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Matt_no_7

A Step Down?

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The Millwall players, after taking a moment to offer congratulations, departed leaving Leeds to soak up the adoration of the travelling support. While it wasn't a lap of honor they made their way up and down the length of the home support several times and soon enough a small stage was erected, the players and staff taking turns in walking up to collect their medals with Jonny Howson being the last to pick up his medal. The excitement began to build before Howson was handed the trophy, taking a moment to give it a kiss before thrusting it into the air to the cue of fireworks and confetti, Queen's "We are the champions" ringing out over the PA system.

The on pitch celebrations went on for a good half hour before they finally got back inside, Matt getting his turn to parade the trophy infront of the very vocal travelling support before heading into the changing rooms to continue the party. The champagne flowed freely in the dressing rooms as Redknapp pulled Matt to one side, both stepping into the corridor.

"Well done Matty.... I just wanted to say thanks for the season... You had other options but you chose to come back. We'll miss you next season though..."

"Miss me next season? Are you not going to make an offer?"

"We did... Your agent said you'd decided on a move to Real Madrid..."

"He what?! When?"

"About two weeks ago...." Redknapp replied with a look of confusion at Matt's reaction.

Almost like clock work Matt's agent Rory rounded the corner and called him over. Matt turned slowly and headed towards him.

"Matty congratulations mate, listen we need to talk about this Madrid...." Matt's fist cut the sentence short as it connected with his jaw, Rory's legs going to jelly as he hit the ground with a light thud.

"No noooo, i want to talk about the Leeds offer.... Ya know, the one that i've just heard about!?"

"Listen i can explain...." He said, rubbing his jaw.

"Ok... Go on..." Matt folded his arms as Rory worked his way back to his feet.

"Real Madrid.... They are one of the biggest teams in the world. Your better than Leeds.... Your..." Matt had heard enough, grabbing him by the tie and forcing him against the wall.

".... You little scumbag.... Don't you f**kin dare try and tell me you were doing this for me... You were doing it for you, the only difference in the offers apart from wages would have been your cut... Well congratulations... Now you get f**k all."

"Wha.... Why?"

"Cause your fired jackass.... Get out of my sight..."

Rory again felt that familar feeling in the pit of his stomach, "Matty please... I'm in real trouble mate.... I need this money or..."

Matt again cut him short, "Rory i'm gonna give you one chance.... Leave while you still have the legs to carry you..."

Matt turned to walk away only to find Redknapp standing there.

"How much was the offer you made gaffer?"

"£30,000 a week for three years."

Matt held his hand out, Redknapp responding with a firm handshake.

"Just tell me when and where to sign and you got yourself a player..." Matt said as he gave one last look to a sorry looking Rory before heading back into the changing rooms to celebrate the title success.

A few minutes later Rory left, trying to beat a quick retreat to his car but as he neared it he saw Morris stood by the black Porsche 911. Their eye's met for a moment before Rory turned to run, only to be stopped dead in his tracks by Phil and Jack before being dragged over to Morris.

"I assume you don't have my money then?"

With tears in his eye's he made one last plea, "I just need a little more time... Please Mr. Morris..."

Morris sighed for a moment, "Put him in the car.." He said, Rory struggling with all he was worth but it was to no avail as he was bundled into the back seat before the Jaguar took off at speed...

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After a night of partying in London with the league title in tow they headed home to Leeds, many struggling with heavy hang overs throughout the journey up to Elland Road but all seemed to perk up as they arrived, finding an open top bus waiting for them. Soon they were onto bus and heading through a packed city centre route, each player taking turns to show off the newly obtained Championship title trophy. Once more, despite some heavy hangovers, there was another night of partying in celebration of their success.

The following morning, though he was woken early again, this time it was only by his phone.

"Hello?"

"Alright Matty..." A fresh sounding Jamie Redknapp on the other end of the line.

"Yo.... Whats up?"

"Didn't mean to wake you so early but just wanted to let you know that we have the contract all ready for you to sign and... You've been voted player of the month for April."

"Oh.... Cool.... I'll errrmmm.... Come in tomorrow if thats ok?"

"You alright?"

"Yeah.... I'm gonna go, reckon last night is going to make a second appearence."

The end of the month brought the awards and along with Matt being named as player of the month, Craig Dawson was named as young player of the month while Reading manager Brian McDermott was handed the award for manager of the month. With the regular season at an end the focus fell on the play-off's with Reading to face Bristol City while Leicester took on Burnley. In the first leg Bristol City went down 4-1 at home to Reading while Leicester also scored four in a 4-3 win over Burnley who, on 88 minutes, were 3-2 up until goals from Peltier and a 94th minute winner form Matt's brother Chris put the Midland's side up leading into the 2nd leg at the King Power Stadium. On the same day there was more high drama as firstly an 89th minute Chris Smalling goal gave Man Utd a 2-1 win over inter city rivals Man City but also, handed Man Utd a twentieth title as they stepped out of reach of both Liverpool and Chelsea. Liverpool though got some consolation on the day as following a 2-2 draw in normal time, Luis Suarez became only the second man in history to bag a hat trick to wrap up a 3-2 win over West Bromich Albion at Wembley. Liverpool had led by 2-0 with just over 20 minutes left to go but second half goals from Shane Long and a 90th minute own goal from Martin Kelly took the game in to extra time where Suarez struck with a little over 10 minutes left to go to hand Liverpool the F.A. Cup.

After the weekend the Leeds players were officially given the green light to start their holidays while one player would be starting it in a cast, Monty Gimpel picking up a broken foot following a fifty-fifty challenge in training adding further to the injury woes that started on his debut. On the Monday night Reading once more showed the lethal touch as they put another four past Bristol City in a 4-0 win which meant they booked their place in the play-off final and the following night, so did Leicester. An efficient 2-0 win came courtesy of a second half brace from Shikabala, Matt sending his brother Chris and friend James a text almost straight away to congratulate them and demand a ticket for the game.

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In the days that followed it became much clearer the reasons for Rory deception, the truth beginning to out as word got to Matt that he did what he did to cover heavy gambling debts but Matt was unmoved, chosing to once more to confirm his dismissal leaving Matt in total control of his off field affairs. A few days later, following the unveiling of a statue outside the East stand of Elland Road in memory of the great Don Revie who had led Leeds to their best spell of success in the clubs history as well as building a side that at the time were widely regarded as the best in the world, Matt signed on the dotted line to become a full Leeds United player again though he'd have to wait until the end of the Euro's for the contract to activate and become truly official. He met a few of the former Revie players who were also present at the unveiling, as well as current director Peter Lorimer who was currently Leeds United's record goal scorer, a record Matt wanted to snatch from him now he had returned.

And while he made a mental note to looking into getting a new agent, for the time being he spent time just going over things himself, first off all calling Jose Mourinho to respectfully decline the offer Madrid made.

"Mr Mourinho, hi.... This is..." He was cut off quickly.

"Matt... I know."

"Oh, good.... Listen i'm calling about the offer. While it was very flattering and knowing full well that the chance to play for Real Madrid doesn't come along very often.... I'm going to have to decline."

"Is it more money?"

"No... In all honesty i'm happy at Leeds... Happier than i've been in a long time. Plus, i reckon this Leeds side can go places... We have a great manager and i want to be part of it."[b/]

"Well, i thank you for your honesty Matt. I can't say i'm not disappointed but i can respect your reasons for staying.... Maybe one day we will get the chance to work together but in the meantime, good luck for next season and the Euro's."

"Thanks, and good luck in the Champions League Final...."

In the week that followed all eye's turned to the Premier League as the season came to a close with a bang and a fair few surprises.

Firstly, with Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea locking out the top three places it, left the final Champions League up for grabs with it coming down to the last day of the season. Arsenal needed a win at home to relegation threatened Newcastle United while Spurs could secure it with a win over Sunderland. In the end, Newcastle managed to pick up a valuable win to hand Spurs the final place in the Champions League and deny North London rivals Arsenal who had to make do with a spot in the Europa League and condemn Arsene Wenger to his first season outside the top four with Arsenal. The draw had settled who would join QPR and Swansea in the Championship next season, but with Norwich needing a win to have any chance they fell by 2-0 against West Brom at Carrow Road to complete a clean sweep as all of last season's promoted teams went straight back down to the Championship.

With the season at an end Fabio Capello named his 30-man preliminary England squad for the European Championship with the team set to be narrowed down to the final 23 after friendlies against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia and France.

Goalkeepers

Joe Hart (Man City)

Robert Green (West Ham Utd)

Fraser Forster (Celtic)

Defenders

Micah Richards (Man City)

Glen Johnson (Liverpool)

Chris Smalling (Man Utd)

Ashley Cole (Chelsea)

Leighton Baines (Everton)

John Terry (Chelsea)

Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd)

Phil Jagielka (Everton)

Gary Cahill (Bolton)

Midfielders

Gareth Barry (Man City)

Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham)

Owen Hargreaves (Man City)

Jack Rodwell (Everton)

Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

Frank Lampard (Chelsea)

James Milner (Man City)

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Ashley Young (Man Utd)

Aaron Lennon (Tottenham)

Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

Stewart Downing (Liverpool)

Forwards

Gabby Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

Matt Warner (Leeds/Arsenal)

Peter Crouch (Stoke)

Darren Bent (Aston Villa)

Wayne Rooney (Man Utd)

Andy Carroll (LIverpool)

Matt had been given the call meaning he would join up with the squad on the Tuesday which would give him enough time to watch his brother Chris in the Championship play-off final.

