. Then I noticed it slow. It slowed from about sixty miles per hour to about thirty. That couldn’t be a coincidence. Couldn’t be. I was on a stretch of pavement where there were no turns for quite some distance in both directions – maybe one hundred yards one way and two hundred the other. No, The Beghermobile was slowing because it had seen someone it didn’t like. Me.

About twenty yards before it passed me, the driver’s side window went down and an arm holding a handgun popped out.

Instinctively, I dived down behind the row of cars parked on the curb. I expected to hear a gunshot ring out half a second later but none did.

“Haha” came a laugh that I couldn’t see. “I could have got you, bitch! Haha”.

The Beghermobile must have slowed to about five miles per hour by this point. It zoomed off again after the second haha though and only then did I reckon it was safe to stand up again.

So, this I did. Then I stood and watched as it faded into the distance.

‘One of these days, Randy. I swear to God. One of these days’.

--------

Next from L2 - Rotherham v Luton

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02/11/10, League Match 14

Rotherham United v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (16 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (54 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (114 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Tony James (70 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (9 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (86 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Derek Niven (44 apps, 3 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (66 apps, 5 goals)

MR – Michael Taylor (51 apps, 4 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (42 apps, 19 goals)

FC – Scott Spencer (40 apps, 16 goals)

Two years ago when we played Rotherham, we managed a 0-0 draw at Kenilworth and a 2-2 draw away. Would there be a winner this time around?

This being a Tuesday night, I didn’t bother seeing the sights. Just never enough time on a mid-week. The match wasn’t being played in Rotherham anyway. At the end of the 2007/2008 season, The Millers were forced to move into The Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield, home of Sheffield F.C.

I made a couple of brave choices with the team selection. Keith Keane was technically available again but I decided to leave him out for one more game. I wanted to show him just how f__ked off I am with him for getting yet another pointless three game ban. Therefore, I took the liberty of turning this latest ban into a four game stretch, just to show him I am firmly on the side of the FA. I talked with Brian about my idea the other night and he was in agreement.

My other significant decision was to persist with Daniels. He shouldn’t really be playing ahead of Poole but the latter has arrived at the point of needing rest, and I’ve decided he should rest twice instead of once to make sure he gets fully recharged rather than just mostly recharged.

I almost had a heart attack in the 5th minute of the game because we actually had some luck! Taylor squirmed around near the corner flag trying to get a cross in and eventually he succeeded. The ball went into that awkward zone just in front of the goalkeeper and defender Mills was caught in two minds about what to do. He ended up doing neither this nor that and deflecting the ball over the line.

My celebrations were kept under wraps. No point getting excited about a one-nil lead away to a team as good as Rotherham. And especially not with eighty five minutes still to play.

The Millers didn’t waste time responding. With some nice interplay and strong shoulder barging (to put it mildly), they retained possession well and gradually forced us on the back foot. In the 11th minute Navarro found space to put a cross in and cross it he did. Straight onto the head of Burchill. The header was a strange one. Burchill jumped and then ducked his head down, flipping the ball almost, towards the near post. Just wide with Stubhaug rooted.

“Sounds Mexican that Navarro” Brian commented.

“Doesn’t look Mexican”.

I soon became concerned with how deep we were defending so early in the game. In the 18th minute, Done and Burchill combined on the edge of our area. Then Burchill dribbled the ball left and right. Then he edged slightly forwards and our defence backed off. Then, after turning both left and right again like some kind of untouchable computer game character, he dribbled a bit more forwards.

He was on the penalty spot now! How on earth can a defence back off that far back? Anyway, Burchill ended the madness by hammering it a whisker over the bar on his wrong foot. Then the inquests in the Luton defence began.

I thought an equalizer was imminent but no good chances followed for a while. We even managed an effort of our own, Niven attempting to justify his starting berth with a forty yard rocket. The ball swerved and skidded along the ground and the keeper had to watch it carefully into his arms. Keane in his tracksuit could breathe a sigh of relief.

Eventually Rotherham came again. It was inevitable. The wind was playing a big part tonight and after 33 minutes Hudson almost scored a lucky one. His shot from twenty five yards was going central but the wind carried it to the right and Stubhaug ended up having a right old flap just to keep it out. He eventually conceded a corner but that blew straight out of play onto the running track.

Then again – 36 minutes. Hudson had space as wide as the Hudson river to run into and I counted five Rotherham players here going up against just four Luton ones. Hudson fed Done through one particularly large gap and this really should have been the equaliser. Done however strangely hit a very weak side-foot that Stubhaug managed to touch away for another corner. Any significant power on that and it was a goal.

We were approaching half time still leading then but there was to be a sting in the tail..

El Skip did some good work centrally before poking a neat little ball between Navarro and Yates for Taylor to run onto. Taylor collected and ran towards the area on a slight diagonal. Dudley came out to tackle him but Taylor let fly with an unexpected long range shot. He must have been twenty five yards out when he hit it but it somehow whizzed low past Warrington in the Rotherham goal. The ball just clipped the inside of the far post before nestling in the corner. Fantastic effort!

This time I couldn’t help celebrating! For the first time in a long while, I had butterflies in my stomach at the very realistic prospect of an excellent result.

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The point I tried to hammer home at the interval was not to get too deep. Aside from that, I didn’t say all that much. I was very fidgety though. For instance, I went to the toilet twice. I accidentally drank from Brian’s coffee too. Little things like that.

The two teams ran out in the second half to Sandstorm by Cast. I hoped it wasn’t an omen. Last thing I needed right now was an abandonment. Come to think of it, I’ve never been involved in an abandoned game as manager.

I was involved in one once as a player but it was a long time ago. I was playing for the Guiseley Eagles at the time. I was only a wee nipper. A snow storm was swirling around the pitch and the temperature was unbearably cold. I had pins and needles in my fingers and some of the other boys were actually crying. We really had no business being out there.

Not that George Palazzi had much sympathy. Safe and snug under his mega thick duffel coat, I can remember him waving his gloved hands around on the sidelines telling everyone to stop moaning and get on with it.

Anyway, like I said; not much chance of abandonment at the Don Valley tonight. The wind was still a pain in the proverbial but it wasn’t going to get the game cancelled.

Rotherham pushed forwards early in the second half (as you would have expected) but they didn’t create much. They were having one of those annoying spells as an attacking side where you dominate possession but every final ball seems to be a fraction off. I know exactly how that feels like. I’ve been in the same situation a thousand times. It’s infuriating.

But at least this time the boot was on the other foot. When the 60 minute mark crawled around, I didn’t make a substitution because I didn’t want to change anything!

My deviation from protocol almost cost us. The Millers were bound to find an entry point eventually and the first one came on 63. Done collected on the edge of the area and went right through James and Moore with the help of a ridiculously lucky ricochet. He was right in front of Stubhaug here with the goal gaping, but the Luton keeper spread himself and blocked Done’s shot.

Quickly I made subs. I decided on all change in the centre of the park. On went Gill and Kearns for Nicholls and Niven. Nicholls looked a little jaded.

Next chance went to us. Daniels was the man, zipping past his marker before rifling in an angled drive that clipped the bar and went over. The keeper clearly thought he’d gone too wide to shoot there. So had I. So had everyone else.

Then we had five minutes of intense Rotherham scrutiny. Again, however, the final ball was shocking at times. At others, lady luck was just not on their side. On one occasion Dudley couldn’t miss with his through ball to Burchill but a bobble disrupted his release. I had to laugh. The spirit of non-league was definitely here tonight.

With nineteen minutes to play Michael Gill collected in central and played an astonishing ball out to Daniels. It curled and looped high in the air before landing spectacularly at Daniels’ feet over by the left touchline. The winger then carried it forwards towards the by-line. Once he got there he pulled it back across behind the first wave of runners, one of which was Spencer.

First in the second wave was Bowditch. With a quick swipe he slotted the ball high and into the roof of the net and silence descended around the ground.

In glee I bounced around as if winning for the first ever time. Okay, so the game wasn’t technically won yet. But it might as well have been. Bowditch meanwhile ran around the back of the goals – onto the running track – and almost slipped on the wet Astroturf.

Feeling secure with a three goal lead, I sent Buckley on for Spencer up front. Rotherham also made changes with Reid and Tudor stepping forth.

“We’re doing a lot better now you’ve retired” Brian pointed out.

I gave him a look but didn’t say anything.

If there was to be any miracle comeback, Rotherham would certainly have to take the chance offered up in the 79th minute. Gnakpa made a horrible error at right back, slipping and allowing Reid in. The substitute did some slipping of his own as he approached the goal. In fact his carelessness sent him too wide to shoot himself. No worry though because Burchill was steamrolling towards the six yard box and pointing with his arm as to where he wanted the ball played for a tap-in.

Reid more or less made the pass as intended. Trouble is, Burchill seemed to get his feet tangled. He did deflect the ball towards the line but Moore managed to nip in like lightning and clear. Can’t believe that wasn’t a goal.

When it’s not your night though, it’s not your night.

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FULL TIME (att - 3608)

Rotherham United 0

Luton Town 3 (Mills o.g 5, Taylor 44, Bowditch 71)

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(other results)

Accrington Stanley 2-0 Brentford

Aldershot 3-0 Rochdale

Bournemouth 2-0 Chester

Cheltenham 1-1 Grays

Chesterfield 0-2 Shrewsbury

Exeter 1-1 Grimsby

Lincoln 3-1 Torquay

Oldham 3-1 Notts County

Walsall 2-2 Darlington

Wycombe 1-2 Barnet

Yeovil 1-1 Hereford

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(top of table)

1 - Exeter (27)

2 - Lincoln (26)

3 - Darlington (25)

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4 - Notts County (25)

5 - Yeovil (24)

6 - Rochdale (24)

7 - Shrewsbury (23)

--------

8 - Rotherham (23)

We have 21 pts

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03/11/10 - Be safe

“Do you want a cuppa too, James?”

