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Jumping Through Hoops


Celtic_1967

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Some of you may remember that I started this story about this time last year. It never really got off the ground as I didn't have the time to commit to it. That has changed somewhat now and so I am restarting this story.

I shall be using FM10 (Large DB, England to L2, Scotland to Div3 and some of the major European leagues). There will be one edit to the DB, but I'm keeping the details of that to myself for now.

The first 3 chapters of the story were written using FM09 so I have had to do some creative writing to allow me to move over to FM10 without the need to start from scratch. As such the time lines may not be perfect. If anyone spots anything the seems to not add up timing wise I respectfully ask that it not be pointed out.

I've thought hard about the time lines over the last couple of days and chances are if you spot a mistake I'm already aware of it and have decided to ignore it for the sake of making the story easier to write.

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No-one was sure where the gaffer was, but I was about to find out.

‘Kowalski’ boomed a voice across the dressing room.

I looked up and saw the chairman standing in the door way. He sounded ****ed off. Everyone was staring at me now.

‘Yes, Mr. Chairman’ I said as I stood up and made my way over to the door. I hoped to God that I wasn’t the reason he was ****ed.

‘My office, ten minutes’ he said as he turned and closed the door behind him.

Sensing something was about to go down the changing room fell almost silent. I hurriedly got changed and combed my hair. As I went out of the door I threw my car keys at one of the Under-19’s who was busily cleaning boots and asked him to put my training kit in my car.

I headed to the small office that housed the chairman on the odd occasion that he was at the training ground. As I approached the door I started to feel sick. I suspected the worst. The season had finished the day before and as such my contract was up very soon. At 34 I was hoping for 1 more year, but that seemed unlikely now.

I knocked on the door.

‘Come’ said the voice from beyond.

I entered the room slowly; the chairman had his back to me. His assistant, Jennifer, flashed me a reassuring smile. I only wished she knew how pretty she was and how much I loved her.

The man behind the glass topped oak desk turned in his chair and dismissed his assistant. I tried to smile in her direction as she left the room, but I was so blinded by her beauty that I couldn’t even look in her direction before she closed the office door.

‘Mr Reid’ I stuttered as calmly as I could, ‘if this is about my new contra......’

‘Be quiet Kowalski’ he interrupted.

I was immediately silent. I felt so vulnerable stood there; this man had the power to end my playing career. A career that had covered 17 years and taken me from growing up in Manchester, starting my professional career at Altrincham, moving on to Rochdale, Southampton, Manchester City, New York and finally here, the club of my dreams. I desperately didn’t want this to be the end.

The Chairman looked up from his computer and gestured for me to sit down. I did.

‘Thanks for joining me Mike. I have some good news and some bad news for you. Some of it affects you personally and the rest of it affects the club as a whole.’

‘Ok, can we get the personal bad news out of the way first’ I asked, daring to hope that this wasn’t the end.

‘As far as the club is concerned your playing days are over.’

My heart sank; I loved this club more than anything. I’d been supporting the club since I was 11. I still remember my first match, standing with my Dad and one of my younger brothers watching a two nil win. From then on it was my club. Even playing in the park as a kid I played for the jersey. My Grandad had bought it for my birthday because my parents couldn’t afford it.

‘Mr Chairman,’ I pleaded, ‘I know I’ve got one more seaso......’

‘I’m sorry Mike, I know you’re the club captain but the board feel that you aren’t up to the task of top flight football any longer.’

Something wasn’t right. Did he say the board weren’t convinced? **** the board, it wasn’t their decision, it was the managers.

‘I’d like to see the manager please’ I said, ‘I’m fairly sure staff contracts are his decision.’

‘Well therein lies the problem, you see’ said the chairman, ‘we have no manager as he has just resigned his post’.

‘What?’

‘Apparently couldn’t stand the abuse from the fans any longer, they’ve wanted him out for quite some time. He decided that the time was right.’

‘Ok, so you want me, as club captain to go and tell the rest of the lads the score, yeah?’

‘Not quite, the board know you love the club and that you were looking for some extra responsibility around the training ground.’

‘That’s right’ I said.

‘How would you like to manage this great club?’ the chairman asked.

‘Erm....’ I was stunned. ‘Erm......’

‘I understand if you need some time to think it through’.

**** thinking it through, I thought. I want this opportunity. Defensive midfielder and club captain are one thing, but manager of this famous club, that’s an entirely different thing. It’s a job I would crawl through broken glass and **** for. I’m not letting this get away.

‘No not necessary, I accept’.

‘Don’t you want to discuss terms?’

‘Not really, what ever you have planned for salary and contract length will be fine’. I hesitated for just one second as a thought manifested in my head, ‘actually I do have one requirement Mr Chairman.’

‘Mike, call me John, what do you need?’

‘Jennifer’ I replied.

‘What? My assistant....’

‘Yeah...is that ok?’ I asked.

‘Well not really, she’s a good assistant, but I tell you what, if you can find me a replacement whose as good then Jennifer can be your assistant.’

The challenge was on! I would find the best damn replacement there was! My head was spinning, in fact I only heard the chairman the second time he spoke.

‘Mike, you can go now, but not a word to anyone, we aren’t going to announce the appointment just yet. That way you have four or five weeks to get acclimatised, but as far as we are concerned you’re the manager as from now. Expect to see your contract tomorrow; I need it signed straight away’.

‘John, we might have a problem. I don’t have my Uefa Pro Licence yet?’

‘Ok, no problem, tell Jennifer to sort out the course in the next 2 weeks, and that the club are paying for it.’

‘Thank you sir’ I replied, and with that I headed for the door.

As I stepped through the door I was full of confidence. I stopped at Jennifer’s desk and passed on the chairman’s message.

‘I’ll sort it for you now boss’ was her reply.

‘You were listening weren’t you?’ I asked.

Jennifer looked shamefaced, ‘I’m sorry’ she said meekly.

‘No worries. Do you want to come and be the management team assistant?’

‘Absolutely, I love y...... I mean I’d love to’.

As I walked out into the corridor I threw her my best cheeky wink....’better hope I can find a decent replacement then’.

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I went down to the changing room and located my car keys. Heading out to the car park I didn’t say a word to anyone. Getting into my car I couldn’t keep the grin from my face. It was like being 11 all over again, opening that birthday present and seeing the shirt of my heroes peeking out from under the wrapping, especially when you consider the disappointment I’d faced a few weeks before. Being told that I wasn’t getting the one thing I wanted more than anything hurt like hell. Now I had more than I ever wanted and no intention of letting go.

4 hours after I got home there was a knock at the door. I opened it and was greeted by a delivery driver.

‘Mike Kowalski?’

‘Yeah’

‘Sign here’ he said thrusting a pen and clipboard into my hands.

I signed and he thrust a large box into my arms. Clutching the box I staggered into my front room. I set the box down on the floor and proceeded to tear of the packing tape. Inside was all sorts of bags and boxes, along with a handwritten note.

I put the note to one side and began to unwrap the items. I had been sent a brand new set of training gear complete with boots, a brand new Blackberry mobile and a top of the range laptop. I picked the note up and began to read:

‘Dear Mr Kowalski,

I have prepared the enclosed items for you at the Chairman’s request. With regards to the laptop it has mobile broadband built in, so you can access the club systems anywhere in the world. Also I have installed a little surprise for you. Sorry it’s not totally up-to date, but the newest version isn’t available yet.’

The note was signed ‘Jen’ x

I was intrigued to know what this surprise was, so I booted up the laptop to check it out. Nothing obvious on the desktop. Ah, found it, hiding in the programs list. Football Manager 2008 That made me laugh.

I decided that any girl with a sense of humour was worth having around, but to do that I was going to have to find a replacement. Might as well make a start on that. I found the desktop icon that linked into the club servers and connected. Having written the Personal Assistant ad I emailed it to Jen and asked her to place it in all the major newspapers.

Looking at my inbox I found that I had a message from the Chairman.

‘Mike,

I understand that you will want to review your staff and make changes accordingly, however at present we insist that the club retain the services of Gary Pendry as Assistant Manager as the cost implications of terminating his contract are huge. However other than that you may hire and fire the staff you see fit.

Currently we are working on your budgets for the season, we will update you on 19th June when all club budgets are finalised.

As a supporter I look forward to seeing this club move on to great things and as such offer you an ‘unofficial’ welcome to Celtic Football Club in your new position as manager.

Officially we will announce your appointment once the squad returns from holiday, as such we wish for you to keep a low profile, however feel free to use the club facilities as you see necessary.

John.’

I hardly slept at all that night, and was up by 6:30. I telephoned my assistant manager.

‘Gary can you meet me down at the club at 9:00 please?’ I asked, ‘and bring an up to date squad list’.

Arriving at Celtic Park felt surreal. I’d done it hundreds of times as a supporter and more recently a player, but this was totally different. This was my club now. I didn’t want to arouse to much suspicion so I parked in the usual players car park and made my way on foot the short distance to the stadium. Walking up Kerrydale Street, which leads to the main entrance I was stopped at least a dozen times for autographs and photos.

As I made my way up the steps the reception staff must have seen me coming and ran to open the door. I stepped inside and felt at home in the sea of green and white.

‘Would you care to follow me to your new office Mr Kowalski’ said one of the young girls behind the desk, ‘Mr Pendrey is waiting there for you’.

‘It’s ok’ I replied, ‘I’ve been there enough times to know where it is, and besides I have somewhere else I need to go first. Could you let Gary know that I’ll be with him in five’.

I turned and headed up the stairs to the trophy room. As I entered I could feel the SPL trophy staring at me. Winning this had been the pinnacle of my career, my only winners medal. I vowed to double the tally in the coming season. I left the trophy room and went directly to my office.

As requested Gary Pendrey was waiting for me. I sat down on the far side of the desk opposite him. He had brought with him the squad folder as requested and had started to lay the contents of the file out for me.

‘Before we get started Gary I want you to know that I am looking forward to working with you, I want you to stay on as assistant manager. The board have told me that they are not prepared to let you go, and to be perfectly honest, that suits me just fine.’

Reassured by this Gary offered to take me through the playing squad file. I knew most of them already and so asked that he just let me have the reports for the under 19 team. As he sifted through the paper on my desk a thought occurred to me.

‘Gary how many under 19’s do we have at the club, and how many are likely to make the first team in the near future?’

I had my own ideas on the answers to these questions but wanted to see what Gary could come up with.

‘I’ll be in a better position to tell you after the 19th June’ he replied, ‘since Tommy passed away the academy has been running without a manager. As such I’m not sure how it looks at the moment. What I do know is that we need to appoint someone to run the academy team for us, but Tommy’s shoes are mighty big and it’s going to take a huge personality to fill them.’

‘You don’t fancy it do you Gary?’

‘No thanks, running the reserve team and covering first team training is enough for me. To make sure that we give the youngsters the best chance we need a person who’s solely dedicated to nurturing the talent’.

‘Okay Gary, thanks. I think we’re done here for now. Enjoy your holiday and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.’

I was about to leave the office when the phone rang.

‘I’m on my way’ I said.’

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I arrived at the Chairman’s office in less than 2 minutes, despite it being up 2 flights of stairs.

‘Any idea what he wants? I asked Jen as I entered the room.

‘You mean you didn’t run all this way to see me?’ she said with a smile ‘anyway it’s me that wanted to see you.’

‘Oh, sure, what can I do for you?’

‘Just wanted to let you know that you leave for Switzerland tomorrow’.

‘eh....what?’

‘Your Uefa Pro License course starts in 2 days in Geneva.’

‘Oh right yeah, of course’.

I’ve told Mr Reid that you will need some help with the administration side of your role whilst your away because you’ll be busy studying, and he’s agreed to let me go along with you’ she said, trying to keep the excitement out of her voice, ‘er...as long as you don’t mind?’

My immediate thought was ‘damn no I don’t mind’, but I thought better than to repeat it out loud.

‘Of course not, I’ll be glad of the company and the help’.

***

The following morning I got into the Club car and was greeted by Jen.

‘Do you have everything you need?’ she asked.

‘Certainly do’. I held up my laptop bag, ‘and I’ve remembered to bring Football Manager’ I smiled.

‘Okay driver Glasgow Airport please.’

On the way to the airport we chatted about our lives, although this seemed to include mainly questions about my life from Jen and not much about her life.

We checked in at the airport and boarded the plane. At takeoff I felt a squeeze on my hand. I looked down and saw Jen’s hand in mine. It felt soft and warm.

‘I don’t like flying’, she admitted.

‘It’s okay, I’ll look after you’.

When we landed Jen finally let go of my hand. I rubbed the feeling back into it. She was very apologetic, but it didn’t bother me.

Upon arriving at our location Jen checked us both in and we were shown to our rooms. I excused myself and went to lie down. I was dog tired. It had been an eventful couple of days. When I arrived in my room I decided that whilst I was here to work I would make this trip as much about fun for both of us as I could. I rang down to Jen’s room but there was no answer. I poured myself a drink from the mini bar and turned on Sky Sports News. A few minutes later I tried Jen again, this time she answered.

‘Hi Jen, its Mike’

‘Oh hi, did you ring before?’

‘Yeah, how come you didn’t answer?’

‘Sorry I was in the shower’.

Aaahhhh man, now that was an image I was happy to have in my head, but I had to shake it loose before the pause between us became too big.

‘Anyway, just wanted to invite you out to dinner tonight, say about 7:30.’

‘I’m sorry Mike, I can’t. Mr Reid said that I don’t have an expenses account for foreign trips so I’m paying for everything but the flight and the hotel myself’.

‘Okay, did he say I couldn’t take you to dinner if I paid for it, and not the club.’

‘No’.

‘Okay be ready at 7:30 and I’ll meet you in reception’.

***

I woke the next day with thoughts of Jen swimming in my mind. It had been a wonderful evening of smiles and laughter. At the end of the night she had kissed me softly before going into her room. I wanted more, but knew it was too early for that, even though I suspected she wanted me too. Anyway I had just been appointed manager of one of Europe’s biggest football clubs; I already had enough on my plate.

Jen joined me for breakfast and smiled at me throughout, even though we were talking about work. We had received 3 responses to our advert for a Personal Assistant. Jen had brought the one she thought to be best. I asked her to go ahead and set up a meeting for when we arrived back in Glasgow.

The next few days were really busy for me, getting through all my training sessions and tests and I didn’t see Jen half as much as I would have liked. She seemed to be busy dealing with all my correspondence and was always pleased to see me when I had the time.

We left Geneva a week later, me clutching my Uefa Pro License like a 9 year old with a 50 metre swimming certificate. Pleased as punch and unable to hide it.

We arrived back in Glasgow at 10am and made our way back to Celtic Park. I had offered Jen the rest of the day off but she insisted she had things to do.

I found myself killing time in my office. DAMN IT why couldn’t the club announce my appointment, then I could get on with some work. I needed to start thinking about transfer targets, staff additions and training and tactics. However I couldn’t do any of this until I had been given my budgets because I didn’t even know what staff I would have so no point putting schedules in place until I know that they will fly.

I picked up the phone,

‘Jen can you get Mr Reid on the line please?’

‘Sure’

The line went silent and then clicked, this let me know I’d been connected.

‘Hi John, wondered if you had time for a quick chat?’

‘Come up to the board room’.

I placed the receiver in the cradle and headed for the corridor. Up in the lift all the way to the top floor, across the thick green carpet in the foyer and knock on the door. No answer. Knock again, nothing. I pushed the door open and stepped inside. The room was huge, on the walls were pictures and signed shirts from former great players and managers. On the far side of the room was a glass display cabinet. I moved towards it and stared at the holy grail.

‘You realise that it’s nearly half a century since Big Jock delivered the ultimate prize?’ said the voice from the doorway.

‘Forty one years’ I replied. ‘But I’m going to bring the real one back to the club’

Oh my God what did I say that for. I only qualified as a fully professional manager yesterday afternoon and now I’m promising European Cups to the chairman of Celtic Football Club. Thank God I hadn’t said it drunk in a pub full of supporters.

‘Mike, that’d be fantastic, I can’t wait for that day to come.’

Oh **** he thinks I’m serious. I guess now would be the best time to make the request that I called him for. I turned to face the Chairman.

‘John I want this club to be as successful as every Celtic fan out there. However at the moment I simply can’t do it because I can’t start building my vision. I don’t even know what I’ve got to spend. I know this club can’t spend the same sort of money as even the poorest English Premier League clubs because the TV sponsorship money isn’t anything like as high for the SPL. As such I want to focus on building a young team, whether that is local lads through the academy or foreign youngsters who come for not much money.’

‘Mike, Celtic FC is not a selling club.’

‘Nor would I advocate that they should be, I just think that if we can get players on the cheap, build up a strong squad and sell a few youngsters at massive prices we can experience the success we crave and the financial stability of the club for a long long time. However to do that I need some resources. I’m going to need decent transfer budget this season so I can rebuild in one or two key areas and I need to know right now that I can go and get an academy director to look after our Under-19’s. After all they are the bedrock of my plan’.

‘Ok Mike, you have the clubs blessing to start the search for the new academy director, but the appointment won’t be announced until your appointment as manager’.

Happy with the arrangements I had managed to make I decided to head home for the day. I stopped off in my office to collect my things and as I did found myself taking into the phone again.

‘Want to join me for pizza and a movie at my place tonight.... ok great.....meet you out front in 10 minutes’.

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*Beep* *Beep* *Beep*

I opened my eyes, but I didn’t know where I was. I also had no idea who the 9 people stood around me were. They were all faces I thought I should recognise but I couldn’t place them.

As the people in the room saw me wake up there was a flurry of excitement and activity. I’m sure I heard somebody shout for a doctor.

‘Where am I?’

‘Son, I’m so glad you’re awake.’

‘Sorry, where am...’ Hang on he called me son! My mind snapped into focus. These people were my family. I looked around the room. I recognised my Dad, my Mum, both my Brothers and my Sister. I could also place my Brother-in-Law and my Niece and Nephew. That just left the pretty girl at my left shoulder.

The pretty girl bent over me and whispered

‘I love you; it’s so good to have you back.’

My mind snapped into place for the second time in 20 seconds and I knew immediately that this was Jen, my girlfri... no wait... something else was pulling at my brain, she was my wife. We were married!

‘Could someone please tell me where I am and why I’m here?’

My father spoke again,

‘Mike you are in Manchester Royal infirmary and you’re here because you have been seriously ill.’

With that the doctor entered the room and ushered everyone out. I tried to ask the questions I wanted answers to. Why am I here? What is wrong with me? Every time I asked a question the doctor would say,

‘All in good time’ and continue on with his work. I was poked and prodded and asked questions for what seemed like an eternity. Finally when the doctor was satisfied with whatever he was checking I was allowed to sit up and Jen was brought back into the room.

Over the course of the next hour Jen began to answer my questions and unravel the mysteries that had formed in my mind. It would seem that a matter of days after being asked to take over as manager of Celtic I had suffered a terrible accident and had buried my car into the back of a lorry on London Road on the way to the press conference to announce my appointment.

This had led the club to delay the announcement and eventually had had to cancel it completely as it became apparent that I was not going to be fit for work. The board had managed to persuade Gordon Strachan to stay on another year.

Strachan had just completed his fourth season and had now stepped down. No-one yet knew who the new manager was going to be and apparently no-one knew that I was supposed to have been me 12 months ago. The media were speculating that Tony Mowbray was the man in the frame.

It became clear that after the accident I had recovered enough to lead a normal life as long as I wasn’t put under any stress. Jen and I had continued as a couple for 6 months before I had asked her to marry me. She had accepted and we were married on the 25th May 2009 in Lisbon.

‘How did I end up in Manchester Royal Infirmary 10 days later?’