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The day of the play-off's arrived. Matt arriving in Leicester to pick up his mother, brother Allen and nephew before departing for the trip down to Wembley. It was fair to say he was nursing a pretty heavy hang over, the night before the majority of the Leeds players attending Andy O'Brien's retirement party after injury had cut his career short but he was upbeat, confident of recovering from his cruciate ligament injury so he could move onto coaching and perhaps management. The trip had very little in way of talk as his mother was asleep inside of half an hour of them hitting the M1 along with his brother and then his nephew, leaving Matt to the driving with only the hum of his new BMW's V8 for company as they ate up the miles. He remembered the last play-off final he went to.... And the disappointment that it brought after a heavy 3-0 defeat to Watford, a disappointment he was hoping his brother wouldn't have to endure.

There was more than enough traffic on the roads baring some sort of Leicester scarf or flag waving out of the window in the warm early summer air as nearly 30,000 made the same trip to London and in it England's home of football, Wembley. Upon arriving he was guided to a VIP car parking space and escorted to the box which they would watch the game from. His brother Chris did manage to slip away for a few minutes to come and say hello before he and Matt had a quiet word.

"How ya feeling?"

"Little nervous if i'm honest.... Advice?"

Matt paused for a moment, ".... You gotta treat it like it's any other game.... Enjoy the occasion and all that but don't get over awed by the whole thing...."

"Ok... Anything else?"

"Nah man, you got this.... Just go do what you do." They bumped fists before Chris turned.

"Yo.... YOU got this..... Oh and tell that scumbag James good luck... And give him a slap aswell."

"Will do."

Quickly he departed, leaving Matt to return to the box where his mother sat, just watching the world go by. She hadn't really recovered at all from the loss of her husband yet, Chris saying on numerous occasions that he'd still catch her crying her eye's out clutching photo's of him. It wasn't as if Matt, Chris or Allen, the youngest brother, were fully over it either but for Matt at least, he was coming to terms with it. It was stuff like that which often made him wonder if he'd made the wrong choice in not joining Leicester at the start of the season.

"Your dad would have loved this.... The last time we went to a final he was almost in tears.... That time you lost."

Matt just nodded, again recalling how his whole family had come to watch the play-off game against Watford six years earlier only to taste his disappointment.

"I still can't believe he's gone.... He was a stubborn old git but along with you kids... I never loved anyone more..."

Matt nodded once more, close to tears himself as they were both snapped out of their thoughts by Kaiden walking over to them with a biscuit and smile on his face before his grandmother scooped him up and sat him on her lap, them both now just gazing out onto the lush green turf and slowly filling stadium. As the stadium filled so did their box, Pancho and Joe showing up along with James's family which included his girlfriend Donna, someone Matt had introduced him to seven years earlier when he'd been too shy to talk to the girl he'd see every day as he stopped in at the local Tesco following training. They greeted each other, Matt and James' mother, along with Donna, taking up their seats while the Matt, Joe, Pancho and James' dad tucked into the buffet.

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After what seemed like an eternity kick off time had arrived, the whole stadium rising to applaud the entrance of the two teams as they stepped out onto the pitch. Chris, complete with captains armband, led Leicester out holding his son Kaiden, both in matching Leicester kits with captains armband's. Normally the duty of captain feel to Matt Mills or Richie Wellens but with both injured he gladly took on the role. Matt's nerves jangled as, after the pre-match pleasantries, the referee gave the whistle to start the game, the first kick recieving a very loud cheer from the packed to capcity Wembley Stadium. Games such as this were one's where fans on both sides craved and dreamed of the early goal but often those same wishes went unheard by the powers that be though for one set of fans, prayers were answered after just 4 minutes.

Chris recieved the ball from Nugent and pushed forward before Shikabala made a quick run inside from the left, Chris feeding the ball into his path. Shikabala looked to have got clear of his man but a last ditch tackle from Pearce sent the ball loose and unluckily for the Reading fan's the ball fell to the only Leicester player in the box, Nugent, with him taking his chance with ease to give Leicester an early lead. Matt lept to his feet with his nephew, only just back from mascot duty, laughing in his arms, both of them clapping while his mother just gave a slight smile and a glance to the heavens. The game continued in the same fashion of Leicester pressure, Chris going close on 12 minutes with a shot from the angle after a good passing move, his shot finding only the side netting. Leicester's pressure continued, Reading looking massively out of sorts, the occassion maybe getting to them once again as it did the season before when they fell 4-2 against a rampant Swansea side. On the half hour mark Leicester found the net once more, Aldrete's cross to the back post finding Fierro and Harte. Between them they managed to deflect the ball into Nugent's path only for the flag to be raised as he finished it off to the dismay of the Foxes support. They wouldn't be denied a second time though as Reading looked to mount some pressure on their opponents but with McGugan on the ball Chris slid in, the ball springing loose to Nugent with time to turn and find Fierro who, with acres of space, ran at goal and with Khumalo baring down on him he fired a high and hard effort at the near post which gave Federici no chance and Leicester a 2-0 lead with half time closing in.

One end of the stadium and the boxes around them erupted, Matt once more joining in with his nephew's cheers for his dad, Matt constantly now having his brother pointed out. The half ended with Reading slowly finding their feet but just as they looked to get back into the game the referee called time on the first half, contrasting body language from each set of players as they made their way into the changing rooms. Matt took the chance to grab himself a drink, the boys of the group talking over the finer points while the women talked about whatever it is they talked about until they fan's loud cheers brought them back to their seats, the players again out on the pitch.

The second half, though slower in starting, was still fully controlled by the men in the blue shirts as they continued to pepper the Reading goal, Chris this time having an effort from distance which produced a brilliant finger tip save from Federici. Even now Matt could remember the fear in kids eye's when he got the ball on the playground, his hammer blow of a shot only getting stronger and stronger as the years went on. The hour mark approached, Leicester still in firm control of the game as the now desperate looking Reading players started clutching a straws but soon they finally woke from their slumber. A long ball down the right of the pitch found Quintero, his pace taking him away from the attentions of Aldrete before applying a low cross for Hunt to finish, a teasing side footed effort into the bottom corner. The Reading fan's burst into life as the hearts of those clad in blue fell a little bit, the nerves now starting to jangle with an hour gone in the game. With the score at 2-1 Leicester made a change with Waghorn coming on for Fernandes, the foxes now switching to a 4-4-2 and it seemed to work for Sven as just 7 minutes later Leicester restored the two goal advantage. King's short free kick to Chris yielded a first time pass into Waghorn, the young striker opening a bit of space before playing a ball through for Nugent. Federici sprang from his line to gather it up but the former England striker got there first, dinking the ball over him and eventually into the bottom corner with just over 20 minutes left to go. The crowd once again erupted like a bomb, everyone in the box following suit, the majority of them with the exception of Matt, Joe and Pancho being hard core Leicester fans.

Reading from that point seemed to spark into life, pinning Leicester into their own half for the majority of the time that remained but each chance was tame, either lacking power or precision as they sought a way back in and soon enough the final minutes were upon them. Reading gave it their all for the final 3 minutes of the game, Quitero being teed up from 6 yards out with a free header. His effort looked bound for the top corner until James tipped the ball onto the post and out for a corner. The corner came in, Samba getting up and clearing and then it came. The referee called time on the game and the Leicester's vast travelling support erupted in unison, the players going wild on the pitch as the Reading players sank, some dropping to the floor, a couple in tears while others just trudged off the pitch. Leicester, like Leeds and West Ham, were now Premiership bound.

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After a few moments, Matt headed down with the intention of letting Chris celebrate with his son on the pitch. Eventually he made it down through the hectic scenes where the entrance of the tunnel met the technical area's, Chris already there waiting. Matt put Kaiden down, the youngster poddling over to his dad, still in the early stages of walking as Matt stood back and watched.

"Well done bro, you deserved it...." He said shaking his hand and giving him a brief hug.

"You not coming on? Come on."

"Nah man, i doubt the Leeds fans would take kindly to it plus this is your day man, go enjoy it."

Chris nodded and turned his attention to his son, Matt slinking back to the entrance to the dug out to watch from afar. The celebrations were on par with what Matt had experienced a couple of weeks earlier after he had won the title with Leeds, though now thought's turned to his dad, Matt now looking to the heavens wondering if somewhere up there he was watching and in someway swinging the game in favour of Leicester. He waited for a while, watching and taking pictures as his brother climbed the famous Wembley steps with Kaiden in tow, fan's handing him scarves and hats along the way. Soon he was at the top of the steps and was the first to receieve his medal. In turn they all got one, each taking a moment to applaud the fan's who were still in full voice and take an admiring look at the shiney new medal they recieved but soon enough it was the moment Chris had been waiting for. With his son in one arm he was given the all clear, taking a look at it before grasping it with his free hand and with all waiting he lifted the trophy with gusto, all the players raising their hands in triumph, cheering as the fan's followed suit.

The celebrations went on for a while to come as they took a lap of honor. After a tearful renunion with their mother eventually Matt, Allen, their mother and Kaiden left the stadium along with the hoardes of fan's. Once more barely half an hour had passed before they were all sound asleep, once more leaving Matt with only the powerful V8 for company as once more the miles fell one by one, the sky getting darker with each one that passed.