“Err. Yeah. Thanks, Brenda”.

No need to tell her what I wanted. She must have made me thousands of cups of coffee since I joined.

My desk is the closest of everyone’s to the little kitchen at the back of the office. Brenda moved away from it now and began setting five different cups down next to the kettle.

I didn’t watch her go. I was too engrossed in my work. Keen to build on the success achieved in Sheffield, I was studying some scout reports for our next opponents and taking notes. And once I’d finished that, I had plenty more to be doing too. Lots to get through today. The rest of the office seemed to realise I had a lot on my plate because by and large they were staying quiet (and maybe even working. Who knows?).

Just then though, Bob and some mystery guy walked in. The latter was slightly overweight, middle aged, and had grey hair. He was also wearing an equally grey business suit and carrying a clipboard.

“Morning everybody” Bob grinned. “How we all doing? Are we alright?”

Cue a few mumbles here and there.

“Right. Well, anyway, I’d like to introduce you to John Sharp. John is a Health and Safety Inspector from Luton Borough council - “.

Oh for f__k’s sake’.

“ – He’s kindly agreed to come down today to give our building a look over and check that none of us are in danger of accidentally killing ourselves”.

Bob chuckled, seeming to think he’d made a joke.

“So, John, can you see anything at first glance that might be a problem?”

Making popping noises with his lips, the newcomer glanced around the room. His eyes seemed to do double take when he saw Nicky. Then they moved on again.

Just as he was completing his arc, Brenda trundled back out of the kitchen carrying the hot drinks (on a tray this time).

“Ah!” said John immediately. “No no. That’s no good. Not good at all”.

“What isn’t?” I asked, speaking for the first time.

“You should never carry more than one hot drink across an office. And carrying five is just inviting disaster”.

“Nobody’s ever spilled anything in here before” Darren voiced. “Not even Nicky”.

"Oi!"

“Doesn’t matter” said John. “The point is, it could happen”

“Give over!” I said. “Load of codswallop”.

“Now James” Bob intervened. “After John leaves today I’d like to see everyone adhering to any suggestions he makes whilst he’s here. Brenda, please make that the last time you make drinks for everyone. Safer for people to get their own drinks. One at a time”.

Without invitation, John then began pacing the room looking for any other whiff of potential catatrosphe. Everyone else just sat and watched. Or, in Bob’s case, they stood. Brenda meanwhile gave everyone their drinks and sat back in her seat. Not once on the way around did she look like tripping. There was nothing to trip on.

“One other thing I’ve noticed” John finally remarked, returning to Bob. “Why is it, in a room with so many desks and computers, is everyone spaced so far apart?”

“This is just the way we’ve always sat” Nicky informed him.

“Well, you should definitely think about moving closer together”.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because talking across large spaces places a strain on the voice box”.

That was horses__t. The two people furthest from each other in the communal office are me and Kindra. We can still talk to each other comfortably though from one seat to the other. Okay, our voices probably do have to go up a notch or two when said necessity arrives. But not by any amount that’s going to strain anyone’s voice.

“Utter rubbish” I declared.

“It might not seem like you’re straining your voice now this second, but over a long period of time you could develop very serious throat problems. It’s been proven in studies”.

I didn’t reply this time. Just stared at him open mouthed.

“This afternoon I’d like to see everyone move desks to be closer together” Bob announced.

“Are we done with this?” I asked. “I’ve got a lot of work to do”.

“Not quite” said John, reaching inside his clipboard. “I brought a health and safety video with me. Bob, do we have a VCR and TV anywhere?”

“Err yep. Brenda, would you be so kind as to nip over to my office and fetch the VCR and TV? They’re both on a stand. Maybe Darren could give you a hand? Big strapping lad an’ all that”.

Not bothering to argue, Darren and Brenda rose from their desks and moved towards the door. I did the same.

“I don’t think it’ll take three, James”.

“I wasn’t planning on helping them. I’m going up to my private office. Away from this stupid video session. Like I said, I’ve got a lot of work to do”.

“James – “

“No you see here’s the thing; I've spent quite a long time today on my computer. Watching John’s video on top of that could definitely give me a really bad case of eye strain. Therefore, I think I’m going to go rest for a while. Sorry to miss out on the video, but hey, health and safety an’ all that”.

Nicky and Kindra couldn’t resist a little chuckle at that. Darren and Brenda however had already left the room.

“Was nice to meet you, John” I finished off with, slapping the guy on the arm.

Then I walked out.

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I don't really comment on this as much as I should Scott, it's one of the best stories on he board and I really enjoy reading every post.

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Thanks guys. I hope Truro continue to rise up the pyramid, btw.

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05/11/10 - Cruel to be kind

Luke shook the dice and prepared to roll, a distinct air of trepidation plastered all over his face. He needed to avoid getting eight or ten. If he rolled either of those he was in big trouble. Big big trouble.

“Come on, Luke, we haven’t got all night” – Chantelle.

“Yeah come on, Luke!” I re-enforced with a smile. “Roll the dice!”

If you haven’t guessed already, we were playing Monopoly. It was the first time the three of us had played a board game together. Luke had initially tried to drag us into some kind of multi player game on his Wii console. And that was when I’d suggested the board game experience instead, insisting like an old man that you can’t beat the old uns when it comes to family fun. I don’t know who I was more surprised to hear accept; Luke or Chantelle.

Anyway, Luke rolled an eight and now he was in deep deep doggy do, landing as he just had on the Park Lane square. I had a hotel on Park Lane. It was $1400 to land on it.

“Aha! Come on then – cough up”.

Looking downcast, Luke handed over maybe $200 in loose change. Then he held his palms up to show he was clean out.

Oh well. He’d lasted longer than his mother at least. Chantelle had crapped out a good half hour ago. Not that she’d been bothered. Getting shunted to the sidelines had given her a chance to catch up on Facebook. She’d bought another one of those wretched Blackberry phones the previous day that lets you use Facebook on your phone. They seem to bring out a new version every other week.

“You’re going to have to mortgage the rest of your properties, mate” I told Luke meanwhile. “That’s the only way you can raise some more money to pay me”.

“How do you do that?”

“Here. Let me show you”.

So I did. Reaching over, I began flipping his cards over and counting up the money. He was out of luck though. Even after selling all his assets to the bank, he could barely raise even half the money required, never mind the full fourteen hundred. Game over.

Luke looked thoroughly peeved at this. As I began counting my hoards of cash just to see how much I’d finished with, Luke briefly rested his head in his hands. Then, unannounced, he got up from his chair and headed for the stairs. There was no well done. No goodbye. No goodnight.

‘Oh well. Suit yourself’.

“Hey” said Chantelle, suddenly looking up from her phone. “Has he gone to bed?”

“Yep”.

“Why didn’t you make him pack the game away?”

“Well I could have done, but it probably would have been a bit cruel seeing as he's just lost".

“Suppose”.

Quickly and quietly we packed the game away ourselves. Then I went into the living room where as she, for some reason, went into the kitchen. Heaven only knew where Bambi was. Probably up in Luke’s room.

“How come you didn’t let him win?” Chantelle called through in a curious tone.

“Because he won’t learn anything that way. I think it’s important for kids to learn how to lose as well as lose. Also, hopefully, now he’ll go away and try and evaluate where he went wrong – tactically – ahead of the next time we play. That’s what I do when I lose with Luton; I go away and work out how to do better next time. It’s a good skill to learn”.

“He won’t like you for it though, and you’re always complaining he doesn’t show you any respect”.

“Yeah well I’ll just have to cope with that for now. I think he’ll like me better in time though. I’ve just got to be patient”.

“Okay”.

Thankfully she came in at that point, meaning we didn’t have to shout anymore (John Sharp would have a fit at some of the cross-house conversations me and Chantelle have). Picking up the remote to the TV en route, she climbed onto the couch and pushed her legs across my lap.

“I’m surprised you even agreed to play” I said, as Chantelle flicked Coronation Street on. “I’d pegged you as being too up on the latest technology to want to play a board game”.

“Actually I like board games. I just haven’t played one for a while. I used to play them when I was a kid. I never had many friends though so I played by myself most of the time”.

I looked at her but didn’t say anything. Chantelle briefly glanced at me without much of an expression and then carried on.

“Yeah. I know it sounds tragic but I used to make up some imaginary friends and play them instead. Then when it was their turn I’d roll the dice for them, or spin the wheel, or whatever. Anyway, as I got older I got a lot better at making friends so I didn't need to do it anymore. You get more confident as you get older, don’t you? I can’t remember how old I was when I stopped playing by myself though. Ten? Eleven?”

Slightly taken aback by this story (and touched by it) I reached across and pulled her into an embrace, which she accepted.

When I first met Chantelle she mentioned having a sister, and I never reminded her of that once I realised it was a lie. Looking back, chances are it was probably just one of those wistful things you might say to a stranger. At the time though I thought it was a dumb thing to say. It makes more sense now.

‘I bet she enjoyed that game of Monopoly more than she let on’.

Kissing her on the head, I absorbed the Corrie theme tune with her and all was well.

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06/11/10 - Aspiring to beat The Spireites.

Apparently, me walking out of the office just before that healthy and safety video wasn’t the end of the controversy. John discovered that Nicky had been keeping an unhealthy amount of electrical equipment under her desk. Having stupidly piled extension lead upon extension lead, she had a battery charger for her phone under there, a battery recharger for actual batteries, a hairdryer, hair straighteners, and God knows what else. John nearly had a stroke when he saw it all.