‘You collapsed as a result of an undiagnosed brain tumour just after we returned to the UK and you’ve been unconscious every since. The doctors have operated and removed the tumour and they are very confident that you will survive.’

Two days later, when the doctors were happy that I was out of danger, I was allowed out of hospital. I wanted to go back to Glasgow, to the penthouse that Jen and I shared. The doctors felt that it would be best for me to remain in Manchester for a couple more days and so Jen and I stayed with my parents.

The day after I was released I received a phone call from John Reid, the man who had told me 12 months before that I was to be Celtic manager.

‘Mike everyone at the club is delighted to hear that you are recovering. We were very worried about you.’

‘Thank you John, that’s very nice to hear.’

‘Look Mike there is actually another reason I called.’

Over the next 10 minutes I was treated to the inside info on the clubs new search for a manager right down to the detail that they had an agreement in principle with Tony Mowbray to be the clubs new manager.

‘John, did you call to rub salt in my wounds. You must realise that it hurts like hell to have lost the opportunity to manage my boyhood club?’

‘Don’t be silly Mike, I’m calling because Tony decided at the last minute he isn’t going to take the job and we now don’t have a manager. I wondered if you fancied it, especially since we already have a manager’s contract with your signature on.’

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Thanks for the encouragement guys.

I could hardly believe that this was happening, and yet here I was getting off a train at Glasgow Central Station and trying to find a taxi to take me to Celtic Park to start a job I thought I’d missed out on just fourteen days after my wedding and less than two weeks after major brain surgery.

I found a cab and was soon on my way to Paradise. I knew this was right, although the doctors had been decidedly less sure. They were even unhappier when they discovered that I’d be travelling alone. Jen had stayed back in Manchester and would be travelling up in a couple of days.

The taxi pulled up outside the stadium and I made my way inside. I was greeted by an American voice,

‘Hi Mr Kowalski, I’m... ...Mr Reid’s new assistant.’

I hadn’t been listening. I hadn’t been here for 12 months and now I was getting the feeling of excitement and nervousness.

‘Oh hi’ was all I managed as I hadn’t even caught her name.

‘Mr Reid is waiting for you in the board room. If you need anything let me know.’

I thanked her and headed up the stairs. Arriving at the boardroom the chairman was waiting for me in the corridor. I was ushered in through the double doors and into a seat in front of a television. John took the only other seat in front of the screen.

‘I want you to see something.’

With a click of the remote the screen flickered to life and I was watching a CCTV recording without sound. It was a recording of a meeting between 2 men that took place in the room I was now sat in. When the recording finished I realised what I had been watching.

‘Mike do you still think you can deliver the European Cup to Celtic Park?’

‘I’m not sure why I said it the first time, but to be honest I really think that given time I can deliver our fans the best team in Europe.’

‘Excellent. We will be holding the press conference to announce your management tenure tomorrow. There is something you should know though. The club wanted Tony Mowbray and as such we have been working all summer bringing his targets and staff. This means you have the squad he would have had and his backroom team including Mark Venus as assistant manager.’

‘John I can live with everything you have just told me except Venus. We still haven’t made up since the Easter Road incident a couple of seasons ago. I cannot work with him. I need to know that I am not stuck with people I don’t want.’

‘Mike the club are happy to terminate any staff contracts you feel are surplus to requirements, on top there is an £8million budget for new players, but only £10k spare in the wage budget. Please be aware that if you terminate Mark’s contract you will be without an assistant.’

‘It’s ok John I know who I want as my assistant manager. Also do we have an Academy Manager yet, and now you have a new assistant am I free to bring Jen back as the assistant to the football management team?’

‘You are welcome to appoint whoever you see fit as your personal assistant including Jen. In terms of Academy Manager we have just appointed John Park. He was delighted to be asked, described it as his dream job.’

It looked like I was going to be without an assistant manager then as it appeared the one I had wanted was doing a job he was pleased to have. Maybe I should try and hire Paul Le Guen and win the European Cup with him as my assistant just to wipe the smile off the south side of Glasgow.

‘That’s blown my plan clean out of the water, any idea where I can get an assistant manager at 24 hours notice?’

The chairman explained to me that his new assistant, who incidentally was the person Jen had recommended 12 months before, was married and that her husband had some coaching and management experience. Apparently he was now in charge of Glasgow Universities football teams and doing some physical education teaching having previously coached in American colleges and managed in the English lower leagues.

‘Maybe you should see if he’d be any good’

‘What did you say your assistant was called John?’

‘Robin Horse.’

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On my way from the boardroom to my office I stopped at the chairman’s office. I knew he wasn’t in there because I’d left him admiring the four fifths size replica of the European Cup in the boardroom, but then it wasn’t him I was there to see.

‘Hi Robin, can you come down to my office please and bring with you a copy of all the contracts for our coaching staff?’

‘Sure Mr Kowalski I’ll meet you down there shortly.’

For a man who had just promised the biggest prize in club football to his boss I was remarkably calm and extremely happy. What I was about to do would make me even happier, but it would also mean bad news for some.

Robin arrived at my office a few minutes after I had settled myself into my chair. She placed more than 15 contracts in front of me.

‘Mr. Kowalski are you doing what I think you’re doing?’

‘Spring cleaning’ I replied, ‘but I need to see how costly it is going to be.’

‘Do you need anything else Mr. Kowalski?’

‘Actually there is one other thing you might do for me. Take a seat please.’

Robin looked confused as she sat down.

‘Robin I’ve just found out that your husband has some coaching experience and even managed an English lower league side, is that right?’

Robin confirmed that what I had been told was correct and shared the story about how her husband had been forced out of his manager’s job.

‘Copper was managing Blyth Spartans and had fallen out with his assistant manager, Graham Fenton. Anyway Fenton had it in for Copper from that moment on and tried to turn the club against him. He couldn’t convince the board to sack Copper so he started to try and convince the fans. At first it was a small group of fans. The group began to grow in size, as these things tend to do, and soon it was a very large section of the clubs support. So large that the board could no longer ignore it, even though they were convinced that Copper was doing a good job. The problem was that the community really was the lifeblood of the club, lose the community and the club will disappear. In the end they felt they had no choice. Copper was fired after his first full season. In the end he took a job with Glasgow University.’

I only hate two men in football. One is Mark Venus and the other was Graham Fenton. The bastard tried to break my leg early in my career when I played for Rochdale. I couldn’t keep the smile from my face, I had just been handed a fantastic opportunity to get one over on both of them. I was taking it.

‘Robin, I think after I’ve finished cleaning these contracts I might have a need for some new staff. Do you think Copper might be interested in taking a job here?’

‘I’m sure he would.’

‘Great, can you ask him to come down after work this evening as I’d like to interview him?’

‘Certainly Mr Kowalski, I’ll go ring him immediately.’

If this went to plan I’d wipe the smug smile off the face of Venus and give a hard done by man another chance. It’s fair to say I was delighted with my days work so far.

‘Thanks Robin, oh and after you’ve done that can you please arrange a flight from Manchester to Glasgow for my wife for tomorrow. I could do with having her around.’

I spent more than 2 hours going through the contracts of the backroom staff employed by the club. I had already decided that the kit man and the ladies that washed the kits were staying. There was no sense in having to replace perfectly good staff. It was the 15 coaching and medical staff I was concerned about. I had been less than impressed with some of them in my last season as a player and others had been added when Tony Mowbray looked to be coming in. I really wanted my own staff. I now had a tough task ahead. No one enjoys telling decent men that they are unemployed.

I picked up the phone and dialled Jen’s number. I needed her reassurance that what I was about to do was right. As usual she brought clarity to a cloudy situation. Making me see that it was indeed important that the team around me were a team I felt I could trust and work with and if this meant replacing large chunks of the staff then so be it.

‘Thanks princess’, I said ‘I guess I better do this before it gets any more difficult.’

I’d made 10 calls and to a man they were all disappointed to be told that the club no longer required their services, but surprisingly they all understood my reasoning. I’d wished them all the best of luck and made sure they were aware of the levels of compensation that their contracts entitled them to.

I needed to make one more call, this was going to be good. I double checked the number and dialled.

‘Hello?’

‘Hello. Is that Mark?’ I asked, the voice at the other end confirmed he was indeed Mark Venus. ‘Hi Mark, this is Mike Kowalski. I guess you’ve been expecting my call. I need to know if you want to be assistant manager of Celtic now that I’m about to be unveiled as the manager?’

‘Mike, I reckon we should put our history behind us. Celtic is a great club and I’m please to be working there.’

‘Fine Mark, I reckon I could bury the hatchet.’ I smiled as I said it. ‘Could you come to the club this evening for the Under-19 training session, I want your opinion on something.’

Mark agreed to be at the session. I just needed to make sure that the other two people I wanted there were on time. One of them was definitely going to be there and be on time as it was his training session to lead. The other was a little tricky as he had to make it across Glasgow in rush hour traffic and he didn’t know where he needed to be.

I’d received an email just before I’d rung Mark that read;

Mr Kowalski,

Copper would be delighted to meet you this evening. He advises he will be at Celtic Park by 6pm.

Robin.

I picked up the phone and dialled Robin’s extension.

‘Hi Robin, it’s Mike. Could you please arrange a club car to pick your husband up from work and take him over to the training complex at Lennoxtown for this evenings meeting. I’m going to be watching the Under-19 training session so it’ll be more convenient for me to meet him there.’

‘Sure thing, also I’ve just had Mr. Reid on the phone. He wants you to go to the Kerrydale Suite, apparently the press conference to announce your appointment is starting in 10 minutes.’

‘Why not the press room?’

‘Apparently there are so many members of the press and television media that they have relocated.’

With that I made my way through the stadium to the biggest function room that Celtic park has.

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Wow....Copper's still popping up in others' stories. Are you folks trying to tell me I should abandon "Inheritance" and bring back a 3rd story with Copper? Robin too?

Needless to say, I'm curious to see where this story goes...

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You nicely wrapped up Copper's story and killed off Robin. Another story in that line would have to be very well thought out.

Don't abandon Inheritance!

Mike, this is top stuff. Keep it up.

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Copper, SCAIG I appreciate the kind thoughts.

I was ushered into the Kerrydale Suite by one of the press team. Almost immediately flash bulbs were popping and people were shouting questions.

‘F*** me, this is mental’ I thought. ‘Going to keep this short and sweet.’

The press officer took up a position at the front of the room and banged loudly on the table to grab everyone’s attention.

‘Ladies and Gents, thanks very much for coming. We respectfully ask you to keep this about club matters. The club have no official position on Mr. Kowalski’s recent illness and I have been informed that he does not wish to discuss it.

I was relieved with that. I still hadn’t come to terms with the situation I had recently been in so there was no way I wanted it bandied about in front of the worlds media.

Almost as soon as the press officer left the room the first question came;

‘Is this a dream job?’

What a stupid question, but then that’s the press for you.

‘Of course, I’m delighted to be here. I love this club and want to be successful.’

‘How will you approach the tactical side of the game?’

‘Fast, attractive, attacking football. I really believe in playing beautiful football.’

About another 6 questions came my way which I did my best to answer without giving too much away. Then the ninth question nearly knocked me out of my seat.

‘You’ve joined a club short on backroom staff. Will this be something you are looking to address?’

How the hell could they possibly know that I’d released 10 members of my backroom team today? I’d only done it less than an hour ago. I had my suspicions but they would have to wait.

‘Yes I will be adding some new staff in the next few days. I haven’t identified them at present but they will be the best available to me. Thanks for your time guys but I have a lot of work on so I have to go now.’

As I left the room I quietly asked the journalist who had asked the last question to join me out in the foyer. I say asked, it was more a case of a daggers glare and a ‘get out here now’ motion. As we reached the foyer I noticed his Daily Record press badge. Typical of the Record to have this sort of info and to make it difficult for a new manager on the East side of Glasgow.

‘I want to know where you got the information about the clubs coaching staff.’

‘Sorry, I can’t tell you.’

‘Bollocks you can’t. This is private club business and it can only have come from inside the club.’

‘There you go then, let’s just say I had some assistance.’

This confirmed my suspicions and Venus’ fate. He wasn’t pulling stunts like this and getting off. He could go f*** himself if he thought he was.

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I was furious as I headed away from the Kerrydale Suite. I was supposed to be heading back to my office but somehow I found myself in the car park. I decided I wanted to be left alone and headed for my car. I would drive to the training complex and stay there until this evenings meeting.

I turned the corner and was within 10 feet of my car when I heard a voice shout

‘Look, there he is!’

Oh s***! I’d forgotten that there would be a crowd outside the ground, there always was, or at least that’s how it seems. Most clubs find that supporters only gather outside the ground when there is something major happening, not Celtic. I can’t remember a time I’d been to the ground and there wasn’t at least 10 people stood around outside. This wasn’t 10 people though, this was about 200. I was going to be here a very long time.

I turned to the crowd and waved. There were kids approaching me with pens and autograph books and adults with cameras. I must have shaken hands with all of them and posed for countless photos. I am the new manager of Celtic and as a Bhoys fan that afforded me some time in the eyes of the fans, but I am still an unknown quantity in management terms as far as the people before now cared. I was not going to do anything to p*** them off. I needed them on my side.

I arrived at Lennoxtown 2 hours after I left Celtic Park. It had taken me over an hour to get from the stadium to my car and only 40 minutes to drive to the training ground.

I was just getting out of my car when my mobile rang. I didn’t look to see who it was, this was one of those times when I already knew.

‘Hi Mikey.’

‘Hey sweetie, how are you?’

‘I’m missing you and I can’t wait to see you tomorrow. Please don’t go to the airport to meet me though.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I hate flying remember. I have told Robin to cancel the ticket. Your Dad has offered to drive me up.’

This was typical of my father, always putting himself out for members of his family. It seemed he would do anything for Jen. In fact I often joked with my wife that my Dad loved her more than he did me!

‘Ok sweetie. I love you.’

‘Love you too, and you looked great on Sky Sports News! See you tomorrow.’

The line went dead and I wandered across the car park, through the door and down towards my office.

***

At 5:50pm I heard a familiar voice in the corridor. It was the voice of one of my best friends and the Club’s new academy manager John Park.

‘John do you have a minute?’ I shouted.

He came into the office and sat down. He was clearly ready for his teams training session, kitted out in his tracksuit and boots.

Over the next few minutes I told the story of what Mark Venus had done and that I intended to let him go. Parky smiled.

‘I tell you what though John I’m not going to make it pleasant for him. In fact I need you to do me a favour please.’

‘Sure Mike, anything you need.’

Parky agreed to my plan, although I had omitted one crucial detail. There was something else I wanted to know.

‘John are you sure you won’t come and be my assistant? I could really use a man who has this club at his heart as my number two.’

‘You have this club at your heart more than any man I know Mike, you don’t need me for that. Anyway I like the idea of being the guy responsible for providing the conveyer belt of talent that takes this club to heights we haven’t been to in far to long.’

‘Fair enough, I’ll just have to revert to plan B.’

The phone on my desk rang. It was the security gaurd on the main entrance. My guest had arrived. Parky and I went down to meet him.

‘Hi Copper, nice to meet you.’

‘Likewise.’

I turned to Parky, ‘Could you take Copper down to my office please, his kit is in the bag under my desk. I need a quick word with Mark.’

John and Copper headed down the corridor and disappeared into the office just as Venus came into the building. He smiled but I knew he was faking it. I smiled back; I hoped he couldn’t tell I was faking too.

‘Hi Mark, thanks for coming down tonight. The reason I need you here is that I have let a large number of our coaching staff go and I have a potential replacement for one of them lined up but I want your opinion. Parky has him in my office now. I imagine right about now he’ll have just found out that he’s taking the training session tonight.’

‘Nice move, make him think on his feet.’

I followed Venus down the corridor and into my office, the veranda doors were open and the room empty. We used the same route to get out onto the training pitch. I we reached the pitch the lads were lined up waiting for me.

‘Right lads I’m going to be watching this evening. I need to see if any of you have what it takes to make the first team this season. I shall also be putting this gentleman here’ I signalled Copper, ‘through the same treatment. He will be taking the session this evening, you will do whatever he asks of you, and you WILL refer to him as Gaffer for tonight. Are you all clear on that?’

To a man they nodded their understanding.

‘Copper a quick word if I may.’

We walked a few feet away and I made it clear that he was free to do things his way this evening. He looked a little nervous. I couldn’t blame him. He thought he was here for a job interview not a practical exam. He looked much happier when he found out that I was taking into account the fact that I had given him no time to prepare.

Parky, Venus and I watched Copper for the next 2 hours. We saw him run all sorts of different drills with the team. Fitness, tactical and technical. Some tried and tested routines, others I’d never seen before. I was impressed and Venus told me he was too.

‘So Mark, what do you reckon, does he get a job?’

‘Are you nuts? Of course he does, the only problem you’re going to have is deciding which job to give him. He looks like he can do everything.’

‘Trust me that is not a problem, I already know where I can use him.’

Parky brought Copper back in and ushered him towards the showers. 20 minutes later all four of us were sat round my desk.

‘Copper I have to tell you that we all think you were fantastic out there. You have so many ideas that we have never seen before and you have an excellent knowledge of all the drills we would want you to know. Not one of us can find any reason that we shouldn’t employ you here at the club. I’d like to offer you £1400 a week until 2012.’

Copper looked thrilled, but then he turned serious. ‘What role are you offering?’

‘Your wife told me all about your credentials and experience and as such I think you would be perfect as our Academy Manager. However Parky has recently been given that job so I cannot offer it to you. On that basis how does Assistant Manager sound?’

Mark Venus’ face was a picture, I couldn’t stop myself from smirking. My plan had worked perfectly. Mark had signed his own death warrant!

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What a great night last night had been. I’d gotten rid of a man I couldn’t stand and replaced him with one of the best football brains I’d ever seen. There was just one problem. Copper’s contract. Not his Celtic one, but the one he had with Glasgow University.

I waited until 9am until I dialled my new assistant manager.

‘Copper its Mike, have you had a chance to speak to the University about being released from your contract?’

‘Yes, but they aren’t prepared to just let me walk away. They are demanding payment in full of my remaining salary.’

‘Ok let me know how much it is. I’ll get it sorted today, I need you here as soon as possible.’

***

I walked out onto the training pitch to find the first team and reserves running laps as part of their pre-season regime. I signalled to them to stop and join me in the centre circle.

‘Guys we aren’t running today. I know it’s unusual but I want to play an 11-a-side match this morning. I need to see what you are all capable of. I want the first teamers against the reserves.’

The boys looked delighted to be given a ball so early in the season. I told them to line up in standard 4-4-2 formation. I left the starting 11 and subs to the two coaches.

‘Ok lads this is your test. First teamers I expect you to win this easily. I also want as many subs as possible at half time, you have 12 to choose from. Reserves, I am looking for good performances. You have much fewer subs so you will have to work harder. If you perform well here you will make it into the first team pre-season friendlies, play well in those and you may make the first team this season. Those of you already in the first team do you really want to lose your place there. Ok impress me.’

I figured that any reserve who could play the better part of ninety minutes against the first team and play well deserved a chance to make the first team. I wanted competition for places. That is exactly what I got.

I couldn’t believe the final score was a one all draw. The first team were a very long way from impressive. They had absolutely pounded the reserves in terms of shots and possession but they hadn’t made it count. 25 shots at goal sounded impressive, but more than half were from long range and only 4 had been on target. On the plus side they had limited the reserves to 2 shots, one of which was one target, but they had conceded it. It was a poor goal to lose on the counter. It was clear to me that the best players on the park had been on the reserves side this morning but no-one performed so well that I could necessarily justify moving them to the first team. I made a mental note to make them do it again when Copper was about. I wanted my assistant’s opinion.