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The following day it was award time across the nations leagues, various awards dinners and gala's taking place to honor the best and brightest of the season gone by. In the Premier League Pepe Reina was named as goalkeeper of the year while his Liverpool team mate Luis Suarez collected the golden boot for his 24 goals. The Football Writers Association named Wayne Rooney as their player of the year while Gareth Bale was once more given the gong for PFA Player of the Year and Juan Mata was awarded the accolaide of PFA Young Player of the Year. The award for Manager of the Year was picked up by Roy Hodgson after he led West Brom to 8th place in the league, an F.A. Cup Final and European Football for the 2012/13 season.

In the Championship, Goal of the Season was given to Keith Fahey for an effort his bagged against Reading in September. Craig Mackail-Smith collected his award for top scorer after netting an impressive 31 goals in forty-one games. Leicester's Gonzalo Fierro was named as npower Championship Player of the Year as he bagged 17 goals and 22 assists in helping Leicester to promotion while Danny Rose picked up the award for Young Player of the Year after an impressive loan spell at Crystal Palace. Jamie Redknapp was named as Manager of the Year for his impressive debut season at the helm of Leeds. For Leeds Robert Snodgrass was named as Supporters Player of the Year while the Championship team of the year looked like this,

PFA Championship Team of the Year 2011/12

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Boaz Myhill (Birmingham City)

RB: John Pantsil (Leicester City)

LB: Adrian Aldrete (Leiceser City)

CB: Sol Bamba (Leicester City)

CB: Patrick Kisnorbo (Leeds Utd)

CM: Chris Warner (Leicester City)

CM: Matt Warner (Leeds Utd)

RM: Gonzalo Fierro (Leicester City)

LM: Ross McCormack (Leeds Utd)

ST: Craig Mackail-Smith (Brighton and Hove Albion)

ST: Darwin Quintero (Reading)

SUBS:

GK: Julian Speroni (Crystal Palace)

CB: Curtis Davies (Birmingham City)

MR: Robert Snodgrass (Leeds Utd)

MR: David Bentley (West Ham Utd)

ST: Jermaine Beckford (Leicester City)

Final npower Championship Table
| Pos   | Inf   | Team           |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 1st   | C     | Leeds          |       | 46    | 28    | 13    | 5     | 108   | 44    | +64   | 97    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 2nd   | P     | West Ham       |       | 46    | 28    | 10    | 8     | 89    | 48    | +41   | 94    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 3rd   |       | Reading        |       | 46    | 28    | 7     | 11    | 94    | 52    | +42   | 91    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 4th   | P     | Leicester      |       | 46    | 26    | 10    | 10    | 93    | 50    | +43   | 88    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 5th   |       | Burnley        |       | 46    | 23    | 10    | 13    | 74    | 54    | +20   | 79    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 6th   |       | Bristol City   |       | 46    | 21    | 15    | 10    | 73    | 54    | +19   | 78    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 7th   |       | Brighton       |       | 46    | 21    | 13    | 12    | 74    | 61    | +13   | 76    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 8th   |       | Birmingham     |       | 46    | 21    | 12    | 13    | 58    | 43    | +15   | 75    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 9th   |       | Millwall       |       | 46    | 21    | 8     | 17    | 70    | 63    | +7    | 71    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 10th  |       | Portsmouth     |       | 46    | 19    | 11    | 16    | 65    | 56    | +9    | 68    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 11th  |       | Middlesbrough  |       | 46    | 19    | 9     | 18    | 54    | 57    | -3    | 66    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 12th  |       | Nottm Forest   |       | 46    | 16    | 16    | 14    | 56    | 46    | +10   | 64    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 13th  |       | Blackpool      |       | 46    | 15    | 15    | 16    | 54    | 60    | -6    | 60    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 14th  |       | Cardiff        |       | 46    | 13    | 18    | 15    | 48    | 63    | -15   | 57    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 15th  |       | Doncaster      |       | 46    | 15    | 10    | 21    | 54    | 81    | -27   | 55    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 16th  |       | Hull           |       | 46    | 14    | 12    | 20    | 58    | 74    | -16   | 54    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 17th  |       | Barnsley       |       | 46    | 16    | 5     | 25    | 56    | 69    | -13   | 53    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 18th  |       | Derby          |       | 46    | 13    | 14    | 19    | 46    | 63    | -17   | 53    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 19th  |       | Southampton    |       | 46    | 12    | 15    | 19    | 51    | 65    | -14   | 51    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 20th  |       | Ipswich        |       | 46    | 10    | 13    | 23    | 56    | 73    | -17   | 43    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 21st  |       | Crystal Palace |       | 46    | 10    | 13    | 23    | 39    | 58    | -19   | 43    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 22nd  | R     | Coventry       |       | 46    | 11    | 7     | 28    | 53    | 88    | -35   | 40    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 23rd  | R     | Peterborough   |       | 46    | 8     | 11    | 27    | 33    | 83    | -50   | 35    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| 24th  | R     | Watford        |       | 46    | 5     | 11    | 30    | 40    | 91    | -51   | 26    |
| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

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Championship duo land new deals

Yesterday the Warner family were celebrating as both Leeds United and Leicester City announced that their two star players had penned new deals with the clubs. Matt Warner shrugged off reported interest from Real Madrid as he put pen to paper on a three year deal reported to be worth around £30,000 a week which will make his loan move from Arsenal perminent when his contract expires while in the his younger brother ended speculation of a possible move to Fulham by signing a five year contract which his home town club Leicester City, his wage believed to be around the £20,000 mark as both sides look to secure their better performers for next season's stint in the Premiership.

Both players had led their sides to promotion in the season just gone, the elder Warner helping Leeds to automatic promotion after bagging a superb eleven goals in the final seven games of the season to clinch the title while the younger Warner took the captains armband for Leicester City's recent Championship play off final victory over a heavily favoured Reading side who narrowly missed out on automatic promotion also. Now though, with both penning new deals, it's upto both Leeds and Leicester to put the right players around them with fan's and pundits alike expecting big moves in the transfer market in the summer to come.

________________________________________

A week after the heroic's displayed in the Chapionship play-off final it was the turn of both of Europe's football competitions to take centre stage for their finales. Real Madrid beat Chelsea by a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal meaning Mourinho collected a 3rd Champions League title with three different clubs during his barely 12 year long managerial career. The Europa League also drew to a close with Lyon picking up a 4-2 win over Shakhtar Donetsk at the National Arena in Romania.

With the season officially at a close in all of the major leagues in Europe, the summary of who won what looked like this,

Continental

Fifa World Club Cup: Barcelona

Europe

Champions League: Real Madrid

Europa League: Lyon

European Super Cup: Barcelona

NextGen Series: Fenerbahce Reserves

England

Premiership: Manchester United

F.A. Cup: Liverpool

Carling Cup: Chelsea

Community Shield: Manchester United

Spain

La Liga: Barcelona

Copa Del Rey: Athletic Bilboa

Supercopa de Espana: Barcelona

Germany

Bundesliga: Bayer Leverkusen

DFB-Pokal: 1860 Munchen

DFL-Supercup: Bayer Leverkusen

Italy

Serie A: Inter Milan

TIM Cup: Juventus

Supercoppa di lega TIM: Juventus

France

Ligue 1: Marseille

Coupe de France: Marseille

Coupe de Ligue: Brest

Trophee des Champions: Lyon

Holland

Eredivisie: Ajax

KNVB Beker: FC Utrecht

Johan Cruff Schaal: Ajax

Portugal

Liga SON SAGRES: Porto

Taca De Portugal: Vit. Guimaraes

BWIN Cup: Sporting CP

Supertaca Candido de Oliveira: Vit. Guimaraes

Also the groups for the London Olympic's were drawn while Team GB began their search for a manager to lead the team,

Group A

Australia

Costa Rica

Great Britain

Ivory Coast

Group B

Ghana

Japan

Mexico

Switzerland

Group C

Bahrain

Belarus

Brazil

New Zealand

Group D

Senegal

South Korea

Spain

Uruguay

Team GB were given a somewhat straight forward group but if they were to win it they would eventually have to overcome the likes of Brazil, Spain, Mexico and Uruguay though the current holder Argentina. Speculation was rife as applications for the job as coach for the Olympic's began to get accepted with the media pegging Leeds boss Jamie Redknapp as one of the favourites for the job after the stellar job he'd done in the previous season though other's such as Stuart Pearce, Alex Ferguson and even Redknapp's dad, Harry, were all being given strong odd's to lead Team GB into the London Olympic games. Following a few days of recovery from all the excitment of the past few weeks Matt made the trip to link up with the England squad in preperation for the European Championships. The team was still riding on a high after winning all of their last seven games including wins over Holland, Spain and Italy along with the fact that the last time they tasted defeat was nearly two years earlier against Germany in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup. Capello made them all aware that he would be working with a number of different options in their three warm up games leading into the tournament's opening game which pegged Holland, ranked as the number one team in the world, against England who stood at number two in the world.

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Capello, keeping good on his promise to experiment with the team, made a few changes but only one of them dominated the pre-match talk as Matt was deployed on the left of midfield, harking back to days when anyone and everyone was tried there as a solution to the well documented 'Left Wing' problem. Gerrard took up position on the right of the midfield, a position he'd played a fair few times for both club and country but other than that there were no real surprises in the team selection.