Once Nicky had unplugged some of those things, that might have been the end of it. But then, a light snigger from Darren induced Nicky into telling all about the time Brenda told Darren off for carrying a pair of scissors the wrong way around.

This in turn induced Darren into telling the story of how Nicky once kicked a football through the communal office window. And this was the kicker (no pun intended). Even though the incident was two years old, Bob immediately demanded to hear the whole story. After that, he ended the session looking slightly less chirpy than normal and left.

The worry now is that Bob will add the broken window thing to Nicky’s file in time for her disciplinary meeting. If that happens, it will only increase the chances of a really bad outcome. At heart though he’s a softie is Bob so who knows, maybe we’re all being paranoid over nothing.

In other news, we’ve been drawn at home to Cambridge United in the first round proper of the FA Cup. I’ve never been past the first round with Luton on two previous attempts, the first ending with a penalty shoot out defeat at Northampton in a replay, and last year’s run finishing with a narrow reverse away to the MK Dons. Still, it should be third time lucky this time around. Cambridge are only in the Conference Premier. We have home advantage too.

Today we set off north again for our second away game in a week. Chesterfield away. It was a Saturday game so I had the chance to do some roaming.

Chesterfield is in Derbyshire and has a population of just over 100,000. After visiting The Chesterfield Museum and Art Gallary, I went to look at the crooked spire of Saint Mary and All Saints church. This little quirk of architecture is where Chesterfield F.C got their nickname from – The Spireites.

Founded in 1899, the football club have never been in the top flight, having spent most of their existence in the lower divisions. Recently they moved into a brand new purpose-built 10300 capacity stadium.

The thing I most remember about them is their dramatic run to the semi finals of the FA Cup in 1997. The club faced off against Premiership Middlesbrough and by merit should have reached the final. With the score at 2-1 in Chesterfield’s favour, one of their players hit a shot that clearly went over the goal-line but the goal wasn’t given. Had that gone in, Middlesbrough probably would have been dead and buried. As it was, they went on to scramble a replay. And win it.

Chesterfield were one of the few teams we actually did well against when we were last in League Two. We won 2-0 at the old Saltergate in the first match before drawing 1-1 at Kenilworth. The goals in that first match were scored by Slusarski and Martin (a different Martin). In the second match, solitary scorer was Keith Keane with a late leveller.

The team news was good today. In fact I was able to field a completely 100% full strength team. Poole and Keane came back in to replace Daniels and Niven.

With Chesterfield in blue and Luton in white, the two teams ran out to There’s no other way by blur. The boots had been strapped, the shirts donned, and the team-talk made. Now it was time to do the business.

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Humbug

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06/11/10, League Match 15

Chesterfield v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (17 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (55 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (115 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Tony James (71 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (10 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (87 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (106 apps, 13 goals)

ML – Glenn Poole (14 apps, 1 goal)

MR – Michael Taylor (52 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (43 apps, 20 goals)

FC – Scott Spencer (41 apps, 16 goals)

The start of the match was frenetic to say the least. With four minutes on the clock Keane showed his rustiness by losing the ball sloppily to Price. Some breezy interplay followed before Gnakpa was caught not being tight enough on Fairhurst. Cartman’s low ball found him in space on the right and this was possibly a chance to shoot, albeit on a diagonal.

Whether Fairhurst did shoot I’m not sure; the ball probably would have gone wide of the far post but it never travelled that far. Stubhaug was caught square by Hall and the plucky midfielder ran in to burst the net from four yards. One-nil to the hosts. Shocking start.

Still, it did get better. 12 minutes and a long ball from Stubhaug bounced once in the Chesterfield half before zooming up into the sky again. Now it looked like it was going to land just inside the area slightly left of goal. Spencer was favourite to get there ahead of defender Lowry.

And get there he did! He let the ball bounce a second time before cushioning it back to earth with his chest. Then, with Lowry digging into his back, Spencer turned and whipped a low shot with his left foot that went under Lowry’s attempted tackle and into the far corner of the net. Hogan in the Chesterfield goal attempted a gallant dive but to no avail. The shot was just too accurate. It did everything but clip the inside of the post.

It felt lucky we were back on level terms because we hadn’t really done anything up until that moment. Even the goal itself was hardly what you would call great play. It was just a long ball, control, shoot, and goal.

And almost as if God agreed with me, Chesterfield soon re-took the lead. Again it was a left footed shot into the corner, this time from Fairhurst. Moore twice cut out attempted through balls on the edge of the box. But on neither occasion could he either control the football or deflect it towards a Luton player. The second time he intercepted, the ball ran to Fairhurst who then skipped over him as he attempted to retrieve the situation.

Fairhurst didn’t have much time here because James and Gnakpa were steaming in from either side. Cue then the left footed shot when he probably would have preferred the extra touch that might have taken it onto his right. No matter. To the left of Stubhaug the ball flew and into the corner. Delight all around the B2 Net Stadium.

A few minutes later Bowery almost gave Chesterfield a two goal cushion. It was a presentable volley he was offered at the far post but Bowery could only smack it into the side netting via the turf.

The home side were getting ahead of steam here and shots were soon coming in from all angles. But remarkably, it was Luton who scored next. Again it was Spencer. Downes conceded a soft corner under no pressure and Nicholls swung the ball in hopefully. The ball fell down between two rising heads and there was Spencer to react the quickest. He poked past Hogan into the net and we had out second equalizer. What a game this was turning out to be! 31 minutes were on the clock at this point.

If the established pattern was to be continued, Chesterfield would now go and score the third. Spencer’s latest goal however seemed to have knocked the stuffing out of them. All of a sudden it was Luton knocking the ball around at ease. All of a sudden it was Luton creating the half chances, and taking the pot shots. The game had swung.

In the 35th minute, Poole produced an electrifying run down the left which ended in a low cross being blocked by Goodall. Poole had a second bite of the cherry here and this time elected to scoop the ball onto the edge of the six yard box where Spencer was waiting. Should have been three-two but Spencer blew his hat trick chance by heading over. Golden opportunity gone begging.

Bowditch had played second fiddle to Spencer so far but his chance was coming. Keane was the one who created it, flipping a delicate ball through the middle with the outside of his foot. Bowditch took the shot on first time with a half volleyed effort. Saved by Hogan – pushed outwards and away.

I almost didn’t want half time to arrive. Despite the defensive lapses early on, we were looking in control now. Decent stuff.

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“You’ve got this game by the balls! I just hope you can keep it going. No matter what the press say,we’ve got a f__king good side here. We showed it on Tuesday night and we’re showing it again today. This is the Luton we truly are, not that team that went on the losing run. Now go out there and ram the words of Branston and the like back down their stinking little throats. Because let’s face it, two away wins in a week would do exactly that”.

Fighting talk. And I was pleased to say the team went out fighting too. Barely two minutes of the second half had gone when Poole tried to chip Hogan from twenty five yards, only just missing the post. The problem there wasn’t height there; it was accuracy.

“Come on Luton! - Come on Luton! - Come on Luton! - Come on Luton!”

We were shooting towards our own fans this half and the noise from the travelling faithful was definitely undercutting the home support. The way we’d finished the first half had probably contributed to that.

Again we came. Gnakpa tried an ambitious cross-field ball and Goodball headed it up in the air for Chesterfield. El Skip collected the loose ball and played Taylor in on the right. The winger cut it past his man rather than cross it and half the Luton fans were already off their feet already just in case we scored. Taylor bizarrely decided to shoot instead of cross, even though the angle was impossible. Still, it was on target – as far as I could tell – and Hogan had to beat it away into the advertising hoardings behind the goal.

Because we were the better side, I delayed my substitutions. Chesterfield meanwhile sent on Clay and Lester. Their manager was definitely in a panic. He was flapping his arms around animatedly like a corner shop owner who’s just been robbed by chavs.

You don’t always make hay whilst the sun is shining in this business, but this was one day the hay machine was producing a fair output. In the 64th minute, Spencer did well to control a ball over the top from Keane. He touched it around goalkeeper Hogan and a great majority of the away fans began celebrating prematurely. Unfortunately, Spencer’s touch took it too far towards the by-line, rendering the angle too acute.

As the rest of the players ran to catch up with the play, Spencer controlled the ball rather than attempt the impossible. Sensible move. After glancing up once, the striker chipped a lovely little pass through the onrushing crowd to Poole at the back post. From here it was a simple task for Poole to nod the ball into the net with Hogan stranded. Three-two!

I’ve been pretty reserved with my celebrations this season but not this time. I was up like a Jack-in-the box. I punched the air and screamed. Not a woman’s scream. A man’s scream. Some of the Luton fans meanwhile almost tried to follow Poole as he ran away doing the aeroplane celebration in the direction of the corner flag.

Now it was the time for subs. I was pre-empting the moment in proceedings we’d get knackered and concede our territorial advantage. On went Buckley and Kearns for Spencer and Keane. Spencer received a standing ovation from the away end as he trundled off. Keane seemed to think it was for him.

“You know what the great thing about this performance is?” I asked Brian. “We’ve still got those two new players to turn up next week”.

‘It will be nice not having to send Buckley on anymore’ I didn’t add out loud.

We had one more chance before the tide turned. It fell to Bowditch. He pretty much created it all by himself, drifting cleverly past two defenders on the edge of the area. The final shot was one of those side-foot efforts the keeper manages to get down and palm away to one side. Nobody in white was on hand to follow this particularly one in so the score remained the same.

