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05/12/10 - Manager and chieftain

On the coach home Brian and I sat discussing the match. It was hard to hear ourselves think though due to the constant yelling and cheering coming from further back.

“What the hell is going on back there?!” I hissed, turning around in my seat.

It was hard to tell. Five of six players were all huddled around each other on the back seat. That was all I could see from this distance.

“I think they’re playing that card game again. Temple err – “

“Magic Temple” I corrected for him. “Christ’s sake! What are they?! Kids?”

Brian shrugged his shoulders.

Feeling like I was at the end of my tether with this, I got up and began making my way towards the rear. It was only a twenty four seat job so I didn’t have far to amble.

I’d been intending to sound off at everyone, maybe even demand they hand all the cards over so I could chuck them out the window where they could safely float away down the bypass and forever out of life.

What stopped me was the fact the first card player my eyes came into contact with was Spencer. This was the guy who’d rescued a replay for us. No way I could trample on his fun after that. Not today anyway. Wrong day, wrong time. And unfortunately, that meant leaving the rest of them alone too. For today anyway.

“Come to join in, boss?” – Richie Byrne.

“Err no. I just came to ask you guys to keep the noise down back here. Some of us – “

“Aw sit down and play a hand with us!” – Spencer.

“No. Totally not my thing. Look, like I said, I’d just appreciate it if – “

“Oh come on, boss!” interrupted Dorian Moore. “Here, take my hand and give it a go".

God knows why but I took the cards off him. Then, once Moore had moved, I sat down in the seat he’d just vacated. I was now sat in a group of six and all of us were holding bloody Magic Temple cards! Oh the tragedy of it. Others in the group were Spencer, Byrne, Buckley, Daniels, and Keane.

I glanced at my cards. There were twelve of them in total. All had pictures on them of things like elves and weapons and spells and all that bollocks. To be honest, for all I knew these could have been the exact same cards I saw Spencer holding in the home dressing room the other week. On the back of each one was a bunch load of statistics that I’m not even going to begin to try and describe.

“Okay, how do you play this s__t?” I asked.

“Well, it’s simple” Buckley replied. “Each player picks twelve cards from their own personal stash. One of them has to be a character card”.

I looked at my cards. My character was ‘chieftain’, a grey haired warrior type figure with a huge beard.

“Then you’ve got your three place cards, and eight randoms” Buckley went on. “The game is basically about a group of separate people who are all on a pilgrimage to find the Magic Temple, supposedly hidden deep in the jungle of Pardothis. On the way there, players bump into each other in random places and have what are known as scuffles. These are little one on one fights. Ultimately though, the game ends up at The Magic Temple itself, where all the players then face off in what’s known as end game”.

“And whoever wins the end game wins all the money, I presume? I know you've been betting with money on this rubbish so don't even try and deny it".

“Well err yeah. Usually we bet ten quid per player at the end game stage. But we also play for a quid per scuffle, so even if you die in The Magic Temple, you can still have done so having made a few quid on the way in order to err limit the damage, so to speak”.

“Okay, so what are the place and random cards for then?”

“The place cards determine where a scuffle takes place. The randoms help determine the outcome of the scuffle. Oh, there’s some dice rolling involved too but, to be honest, the best way to learn is to just play”.

“I see. Well, okay then, I’ll have a quick scuffle with someone. I’m not playing a full game though. That would be just sad”.

Reaching into my wallet, I pulled out a crisp five pound note and held it up.

“I’ll play someone in a scuffle for a fiver” I said. “If I’m going to let you divvies carry on playing this bollocks, I might as well make the odd bit of money out of it. Come on, who will volunteer?”

For some strange reason I thought Keane was going to stick his hand up. In fact, judging by his body language, I think he intended to; I just think he hesitated a second too long. Man to beat him to the punch was Charlie Daniels.

So be it.

'Come on, lady luck. Let me get one over these numpties'.

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05/12/10 - Manager and chieftain (part 2)

“So what happens now?” I asked.

“Well, one of you uses a place card to determine where the scuffle will take place” Buckley responded. “Then the other person takes the first turn”.

“I think the boss should get to do both of those things seeing as he’s never played before” Dorian suggested.

“Yeah fair enough” – Charlie Daniels.

“Okay then” Buckley continued. “Let’s start then. James, choose a place card and put it on the tray”.

The tray was a wooden thing on Spencer’s lap. I’d guessed when first arriving back here it was being used as a mobile table and I hadn’t been wrong. There were two dice on it too.

“Does it matter which place card I use?”

“Usually yes, but seeing as this is a one off scuffle and you don’t know any of Charlie’s cards, probably not on this occasion”.

As I then glanced at my cards again to decide which ‘place’ to pick, I found myself wondering how these guys had ended up getting into this game in the first place. It surely had to be a nostalgia thing. It surely had to have been one or two of them reminiscing about some old fantasy game they’d played as a kid, then realising that one of their kids was now into something similar, and hey, why don’t we give it a shot just for old time’s sake? That kind of deal.

Then there would have been a second wave of players, probably who’d never played such a thing their entire life but now wanted to because their other mates in the team were playing it. And playing it for money.

Keane would have belonged to this second group. Of that I had no doubt. Keane as a kid would have been too busy pulling girls’ pants down and setting off stink bombs to be playing fantasy card games. He had to be in it purely for the wonga.

“Lake” I said, putting the lake card down on the tray. “Now what?”

“Now you both put your character cards down”.

So we did. Daniels, it turned out, was an elf.

“Okay, now what?”

“Now you pick one of your random cards to attack with. It can be a weapon, or a spell, or a summons, or whatever else you’ve got in your hand”.

I picked out my broadsword card. It seemed as good as any.

“Ah-ha!” Daniels reacted with.


“Elves cannot be harmed with physical weapons in a lake setting! You lose your turn”.

“What do you mean they can’t be harmed?! Why not?”

“Because elves automatically have the walk-on-water ability” Spencer explained. “In a lake setting, they can just float on the water away from the shore and things like swords just can’t reach them”.

‘F__k’s sake’.

“My turn” said Charlie, a grin on his face.

He then put down a card down called Ice storm. Judging from the picture, it didn’t look like my chieftain was in for a pleasant experience with this one.

“That’s an automatic two points to me without need for the dice”.

“Yep” Keane agreed. “Spells give fixed outcomes. Two-nil to Char – “

“Woah, hang on!” interrupted Spencer, peering down at the cards I had. This was almost moving too fast for me to follow. “Boss has got the ice shield!”

“No way!” exclaimed Byrne.

“Lucky b_stard” said Daniels, his expression suddenly much different.

“What the hell does the ice shield do?!” I asked.

The others all guffawed as if I was an idiot.

“It deflects ice spells backs at the person who used it. Really lucky that you just happened to have the exact defensive weapon needed to block Charlie’s spell. Anyway, that means that instead of him getting the two points, you get three. You not only get the two points he would have got, you also get one more because the ice shield increases the speed of the spell when it sends it back”.

All gibberish aside, this meant I was now three-nil to the good and it was back to my turn again. Was I actually going to win this?

“How do you know what counteracts what?” I enquired. “If I hadn’t just benefitted from that last turn I’d have said you were making it up as you went along”.

“It's all in this book” Spencer replied, reaching up into the baggage hold and pulling a rucksack down. “It explains all the millions of permutations between the cards and what effects what etc”.

He did produce the book from the bag (in size it looked bigger than the bible!), but I didn’t ask to see inside it and Spencer didn’t offer. He then returned it to its home inside the rucksack and lifted it back onto the baggage rail.

Back to my turn again then. Obviously I needed to pick an attack that didn't involve close quarter combat. I had nine cards left to select from.

“I’ll use my bow and arrow” I announced, placing my card down. “No amount of walking on water can stop that, surely?”

“Nope. Having said that; because it’s a physical attack you’ll have to roll the dice to determine how many points you get. You only need two more points to reach five and win the scuffle”.

“So all I need to do is roll a two or more?”

“If only! No. Whatever you roll with the dice, you subtract by two. So, for example, if you roll six, you score four. If you roll five, you score three, and so on. So, if you roll a two, you miss with your attack and you lose your turn. If you roll a one, that means you messed up your attack so bad you actually did one point of damage to yourself”.

“So I need to roll a four or higher then?”

“Hmm yep. That would do it”.

A fifty-fifty chance. Seemed doable.

Picking the dice up, I blew on it a couple of times and then took the plunge. And you know what? I ended up rolling the exact number I needed! Get in!

“Game over!” I shouted, smiling at Daniels. “Hand that fiver over”.

Grimacing, Daniels did just that. The fun wasn’t finished there though.

“Hey” said Moore. “Don’t forget it was a five-nil whitewash. That means the money gets doubled up”.

“Really?!” I queried.

“Yep” everyone else said in tandem. Except for Daniels, shaking his head.

“Excellent! Come on then, Charlie, hand another one over”.

Ten seconds later I was walking back up the aisle ten pounds richer than when I’d first gone down it. If that was going to be my one and only game of Magic Temple for my whole life, it sure had been a good one.

“What are you smirking at?” Brian asked as I sat back down.

“Nothing” I replied, giggling.

'Well maybe the game isn't all that bad, I suppose'.

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Thanks guys


08/12/10 - Villains

It was one of those pleasant evening spent supping guest ales down the local. I ordered a Mug shot first up, Brian a Peasant’s potion.

“Not a bad draw on Sunday, eh?” Brian asked rhetorically.

“Absolutely it was! I was hoping for one of the big four but Aston Villa isn’t a bad substitute”.

“Do you think we’ll get any TV exposure?”

“Hold your horses! We haven’t got past Cheltenham yet”.

And yet despite the rebuke, I’d done plenty of thinking about Aston Villa in private. Drawing a team that size as early as the third round was by no means a guarantee. We could just as easily have drawn a League One side, or lower Championship side, and gone out.

“Pretending for a minute we get through though; do you think it’s a good thing the match is away? We might have had half a chance if it was at home”.

“Do you? I don’t. Besides, we’ll get more money playing away. What attendances do Villa get? Thirty thousand a home game, I’ll bet. We’ll get half of that income. Well, forty percent anyway”.

Brian took a thoughtful sip of his pint.

“That means we’d get the money from about thirteen thousand of the fans. Roughly. It’s not all that much more than what we’d normally get at home”.

“Give over! It’s practically twice as much”.

“Yeah but the thing is, I don’t actually think it’ll be a thirty thousand crowd. Big clubs get smaller crowds in the FA Cup these days when they’re playing small teams. I bet the attendance is closer to twenty five thousand than thirty thousand”.

“Yeah well I’ll let Erica worry about s__t like that thankyou very much. I’m just looking forward to the game”.

“Hang on. A minute ago you were telling me we shouldn’t get excited about Villa because we haven’t got past Cheltenham yet”.

“Yeah. I meant Cheltenham’s the game I’m looking forward to”.

My assistant grinned and took another sup.

“Yeah right” he then said quietly.

It was a fairly quiet night in the entire pub, truth be told. Making it worse was the fact the big widescreen TV was broken. It had been broken a good couple of weeks now. Gav kept insisting he was going to get it fixed but no sign of progress just yet. The promise of live football on a mid-week was one of the big draws to get people in. Mug Shot and Peasant’s Potion certain weren’t going to do it.

“What did you think of Nicholls’ idea for a new free kick?” Brian asked.

“Not bad. I’m not convinced Bowditch needs that second step back over the ball though. He might as well just – “

I broke off because someone I hadn’t expected to walk in the pub had just done exactly that.

It was Towzer.

“What the hell is he doing here?!” Brian hissed.

“Hell should I know”.

My assistant has never been the greatest fan of Towzer (or Garry, when he was still alive). The opinion had formed itself back in the early days when Towzer gave Brian an unfriendly shove in the Kenilworth Road car park.

It had been a while actually since I’d last seen him in The Hatters Arms. He’d used to come in a lot back in the old days. Not so much recently.