I decided to head home after training and left without comment to the players other than to tell them that I was yet to decide anything from today’s game. I was unsure based on what I had just seen that the team was good enough to win the league, although someone putting a more positive spin might have said that we had strength in depth, what with our reserves being as good as the first teamers. Whatever way I looked at it I was confused.

I decided to put it out of my mind. Anyway I needed to get home quick as Jen was due back shortly and I wanted to be waiting for her. I wasn’t quick enough. When I got home I found that Jen was most definitely waiting for me with exactly the same ideas in store for me that I had for her. It was one of the best hours of my life.

I woke up to the smell of food, but not just any food. This was the food of kings as far as I was concerned. I dragged myself off the bed and stumbled into the kitchen where I found Jen holding a plate of roll and lorne sausage and wearing little more than a smile. This girl was good.

After I’d eaten I decided that I needed to make a start filling the vacancies on the club staff that yesterday’s clear out had created. I reckoned I needed 6 coaches and they needed to be good. I’d had a stroke of fortune getting an assistant but surely I couldn’t hope for the same again getting the number of staff I needed.

‘JEN... what the f*** am I going to do?’

Jen wandered in wearing one of my training tops. ‘What’s up?’

‘I need 6 top quality staff to fill the clubs training schedules. Where on God’s green earth will I find them?’

‘Well if it’s God’s green earth I can tell you it won’t be Ibrox!’

I had to laugh. ‘Seriously any ideas?’

‘Place an advert?’

‘Nah, I’ll never get the quality I need from that and it take too long.’

‘What about contacting some of your old friends?’

‘I’ve been out of the game for 12 months, all my ex teammates that are any good as coaches all have jobs. I’m starting to wish I hadn’t fired all my staff.’

‘There is one option left.’

‘What?’

Jen passed me my laptop. ‘FM.’

I wasn’t sure, but then Jen was right. I really had nowhere left to turn.

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I had barely slept all night. I needed staff and what I had was six lists of names taken from a bloody computer game. If the press ever found out that this was my plan for top quality staff I’d be crucified.

I arrived at the chairman’s office and waited to be told to go in. When I was called I went nervously through the door. I couldn’t believe I was about to do this.

‘John I have drawn up some lists of coaches. There are six lists in all. I need one coach from each of the lists, I don’t actually care which of the coaches you get for me as long as it is one from each list.’

‘Why so particular?’

‘I’ve drawn up the lists based on the coaches’ skill sets and how that will fit with my training schedule requirements. If you can get me one coach from each list then we will have all the coaching staff we need between them and those that survived the cull.’

‘Sounds a strange way to do it, almost like you had a database to work from.’

‘Er... something like that John.’

I’m really glad he didn’t know what I’d done. I reckon I’ll be out on my arse if he ever finds out. Let’s hope the Daily Record don’t find a source for this too.

‘I have some good news for you Mike. We managed to get Copper released from his University contract. He’ll be arriving sometime in the next hour.’

‘That’s fantastic, thank you. I guess I better go and prepare for his arrival.’ Copper didn’t know it but I had a surprise for him.

‘Fine, fine. I’ll get on with trying to arrange the best staff I can for you from these lists.’

It was time for phase two of my plan. I headed downstairs to my office. I was going to need some help with this. I called down the corridor to Parky and asked him to join me in my office. When we went in we found Jen organising her desk. These were the people I needed to make the plan work.

I closed the door as the other two sat down. Even though I knew that there were only 3 of us in the room I still checked over both shoulders before I imparted the details of the plan. Parky had a fairly minor role, Jen had a bigger part to play. I’d be sitting this one out and Copper was going to be the star man. At least that was the way it’d work in my head.

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My new Assistant Manager had arrived and I was delighted to see him. I’d only know him a few days but I liked him immensely already. He was a no nonsense man with a direct approach. He hated losing by all accounts, and a man that hated losing was, more often than not, a winner.

I wanted to see if he was a winner and so I had a task for him. I’d asked him to join me in the club bar for a drink. This could be an interesting meeting.

‘Drink?’

Copper glanced at his watch. Realising it was late enough in the day to drink he replied, ‘Well it is lunchtime, what the hell I’ll have a beer, although if I make any stupid promises after I’ve drunk it you have to promise to disregard them.’ He was laughing as he said it.

I didn’t actually know what he was referring to and he could clearly tell I was confused. He waved it away with a ‘long story.’

That’s as maybe but you can’t say something like that and then not tell the story. I pressed him on it and eventually he recounted the story of the day he’d gotten drunk with a room full of Blyth fans and promised them the Championship. Funnily enough I knew how he felt.

‘Copper I’ve done something similar and now I’m stuck.’

‘Don’t be a damn fool, this club shouldn’t have a great deal of difficulty winning the league.’

‘We won’t, but that isn’t what I’ve promised. That’s taken as almost a given around here. I’ve promised to deliver, at some time during my tenure, the European Cup. I was joking, but the chairman didn’t see it.’

‘Holy s*** that’s bad.’

‘I know, the problem is we aren’t a European superpower anymore. I don’t know how we’ll deliver this one.’

‘I do, but I’ll tell you later.’

It’s fair to say I was intrigued. This guy truly was something else. How the hell was he going to deliver a European Cup to a team like Celtic. Sure Porto had done it a few years ago, but these instances are few and far between and they’d had Jose Mourinho. Celtic had me!

I put it out of my mind. Copper was looking a little uncomfortable.

‘You ok?’ I asked.

‘Sure, but there is something I need to know... Why me? I mean I’m grateful for the opportunity an all but you could have had any number of Assistant Managers, why did you choose me?’

There were a few reasons. Desperation was a big one, that and being happy with anyone other than Mark Venus. I’d have replaced Venus with Ally McCoist or Andy Goram if they were the only other options. Although I’m not sure Andy Goram would have been a good idea. What with the schizophrenia we might have ended up with two Assistant Managers and that would have been overkill. I’d also seen what Copper could do on the training field and was impressed. I explained as best I could these reasons hoping that he would see he was here because I wanted him here even if the reason I found out about him had been mere coincidence.

‘There is one other reason I wanted you here Copper?’

‘What would that be’, Copper asked looking puzzled.

‘Graham Fenton.’

‘What has that son of a bitch got to do with me getting this job?’

I recounted the tale of the day nearly 15 years ago that I had first encountered Fenton. How he had gone over the ball two footed and deliberately tried to break my leg. I explained how the tackle had been so hard it had knocked me clean off my feet and caused me to bang my head in such a manner that couldn’t remember the incident happening at the time and the only reason I knew it had happened was because I saw it on tape a few days later.

‘Mike I’m still not sure I understand. Are you telling me I got the job because I dislike Fenton as much as you?’

‘No I’m telling you that you got the job because I think you’re good at it and because I want to show Fenton that things won’t always go his way. I want to give you a chance to win some major silverware.’

I’d omitted some crucial detail again. I needed to know Jen had done the necessary before I shared the secret.

‘Winning trophies as an assistant manager isn’t nearly as rewarding as winning them as the man in charge.’

‘I understand Copper. That’s why I’m putting you in charge of our League Cup campaign this season. I’ve already been told that the board won’t be evaluating the team on performance in the competition. However you and I are the only ones that know this. Therefore you can go into these games knowing there is no pressure on you to succeed. If you fail I carry the can with the fans and if you succeed I tell the world it was your doing.’

‘Sounds like it’s well and truly stacked in my favour. I have to say I like those odds. Is there a catch?’

‘Possibly just one, but It’ll need to wait until later. I’ll meet you in my office in an hour.’

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I left Copper finishing his beer and made my way to my office. When I arrived I found Jen shuffling a stack of paper, which she handed to me as I passed her and made my way to my desk.

‘Did you make that call to set up the Under-19 friendly?’ I asked.

‘Yeah.’

‘Did they buy it?’ I asked as I sorted through the paper I’d been handed.

‘Yeah, hook line and sinker. The only problem is that the game is tomorrow. It was the only time it fitted into both club schedules.’

Tomorrow was short notice by anyone’s standards and it proved to be both a good thing and a bad. Good because I would get my satisfaction without waiting any longer. It was bad because of two pieces of paper I had just been handed.

I looked up from the paperwork, ‘Jen can you go and find Copper for me please. He is supposed to meet me here in a little while but I need to speak to him now.’

Twenty minutes later Copper arrived, stuffing something into his jacket pocket as he entered the room. From what I could see it looked like a DVD box that was sticking out of the top of the pocket.

‘What can I do for you Mike?’

‘Two things, firstly we have an away friendly tomorrow and you’re in charge. It’s an Under-19 game, I just want to see how you do in a slightly more competitive environment. Secondly I have received these and as the Assistant Manager and Manager of the reserves I want to know what you think we should do.’

I handed the papers to Copper. They were offers, albeit not particularly attractive ones, for two of our reserve players.

‘I can’t tell you yet Mike, I haven’t seen the lads play. How about I field them tomorrow and give you my assessment?’

‘That sounds great.’

***

The boys were ready to go; all we needed now was the coach to take us to our destination. The only problem was the players who had been the subject of bids hadn’t shown up. This made life more difficult but I resolved to address it later.

‘Mike I thought you said this game was an Under-19’s game?’

‘I did, but I’ve decided to make every fit player at the club available to you today. I want to give you the best possible chance of victory.’

‘Who and where are we playing?’

I don’t know’ I lied,’ Jen never actually said.’

Copper clearly thought I’d gone mad. I hadn’t I just wasn’t ready to spill the beans.

We boarded the bus and set off out of Glasgow. Copper fell asleep after a while and I spent the three and a half hour journey amusing myself with the thought of retribution. When Copper awoke he looked stunned.

‘What the hell are we doing here? He asked as the coach came to a stop in the car park at Croft Park, Blyth.

‘Fenton is in charge here now.’ I replied, ‘and this is the catch!’

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Copper clearly thought I’d gone mad. I hadn’t I just wasn’t ready to spill the beans.

We boarded the bus and set off out of Glasgow. Copper fell asleep after a while and I spent the three and a half hour journey amusing myself with the thought of retribution. When Copper awoke he looked stunned.

‘What the hell are we doing here? He asked as the coach came to a stop in the car park at Croft Park, Blyth.

‘Fenton is in charge here now.’ I replied, ‘and this is the catch!’

WOOT! Hilarious twist of story...I'm very intrigued...

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AustSaint, I'm glad you're enjoying it. Copper, I'm actually intrigued too. I only have a vague idea of where this is going!

We made our way across the car park to the player’s entrance. It was just me, Copper and 56 players clad in Celtic tracksuits. The Blyth official who let us in looked bemused and I could have sworn he said something about it being a football match not gridiron.

‘Mike I’m not sure this is a good idea.’

‘No, trust me it’s a fabulous idea Copper. Do you still want the chance to lead the first team in the League Cup this season?’

‘Your goddam right I do.’

‘Then you’re going to have to get out there and win this match otherwise you won’t get the chance. I appreciate that this will be a difficult situation for you given the way you left the club but I promise you if you win it will be worth the abuse.’

‘OK Mike’ Copper looked uneasy. He turned away and started scribbling something on a scrap of paper. ‘If I have to do this then this is how I’ll do it.’ He said, handing me the paper.

I looked down at it as I fished two envelopes from my bag. Copper had just upped the ante, but not for me. This was going to be interesting.

‘Copper you’re the gaffer today, prepare your team. I’ve got something that needs to be done. I’ll see you in here after the game.’

‘You not on the bench with us?’

‘No my friend, this works better if you’re there on your own, I’ll be in the stand with the players you haven’t picked.’ I replied with a smile as I left the room.

Right where was he, the bastard. It was time for me to cause him the same pain he caused me a decade and a half ago. I stormed down the corridor towards the home dressing room. I was about to bang on the door when I heard his voice behind me, but quiet, muffled. I spun round and was faced with a door on which was affixed a plaque which simply said

G. Fenton, Manager’

I really wanted him to be alone in there. I rammed the door open as hard as I could and burst through the open space like a sprinter out of the blocks.

‘Fenton you little f***, I’m glad I’ve found you. I’ve been waiting 15 years for this.’

Fenton was clearly shaken that a near stranger had burst into his office and started abusing him.

‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about.’

‘I think I should remind you then.’

I was towering over him now. He’s 5’10 and I’m 6’3 but he was sat down. I usually hated telling this story but today was different. Reminding Fenton of what he had done would be a pleasure. Every word of my story made the retribution I hoped I would get smell sweeter.

‘What do you want from me?’

‘A signature please Graham. I want you to sign this.’ I threw one of the envelopes at him. ‘In there is an agreement which states that should Blyth lose today’s game you will resign your post and never take another job in football.’

‘Get to f***, I’m not signing that.’

‘I’m afraid you are, if you don’t I will send these’ I held up the other envelope, ‘pictures to the FA. Oh and if having signed it Blyth lose the match and you don’t immediately tender your resignation in front of the spectators I will send the pictures.’

‘What good is sending your f***ing holiday snaps to the FA going to do?’

‘Granted it wouldn’t do any good at all, but then these aren’t holiday photos. These are photos showing you accepting a bribe to lose today’s game.’

‘I never have’ Fenton protested ‘and even if I have this is a friendly, it means nothing. What would I stand to gain?’

‘Graham do not kid yourself that there is anything friendly about today’s game. In respect of gain I would think that the FA would look at the potential financial gain from betting on the game as a serious matter. So Graham what’s it to be?’

‘I haven’t taken a bribe and you can’t prove I have.’

‘I know you haven’t Graham and yes I can. It’s incredible what you can do with Photoshop these days.’

Fenton looked shell-shocked. He knew he had no choice, none whatsoever. Sheepishly he signed the agreement and I put it into my jacket pocked.

‘Thank you Graham. I am a fair man and have decided that today my assistant will be in charge of the game. I have left the naming of the side to him.’

‘So its Celtic Under 19’s managed by your assistant verses my first team and me. I wouldn’t be so confident of forcing me out if I were you.’

‘But I am Graham, I am.’

‘We’ll see, now get out of my office.’

‘With pleasure.’

I pulled the office door shut behind me and made my way up to the directors box.

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SCIAG, I like to think of it as a good thing!

I’d seen the team line, I wasn’t worried. Fenton hadn’t and he wasn’t worried either, if he had seen it he would have been.

Blyth came out first to a chorus of cheers from 4000 fans. There appeared to be no Celtic support however that wasn’t surprising since the game had only been organised the day before. Even if they were there they would have been next to impossible to spot as both teams displayed green and white. It made no difference; this wasn’t for the Celtic supporters this was for me and for Copper.

Almost immediately the cheers of the Blyth faithful turned to boos as Copper led his team out looking for all the world like a man in control. He wouldn’t look like that at the end of the game.

Fenton hadn’t seen Copper and turned to see what the discord was all about. I bet he wished he hadn’t turned around. The initial shock at seeing Copper was replaced with the shock of seeing the Celtic team and the colour rapidly drained from his face.

Boruc

Mark Wilson; Gary Caldwell; Glenn Loovens; Milan Misun

Koki Mizuno; Landry N’Guemo; Aiden McGeady; Niall McGinn

Marc-Antoine Fortune; Giorgos Samaras

Eight first teamers, Misun; who was in the first team squad for the first time this season, Mizuno; who would probably spend the season flitting between first team and reserves and McGinn, who I wasn’t convinced would be good enough for the first team but on the basis he was Coppers player in the reserves you couldn’t blame the man for wanting a look. The only other surprise was McGeady in central midfield, but then you have to find space for your best player.

As the teams lined up the two managers made their way to the dugout. I caught sight of Fenton spitting something in Copper’s direction. I later found out he’d called him the translation for the cockney rhyming slang ‘septic tank’ and questioned his parentage. Copper ignored him, but it wouldn’t be that way all afternoon. Unable to get a rise from my American friend Fenton turned his attention to me. He had to be careful as I was a good distance away and the whole stadium could see him. He glared at me and mouthed something that I was too far away to see. I waved and shouted him luck although it was purely for the benefit of the fans.

The match kicked off and Fenton was forced to turn his attention from us and to saving his livelihood. It was going to be a tough ask for his team of no-hopers. The SPL runners up don’t get to claim much in terms of quality however given the gulf in class between the two sets of players on show we might as well have been Barcelona.

From the off Copper was screaming at his team to attack, and they clearly listened to him. Within 30 seconds of kickoff Caldwell won possession from a Blyth long ball, it had been played all the way across the back line and Mizuno was heading up the right wing with the ball at his feet. He was about to break free of his man but the defender had other ideas. A last second challenge meant we had a throw in. Mizuno took this himself and gave the ball to Fortune who did what Mizuno couldn’t and broke up the right. Fortune looked up and saw Samaras in the box. From 25 yards away from the goal line and still wide on the right Fortune played an inch perfect cross to the Greek forward who took one touch and smashed the ball towards goal. I was up out of my seat when the ball careered of the inside of the left hand post and was cleared for a corner after only 2 minutes.

I hoped this was the start of things to come, Fenton clearly didn’t. He slumped into his chair. I suspect he realised he was in for a long afternoon.

Copper was all over the technical area like a tiger prowling inside a cage. He didn’t sit still all afternoon, but then with the performance we gave he had no reason to.

There was no let up as wave after wave of Celtic attack tested the Blyth defence. On 16 minutes McGinn crossed the ball into the box following some neat interplay between himself, McGeady and Samaras to create the space. The cross was met by an unmarked Marc-Antoine Fortune who powered a header home.

Three minutes later and McGinn is making me rethink my original assessment of him. He has the ball on the edge of the box and spots the run of McGeady who beats his man and slots an easy ball home for our second of the afternoon.

Fenton is out on the touchline and screaming at his team to wake up and mark up. Copper looks like he’s laughing, but he has his back to me so I can’t be sure.

The rollicking from Fenton has done Blyth some good as the remainder of the second half passes with plenty of possession and a fair number of chances but nothing converted thanks to some last ditch defending.

I stay in my seat through half time. I’ve no idea what Copper said to the team but whatever it was it worked. Celtic make 8 changes at the break and a further 5 more later in the second half but it doesn’t disrupt our flow.

Three minutes after the restart Paul Caddis, on for Mark Wilson, plays a cross of the first defender and out for a corner which is subsequently put out for a second consecutive corner. Pat McCourt, on for Mizuno, whips in a delightful ball which is bulleted home by Caldwell five yards out and unmarked at the far post. Fenton looks apoplectic.

This was a day for impressing the manager as Zheng Zhi grabs two goals in five minutes to announce his arrival. The first, on 61 minutes, came as a result of a cross from Shaun Maloney which Zhi couldn’t control. Declan Bunting, a promising Under-19, picks up the loose ball and drags it back to the 18 yard line and proceeds to play it square back to Zhi. The ball is placed beautifully through a crowd of defenders and past the outstretched and helpless goalkeeper. Zhi’s second again originates wide on the right. This time Pat McCourt plays in a cross that evades the diving header of Bunting and bounces perfectly in front of Zhi who half volleys it home.

I believed it couldn’t get any better. I had gotten the better of Fenton after all this time and Copper had earned his chance. Fenton appeared to think it couldn’t get worse. We were both about to be proved wrong.

With nine minutes remaining we lost the ball in midfield but it wasn’t cleanly controlled and Zhi picks it up. One swift neat pass forward finds Shaun Maloney who is 20 yards out and 3 yards left of the D. Maloney looked up and realised he was the furthest man forward. Unleashing the sweetest strike of a ball ever seen he curls the ball past the keeper and into the far post. Nobody should score from there, but Maloney has.

I’m out of my seat and running down the steps towards the dugout and my assistant manager. Copper is jumping up and down like a child at Christmas and Fenton appears to be crying.

I high five my assistant as I pass him. Three seconds later I’m leaning over Fenton.

‘On you go Graham you know what to do.’