Like I said; last effort before the tide turned. Purely because that’s just the way football is, Chesterfield began to gain the upper hand again, where as we began to fall back to protect what we had. Lester headed straight into Stubhaug’s arms from ten yards to signal the turnaround.

Not that our penalty area was about to resemble the Alamo or anything. The home side did dominate play in the final fifteen minutes but not in a manner that would earn them chance after chance. Kerry’s optimistic attempt at a Di Canio style volley was the best they could muster throughout the entire 75-80 period.

Their solitary effort during 81-85 however was a lot better. Price’s ball from the right was behind Bowery but the forward spun beautifully to turn and shoot with his left foot. He practically spun 270 degrees on the spot there. Stubhaug managed to save but only because the shot was so central. Even then he could only flip the ball upwards with his hand and behind him. Gnakpa then raced in to scramble it clear before it could cross the line.

That was the best they could come up with. Later efforts were all either long or not technically efforts by definition. On the break we had one lone opening, Buckley rifling low into Hogan’s arms at the end of a promising-looking three on two.

At the final whistle me and Brian celebrated almost as much as we had on scoring the third goal. Two away wins in a row! FAN-TAS-TIC!

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FULL TIME (att - 3855)

Chesterfield 2 (Hall 4, Fairhurst 18)

Luton Town 3 (Spencer 12, 31, Poole 64)

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(other results)

Aldershot 1-0 Notts County

Bournemouth 1-2 Accrington Stanley

Exeter 2-1 Grays

Lincoln 2-2 Grimsby

Oldham 2-0 Hereford

Rotherham 0-1 Barnet

Torquay 2-4 Shrewsbury

Walsall 2-0 Chester

Wycombe 1-0 Darlington

Yeovil 2-0 Brentford

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(top of table)

1 - Exeter (30)

2 - Yeovil (27)

3 - Lincoln (27)

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4 - Shrewsbury (26)

5 - Notts County (25)

6 - Darlington (25)

7 - Rochdale (24)

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8 - Luton (24)

We actually had 21 points at the end of the previous game. Not 22

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Nice win!

When did Spencer re-sign for you? I can only remember David Noyes recalling him..I guess I missed something :-P

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Everton recalled him during Season Two but then he came back to Luton during the recent summer (on loan again).

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08/11/10 - Manager's tales

I was paid a rare visit from Steve today. It was all pre-arranged, mind. We’d even agreed to meet in Jostein’s, that cafe he’d once threatened me in.

I got there before him. There was only one very old woman in there when I arrived. She was eating egg soldiers. Giving her a polite smile (not reciprocated), I walked up to the counter and began to decide what I wanted.

Before I could properly do so, the bell on top of the door jingled for the second time in thirty seconds and a familiar bald head walked in.

“Hey mate”.

“Hey Steve. Good timing. I’d only just got here”.

“Yeah I know. I saw you walk in when I turned onto the street”.

With a slightly bigger smile than I’d given the old woman, I offered the guy my hand and vigorously he shook it. Then we turned together to face the menu on the back wall. Bert the cook waited patiently.

“Full English for me please” Steve decided in about two seconds flat. “With toast. And extra chips. And a coffee. White. No sugar”.

“Same for me but without the chips” I added, reaching down for my wallet.

“No no” Steve said quickly. “My treat”.

“Eh? Are you sure? It should be me treating you after all the petrol you probably burned to get here”.

“Aw it’s not that far to Luton. And anyway, you’ve got a wedding to pay for”.

Shrugging, I said nothing more.

“Speaking of the big day” he continued, once we’d taken a table by the wall. “It IS the twenty sixth right?”

“Yep. Only two and a half weeks to go now. Seems only yesterday it was two and a half months! You are still coming to the stag do, right?”

“Absolutely! Wouldn’t miss it, mate”.

We’re having an engagement party too but Steve had already told me on the phone he wouldn’t be able to make it to that. I didn’t mind. Two out of three isn’t bad.

For a while we shot the breeze about women. Then, once the food arrived, Steve switched the subject to that of Crystal Palace.

“You know we played Preston in the League Cup, right?” he asked me at one point, half a rash of bacon hanging out of his mouth.

“Vaguely, maybe. Go on”.

“Well anyway, Darren Ferguson is the manager of Preston. You know, Alex Ferguson’s son?”

“Yeah I know who Darren Ferguson is, Steve”.

“Yeah well anyway, after we played Preston that night at Deepdale, guess who was hanging around near the changing rooms afterwards?”

“Who?”

“Alex Ferguson! He’d come to see his son after the game”.

“Oh right”.

The story was paused at this point for Steve to take a swig of coffee. I noticed as he did he was wearing a new watch; some kind of fancy Seiko thing with loads of little smaller clocks within the main clock. Looked expensive.

“So anyway, he only goes and introduces himself to me! He must have recognised me from seeing me in the dugout during the match or something. Anyway, even better than that, he must have been impressed by the way we played – we won, by the way, if you didn’t know – because then he invites me to Old Trafford the next time Darren’s due to go! As one of his special guests!”

“Awesome” I said.

“Yeah. So to cut a long story short, two weeks later, it happened. I went up there when they were playing Porto in the Champion’s League and got in free as Fergie’s guest, along with his son. After the game we were allowed into the director’s lounge and soon after that, Fergie came in and joined us. At first I thought he was just going to say a quick hello and then bugger off to wherever. But then guess what happened next”.

“I’ve no idea, Steve. Go on”.

“Fergie whips out this bottle of Chateau Labour. It’s a red wine. Costs over £200 a bottle apparently. What was doubly cool about it though is that the year on it was 1977. That’s the year Fergie first won a trophy as a manager. He explained to us that he always enjoys sharing a bottle with exciting young managers, and that 1977 was an appropriate year to get out because seeing me and Darren face off had reminded him of when he was a young manager himself. How cool is that?”

“Yeah. Really cool”.

Story over, Steve began to force down some more of his food. To my left, the old woman who had been eating the egg soldiers got up and walked out. Maybe she was a Man City fan?

“I met Elton John back in September” I said.

“Elton John? What, you go to one of his concerts or something?”

“No I – “

“Oh s__t!” my companion interrupted, glancing at the time on his brand new Seiko.

“What?”

“I’ve stayed longer than I intended. I’ve got to start heading back. I’ve got a meeting this afternoon”.

“Oh, okay”.

Steve wiped his mouth and then rose to his feet, indicating he wasn’t going to finish. Me personally I’d finished the whole lot, and quite a few minutes earlier too. Then again, I did order no chips.

Once we were outside, Steve pulled his car keys out and made something beep across the road. My jaw almost dropped when I saw what it was.

“Like it?” he asked. “Got it a few weeks ago. James, let me introduce you to the new Peugeot 308. GT version. Usually costs twenty eight grand but this dealership I’m on good terms with let me have three grand off”.

“Cool. It looks great”.

“Yeah it’s not bad. It’s got a wind deflector, digital air conditioning with climate control, cruise control and speed limiter, built in sat nav, electric folding mirrors, auto sensing wipers, eighteen inch Nimbus alloy wheels, state of the art alarm system, LED daytime running lights, the works. Best of all, it looks great as an open top, right? Shame about the black though. They didn’t have it in grey".

“No? That's a real bummer”.

“Hey, you’re not still driving that old Vauxhall are you?”

“No actually I – “

“Oh yeah there it is!”

Spotting it thirty yards further up the curb from his own car, Steve briefly guffawed.

“That’s – that’s classic, mate. Listen, I’ve really got to go. Text me when you know the date of the stag do, yeah?”

“Yeah will do”.

Then, with more than a hint of confident swagger, Steve crossed the road to his new Peugeot 308 GT edition. I almost expected him to skip over the top of the driver’s door rather than actually open it.

Once he’d revved up the engine and pulled out into the traffic, I walked down the road to my own car.

I’d woken up in a good mood today but suddenly I felt quite depressed.

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09/11/10 - In the dock

At two minutes to ten, I pulled the door to my private office just slightly ajar. Then I peered through the slit. The unusual thing about this particular door is that it’s situated on a perfect diagonal slant. Consequently, if I pull it open just slightly when standing on the inside, I can see down most of the of the entire second floor corridor. I don’t know why they built this one door differently to all the others; they just did.

Anyway, two minutes to ten was the exact time Nicky had agreed to arrive at the boardroom for her disciplinary meeting with Erica and Daniel (yep, those two again). Ten on the dot was the exact time of her meeting. But privately, with me, she’d agreed to arrive two minutes early so she'd have time to glance down the corridor in the direction of my office. You see, I’d told her I was going to give her a thumbs-up from my doorway before she went in. Just for good luck.

Not that she seemed all that bothered about the meeting. It wasn’t that she thought there was no chance of the sack; she was just very much adopting a what will be will be attitude, and that if she did lose her job today – well – she could recover from it in time. Not the end of the world. I suppose when your best friend gets shot and killed, it kind of gives you a fresh perspective on life.

But if she was allowed to choose, of course she would keep the job. And that was where the good luck thumbs-up came in.

Anyway, bang on time, she arrived, turned her head, and locked her eyes on mine.

“Good luck” I mouthed silently through the slit.

“Thank-you” she mouthed back slowly.

Then, after a quick knock-knock, into the boardroom she walked. The door closed behind her and that was that. Everything else was in the lap of the Gods.

I couldn’t focus on anything else whilst I waited for the outcome. I was too nervous. To pass the time, I paced around the room over and over again. Downstairs in the communal office, I imagined that everyone else was probably doing the same thing.