International Friendly

24/05/2012

Bosnia & Herzegovina vs England

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Glen Johnson

LB: Leighton Baines

CB: John Terry ©

CB: Rio Ferdinand

CM: Gareth Barry

CM: Tom Huddlestone

RM: Steven Gerrard

LM: Matt Warner

ST: Wayne Rooney

ST: Andy Carroll

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Gary Cahill

CB: Chris Smalling

ML: Stuart Downing

ST: Gabriel Agbonlahor

RB: Micah Richards

DL: Ashley Cole

ML: Ashley Young

RM: Theo Walcott

Though it was warm, heat hanging in the air as they stepped out onto the pitch, the rain was falling quite heavily making for some high paced early play in which England dominated. Chances fell the way of both Huddlestone and Terry, the latter getting a free header on goal from 6 yard out but failing to find the target, his header blazing over the bar but the closest effort of the early going fell the way of Gerrard. Matt scampering inside from the left before threading the needle with a ball to Gerrard but his shot from the angle had the power but not the placement as it flashed inches wide of the post. Bosnia & Herzegovini began to find their footing, Ibricic's corner from the right was won by Dzeko but though his head caused some panic Hart eventually gathered it and the opening goal followed shortly after. Barry picked up the ball in the middle before feeding it forward to Carroll in space who played a first time pass to his left where Rooney was waiting. The Man Utd forward moved in on goal, finding the space he needed to deliver a piledriving effort from 18 yards out which beat Begovic all hands up. The modest away support were on their feet as they England players celebrated in front of them. When the game resumed England were still firmly in control of the game, holding the ball for long periods and creating more than enough chances to kill the game off before they reached half time. On the brink of the interval though they managed a 2nd. Barry once playing his part as Englad built from the back with a ball forward to Carroll who again laid a first time pass inside to Huddlestone who in turn produced his own first time through ball to Rooney. He broke loose from his marker and with Begovic closing in flicked the ball over head and into the open net to double the advantage.

In the changing rooms made one slight change was made with Ashley Cole coming in to replace Carroll. "Ok aaahhh Matt.... I want you with ahhh Wayne... Up front, Leighton will go ehhhh go left midfield and Cole shall errr go left.. Back! Ok?" Matt nodded in agreement at the managers broken English before they headed back out onto the rain soaked pitch, the weather ceaseing to ease up at all as the game progressed. The second half started much like the first with England in control but there was a high degree of intensity from the home side as they started to move the ball around and create pressure, at times frstrating England into silly mistakes, Pjanic in particular now causing Cole all sorts of problems down the home teams right flank while still struggling to create anything truly clear cut.

With roughly an hour gone the game had become slightly stagnent, the game decending into a midfield battle though England still managed to come close to a third, Rooney on the right finding space to cross, Cole of all people getting a strong header to it which Begovic did very well to tip over the bar. That chance began another spell of strong England pressure which eventually yielded a 3rd goal. Gerrard on the right of the midfield played a ball into Matt's feet which next found it's way to Huddlestone who once more guided a first time through pass for Rooney who slipped clear of the offside trap and fired a rocket across Begovic into the top corner to complete his hat trick and all but secure the game. With the game all but secure England continued to batter the home side's defensive line, the champagne football now coming out with flicks and tricks galore. One particularly flowing passing move yielding an opening for Gerrard but once more his effort was wayward but a few minutes later Begovic was left picking the ball out of his net for a fourth time of the night. Rooney's shot was blocked, the loose ball being won by Barry from Mirvic before putting in a teasing through ball, Matt springing forward to get to it, nip round the keeper and place the ball into the empty net to round off the rout. With the players still celebrating Matt's goal Capello gave the call to Downing and Agbonlahor, the former Villa team mates coming in to replace Gerrard and Rooney, the latter getting a standing ovation from both sets of fans as the game entered injury time but with very little time neither managed to make an impact on the game before the referee put an end to the home sides misery.

(

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Bos & Herz 0

England 4 (Rooney 37, 45+1 & 76; Warner 89)

MoM: Wayne Rooney (England)

Att: 24,803

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The England team flew straight home in order to prepare for the next friendly at Wembley against Slovenia, Capello ready once more to tinker with the first team line up in order to whittle down the 30 men at his disposal to 23 in time for the first game against Holland. As the days passed Capello soon announced the starting line up, the players taking it in turned to look over the team sheet as the manager left them to get changed after another training session.

"Left midfield again?"

"Looks like it, you not liking it?" Terry asked as he pulled his training top off.

"I'd rather play higher up if i'm gonna play on the left.... I don't mind but there are better players in that position.... Ash plays there for Man Utd..."

"True but the gaffer must see something he likes when you play there..."

"Maybe but... I dunno, maybe it's just to see how Andy does up front with Wayne for the time being..."

The rest of the day flew by and before too long they were once again in the Wembley changing rooms, the seats in the stands above their heads filling up quickly.

International Friendly

27/05/2012

England vs Slovenia

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Glen Johnson

LB: Ashley Cole

CB: John Terry ©

CB: Rio Ferdinand

CM: Steven Gerrard

CM: Frank Lampard

RM: Aaron Lennon

LM: Matt Warner

ST: Wayne Rooney

ST: Andy Carroll

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Chris Smalling

DL: Leighton Baines

ML: Stuart Downing

ST: Gabriel Agbonlahor

CB: Gary Cahill

RB: Micah Richards

ML: Ashley Young

RM: Theo Walcott

There was only four changes from the team which had won so convincingly against Bosnia & Herzegovina five days earlier, Lennon came onto the right side with Gerrard going into the central midfield position along with Lampard. Cole also replaced Baines at left back. The game kicked off and almost opened with a bang as within the a minute Handanovic was forced to keep out a rasping Gerrard drive which was headed directly for the top corner. It seemed to set the tone as flexed their muscles in the early going leaing the visitors to just chase shadows, the sun beaming down, summer now in full swing along with England who once more went close to opening the scoring. Lennon coming in from the right side to pass to Lampard who turned and played in a through ball to Matt in acres of space, though as he bore down on goal his shot was straight at the visiting keeper before the effort was cleared. The traffic was firmly headed in just one direction as the pressure continued to grow, Lampard next to test Handanovic with an effort from outside the area, the Slovenian palming it away. With the early pressure failing to yield an opener the frustation was becoming more and more vocal from both the stands and the sidelines with just over 20 minutes gone in the game, thankfully though there wasn't much longer to wait as England finally took the lead. Cole winning possession with a good challenge, the loose ball being collected by Matt who took off running at the heart of the Slovenian defence and with them backing off he struck, this effort sneaking past Handanovic into his right hand corner to give England a deserved lead.

The goal settled both player and fan alike as following the restart, England began to dominate once again with Matt coming close to adding a second with another distance drive, this time being tee'd up by a Lampard free kick, his effort taking a deflection on it's way out though it was only temporary respite for the away side. Terry winning a header in the air before the ball found it's way to Rooney, his one two with Carroll setting him away from the defence before curling in a low left footed effort to make it 2-0 with just over half an hour gone. The home defence barely had time to catch their breath before England came out their with devastating effect once more. Johnson slotting a pass from the right to Carroll who laid the ball up first time for Rooney to strike low into the left hand corner to make it 3-0. Following the goal Slovenia began to find their footing a little, the away side beginning in small measure to stem the tide of relentless England pressure though it was still the home side who were controlling the flow of the game and on the brink of half time they added to the scoring. Gerrard collecting a ball from the right before turning and finding his midfield partner Lampard, he helped it on to Rooney who'd dropped off his man. With space to turn he hit a hard effort goalwards, Handanovic well beaten as it cannoned off the bar leaving Carroll to react quickest and volley into the empty net on the brink of half time.

Capello let the players know he was pleased with what he'd seen in the first half but was going to make one change with Baines coming on for Carroll meaning Matt would be placed up front with Rooney once more while Baines would slot into the left wing position. The second half started slowly and in more even fashion, Slovenia's frontmen finally getting some action as Zupan took Hari's pass in his stride before striking goalwards but Hart watched the effort trickle a good few yards wide. There was alot more bite and fight from the away side as Capello made a change just past the hour mark, Smalling and Agbonlahor coming on for Johnson and Matt. It wasn't long after the changes that Hart was forced into his first save of the afternoon, Hari this time playing in Pavlin to smash an effort to the Man City keepers left, Hart getting strong hands to it to tip it wide. With Slovenia applying more and more pressure Capello took the chance to make further changes with Cole, Ferdinand and Gerrard all making way for Downing, Cahill and Richards. After the subs chances were few and far between, England halting the Slovenian pressure and simply playing the game out to it's conclusion. There was the odd shot from distance but the keepers were rarely required to leave their comfort zone and as the final whistle went the fan in attendance gave a cheer of appreciation as England rounded off their second friendly with another 4-0 win, the last time England would be seen at Wembley until September.

(

)

England 4 (Warner 24; Rooney 35, 38; Carroll 45+2)

Slovenia 0

MoM: Wayne Rooney (England)

Att: 73,984

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Following the win the F.A. made an announcement and the nation collectively sighed as Steve McClaren was named as the Team GB coach for the Olympic's. Forums, facebook statuses, twitter feeds all voiced their disappointment and Matt had to agree. He was part of McClaren's England side which failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championship's and while he wouldn't say it in public or to the press, he was baffled at how a man who had been out of work for six months after failing so miserably at Nottingham Forest could possibly even be considered for the job. Many called for Jamie Redknapp and others in equal voice asked for Roy Hodgson to be given a chance after he masterminded West Brom's superb season. In Leeds speculation began to build over possible transfers, Scott Sinclair's name was thrown into the mix while sources in the nations tabloids also predicted moves for Alejandro Faurlin of QPR, Adam Johnson of Man City and Kevin De Bruyne who was plying is trade at Sion in Switzerland. There was also speculation on who was due to leave with the likes of Lonegran, Silva, Somma and Sam all touted for possible moves away from Elland Road but at this point nothing concrete was forth coming with many keen to concentrate on their well earned holiday's.