To be honest, even tonight he didn’t look like he was here for the booze. The moment he barged in he was glancing left and right and then left again. Clearly he was looking for someone. He kept on switching his gazes until finally he saw..


“Oh no he’s coming over” Brian remarked.

“He’s alright once you get to know him. Let’s see what he wants”.

“I need to talk to you” Towzer then said, bowling up to us and sitting down uninvited.

“About what?”

"Can we talk alone?"

"It's okay. Don't mind Brian. Whatever you've got to say I don't mind him hearing it".

Towzer took a deep breath and leaned forwards. He still had the same white raincoat on. Same moustache too.

“I know who killed your friend” he said finally.

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27/06/09 - Fears

At Alton Towers there are a bunch of game stalls all packed closely together near one of the rollercoasters. By game stalls I mean things like coconut shys, shooting galleries, and also that ball rolling game where you roll the ball into the holes and your horse moves along one slot. You’ll either know what I’m talking about there or you won’t.

Anyway, from my vantage point on one of the walkways about thirty yards back and twenty up, I stood finishing off my ice cream and watching Nicky. She was down at the stalls clearly thinking about having a go on something.

“You were right” Caroline said over my shoulder.


“White t-shirts absorbing less heat. I’m definitely not as cooked as I usually feel on a day like this”.

“Glad to have shown you the light. No pun intended”.

Turning to face her, I studied the picture on the t-shirt. It was a cartoonish depiction of a lizard man playing a guitar. The guy (if you can call him that) was stood with his legs spread wide and his expression was very much one of see? lizards can rock and roll too.

“Nice lizard man”.

“Oh. Yeah. Funnily enough, I’m scared of lizards!”


“Yeah” she confirmed, stepping forwards and leaning on the fence next to me. “I stayed at a friend’s house once when I was a kid and her brother had this iguana as a pet. They kept it in this glass cabinet thing. I wasn’t scared at first but then they told me this story about how they let it out once and it jumped up from the floor to the top bunk of the bunk beds. The thought of that freaked me out a bit. I hardly slept that night knowing that thing was in the room”.

“If I were you I probably wouldn’t ever go to Cuba”.

Caroline gave me an inquisitive side-on look and then retracted it.

“So what are you most afraid of, James?”

“What? In the whole world?”


That was a bit too deep a question for a hot day out at Alton Towers.

“Getting old, I suppose” I replied with a sigh. “What I mean is, getting so old that you can’t look after yourself properly and people think you’re a nuisance”.

“Yeah that would suck".

There was a guy behind one of the stalls who was much louder than any of the others. I could hear every word he was saying from right up here on this walkway. He reminded me of those people you see behind fruit and vegetable stands shouting about how cheap their oranges are.

“Roll up, kids!” he bellowed. “Roll up! Come and play Slimy Sid’s Slimy Slime Shooter game! Tee-hee-hee! Only a pound a go! Great prizes to be won! C’mon, kids! Parents too! Yes that means you too over there, Madam. No don’t walk away! Aw, maybe next time then”.

Despite this knock back, Slimy Sid (if that was him running the stall) was still doing great business. All of his seats were filling up quickly for the next game, and there were others queuing up for the game after that too. One of these was Nicky.

“Short term though I’m more scared about my job" I went on. "If I don’t start this next season brilliantly, I’ll probably get sacked. I think that’s why I suggested this trip really. It’s been nice coming up here with you all, especially if it turns out to be one of the last times we all get to hang out. I’ll probably end up leaving Luton if I get sacked, you know”.

“I’m sure you’ll pick things up next season. It’s going to be an easier league, right?”

“Yeah, I suppose”.

A brief silence. Caroline’s jet black briefly swirled around in her face and she had to perform a reset. The hint of breeze though was very welcome.

“What about you? Any shorter term fears?”

“Nope. I’m only afraid of lizards”.

We both laughed mildly.

“Well it’s not like I can pretend to be afraid of losing the job I’ve got!” she went on. “ And it’s not like I’ve got a relationship at the moment or anything. Things are generally okay with me. By and large, anyway”.

I knew what she meant.

“Okay. Have you enjoyed today so far?”

“Yeah it’s been good”.


Down at the stalls the current game of Slimy Sid’s Slimy Slime Shooter had ended, and Nicky was just in the process of replacing someone in one of the seats. She was the only adult.

“Okay then, boys and girls!” Sid announced, stepping out in front of everyone with his arms outstretched. “Another full house! Tee-hee-hee! Rules are simple; as soon as I say so, fire your slime shooter at the target directly in front of you! The first person to fill up their target – “

He didn’t get any further than that because Nicky shot him in the eye with her slime gun.

“Ah f__k!” he screamed, pressing his hands over his eye. “S__t! F__k! F__CCCCCK!”

“Oh sorry!” Nicky said, covering her mouth with a hand. “I didn’t mean to make it fire!”

As kids and parents suddenly fled the scene, completely freaked out by Slimy Sid’s change in demeanour, Sid himself ducked into a backroom with one hand still over his eye. Nicky hovered briefly by the stall (now all by herself), then slid apologetically away.

“Priceless” I said to Caroline.

Caroline laughed a little with me and then we both moved on.

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Thanks, Tenthree. Appreciate it.


08/12/10 - Villains (part 2)


The question, together with its aggravated tone, was out of my mouth faster than you could say Peasant’s Potion.

“Jack Shandy” Towzer replied with a shiver. “Well, not him personally, but Shandy ordered the hit. No question about it”.

“Hit?! What do you mean hit?! You mean hit like an assassin hit?”


I could already feel the rage building up inside me at this revelation. Leaning across the table, I grabbed Towzer by the collar and pulled his head close to the table.

“Ah!” he exclaimed pathetically.

“I knew it!” I shouted over him. “You know what?! I’ve had a nagging feeling for months this might not have been random. What did Garry do? Eh? What the f__k did he do?!”

Conscious that people were starting to look over, I relaxed my grip on Towzer just sufficiently enough for the moustachioed one to break free with a sudden upwards wrench. Brian meanwhile was just sat there frozen, neither doing nor saying anything.

“He didn’t do anything!” Towzer snapped. “The hit was on your f__king friend! Not him”.

“What?! Make sense man!”

“The hit was on Caroline! She owed Shandy money. She didn’t pay. That's the start and end of it”.

“Don’t be stupid! Why the hell would Caroline have anything to do with Jack Shan – “

I cut myself off.

Something was rising to the surface of my memory, something to do with Caroline I’d long forgotten about. And even though he obviously hadn’t known her as well as I had, Brian seemed to be having exactly the same light-bulb moment.

“Hang on” he said calmly. “Wasn’t Caroline the one who was always short of money all the time?”

“Yeah” I replied softly.

She HAD always been short of money. Well, for most of the time I’d known her anyway. Then what? Something had changed. That was what. Something changed and then she was fine for money. It had all been very sudden from what I could remember. One minute she’d been skint and then next minute she wasn’t.

‘Her parents sent her some kind of windfall’.

Yep. I remembered her telling me one time when I’d gone around to her house. Funnily enough, I’d only gone around that day to give her a ticket for the goth festival. I’d secretly bought her one out of concern she wouldn’t be able to save up enough money for it on her own. Once I’d got there though, she’d told me about the money from her parents before I could find the right moment to give it to her. As I result, I'd kept the ticket for myself and eventually used it. For myself.

I only need to go back to a diary entry from earlier this year to remember the exact words she’d said to me..

(‘Well, that part is kind of embarrassing. My dad sent me some money. He’s a dentist. Back in Peterborough. He doesn’t usually send me money. I guess he’s always believed I should make my own way, make my own money. You know how some parents can be. Sometimes he sends me something though. Not often, but sometimes. Anyway, this time it was quite a bit. He’s had a big rise at work and I guess he was in a good mood. So he sent me some money’)

At the time I hadn’t at all questioned her story. Why should I have done? I was questioning it now, mind. Just a shame it was way way too late.

“So she took a loan from a loan shark and she missed her payments” I muttered almost to myself.

“Yep. I don’t know all the details. I only found out through an old associate today completely by chance”.

“Funnily enough, the more I think about it, the more it actually makes sense. I’ve got an associate too, Towzer. She once told me Caroline was shot at point blank range and then Garry was shot second. The second shot was sloppier apparently. Obviously Garry was just collateral, someone in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Neither Brian nor Towzer said anything. This was a very disturbing conversation we were having, especially for Brian. He looked very uncomfortable in his chair.

“I've met Jack Shandy" I went on. "Once. Ages ago. The guy's a thug. How would Caroline have known how to reach a man like him?"

“Through Garry. He used to work for Shandy. We both did. Now don’t you touch me again! This had nothing to do with me. Garry was a good lad but he had s__t for brains. Caroline probably moaned about money one day and Garry probably offered up what he thought was a bright suggestion. Then it got them both killed. Before you start laying all the blame on Garry though, just remember this; Caroline didn’t have to go along with it. She was certainly no kid. One thing she was though was bright. Too bright for Garry really. She should have known better than to go to Shandy”.

“How much would she have borrowed off him?”

“No idea. It would have been at least a thousand though. That’s always been Shandy’s minimum”.

“She must have agreed to some sort of repayment plan though” Brian pointed out. “I wonder why she stopped paying him”.

“Probably for the same reason millions of people up and down the country miss payments on their credit cards” I replied. “It’s endemic. I've read articles in the paper about it. You start off with the best of intentions and then suddenly your gas bill or your phone bill is slightly higher than normal and you can’t pay all your outgoings. Then it snowballs from there. Can happen to the best of people”.

Another silence around the table.

“Doesn’t mean she deserved to die though” I said angrily, slamming my pint down against the table. “Doesn’t mean a degenerate like Shandy gets to go around shooting people! What the f__k is that about?!"

“Another pint?” Brian said quickly, sensing people were starting to look over again.

“No. I’m going home. I need to think about this”.

That was true. I definitely needed to think about this. In fact I needed to think about this a lot. No way Shandy was getting away with this. No way.

‘No friggin’ way’.

Without saying goodbye to either of my companions, I got up and I walked straight out through the door. Then I headed for home and bed.

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11/12/10 - Hey big spender

Now that I’ve had time to stew over Wednesday’s revelation, I’ve come to the conclusion there really isn’t much I can do about it. Going to the police is the obvious option, but what good would that do? I’ve got no evidence to back up Towzer’s claims.

Sure, I could go all renegade and kill Shandy. The thought of bumping off a heavily guarded gangster strangely doesn’t faze me. What does is the prospect of then trying to get away with it. I don’t know much about forensic science. Would Caroline want me to jeopardise my future for the chance of revenge? I doubt it.

I could find someone else to do the killing of course, someone with knowledge about this sort of thing and what it takes to cover your tracks.

‘Dilic? Would he help?’

It wouldn’t even have to be a killing. In fact I’d probably rather it wasn’t (Caroline would understand why). No, just a good beating would do. A beating to within an inch of the sorry b_stard’s life. Yep, that was the ticket. Then I could feel as though Caroline’s death had at least been avenged a little bit.


Whilst we’re on the subject of women who aren’t very good with money, Chantelle is driving me crazy at the moment. In fact if she doesn’t curb her spendthrift ways I might end up having to get a loan off Shandy myself.

Seriously, all she's done since we moved house is spend spend spend. At first I didn’t mind. At first the stuff she was buying actually seemed necessary; sofas, for instance. But then the fifty inch TV appeared in the living room and I thought that was excessive. Then the second fifty inch TV appeared in Luke’s bedroom and I thought that was even more excessive. And since then a whole bunch of excessive things have started appearing. Every time I come home it’s something new.

Coffee blender? Check. Milkshake machine? Check. Pasta machine? Check. Dish washer? Check. Vases and flowers for all the rooms in the house? Check. Musical doorbell that plays Rhianna and Beyonce? Check. Bathroom scales? Check. Custom built post-box for the porch? Check. Voice recognition software for the lights? Check. And so on. I could name many more.