Left with no choice Fenton makes his way into the centre circle with the half time announcers microphone and resigns his post. Nobody is quite sure what they witnessed was real and I’m going to have some explaining to do to Copper on the way home.

As we arrive back in Glasgow I make the coach driver stop just short of Celtic Park and wait for me. I hop off the bus and post the second envelope anyway.

Copper looks amused.

‘Y’know Mike you’re a bastard.’

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Sorry SCIAG, I got excited writing the match report! :o

‘Parky I’m sorry but they couldn’t find their, or each others for that matter, arse with both hands. How many good youngsters have they recommended between them in the last 12 months?’

‘None Mike, but Strachan always used them to report on his targets.’

‘And not once between them they saw a decent performance from a player that happened to be playing in a game they were watching and thought it might be worth reporting? As far as I’m concerned neither of them is good enough for this club.’

I’d just charged my Academy Manager with replacing our scouting network. He was going to act as head scout checking out players I wanted more information on. I wanted a network of scouts uncovering players from all over the world that I could then pick from. What I didn’t need was two substandard scouts that never did anything more than watch the players they’d been told to watch. I needed proactive, what I had was **** poor.

I handed Parky a list of names. They were the names of the targets I had in mind for the scout positions.

‘Get rid of O’Neil and Murphy and do what you can with these please.’

I’d heard Copper approaching down the hall and looked up as he entered the room.

‘You guys seen these?’ he asked waving a newspaper and a single sheet of A4 paper.

The items were tossed onto the desk in front of me. I picked up the newspaper and saw the back page story. Apparently we couldn’t win the league, according to the interview with Mark Venus anyway.

‘I don’t give two f***s what Venus thinks, he’s a clown. What’s that other item?’

‘Press release, you might want to read it’ was the American’s reply.

He was right I had wanted to read it. It made me laugh. It took me two whole minutes to stop laughing. Copper stood and smiled, Parky looked confused, but only until Copper shared the story I’d told him 2 days ago on the way back from Blyth.

Copper was the reason we were all sat around my desk, he had called this meeting. I wondered why, but I was going to have to wait a little while to find out as I wanted to hijack this meeting for my own ends.

‘Guys I need your help. As you both know we’ve had offers for Luca Santonocito and Ryan Conroy and following the offers we decided to play them in the Blyth game which they both subsequently failed to show up for. As a result we have two player with offers and no idea how good they are, what do we do?’

Parky reckoned we let them go but I was concerned that any player with the inkling to leave who saw this would try to hold us to ransom the same way. Copper agreed they should go but managed to settle my mind at the same time.

‘I’ve watched them the last couple of days in training and they sure aren’t first team material. They would be reserve players at best. I say we cut our losses and get rid of two players who don’t want to be here and aren’t good enough in any case.’

With that I decided to accept both the offers and hoped the players would go.

After our discussions were finished Copper went to his desk and retrieved the reason we were here. He came back across the office holding a DVD.

‘You’re going to want to see this. The best way to describe it is filthy.’

The three of us sat huddled around my laptop with our mouths hanging open at the breathtaking nature of what we were watching. We’d all seen it at least once before but it was always worth watching again.

Copper was right, really dirty sex always made me feel the way I did now. The only other thing that made me feel that way was the 1967 European Cup final.

It was an American accent that broke the silence. ‘That’s how we’ll do it.’

Parky grinned, ‘I love it Copper, fantastic idea.’

I was a little slower on the up take. ‘Do what?’

‘Win the European Cup. By playing like the Lisbon Lions. We can’t lose.’

‘Of course we f***ing can and we probably f***ing will as soon as we draw a team who can play a bit.’

‘Yeah, maybe,’ was Copper’s reply, ‘but we can’t lose because we might get beaten but we’ll have gone down trying to win and entertain the fans. If we do win the thing we’ll be gods but if we don’t we’ll forever be hero’s in the supporters hearts for having the guts to try it.’

I was sold. It was 1967 all over again or bust.

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I’d been at it for hours. There was no way this was going to work.

‘I feel like I’ve been asked to achieve the impossible. I can’t build a successful tactic using just this!’ I pointed at the screen in front of me. ‘I’ve got the sum total of 90 minutes worth of footage and endless internet pages telling me we where the first British club to win the thing. That really isn’t going to help me get my team to play like legends.’

‘Can you not use memories as well?’ can the reply in my wife’s soft tones.

‘I could if they hadn’t won the thing 8 years before I was born. I’m not old enough to have seen any of them play.’

‘Not your memories you idiot! I know you’re not old enough but you know someone who is.’

‘Oh S***, of course!’ my Dad had seen it all, he’d have been 20 in 1967 and, as I well knew, a regular a Celtic Park. ‘Jen, can you book me a flight to Manchester please I’m going to pack a bag.’

‘Mike you can’t go now!’

‘Why not?’

‘Because you’re off on the clubs preseason tour of The Netherlands tomorrow. I could go and speak to him for you.’

‘You’re a girl, do you understand football tactics?’ I asked laughing. I already knew the answer.

‘Of course I do you cheeky b*****.’

‘Well at least one of us does! You go then, and when you’ve finished you can write up the notes and email them over. It’s not ideal but it’ll have to do.’

***

Jen pulled the car up in the club officials’ car park. I hopped out of the passenger seat and lifted by case out of the boot. Having set the case down I went round to the driver’s side, leaned through the open window and kissed my wife.

‘Mike I have to tell you something before you go.’

‘What is it angel?’

‘Whilst I’m in Manchester I’m going shopping for baby clothes.’

My heart leapt so hard it nearly shattered my ribs. My wallet winced at the news.

***

I walked into the dressing room to find that Copper had made every player at the club watch his DVD. He was busy explaining that we intended them to play this way and exactly why. There was general excitement at the thought of playing ‘like the Lions.’

‘We don’t have all the details of the tactic ironed out yet but we’ll run you guys through it as soon as we do. Gaffer did you want to say something?’

‘Thanks. Like Copper says we’ll go through this with you in the next day or so, but it is my intention that we will use the new system on the Dutch tour. Those of you not making the trip will pick it up once we get back. I want you all to know that this tour is about impressing me, I am not going to tell you this every match so consider this the team talk ahead of every match whilst we are away.’

I was feeling very unconfident about our new system. It didn’t even exist yet and the boys were talking about emulating the greatest teams in this clubs history. Lets walk before we run shall we.

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It was somewhat fitting that we were in The Netherlands considering the content of the email I’d received. I’d been down in the hotel bar enjoying a drink with Copper and discussing our plan for the upcoming tour when my mobile sprang to life.

‘Text from Jen, apparently everything we were waiting on is now waiting for us.’

The American drained his beer and was out of his seat in a flash.

‘No time like the present. May as well get started.’

It was late, just after 9pm to be more precise however given the size of the task we’d set ourselves I had to agree with Copper. I drained my drink and followed him to my room.

The email was long and detailed, describing a fluid short passing high pressing, high tempo game. Jen had even managed to coax player instructions from my Dad. There were almost no defensive roles in the team; there were even fewer linkup roles. All in all more than one-third of the team were doing attacking duties.

‘Copper I hope we score goals, I think we’ll need plenty!’

‘All offense and no defense, it’ll certainly be interesting to watch.’

We’d spent 3 hours pouring through the information my Father had provided. The acid test would be how it played out and whether our players were capable of playing the roles. The last line of the email gave me comfort that we had at least understood the content.

Mike – your Dad told me to let you know that the tactic plays like the 1970’s Dutch teams, just faster!

***

‘Wingers you aren’t wingers, you are now inside forwards.’ Looking round the room I had a sea of blank faces staring back. ‘Sometimes you’ll go wide and other times you’ll cut inside. I may even play you on your weaker side to facilitate the cutting in. This will give us up to 4 in forward positions. Fullbacks when the inside forwards cut in I want you to get forward and go wide, especially if you have the ball. If we are attacking I expect you to go up, if we don’t have possession I expect you to drop back.’

The meeting went on like this all morning. I was using a system that was more than forty years old but I hadn’t expected to have to explain everything in minute detail to the team. Finally when everyone’s roles had been explained I sent them to get changed and join Copper on our temporary practice pitch.

Copper looks exhausted out on the field. He explains that he went to bed at 1am and has been up since 4am designing the new training drills that will turn mortals into legends. He has done a bang up job with the drills. The players all look comfortable and considering most of them had to have every word I had just spoken explained they look good. I began to feel excited.

Once the training session is over I congratulate my assistant on his sterling work and ask him to take control of the team for the second half of our 4 match tour. I figure that we both need to have experience of running this tactic and friendlies are the way to do it.

Pleased with the day’s work so far I head to my room. I want to call Jen and thank her for her had work. I reached for my mobile and find a missed call from a number I didn’t recognise and a message left by a voice I most certainly did.

‘Kowalski if you think you can do what you did to me and walk away you are wrong. I will hurt you in ways you haven’t even thought of.’

Empty threats didn’t scare me. I deleted the message and made my call. It was good to hear Jen’s voice. She was doing fine and I was relieved to hear that she hadn’t been shopping yet. Although she had shared the good news with my family and now my Mum was insisting on going shopping with her.

‘The lads looked good in training using the stuff you got from my Dad. Tell him I said thanks.’

‘That’s great Mike, I’ll tell him what you said, oh and good luck on the tour. Speak soon’

I really missed my wife. I decided that next time I saw her I would make sure she knew how much I loved her. I wasn’t sure how yet, little did I know that the choice wasn’t going to be mine.

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The first minute was exactly what I had wanted to see. McGinn and Fortune worked the ball down the left and Fortune hits a low cross towards the far post. Samaras steals in and wriggles free of his marker. It is a goal of pure beauty. A right footed drive straight past the helpless keeper. I’m hoping this is the sign of things to come.

We dominate the game and get our reward in the 35th minute as Willo Flood plays a 30 yard ball forward to Fortune who knocks the ball into the right channel and continues his forward run. McGinn picks up the ball and beats his man as he strides forward. A pinpoint cross into the box is met by the head of Samaras. 2-0 up and cruising.

I made one change during the break, bringing Mizuno on for Maloney. Copper suggests putting him on the left despite him being right footed.

‘It’ll let us see if he’s capable of cutting inside and joining the attack.’

‘Good idea, seeing as most of our other wingers can play both sides they should be more than capable but Mizuno is a different matter.’

Early in the second half it is clear that Mizuno is struggling with his instructions and I want to remove him. Copper insists we give him a chance.

‘He’s only played 5 minutes.’

‘He’s had 3 opportunities to do as he was told and he hasn’t. Yes he cut inside but he played the ball off and didn’t link up with the forwards.’

‘Give him time, he’ll learn.’

I agree and turn back to the action just in time to see Caldwell getting himself booked for a foul on Wegh only yards from the area.

‘Caldwell, f’ f***s sake concentrate’

Clearly frustrated at being booked the centre back should have been sent off two minutes later as he lunges in on Zafarin.

‘What the f*** does he think he’s doing. Mike I think we should take him off or he’s going to get sent off.’

‘He’s one of two fit centre backs we have, what the hell does he think he’s playing at.’

Turning around I survey my options. I really only have one, Mark Wilson. Ideally a full back but a decent utility man is taking Caldwell’s place.

Wilson performs admirably considering he is out of position. In the 72nd minute he wins the ball from an Oss attack and plays the ball to Caddis at right back. Caddis plays the ball ahead on McGinn, who sprints to the by-line to collect it and whips another beautiful cross which allows Samaras to collect his second with his head and a hat-trick overall.

Wilson is involved again after 85 minutes, playing a short free kick to Willo Flood. The ball is squared to Misun on the left, who brings it forward and hits a short diagonal cross from the corner of the 18 yard box. The ball sails over the defence and is headed home for a convincing 4-0 win by a totally unmarked Fortune.

I was delighted with my team and I was really going to struggle to leave Niall McGinn in the reserves this season. He and Samaras had been revelations so far.

FC Oss 0 – 4 Celtic

***

The second game of the tour was even easier. A 6 – 0 win against Telstar. This time McDonald grabbed a hat-trick and Samaras a brace. The rout was completed by Pat McCourt, in for McGinn. This really appeared to be working well.

It was at this point that I broke off from the tour and headed to Monaco for the Champions league qualifying draw. I knew who I wanted in the draw. I also knew that I didn’t fancy the trip to Moscow to face Dinamo. I preferred a trip to Romania to face Timisora. I didn’t get what I wanted however, not even close. It was to be the long trip to Moscow.

The following day whilst eating breakfast I received a call from Robin.

‘Hi Mike, I’m sorry to bother you but there are a couple of things that need your approval. I need to know that you are still happy for the club to complete the sales of Luca Santonocito and Ryan Conroy to Dundee United and Dundee respectively for the agreed fees.’

‘More than happy Robin, do it.’

‘Also there has been a bid of £28,000 from St. Mirren for Charlie Grant, any idea what you want to do?’

‘Check it with Copper, he’s a reserve player, I’ll let Copper make the call. Before you go, when you call Copper can you let him know that it’s Dinamo Moscow in the Qualifiers and that I’d like him to try out Chris Killen in the next match, thanks.

‘Sure will do.’

I had a couple of days in Monaco before my flight back to Glasgow. Jen was with my parents, Copper had the team. Life was sunshine and I was going to enjoy it. I hadn’t seen the storm clouds gathering.

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‘Gentlemen welcome to the 5th Annual Charity Golf Day in aid of...’

Fenton strode out to the first tee to meet his playing partner. He already knew him well, in fact they were very good friends as the hailed from the same area.

‘Hi Mark, nice to see you again.’

‘Long time no see Graham, what are you up to these days.’

That was all it took. Over the course of the morning Fenton and Venus began to make plans.

‘We need to make his life as difficult as possible...’

‘We could...’

‘And we could...’

The storm clouds were coming in fast and I still hadn’t seen them.

***

I’d enjoyed my couple of days in Monaco, but now it was time to come home. My plane landed at Glasgow airport, I reclaimed my baggage and headed out to the arrivals hall. I had been hoping Jen would be waiting for me, I was a little disappointed when she wasn’t but maybe she was stuck in traffic.

I fished my mobile out of my jacket and dialled Jen’s number... no answer. I tried our home number... no answer! Strange I knew she was in Glasgow, she’d text me and told me. I decided to get in a cab and started to head across the airport. I hadn’t gone more than a few metres when a hand grabbed me and I heard a familiar voice.

‘Hi Mike’

I turned and saw Robin smiling at me. ‘Hi, how are you? What are you doing here?’

‘I’m good. I’m here to meet Copper and the guys from the tour they land in 20 minutes. We’ve got a coach out front going back to Celtic Park if you want a ride.’

‘That’d be great thanks. While we wait do you want to get a coffee?’

***

Arriving back at Celtic Park I find all sorts of paperwork waiting for me. It’ll all wait I want to talk to my wife. Still no answer on either number. I call my parents, no they haven’t heard from her either. Call both numbers again, still nothing, messages left. I reassure myself she’ll call later.

Flicking through the paperwork on my desk I see the request from UEFA for our Champions League squad to be registered. I scribble down 24 names making sure that I adhere to player regulations regarding home-grown status. Taking it across the office I shove it under the nose of my assistant and ask him to check it over.

‘Looks good Mike, just one thing though, we look woefully short upfront.’

He’s not wrong, McDonald, Fortune and Samaras are the only recognised strikers in the squad and I can’t add another for two reasons. We don’t have one that fits the home-grown criteria so it has to be an empty space and also we really don’t have the wage budget to get anyone worth having.

I decide to ask for a budget increase although I know that won’t solve the problem for the qualifiers.

John,

I need to make a request. I was hoping the club would consider increasing my wage budget. I feel the squad requires a top quality striker.

Regards

Mike

A few minutes later I get the reply I was expecting,

Mike,

Mr Reid has asked me to let you know that further to your request there is currently no scope to increase the wage budget past its current level unless you wish to filter some of the transfer budget to cover the extra expenditure. Failing that you will need to offload unnecessary players to free up further funds.

To that end I should advise you we have received a bid of £775,000 from QPR for Lee Naylor. This will also free up £6,000 a week in wages should you decide to sell.

Robin

I confirm my wish to accept the offer for Naylor; it won’t be enough though I’m going to have to readjust my budgets. After careful consideration I reduce my transfer budget to six million instead of eight and I should have nearly £50,000 a week extra for wages. That should be enough for the player I have in mind. I hope.

‘Copper before you finish up can you fax the registration list for the Champions League please, I’m going home. I need to see if I can find Jen.’

‘Sure thing.’

As I head home the rain is torrential, I still couldn't tell, it looks like sunshine to me.

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‘Emergency services, which service do you require?’

‘Get me an ambulance now!’ I demanded.

‘What’s the problem sir?’

‘I think my wife is dead.’

I’d walked through the door of my penthouse and had to a double take. Have you ever been burgled? You know when you walk through the door and the place is trashed but you can’t work out what is wrong for a couple of seconds. Well this was like that, only worse. Not only was everything in the place destroyed but there was blood all over the floor and walls.

I needed to find Jen and quickly. It hadn’t taken long. I raced around the flat and into our bedroom where I instantly recoiled at what I saw. My wife was stripped naked, her tattered clothes strewn on the floor, and tied to our bed. She had been severely beaten, probably to stop her fighting back if I knew Jen. Her body was black and blue and she lay there limp and lifeless in what would have been a pool of her own blood if it hadn’t been soaked up by the bed sheets.

I’d grabbed my mobile from my pocket and called 999.

‘An ambulance is on its way sir.’ The dispatcher had tried her best to reassure me. It was going to take more than that. ‘I need you to see if your wife is breathing.’

‘I can’t tell, if she is it’s very shallow.’

‘Can you feel a pulse?’ The voice on the other end of the phone had described the best method for checking this. I followed the instructions blindly not really thinking. My mind had been racing and suddenly it was clear.

‘There’s a pulse, it’s faint, but it’s there. Please get the paramedics here quickly I don’t think she’ll last long.’

‘They are on their way; they should be there in a matter of minutes.’

The two minute wait for the ambulance felt like 2 lifetimes. It was unbearable. When the paramedics finally arrived they worked fast, so fast that I didn’t know what they were doing and them conversing in paramedic speak didn’t make it any easier for me to understand.

Finally Jen was loaded into the ambulance and it set off through the streets of Glasgow with lights and sirens wailing. I don’t remember much about the journey, I was too busy clinging to my wifes cold hand and begging her to hold on.

***

She’d been in that room forever with doctors coming and going, wheeling bits of kit to and fro. What the hell was going on and why wouldn’t anyone tell me!

I must have fallen asleep as the next thing I remember is opening my eyes and seeing two police officers standing over me. One of them helped me to my feet and I began to rub my face as the other asked

‘Mr Kowalski can you think of anyone who might have done this?’

My mind was fuzzy as a result of the sleep but I couldn’t imagine anyone I knew could be callous enough to beat my wife half to death and I told them as much.

‘If you think of anyone please let us know.’

‘Sure, yeah, no problem.’

I was finally allowed in to see my wife although she was asleep. I sat for hours stroking her hair and her arm. I must have told her a hundred times that I loved her.

If I thought the last few hours was tough I was wrong, compared to what was coming when Jen finally opened her eyes this had been child’s play.

***

Hospital chairs aren’t comfortable to sit in, they are even less comfortable to sleep in, but I’d refused to leave my wife’s side. I needed to be there in case she needed me. The nurses had assured me she would be fine and that they would call me should Jen wake up, but I had steadfastly and quite rudely refused to go home.

When Jen woke up the Police returned to interview her. They went over and over the details with her making her relive it again and again. Apparently they had been over our home with a fine tooth comb but had found nothing but Jen’s blood and both mine and her fingerprints. The crime scene was a dead loss clue wise.