There wasn't too much time between games as England headed over to France for their final Euro 2012 warm up game with a promise of more tinkering. This time round it was Rooney who would start on the left hand side while Matt and Carroll would begin up front for what would be a more stern test of their tag as the world's number two side.

International Friendly

30/05/2012

France vs England

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Glen Johnson

LB: Ashley Cole

CB: John Terry ©

CB: Chris Smalling

CM: Gareth Barry

CM: Tom Huddlestone

RM: Steven Gerrard

LM: Wayne Rooney

ST: Matt Warner

ST: Andy Carroll

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Rio Ferdinand

LB: Leighton Baines

ML: Stuart Downing

ST: Darren Bent

CB: Gary Cahill

CB: Phil Jagielka

ML: Ashley Young

RM: Theo Walcott

The rain was coming down in Paris as they teams made their way onto the field, the modest crowd in attendance applauding their entrance and before too long the game was underway. The early going was slow and deliberate, the two heavy weights choosing to feel each other out with the game in it's infantcy. The first real chance of the game fell the way of England as Cole found space up the left hand side before cutting back to Barry who in turn helped it onto to Matt, he took a touch before side footing low at the near post, Lloris getting a strong hand to it before Rami cleared into touch. At the other end Briand made a bursting run through the middle before laying the ball into the feet of Nasri but his shot was watched wide by Hart in the England goal. The opening exchanges had promised much and soon enough the deadlock was broken. Cole played the ball forward to Rooney on the left wing to push inside to Matt, the Leeds striker turning and jinxing past Sakho before driving in on goal. His shot was palmed clear by Lloris but it came straight out to the advancing Rooney who side footed into the bottom corner to gift England the early lead. After the restart France began to build a prolonged spell of pressure, Ribery and Benzema both being handed chances after good passing moves onto the shoot right at Hart in the England goal.

The rain continued to fall and France continued to dicatate the game as the clocked ticked past the half hour mark yet Hart had yet to make a truly meaningful save despite the near constant possession and pressure from the home side. Though chances for England were few and far between they were creating the better chances, Matt once more forcing Lloris to back his claims as one of the best keepers in the world while a Rooney effort from distance took a wild deflection before trickling just wide of the mark for a corner, those in the stand breathing a sigh of relief. With the half nearly at an end France came close to leveling the scores as the game became end to end again. Ribery picked up Lloris' goal kick on the left before coming inside and threading a ball through for Benzema who shrugged off the challenge of Smalling, moving in on goal unchecked before shooting only for the post to come to England's rescue. At half time Capello seemed pleased but asked for more in key area's, "You must ahhhh get tight to man.... They have much space... This cannot ahhh happen. Midfield you leave defence exposed." The shuffling during the first half of play as seen Barry on the left and Matt in the centre though there was one change which would once more change that. Ferdinand came on for Carroll leaving Smalling to move to right back and Johnson to push forward to the right midfied position. Gerrard went to central midfield with Matt returning to his more familar striking role.

England got the second half underway and the early exchanges saw France once more on top, Cabaye, Benzema and Ribery all going close to adding the the scoreline, the latter clipping the crossbar with a well hit free kick from at least 30 yard, Hart scambling in vain to get some sort of touch on it but once more the woodwork came to his and England's rescue. It took until the hour mark before England managed to fashion a meaningful chance, Barry's cheeky free kick to Gerrard ended in a low shot which skipped through a crowd of players before flashing wide with Lloris rooted to the spot. Martin was next to take a free kick for the home side, this time the effort floated into the box where Sakho met it with a powerful header but once more Hart was relieved to see it fly behind the goal. Capello, seeing his side struggling to break the tide of pressure, decided on a change as Matt and Gerrard made way for Bent and Young, the latter replacing Barry on the left wing with the Man City midfielder returning to the centre. The game seemed to die down following the changes, France still making the better of the chances and having the majority of possession for the most part as the game entered the final few minutes, the men in blue still searching for an equaliser and it almost came courtesy of Nasri. Cabaye played the ball into Cisse who took it in his stride before picking out a pass for Nasri, with Young shadowing him he show from the angle, Hart able to palm it away for a corner.

The pressure as now becoming relentless, injury time within touching distance when finally the pressure paid off. Nasri and Cabaye exchanging passes before the latter found M'Vila in the centre who helped it through to Remy, the French forward beating the offside trap before striking it into the top corner from close range with Hart closing in. The disappointment was clear to see from the away side but in truth France had dominated the second half and deserved something from the game. The board was raised to show 3 minutes of added on time with Capello deciding to make his final changes of the game, Green and Baines taking the place of Hart and Johnson but it made little difference with the full time whistle following shortly afterwards ending the game in a stalement and producing a fair few questions for various pundits in studio's around the ground and beyond.

(

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France 1 (Remy 90)

England 1 (Rooney 12)

MoM: Hugo Lloris (France)

Att: 47,954

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It was a disappointing end to the warm up schedule, the England players now being left to wonder if their season was to end in a few days or if they would be heading to Krakow for the European Championship's. A few looked worried, others looked confident while Matt was pleased with how his performances had panned out, despite being played out of position for the most part. The players were given the chance to relax for the next couple of days while Capello made his choices for what would be his final few games as England boss. In Leeds the rumour mill began to click into overdrive as more names were linked with moves to Elland Road while others became subject of bids to take them away, word getting back to Matt that both Silva and Lonegran were in talks over possible moves while those touted as joining ranked from David Bentley to Kyle Naughton with it easy to see the connection between the two clubs with Redknapp's at both helms. The names had impressed Matt but he knew better than most that it was better to see something concrete than to hedge bets on press speculation plus his mind was more firmly on how he'd be spending his summer and on the Friday morning the call came.

"Hello ahhh Matt, how ehh how are you?"

"I'm good Mr. Capello, yourself?" Matt said, a slight twinge of nerves as he began to pace his living room.

"I'm fine."

"So..... What am i doing this summer?"

"I've selected you in ehhhhh my final team... I shall ahhh see you soon."

"Aweome, thank you Mr. Capello."

"And aaahhhh you have 7 shirt... Ok?"

"The number 7... Yes that's awesome, thanks again."

"No ehhh.. Problem."

The phone went dead and Matt punched the air as he gazed out of the window of his high rise flat, thinking to himself, "Krakow here i come..." Before too long the squad was announced to the press with the nation, Matt included, watching intently to find out who would be leading England's challenge.

Goalkeepers

Joe Hart (Man City)

Robert Green (West Ham Utd)

Fraser Forster (Celtic)

Defenders

Micah Richards (Man City)

Glen Johnson (Liverpool)

Chris Smalling (Man Utd)

Ashley Cole (Chelsea)

Leighton Baines (Everton)

John Terry (Chelsea)

Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd)

Phil Jagielka (Everton)

Midfielders

Gareth Barry (Man City)

Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham)

Owen Hargreaves (Man City)

Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

Frank Lampard (Chelsea)

James Milner (Man City)

Ashley Young (Man Utd)

Aaron Lennon (Tottenham)

Stewart Downing (Liverpool)

Forwards

Matt Warner (Leeds/Arsenal)

Wayne Rooney (Man Utd)

Andy Carroll (LIverpool)

There weren't too many surprises but many did question Matt's continued selection over Peter Crouch, a man who last season was in and around the best when it came to forwards in the Premier League while Theo Walcott was also omitted from the squad with many comparison's with the 2010 World Cup where he was also left behind, Capello going as far to admit not selecting him was a mistake after England crashed out against Germany two years earlier but once more he was deemed surplus to requirements to put another dent in his developement. There were also a fair few questions aimed in Capello's direction for only selecting three strikers and three wingers while also taking six central midfielders.

Time, as it always seems to do, will tell if he's made the right decisions.

In the week that followed Leeds confirmed the signing of Scott Sinclair in a deal thought to be worth around the £2m mark while also confirming the capture of promising Czech Republic left back Jan Lecjaks in another deal believed to be around the £2m pound mark. Leeds also took the chance to confirm that offers for Lonegran, Parnaby and Silva had all been accepted with the likes of Blackburn, Millwall and Leicester in talks with them. The England squad, once announced, made their way to their new home for the next two weeks at least in the heart of Krakow, Poland. Their hotel, The Hotel Stary, sat right in the middle of the city with the main square barely 20 metres away and their training camp a mere fifteen minute drive at the recently renovated ground of Polish lower league side Hutnik Krakow. The players seemed impressed when they finally reached the hotel, the former medievil cellar now transformed into a spa for the players while the they would be given a room each, the F.A. booking out all fifty-three rooms for the length of the tournament. With England settling in as the week wore on the press coverage intensified as the progress and work of the last two years got closer and closer to the real moment of truth. They ranked at number two in the world, a fact that many were keen to play up but in their opening game they were set to face the only team above them in the world rankings in the shape of 2010 World Cup runner's up Holland with some even going as far as to suggest that it may be an early showing of a possible final for the competition but before their showdown the tournament was given it's opening game as Belgium took on one of the co-hosts in the shape of Poland. The game ended in a 1-1 draw but for Matt it was more of a chance to get a first peek as his new team mate as the day before Jamie Rednapp introduced the signings of Scott Sinclair, Jan Lecjaks and surprise signing Kevin De Bruyne who joined in a deal close to £5m, a high sum considering he left Genk just six months earlier for around a tenth of that sum. The signing though seemed to be inspired as the next day for his nation he bagged the opening goal of the competition before Belgium were pegged back by the hosts.