Absolute winner though in the most ridiculously indulgent household purchase competition - even managing to pip the voice recognition software to the gong – is the four poster water bed we now own. It cost over two thousand pounds to buy and install, and to be honest, if the idiot who’d bought it had been home at the time I myself had come home to see it for the first time, I might have kicked off big style. As it was, she hadn’t been home, and by the time she had come home, I’d already discovered how comfortable it is to lie on by then and that had softened my mood.

Something’s got to give eventually though. We can’t go on like this. The only reason I haven’t checked my bank account since the wedding is because I’m too afraid to see what the remaining balance is! I just know that one of these days I’m going to try and take ten pounds out and it’s not going to let me, and THAT will be frigging depressing. It will also be bloody ridiculous for a man on my salary.


Anyway, today’s game is away to Torquay, who currently hover near the foot of League Two. We’ve never played them before under my stewardship.

Torquay have spent over eighty seasons in the football league, never getting particularly high. Most of their existence has been spent in the fourth tier. The club even briefly dropped into the non-league recently but like ourselves were able to bounce back relatively painlessly. They play at a ground called Plainmoor and are nicknamed The Gulls. And that’s about all you need to know.

Lots of things to do in the town itself but I didn’t do any of them today because I was worried about money. Instead I travelled with the players and passed some of the journey playing Magic Temple. I actually played a full game this time. I even made a profit again, albeit a very small one (three pounds). Not enough to stem the Chantelle tide, but it’s a start. Oh, and it’s still a sad game. Very sad. Not playing it anymore after today.

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11/12/10, League match 18

Torquay United v Luton Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (22 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Aaron Ides (3 apps, 0 goals)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (119 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Richie Byrne (59 apps, 1 goal)

DC – Tony James (76 apps, 4 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (92 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (111 apps, 13 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (69 apps, 5 goals)

MR – Michael Taylor (57 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Scott Spencer (45 apps, 19 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (4 apps, 1 goal)

A few changes to the team today, mostly in defence. Moore was out so I moved Richie Byrne into his secondary position of centre half. Also, because Gnakpa was back, I was able to move Ides back across from right back to left back.

Midfield was unchanged. Daniels retained his place ahead of Poole.

Up front I was forced to omit Bowditch because he failed a late fitness test. He’s been struggling to be fit for this match all week, to be honest. But not to worry because that meant FA Cup goal hero Spencer could fill in. Cadamateri made the bench.

Torquay is one of those annoying little grounds near the sea, which usually means lots of wind. Straight away today the ball was blowing around up in the air like a lottery ball that’s just been released into Arthur. Predictably enough, the home side made the best use of it early doors. I wouldn’t say they looked like scoring, but what they did was look more adept at was predicting where high balls were going to land.

Class tells in the end though, doesn’t it? Well, I like to think we’re a class side anyway. Today we got an important breakthrough exactly halfway through the first half (near enough). It came in the 22nd minute and Daniels was the scorer. Keane went on a good run towards the area, and despite overrunning the ball, the resulting fifty-fifty between him and Nutter deflected the ball sideways to Daniels. The winger nimbly turned and fired low under Logan for the opening goal.

I didn’t celebrate much. I’ve already been in this business long enough to know that going a goal up early is no guarantee of victory, especially away from home.

The Gulls responded by trying some ground level passes for a change. Not that it got them anywhere. Indeed I was just starting to think that maybe we could grab another goal quickly when Nicholls uncharacteristically lost it in midfield. Wroe surged forwards and Sills quickly gave him an option left. That caught the attentions of Byrne and James; they both seemed to hedge their bets from that moment forwards between Sills receiving the ball and Wroe keeping hold of it.

All well and good, except for the fact Stuart Fleetwood was also making a run. Nobody was tracking him and Wroe played him in. Good finisher is Fleetwood and here he demonstrated his abilities. He fired past Stubhaug with absolutely superb aplomb. The Devon wind did try and blow it over the bar for us but the ball couldn’t get up in time. It hit the roof of the net – on the wrong side as far as we were concerned. And that was one all.

It was frustrating to concede an equaliser but I didn’t feel as uptight about it as I normally would. I guess I felt that Torquay hadn’t been all that impressive up until now, and that the odds of them pushing on from here weren’t that great. We just needed to make sure we kept the mistakes, such as the one we’d just make, to a minimum.

You can’t give players like Fleetwood and Sills the chances to score goals. Those guys are quality strikers. Period. In fact I reckon that’s how Torquay have been keeping themselves afloat this season. It’s not like their play around the rest of the park is much cop.

And there was another very welcome example of this in the 38th. The Torquay defence allowed Daniels all the time in the world down the left to get his cross in. He even had time to stop the ball before he hit it! In the middle, Spencer swung a left boot but could only aim his shot at the keeper. No matter. Snowden slid his long legs in front of defender Saville to poke home the rebound. Goal!

The home side might have got themselves back into the first time, but they didn’t on this occasion. Not before half time anyway. We played some good controlling football in the final few minutes. Spencer even went close with another header, clipped over after a run and cross from Taylor.

“Satisfied?” Brian asked, as the whistle went.

“Yeah” I replied honestly. “I’d settle for that. It was a shame about their goal, but on the whole, good stuff”.

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Thanks, Scouse. Thanks for reading.

Cheers Johnny.


“Don’t lose this advantage!”

The two teams looked like oranges and lemons today, Luton in orange and Torquay in err yellow. Both trotted out to Barcelona by Freddie Mercury. Very strange song choice in the circumstances. Very strange indeed.

Edgar Snowden might just turn out to be one of my biggest successes as a manager. It’s a nice thing when a striker scores a simple striker’s goal, but when he scores one that Thierry Henry would have been proud of it almost sends a shiver down the spine. That was the case in the 49th minute as Snowden potentially put Torquay to bed.

The tall striker began his work in midfield, playing a neat little one-two with Keane. He had ample room to collect the return pass but there was still one defender between him and the goal. So guess what he did next? Well, quite simply he knocked it past him and beat the guy for pace. Then he executed a perfectly weighted left foot shot across the goalkeeper and into the far corner. Now that’s what I call music!

We were shooting down the end with the Luton fans now and they went suitably ballistic at that one. Like me, they probably sensed the crucial blow had been struck.

Not that I was taking anything for granted. As Nicholls, Daniels, and several others, began to run riot over the next ten minutes, I spent my time going through the substitution tactics with Brian. After much mulling, I sent Cadamateri on for Snowden and Poole for Daniels. The departing players got a standing ovation from at least one quarter of the ground as they trooped off.

I made those changes in the 60th minute. In the 61st, Torquay almost made me feel stupid. With practically their first decent attack since scoring in the first half, Stevens played a diagonal ball across the pitch to Sills, who had drifted out to the right wing. The striker wasted little time in crossing the ball in – a low one between players and goalkeeper – and how the ball didn’t get deflected over the line I will never know. Close one that. Slack marking by Ides was the catalyst.

Still, it wasn’t a sign of things to come. Luton quickly reasserted its authority on the fixture, Spencer and Cadders both going close in the minutes that followed. The one Cadders missed was shocking; he pulled it back onto his left foot whilst standing practically on the edge of the six yard box before missing his kick.

As Nicholls then clipped the top of the bar with a belter from twenty yards, I almost began to feel sorry for the hapless home side.

With fifteen to play, their manager finally did what he should have done much earlier i.e. make subs. On went Green, Mainwaring, and Williams to try and change the direction of the result. I resisted making my own third substitution because I don’t think it’s a good thing for the players to always believe three substitutions will be made. I like to keep them guessing.

If Torquay were to have any chance of getting back into this, they surely had to take the opportunity given to them on 82. In a match full of chances originating from the wing, Williams played it through Gnakpa’s legs and geared up for the cross. Fleetwood met the incoming ball with a firm header and clattered the crossbar. Can’t knock him for missing that.

People with yellow replica shirts began walking out en masse shortly after, off to wherever it is they go after a Torquay match. They didn’t miss terribly much. Luton dominated late on. We didn’t score again but did everything but. Logan made some good saves from Keane and Spencer, and Poole almost scored his own Henry-like goal but didn’t quite have Snowden’s accuracy to finish.

At the final whistle I walked onto the pitch to greet the players. Then I pushed them all in the direction of the away fans. Oh we do like to be beside the seaside they were singing (the fans I mean).

“They didn’t sing that at Weston Super Mare last season” I said to Brian.

“Wind was gustier. Game was sh_tter”.

“Fair point”.


FINAL SCORE (att - 2880)

Torquay United 1 (Fleetwood 34)

Luton Town 3 (Daniels 22, Snowden 38, 49)


(other results)

Aldershot 1-0 Hereford

Cheltenham 3-1 Notts County

Chesterfield 2-0 Barnet

Exeter 1-1 Rochdale

Grimsby 3-0 Grays

Lincoln 1-2 Shrewsbury

Oldham 3-1 Brentford

Rotherham 1-0 Darlington

Walsall 4-3 Accrington Stanley

Wycombe 2-1 Chester

Yeovil 1-0 Bournemouth


(top of table)

1 - Yeovil (34)

2 - Shrewsbury (32)

3 - Rochdale (32)


4 - Grimsby (32)

5 - Darlington (31)

6 - Luton (31)

7 - Exeter (31)


8 - Walsall (31)


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Torquay United 1 (Fleetwood 34)

A conversation at a random match:

"Fleetwood's scored"

"Oh, who are they playing?"

"No he's scored for Torquay dimwit"

Don't know why that thought came into my head :D great work as always mate

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Oh dear you two

I didn't know that, Michael. Shame he didn't make it in the league though.


13/12/10 - The Hatter, the witch and the wardrobe

As I pulled into the driveway after work, I felt the familiar feelings of nervousness.

‘Wonder what ridiculous thing she’s wasted money on today’.

Turning the engine off, I pulled my keys out and alighted from the vehicle. Then I went to the front door and opened it. Immediately I was greeted by the tiny little paws of Bambi the dog.

“Good to see ya, gal!” I said, bending down and giving her a good fuss.

Just from standing here I could immediately tell where the other household members were. Luke was upstairs in his bedroom; I knew this because I could hear him playing his drum kit. Chantelle was in the living room; I knew this because I could hear her on the phone to one of her mates. The fact Luke was banging the drums, by the way, was a good thing. It meant less chance he’d been bought some new expensive toy today.

Steadily, I walked to the doorway of the living room and peered my head around the corner. Chantelle waved but didn’t otherwise indicate she was about to cut her phone call short. I wasn’t looking at her anyway. Not really. My main focus was on scanning the room looking for new additions.

Brand new curtains perhaps? Nope. New games console under the TV? Nope. A sixty inch TV to replace the fifty inch one? Nope. Nothing there either. The room looked clean.

‘One down!’

Knowing there were plenty more rooms to search though, I retracted my head and moved to the kitchen. What would greet my eyes in here? A new food blender of some sort? A new kitchen table? Hell, what about a completely refurbished kitchen from top to bottom? I wouldn’t have put it past her.

But no. Nothing doing here either. The room looked just as I’d left it this morning after having my cereal. Same with the dining room.

Beginning to actually wonder if my wallet had got away unscathed today, I went and searched the upstairs rooms. First I peeked into Luke’s room, then the other bedrooms, and finally the bathroom. Remarkably, I couldn't find one single thing that looked new. It truly was a miracle in all its glory.

Obviously in a good mood about this, I swung my car keys around in my fingers and skipped back downstairs. Time to go and give my gorgeous wife a kiss and see how her day had been. Maybe I would even offer to make her a coffee as well.

I must admit, as I descended the stairs, I didn’t notice there was no longer any noise coming from the living room.

“Hey” Chantelle said as I entered, rising off the settee.

She kissed me and I kissed her back. She had a very strong scent on. It smelled great. Life in general felt great. Really really great. It was nice to be home.

“How are you?” I enquired with a smile.

“Great! I’ve got something to show you. Come and have a look!”