According to Jen there had been 2 men, both dressed in black and both wearing masks. They had forced their way into the house and beaten her. Then the first hammer blow came.

‘They both raped me.’

I wanted to cry. I sat and stared at the floor unable to look my wife in the face. I’d been sat drinking coffee whilst my wife was being brutalised by two men. I hadn’t been there for her when she needed me most.

The second hammer blow came shortly after when the doctors confirmed that, somewhat unsurprisingly, our unborn baby had been miscarried. The guilt of this fresh revelation lay heavy on my shoulders. I should have been there; if I had been there I might have stopped the torture that Jen had had to endure as she begged for her life and that of our unborn child.

Later that day Jen woke screaming.

‘It’s ok sweetheart.’

‘I was reliving it in my dream.’

‘Can I get you anything?’

‘No, I’m ok. Mike?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’ve remembered something... they both had Northeast accents.’

Something from the recent past him me like a train.

Kowalski if you think you can do what you did to me and walk away you are wrong. I will hurt you in ways you haven’t even thought of.’

BASTARDS, I knew who it was that had done this. They would pay a high price.

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‘I’m going to Manchester to stay with your parents. I don’t even want to be in this city whilst we still own that flat. I’ll come back once you’ve sold it but not before.’

Jen had been allowed out of hospital the following day and was now on her way to Manchester in the back of my parents’ car. She had gone with nothing packed. I’d told my parents to get her anything she wanted or needed clothes wise and I’d pay them back.

It was fair to say I wanted my wife to stay with me but I understood her feeling like she needed to go. I wanted her to stay to ease my feelings of guilt, thinking I would feel better if it felt like she was sticking with me. She didn’t know that I hadn’t come straight home and I couldn’t face telling her. Her leaving felt like she was leaving me for failing to protect her but I wasn’t about to fight her on her choice.

***

I wasn’t in the correct mindset to be coaching an Under-11’s team never mind a professional team in a European Qualifier. Copper would have to handle this one.

‘Copper you’re taking the team to Moscow, you’re in charge. I’m staying here.’

‘What’s happened? Why aren’t you coming?’

I went through the whole story with my American friend including who I believed was responsible. To say he was shocked and disgusted was an understatement but he now understood why I wouldn’t be there for the Dinamo game.

‘Copper you might as well take the team for the Rochdale match. Gives me time to get my head right.’

It was a game I had wanted to cancel but the club wouldn’t allow it as it was a match against a feeder team and we were contractually obliged.

‘Sure. No problem. Will you be back for the home leg against Dinamo?’

‘Yeah I would expect to be. Do me a favour and put us in a strong position for that game will you?’

‘I’ll do what I can.’

I didn’t know it but I was going to need it.

***

I didn’t feel like watching the Dinamo game. I felt like locking myself in my hotel room and drinking until I fell asleep, but there’s something about Celtic that just pulls me back in. No sooner had I locked the door and poured a drink I found myself reaching for the TV remote. I felt compelled to give the boys my support.

Within two minutes I was feeling positive about our chances. Hinkel had played a neat little ball up to Fortune, who had jumped too early and consequently had been beaten to the ball by the Moscow left back. All he’d managed to do was flick the ball into the left channel. The keeper came racing out to collect but Fortune had been too quick, beat him to the ball and taken it round him. The cross went into the area and I was up out of my seat in full on celebration mode. McDonald appeared like a ghost out of nowhere. 1-0, no wait Kolodin had somehow managed to get the ball clear just inches before it connected with McDonald’s foot. Damn it!

The rest of the first half wasn’t up to much. We played well, but neither side really showed and guile or grit. That changed 2 minutes from half time when Scott Brown was booked for a rash challenge against Kombarov on the half way line when nothing was at stake and the Moscow player was going nowhere. I hoped Copper would give him hell at half time for a needless booking.

Clearly whatever Copper said didn’t register with Brown. 5 minutes into the second half he goes in hard to win the ball in midfield, again with the player going nowhere and Milan Misun covering him. The referee produces the yellow and then red.

‘Dammit Broony now we have to play 40 minutes a man short.’

Defence becomes the order of the day. Copper clearly doesn’t want to lose this and I can’t say I blame him. He knows that I want to be in a decent position for the return leg. Dinamo are piling on the pressure and win a corner in the 84th minute, which is cleared first time by Caldwell whose header drops to Shaun Maloney. The ball is played square to Fortune who sends it wide right and in front of Zhi Zheng. Zheng is after it and Celtic attackers are sprinting to break up field with him. The ball is played inside and forward to Paul Caddis, and if the right back isn’t careful he’ll give himself a nose bleed! Caddis spots the advanced run of Scott McDonald into the box and plays a beautifully weighted ball into his path. Now it’s one-nil, now we’re in front, now I’m on my way to the bathroom to get a towel to mop up the beer I’ve spilt!

McDonald one on one with the keeper and he places it perfectly to the far post and past the outstretched arm of Dinamo’s number 1.

That’s the game and we have the perfect advantage to bring back to Glasgow. I propose a toast to Copper and the bhoys.

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I hadn’t seen the inside of my office for about 3 days. I’d spent most of the time in the dark in the hotel room missing my wife and feeling a strange mix of guilt and self pity. The little time I hadn’t spent in the dark had been spent organising the cleanup of the flat and getting up for sale.

I had to go to work today, I’d been told as much by my employer. Apparently they needed me. I made my way to the ground and parked my car. Three people tried to get autographs on my way up Kerrydale Street to the main entrance. I made my apologies and hurried inside.

Reaching my desk I found a brown folder with a slip of paper attached to the front.

Mike,

Find enclosed the list of, and profiles of, the new coaching and scouting staff the club have arranged for you.

John’

I flicked through the folder and noted that I had been given exactly what I wanted, one member of staff from each list and all of the scouts I had suggested. I’d sort out assignments for them all shortly, first I wanted to talk to my wife. My Mum answered the phone.

‘Hi, it’s Mike, is Jen around.’

‘She is but she hasn’t spoken to anyone since yesterday. The doctor thinks she’s gone into shock. He’s advised that we keep a close eye on her. He suspects that once she gets over the shock she’ll suffer depression so he’s put her on anti-depressants. Apparently they take time to work so he wanted to start as soon as possible. I think you should give her some time I’m sure she’ll call you when she’s ready to talk.’

‘Mum...’

‘Yes?’

‘Tell her I love her, that no matter what I’ll always love her more than anything in the world.’

‘Of course I will.’

I hung the phone up, tears welling in my eyes and a lump forming in my throat. Very soon I couldn’t control it any longer and I wept like a baby. Tears were streaming down my face and landing on the folder in front of me. It felt like the person I should have been closest to was furthest away. I understood she wasn’t well but I was concerned and upset that this was the end for our short marriage. Was she blaming me the same way I was? Would she forgive me, would she ever trust me again? Questions that would all need answers but that would all have to wait.

‘Mike you ok?’

‘Sure Copper I’m fine’ I replied wiping the tears away from my eyes as I looked up.

‘You know I can cope if you need ti...’

‘Thanks Copper but I need to be busy but I’ll know where to go if I need help. Well done on the Moscow result. That gives us a really strong position ahead of the home leg.’

‘Thanks, it was touch and go but I’m proud of the way we pulled together.’

‘You should be. Anyway I need your help, we’ve got all these new staff coming in and I need to give them assignments.’ I waved the folder at Copper.

‘It’s sorted Mike, I did it yesterday. I’ll brief all the coaches when they arrive and Parky will assign the scouts. He is head scout after all.’

I was impressed, that was most of my work for the day already taken care of. I just had the matter of finding our new striker and preparing for the Moscow return leg.

‘Copper after training take the rest of the day off, you’ve earned it.’

***

‘Senor Lotina please.’

‘This is Miguel Lotina’ said a voice after a short wait.

‘This is Mike Kowalski at Celtic, I’m enquiring about one of your players. I’ve heard a rumour that Mista might be available for transfer. Is this correct?’

‘Indeed he is.’

‘I’d be happy to take him off your hands, any chance of a free transfer?’

‘Sure, were happy to let him go to be honest.’

It’s fair to say I didn’t understand why they’d let him away for nothing. He looked a quality player, and even more so by your usual SPL standards. If I could make this deal happen I’d be revered by the fans.

The fax I was waiting on seemed to be an age in coming. Mista’s agent was sending me details of his clients contract requirements. I was hopeful, what with my budget juggling I figured I had the money to do the deal, especially as the fee was such a bargin! Then it arrived.

‘Dear Mr. Kowalski,

In order to consider signing for your club my client, Mista, will require the following;

£29,000 per week,

£6500 bonus per goal,

£2500 bonus per appearance.

We understand that your club has a policy of enforcing a 25% pay cut on all contracts in the event of the club’s relegation. We are happy to accept this given it’s unlikely nature.

My client has also asked me to inform you that he will require Key Player status and that this is non-negotiable.

Regards,

Antonio Lopez.

The financial issues within the demands were no problem; I had the money in the budget. The issue was going to be the status request. Key Player is football agent speak for ‘if he’s fit he plays.’ This was far from what I wanted. Yes Mista was clearly a class act, but he would be in competition with Samaras and Sammy had been outstanding in pre-season. I was far from comfortable with rewarding Sammy’s efforts with a spot on the bench. What I had wanted was to be able to rotate them, or at least have the option to. Mista’s contract proposal would take the choice away. I decided to move to a different target, but I had no idea who. I’d ask Parky to get my new scouting army onto it and check with Copper if he could unearth any gems, perhaps on loan.

***

‘Mike we have a problem’ came the American accent down the corridor. Copper was running by the sound of it.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘The lads are ill. Too ill to play.’

‘What? What’s wrong?’

‘We think food poisoning, every last one of them is currently vomiting their guts up.’

‘All of them? Even the reserves?’

‘Yes, even the reserves. It looks like we don’t have a team for tonight.’

‘S***’

‘We’ll have to forfeit the match.’

‘No way Copper, that isn’t going to happen. If we forfeit we get handed a 3-0 defeat and we’re out of Europe. I have an idea.’

I headed out of my office and down the corridor to find Parky. I hoped he could help me. I was relieved to find him in his office surrounded by the other people I wanted to see. It was customary that the Under-19’s attended the European home games as spectators.

I hurriedly explained the problem to the Academy Director, who looked at me puzzled.

‘Are we forfeiting the game?’

‘No John we are not. We will fight to make sure we keep our place in this competiton. Get your lads stripped and ready, we are fielding a team. If we go down it won’t be because we didn’t try.’

As I headed back to my office I heard whoops of delight, clearly the youngsters were happy to all be making their competitive debuts tonight. I wasn’t so happy and was about to get decidedly less so.

I grabbed my phone of my desk and heard a familiar voice on the other end.

‘Hope you liked my little surprise. Like I said, I’ll hurt you in ways you haven’t even thought of.’

‘You little ba...’

It was no good, he’d hung up.

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Parky helped me scribble 11 names on the team sheet. It made sense to let him pick, he knew these players better than me. I took the sheet of him and headed to the referee’s room where the UEFA official looked more than a little puzzled.

‘None of these players are on your approved squad list. You can’t use them.’

‘I think you’ll find I can. Come with me.’

The bemused official followed me to the home team dressing room. I opened the door and he stepped inside. I went in after him.

‘We can use them as they are all Under-19’s and players under the age of 21 are not required to be registered. Please correct me if I am wrong.’

The official confirmed that my understanding of the rule was correct. He still didn’t look sure he understood why we were using our Under-19 team but he was no longer concerned that we were trying to cheat.

‘Mr Kowalski can I ask why you are using these boys, do you not value your place in this competition?’

The word boys here was obviously a reference to their age and inexperience and it brought pain to hear it. I was uncomfortable enough sending a bunch of wet behind the ears youngsters to do a job the first team should have been doing. Especially with our place in Europe on the line.

‘Of course, but currently every member of the approved squad has his head down a toilet and is calling out for Huey so I’m working with what I have. And what I have is my Under-19 side.’

The official was clearly still none the wiser but had decided against pressing me any further. I wasn’t breaking any rules therefore he had no complaints.

I headed back to the dressing room and found Parky and Copper finishing off running the team through the system.

‘Okay lads that’s the plan. Hush up now, Gaffers here lets listen to what he has to say.’

‘Boys this isn’t going to be easy. We have 11 first team debuts in the starting line up and a distinct lack of options on the bench. I’m not trying to worry you, I want you to know that I understand that this is a tough ask. On that basis I wish you the best of luck and ask you to give me everything you have out there.’

Nobody moved. I was used to a massive amount of noise and movement once the pre-match team talk was finished but every last one of the green and white kits was sat perfectly still and silently. I could almost taste the fear they were feeling.

‘Ok guys it’s time to go, get out there and show me your good enough.’

I followed the team down the tunnel and out onto the pitch. Watching fifty-eight thousand people doing an impression of the UEFA official didn’t fill me with confidence; evidently they weren’t full of confidence either.

‘Mike it’ll be ok, they are good lads. They are coached to handle pressure.’ Parky’s tone was obviously meant to reassure me.

‘Handling pressure at Under-19 level and European level are two entirely different things. I wouldn’t mind if it was one or two of them out there but all eleven making their first team debuts together has me worried.’

It turned out I was right to be worried. From the very first whistle every one of my starting eleven looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. Moscow just played round them, if my team had been any less ‘there’ Moscow could have played through them.

‘Copper if the lads don’t shake themselves we’re going to get mauled.’

‘We’re 2 minutes in, give them a chance.’

‘We don’t have time for chances, we have the narrowest of leads in an important game...’ and with that I strode out to the edge of the technical area. ‘WAKEN UP BOYS, THIS IS IMPORTANT!’

We started to defend more like a team; we even looked like we might give them a game. Thirteen minutes pass before either team generate a meaningful chance, unfortunately it wasn’t us who created it.

Connor Fairley, in the Celtic goal launches a clearance forward but it isn’t accurate enough and drops onto the head of a Moscow centre-back. They move the ball around like a figure skater moves on ice. A very neat succession of passes renders our midfield useless and a simple through ball carves our defence wide open. Fairley does what he has to and keeps it out by conceding a corner. He couldn’t have known, but it was probably going wide anyway.

Dinamo followed this up by creating chance after chance. They showed excellent precise and measured passing. We were taken apart time and time again and we seemed powerless to stop it. Moscow were a hot knife and we were the butter.

Any time we had the ball we seemed to get to run out of plans once we reached the half way line, assuming we made it that far in the first place. Most of the time the ball was given away long before we had the chance to do anything with it.

A goal was scored just after the half hour. The cross came in and was only half cleared by the defender and was eventually worked into a lashed shot that no keeper could have saved. It was a shame that the defender was called Gallacher and the scorer‘s name was Khokhlov. Even in today’s cosmopolitan football world there was no doubt which way this had gone. Our advantage was wiped out. The ball had been picked up by Kolodin after the half clearance towards the touchline. Kolodin played it backwards to Khokhlov who then picked out Onischenko. Unable to get past his marker he squares the ball across the box straight into the path of his on-rushing team mate. The goal was beautifully worked.

I slumped into my chair and stared at my feet, Copper was out on the touchline screaming and flapping him arms. Eventually he stopped and came and sat next to me.

‘What was the windmill impression?’

‘Trying to get them to tighten up at the back, they showed earlier they can do it so I want them to do it again. Don’t worry Mike there are still goals in this match.’

I shrugged my shoulders, ‘I hope you’re right.’

Copper was right there were more goals to come, but none of them came before halftime. What we were treated to was a couple of fouls and an offside and one player from each side being taken off injured. Not that it really helped us, I took off a attacking midfield player who was struggling in the centre of the park and replaced him with an attacking midfielder who struggled in the centre of the park.

The only other incident of note was a terrible miss-controlled ball by a Moscow player in our area which had he controlled it properly would have meant a certain goal, as it was we managed to avoid that by virtue of a last ditch challenge.

The second half started exactly as the first had finished, with Moscow in the ascendancy. I’d tried to relax the players by telling them that the pressure was off, unfortunately that seemed to just make them comatose!

Within eight minutes of the restart Moscow had a corner and it was 2-0. Woeful defending meant that the two Gallacher brothers got in each other’s way. Grant tried to shove Declan out of the way, but only succeeded in pushing him into the ball which caused it to drop straight to Onischenko who doubled the visitors lead.

I was despondent; a defeat in this game could cost a man his job in these parts. The natives were not happy but we were blessed that in such a large crowd it is next to impossible to pick out the individual insults.

I don’t remember much about the 3rd and 4th goal of the match, the 5th was a pearler. A curled effort from 20 yards, I’d have been proud to score it. As each of these went in the noise got louder and louder.

It’s fair to say there was unrest in the stands. A 5-0 home defeat, Christ they’d want my head!

Author's Note: This match was a strange feeling. Obviously the food posioning is a storyline and didn't happen in game. It is the first time in my FM life I have ever sent out a team knowing I was potentially sabotaging my season, although I did try to win the match. It was never my intention to lose I just accept that as one possible consequence.

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I wanted to go home; I’d spent the last hour explaining to the media the reasons for what appeared a strange choice of team. I’d decided to tell them the truth, well to a point. I’d no intention of letting slip that Venus was claiming responsibility for this. For one thing even if it was true nobody had any idea how he’d pulled it off. I hoped that explaining that I’d had no other choice would get me off the hook with the fans. Surely they’d understand that I did the only thing I could.

Having said all that there was still a couple of things that rankled with me. If we’d forfeited the match we wouldn’t have lost so badly. It’d have gone down in the records as 0-3. That brought my thoughts to the other thing that had annoyed me, the general performance was truly woeful. I couldn’t believe that we hadn’t managed one decent performance between us. The tale of the tape tells the whole story. Moscow achieved 32 shots, 15 of which were on target and over 65% of the ball. That left us with slightly over 30% of the ball and 1 shot on goal all night. Yes Moscow were a good side but seriously they aren’t Real Madrid.

I wanted to go home, home to my wife. I was going to have to make do with my hotel room, alone. I couldn’t sleep in that flat, I didn’t want to be there and my wife was in Manchester. She still hadn’t called, which was more worrying. I knew she had started to communicate with my parents but she wouldn’t talk to me. I hadn’t told anyone but I started to suspect that my marriage was over. Maybe if I gave this up now and headed south I could salvage it.

I resolved to pack up and go in the morning; nothing was going to change my mind.

Arriving back at the hotel wasn’t a pleasant experience given the number of Celtic fans in the hotel bar. I hoped they wouldn’t see me as I made my way across the foyer. It was no good, even if they hadn’t seen me I reeked of failure and they smelt it. I decided to try to buy my way out of this.

There was a melee of noise as the fans turned and saw me. Some insults were shouted and others questioned my ability. I had to shout to make myself heard.

‘Guys listen, I’m sorry we lost tonight. That was obviously never my intention. Let’s have a drink and I’ll try to explain. Barman the next round is on me, get every man in green a drink and charge my room please.’

I’d bought their attention, now to get their support.

‘Tonight was tough on all of us. I fielded the team I did because I had no choice...’ I spent the next few minutes telling them the same story they would read tomorrow. ‘You all know I’m a ‘Tic fan, seriously why would I want to sabotage our European chances? I know that more than anything in the world you want this club to win the European Cup again, that’s what I want too. I’m not going to sit here and promise it to you, what I am going to promise you is that we’ll try. My coaching team and I have a plan to get the team to play like The Lions; we will not give up even in the face of insurmountable odds. We might go down but we’ll go down trying our hardest to delivery success. Last night I had two choices, either I forfeit the game or I field the only fit team I had. The first option meant we were out, the second meant we might make it. I made the only decision I could, I’m only sorry it didn’t work out and we’re out of Europe. That was never the intention.’

I drained my drink and stood up to go my room. Then something happened I wasn’t expecting. The whole room stood up with me and I headed out into the foyer to a standing ovation and cheers of support.