On the Sunday it was the turn of six more sides to make their first appearence of the competition as Russia fell by 2-0 against Portugal, Ronaldo and Almeida on the scoresheet. Bosnia and Herzegovina held France in a very entertaining 2-2 draw. The result was made more impressive as France had a man adavantage for over an hour and held the lead twice, first through Benzema and then later thanks to Nasri but each time they were pinned back thanks to goals from Ibsevic and a last minute equaliser from Dzeko. The final game of the day was one of the bigger games of the competition as holders and world champions Spain, took on Italy with the champs coming out on top in a 2-1 win thanks Torres and Mata after Italy had taken the lead through Pazzini. The next day Germany and co-hosts Ukraine got their tournament's underway with Croatia and Montenegro being their opponents. The first game of the day saw Ukraine take on Montenegro where a double from Andriy Yarmolenko either side of a Simon Vukcevic striker secured a winning start for the co-hosts while in the evening Germany triumped by 3-1 over Croatia. Goals from Klose and a Mario Gomez double secured the win for Germany with Olic on the scoresheet for Croatia. Next though, it would be the turn of England as a nation's excitement began to build both home and away....

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The final preperations had been made, the nerves were starting to jangle just a little bit as team made the trip from Krakow to Kyiv, the nerves weren't helped by the fact that Capello had decided to play his cards close to his chest, the team set to be announced only when they arrived. With the exception of Spain's match against Italy, this could potentially be the tie of the group stages as 1st in the world took on 2nd in the world. Time seemed to fly as they headed for the newly rebuilt NSC Olympiyskiy Stadium, each of the players admiring the new 70,000 plus seater stadium which would be the home of Dynamo Kyiv come the end of the tounament. Inside the facilities were just as impressive, the players finding thier places in the large changings rooms before settling down as the request of Stuart Pearce. He and Capello had a quiet talk before the manager left leaving Psycho with the team sheet ready to announce the team and get them ready.

2012 European Championships

12/06/2012

Holland vs England

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Glen Johnson

LB: Ashley Cole

CB: John Terry ©

CB: Rio Ferdinand

CM: Gareth Barry

CM: Frank Lampard

RM: Steven Gerrard

LM: Wayne Rooney

ST: Matt Warner

ST: Andy Carroll

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Chris Smalling

LM: Stuart Downing

LM: Ashley Young

CB: Phil Jagielka

RB: Micah Richards

CM: Tom Huddlestone

RM: Aaron Lennon

MC: James Milner

MC: Owen Hargreaves

GK: Fraser Forster

The players strolled out into the late afternoon sun to an almighty cheer from the nearly full to capacity stadium that would also host the final in just under 3 weeks time. The squad again contained players being played out of position with Rooney being handed the left midfield position. The Van Persie and Sniejder got the game underway to another loud cheers from those in the stands. The game started with both sides looking to lnd the first punch, Snidjer's shot from distance pushed away by Hart while England's slick early passing and moving yielded the better of the possession without putting the Dutch keeper under overwhelming pressure. The best chance fell the way of Huntelaar in the early going as he worked some space away from the attentions of Terry before bending one low barely a yard wide the post. The shuffling began with barely 15 minutes gone, Capello giving the order for Matt, Barry and Rooney to switch with Matt dropping to the centre of midfield, Barry going to the left and Rooney going up front, expert lip readers not needed as those watching on TV saw him look to the bench and ask "What the f**k?" The annoyance of being played so grossly out of position seemed to finally get to him as one of his surging runs ended via a hard De Jong challenge, the referee allowing play to go on as Rooney picked up the loose ball and bent one towards the top corner, the ball skimming off the bar before going out while at the other end Drenthe latched onto a Huntelaar through ball before firing past Hart at the angle though it was ruled out, harshly by the looks of it, for offside with barely half hour gone.

England were beginning to looked the better side, Lampard laying a Holland clearence to Matt who found time to get it onto his right and set himself, his effort whistling just over the bar. With the Holland looking to pour forward at the other end though England managed broke the deadlock with a well times counter attack. Ferdinand heading a clearance to Carroll who with his first touch laid it to Matt's feet and with space infront he began to motor forward, Van Bommell, Boularouz and Van Der Wiel all left in his wake before shooting low across the keeper. Stekelenburg got a good hand to it, the ball springing out to the edge of the area where Carroll reacted quickest to thread it through a crowd to open the scoring. Bars and clubs across England erupted as the players celebrated in the corner along with goal hero Carroll who continued his impressive form for his country. With the restart Holland looked to drive forward and get back on level terms almost straight away but Terry headed clear a dangerous looking Drenthe cross, Carroll losing out to Van Bommel with Matt collecting and playing a first time ball forward to Rooney's feet who turned and ran at the Holland defence, only pausing to play a one-two with Gerrard. The return ball was sent down the right before Rooney once more collected, cut inside and hit a low shot at the near post which had Stekelenburg sprawling unsuccessfully to keep it out as England made it two goals in as many minutes, the home support in the ground making an almighty racket in their corner of the ground. After the restart the game calmed for the most part but with the half making it's way into the final moments England almost made it 3-0. Barry and Matt working well before playing it inside to Rooney who bided his time before playing into Gerrard's run, the Liverpool captain drawing a top drawer save fro Stekelenburg.

In the changing room's the players were praised while one change was made, Matt's outburst earlier in the half being viewed in a dull light as he was replaced by Huddlestone, Matt letting out a deep sigh before pulling his boots off with each of the lime green Nike's hitting the floor with a hard and sharp thud, his frustration clear for all to see. Soon though the players were back on the pitch and with the exception of an early chance for for Lampard the game became an all over dull affair, Matt sat with a face like thunder in the dugout. The first real chance of the half came on the hour mark as Gerrard came inside from the right to play in Carroll who turned and opened up what seemed like acres of space after shrugging off Boulabouz's challenge but his curling effort aimed at the top corner only found the fans behind the goal. From this point England began to dominate and while chances were few and far between they all fell the way of the three lions, Barry's free kick from the left drawing Stekelenburg into no man's land but luckily for him Huddlestone failed to keep his header down with an open goal infront of him. Holland continued to try and break loose and find a way back in but the likes of Terry and Ferdinand, some believing it to be their last international tournament, were seemingly unbeatable in both the air and on the ground as Van Persie and Huntelaar struggled more and more. With each minute that passed England were looking more and more assured in posession, Ferdinand coming close from a Gerrard corner with a header at the near post only for Van Bommel to clear to safety. Soon enough though, with only injury time left on the clock Capello made his final two changes with Gerrard and Barry making way for Hargreaves and Baines, neither really managing to influence the game in anyway before the final whistle was blown.

The cheer was loud and joyful from the England fan's as staff and players from each side exhanged hand shakes and wishes of luck for the rest of the tournament, England's assured performance surely set to turn a few heads as they stamp their claim as potential tournament winners.

(

)

Holland 0

England 2 (Carroll 36; Rooney 38)

MoM: Maarten Stekelenburg (Holland)

Att: 63,475

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Though the performance was highly professional and polished the media focus fell squarely on Matt's outburst, the paper Capello held infront of him saying all it needed to,

WHAT THE F**K!?

Warner's outburst overshadow's England win.

Psycho sat next to Matt as the inquest began,

"Matt... You ahhhh can't do that... It make look bad the eeehhh... Team!"

"I know... But i'm not a central midfielder... The reason i reacted how i did was because you had Gareth playing left midfield. Why not put him in the centre and let me go left?"

Pearce chimed in, "I thought you didn't like playing on the left, i heard you'd been talking about it.."

"I don't... If your all out of central midfielder's then yes, i'll play there but i don't see why you start me up front only to have a merry go round with barely quarter of an hour gone and then change it at half time..."

"Because i eeehhhh saw gap.... You pace make.... difficult for Holland.... Van Bommel and De Jong. I want exploit that."

"Look either way i'm sorry... I was just annoyed that i'm not playing up front."

Capello gave a nod, Pearce once more taking the lead.

"Ok Matty... Lets just draw a line under this and move on alright?"

Matt nodded before being given the signal to leave. Matt's frustration had gotten the better of him but deep down he agreed that he couldn't let his outbursts be so public. Back home there was more news on the transfer front with Leeds confirming the exit of Bruno Silva to Panathinaikos and Lonegran to West Bromich Albion while Kyle Naugton joined for £1.5m. There was also conformation from the agent of Stuart Parnaby that he was in talks with Millwall over a £600k move as Redknapp looked to shape his squad into one that could cope with the rigours of the Premier League while also looking to the future with deals being struck for recently released 17 years old's Adam Henley and Jake Sinclair, the latter keen to join up with his older brother Scott at Elland Road. After England's win the other teams in their group got their competition hopes under way, Sweden beating Norway by 3-0 with goals from Ibrahimovic, Elmander and Djuric ahead of their Sunday fixture against Holland. There were further games over the course of the week leading upto England's game against Norway with the Wednesday seeing just one game with the scoreline once more reading 3-0, this time Russia beating co-hosts Poland thanks to a double from Kerzhavov in addition to a late Glushakov strike. Thursday's games saw another group B drubbing as Portugal guranteed their progression to the quarter final after a heavy 4-0 defeat of Belgium which saw Danny, Veloso and a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo do the damage.