'Have a look? Eh? At what?’

Before I could say anything she was dragging me towards the kitchen. At first I couldn’t work out why. I mean, after all, I’d already checked the kitchen. There was nothing new in there.

But then in horror I realised that the kitchen was not our final destination. No, the back garden was. From the living room you have to pass through the kitchen in order to get to it. Anyway, before I had time to fully process this, I was yanked out through the back door. Although to be honest it might as well have been a portal to another world.

This was NOT the garden I’d last seen the previous evening when clearing up dog mess.

Over by the elm tree was a new duck pond. It didn’t have any ducks in it but the pond was still there. I’d say it was about the size of a snooker table (except that the corners were curlier). Going over the top of the pond was a miniature wooden bridge complete with handrails.

There was more. Much more.

Further back was a giant gazebo. It had garden tables and chairs in it and looked big enough for about twenty people.

Dotted around the garden were little gnome statues, plus at least two life sized reindeer models.

By the side of the garden shed was a lawnmower. It wasn’t just any lawnmower. This one had a seat built into it. The shed, by the way, was also something I’d never seen before now. I dreaded to think how the inside was kitted out.

Joining up each new ‘attraction’ was a stone path (newly paved). There was a bird table too. And a hammock type thing under the kitchen window. And some kiddie goal nets on the grass. And a paddling pool. And a kennel (with a sign on it saying Bambi’s name). And a small greenhouse. And a barbecue set. And a washing line. And a fountain with an angel p!ssing into the rim. The angel was grinning.

There was also a string of electrical lights stretching from the tree, around the top of the gazebo, over the shed, and then finishing up on top of the garage by the side of the house. Mercifully, they weren’t currently switched on.

This wasn’t a garden anymore. This was a fully blown winter wonderland. I was surprised there wasn't a queue of folk stretched around the block clutching marshmellows and programmes.

“So what do you think?” Chantelle asked. “It’s been a hell of a busy day sorting this out. Worth it though, don't you think?”

‘Oh dear God woman. You’ve ruined us. You’ve completely ruined us’.

I couldn't actually speak out loud. My mouth had lost all of its powers.

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Should have stuck with Erica. She wouldn't waste money on things like that Chantelle has. Great read as ever. Wish I had the willpower to keep one of these stories going. Do well for the first month or so then miss a day or two and it's gone.

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Yep, quite possibly true.


13/12/10 - The Hatter, the witch and the wardrobe (part 2)

Eventually of course I did get my voice back.

“Right, that’s it! Back in the kitchen! I want a word”.

I wasn’t going to have it out here, not where the neighbours might hear. I’m generally a very private person. I even take great care to make sure the changing room door is closed when I slag the players off.

Chantelle’s face meanwhile did a one hundred an eighty degree u-turn when I shouted at her.

“A word about what?” she predictably queried.

“Tell you when we’re back in. Come on”.

And so we headed back. I hurt my ankle on the way tripping over a garden hose I didn’t know I owned.

“Come on then, spit it out” she said, once I’d closed the back door behind us.

“You’ve got to stop spending money!” I told her. “You’ve been at it non-stop since we got back from honeymoon. I turned a blind eye at first because most of the stuff you were buying was important for the house, but now things are getting ridiculous! And today just takes the p!ss! I mean seriously, I’m surprised we haven’t gone bust already. It’s surely going to be any day now. In fact – “

I stopped ranting and raving at that point. You see I’d noticed that Chantelle had crossed her arms and was looking nonplussed. I know that look; it’s the look of I’ve got a pixel perfect counter-argument up my sleeve.

But what possible counter-argument could she possibly come up with for running us close to bankruptcy because she was buying so much crap? I just wasn’t seeing it.

“What?" I asked.

“I can’t believe you actually think I’d just go and spend all our money. I can’t believe you’d think that! For your information, I haven’t touched our joint account since the day we got back from France”.

“Eh? How can that be?”

“Your dad called me up the day we got back. Your real one. He asked me for my bank account details; said he was going to give me fifty thousand pounds as a wedding gift. Told me to do the house up with some of the money and to just treat myself with whatever was left. Apparently he tried to give it to you on the wedding day but you said you didn’t want it; told him some crap about wanting to make your own way in the world. Or whatever”.

I had mixed feelings on hearing this. On the one hand – great! - she hadn’t emptied the main account like I’d thought she’d done. On the other – what the feck! – I’d turned down that money for a goddamn good reason!

“Why didn’t you tell me about this?!”

“Your dad told me not to. He said you’d probably get arsey about it”.

“Damn right I would! You shouldn’t have accepted that money, Shan! It was important to me not to take it”.

“Look, what you do with your dad is your business. When someone offers me free money though, I don’t generally turn it down. And besides, most of it I’ve spent on the house! Have you got any idea how much extra value I’ve already put on our house in the past two weeks alone?”

No. I hadn’t. So I stayed silent.

“No, didn’t think so!” she boomed triumphantly. “I tell you what; one day, when you’re a big rich guy managing England or something, then I’ll tell your dad to shove it. In the meantime, not gonna happen!”

Sensing the moment was won, Chantelle began what could only be described as a ‘strut’ towards the doorway. She could have been on a Milanese catwalk with that walk.

“I was gonna cook again for you tonight but now you can do it yourself” she added as a closing note.

And then she was gone.

‘Why do all our arguments end up exactly like that?’ I considered.

Then I bent down I felt my ankle. It was still hurting from when I’d tripped over the hosepipe.


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14/12/10 - Cutting corners

As soon as Ides took the corner, I blew on my whistle.

“No no no!” I shouted, walking onto the pitch.

Everyone immediately stopped playing. Most understood why. Ides didn’t.

“What?” he asked incredulously.

“Tell him, Kevin” I said to Nicholls.

“You took a short corner” El Skip told Ides.


“So - we don’t do short corners” I said.

“Why not?”

“Tell him, Michael”.

“Because short corners only serve to give the opposition a chance to tackle you before you cross the ball in” Taylor informed him.

I must be more respected amongst this group of players than I realised. Taylor had quoted me word for word there on something I hadn’t said for weeks. Impressive.

“And what happens to people who do take short corners at this club?” I asked Scott Spencer.

“They get dropped”.

“That’s right. So what have we learned from this, Aaron?”

“Not to take short corners, boss”.

“That's right. Now go back and take it again. This time I expect you to – “

Just then my mobile phone went off. Normally I wouldn’t answer it during a training session, but on this occasion I was willing to make an exception. It was Alison, you see.

“Ah” I said, continuing to look at the phone longer than I needed to. “Withheld number. This will probably be Josep Guardiola calling me back about that idea for a new sweeper system I emailed him with last night. Brian, ref the game for a minute will you?”

To the sound of much groaning about the Guardiola thing, I hastily beat a track back to the touchline and pressed the answer button. Then I walked a few yards further still so to achieve complete and utter privacy.

“About time you called!” I said. “Please tell me you’ve got something”.

“I do, but most of it isn’t good”.


“The red dot you saw does belong to a video camera. They’re installed in all of the private dance rooms”.


“Something else; I didn’t know this before, but there’s a small room on the premises devoted entirely to CCTV recordings. It’s like a little studio full of monitors and things”.

The cogs ticking over inside, I walked up and down giving this a great deal of consideration.

“They’ll probably have a cabinet in there full of old tapes too" I speculated. "Can’t you go in there and have a look? With any luck you might be able to swipe the one with me on it?”

“No. I’m not willing to do that, James. I can get away with going in the private dance rooms because I’m a barmaid, and people leave pint glasses in there that need collecting. I’ve got no excuse to go in the CCTV room though. I’m sorry. My cover comes first. The only reason I’m even able to call you now is because nobody else is here. Randy and his goons have gone out for a while and I don’t think they’ll be back until later”.

“Well if they’re not back until later, have a quick peek in the CCTV room for me!”

“No! I can’t take the risk he’ll know I was in there somehow. Forget it”.

This time my pacing up and down in silence lasted so long that it was Alison who broke the spell.

“Look, come on James. It’s been weeks. If anyone was going to do anything, they would have done it by now. Just forget about it and move on”.

“Easy for you to say”.

Alison sighed on the other end, clearly wondering whether to bother reiterating the same point in a different format.

In the meantime, over at the practice match, Keane had just scored an absolute belter. Or at least he thought he’d scored an absolute belter. Some of the players on the other team were trying to suggest the shot would have flown just over the invisible waist-high crossbar. Judging by Keane’s hand gestures though, it looked like he might be suggesting it actually would have hit the underside of the invisible crossbar and then gone in.

“I’m going, James. Sorry I couldn’t help more. Take care”.

“Yeah. Okay. Bye, Alison”.

A potentially risky decision now forming in my noggin, I pocketed my mobile and walked back over to Brian.

“Brian, take the rest of the session. I’ve got to nip out to somewhere”.

“Err, oh, okay”.



Wherever it is you’ve gone, Randy, please stay gone for at least another half hour’.

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Hey guys


14/12/10 - Cutting corners (part 2)

The only time I hesitated was when I pulled up outside the club. Until that point I’d gone from A to B to C like a man in a complete and utter hurry. Like I said; only right outside the club did I hesitate, and even then it was only for twenty to thirty seconds. No time for messing about on this job. It was going to have to be in, out, back to office. And quickly.

And on the off chance Randy came back whilst I was still inside? Well, I’d thought about that on the drive over. Quite simply I would say I’d come to book a stripper for the player’s end of the season party, and that I’d let myself in because no-one had answered when I’d knocked. If he caught me in the actual CCTV room, well, I could try claiming I’d been looking for the toilet. If he didn’t believe that, well, I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

One thing I certainly didn’t expect was for Randy to already be in the club when I got there. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

I didn’t have any prior warning he’d be in there because the music (as usual) was blaring away in the main room at about a hundred decibels, even at this early time of the day.

I froze when I saw him. Saw all four of them. I might have even done a double-take. Not sure. I didn’t beat a retreat to the door though for two reasons. Firstly, only one of Randy’s companions today was male. That meant that provided they weren’t carrying firearms, I was relatively safe from getting battered. Secondly, all four of the people I was looking at were lying on the floor.

‘What the f__k?’

Curiosity getting the better of me, I moved closer through the ever-rotating disco lights. Randy and his crew were positioned next to one of the wall booths about twenty yards from the central stage. Of the two who were women, one was Stacy and the other was Danielle (I’m only 75% sure of that latter one).

“Look at this!” Stacy said excitedly, pointing at me.

This was right before she burped.

“Oh yeah!” grinned Randy.

This was right before Randy’s head flopped backwards and hit the floor. Neither of the others said anything or looked in my direction. They were too busy lying with their heads on the floor too. The guy in the group – the one who wasn’t Randy – looked like a minder, at least if his dark clothes and crew cut were anything to go by.

My immediate assumption here was that they’d all got hopelessly drunk. But then, just as I came around the side of the stage, I spotted a bizarre collection of equipments placed in random spots between each body. They were like the sort of things you might see in science labs. It’s hard for me to describe them really. Each ‘object’ was like a two foot high sequence of small tubes twisting first one way and then the other.


I’ve seen this type of drug taking – or sniffing, or sucking, or take your pick – before. In the movies. Can’t remember which ones. But I’ve certainly seen it before. Wisps of smoke were coming out of some of the tubes, and the whole atmosphere smelled like someone had just lit about a hundred incense sticks.

To be honest, there wasn’t much chance of these people saying much to me right now. I won’t repeat all the short sentences they said to me, but there certainly weren’t any long ones. One thing there was a lot of was giggling. Even the minder guy was chuckling away.

Just as I wondered whether they were out of it enough for me to risk heading for the CCTV room anyway, Randy shuffled himself up onto his side long enough to take another puff on the you-know-what-that-I-can’t-actually-put-a-name-to. Stacy then made a reach to grab it off him but there wasn’t enough strength left in her arm and she ended up flopping down over Randy’s waist.