If she’d wanted to, she could have taken a witness in with her to make sure she got a fair hearing. Despite much volunteering from myself and Darren however, Nicky had remained defiant to the last that she had been the one to mess up and that she was fully prepared to face the consequences for it. Or something to that effect.

In the end the meeting lasted about ten minutes. Then I heard the door to the boardroom re-open and immediately went to the slit to see who was emerging. As I’d bet with myself, it was just Nicky who emerged for now (for meetings like these, it’s often commonplace for the people doing the interviewing to wait behind a while and discuss what was said).

The last thing Nicky wanted was to be caught doing was going into my office straight after her meeting, though, so rather than come tell me how it went she ignored me for now and headed straight for the stairwell. I’d decided prior to her re-appearing that if she did this it was a good thing. A sacked girl would no longer care if she got caught doing anything, right?

Jogging after her, I caught up just as she was turning around the bend of first floor to ground floor.

“Well?”

“I still have a job” she confirmed with a sheepish grin.

Briefly we hugged. Then I let her go to hear the finer details of what had happened.

“Well it was weird. They told me I was safe pretty much the moment I went in. But then Erica told me I was getting an official verbal warning for what I’d done, and also the loss of half a day’s pay”.

“What?!”

“Yeah. Erica explained that because there’s no way to verify how long I was in the port-a-cabin with you, they’re just going to call it half a day”.

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Yeah well it’s better than losing my job. And I was in the wrong, wasn’t I? Anyway, you’ll never guess what happened after that”.

“What?”

Taking her time, Nicky brushed some hair back behind her cheek and crossed her arms. It was cold in the stairwell.

“Well, right out of the blue, the guy who was with her – “

“Daniel”.

“Yeah. Daniel. Anyway, right out of the blue, he asked me if I’m sleeping with you”.

“Come again?”

“Yeah. He said it would make sense if the reason I was visiting you in the port-a-cabin was because we’re secretly sleeping together”.

“Did Erica not tell him about the Star Wars masks and light sabres?”

Nicky chuckled, and that galvanised me into chuckling too. Up above we heard a distant door open. We both briefly looked up to see if it was one leading to the stairwell but it wasn’t.

“Anyway, I told him no and that you’re engaged. He said he already knew you were engaged, and that some men are naturally very unfaithful. So again, I just said the answer was no. After that his voice went softer – like he was trying to be really understanding – and that was when he asked me if I knew what sexual harassment is”.

I didn’t reply this time, just opened my mouth in bemusement. Nicky meanwhile continued on.

“I said that of course I knew what it was! So then he asked me if you’d been making unwanted advances on me, and that if that was the case, I should be brave and tell him all about it. I said that nothing like that had ever happened, but he carried on asking anyway. Then eventually he said that if anything had happened, I owed it to the other women in the communal office to speak up about it just in case it should ever happen to them”.

“Unbelievable” I said quietly.

“The next bit’s even more unbelievable. When I kept saying no, he then said that if I showed the bravery to speak up, he’d forget about the verbal warning. He also said he’d see to it personally I’d get a big pay rise”.

“Was Erica joining in on this crap?”

“No. Not really. She did most of the talking in the beginning when we were talking about what I’d done wrong, but the stuff I’ve just been telling you about was all Daniel. I thought she even looked annoyed when he was saying it”.

“Okay”.

That worm! Talk about a conniving little git! Oh well, at least he came a cropper.

Together we stood and pondered it all for just a few moments more. Then Nicky said she’d better get back to the office and give everyone else the news that she was staying.

“Hey” I said as she had her hand on the knob. “Weren’t you even the slightest bit tempted to just make something up? Money’s money after all”.

I smiled to emphasise it was a joke. Nicky smiled back.

“A little bit. I had to think about it for a while!"

The smiles briefly renewed themselves on both sides. Then she finally left.

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what a story, could you pdf it or something so when it is all done I can keep a copy? You should print it out and bound it, I would imagine people would pay for this caliber of literature.

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Thanks Champ. And yeah we'll work something out when all is done.

On another note, I could have sworn this thread was on 994 or 995 posts last time I looked. I just went back to page one in a panic wondering if the software deletes old posts after a certain amount of time or something. Can't see anything missing though. Very odd. But could have sworn it was 994-ish.

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10/11/10 - Under the microscope

“An excellent question, Nadine. Yes, Snowden and Ides are both settling in very nicely. I’m not sure if they’ll be ready for action on Saturday. That game might come too early for them. Early signs from seeing them in training though is that they’re both going to be extremely useful acquisitions”.

Clint Maynard from The Sun now had his hand up.

“Yes, Clint?”

“Saturday’s game of course is Cambridge at home in the FA Cup. Given the fact that Cambridge are a non-league club nowadays, will your preparations be any different?”

“Nope. No different. It wouldn’t matter to me whether we were playing a non-league team or a Premiership team. Our preparation would still be 100% professional in either event. And so it will be for Saturday”.

“Really?” Andy Branston chimed in. “And there was me thinking you had an engagement party lined up for the night before this game”.

Cue sniggers from around the press conference room. Briefly I gave Andy the evil eye.

“It’s just a couple of drinks. No big deal”.

“That’s not how your good lady fiancé sells it. She says it’s going to be the engagement party to end all engagement parties. Says so on her Facebook”.

‘Christ’s sake, Shan’.

“For her it will, maybe. I’m not planning on staying out long though. And for your information, I haven’t invited anybody integral to Saturday’s game along to the do - so just Brian’s coming. That’s how seriously I’m taking the match”.

As Brian’s sideways stare then burned a hole in my cheek (I hadn’t meant to phrase it the way I did), I pointed to Victoria Thornton.

“James, there was a very interesting article in our Tuesday edition this week by a journalist called Adam Austen. He was talking about the recent film production at Kenilworth Road and in it the involvement of the Luton Town players and staff. In his piece, he highlighted the very stern criticism going around at the moment aimed at the people behind the Death Count films for using so many unpaid non-actors, for the want of a better word, in a large majority of the roles. There’s a feeling going around that films like Death Count 2 are taking work away from struggling professional actors just to save a quick buck. As one of the beneficiaries of this policy, do you feel guilty at taking one of the roles?”

The roundabout journeys these people will take just to wind me up..

“No I don’t. I imagine that for small films like Death Count, it’s hard for them to find the money to pay all the costs. Or something like that".

“For the making of the original Death Count, that argument might have washed. That film made so much money though it’s a little bit harder to defend such practices the second time around. Where did all the profits from the first film go?”

“Look” I said, pausing to scratch my forehead. “This debate is a little bit outside the boundaries of why we’re all here today. If anyone has a problem with the makers of Death Count, they should really take it up with them”.

“The thing is though, James, Luton Town at heart is very much a community club. Don’t you think then that for you and your players to snatch these roles up, is to potentially be taking work away from actors in the borough of Luton who otherwise might be struggling for work? That's what I'm getting at here".

Unsure what to say, I looked at Brian and then back at Victoria. Before I could get around to saying anything, Andy jumped in to add his two pence worth.

“The thing that worries me about this Death Count business is the effect it will have on the younger Luton Town fans. By that I mean the kids”.

“Well obviously the kids aren’t going to be able to see it” I retorted. “It’s going to have an eighteen certificate”.

“Oh pull the other one! If a kid really wants to see a film in this day and age, rest assured they will. And the kids in this area are especially going to want to see this film because it will have their local heroes in it. Surely it would have been a much better reflection on the football club to have got involved in something a bit more family orientated. My kids watched Free Willy the other day. Something like that would have been better”.

“Oh yeah, cos’ they could really do a Free Willy film in Luton” I pointed out. “What they gonna do; have Willy leap from the sea all the way into Kenilworth Road?”

“I just meant as an example” Andy replied.

“Good film Free Willy” Brian said on my left.

Instantly I looked at him with tired disdain.

“My daughters have got it on DVD” he continued. “And Free Willy 2. Number 2 isn’t as good though”.

“You done?”

“Yeah”.

“Look!” I then boomed, turning back to the room. “I have nothing to do with the commercial decisions regarding this football club. If anyone here has a problem with the fact we helped with Death Count, or anything else completely unrelated to the playing side, I suggest you take it up with alternate parties. Now then; are there any more actual football questions? Or shall we wrap it up for the day?”

No takers.

"Good!"

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I'm pretty sure that this thread was indeed at 995/996 posts, Scott. It was the first thing I thought when just now I saw there were only 988 replies.

Still loving the story btw, keep it up!

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Thanks, mate

--------

12/11/10 - The engagement party

The reason the engagement party has ended up so close to the stag do and wedding is because of Chantelle’s insistence on putting it off and off until she could find a night all her best friends could attend. She has far too many of them to hold such a thing inside our apartment too, so instead it would take place at the swanky Anatomy bar on the fringes of town. We hadn’t booked the whole joint out; just a few tables.

Although the official meet up time was half past six, this was too early for the (smaller) group of friends I was bringing down. So, for at least an hour I found myself sat there as the only bloke in a group of fifteen. In hindsight I wish I’d make my excuses to come later.

You’d think the point of an engagement party would be to celebrate the love of a man and a woman, maybe even raise a toast to the timeless glories that unions between the sexes provide people. But no. Not at this gathering. Hot topic for the first half hour was how men are complete and utter s__ts. Discuss. Hot topic for the second half hour; how best to deal with a cheating man. Discuss.

“If my Dan cheated on me I’d get him back through Facebook” a girl called Chloe shared with us. “I’d message every single one of his friends and family and tell them the whole story. I'd maybe even add a few made up bits too, just for good measure. Like maybe it was a man he cheated with, not a woman".

Murmurs of approval from around the table. The group seemed to be in agreement that Facebook is a reliable weapon to use in the war against men.