The Friday afternoon saw Italy's chance's take another heavy blow as they were held in a 2-2 draw by Bosnia and Herzegovina. With all the goals coming inside of 25 minutes both sides had the lead before being pegged back by their opponents, Balotelli and Giovinco, the latter from the penalty spot, on target for Italy while Salihovic and Dzeko bagged the goals for the underdogs. Later in the day though another big game showed the unpredicabilty of tournament football as a plucky France performance saw them overcome reigning world and european champions Spain by 2-0 with goals from Diarra and Benzema either side of Albiol's red card which was made all the more frustrating as he recieved his first booking barely a minute before. As each game passed each of the favourites seemed to be making mistakes with, so far at least, the exception of England. Though they had only played once the confidence was beginning to increase purely from seeing each of the main contenders show their weaknesses at such an early stage.

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Saturday brought more training and preperation, Capello deciding once more to keep his team selection to himself until the side arrived at the stadium. The Saturday night saw the the players being allowed a beer or two, most choosing to have them during the evenings game between Germany and Montenegro where goals from Podolski and Gomez helped the Germans to a 2-1 win, Vucinic getting the Montenegran goal. Earlier in the day Croatia got up and running with a 2-1 win over co-hosts Ukraine, Petric and an Olic penalty coming either side of Milevskyi's goal.

During the game Matt took a chance to talk and text friends back home, one of which having news over his future.

"Alright Joe mate, how goes it?"

"Yeah.... Goo... Yeah good."

"Catch you at a bad time?" Matt quizzed.

"No, just trying to pack up some stuff?"

"Why? You going somewhere?"

"You ain't heard?" Joe asked as he closed up another box ready for the movers to take.

"Nope... What's gone on?"

"Well a few days ago Blackpool made an offer, County accepted it and i signed for them yesterday night.... Suprised you didn't see."

"Ahhh, well congrats mate... How much they offer?"

"Just a shade under £600k.... I could have stayed at Notts but.. Well i feel i'm good enough to be playing at a higher level and were weren't anywhere near going up last season. It's sad to leave but.."

".. Yeah, ya need to look to the future. Well, i won't keep you from packing but congrats again and we'll sort something out when i get back, you can show us round Blackpool or something."

"Sounds good.... Oh and calm down, don't be so shouty on the pitch." The chance to poke fun at his on pitch outburst too good to turn down.

"Yeah yeah... I'll ciya in a bit jackass!" Matt replied, putting the phone down while laughing quietly to himself.

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The team once more travelled into Ukraine, this time headed for Kharkiv for their game at Metalist Stadium. As they arrived there was already a large number of fans waiting, enjoying the various local events put on to entertain the fans before kick off. In the changing rooms once more Capello handed the team sheet off before departing to speak to the various press outlets in attendance. Pearce read out the team sheet and once more Matt was left disappointed, this time being pushed out into the left while Huddlestone came into the centre of midfield to replace Barry who dropped to the bench.

2012 European Championships

17/06/2012

England vs Norway

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Glen Johnson

LB: Ashley Cole

CB: John Terry ©

CB: Rio Ferdinand

CM: Tom Huddlestone

CM: Frank Lampard

RM: Steven Gerrard

LM: Matt Warner

ST: Wayne Rooney

ST: Andy Carroll

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Chris Smalling

LM: Ashley Young

RM: Aaron Lennon

CB: Phil Jagielka

RB: Micah Richards

LM: Stuart Downing

MC: James Milner

MC: Gareth Barry

MC: Owen Hargreaves

GK: Fraser Forster

The ground was once more ram packed as the side made their way onto the pitch and into the cool evening air, England clad in their dark blue shirts and shorts. After the national anthems rang out with gusto the whistle sounded to signal the start, Norway winning the coin toss and taking the kick off and starting in fine fashion. Solli collected the ball on the right before hitting a ball forward for Elyounoussi to chase down, he collected and shot with Hart palming away with the ball falling to Grindheim who shot first time with Terry managing to divert it away from goal but Riise got in fire home with only 30 second on the clock. The nation produced a collective sigh as the men in red celebrated, the England player's left to ask questions between themselves before the game restarted. The shock of the early opener seemed to subside very quickly from an England point of view as Johnson played a ball forward for Gerrard who bent it inside first time to Carroll, finding time to turn and run at the defence before entering the area and almost from an impossible angle he shot, the effort hitting the crossbar, bouncing onto the line and then once more off the bar before crossing the line to put England almost instantly back on level terms. The England fan's behind the goal sounded their appreciation as once more back home packed bars and clubs erupted in celebration. After the restart both side found themselves on the receiving end of multiple yellow cards with Gerrard and Johnson both getting booked inside the first 10 minutes along with Norway's Haestad and Skjelbred. The next closest chance of the game fell the way of Matt after some probing passing saw Lampard play it into Matt's feet, the out of position forward managing to turn and shoot but instantly he knew he hadn't struck it cleanly.

At the other end Norway were looking to prove they weren't just a flash in the pan as once more Elyounoussi pounced on a through ball to shoot from the angle, this time Hart having to simply watch the ball as it went harmlessly wide of the mark. England though were starting to click into gear as once more their passing and moving proved tough to deal with, this time Rooney finding space to drive into the area though his low shot was saved very well by Larsen before being cleared up field. The tackles were also flying in with increasing regularity as both sides fought to control what was a packed midfield, the tough nature of the game showing in the five yellow cards that had already been shown as once more Larsen made a save, denying Carroll who got free in the centre to shoot but his effort was straight down Larsen's throat. The half time whistle came shortly afterwards and once more Matt was left frustrated as Capello announced that the only change would be Matt making way for Young. In fairness it hadn't been his best game by any stretch of the imagination but it didn't serve as any consolation for the diappointment of not playing any part in either 2nd half. The half started with England once more looking the better side, early on a Huddlestone drive from distance gave Larsen something to think about before Norway were dealt a blow as in the scramble for the ball Hangeland came off second best in a challenge with Carroll, the Fulham defender making way for Thomas Rogne. Norway refused to lie down though and despite having on minimal possession of the ball, Elyounoussi was still causing trouble for the back line, Grindheim once more threading a ball through for him but his well hit shot inside the area was saved by Hart once more.

Capello, having spent the entire half just observing from his seat, decided on a change. This time he called for Barry with Lampard making way for his arrival to the game, his introduction serving to cement England's domination of recent proceedings. While chance's had become fewer in their frequency England continued to have the better of them, Huddlestone again with a drive from at least 35 yard, the effort missing the top corner by inches while later he once again had a go, this time though it never troubling Larsen as the game came upon the final 10 minutes and also it's 3rd goal. Cole's throw in from the left to Carroll's feet yielded a cross which Rogne got all wrong, the ball heading into the back of his own net. There was a deep feeling of relief rather than joy as England took the lead for the first time in the game. Almost as the ball crossed the line though Capello requested his final change as Richard's came on for Gerrard with Johnson going to the right of midfield. Norway tried to build but by this point England had shut up shop, playing the ball around must to the frustration of some of the travelling fan's as well as the Norway players who spent the remainder of the game simply chasing the ball around until their exit from the competition was all but secured with the final whistle, the same sound also pretty much confirming England's place in the quarter finals.

(

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England 2 (Carroll 4; Rogne o/g 81)

Norway 1 (Riise 1)

MoM: Andy Carroll (England)

Att: 35,992

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The earlier game of the day saw Sweden fall by 4-1 against a more rampant looking Holland side with Van Persie bagging a hat trick along with a goal from Bouma, Jonsson getting the Swedish goal which meant that both sides need to win to guarantee their progression to the next round in their final games while England would need just a draw to seal top spot but defeat could see both Sweden and Holland sneak in ahead of them and with little time between matches need to keep the squad fresh meant that the Monday saw many of the players wives, girlfriends and kids arrive at the hotel for a bit of relaxation. It made Matt think back and wonder, about Kelly and Becky, both of which he missed though he'd never admit it due to his pride, a trait that ran strong in the Warner males. With the most of the players spending the evening with their families Matt retreated to his room to watch both of the day's games. The first saw Belgium sneak past Russia thanks to a late Eden Hazard goal while co-host's Poland came close to overcoming Portugal, goals from Lewandowski and Polandski twice having them ahead before Nani and Manuel Fernandes leveled the scores meaning Portugal and Belgium progressed to the last eight. Back in Leeds there was very little in the way of transfer activity as they missed out on the capture of both Lee Wallace and Bongani Khumalo while other transfers to make the news were that of England and Everton pair Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines completing a £37.5 double deal to Spurs as they looked to make a push for the title, along with a pro-tracted deal for promising Moroccan midfielder Zakaria Labyad on a free transfer. Man City signed Dmytro Chygrynskyi for nearly £16m and Arsenal brought in 22 year old Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmelenko.