“Heh. Too slow, bit – “

I think he’d meant to say bitch there, but then a cough had formed in his throat and he’d not been able to finish.

In the distant background, Alison suddenly appeared from the backroom behind the bar carrying a keg of beer. On seeing me she first flashed me a look of surprise then one of concern. I suppose it goes without saying she didn’t look like she’d been on what the others were on?

I knew what the look of concern was about, mind. She'd quickly figured out why I was here and was now worried I was still going to head for the CCTV room. To be perfectly truthful, I did consider stepping over Randy’s legs and just going for it. It’s not like anyone on the floor was in any condition to stop me. In fact there was even the possibility they wouldn’t even remember seeing me!

Only my respect for Alison’s on-off friendship punctured the temptation. If Randy did remember this visitation later in the day, he might wonder why Alison hadn’t tried to stop me. Moreover, if he didn’t already know about my Stacy paranoia, seeing me enter the CCTV room would almost certainly put him on the fast track to finding out.

“Man, teeeeeee, come and have a whiff of this puppy, Parker!”

No idea who Randy was referring to there.

Giving everyone one last glance, including Alison, I turned around and walked back out.

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Thanks Footballmanagerlegend : )


15/12/10, FA Cup Round 2 replay

Luton Town v Cheltenham Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (23 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (60 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Aaron Ides (4 apps, 0 goals)

DC – Tony James (77 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (15 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (93 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (112 apps, 13 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (70 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Michael Taylor (58 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (5 apps, 3 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (48 apps, 21 goals)

For the third time in a not very long time, we lined up to face Cheltenham. The previous two encounters had yielded two rather drab draws; a 0-0 at home in the league, and a 1-1 away in the FA Cup. Tonight’s game was the replay to the latter and arguably the most important in the trilogy. Prize for the winners would be a trip to Villa Park. Ooh!

A little bit of team news. Bowditch and Moore were able to come back in; Spencer and Gnakpa were the men to make way. Gnakpa only dropped out because of a fitness issue though, and Moore didn’t directly replace him at right back. What happened is that Moore went to centre back, Byrne to left back, and Ides to right back. A bit confusing that, but if you compare this team sheet to the previous one you’ll see what I’ve done.

The two teams ran out to a song I didn’t recognise but that Brian assured me was by Justin Bieber. How this could have happened is something I plan to investigate first thing tomorrow.

Anyway, all that was forgotten in the first few minutes as Luton almost scored twice. First Nicholls sold two players dummies before hitting a left footed shot from twenty yards; Higgs palmed it around the upright. Then, not long after the corner, a Bowditch header from three yards out was tipped over acrobatically by the same adversary. Byrne was the one who'd put the cross in. From deep.

Cheltenham had to settle down at some stage and duly they did. We didn’t create another chance for a whole ten minutes after the Bowditch header.

When we did make another, it began with Daniels weaving a pretty pattern before passing infield to Keane. Keane then fed Snowden, who momentarily held the ball up before feeding it around the corner to Daniels. The winger was inside the area now and in the perfect position to do some real damage with the cross. His incoming ball was low, hard, and a nightmare to deal with. Bowditch got there ahead of anyone else but his contact from two yards out was blocked by the goalkeeper. Higgs knew little of that!

The away side’s first chance was a dink from Schofield from the edge of the box. It wasn’t the best option for him to have taken and Stubhaug managed to both backtrack and catch.

“You know, Brian, after those two low scoring draws we had against them, I thought the law of averages might turn this one into a high scoring thriller. Not looking that way so far though”.

“Give it time. Only twenty minutes gone”.

But very soon there was thirty five minutes gone. And not a lot more had happened.

The Robins were doing exactly what they’d done in the league game – frustrating us. When Snowden hammered a wayward shot over in the 36th minute, I slapped my thigh and muttered an expletive. It wasn’t necessarily the poor shot I was annoyed at, rather the feeling we might not get another one before half time.

I wasn’t sure what Cheltenham had done to subdue Taylor and Daniels since the first five minutes but it was certainly working. The wingers hadn’t done much for ages. The central midfielders weren’t looking any better either.

In the last few minutes of the half we became more than just ineffective though; we became careless. Or least Ides did. When Cheltenham swung in a rare corner in the 41st minute, the right back elbowed Schofield to stop him heading it and that was a penalty all day long.

As groans reverberated around the stadium, Townsend picked up the ball and placed it on the spot. He then took eight steps back, ran forwards, and went for the blast down the middle. Stubhaug had long deserted the station and that was one-nil visitors.

Although there would have been at least four more minutes after that plus injury time, I don't really remember it. All I can remember is pacing around wondering if my trip to Heavenly Hatters the previous day had affected my preparation more than I'd thought it would.

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“Think of Villa Park!”

The two teams ran back out to Rhythm of the night by Corona. Better.

As the referee prepared to blow his whistle, one of our eagle-eyed supporters behind the dugout asked me if I’d noticed that Cheltenham had made a change at half time. I thanked him and told him I hadn’t, and that I would use his input to hold an emergency conference with my assistant.

After swopping a few words, Brian and I decided to do nothing.

The first ten minutes of the half were extremely frustrating. We tried to go on the attack but, if anything, Cheltenham’s ability to stifle us had gotten even better since the first period. A Nicholls blockbuster high into the stand was the best we could muster for quite some time and I was more than a little annoyed.

I called on my substitutes three minutes earlier than usual. Poole went on for Daniels and Spencer for Bowditch. Could Spencer repeat his dramatic equaliser from the first game? We would see.

Our first really good opening of the second half came in minute 62. Snowden received a square pass from Taylor on the edge of the area. It looked like he was going to hit it with his right foot but at the last minute - sensing an incoming tackle from Wiggins - Snowden cleverly let the ball run across his body onto his left. He took one touch to steady it and another to fire in the direction of the top left hand corner. Higgs acrobatically tipped over.

I hoped that would be the catalyst for a grand charge. Alas, another ten minutes ripped on by without a shot. Too much time was passing between chances. It didn’t help that Cheltenham were playing keep-ball whenever they had the ball, that and taking an age between throw-ins.

An ‘almost’ moment on 73. This time Spencer stuck his leg out to try and connect with a curling ball in from Taylor. The pass just evaded his outstretched toe however and Higgs collected with a forward dive.

The crowd noise was depressingly flat given what was at stake. I think the fans were just too nervous to sing. I also got the impression they’d turned out tonight thinking we were bound to get through. There had been that kind of expectant vibe going around all night, the type that I personally cannot stand; it just means a manager you can’t win either way. If you win, it was expected. Any old mug could have beaten Cheltenham at home etc. If you lose though, you’re a f__k-up.

I made my final desperate throw of the dice on 75 minutes. It was Cadamateri for Taylor. The idea behind this was that Cadders would move up front and in doing so turn our formation into a 4.3.3.

The Cheltenham manager responded by sending even more defenders on.

And despite this, it was them who had the next attempt, albeit a speculative one. Hudson-Oboi, who was practically the only Robin venturing into our half now, gathered the ball fifty yards out and decided to have a go. I guess he had no other options really (and I’ll concede that Stubhaug was at least a little bit off his line). Anyway, the ball floated maybe half a yard over. Not far off.

“Come on you dosy f__kers!” I shouted, surprising even Brian. “Sort this s__t out for f__k’s sake!”

More and more minutes were ticking by without any Luton chances. This was really upsetting.

But finally, in the 84th, Poole started something. He did his bit by beating two men and pulling it back to the edge of the area. I could tell Nicholls was in two minds about hitting this and his indecision showed in the end product, a sort of scuffed drag of the ball that went diagonally into the area towards Snowden and a couple of defenders. But Snowden got there ahead of them! And he was quick to get away the snapshot!

But it was beaten away by Higgs. Was there just no beating the man?

Cheltenham were dropping impossibly deep now and it was helping us at least get the ball in the box. Only trouble was, we were not creating golden opportunities with anything like the ratio we needed to. Cadamateri and Snowden both had headers late on where they couldn’t quite get the purchase required on the ball to score.

“Forward! For f__k’s sake do something!”

In the dying deaths, Snowden once again got himself in position. This time the ball pin-balled around before the striker did a little dribble past two men near the penalty spot. It was great skill but room was lacking, and once he’d beaten the final man, Higgs managed to dive in and collect the ball at his feet. Agonising.

It was to be the final notable chance.

“Oh dear” Brian muttered, as the Cheltenham players all ran over to the away section to celebrate.

“Doesn’t matter” I retorted. “The league was always the priority. Nobody cares about the FA Cup these days anyway".


FINAL SCORE (att - 4323)

Luton Town 0

Cheltenham Town 1 (Townsend 41pen)


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As the referee prepared to blow his whistle, one of our eagle-eyed supporters behind the dugout asked me if I’d noticed that Cheltenham had made a change at half time. I thanked him and told him I hadn’t, and that I would use his input to hold an emergency conference with my assistant.

After swopping a few words, Brian and I decided to do nothing.

Brilliant and simple, had me laughing heartly! Sorry about missing out on a major trip to Birmingham and a Villa visit. Could have made for some more fantastic storytelling. Good luck on the rest of the season, and once again thank you for the wonderful story. Searching this thread for updates is still my first action of the day when I show up at work and turn on the computer...

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Thanks, Kong lol. Glad you're still following.


16/12/10 - Flame grilled manager

Some of it I could predict. And some of it I sadly couldn't.

“Yes Andy” I said with a sigh, pointing at his slap-head.

“James, do you think there was an air of overconfidence in the Luton team last night? Do you think minds had started to wander prematurely in the direction of Aston Villa?”

“Not at all. In fact, I actually banned talk of Aston Villa the moment the draw was made. Make no mistake; our minds were firmly on the last night’s match and nothing else”.

“Really? If that’s the case then why did Brian have his Facebook status the other day as – quote – Can’t wait for Aston Villa, followed by four exclamation marks?"

The other journalists all sniggered.

I looked at Brian. His face was red raw all of a sudden and he was trying desperately not to look me in the eye.

“What the hell did you write that for?!” I hissed.

“I couldn’t think of anything else to put that night” he protested, as if making a status had been as necessary as taking a s__t.

“Why did you need to put anything at all?!”

“Well - it’s – it’s for my daughters really. They bug me if I don’t put a status up”.


Still, that last comment did at least give me an idea of how to control the situation I now found myself in.

“There you have it” I said, turning back to the journalists. “He only put that up for his daughters. You know what kids are like when it comes to thinking ahead. See? It wasn’t his comment”.

“Still makes it hard to believe there was a ban on mentioning Aston Villa” Victoria Thornton chirped.

My first instinct in response to that was to point out Brian isn’t one of the ‘players’. But that would have been weak. Instead I went down a different route.

“Why are you people so obsessed with the idea we all got ahead of ourselves prior to last night? Missing out on a Premiership club is hardly the end of the world for a club our size. Luton have probably played hundreds of top flight teams over the years. It's not as if we were Chip Shop FC, still gallantly holding our own after playing fourteen qualifying rounds since the beginning of June. And it’s not as if financially we would have benefited much from a trip to Villa anyway”.

I then went on to repeat Brian’s workings out in the pub about Aston Villa’s crowds compared to ours, and how their crowd would go down from maybe thirty thousand to twenty thousand against a team like Luton in the FA Cup (maybe), and how, seeing as we would only receive 40% of the gate, as per FA rules, that would mean we’d only get the money from about night thousand of the gate, and how we sometimes get close to nine thousand anyway just playing at home.

Long sentence that.

“And you claim you’ve not been thinking ahead to the third round?!” Bill Tulip remarked. “Come off it! All that maths? Sounds to me like you’ve been giving Villa A LOT of thought in your spare time”.

“Actually I just did all that maths right here on the spot” I lied.

“Okay, prove it” said Andy. “Let's see if you really can do maths that quick. What’s a hundred and forty six plus two thousand and sixteen?”

“Oh come off it! Don’t be daft”.