“Hey” shouted Francesca, a brunette who had so much fake tan on she reminded me of those oompa loompas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “I actually went through with a revenge idea for real once. Basically, I found out this guy had been cheating on me with his ex, so what I did was go around to his doctor’s surgery and embarrass the living hell out of him”.

“What did you do?” asked the girl to Francesca’s immediate left.

“Well, my little brother’s always messing around with joke shop stuff, and once I’d told him about what Carl had done, he had the perfect suggestion. He basically gave me this thing called a stink bomb. It’s like a little bottle with - yeah you know. So anyway, I took one of these things to the surgery and opened it under a chair when no-one was watching. Then I left. There must have been about forty people in there waiting for their appointment, and I swear the first thing they would have seen as they ran out the door would have been the spray-painted message on the side of Carl’s car. It said Carl Miller is a stinking cheat”.

Raucous feminine laughter (and cheers) from around the table.

"See what I did there? With the stinking bit I mean?"

“What about you, Shan?” another girl aimed at Chantelle. “What would the bride-to-be do, I wonder?”

“Oh I wouldn’t bother with any of that elaborate stuff” she replied in a sort of half-chuckle. “I’d just cut his balls off”.

More cheers and laughter.

At least if there was one good thing about having to suffer this conversation, it was the fact it was keeping my mind off my wallet. I’d agreed prior to tonight we could have bottles of champagne on all the tables. Trouble was, Chantelle and her mates were guzzling the stuff down like there was no tomorrow. We’d already ordered extra bottles from the bar to replace empty ones. It doesn't even taste nice! It just tastes like fizzy p!ss to me.

Eventually, some of my own ‘mates’ turned up and I had an escape route. It was Darren and Brenda. Somehow they’d both arrived at the same time.

“Hey!” I said with a relieved smile, leaving the girls’ table and heading over to them.

“Hi mate”.

“Evening, James”.

“What can I get you guys? You’re a lager man, right Darren? And you Brenda, unless I’m mistaken, your alcoholic tipple of choice is a G & T”.

“Yes it is” she replied. “And That’ll be lovely, James, thanks”.

As she said this, she dumped her handbag down on the nearest table. It wasn’t one of the tables we’d pre-booked, but hey, f__k it, the further away from the zoo Brenda wanted to sit, the better.

“Lager?” Darren queried meanwhile, his eyes scanning the room. “They’re drinking champagne over there. Can’t we have some of that?”

“If you want”.

Turned out he was only kidding though, so when I did go to the bar it was to order him the same thing I had.

Just as the bar girl was fetching my change, an almighty commotion sounded out from the zoo table. When I glanced over, I saw that a lot of them were out of their chairs and hunched around one girl in particular – a redhead with a belly piercing whose name I don't know. One of the others was holding a champagne bottle about a foot above the redhead’s mouth and was pouring it in.

“Down! – Down! – Down! – Down!” everyone else was shouting in tandem.

Finally the bottle was emptied and the redhead lifted her head up again. How the others cheered her success.

‘Right that’s it!’ I thought.

“Excuse me” I said to the bar girl once she came back. “You don’t own this bar do you?”

“No”.

“Good”.

Reaching back into my wallet, I brought another ten pound note out and handed it over. Confused, the bar girl first took it and then looked up at me.

“That’s for you” I told her. “BUT – the next time someone comes asking for champagne tonight, you’re going to tell them you’ve run out of bottles, right?”

“Yeah okay”.

“Cool”.

Picking up the drinks, I walked back to Darren and Brenda.

“Brian shouldn’t be long now” I said, once everyone had taken a sip. “What time are Kindra and Nicky coming?”

“Kindra very soon” Darren replied “Nicky not at all. She’s not well”.

“Really?!”

“Yeah. She passes on her apologies though. And she also says she’ll get you a doubly nice wedding gift to make up for it”.

“She didn’t text me to say she wasn’t coming”.

“Yeah well she had us to fob the message onto, didn’t she? We were with her at work earlier when she started feeling it”.

“Okay”.

About ten minutes later (Brian had turned up by this point, but not Kindra), I suddenly heard Chantelle call my name from the bar. She had her bank card in her hand and she didn’t look too chuffed.

Excusing myself from the table, I walked over to meet her. In the time it took to me to do this, she’d left the more central part of the bar and shuffled her way over to one of the corners where there weren’t many people.

“What’s up?”

“They’ve got no champagne left”.

“Really? No way”.

“Yeah way”.

This time I said nothing. Chantelle meanwhile re-directed her glare to a spot on the wall. She was clearly giving this unexpected dilemma a great deal of thought.

‘I hope she doesn’t move onto white wine. That tastes like fizzy p!ss too. The only decent type of wine is red if you ask me’.

“Clube Barcelona” she eventually said.

“What?”

“They’ll have some more champers there. I’ve seen them keep bottles of it down behind the bar”.

“We could just drink other drinks“.

“Yeah I know but it’s the principal of the thing! I warned this place when I booked the tables what sort of drinks we’d be having, and they can’t even be bothered to stock up properly?! Well screw em! We’ll take our business elsewhere”.

“Yeah but – “

Too late. She was already off back to the madhouse. One big announcement later and the hyenas were all stampeding towards the door. Chantelle mouthed something at me that might have been we’ll meet you down there, and then she was out the door too.

Trudging back to Darren, Brenda, and Brian, I decided to swallow my embarrassment and tell them what had just happened.

“Ha ha” Darren chuckled. “That stuff will cost twice as much in Clube Barcelona. Great plan you came up with there, Batman!”

“Oh hush up”.

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12/11/10 - The engagement party (part 2)

By the time I got to Clube Barcelona my support cast had been whittled down from four to two. Brenda didn’t fancy a full blown nightclub, and as it happened neither did Kindra. That left me, Brian, and Darren. All the boys.

Knowing full well that Chantelle would have dragged her followers into the R & B room, I suggested we avoid this and go in the cheese section instead. Brian agreed vigorously. Darren took a little more cajoling; I think he’d been hoping to get his mitts on some of Chantelle’s mates.

To the sounds of Like a virgin by Madonna, the three of us got ourselves a drink (not champagne). Then we sat down at a table by the side of the dance floor. Just as they had the previous time I’d been here, my eyes were drawn to the pictures of Barcelona players on the walls.

“You see those pictures on the walls?” I asked the other two, once we’d sat and absorbed the atmosphere for a few minutes.

Cue nods of the heads.

“Well I’ve been thinking. What if I opened up my own rival nightclub called Clube Luton?”

“Then I’d say get lost, Glynn, and please let James have his body back”.

“No seriously. Hear me out. What’s the point in a nightclub celebrating a club that plays thousands of miles away, when there’s a perfectly good club just down the road?”

No reply from anyone this time. I sensed I was already losing their interest. Darren wasn’t even looking at me; he had his eye on some girls standing near the DJ booth.

“Once the summer rolls around and I’ve got nothing better to do, I might actually look into the idea” I persisted. “I might make it a pet project of mine”.

“To open a nightclub?” Brian enquired disbelievingly.

“Yeah. I don’t mean one as big as this. Just a small one. Something manageable. I mean obviously I personally wouldn’t be that hands-on because I’d be busy with the football club. I could get someone else to be the day to day manager though”.

“And presumably you’d have pictures of Luton players all over the walls?”

“Absolutely!”

Shakes of the head all round. Neither of them seemed to believe the idea would ever see the light of the day. Fair enough.

Not long after the conversation died, Darren finally went off to chat a girl up. As he did, my thoughts returned to Chantelle and the issue of my bank balance.

“Brian, are you alright here for a minute? I might go and pop my head around the R & B door, see if they’re all drinking or dancing. With any luck, they’ll be dancing”.

“Yeah you go for it. I’ll save the table”.

And so off I went, one part of my brain still absorbed in the whole starting-a-nightclub idea. I was wondering how much one needs to start a business like that. Five grand? Fifty grand? Five hundred grand? It was maybe worth a spot of amateur research. Cyril would know.

To get to the R & B room from the cheese room, you have to go down a flight of steps and along a short corridor. Just as I was negotiating the latter, a young woman stopped me in my tracks. She was maybe five foot six. Black hair. Hazel eyes. Very nice chest (I didn’t necessary notice those things in the order I’ve written them).

“Can I help you?”

“Don’t you recognise me?”

“Err – “

“Sally Cobb? You interviewed me for that job during the summer?”

“Oh! Yeah. I remember. Fancy seeing you here. Err, sorry you didn’t get the job, by the way. You were hands down the best candidate! Only trouble is; right at the last minute the chairman called me into his office and said he wanted his son to have the job, so I didn’t really have much say in the matter really. If it had been up to me though – “

“Aw don’t worry about it. Office work isn’t what I want to do anyway. What I really want to do is go into modelling”.

I looked up her and down again. Was she good looking enough to go into modelling? Absolutely yes. But then I’d known that from meeting her the previous time. What had I been thinking giving that job to Kindra? Too noble by half sometimes; that’s my trouble.

“I’m sure you’ll succeed in your ambitions” I told her diplomatically.

“Thanks. So how are the football team doing?”

“Not bad thanks. In fact, we’ve just had two really good wins against Rotherham and Chesterfield”.

‘Chesterfield. Chest. God she’s got a good one'.

Just then I felt a hand curl around my back and grab the other side of my waist. It was Chantelle. I made the I.D just as she was planting a kiss on my cheek. She looked more than a little tipsy, to be honest.

“Hey. What are you doing out here? I assumed you’d gone to the cheese room or something”.

“We did. We’re still in there. I just decided to pop down and see how things were going for a few minutes”.