‘Mr. Kowalski!’ a hand touched my shoulder. I turned round to see who wanted me.

‘What can I do for you son?’ I was faced with a young lad of about 20.

‘You said we were out of Europe, but we aren’t.’

‘Yes son, we got beat 5-1 on aggregate, I reckon that puts us out.’

‘No Mr. Kowalski, it puts us in the 4th Qualifying Round of the Europa League.’

‘Are you sure?’

Apparently the young lad was correct Celtic were still in European competition. It was some consolation knowing that I hadn’t totally shattered the fans dreams. It wouldn’t matter anyway because tomorrow Celtic would need a new manager. Tonight had not been a night for miracles and that was the only thing that would make me stay.

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Very kind of you to say so Elrithral. Glad you're enjoying it.

I didn’t want to sleep, I’d tried but my brain refused to let me. I decided to pack my things ready for the departure in the morning. Unfortunately I over estimated how long it would take and I wasn’t even close to tired, I really didn’t have much left since the destroying of my flat.

I decided to let Jen know I was on my way back to her. I figured that might stop the thoughts that were rolling round my head. I sat on the bed and picked up the receiver on the hotel phone. Staring blankly at the key pad in front of me I realised that this might be it. I was probably about to find out if Jen wanted me around.

I dialled the number and waited. I knew if it rang 6 times it would go to answer machine. 1... 2... 3... 4...

‘Hello?’

‘Hi Mum, it’s Mike’

‘Oh hi’

‘You sound surprised to hear from me.’

‘I am. It’s 1am.’

**** I’d forgotten the time. ‘Sorry Mum I hadn’t realised. Is Jen asleep?’

‘Not at the moment, why?’

‘Assuming she still won’t talk to me, could you give her this message?’

I asked my Mum to tell Jen of my decision to return to be there for her. I wanted her to know that she was more important than any job, even one managing Celtic. She agreed to pass on the message.

‘Look, I’ll go and tell her and then either she or I will ring you later. ‘

That was that, now it was time to wait it out. I hadn’t expected the call to come straight away, which was good because it didn’t. In fact 2 hours later I was still waiting and finally had to sleep. I put my mobile on the pillow next to me so I wouldn’t miss the call.

I didn’t miss it, in fact I was out of bed, showered, dressed and putting my bags into my car at 8am when the phone finally rang. I dropped my bags and fumbled for my phone.

‘Hi Mum...’

‘This isn’t your Mum’ replied the soft voice on the other end.

It was her, my wife had called me. My heart was racing, surely this was good news, she’d only call me herself with good news, wouldn’t she? I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers.

‘Hey Jen, how are you?’

‘I’m getting by; your Mum told me you’d called. In fact we’ve just finished talking now. I hope you understand I had a lot of things on my mind.’

‘Of course I understand’

‘Look I’ve called to say that I don’t want you to come back to Manchester.’ My heart sank and my stomach turned over at the crushing blow.

‘But...’

‘Mike, listen to me, I don’t want you to come back to Manchester, I want you to stay in Glasgow and do your job. That job means everything to you.’

‘You mean more’ was my sincere reply.

‘That’s as maybe but I’m not going to make you choose, I fact I won’t let you choose. You can have both.’

Last night miracles hadn’t been a night for miracles, this morning clearly had been. I was the manager of Celtic Football Club, I was staying and I had my soul mate back.

***

I picked up the newspaper that Copper had left on his desk, he’d suggested I might want to see it, although I couldn’t imagine why. When I pressed him on it he remained just a cryptic.

‘Let’s just say there’s a nice follow up piece on a previous story. I’ve put a marker in the page.’

‘Err; yeah ok I’ll have a look.’

I wandered over to my desk and sat down. Flicking through the paper, from the back of course, I found the marker Copper had left. It looked vaguely familiar. Scanning it I remembered what I was looking at.

The FA has announced that they are following some new leads regarding corruption in the world of football following the anonymous sending of some photographs showing an ex-footballer and Non-League Manager accepting bribes. The suspect has not been named.

The FA has advised they will conduct a full investigation into the individual implicated.

Reading that made again made me laugh, again. So what was it Copper wanted me to see. I turned my attention to the newspaper and saw the headline.

A SPARTAN EXISTANCE?

Ex-Blyth Spartans manager Graham Fenton has been arrested on bribery and theft charges. An FA review into the former Villa player has uncovered a string of unaccounted for entries into his bank account.

From the evidence gathered it would appear that Mr. Fenton has accepted payments to lose matches in the Blue Square North last season and has stolen the sum of £30,000 from the Spartan’s coffers using an elaborate fake player scam.

It is believed that the proceeds of these crimes have been used to continue his lavish lifestyle. It would appear that Fenton’s wealth was wiped out when his pub chain collapsed.

If found guilty of these charges Fenton faces up to 5 years in prison, which will see him face a much more Spartan existence behind bars.

Today really couldn’t get any better.

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‘Hello?’

‘I have an incoming call for you Mr Kowalski’ replied the receptionist.

‘Who is it? ... OK put them through thanks.’

‘Hi this is Mike Kowalski... Oh hi... sure no worries. Come and see him train? Probably not a good idea for you to be seen at Lennoxtown... I can’t stop you going to Pittodrie to watch him play. Tell you what I’ll meet you in the bar after the game and I’ll give you my thoughts on him. Sure... look forward to it.’

I headed down the corridor to the changing rooms where the boys where just finishing showering following the training session. As I entered the room a quiet fell over the players.

‘Andy, finish getting changed and come down to my office please.’

Andreas Hinkel turned and nodded his understanding. ‘Give me five minutes boss.’

As promised five minutes later Hinkel arrived in my office. I ushered him in and sat him down.

‘Andy this is nothing to worry about OK. I’ve just come off the phone from the German National Team manager and wanted to let you know that he is coming to Pittodrie on Saturday to see you play. I know you missed the 2006 World Cup and that 2010 might be your last chance so I’m making sure you play against Aberdeen. You make sure you take your chance.’

‘Thanks gaffer, much appreciated.’

‘Go and get some lunch Andy, but don’t mention this to the other lads OK?'

‘Sure thing.’

***

‘Right boys this is it, the start of the title race. We all know it’s a long season and one win doesn’t make you champions, but that’s what I want today. One win, a decent start to the campaign for the fans. Aberdeen away is about as tough as season openers come but I want you to go out there and show our fans that we’re the best in the league.’

I wan't to be confident of a win but we we’re slightly light at the back. Caldwell was suspended due to a sending off at the end of last season, McManus is still injured and Fox has picked up a back strain that’ll keep him out 4 weeks. As a result Josh Thompson, an 18 year old reserve player, is partnering Glenn Loovens in central defence and Blair Tolmie, a 20 year old colleague of Thompson’s is filling in defensive duties on the bench.

‘Mike you need to pick a captain, both McManus and Caldwell are missing.’

Copper was right, I couldn’t use our normal captain or vice. Looking round the room there was only one choice.

‘Andy, you fancy playing skipper this afternoon?’ I asked as I tossed the armband in his direction. ‘Go and win yourself a place on the plane to South Africa.’

Hinkel responded with a nod and a smile. ‘Thanks boss.’

‘No problem, go on boys, on you go and get warmed up.’

I was more than a little nervous and given my poor start in Europe and the fact that the only fixture I’d have looked forward to less as an opener would be one involving Rangers it certainly wasn’t difficult to understand why.

Copper followed the squad out but I couldn’t. I headed in the other direction found the nearest toilet and promptly relieved my stomach of my breakfast. I was more nervous than I was ever going to let the team see.

I moved over to the sink and stuck my mouth under the tap to wash away the acidic taste in my mouth. I splashed my face with some water and dried it on a paper towel.

Picking up my note pad I turned and headed out of the dressing room and up the tunnel. Casually I slid into the space on the bench next to Copper.

‘Feel better?’

How the hell had he known? ‘Not really, here we go.’

‘It’ll be fine. We have the best squad in the league.’

This was some reassurance, but it didn’t guarantee anything. I knew I needed a win, Rangers had won 4-2 the day before and the last thing I needed, especially having had to throw our Champions League chances away, was to play catch up in the league from day one.

Things didn’t look good for Hinkel or Celtic in the 4th minute as he was skinned by the left winger but managed to recover in time to stop the cross. I was relieved for him and the team to see the ball cleared from the box.

Hinkel was involved again in the 6th minute as he tried to break down the right and won a throw in from a attempted deep cross. Hinkel took the throw in himself and it landed perfectly for Aiden McGeady who took the ball inside, evading the Aberdeen players as he went. From a distance of 25 yards out in a fairly central position McGeady threaded his shot between Diamond and Irvine, who had taken up the central defensive positions and past the helpless Jamie Langfield. We had an early lead!

Aberdeen did a great job of matching us following the goal. Mark McGhee had them well organised and they worked hard for him. Every time we went forward the broke it up and similarly when they came at us we had an answer for it. The latter certainly proved true in the 16th minute as Misun, in our left back position, took the ball from Weatherston as if he wasn’t there. A neat pass to Maloney was followed by a measured chip down the left for Samaras to run onto. Maloney followed the action and cut inside behind Samaras as the Greek reached the by line and tried to play it square. The ball nicked off a defender and into Maloney’s path. A simple tap under the sprawling keeper was all that was required to double our advantage and stop my nerves.

10 minutes later my stomach stopped turning as Shaun Maloney added a 3rd goal. Boruc punted the ball up-field but Fortune couldn’t get on the end of it. Instead losing out to Irvine who only succeded in playing the ball to Scott Brown. Brown released the ball left immediately to Maloney who strode forward and played a neat one-two with Samaras. First the ball went forward and left to Samaras with Maloney skipping round his outside. Samaras played a weighted ball into the box that Maloney made it onto and placed a diagonal shot into the far corner.

I was finally convinced that we would take the points here and started to relax. Maybe the team sensed this and thought it their cue to take it easy too. Aberdeen made much more of the next 15 minutes. They got the ball forward much more quickly than previously and had it not been for some truly woeful striking they may even have scored. They didn’t.

But we did, again. Hinkel with another throw in, this time to Fortune, who sends it straight back to the full back. Obviously looking to impress his national manager Hinkel fired a forward ball for McGeady to chase. Not only does he chase it, but he catches it, skins Foster in the Aberdeen left back position and plays a cross into the penalty area. Langfield comes to get it but looks unsure and ends up doing more than flapping at it. Meanwhile Samaras and Brown have both made forward runs. This is a problem for Aberdeen as they have one defender, Zander Diamond in the area and one defender on the way back but too far away to make any difference. Diamond has to decide which attacker he picks up and goes with Samaras. This leaves Scott Brown to steal in and slot the ball past the man in the goalkeeper jersey who looks like he might take off.

0-4 at half time and I’m no longer nervous, I’m very pleased and that’s exactly what I tell the team.

The second half is very relaxed in the away dugout and nearly as much so from the away team on the pitch. Really it consists of a lot of huffing and puffing from Aberdeen but no real substance. There is a booking apiece and the substitution of Andy Hinkel in the 72nd minute due to a slight knock.

‘Andy, off you come. I’m putting Mark in.’

‘Boss I’m ok and this is my chance to impress R...’

‘Andy you’ve given a great account of yourself there is no point carrying on with a knock and having it turn into something serious.’

I was pleased with what I’d seen from my stand-in captain and from my team in general but they clearly wanted to impress me further. Milan Misun decided the opening day of the league season and his first league game for the club was a good time to slam a 25 yard free kick home for his first Celtic goal.

To round off the game the whole team got involved and played a lovely passing move. The ball flowed back and forth and Aberdeen chased us fruitlessly. Finally Aiden McGeady decided he’d had enough and broke down the wing and fired a perfect cross onto Samaras’ head. The game was 2 minutes into stoppage time and it was 0-6 on the scoreboard.

Top of the league after the first round of fixtures? I would have thought so, and I’d take it.

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‘Copper can you handle the team talk; I’m heading up to the director’s lounge. Feel free to meet me up there later.’

I made my way to the place where I was due to meet the man I spoke to the day before. I knew exactly who he was and what he looked like although I’d never met him before. He was an ex-Rangers player and one of the biggest names in football management at the moment. He’d taken a provincial club from nowhere to within the top 4 in the English Premier League and then moved on to manage Germany.

He saw me first and made his way over. ‘Hi Mike, thanks for agreeing to meet me.’

‘No problem, it’s nice to meet you. I hope you don’t mind but my assistant will be joining us shortly.’

‘That’s fine.’

We chatted a while about football in general, about life on opposite sides of the Glasgow goldfish bowl before talk inevitably turned to the match we’d just seen.

‘My plan is to get the team playing like the Lisbon Lions.’

‘They we’re certainly impressive out there today.’

‘Thanks I’m very pleased with the way we pl...’ I stopped mid-sentence as I noticed that the other person in this conversation had stopped listening and was staring at something behind me. I turned around but all I could see was my assistant manager.

Copper had spotted me too and made his way over. About 10 feet short of us he stopped.

‘What the hell is he doing here?’ Copper demanded signalling my companion. ‘What the hell kind of stunt are you trying to pull Mike?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about Copper? What’s wrong?’

‘What’s wrong? He's what’s wrong, Rob f***ing Ridgway! Who the hell invited him?’

Amazingly Rob had remained calm despite every person in the room turning to see what the fuss was about.

‘No-one invited me Copper, I’m here on official business.’

‘What business?’

‘In my capacity as Germany manager. I wanted to watch Andreas Hinkel so I came along today. Made sense as I happened to be at Ibrox yesterday.’

‘You couldn’t help yourself could you. First you want to take all the big jobs for yourself, feasting at the top tables whilst I slaved away trying to build a side out of nothing in the Blue Square North. Taking all the credit as the league’s token American. You barely even acknowledged that there were two of us trying to do the same job!’ Copper’s words were filled with vitriol.

‘Copper listen I never in...’

‘No you listen you son of a bitch. I don’t appreciate you turning up here, rubbing my face in the fact that no matter how well I do for myself you’ve always gone and done more. I get a non-league job, you go to Reading. I get fired, you take Reading into Europe. I bounce back and land on my feet as assistant manager at a club bigger than Reading and you show up to point out the fact that you’re now Germany manager! Well f*** you!’

‘Enough Copper,’ Rob was visibly shaken, ‘I’ve never ever done anything just to put you down. Hell I even turned up at Croft Park to help you out. Why would I do that if I just wanted to see you fall on your ass. Do you want to know why I got these big jobs and you didn’t? Because I’m an ex-professional footballer and YOU AREN’T!’ Rob’s tone quietened. ‘Like it or not as an ex-pro I’m always going to have a better standing than someone who hasn’t played professionally. That doesn’t mean I think I’m a better coach than you, it doesn’t mean that I want you to fail, it just means that I’m lucky enough not to have to start at the bottom.’

Copper looked stunned, ‘But you, yo...’

‘What did I do Copper, tell me, what did I do to deserve all the insults and demeaning that you threw my way? How did my being a Premier League manager ever hinder your career. It should have helped, showed the world that the American’s can do the job.’

Copper finally saw that he had been wrong. I hadn’t even known about Copper’s dislike for Rob and even I could see that Copper accepted none of his feelings were Ridgway’s fault.

‘Rob I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, you deserved better from a man you tried to help. Can I get you a drink?’

‘That’d be great, but if you really are sorry and you really want to make amends you can do something else for me.’

‘What Rob?’

‘Next time you ask for help and help is given don’t throw it back in the face of the person helping you. Even if the help doesn’t work out quite the way you planned it. I wanted to help you, you are my friend.’

‘Again I’m truly sorry, there is something I could do with some help on, if you’re still willing?’

‘Sure Copper, just let me know what you need.’ Rob would probably wish he hadn’t said that.

‘I will. I’ll call you later, the coach is leaving for Glasgow in 5 minutes and I need to be on it.’

***

Copper was on the phone as I went into my office. He saw me come in and waved me over to his PC. Whatever he was watching whilst he talked was clearly exciting him. I leaned in over his shoulder and saw why. The footage was marked Eigentum der Deutscher Fuβball-Bund. Whatever he was watching had come from the German FA.

‘Actually Rob he’s just walked in. Hang on, I’ll ask.’ Copper put the receiver down and turned to me. ‘Mike I think I’ve found our new striker.’ Copper pointed to one of the players. ‘All I need to know is do we want him?’

I shrugged my shoulders; I didn’t even know who I was watching.

Copper picked the receiver back up. ‘Rob, hold fire for now and I’ll come back to you. I need to discuss it with Mike... ...yeah you too, speak to you later.’ Copper put the phone down and turned to me. ‘Mike the deal is all but done, all you need to do is ratify it and the lad is ours.’

‘Copper who the hell is he, and where did you dig him up from?’

‘His name is Sami Allagui and he’s a Tunisian striker playing for the Furth in the German Second Division. He’s available for £1.7million.’

I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. ‘You want me to sanction a deal for the thick end of 2 million quid on a German Second Division striker I’ve never seen play? I’m not John Barnes.’

‘And Allagui isn’t a Brazilian central defender who cost 5.5million. He comes with a personal recommendation from Rob. He reckons he’s a younger but identical player to Samaras and on top of that he’s willing to rotate. We won’t have to freeze Sammy out.’

‘It’s a lot of money for a virtual unknown though.’

‘I understand but we’ve also received 2 bids of £600,000 for Chris Killen, who isn’t good enough to play first team even as the bench warmer for Sammy so it’ll really only be a little over a million.’

I wasn’t totally convinced and Copper could clearly tell.

‘Mike I’d stake my job on this. If Rob says he’s good then he’s good. He wants a 4 year deal, seven thousand a week and he’s happy with a rotation role. Sure he might not be Mista, but for the money he’s the best option we have. On top of that Rob has agreed to act as a ‘super-scout’ for us and tell us about top prospects in Germany. He’s also going to help tie up the deals.’

‘How did you get him to agree to that? He’s a world class Teddy Bear.’ I was used to using a different phrase, but it seemed inappropriate given the help Rob would give us.

‘That was the help I asked for. He agreed on the basis that we don’t breathe a word to anyone. It wouldn’t go down well at either club.’

Later that morning, having unloaded another worthless Under-19 who wasn’t going to make it I’d made my decision.

‘OK Copper call Rob back and tell him to do it, and let whoever it is that has bid for Killen that they have permission to talk to him.’ I’d omitted a crucial detail again. This was a bad habit I was in, but it was worse for Copper.

Authors Note: My thanks goes to 10-3 for allowing me to use Mr Ridgway and for the great help he has been making sure that my storylines added up to reflect the previous histories of both Rob and Copper. I couldn't have done the last two posts without him. I owe him a debt of gratitude.

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Mike, welcome along, glad you like it.

10-3, that is high praise indeed and I appreciate it.

Less than 24 hours after I’d sanctioned the deal for Sami Allagui I was going up against the media to announce that we had our man. The press conference was a small affair by Celtic standards and was totally dominated by questions from three men. Davie Provan, who was representing Sky Sports News and who is an ex-Celtic player and well known Rangers supporter, Hugh Keevins of the Daily Record and Greg Perry of the Glasgow Football Paper.

Davie Provan got us underway with the first question.

‘Are you pleased to have signed Sami?’

‘Of course, we are delighted to add to our squad.’ I tried to side step the question, I still wasn’t totally sure who I’d signed.

‘Sami Allagui is hardly a household name, where did you hear about him?’ Provan continued.

‘Henrik Larsson was hardly a household name and look how that turned out. Sami was recommended to us by someone within the game.’

‘Can I ask who?’