“Ah you see! You won’t prove it. So you were lying; you didn’t do all those workings out on the spot”.

“Okay fine. The answer is two thousand and fifty two”.

“That doesn’t count. You deflected me by calling me daft so you’d have more time to work the sum out”.

“Oh come on – alright fine, ask another one”.

“Three thousand and forty two plus three hundred and sixty five”.

“That would beeee three thousand – “

“Alright, that’s enough” said Brad Scowcroft, raising his hand. “Can we just move onto some more proper questions, please?”

“Yes!” I said through gritted teeth, and looking purposely at a certain someone on the back row. “Good idea, Brad. Who has another proper question to ask?”

“Oh I do!” said a young female voice. “Nicola Willocks, Kenilworth Underground Fortnightly”.

“Yes, Nicola?”

“James, all things considered, and given how close things currently are at the top of the table, do you think it’s probably a blessing in disguise you won’t be going to Vanilla Park?”

As all the other journalists then laughed and turned around to mock that rather unfortunate slip of the tongue, I briefly found myself able to speak to Brian without anyone else hearing.

“One sentence” I said, throwing my pen down in disgust. “All she had to remember was one sentence. How hard is it?"

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17/12/10 - On the outside looking in

I was called into Bob’s office for a meeting today. Even before I went in though, I knew Glynn was going to be chairing it because of the way Bob used the word err when performing the summons. He knew I was potentially not going to like whatever hairbrained scheme Glynn had come up with, and it made him uneasy. I’ve learnt the spot the signs.

Given the fact it was December 17th, it took even less powers of deducement to figure this was going to have something to do with Christmas. Or New Year. Or both.

I had an image in my head of me driving around the side of the pitch towing eleven sleds behind me. Each sled would be carrying a player. We’d all be wearing plastic Rudolph noses and throwing free tickets into the crowd for anyone quick enough to catch them. On the speakers, Merry Xmas Everybody would be playing. I’d be feeling like a tool. Chantelle and Luke would have picked this as their one and only time coming to a Luton game. And they’d be p!ssing themselves. They'd have thought it worth the admission fee alone. In fact they'd probably scurry off again once the actual game kicked off.

But it turned out to be nothing like that thankfully.

“We’re going to be holding a Luton Town themed Santa’s Grotto” Glynn announced. “In the town centre mall. What do you think?”

“And let me guess; you want me to be the Santa?”

“We don’t actually”.

That surprised me, but before I could respond I spotted out the corner of my eye a pile of cards on the corner of Bob’s desk.

The topmost card was a Magic Temple card. It showed a weird three headed snake on it. That meant all the other cards below it would also be Magic Temple. Very unlikely Bob would have a pile of playing cards on his desk with one solitary Magic Temple card placed at the very top. They had to be all Magic Temple. It was a big pile too. Looked at least two decks' worth.

“Something wrong, James?” Bob said with a good natured chuckle.

“Whose are those cards?”

“What? Oh. Those. I found those outside this morning next to where I parked up. They were in a little bag when I first saw them, but then I took them out to have a look. They’re some kind of fancy kid’s cards, am I right Glynn?”

“Yeah. Magic Temple, I think it’s called. Anyway, to go back to what we were saying, no we don’t want you to be Santa”.

“Why?” I finally got around to asking.

“Well err, we think it might be too soon after the cheerleader business”.

For the first time today, I felt steam. Glynn must have sensed it too. He started stuttering and erring more.

“I know you were proven innocent in the end” he continued. “But err, that doesn’t mean the whole err incident won’t still be fresh in the public’s perception. We just don’t think it would be a good idea right now for kids to be sitting on your lap”.

“We’d like Brian to be Santa instead” Bob finished off for him.

“So basically I don’t have to have anything to do with this then?” I queried hotly.

“No we’d still like you to go along” Glynn said quickly. “But just to play it safe, we want you to stand outside the perimeter of where the Grotto will be. We had an idea of one of the present tags saying Congratulations! You get to meet James Martin too! Or something like that. Then you can appear completely by surprise – in normal clothing - wave to the crowd, and then disappear again. Job done”.

“Just wave? Am I not going to be shaking the winning kid’s hand or anything?”

Bob sat forwards and pointed his finger at me.

“Now look, we don’t want any of your funny business. Just wave to all the parents and kids and then be on your bike again. No handshakes! Look at this as a chance to repair any, shall we say, lingering feelings of distrust out there”.

I opened my mouth to protest but Glynn cut me off.

“We’re going to need a couple of assistants to help Brian out. Women. They can dress up as elves or something”.

“Yeah” said Bob. “You can do the recruiting for that, James. Pick out a couple of the office staff to do it”.

“Fine!” I replied.

“Oh, but make sure one of them is Kindra” Glynn insisted. “Some of the mums in the Asian community might be more happy to let their kids take part if they see another Asian”.


“And make sure Nicky is the other one” said Bob. “Let’s get some jolliness into this thing”.

I didn’t reply again. Just sighed. Then I began the goodbye process and rose from my chair.

Before I actually walked out I remembered the pile of Magic Temple cards. They were just sat there. Calling out to me. Beckoning me.

“Hey, if you’ve got no need for those cards, can I take them? Luke might enjoy a game like that”.

“Huh? Oh. Yeah. Sure. Go ahead”.

I might have come into this meeting from the communal office but when I left I went straight to my private one. Then I cleared a space on my desk and began sorting through the cards.

There was a game organised tomorrow for after training. In the canteen. I hadn’t been intending to go. I mean, hell, playing on the coach to pass the boredom is one thing, meeting up on our own time quite another. But hey, no harm in joining in on the occasional social, especially now I have some cards of my own. Just one more big win. Then I’ll probably call it quits.

‘The voodoo doll card is in here! And the fire gauntlets! Jesus, some of these are great cards!’

I still had lots of preparation for Saturday’s game to get through.

It could wait a while. No rush.

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18/04/04 - Coming apart at the seams.

I left a message on Briony’s mobile just before 3pm. It took until after 10pm for her to call me back. Seven whole hours. That’s the problem with seeing marrying women. Single ones can generally call you back when they want. Married ones have to wait until the husband isn’t around.

“Finally!” I said, leaving the living room and heading upstairs.

“Sorry. You know how it is”.

“Yeah. Listen, this isn’t a personal call. Something happened at the ground today. Wondered if you could shed any light on it”.

“Oh? What?”

Now having reached the bedroom, I turned the light on and walked in. I spent the rest of the call pacing up and down.

“Training finished after just ten minutes" I went on. "More or less. Someone came to talk to Mike. I think it might have been Emil – that director – can’t remember his second name. Anyway, when Mike came back he told us to pack up. Said something had come up and that we could have the afternoon off. Didn’t make sense to me though. All that effort to get everyone down on a Sunday and he just pulls the plug after ten minutes without giving us a good reason”.

“James – “

“And another weird thing, the atmosphere when everyone was getting changed again was really weird. Obviously I don’t talk to anyone down as there as a rule so I didn’t ask anyone if they knew anything, but I kind of got the impression most of the other players knew more than I did”.

“James – “

“I mean I wondered if maybe there’s been some kind of development with the club’s financial problems. It’s an obvious conclusion to come to when a suited director comes storming across the pitch and – “



“Just listen to me for a minute”.

I shut my mouth and prepared to let her speak. I didn’t stop pacing though. I was back in my old bedroom at my mum and dad’s house for the night. It was a big room. Even someone my size could take quite a few paces before having to turn around and go the other way again. One benefit of being an only child is that you don’t have to compete for the second largest bedroom.

“The turnstile scammers have been rumbled” Briony informed me.


“You heard”.

“Rumbled by who? I didn’t do it”.

“Yeah I figured as much or you would have told me, right? Truth is; nobody knows who did the whistle blowing. Well, Mike and I don’t know anyway. Someone did though. And now the whole club’s got its knickers in a twist wondering what to do about it. Literally, Mike’s been so wound up about the whole thing he’s hardly been able to sit down for more than five minutes all night. He’s in the bath at the minute. Hopefully it’ll calm him down”.

“Were the same people involved you thought would be involved?”

“All and more”.

I pondered this for a moment or two.

All and more meant Caplan and Crusher at the very least. Maybe one or two others as well. Not to mention Tinny, the hanger on.

Briony didn’t need to tell me why the club was in turmoil over this. It was because of the players involved. If it had been two or three bench warmers doing the swindling then no biggie. Said players could be gotten rid of probably without the fans even noticing.

For someone like Crusher to be involved though - local hero and fans’ favourite – well, the locals would be quite literally crushed. There would be also be bad press, police involvement, and potential FA sanctions to contend with. Not to mention the inevitable loss of form on the pitch once Crusher, Caplan, and any others involved, were shipped out. They would have to be. Their positions would be absolutely untenable. You don’t rob a club and then carry on playing for it.

So right this minute, I was absolutely certain, the directors and various other Shay V.I.Ps would be all bickering over whether to take the hard line (and thus accept the inevitable consequences of such a stance), or try and cover the whole thing up, if that was even still possible. There would be many conflicts of interest. Many conflicts of opinion.

“He’s getting out the bath!” Briony suddenly said, puncturing the silence. “I can hear him. I’m gonna have to go”.


“Listen, you be careful whilst all this is getting sorted out. If the d__ks who were doing this don’t know who dobbed them in, it’s not impossible they could think it was you. Tinny saw you looking in on him, remember? And they don’t like you anyway”.

“I don’t care if they think it was me”.

“Maybe, but these people aren’t sensible members of society like you or I, James. It wouldn’t surprise me if they roughed you up or something on some misguided notion of revenge”.

“No, they can try and rough me up. Big difference”.

“Oh s__t! Gotta go! Bye!”

And with that, the phone went dead. Brass had obviously come back down the staircase a lot quickly than she’d thought he would.

I didn’t care. The call had been more or less coming to a natural conclusion anyway. Sighing at the tribulations of the day, I went back downstairs myself and made some coffee.

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17/12/10 - The study

I love my new study. It’s like a little room directly beneath the staircase; a bit like that one Harry Potter sleeps in only four times as big. I’ve got a computer in there, a bookshelf, a DVD shelf, and a radio. It’s like my own little private retreat, somewhere I can go when I need to just hide away from the world a little while. There’s even a latch on the door I can use when I want to guarantee Luke can’t come in and bug me.

My study is also a good place to play online Magic Temple.

“Come on, take your damn turn!”

My username is Darkhat, the hat bit an obviously reference to Luton’s nickname and the dark bit a reference to the fact I consider myself a dark, mysterious player. Something like that.


“Christ’s sake!” I shouted again. “How long does it take to click on a card?!”

My opponent in the latest scuffle was called Caz#6. A poor name if you ask me. Anyone who uses numbers at the end of their nick because they can’t be bothered picking an original one is lazy. At least if you ask me.

I also didn’t like Caz#6 because the word Caz reminded me of Caroline, a subject that’s been giving me fresh pain in recent days (in light of Towzer’s revelation in the pub). Such is the anonymity of the internet, Caz could have been Caroline herself for all I knew, logging in from a chat-room in the afterlife. I don’t think Magic Temple was around when Caroline was still alive but I reckon it’s something she might have enjoyed.

Anyway, finally, Caz#6 took his/her turn. She put a poisoned knife down. The picture on the virtual ‘card’ showed an arm holding a big machete type thing with green goo dripping from the end of it.

“Hmm” I thought out loud.

Time to check my manual. It’s a very extensive manual. I’ve been gradually adding to it every night I’ve been playing. I write down moves, counter moves, combos, everything that happens during every single game. It’s like a log, if you like. I keep it neat too. I’ve got it in a proper binder that I nicked from the office. Each section is separated by different coloured bits of card.

I’ll probably just shove it in the bin once I finally jack the game in for good. For now though, whilst these games at the football club are still going on, and whilst I’m still playing online at night to practice for the real thing, I’ll keep updating it. Can't hurt.

‘Now then, I’m sure I’ve got something to combat a poisoned knife. Something rang a bell just then when I saw the card come out’.