“Okay”.

Sally was still stood there. She hadn’t f__ked off yet. Spotting her now, Chantelle eyed her up and down for a moment and then turned back to me.

“Are you going to introduce me to your friend?”

“Yeah of course. This is Sally. Sally, this is – “

“His fiancé” Chantelle finished off icily.

“Yeah” I confirmed.

“Cool” said Sally. “Well, I’d better get back to my mates. Catch you in a bit”.

And off she went.

Just in case Chantelle then started making further enquiries in private as to how I knew Sally and how she’d ended up stood next to me outside the R & B room, I quickly launched a pre-emptive.

“Hey, if I can get the money together one day, what do you think about me opening up my own nightclub? I was just talking to Darren and Brian about it and they thought it was a great idea”.

For a few moments she didn’t reply, just squinted at me as if she’d suddenly developed short-sightedness and wasn’t sure if it was actually me standing in front of her. Then, finally, she spoke.

“Open a nightclub? Seriously? Look, don’t take this the wrong way, babe, but I think you might have had a tiiiiiiny bit too much champagne. In fact I was just thinking before that maybe we should move onto other drinks now anyway. Otherwise we'll end up spending a fortune”.

Staggered by this, I said nothing.

“I mean there’s no point going overboard is there?” Chantelle continued.

Still I said nothing. Just stared open-mouthed.

“I mean don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to be a killjoy or anything. If you and the others are still halfway through a bottle up there then by all means finish it. I just think maybe we should reign it back a bit after that. The girls are knocking them back like anything in there".

Still no reply from me.

“Babe, look, no offence, but you look really drunk. Or spaced out. Something. Maybe sit down for a bit, okay?”

Kissing me on the lips, she then skipped off left and back into the R & B room.

For a while I stared at the spot where she’d just stood and continued to say nothing.

--------

Next - Luton v Cambridge (FA Cup round 1)

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I made it! OMG fantastic read, its taken me a few days to get the the end here and its been worth it! Looking fwd to the rest!

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Thanks, Parkera. Glad you enjoyed it.

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13/11/10, FA Cup Round 1

Luton Town v Cambridge United

GK – Lars Stubhaug (18 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (56 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (116 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Tony James (72 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (11 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (88 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (107 apps, 13 goals)

ML – Glenn Poole (15 apps, 2 goals)

MR – Michael Taylor (53 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (44 apps, 20 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (debut)

“I don’t want anyone going easy out there! Treat this game as you would any other. If there’s any team in League Two who should have a healthy respect for the quality of Conference football, it’s us. I swear to God; if I see anyone out there putting in anything less than their usual 100%, they’ll be getting pulled straight from the pitch and into – “.

Pausing briefly, I winced and clutched my forehead. I had a rough head. Heaven only knows what time I'd got in last night. Heaven only knows.

“You okay, boss?” Nicholls asked.

“I’m fine. Just a migraine is all. Anyway, I don’t have anything more to say. You might as well get yourselves out there. And don’t forget what I said! Be professional!”

“And don’t forget to be professional yourself, boss” Keane piped up with, just as everyone was rising to their feet. “I know you like those cheerleaders out there, but just remember that they’re only kids. They won’t love you back”.

“That isn’t funny, Keith! Now f__k off out of here before I drop you. AND fine you”.

My anger at what he’d said was calmed by the fact no-one else had been stupid enough to laugh at it, that and the fact I had a headache. Once everyone had left the changing room, I took some more pills and washed them down with water.

No problems with the team selection today. I pretty much had a full complement of players to choose from, which was something of a bittersweet irony seeing as we were only playing Cambridge. I did however give Snowden a debut up front. Spencer was the man to make way.

The two teams ran out to New Born by Muse, Luton in orange and Cambridge in what looked like light blue. Not much of a crowd had turned out.

Although Cambridge’s body language showed they were up for this, it was all Luton in the early stages. My team talk, although hardly imaginative, had clearly served its purpose. Taylor, Nicholls, and even Snowden; they all went close in the first ten minutes. Only pure luck kept the Cambridge goal in tact during those early stages.

Still, we broke through eventually. It was a really good goal when it came, too. Nicholls got the ball briefly stuck under his feet in the centre of the park before then playing a beautifully weighted pass through the defence for Poole to run onto. The winger got there ahead of defender Wordsworth and slotted low into the net from twelve yards. One nil.

A shame then we weren’t playing in front of the Match of the Day cameras this year. Well, there were technically cameras here but not to show highlights of the game like they had last year against MK Dons. Today’s game was only getting the same treatment as the one against Northampton from 2009/10 i.e. goals only.

We briefly took our foot off the gas after Poole’s goal. Just briefly, mind. Quinton looked a decent player for the non-leaguers, and it was he who curled one towards goal in the 21st minute after some clever touches down the right. Stubhaug dived and clawed it out but he made the cardinal sin of deflecting it out towards the middle of the area rather than away to the sides. Lucky for him then the ball just happened to go between McEvilly and Pitt rather than straight to one of their boots.

It was a rare foray forwards for Cambridge though. Despite noisy support from their travelling faithful, they just weren’t good enough to live with us. In the 23rd minute we should have doubled the lead but cruelly had a good disallowed for an infringement. Tony James it was who powered it in (a header from a corner). God knows what he did wrong. I certainly didn’t see anything wrong during the execution.

After that we were mostly thwarted by Potter between the sticks. Oh, and Snowden looked a bit sluggish too. Judging by some of his waywardness in front of goal, I wondered whether I maybe should have held him back until the second half when we were four goals up or something.

As it was, we entered half time only one up. And that meant the tie was still alive.

‘I hope I haven’t signed another Louis Dodds’.

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As you were in Clube Barcelona I would have thought it was time for the Spanish Archer or "El Bow" for Chantelle with that comment about the Champagne. Keep going Scott just cant wait for the i do's or donts or objections or even the stag do before we get that far!

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Definitely interesting times ahead

--------

I made a conscious effort to speak as little as possible during the half time interval. If I absolutely had to have spoken, what else could I have said but to reiterate the exact same thing I said before the match? Pointless. Best to just not say it.

And the ploy worked really. Once out for the second half we battered our opponents black and blue. We literally must have six or seven good chances within a ten minute spell.

But we didn’t score..

The ball hit the post once. The keeper saved twice (once on the line, with his body falling backwards). One of the defenders cleared one off the line. Keane missed a sitter. Bowditch had one ruled out for offside. It was just chance after chance. For at least ten minutes. Maybe fifteen.

“Good job we’re already one nil up” I commented. “Otherwise I’d be saying this was starting to look like your typical FA Cup shock where the big team keeps missing and then the small team has one shot and scores”.

“Maybe they will have one shot and score? Maybe we’ll end up with an unwanted replay”.

“Oh I don’t say that!”

True to habit, I made two substitutions on the hour mark. On went Spencer for Snowden and Niven for Nicholls. Cambridge sent on Pitt and Challinor. Brian then announced he was going to try and think up a Challinor of the Exchequer joke. He never came back to me on that so I presume he didn’t succeed.

I don’t think it was because of the subs but we tailed off somewhat with about twenty five minutes left. The Cambridge manager switched his formation around (as far as I could tell) in a bid to change his side’s fortunes, and that seemed to help. Help them, that is.

I knew Cambridge would have a good chance at some point in the second half. It came in the 73rd minute. Pitt used his pace to surprise Gnakpa and dart to the by-line. The cross went to the back post and McEvilly headed firmly from a couple of yards out. The ball luckily hit Stubhaug’s shoulder rather than go into the net. Then it popped up a couple of yards in the air. Holroyd was steaming in for the kill but Dorian got there first to head it away close to the line.

In describing that chance, I’m being very nice to Cambridge. There were probably fifteen chances for Luton that I didn’t describe in this match. We really were that dominant.

Having said that, goalmouth activity in the 75-85 period was practically non-existent. It was around about here we seemed to give up trying to score in favour of letting the clock run down. Normally I’d say this was a naive tactic. Despite much huff and puff however, the away side did not look like punishing the negativity. The McEvilly header had been their big moment, and they hadn't registered from it..

Before the finale, I need to quickly slip in that Buckley replaced Bowditch in the 83rd minute.

With two minutes of the match left, Taylor gathered himself for one final charge. Then, when it became apparent that defender Wordsworth was in his way, he briefly showed the ball to him before skipping past the guy from a standing start. Wordsworth stretched his leg out at the last minute and Taylor went flying about five metres through the air. Certain yellow card.

It was his second yellow card! He was off! Throwing his arms up to the heavens, Wordsworth accepted his fate without complaint and slowly trudged off towards the dressing rooms. There was no complaint from his colleagues. Their efforts throughout the match had left them too shattered.

Whatever momentum they’d been trying to build ended once the sending off happened. In fact, their numbers became even more depleted in injury time. Striker Lee McEvilly stupidly shoved Tony James over for what reason I’ve no idea. Out came the straight red and Cambridge were suddenly down to nine men. Good job the final whistle went soon after or you suspect we would have severely punished them. Oh well. Not to worry. A win’s a win.

After shaking hands with my opposite number, I reflected that I was into the second round of the FA Cup for the first time in my career. Reasonable draw permitting, could I go one step further and maybe even reach the third round?

‘Playing Arsenal or Man Utd could really put me up in the spotlight. If it’s Man U, Fergie might even invite me up for a bottle of wine’.

That thought put a smile on my face all the way home.