‘You can, but I’ve no intention of sharing this information with you. It wouldn’t be fair on the person who made the recommendation. I am the one who should be judged on the signings that the club makes. I don’t want someone else taking the glory for our signings when they turn out great, equally if they don’t work out I should have to carry the can for them.’ I had do give a full answer that appeased the fans and protected Rob’s identity. It was crucial for Rob, for me and for both clubs that Rob’s name never got out. Neither sets of fans would like it and it would make both my position as Celtic manager and Rob’s position as Rangers stalwart untenable. That was not a position I intended either of us to be any time soon, especially if I wanted to count on Rob’s continued assistance.

Hugh Keevins was in with the next question, ‘Will you need to amend your tactics to accommodate Sami?’

‘I envisage Sami and Giorgios Samaras rotating up front. I don’t wish to say more than that currently as we haven’t fully decided if changes will need to be made when Sami plays.’

‘What effect do you anticipate the signing will have on the squad?’ Keevins again.

‘I’m hoping he’ll provide a big boost to the team and show those players that were already here that there will be competition for places in the squad.’

‘Greg Perry, Glasgow Football Paper. I was wondering what sort of relationship you have with Sami and why he wanted to work under you?’

‘That’s really a question for Sami to answer. As far as I’m concerned I received a recommendation and acted on it. As such, if my source says he is the player we need for the position we identified then that is good enough for me.’

The press officer signalled the end of the meeting, time to go training.

***

I’d been awake 36 hours. I had multiple problems and they were all fighting for space in my head. I had back to back European games coming up and I had to do something about Fenton and Venus. I hadn’t forgotten about them. You don’t easily put aside the raping of your wife. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure what to do about them.

F*** them, Fenton and Venus would wait. The wait would make the revenge sweeter. Retribution is best when it’s unexpected. Right now I had Europa League qualifying games against Genk to contend with. I really couldn’t afford to balls this up. Lose this and I’d have to resign.

I decided to keep this simple, same tactics, same formation and the same names in the same order on the team sheet as had played Aberdeen. You can’t argue with that when they won 6-0. The making of the decision eased some of the pressure in my head and allowed me to fall asleep, although the whisky may have helped.

***

‘Lads we really need to win this for the fans today. Genk are a decent side but we can take them. We need to get through this tie and a positive result would help massively.’

An away win wasn’t out of the question by any means. I wasn’t sure it would be as easy as the fans seemed to think it would be. It’s strange that the SPL is considered a football backwater yet most Old Firm fans would consider Belgium to be even more so. In honesty they are probably of a similar standard.

This match proved they are a bit too similar. The first 40 minutes did anyway. Nothing happened, the two teams cancelled each other out. There was finally something of note when Josh Thompson, in the heart of Celtic’s defence, was booked for a push on the Genk centre forward. Nearly half time, but not near enough to stop us from taking the lead.

Glenn Loovens won the ball from the Genk goal kick and nodded the ball forward to Samaras, who took the ball into the penalty box and pulled his shot away just before the defender whipped the ball off his boot. The ball was beaten away by the keeper to his right. Never one to give up, Scott Brown chased what most considered a lost cause and beat his marker to the ball before calmly slotting the ball past the stranded keeper.

Nearly half time, but not near enough to prevent an equaliser! Balazs Toth smashed a 25 yard screamer past Artur Boruc following some intricate build up play and a perfect square ball to Toth’s feet from Tiago Silva. Level at the break, I couldn’t really complain.

What I could, and did, complain about was the way we stood back and watched ad Genk created an almost exact replica of their equaliser to put themselves 2-1 up less than 2 minutes after the restart.

‘Willo, WILLO! For F***’s sake close him down!

What to do now? Go defensive and hope to snatch a goal on the break, or maybe go back to Glasgow trailling by just 1. No, f*** it, my name is Michael James f’in Kowalski and I’m going all out for the win.

‘Copper push them forward I want to win this game.’

‘I don’t think we should risk it Mike, last roll of the dice as far a Europe is concerned, we can’t afford to get this wrong.’

‘What would the Lions do?’

‘They’d play attacking football.’

‘Then we aren’t getting it wrong, push them up.’

It took 10 minutes for something to happen after my change. Shaun Maloney got injured. I turned round to the bench. Damn, no wingers in substitutes.

‘Caddis, you’re going on for Maloney.’ It was the only real choice. Paul was, by nature, an attacking full back. I just hoped he could take his attacking tendencies out onto the park with him. ‘Leave the defensive stuff to the people behind you. The inside forwards don’t track back. You are going on to be a creator and if possible a goal scorer.’

It took him 4 minutes. Samaras had the ball in the box and was going nowhere fast with it. Spotting the run of Caddis he knocked the ball to the right flank where Paul played a first time cross that was perfect for McGeady at the back post to pop into the unguarded goal.

‘Mike should we pull back and take the draw home with us?’

I was confident we could win this. ‘No leave them as they are. I’m not convinced that Genk can handle us. I’d like to see if we can win this.’

We waited 10 minutes and every attack was repelled. Genk had closed the game up and I needed to find a way through.

‘Boys! I want you to get the ball forward quickly. Lump it into the box if needs be but put them under pressure! I want to take a win here.’

It took 3 more minutes. Milan Misun won the ball from a Genk goalkick. Ball Forward to Caddis, ahead again to Samaras. No option but to swing it wide to the far side and McGeady. Aiden beats his man and slides it into the box. Flood has burst forward, keeper helpless. We’re in front.

‘Now can I pull them back Mike?’

‘No Copper, the lions don’t stand off.’

‘Don’t blame me if it goes ass-end up.’ Copper tossed his water bottle in my general direction.

Flood was in on the action again, but this time it wasn’t so positive. The referee booked him for persistant fouling. Willo was clearly annoyed by this, especially as the ‘foul’ that got him booked had been a blatant dive by Ederson. Flood lost his head as a result of the booking and less than 60 seconds later was heading for the dressing room for going straight through Toth.

‘You can tell them to pull back now.’

We were playing the last 5 minutes with 10 men but the victory was still ours.

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‘When I make a decision I’d like to be able to expect my staff to back that decision. I certainly don’t expect to evoke public shows of petulance.’

‘What the hell did you expect Mike. Even if I accept that at two all you wanted to go and win the game you should have pulled back once we were 3-2 up. You did nothing until you were forced to. Your tactical naivety could have cost us the game.’

I was furious with Copper for his insult. ‘I told you the Lions don’t stand off. What part of that are you failing to grasp.’

‘The Lions part Mike. This is not the Lisbon Lions and you are not Jock Stein, no matter how much you might want to be. I wanted us to adopt the spirit of the Lion’s and model our attacking play on them. I never wanted to risk leads and never suggested we attack at all costs. We need to know when to go forward and when to hold back. This is not 40 years ago, if you get it wrong tactically now you get crucified by the opposition.’

Copper was right of course but I liked the attack at all opportunities and costs idea. It fitted with the idea of going down fighting. I told Copper as much.

‘Yes Mike, but how about not getting killed because you know when to stop fighting. A goal up with a few minutes to play in the away leg of what could have been our final European tie was the time to stop attacking. We were lucky it didn’t cost us.’

‘That’s the point though, it didn’t cost us.’

Copper clearly decided he wasn’t going to win this one. ‘Fair enough Mike, you’re in charge.’

***

‘Mike its Robin, PSV have been on the phone. They want to know how much you want for Glenn Loovens.’

This was interesting. Loovens was a player I’d never much rated and the club had him valued at about 1.5million. This might be a decent chance to offload him.

‘Tell them we want 3million Robin. We won’t sell for a penny less.’ I might not rate him but I wanted to maximise the income.

Loovens wasn’t impressed with the chance to play for PSV though.

‘Gaffer there is no way I’m signing for them, I’m a Feyenoord man. You may as well reject the offer. Besides if you sell me then you’ll only have 2 experienced centre-backs.’

He had a point. ‘I understand Glenn, but I really think you should be prepared to listen to any offer that...’

‘I don’t want to play for PSV. If you accept the offer I will decline whatever contract they offer me.’

‘Ok Glenn, I’ll tell PSV it’s no deal.’

As expected PSV came back with the requested figure and as promised they were told it was rejected. I was far from happy though. I was determined that Loovens would be sold, all he had done was bought me time whilst I found his replacement. My team has no room for players that aren’t up to scratch.

***

It was a rare thing in football and had been totally non-existent for me since I took over as Celtic manager. It looked like the week between the Genk matches might be a quiet one. Besides a small disagreement with my assistant manager and the Loovens deal being off before it had a chance to be on nothing had happened.

I was on my way to my office at Celtic Park on the day of the home leg of the Europa League tie with Genk when one of the young receptionist approached me and handed me an evelope.

‘This was courier delivered for you an hour ago Mr. Kowalski.’

‘Thanks.’ I made my way down to the corridor to my office and threw myself into my chair.

The message was strange but not totally odd. It simply read

‘Call Me’

With it there was a mobile phone number. Like I said, more odd than anything. I decided to ignore it, it was probably nothing.

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There was really only one way to describe how I felt ahead of the home tie with Genk; expectant. I expected to win and therefore I expected to make the Europa League group stages. I wasn’t the only expectant one, this really was for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching at home.

‘Boys we cannot afford to f*** this up. We are in a fantastic position with 3 away goals and a 1 goal advantage from last week. We are by far the better team. I expect you to prove that tonight and I expect you to win. I want a win over 90 minutes simply getting through the tie will not be enough.’

The team had obviously been listening as Samaras was set up to head the ball against the post after 33 seconds. It was a near perfect end to a fantastic move that had seen us retain the ball since Samaras himself had kicked off.

Every time we had the ball we looked like we might do something with it and we came close again in the 7th minute after McGeady put in a fabulous cross and Scott McDonald missed the ball by a whisker. Surely we would win if we could keep this up.

3 minutes later and I’m out of my chair again. Brown plays a neat ball to Samaras who has dropped into the ‘hole.’ The greek international hold the ball up whilst McDonald skins the last defender and collects a through ball from Samaras that carves the defence wide open. The move ends in frustration as our diminutive striker, affectionately known as ‘Skippy’, blasts the ball straight at the keeper.

We continued to dominate the game, keeping Genk pegged back in their own half. We sent wave after wave of attack forward. Finally we were rewarded in the 35th minute when some excellent wing play and a fabulous cross was headed home by Samaras.

‘If Sammy keeps this up Sami won’t get into the team!’

‘Gonna be tough to make him rotate Mike, we’re gonna have to wait for him to lose form.’

Goals are like buses apparently. We had a second one 4 minutes later when N’Guemo played a ball into the box the Skippy latched onto. 3 yards from the goal line and six yards from the near post everyone, including the goalkeeper it would seem, was expecting the ball to be cut back to the waiting Samaras. Somehow McDonald managed to thread it through the keepers legs from a nigh on impossible angle.

5-2 on aggregate at half time was a nice place to be and it guaranteed a decent reception was waiting for the players in the dressing room. I was happy to see this game out and told the players as such, although I had no intention of dropping the attacking mentality. We were in the ascendancy and I wanted Genk to have to come at us.

Balazs Toth did come at us, or at Landry N’Guemo to be more precise. Got himself booked for his trouble. Obviously Toth was frustrated at N’Guemo marking him out of the game and wanted to remind our holding midfielder that he was still there. He chose the medium of the badly timed tackle to make his point. He had effectively put himself out of the game because now N’guemo wasn’t even going to have to try as Toth would have to watch himself.

Loovens also got himself booked for a ‘push’ on Genk’s centre forward when trying to win a header. It might have been a push but I suspect the referee just wanted to even up the card count.

We weren’t done making Genk’s trip to Glasgow miserable though. In the 77th minute Scott Brown found himself in acres of space 25 yards from goal and drilled the ball past the keeper. The Genk stopper had barely moved before it passed him.

3 minutes later we saw a contender for goal of the season. Loovens hit a free kick from just inside his own half to Milan Misun at left back. Misun brought the ball all the way down the left had side. He hit the ball from 18 yards out and right out on the left touchline. The ball, I assume was intended for Samaras’ head. Milan didn’t care that it missed his intended target as the ball sailed over the keeper and into the top corner at the far post. Milan didn’t care, Samaras didn’t care, the fans didn’t care and frankly neither did I. It was a fabulous goal and that’s what we cared about.

Europa League group stages here we come.

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The win against Genk had put me in a good mood; the newspaper put me in a better one.

EX-SPARTAN LOSES FIGHT

Graham Fenton, the ex-Blyth Spartans manager, was yesterday sentenced to 12 months in prison for fraud and corruption...

...It is understood that he could be released in as little as 9 months with good behaviour. Upon sentencing Justice Smith described Fenton as ‘cold and calculating’ in his attempts the steal from the Blue Square North club and recognised the damage this could have done the club, it’s fans and the community of Blyth. As such Justice Smith has removed Fenton’s right to appeal.

Fenton was going down for at least 9 months because I had accidently uncovered real corruption charges when trying to frame him on fake ones. I was happy he was going to suffer, but I wasn’t convinced his suffering would be anything like enough considering what he had done to Jen. Then the idea hit me, it was a flash of inspiration. I needed my phone and I needed a man.

The man I needed was a well known name although very few people knew who he really was or his real name. He was referred to as ‘The Scouser’ and addressed simply as ‘Scouse.’ He was an ex Liverpool footballer. He’d retired when he realised that despite his profession being one of the top paying jobs in the world he could earn more money in the underworld.

Scouse was a fixer. He could find anyone. If someone needed to have an accident he could make them have it and if someone needed to disappear he could make them vanish, forever. He also ran a very good line in smear campaigns. What I needed from him would be easy, although it would probably cost me a reasonable wedge.

It seemed a punishment that fitted the crime. Best of all it would be totally untraceable.

‘**** him’, which seemed rather fitting, ‘he deserves it’ I announce to no-one in particular.

There was no answer to my phone call. ‘Scouse it’s Mikey, call me back. I’ve got a job I need doing.’

***

‘Hey Jen, how are you?’

‘Hi Mike, I’m not too bad. Feeling sleepy but I’m also a little bored.’

‘Are you tired, maybe you should get some rest?’

‘It’s my anti-depressants, they make me tired. Some days I can’t get out of bed before 11am. Add to that the fact that I’m still dreaming about the attack every night.’

‘I understand baby. I was actually going to ask you if you fancied getting together over the International break that is coming up. I thought we could spend some time together.’

‘That sounds great, but you’ll need to come to Manchester unless you’ve sold the flat yet.’

The flat was still unsold; in the current housing market even one of the best flats in Glasgow was proving tough to shift. I wanted it gone quickly though as I wanted my wife back with me.

‘Look Jen I’m having trouble getting rid of the flat. I promise I’m trying to sell it. What if I was to reduce the asking price, would you object?’

‘I don’t care how you get rid of it or what it costs as long as it goes.’ The tone in her voice was blunt, even though I knew she wasn’t actually having a pop at me. It was just her way of emphasising her point of view.

‘Ok I’ll get on it. Meanwhile will you have a think about what you’d like to do and where you’d like to go in a few weeks?’

I felt fantastic after the phone call. I would be seeing Jen soon. It was still about 6 weeks and 8 matches away but I had something to look forward to. I hadn’t told Jen what I was planning, it was to be surprise.

***

The knock on my hotel room door was unexpected. The face on the other side was even more unexpected. The man was 6’3” with dark hair and wearing a full length leather jacket. If you didn’t know him he would be quite intimidating. Fortunately I knew him very well.

‘Scouse, what the hell are you doing here?’

‘Got your message, was in the area sorting out some business, figured I’d drop by and see what you wanted.’

‘How did you know where I was?’ I hadn’t told anyone other than the club where I was staying. I figured it’d be safer that way.

‘I have my sources, I can find out anything, you know that.’

It was true, he really could. It was rumoured that he had police informants. Not the sorts that you or I would think of that give the police information, but informants within the police force. This meant that the man, despite his criminal activities, had never spent a single second of his life in prison. He really could find out whatever he wanted to know.

‘Yeah, good point. Wha...’ I was cut off mid sentence.

‘What’s this job then? You want someone to disappear? I can do it, I only have one rule, no guns on jobs. I don’t like them, they are the easy way out.’

‘No I don’t need you to kill anyone. I need a rumour spread around.’

‘Sure no probs, I can destroy any mans credibility with a couple of well placed phone calls. How wide reaching do you want this to be?’

‘Just around prisons in the UK.’

The Scouser looked puzzled. ‘Prisons? I think you better explain this to me. Who are we talking about?’

‘Graham Fenton. You’ve probably heard that he’s going down on corruption charges. Well he also was responsible, along with someone else who I shall deal with later, for raping my wife and killing my unborn baby. I want him to suffer.’

‘Scouse’s face went from puzzled to shocked. ‘I should say so, what exactly were you thinking.’

‘I want you to get word round whatever prison they are sending him to that he’s homosexual. I want him to get the same treatment he gave my wife.

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We didn’t have long to prepare for our next game. We were due in Edinburgh 3 days after palying Genk to face Hibs. In honesty I was confident that we would win. 13 goals scored in our last 3 matches and two conceded, both of which were away in Europe, told me we were more than capable of winning the game.

‘Copper I’m going to play an attacking game against Hibs, I want to take the game to them and get it won. I’m fielding the same side that beat Genk.’

‘Two things in response that. Firstly I don’t think going balls out against Hibs is a good idea, certainly not from kick off, build up to it if necessary. Secondly I think we should wait and asses the players fitness before the game, some of them looked shattered after yesterday.’

‘It’ll be ok. Prepare the team for an attacking strategy and the same eleven.’

‘Mike. I really don’...’

‘COPPER! I’M IN CHARGE DO AS I ASK.’

‘Sure Mike, whatever you want.’

I hadn’t meant to shout but this was the second time in close succession that my assistant had questioned my decisions about tactics. There was a reason I was the manager and I expected to have my authority respected.

Copper had shuffled quietly out of the room, his pride dented, and left me feeling a little guilty for losing it. I headed after him and caught up as he was about to head into the dressing room.

‘Copper can I have a quick word.’ The American turned to face me. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t mean to react the way I did. I understand that you just wanted to give me your input.’

‘Thank you for the apology. I respect the fact that you are in charge, however what’s the point of me being here if you don’t want my opinion. That said because you are in charge I will prepare the team the way you asked.’

Copper seemed less inclined to give me his opinion over the next couple of days. That would change fairly soon.

***

‘This has gone on long enough Mike. We’re nearly 20 minutes in and we’re wide open. If we don’t do something then we’ll get beat. Sure we’re creating space but it’s only leading to long range shots. We don’t look like scoring and a couple of the lads look exhausted already.’

I didn’t have time to open my mouth to respond before the referee’s whistle distracted my attention. I looked over and saw him calling for the stretcher bearers. Apparently Bertelsen, Hibs left back, had tracked Aiden McGeady’s run infield and gone in for the ball with a sliding challenge. There was nothing malicious in the challenge, but due to tired legs from the previous game Aiden had been unable to ride the tackle and had gone over on his ankle.

‘PAUL! PAUL!’ I called Caddis back from his warm up. ‘I need you to go on for Aiden. All attack; leave the defensive stuff to Andy.’

‘OK Gaffer.’

I headed back to my seat and saw Copper shaking his head at me as I went. This made me cross, if he had something to say he should damn well come over and say it. I found myself unable to concentrate on the remainder of the first half I was so angry. I was going to make my point, Copper was about to learn that I was in charge.

As the half time whistle went I turned to Copper, ‘Tell the boys to stay where they are. I want them to stay on the pitch. Then you come with me.’

I headed off down the tunnel towards the dressing room, with Copper about 10 seconds behind me.

‘What the hell do you think you’re doing. If you have a problem with the way I run this team then come out and tell me. DO NOT stand their shaking your head at me. This is my team and I call the shots.’