But despite that sentiment, I couldn’t find anything in my hand that was going to be useful. It looked like I was just going to have to take the hit. Didn’t matter. I was two-nil up in the scuffle at the moment. I could afford to take a hit at this juncture and still go on to win.

Taking a sip of my coffee, I clicked on my shield card. This would at least reduce the incoming damage a little bit.

Just then the door to the study opened and Chantelle came in. I was surprised to see she was in her dressing gown.



“Going to bed early, are we?” I asked, as she came up behind me.

“Early? It’s past half ten!”

“Is it?!”

I looked at the computer screen. 10.37pm. She was right.

“Jesus. So it is”.

“Uh-huh! You’ve been in here three hours! Don’t tell me you’ve been playing that stupid game of yours this whole time?!

“Eh? No. Don’t be daft. Only just turned it on actually. I’ve been working on a new formation for Saturday”.


It wasn’t a sarcastic right, believe it or not. Once she’d said it I felt her hands come down on my shoulders, at which point she began to give me an impromptu shoulder massage.

“When are you gonna be finished?” she went on, a soft purry tone now coming out. “This baby’s not gonna make itself you know”.

“Well err – “

"Your choice of course. I’m not staying up all night waiting for you though”.

I delayed in replying, choosing instead to mull over the options available to me here. Then I privately lambasted myself for it. Like a man should choose Magic Temple over making love to his wife!

“I’ll be up in five minutes. Just let me finish this hand. I’ve got twenty quid on it!”

“Okay” she said, kissing me on the side of the head. “And make sure it is only five minutes”.

She turned around to leave.

Once she’d gone however, I made full use of the five minutes. First I finished the scuffle (and won). Then I checked my notepad by the side of the monitor to see how much money I’d won and lost over the course of the evening. Then I carefully put my manual away. Then I put my coloured pens away, the ones I’ve been using to colour-code each section of the manual. Then I texted the lads at work about tomorrow’s game in the canteen. Then I looked up that poisoned knife thing online to see what counters it. Then I logged off.

Then I went upstairs to get naked.

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18/12/10, League Match 19

Luton Town v Grimsby Town

GK – Lars Stubhaug (24 apps, 0 goals)

DL – Richie Byrne (61 apps, 1 goal)

DR – Claude Gnakpa (120 apps, 3 goals)

DC – Tony James (78 apps, 4 goals)

DC – Dorian Moore (16 apps, 0 goals)

DMC – Kevin Nicholls (94 apps, 23 goals)

MC – Keith Keane (113 apps, 13 goals)

ML – Charlie Daniels (71 apps, 6 goals)

MR – Michael Taylor (59 apps, 5 goals)

FC – Edgar Snowden (6 apps, 3 goals)

FC – Dean Bowditch (49 apps, 21 goals)

After Tuesday’s poor showing, I was very keen to get back to winning ways in this our final outing before Christmas. I’ve got reasonably happy memories of playing The Mariners. We took four points off them the last time we were in League Two; we drew 1-1 at Kenilworth before stealing all three points in the return game at Blundell Park, a 2-1 triumph the order of the day on that occasion. I seem to remember meeting up with Cassie before that latter occasion. Long time ago now.

The only change in personnel today was at the back, although whether continuity in team selection was a good or bad thing given the result against Cheltenham, I wasn’t sure. Anyway, the one change was Gnakpa for Ides.

We did thankfully shoot a lot better than on Tuesday.

In the 14th minute Nicholls picked up the ball and began running towards the left. It looked like he was intent on passing to Daniels, but he didn’t. Instead he clipped the ball with the outside of his right boot down the throat of the Grimsby defence. Snowden ran onto it, and seemingly in slow motion, gathered and went through on goal. The Mariners were extraordinarily slow to react.

Snowden took a moment to compose himself as goalkeeper Flitney approached, then side-footed hard and low through the defences. The net bulged (centrally) and we were one up.

As the crowd roared, I raised a fist pump down by my side and counted myself slightly fortunate. I hadn’t done much preparation prior to this match. I’d pretty much sent out a vanilla eleven and hoped for the best. Sometimes that’s the way to go though. Sometimes you can over-think things. You can over-prepare. At least, that’s what I reckon.

Guaranteed, if you watch Match of the Day at any point in December but before the 25th, you’ll hear a commentator describe a piece of defending as being like an early Christmas present. Well, in the 21st minute today we received ours from Grimsby. It might as well have been gift-wrapped in Lincolnshire and sent to Luton via recorded delivery.

No way in hell was Taylor going to get to Bennett before the defender shielded it out for a goal kick, but Bennett decided to play it ultra safe and pass it sideways. Only trouble was, the direction of his pass was taking the ball into the penalty area. Intended recipient Heywood wasn’t on the same page – not even the same book – and Bowditch stole in to intercept. The keeper wasn’t positioned very well either, and this allowed Bowditch the chance to slam into an unguarded net.

“I know that last goal wasn’t a good example” Brian began. “But I think we look like Holland when we’re playing well. Because of the orange kits”.

Not the greatest observation ever made by someone at a football match.

“You’ve obviously never actually watched Holland much” I replied.

“Next time I go to B & Q, I’m tempted to compare the two kits; the Luton home one and the Holland home one”.

“Eh?! Since when have B & Q sold Luton and Holland kits?”

“They don’t, but in the paint section they have these bits of card with loads of different coloured shades on them, so you can pick out what exactly what shade of paint you want. If you compared both the Holland and Luton kits with the shades of orange that B & Q have got, you could probably see how many shades apart they are. If any. Would be interesting to know”.

Would it? I wasn’t sure it would.

Still, I did chuckle privately at the thought of some young shelf stacker stumbling across Brian in the paint section comparing two football kits to the colours in the paint brochure. Sometimes he doesn’t half come out with some s__t.

In a mostly tight first half (aside from the goals), Snowden tripled our advantage in the 33rd minute. Keane fed Daniels through the inside channel and the winger showed good fleet of foot, and vision, to pull it square across the area for Snowden. Despite being only ten yards out on receiving the pass, there was still a fair bit to do here. Snowden hardly had any space to work with but skilfully avoided the attentions of Stocksdale and Heywood. Then he hammered a left footed shot through Flitney. Get in!

A very comfortable afternoon then was in progress as we trotted down the tunnel. Could Grimsby find any way back in the second period? It didn’t look likely.

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18/12/10 - Team talk in progress. Keep out.

There was no time to waste once we were in the dressing room. Those who wanted to play Magic Temple got their cards out and those who didn’t stayed the f__k out of the way.

Brian hadn’t been privy to the plans. He looked stunned.

“You’re going to play now?! At half time?”

“Yeah. Just a quick hand. You in?”

“No. Look, no offence or anything but I need a cuppa right now. Not a game of cards. James – “

Before continuing, he glanced around the room to check we weren’t being overheard. Then he lowered his voice.

“James, don’t you think this is going a bit far? I mean Christ, half time games now?! We need to be thinking about the second half, not playing this!”

“Give over, man! We’re three nil up! Second half’s a formality”.

“Yeah but what concerns me is, you didn’t know we were going to be three-nil up this morning when you planned this”.

“I did actually. I had a weird premonition last night we were gonna batter them. Now come on; out of the way, mate, You’re holding us up!”

He sighed. Then he tottered off to the coffee tray. Path clear, I turned to the face the people who were up for a game. Most had already taken their seats on the floor in a little oval shape.

“Right” I said. “No time to waste so listen up. Obviously we can’t play a full game so this is just going to be Skirmish mode – three point scuffles instead of five – no carry over on the double hits – six card switchovers – blind magic deck – Bane’s whisky incurs no penalty – no safe havens – no elixir retainers – unlimited power downs – oh, and no actual money today, only IOU’s – Any questions?”

Slow shakes of the head from around the oval.

And so, we got going. Eight of us in total. I wasn’t involved in the early scuffles so I had time to take my phone out and lay it down next to my thigh. That way I could keep an eye on the time.

I don’t know how long we’d been playing when the changing room door opened. Maybe as little as three minutes. Maybe as long as ten. Time will often get distorted when you’re playing Magic Temple. It’s as if one of the wizards in the game actually casts a spell that distorts the players’ sense of time.

Anyway, the door opened – barely – and in squeezed Brian. I must admit, I hadn’t noticed him leave in the first place.

“Psst” he said, bending down in my ear.

“What now?”

“I just went to the loo and the ref accosted me. He wants to speak to you. He’s right outside the door”.

As much as it isn’t against F.A rules for a team to play Magic Temple at half time (at least, I don’t think it is), I still didn’t want the ref coming in here and seeing us playing it.

Neither though did I want to pack the cards away.

“What does he want?” I whispered back.

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask”.

“Well go and tell him I’m busy doing my team talk or something! And be careful when you open the door to go back out. Don’t let him see inside”.

“Can’t you do it instead?”

“No. I’m in the middle of a game! Come on, mate. Help us out here, will you?”

Sighing even louder than the last time he’d sighed, my assistant stood up straight again and turned to the door. Then he opened it, slightly, and began to squeeze himself through into the corridor. He was definitely overdoing the act, mind. Any idiot would have been able to tell he was trying to hide something.

“Err, James is busy right now” we then heard him say. “He’s doing his team talk”.

“Really?" replied a different voice. "I can’t hear anyone talking in there. Come on, let me through. I just need to have a quick word with him about some of the tackling going on out there”.

“No you can’t! You see err – lots of them are naked in there at the moment too”.

“That’s fine! Trust me, being a referee, you get used to seeing naked blokes in changing rooms week in week out. It really doesn’t bother me”.

“Yeah but the thing is – “

Brian hesitated, clearly looking for another ‘out’.

“The thing is” he went on. “Some of them are gay. If you went in there right now, it would make them feel really uncomfortable. A bit like if they were naked straight women and you walked in. You see?”

‘Jesus Christ’ I thought.

“Gay?” replied the ref, his voice slightly more unsteady now. “Okay but err why would they be naked at half time? Surely they’d only be naked either before the match or after it”.

"Well - "

Just give it up, Brian. Just give it up. It’s not worth it’.

“Yeah – the thing is – the reason they get naked at half time – it’s because – it’s just their way of de-stressing themselves, I guess. You know. Together".

A silence ensued. It sounded like the ref was doing some long hard thinking.

“Okay” he eventually conceded. “I’ll leave them to it. Good luck for the second half”.

And just like that he buggered off. His footsteps as he left sounded extremely quick. Shame he hadn't been that quick when Taylor had danced away in the 8th minute. He might have kept up with the play.

Brian waited a second to watch him leave, then came back inside.

“What?” he asked the room, seeing that everyone was looking at him (even the non card players).

“You probably should have just told him we were playing Magic Temple” I replied.

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Love the whole Magic Temple bit. Had a good friend who was an addict to the real thing, so I totally get it. Anyway, brilliant- you have a creative mind working, lots of stuff I would never have thought to read in and FM story!

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Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.


Just before we went back out, I reminded the players about the forthcoming Magic Temple evening, to be held at my house. Happy days.

Grimsby came out looking a lot more purposeful. Boshell and Hibbert interlinked well in the 47th minute, the former eventually shooting from just outside the area. Stubhaug watched it carefully and parried the ball away to the near side. A warning shot.

I suddenly felt rather uncomfortable in my own shoes, as if the fact we hadn’t said one word about the match at half time might come back to bite me. Three nil had seemed an insurmountable lead in the dressing room. Now that we were out here though, and Grimsby were attacking, it didn’t seem so big.

A better chance wasn’t long in coming. The black and white stripes attacked well down the left, Perry doing most of the legwork. His whippy cross had James and Moore in sixes and sevens and McQuoid got between both of them. It was a good chance to score from just eight yards out but the header was mistimed. It was glanced down into the ground and wide (and maybe even high in the bargain).

A goal was coming and I had to pre-empt that. On went Cadamateri for Bowditch and Kearns for Keane. No protest from Keane today; he was still in too good a mood from winning twenty five quid at half time.