--------

FULL TIME (att - 2644)

Luton Town 1 (Poole 16)

Cambridge United 0 (Wordsworth s/o 88, McEvilly s/o 90)

--------

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15/11/10 - Operation coffee shop girl

I paid a visit to the souvenir shop today. Reason twofold. Partly I wanted to ask the boys how one goes about setting up a small business. Also, I had wedding invitations to hand out. To maximise the chances of receiving a warm welcome, I went when I thought they’d be closed for lunch.

Big mistake.

Although the closed sign was up, the atmosphere was anything but chilled on the downstairs shop floor. Lee and Albie were sat side by side in front of two computers resting on the counter. They didn’t keep those there when the shop was open, surely? They certainly hadn’t been there the last time I’d called in.

“Hey guys” I said by introduction.

“Oh err hi” said Lee.

“H – hi” mumbled Albie.

The awkward nature of the hellos made me wonder if I’d stumbled onto them looking at porn or something. A quick glance at the computer screens though only showed two very innocent black and white images. One was of a wall with a picture on it. The other showed a cafe across a road.

‘Hang about. Those are live feeds! And I recognise that cafe. That’s the cafe directly across the road from here, the one where that girl works that Cyril fancies’.

Just then, the man himself appeared; turned out he’d been in the toilet when I’d arrived. He was smartly dressed in black work trousers and a red shirt. He’d also combed his hair down so none of it was sticking up.

“Hey Cyril”.

“Oh. It’s you. Listen err, this isn’t really the best time, James. Sorry”.

“Why? What’s going on?”

“What does it like?” Albie responded. “He’s going in”.

“Going in? Going in where?”

“To the cafe. To ask the girl out that he likes”.

I looked back towards Cyril. This time I focused not on what he was wearing but on his body language. Truth be told, he looked nervous as hell. There was sweat all over his cheeks, and he looked peaky, like maybe he’d been up all night worrying about something. No prizes for guessing what, either.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” I asked him. “No offence, mate, but you don’t look too well”.

“What are you talking about?! I’m fine!”

“If you say so. And what are the live feeds on these computers for?”

“These” Cyril announced, beginning to pace about as if he was on the bridge of the Enterprise. “What you see here are two different feeds; one is of the cafe, and the other is of the direction I’m looking at”.

That latter comment made me look at the screens again. Sure enough, one of the images was now a side-on view of me. The other was still of the cafe.

“I’ve got a miniature video camera inside this top button here” Cyril explained, pointing to the appropriate place on his shirt. “The other camera is outside, and that one is what you would call more conventional issue. It’s basically our security camera aimed across the road. Anyway, we’ve set them both up so the live feeds are coming through on these two computers here. Lee and Albie will be monitoring the images in real time throughout the operation. I’ve also got a small receiver inside my left ear they can speak to me on. Picked it up from the gadget store down the street".

“What’s the point of it all?” I queried (quite fairly, I thought). “Why not just ask her out without all the bollocks?”

“Because you never know when something unexpected will happen. If it does, and I don’t spot it, chances are that Lee and Albie will. Then they can advise me over comms”.

“A fat man blew his top at the girl Cyril’s going to ask out the other day” Lee added. “If that same guy comes back, for instance, that’s the kind of thing Cyril’s going to want prior knowledge about, so he can abort the mission. Or at least delay it”.

“Yeah but – “

Before I could finish, Cyril suddenly made a gurgling noise and turned on his heels. He disappeared into the toilet and swung the door shut behind him. Five seconds or so later, the sound of vomit leaving throat could be distinctly heard through the wood.

“He can’t go through with this” I told the other two. “He’s so nervous he’s worked himself up into a right state. When he comes out you’re going to have to talk him out of it”.

Lee and Albie exchanged nervy looks. Neither looked too keen at the prospect of trying to talk Cyril out of Operation Coffee Shop Girl. I presumed that was what he was still calling it anyway.

Before anything else could be said, Cyril re-emerged. He still had a bit of sick on his chin. He must have felt it there though because he wiped it away with his hand before I could point it out.

“You’re can’t go through with this” I said. “It’s too artificial. Too planned. I don’t think you’re ready for it anyway. Look at you. You’re a nervous wre – “

“Thank you, James, but if you please, I don’t need your opinion on this! Now if you’ll kindly find somewhere to stand that's out of the way, my men have got work to do”.

“Cyril, please mate. Listen to what I’m saying just for a min – “

“Okay that’s it! Guys, remove this man from my command centre!"

The two makeshift communication officers both stood up and approached me nervously.

“Don’t even think about it, you two. If you really want me to leave then I'll go without breaking any necks. You have fun out there, though, Cyril. For what it’s worth I hope she says yes”.

And with that, I turned on my heels.

I didn’t leave completely though. Feeling some kind of weird need to watch out for Cyril even if he didn’t want me to, I ducked into the foyer of the East Side Dojo next door and waited for him to begin his approach.

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15/11/10 - Operation coffee shop girl (part 2)

Cyril emerged from the souvenir shop some five minutes later. I couldn’t see any more sick on him.

He crossed the road – without noticing me – like a man heading for the gallows. Not much in the way of confidence in that walk. Not even the faked kind.

Once he’d disappeared into the cafe, I figured I might as well slip back in the souvenir shop and watch on the monitors. Lee and Albie wouldn’t mind me going in; it had only been Cyril who’d kicked off earlier.

“Don’t worry” I said, holding my hands up in an I-return-in-peace type way. “I just want to watch what happens. Then I’ll shoot off”.

“Okay” Lee replied.

Taking up a standing position behind the pair of them, I looked down at the monitors. The camera facing the cafe was practically redundant now Cyril was on the inside. The only one worth looking at now was the other one, the one showing Cyril’s eye view.

Currently he seemed to be stood at the long cafe counter waiting for his turn to speak to Girl X. She was dealing with a middle aged woman, handing her a scone and accepting money for it. Cyril though was surely next in line.

“How’s he likely to play it?” I asked. “Ask her out straight away? Or will he order something first and then maybe ask her out when he leaves?”

“Straight away” Lee revealed. “He thinks that sitting down first will make him look like some kind of loner. No. He wants to ask her out, exchange details, and then order a drink to go and get the hell out. He wants to give off the impression of a high flying businessman who doesn’t have time to sit around for long”.

“Right” I said, rolling my eyes.

Seconds later, the big moment arrived. The woman with the scone buggered off and the way was clear for Cyril to work his magic.

For a few seconds afterwards the girl behind the counter stared straight at the screen, obviously listening intently to whatever Cyril was saying. We didn’t have audio of course so we had to guess what was happening purely by reading the expressions on the girl’s face.

To begin with her expression remained that of a normal cafe waitress accepting an order. Then she began to glance from side to side looking really awkward. Some very short sentences came out of her mouth but I couldn’t lip-read what they were. One thing was for sure though; she didn’t look like she was jumping for joy at the prospect of a date. In fact if anything those side to side glances looked like pleas for help.

“He’s making an ass of himself” I said. “Time to pull the plug”.

“What?”

“Pull the plug! Get on the mike and get him out of there! It’s over”.

“I can’t”

“Why not?”

“He’s gone dark”.

“He’s what?”

“He’s gone dark! As in to say he’s pulled his earpiece out. He told us he was going to do this. He said that as soon as he was in a position to make contact with the target, he’d pull his earpiece out so we couldn’t accidentally disturb him with a random noise or something. I guess he figured by this point he wouldn’t need lookouts anymore so what difference would it make?”

Of all the half-baked operations!

Stepping away for a moment so I’d have enough space to shake my head in disbelief, I returned to find the girl behind the counter now visibly trying to get away. She kept trying to move only to have Cyril say something else to keep the conversation going. The girl’s facial expression meanwhile had evolved from uncomfortable to downright disturbed.

When Cyril finally gave up the ghost, the camera went all shaky as he jogged first out of the shop and then back across the road.

“Okay” I said. “Brace yourself, boys. This might not be pretty”.

“Oh god!” Cyril whined, bursting through the door mere milliseconds later. “Oh God! That was horrible! Oh God! Oh God!”

Ignoring the fact I was back inside his ‘command centre’, Cyril sat down on the window sill (it’s a very low down sill) and thrust his head into his hands. His demeanour reminded me of the time I’d taken his Deathmatch crown from him.

“What happened, mate?” Albie asked, moving to sit by his side. “What did she say?”

“It was awful! I started by smiling and asking her out, but she said she wasn’t interested. I should have left right then and then, but I didn’t. I persisted a little bit but things kept coming out wrong and she just looked at me like I was weird. Then I started apologising for making her feel weird, but that just made me look at me as if I’d suddenly got even weirder! Then – “

“Okay enough!” I blurted out. “Cyril, listen to me very carefully. If you really want to go out with this girl then here’s what you’re going to do. Are you listening?”

All of them looked at me. I’d definitely grabbed their attention with that one!

“Now then; tomorrow, you’re going to go back in that cafe as if nothing ever happened. You’re going to calmly order a coffee, or whatever else it is that you drink. Then you’re going to sit down, read a newspaper for twenty minutes or so, drink your drink, and leave. And that’s it. That’s all you’re going to do. And I want you to do that every day of every working week until I next come back here. Do you think you can do that?”

“Well – yeah but – I don’t get it. How is that going to – “

“Just do it, Cyril! You need to walk before you can run. When I next come back in, we’ll talk about Stage Two. For now though, this is Stage One. Okay?"

"Okay"

"Right then. See you later”.

And with that I headed for the door.

I stopped halfway there, suddenly remembering the wedding invitations in my pocket.

‘Hmm maybe now’s not such a good time’ I thought.

Saying my belated farewells, I walked out.

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Still catching up on everything (thread page 3 so far), but a brilliant story, beautifully written!

Oh, and you made me start a career with the Hatters! :D

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