‘It might be your team, but you’re being a damn fool. Your cavalier approach to matches is going to cost us, and it’ll probably be today. Hib’s have the ability to pick us off if we aren’t careful.’

‘Copper, we are supposed to be modelling this team on the Lisbo...’

‘Shut up about the Lion’s, I wish I’d never bloody mentioned them. We can play like them without leaving ourselves exposed. If you can’t see that then you’re an idiot.’

‘Ok, you think I’m an idiot. Let’s see shall we. We play the second half my way, exactly as we did the first. If we lose I’ll accept you were right and we’ll adapt accordingly for future matches.’

‘What if we win?’ Copper looked unsure.

‘If the team wins then clearly I know what I’m doing and you don’t.’

‘And?’

‘If the team wins, you lose.’

‘You can’t do that Mike, I have a contract.’

‘You do, and we’ll pay it in full. Still think I’m wrong?’

Copper looked about as happy as any man would if you asked him to stake his future on 45 minutes of football. Potentially this could go either way and there wasn’t a great deal he could do to influence it. That said the man clearly had balls.

‘As it goes, yes I do.’

‘We’ll see shall we.’

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With the second half about to start I felt it was time for a change in our manner of play. I fully intended to keep attacking, I just wanted to change how we did it.

‘I want us to get the ball into the box, pass it through them.’

Landry N’Guemo was withdrawn from the action and replaced by Marc Crosas. N’Guemo was physically exhausted from the efforts of running the midfield mid-week against Genk and felt as if he couldn’t continue.

Hibs kicked off the second half and the game died almost instantly. Neither team made anything substantial happen for the next 13 minutes. There were a couple of long range shots and a free-kick from 25 yards from Shaun Maloney, but other than that the ball barely left midfield. On the odd occasion it did go forward the assistant referee gave offside or the attacker was dispossessed.

On 58 minutes Scott Brown lined up a free kick from 22 yards and looked poised to shoot. Everyone in the ground assumed he would shoot. He didn’t, he popped the ball over the wall. No-one including Shaun Maloney, who the ball was clearly intended for, had been expecting it. As a result Maloney reached the ball but mis-controlled it and it rolled harmlessly to Stack in the Hibs goal.

For the next 4 minutes we were back to terrible football in midfield until Hibs managed to get the ball forward and force a corner. Derek Riordan swung the corner in and it was cleared out by the Celtic defence. The ball dropped kindly to Zemmama in the Hibs midfield who brought it down the right flank and whipped in a cross to the centre of the 6 yard box. Boruc came to get it, but couldn’t reach it before Riordan, stealing in from the far corner, did. The header was powerful and on target, but somehow Boruc managed a reaction save to tip it over.

I celebrated like we’d scored and Copper sat motionless in his seat. This wasn’t going to be easy for either of us. The fans probably thought I’d gone mad. Why should I be jumping up and down like that in those circumstances?

Clearly my plan to play the ball into the box wasn’t working and after 65 minutes I reverted back to the tactics from the first half, hoping that allowing the players to use a range of options will give me the win. Wanting to win this game was tough, if we won I would genuinely miss Copper, I really liked him. That said I wanted 3 points towards our Championship push. Whether my team won or lost I had something to lose. I thought about throwing the game but I couldn’t deliberately lose a match just to salvage a situation that was made of my own stupidity. If we won Copper would have to go.

The match was still full of nothing but midfield play and needless giving the ball away. After 72 minutes I’d finally had enough. I signalled all out attack and that I was happy for the team to long ball it into the box. I headed back to my seat, as I sat down Copper leaned over to make himself heard.

‘Thanks, I appreciate it,’ the tone in his voice sarcastic.

I decided not to respond, I was too busy thinking about who I would replace him with, or how I would replace him. Not many people are going to want to be the third assistant manager at a club in the space of a few weeks.

Two minutes later this was looking less of an issue. Rankin whipped a corner from the right and out to Riordan who was thirty yards out. The ball wasn’t accurate and the young Northern Irishman had to chase it. This left Marc Crosas with a dilemma. Close down Riordan and stop him having a free shot, or stick with his man in the box. Crosas made his choice and raced out to Riordan but was beaten to the ball. Riordan simply passed the ball to Stokes who turned on the ball and slammed it past Boruc before Milan Misun could get from his position on the post to within tackling range.

It was Copper’s turn to celebrate although wisely he chose not to. I’m not sure how we’d have placated the fans in that instance. I was left with mixed emotions. I would get to keep my assistant, although I’d have to make a tactical climb-down and we’d be playing catch-up in the league.

Despite the boys best efforts we couldn’t find a way through. I was a tough defeat to take; I felt we should have won. At least some of me was pleased we hadn’t.

***

I walked into my office to find Copper sorting through his desk.

‘You don’t need to pack up, we lost, you get to stay.’

‘I’m not sure I want to, you were a horse’s ass yesterday. I shouldn’t have to risk my job like that to make my point. If that’s the way it’s going to be I want out.’

‘I’m sorry, you’re right I was out of line. You were lucky though, we should have won that.’

‘No we shouldn’t. The stats show that. Yes we had more of the ball, yes we created more shots, but two thirds were from distance and not one of our chances was what you might call ‘clear cut’, Hibs on the other hand managed to get half their shots off within the 18 yard box and took the only real opportunity from the game. We MIGHT have deserved a draw, but because of the tactics we did NOT deserve to win. So are you ready to acquiesce to my request to tone back the mentality a bit.’

‘Sure, I just hope the football won’t be too boring.’

‘We’ll still attack we just won’t over expose ourselves doing it unless we have to.'

I was happy with the answer and happy the man was still here to give me the answer.

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Twelve days without a fixture and a chance to see my wife. I headed down the A74 and the M6, the two roads linking Glasgow and Manchester. I suppose I could have flown home but I figured that I might need my car. With the plane tickets in my pocket for tomorrow I didn’t want to fly today.

I hoped Jen would be please to see me. She wasn’t expecting my until the 10th October, she certainly wasn’t expecting me on the 31st August. I had decided that I couldn’t wait any longer and technically Jen had told me to come during the international break, we just hadn’t been talking about this one.

The phone I’d had Aston Martin build into my DBS was now ringing. It gave its customary 2 rings and then answered itself to hands free.

‘Hello?’

‘Mike?’ came the familiar American accent, ‘had a couple of thing for you. I know you’re having a short holiday but I figured you’d want to know this.’

‘What’s up?’

‘Doctor’s confirmed Aiden’s twisted his ankle, expects him to be out for 4 weeks. It’s touch and go whether he’ll be fit for the trip to Ibrox. Doctor rates him at fifty fifty for the game. Says he should be fit for the game after, but can’t be sure about any game before that at this stage.’

‘F***, looks like a right balls of the game against Hibs, doesn’t it.’

Copper chuckled, ‘I didn’t want to say anything but now you mention it, yes it really does.’

‘Cheers for that, was there anything else?’

‘Yeah, I’ve added Sami Allagui to our Europa League squad. I took Crosas out to make space, we had plenty midfield cover. Also we drew Hamilton at home in our first League Cup match.’

‘Fine with the squad change. Do you reckon you can win the cup match?’

‘I reckon so, in terms of SPL teams they are about the weakest so it’s a decent draw for us.’

‘Excellent. Do you know if the draw for the Europa League groups has been made?’

‘Yeah, that’s the other reason I called, it’s just finished. We got seeded second. Our third and fourth seeds were Debrecen and Levski Sofia.’

‘Who did we get from pot 1? I’d be happy with anyone as long as they aren’t English or Italian. We’ll struggle against them.’ There was a pause, I knew what was coming. It was going to be the one team that above all others both Copper and I hadn’t wanted.

‘Er...’

‘It’s Roma isn’t it?’

‘Yeah, so we might be doing this the hard way after all.’

I assumed that we would lose both games to Roma, that meant we could get a maximum of 12 points. If we won both our other home games and drew both the other away matches we’d have 8 points, which may or may not be enough. Looked like we needed 3 wins and possibly a draw to get through by my reckoning. Looked like Copper was right, this might be tough. We’d have to try and beat Roma, especially at home.

Approaching Junction 7 on the M60 and it’s fair to say I’m somewhat nervous. I feel more like I’m meeting Jen for the first time and not at all like I’m going to see the woman I married. Off the motorway and picking my way down the streets I know so well. I’m less than 5 minutes from my destination as soon as I leave the motorway.

Reaching my parent’s house I pull the car up just short, I want this to be a surprise. It wasn’t going to be, Jen had heard my car pull up and come to the door to meet me. A wave of relief washed over me as she ran towards me. She was pleased to see me. She’d be even happier when I told her why I was there.

‘I wasn’t expecting to see you for a few weeks.’

‘I know but I’ve missed you. You don’t mind me turning up do you?’

‘Of course not Mikey, there was something I wanted to talk to you about anyway.’

‘Ok, what’s up?’

‘We’ll discuss it later, it’ll wait. ‘

I was intrigued, but I got the sense it wasn’t going to be bad news. ‘There’s actually a specific reason I’m here. Do you feel like flying?’

‘You know I hate flying, where did you want to go.’

‘Washington DC and then New York. I’ve got tickets for the US Open Cup final in two days time and then I figured we could do some shopping in The Big Apple.’

Jen’s face lit up, ‘Shopping and football, sounds ace. Who’s playing?’

‘Redbulls and L.A. Galaxy in the US Open Cup final, do you fancy it?

‘Does the Pope wear a funny hat.’

It wasn’t a question; it was Jen’s way of saying yes.

‘Better go pack then, we leave tomorrow. We’re flying business class, so you should be able to sleep the whole journey if you wish.’ That was my attempt to help Jen get through the flight.

***

Just after we arrived at our hotel my phone started to ring.

‘Hello?’

‘Mike, its David.’

I’d become good friends with the Beckham’s during my time in the MLS. David and I had had some great games as midfield opponents.

‘What’s up?’

‘Are you coming to the game tomorrow? Want to get together afterwards?

‘Yeah, that’d be great, where do you want to meet?’

‘I’ve got to go straight back to L.A. with the team, do you have time to fly across and stay with us a few days.’

‘That shouldn’t be a problem, we’re going to New York for a couple days after the game, we’ll make our way to LAX from New York.’

‘Cool, see you then.’

***

The match was terrible from a New York perspective. The team weren’t at the races and a 65th minute free kick from Beckham ensured that the silverware was heading for the west coast. It was exactly what Beckham’s performance deserved. We might be roughly the same age but he was still clearly capable.

On the way out of the stadium it crossed my mind that if Beckham could still do it than maybe I could too. I was now toying with the idea of re-registering myself as a player. A club could never have too much decent back-up, especially if it didn’t cost any extra.

***

The few days that Jen and I shared in New York were great. It felt, at least for me, as if we’d never been apart. I guess it helped that despite my worrying about it Jen clearly didn’t blame me for what had happened to her. We didn’t talk about it, mainly because I didn’t want to bring it up and mainly because I spent most of the time fishing my credit card out my wallet.

Jen wasn’t what you’d call high maintenance, but when she got started she could spend money just as fast as I could make it. In fairness she just wanted to go to all the places that your average tourist in New York would want to go. You couldn’t blame a person for wanting to make the most of a trip out of the country, especially when a few weeks ago she’d been taken to within an inch of death. I was just happy that she was happy.

***

It was finally time to head home, we’d spent a great few days with the Beckham family in the L.A. sunshine and Jen was looking really healthy and tanned.

‘Mike I could retire to somewhere like this.’

I smiled, ‘Really?’

‘Yeah, are you done with football yet?’ her voice was playful and had a hint of girly giggling in it.

‘I’m barely even started!’

‘I thought you might say that, ah well it’s in your blood I guess.’

We were an hour into our flight back to Manchester when Jen finally let go of my hand and touched my leg, ‘Mike?’

I opened one eye, ‘Uh-huh’

‘You remember that I said there was something I wanted to talk to you about?

I opened the other eye as well now. This sounded more serious than I had been originally expecting. My stomach turned, although that could have been a pocket of turbulence.

Jen continued, ‘I really haven’t enjoyed being away from you. I want to be with you. I know you’re job requires you to be in Glasgow so I want to come back with you. If you don’t mind.’

‘But what about the flat... not that I’m looking for reasons for you to stay away... but it isn’t sold yet.’

‘I know, but I’ve missed you and I’ve decided I don’t care. I don’t want to feel like a prisoner in my own life. Will you take me back with you?’

‘Of course. We’ll go tomorrow if you’re sure it’s what you want.’

Jen nodded and smiled before closing her eyes and drifting to sleep. I couldn’t sleep now. The good news had sent a burst of adrenaline cursing round my veins. I leant over and kissed my wife on the forehead.

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The hotel room I’d been living in wasn’t very big. They never are at the budget hotels. I could afford to stay in just about any hotel in the city but I liked this one, I’d been here countless times as a kid and was more than happy to call it home for the time being.

Jen was less than happy with it though. She wanted something bigger and a little more luxurious.

‘You know I love you, I just don’t want to live on top of you 24 hours a day?’

‘How about for twenty minutes?’ I offered with a grin.

‘Don’t go there Mike, I can’t. I’m sorry.’

Seeing Jen looking upset was never my intention. I felt a wave of guilt wash over me. ‘No princess, I’m sorry. I love you and therefore I’ll wait for you to tell me you’re ready.’

‘Thanks, I still want to cuddle with you and sleep next to you, I’m just not ready to do more than that yet.’

I nodded, ‘I understand.’ I suppose I did even though I wished it wasn’t that way. This was the first time Jen had ever refused me. I didn’t like it but I had to accept it.

***

Copper had done a great job preparing the team for our match tomorrow. We were at home and facing Dundee United, who had 4 points from a possible 9, whereas we had 3 from a possible 6. A win here was vital, and in all honesty expected.

‘Attack from the off today?’

Copper laughed. ‘Maybe not, but I don’t think we should sit back and defend either. We are the home side, we are stronger than them and we are expected to win. So start with a decent mix of attacking and defending and push more attacking if needs be.’

‘Sounds like a plan.’

***

It seemed strange to be thinking of the third game of the season as a must win match, but as far as the fans were concerned that’s what it was. Neither half of Glasgow likes playing catch up and when you are the fans generally demand that you do!

Anything other than a win was going to make my life uncomfortable. Upsetting half the population of a city and countless others around the world had the potential to get very uncomfortable indeed.

With this in mind I steeled myself and strode into the dressing room trying to exude confidence. The last thing I needed were my team to see I was nervous. Nerves, I find, are like yawns, infectious.

‘We can’t afford to lose this one boys. This is a must win game, but we won’t be attacking all out from the off. I want you start with balanced play. Don’t take silly risks but don’t hold back too much either. If the wingers have gone forward then the full backs don’t necessarily need to bomb up in support. Let’s make sure we do what is necessary, we don’t want to have to fight from any further back than we already are.’

The opening exchanges of the game were nervy, especially from my team. Samaras was caught offside when he should never have been and Caldwell gave away a free kick on the edge of our penalty area that was totally unnecessary. The ball was probably going out of play from a long kick up field but Gary decided to foul the attacker anyway just to be sure they didn’t get on the end of it. Luckily for us the resultant free kick was hit with too much power to be accurate and sailed over the crossbar.

A few minutes later Caldwell showed the composure we are more used to seeing from him as he headed us in front from a corner. Dixon, at left back for the visitors, tried to play a long pass back to Nicky Weaver in their goal. He hit the ball far too hard and Weaver couldn’t reach it before it trundled out for a corner kick. Maloney delivered a head height ball to the near corner of the 6 yard box and Caldwell beat Dixon to the ball and placed his free header past the unmoved Weaver.

I was up and celebrating when I felt a tug on my jacket. I turned to see my assistant grinning at me.

‘Told you we don’t need to go all out!’ there was a definite gloating in his voice.

‘Ok, I admit it, again, you were right and I was wrong. Now can we forget about the Hibs incident, please?’

‘No we’ll never forget, but I’ll let it lie until the next time you screw up.’ Copper was laughing now and it was difficult not to see the funny side. I had to remind myself we had a match to win.

The first half after the goal had good spells for both sides. We played some expansive and aesthetically pleasing football, but we seemed to lack that killer touch. Our shots were long range and fairly tame, our crosses were cut out by the Dundee United defence and those that weren’t were wasted by impotent finishing.

The visitors nearly caught us asleep at the back on a couple of occasions, but we survived thanks to last ditch tackles by Glenn Loovens both times. I was maybe going to have to rethink my assessment of the Dutchman.

My half time team talk should have been made much easier by Niall McGinn in the 43rd minute, but he spurned an excellent chance following a lovely counter-attacking move. It was comprised of seven passes which brought the ball from our left back position into the centre of the park, and then back out to the left again. This time the ball was played to Samaras who found himself in the channel. Cutting inside with the ball at his feet Samaras played the ball into Flood in the centre. Willo sent the ball forward with a short pass to Fortune who played a defence splitting, slide rule pass into the box for McGinn to run onto. The winger easily caught up with the ball, but shot narrowly wide of the far post from 8 yards out level with the right side of the 6 yard box. The move deserved a goal.

‘A good first half boys, but that’s all it was, good. We need to be more clinical, we’ve had the chances to wrap this up before now. We can kill this off if we really want to.’

We weren’t firing on all cylinders up front, I decided to make some changes.

‘Sammy you’ve not been in the game. That’s no reflection on your work rate but today hasn’t been your day. I’m taking you off and putting Sami on.’

Our new signing looked delighted, he was about to make his debut. The new legs up top was all well and good but it really needed a decent supply from midfield and our playmaker hadn’t been his usual stalwart self.

‘Same goes for you Broony,’ I pointed to Scott Brown, ‘Zheng is going into central midfield. Again it’s just not been your day.’ I realised that two debutants could unbalance the team if I wasn’t careful. ‘No pressure on either of you today, just go out there and play your game.’

I like to think it was my words at half time that did the job. Ten seconds after the restart Maloney switched the play from the left flank to McGinn on the right flank, who after a fifteen yard run and beating the full back delivered a cross into the danger zone. Fortune found space at the far post, despite his normal position being on the near post. Allagui was pulling the other defenders away and Fortune only had to beat his marker, which he did easily, to head the ball home from nearly under the crossbar.

A total of 20 seconds had passed since the second half had kicked off and it’d be doing so again as soon as Nicky weaver had recovered the ball from the goal.

Maloney showed an eye for goal 10 minutes later when he made it 3-0 with a 20 yard curler to the far post. What made it more special was that he was about 15 yards to the left of the near post when he did it. The ball had been played short to him from Misun. The only other available option was to play a five yard square ball to Allagui that would almost certainly have been cut out by the Terrors defence. Shaun did what he could and what he could do was magical.

After his great first half Loovens had an ordinary second half. He picked up a booking for persistent fouling and if it hadn’t been for Gary Caldwell’s quick thinking and even quicker running his lapse of concentration in the 60th minute would have let Dundee United in for a goal and possibly a way back into the game. Robertson fed a pass towards Loovens that the centre back was far too lax with and allowed David Goodwillie to win the ball by nipping in behind him. The forward controlled the ball and brought it inside a couple of yards. Caldwell took that as his cue to complete a perfectly executed slide challenge back to Boruc which the ‘keeper cleared out of play.

As it turned out any goal that had been scored by virtue of Loovens mistake would probably have been largely irrelevant given that two minutes later Misun placed a diagonal ball into the box which Fortune sprinted in to meet and tapped it home without the need to control it.

In the 89th minute McGinn was given total freedom by the visitors defence to put a cross into the six yard box. Allagui, who was equally free, managed to connect with his head, although surprisingly he managed to head over when it was probably easier to score.

I hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come. Misses like that on a regular basis could easily come back to haunt the man who had done this deal, and had done it having staked his job on it. I was certainly glad that man wasn’t me.

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