No changes from Grimsby yet.

Our first effort of the half came on 64. It should have made the game safe too. Daniels took the ball to the by-line and pulled it back to the corner edge of the six yard. It was a scuffed centre and Newey should have cleared it. But then Stockdale got in his way and they basically made a complete hash of things. So then the ball popped up to Kearns – twelve yards out and mainly central. He had just enough time for a first time half volley but pulled it half a yard past the far post.

That was as good as it got though. The Mariners came straight back with a guilt-edged chance of their own. Llewellyn lumped a long ball forward and McQuoid got between the central defensive pair. He was in on Stubhaug here but tried to go around the keeper instead of shoot. His touch was too strong and the ball zoomed out for a goal kick.

I felt a bit more at ease as we moved into the final twenty. I knew that even if Grimsby nicked one now, it would still be hard to get two more in the time that was left. We were looking good for the points.

Still, just to waste a few more seconds, I used my third and final substitution in the 76th minute. On went Ides for Byrne. Grimsby also made changes at this juncture, sending on Leslie, Bolland, and North.

It looked like panic-subbing to me, but then they only went and scored, didn’t they? A corner was floated in by Haldane and the wind seemed to hold it up somewhat. Thus, whereas most of the players in the area thought the ball was going to come down fairly centrally, it ended up dropping more towards the near post. Quickest to react was substitute North, who lifted up a high boot and deflected it over the line. How often do you see that – a toe poked volley home from a corner? Not often. Shocking defending.

I checked my watch. Eight minutes to go. Still time for Grimsby if they could string a few more moves together.

But they couldn’t. They just weren’t a good enough side to go on a madcap goal glitz. There was too much p!ssing about between each attack. They did get half a chance to shoot in the eighty fifth but Bolland leaned too far back and that was high all the way.

For our part, we almost grabbed an undeserved fourth goal in injury time. I would have liked to have seen this one go in because it was Cadamateri on the end of it. But alas, not to be. The lad could only volley wide from close to the penalty spot after a neat dink into the box by Kearns.


FULL TIME (att - 6962)

Luton Town 3 (Snowden 14, 33, Bowditch 21)

Grimsby Town 1 (North 82)


(other results)

Yeovil 2-1 Lincoln

Accrington 2-1 Oldham

Barnet 1-2 Exeter

Bournemouth 3-1 Walsall

Brentford 1-1 Wycombe

Chester 1-0 Aldershot

Darlington 2-1 Cheltenham

Grays 1-2 Shrewsbury

Hereford 3-0 Rotherham

Notts County 3-0 Chesterfield

Rochdale 1-2 Torquay


(top of table)

1 - Yeovil (35)

2 - Shrewsbury (35)

3 - Darlington (34)


4 - Luton (34)

5 - Exeter (34)

6 - Rochdale (32)

7 - Wycombe (32)


8 - Grimsby (32)

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Thanks Chao


20/12/10 - The grotto (part 1)

(‘Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock! Jingle bell swing and jingle bells ring. Snowing and blowing up boshels of fun. Now the jingle hop has begun!’)

Dancing around in their little elf outfits singing Jingle Bell Rock, Nicky and Kindra were quite simply mesmorizing. Well okay, Nicky was mesmorising. And yeah, okay, they weren’t actually dancing. It was more like a side by side sway of the hips, mixed in with a bit of finger clicking. Still, it was mesmerising. I could hardly take my eyes off them.

In his big fat Santa outfit and clip-on beard, Brian was somewhat less sexy. But at least he was giving the gig his care and attention. The locals were queuing in their numbers, just as Glynn would have wanted. Brian was acting his part well. I suppose he’s had plenty of practice at this sort of thing with his two daughters.

As for me, I was stood hidden in a hoodie just on the outside of the temporary fence that encircled the ‘grotto’. The fence covered three sides of this enclosed area, the open end obviously being where the punters rolled in and then rolled back out again. Brian was perched fairly centrally, two sacks full of presents either side of him. Nicky and Kindra were on a raised platform behind him. There was a Christmas tree on Kindra’s side of the platform.

“Ho ho ho!” boomed Brian to the latest kid on his knee. “There you go, young man. You have a very happy Christmas now”.

“Thanks” replied the kid’s mother.

I waited until they’d both trundled off. Then I leaned over the fence as far as I could.

“You’re supposed to say Have a nice Luton Town Christmas” I said with a chuckle.

“Oh don’t give me that! That's one thing I’m not obeying Glynn on. Christmas is Christmas. It doesn’t belong to Luton Town. Or anybody else for that matter!”

Had to agree with him on that one.

(‘Mix and a-mingle in the jingling feet. That’s the jingle bell, that’s the jingle, that’s the jingle bell rock!’)

I’d never worn a hoodie before today. This one wasn’t mine. I’d borrowed it off Darren. It was important to keep my face hidden though. I wasn’t planning on revealing myself to the rest of the mall until about ten minutes before we were due to pack away. Then Brian would grab his secret microphone and announce who I was for the people who didn’t know (which would probably be most people).


This came from the side of me, from a voice standing outside the enclosure.

Lo and behold it was Scott Spencer. Small town is Luton.

“Oh err hi, Scott”.

“I thought that was you, boss. What you doing here? Oh!”

Scott had just that moment spotted Brian, Nicky, Kindra, and the whole ghetto set-up, thus rendering explanations unnecessary. Probably simultaneously, I spotted some of Scott’s teammates through the window of JJB Sports across the mall; Keane, Daniels, and Moore, to name but a few. Ten to one on they were all shopping together and Scott had just happened to walk out before the rest of them.

“Cheesy isn’t it?” I said, in reference to the grotto. “I’m the secret special guest. Just before we pack up I’m going to be jumping over the fence, pulling my hood down, and waving to whoever’s around”.


“I probably would have been playing Santa myself but, well – “

“It’s because of the fake cheerleader allegation, right?”

“Yeah. How did you – “

“Glynn tried to rope a few of us into appearing too but we all said no. He mentioned that you wouldn’t be playing Santa though, funnily enough. Seems a bit harsh if you ask me. Anyone with any brains knows you didn’t do anything to that girl”.

In subtle appreciation of his support, I nodded my head. Over on the platform meanwhile, Nicky and Kindra were now getting stuck into a rendition of Simply having a wonderful Christmas time.

“Just one thing though, boss”.


“I’m not sure this secret guest thing is the best of ideas”.

“Why not?”

“Well, if anyone recognises you stood there, they might think you really are a paedophile, and that the hoodie is to hide your identity whilst you stand at the side gawping at the kids”.

A chill ran through my bones.

“No-one will spot me in this!” I said sharply.

“No? That’s funny, because I had no trouble. Just saying”.

And with that he walked off again.

Suddenly feeling rather nervous about this whole thing, I pulled my hood a bit further down over my forehead. Then I adjusted my standing position so I wasn’t so obviously looking in Brian’s direction.

‘Christ. This is another fine mess you've got me into, Glynn'.

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20/12/10 - The grotto (part 2)

To make matters worse, there were a group of four youths huddled behind the back of the grotto. They’d been there a while now. Mostly they were spending their time looking at Nicky’s backside, but at intervals they were also leaning over the fence stealing baubles off the tree, or fiddling with the fence decorations. They were getting right on my nerves.

For a while I did nothing about it. I couldn’t risk exposing myself. Spencer had surely been right; anyone who spotted me observing events in the grotto hidden in a hoodie might jump to the wrong conclusion.

But then it occurred to me, if it were the youths who identified me, and they did so whilst I was stood over there behind the tree looking right at them i.e. not looking anywhere near the queue of kids and parents, surely the whole paedophile connection wouldn’t immediately be one that would spring to mind? In fact, how would they even know about the connection at all? Nobody outside the club or the media knew anything about that whole episode.

My mind was then fully made up when the smallest of the youths, a guy in a Puma tracksuit and New York baseball cap, began reaching up trying to actually touch Nicky. The idea presumably was that because she was dancing she might not notice.

I noticed though. So over I trotted.

“Oi!” I exclaimed. “I can see what you’re doing, lads, and let me tell you, you’re one wrong move away from a hiding. Now clear off the lot of you”.

Immediately the small one withdrew his hand from over the fence. The others just stared at me, not quite knowing what to make of the threat.

(‘The party’s on! The feelin’s here! That only comes! This time of year! Simply – having – a wonderful Christmas time!’)

“What do you care?” asked a tall gangly one.

“I own the grotto” I lied. “Now seriously, clear off”.

“What-f__king-ever” said the short one.

“Yeah whatever, mate” said a third.

Despite the bravado, they still began inching away from me at that point. At least until they were five yards back. Then they stopped. I knew what this was about; they were obeying my order but without actually fully clearing off. It was a show of petulance. Well, that was fine. A gap of five yards I could cope with. I just hoped they didn’t get cute and go straight back to Nicky once I’d turned my back. Then I would have no choice but to step up the terror.

But they didn’t go back. A minute later they were stood in exactly the same spot.

‘They listened to me then. Good. And they didn’t recognise me either. Even better’.


That took me by complete surprise. It was so loud I reckon the whole mall probably heard it. Even over the music.

Twisting around, I saw it was Keith Keane. Him, Spencer, Daniels, Moore, and Byrne, were all stood directly across from me on the other side of the grotto. They were so square on in fact that Brian was almost blocking my line of sight. They must have all just that minute left JJB Sports.

“BOSS!” Keane shouted again. “What you doing in that hoodie?!”

“Shush!” I said quietly, flapping my arms about.

A few seconds then passed as Keane looked away to further survey the scene. Shortly afterwards a big grin flashed over his face.

“Hey! You’re not doing your paedophile thing again are you?!”

“Shut the hell up!” I hissed, but not loud enough to be heard.


Remarkably only about two of the twenty-odd parents seemed to pay any mind to this. The trouble is, the two that did completely freaked out..

“PAEDOPHILE!” shouted one of them, a plump woman with rosy cheeks.

“HIM THERE!” called out the other, pointing with a finger.

The chain reaction of panic was now well and truly under way.

The Asian woman at the front made the next move, grabbing her kid off Brian’s lap and running as fast as she could in the opposition direction.

“QUICK, GET THE KIDS OUT!” shouted someone else, a redhead in her forties.

In the blink of an eye the whole queue had turned on its heels and begun literally tripping over each other in a madcap bid to flee the enclosure. It was as if one of Brian’s presents had turned out to be a box full of wasps.

(‘The choir – of- children - sing – their - song! Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, oh oh!)

Instinctively I tried to remedy the mess. I jumped over the fence and ran towards the fleeing masses. I think the intention was to talk sense into them. Something like that.

But I never made it anywhere near them.

Three big blokes I hadn’t previously seen came out of nowhere and floored me. The biggest one of them all was sat on my arms before I even knew what was happening.

“That’s as far as you go, paedo!” he said, bending down towards my ear.

“Get off me!”

“Not a chance”.

Even down on the ground, I could see out the corner of my eye further chaos developing over by the platform. Those youths I’d spoken to earlier had now adopted mob mentality and were kicking the Christmas tree to bits. Nicky and Kindra had seen enough; they’d fled into Boots. Santa had gone the other way into Holland and Barrett. His beard had fallen off halfway there. Some poor sod slipped on it like a banana skin and went straight into the back of a wheelchair.

Not sure where the footballers had gone. Probably vanished in shame. F__kers.

Most people though were just scurrying about blindly, here, there, and everywhere (except for the two mall security guards with walkie-talkies, who ominously seemed to be heading in my direction). It was generally a complete madhouse. Not many people seemed to know why they were actually running about.

And yet over the top of it all, McCartney just carried on singing.

(‘Simply – having - a wonderful Christmas time!’)

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Yeah sort of agree with mcglede, the rest of the story is great including the off-the-field stuff but the paedo storyline doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of it. Still, you're doing a great job apart from that, keep it up!

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