Tuesday's final group A games saw Croatia and Germany progress to the quarter finals. Croatia snuck through as runners-up after securing a 2-1 win over Montenegro, Loveren and Tomecak on the score sheet with Vukovic grabbing the goal for Montenegro. In the second game Germany held the co-host's Ukraine to a 1-1 draw, Poldolski's late equaliser dumping one of the home sides out of the competition after Seleznyov opened the scoring in the first half. Before the England game though Matt recieved text messages wishing him luck while also informing him that Leeds had wrapped up another signing, this time in the shape of 22 year old Panathinaikos midfielder Sotiris Ninis for around £4m with bids also believed to have been lodged for Alejandro Faurlin and Abel Aguillar but once more there was very little apart from that. Matt had been impressed so far with the signings that had been made, some of his England team mates also giving the nod of approval stating that Leeds were starting to look more threatening with each signing. The signings in question were all promising young players but there was also a disinct lack of experience in the signings which slightly worried Matt as with the exception of himself, Kisnorbo, Jones and McCormack the rest of the team that finished the season were all under the age of 25. There were rumours that Redknapp was still in the hunt for at least three more players, many touting the signing of another left back, central defender and centre midfielder with a striker maybe on the list of well. It made many wonder where the money was coming from after years of frugal transactions suddenly Leeds seemed to just happen up large amounts of money, some likening it to their sudden fall from grace during the early part of the millenium.

And no one wanted to suffer through that again....

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The final game was upon them, the England players once more crossing the boarder into the Ukraine, the Metalist Stadium once more playing host to them as they got set to take on Sweden, all the players knowing that a draw would see them through regardless of what happened between Norway and Holland though the coaching staff had drilled the importance of a win not only to mkae sure progression but also to stamp their mark on the competition. Once more, as in the previous two games Pearce handled the announcement of the team sheet and as the midfield was read out with the omission of Matt he sighed slightly, expecting to take a place on the bench.

"... And up top Wayne and Matty are starting, the rest are on the bench. Ok lets get changed boys, warm up starts in ten minutes."

Matt, with a look of suprise etched across his face, began to get changed while muttering to no one in particular "Well... I wasn't expecting that..."

2012 European Championships

20/06/2012

Sweden vs England

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Glen Johnson

LB: Ashley Cole

CB: John Terry ©

CB: Rio Ferdinand

CM: Gareth Barry

CM: Frank Lampard

RM: Steven Gerrard

LM: Stuart Downing

ST: Wayne Rooney

ST: Matt Warner

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Chris Smalling

LB: Leighton Baines

LM: Ashley Young

ST: Andy Carroll

CB: Phil Jagielka

RB: Micah Richards

RM: Aaron Lennon

MC: James Milner

MC: Tom Huddlestone

MC: Owen Hargreaves

GK: Fraser Forster

The teams strolled out into the lush green turf, the sun still very much out in force even in the late afternoon. Each team lined up for the playing of the national anthems, some chosing to sing while others, Matt included, declined, choosing instead to give an intence look of focus as the camera passed him. Soon though, after all the handshakes and pre-match banter had settled Sweden were given the nod to kick off and in near enough identical fasion to their last game England found themselves a goal down within 30 seconds. Wendt's ball to the middle from the left wing found Elm who hit a first time pass to Djuric and with time and space around him Ibrahimovic made a quick in and out move to receive his through ball, the effort rattling off the underside and in to make it 1-0 to the Swedes. All Matt could do was shake his head, he and Rooney giving each other a knowing look as the ball was hoofed towards them by Hart. England though, as against Norway, looked to strike back straight away with a flowing forward move ending with via a wild effort from Matt which blazed over the bar from 20 yards out. The game was more even than Capello and Pearce would have liked, both expressing there dismay at the pattern of play before them but just as Psycho got into one of his red faced rants from the sidelines England struck back. Downing laid a ball inside for Barry who, after bringing it forward a short distance, played it to Lampard and the Chelsea man responded with a superb pass to pick out Matt's run off the left side. After racing away from Lustig he took the ball in his stride and with Isaksson coming out he swing his unfamilar left foot at it, the ball finding the bottom corner to put England level again. After the restart the game followed the same pattern, neither able to find a sustained run of possession though England came closest to snatching the lead. Terry's clearence was collected by Gerrard who drove forward before picking out another lovely through ball for Matt. He zipped clear of the defence before shooting though this time his effort though only managing the find the side netting.

Chances also fell the way of Downing and Johnson though Sweden weren't spectators in the game as an Elm free kick from the right saw Olsson rise highest, his header going agonisingly over the bar much to his dispair. Elm and Ibrahimovic were also gifted opportunities to restore the Swedish lead and the latter eventually did. A harmless looking Mellberg free kick from the ball dropped at Terry's feet, but with the ball caught under him Ibrahimovic slipped in and picked his pocket before moving in on goal to produce a cool finish infront of the Sweden fans. Terry held his hand's up straight away while others looked to encourage England into better, the coaching staff included as the half drew to a close. With Capello discussing his half time options with his staff though he almost missed the equaliser. Isaksson's goal kick was won in the air by Barry, the ball bouncing into Rooney's feet before being laid off to Gerrard who cut inside and found a neat pass forward to Matt. With the ball at his feet he shifted, looked up and cut the defence open with a pass to Rooney, the Man Utd forward side footing into the bottom corner on the brink of the break. In the changing rooms there were loud demands for better in terms of defending while the likes of Matt, Gerrard and Rooney were all praised for their parts. For the first time in the competition the team would remain unchanged at half time and as the 2nd half began it was Sweden who looked the more likely to find the net again. While chances weren't too often in coming it was Sweden who were creating the better of them, Viktor Elm in one instance drawing a superb finger tip save from Hart in the England goal while Hart once more denied Sweden a 3rd, this time from the boot of Ferdinand who deflected a cross off the post before the Man City keeper smothered with with Ibrahimovic baring down on him. Before too long though Capello looked to Carroll and gave him the nod, the sub board calling for the holder of the number seven shirt meaning Matt's afternoon was at an end while Downing was also brought off to be replaced by Huddlestone. Both applauded the fan's during their exit before wishing their replacements luck for the last half hour.

The changes gave England a bit of a boost, Huddlestone and Carroll linking well to create a chance for Rooney, the effort well saved and held by Isaksson. The match from this point became more slow, calculating with neither side wanting to push too hard in going forward for fear of being exposed by the counter attack. Richards was the final change England made as he replaced Gerrard, Johnson again going to the right of midfield and that move brought the game's fith goal. Barry with the ball on the left played it across for Rooney, who was crowded before slotting it over one more to Carroll in space. The big Liverpool forward taking his time before turning and finding his Anfield team mate Johnson in acres of space, the make shift winger collecting the pass and dispatching it low across the keeper in style to give England the lead with just 6 minutes of time left on the clock, the England players mobbing him infront of some angry looking Sweden fans. With the goal came pressure, Sweden decided on having four out and out forwards as they sought an equaliser to keep them in the game and maybe the tournament and it was when one of those forwards moves broke down that England tied up the game. Elm was caught in possession by Rooney and as they both went down Huddlestone collected the ball, laying it left to Barry who in turn tucked it back to Cole and with Rooney on his feet once more the Chelsea full back found his run with a world class pass, Rooney breaking the offside trap the meet the ball. With the keeper rushing out he slid the ball left and fired low, tucking his effort just inside the near post to secure England's progression to the quarter final and seal Sweden's early flight home.

Sweden came close to setting up an epic finish to the game when a quick free kick found it's way to Olsson on the edge of the area, his savage effort went straight down Hart's throat for him to palm down before being cleared by Ferdinand, the final whistle sounding before the ball hit the ground again. It cued calmed but massively happy celebrations, the players taking a chance to applaud the England fan's attendance.

(

)

Sweden 2 (Ibrahimovic 1, 38)

England 4 (Warner 9; Rooney 45, 88; Johnson 84)

MoM: Wayne Rooney (England)

Att: 40,236

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The nation celebrated the team's entry to the last eight along with the fact that England were the only team to win all of their group games. Before England's game though it was the turn of Norway and Holland, the latter securing their progression with a 3-0 win thanks to goals from Huntelaar, Kuyt and Sniejder while in group D France guaranteed top spot by beating a sad looking Italy side by 2-0 with both goals being netted by Benzema either side of the half while the result also meant that Italy would finish bottom. France were joined in the next stage by Spain after they drew 3-3 with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Four goals in the first half saw Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-1 up as Rascic bagged twice along with Dzeko though in the second half Pedro and Xavi added to Torres' first half strike with the draw meaning the holders snuck in ahead of the Bosnian's.

With all the group games completed England and the other seven teams learned their fate for the quarter finals, each game catching the imagination in one way or another.

2012 European Championship Quarter Final

Q1: Belgium vs Germany

Q2: Portugal vs Croatia

Q3: England vs Spain

Q4: Holland vs France

Also known was who would be playing who in the semi finals as the winners of Q1 and Q4 would meet leaving Q2 and Q3 to face off meaning the possibility of an England vs Germany final was very much alive as well as the earlier prediction of an England vs Holland final. In the England camp however no one was getting too far ahead of themselves as Spain would provide perhaps the toughest test yet to Capello's England hopefuls. The last time they met was at Wembley a nearly eight months earlier where Matt produced a stunning early goal along with a nasty challenge which earned him a red card and condemnation from many in the football world. It had taken a while after that game but eventually Uefa announced that with it being a friendly and with Matt apologising for the tackle that no further action would be taken though it passed nearly without mention in the press, Matt even having to find out his fate via text message. Back home things seemed to calm on the transfer front for most teams as they took the chance to assess what they would need with many players at the European Championship's catching the eye, a decent percentage of the crowd at games being made up by scouts, managers and their assistants as they searched for the next big thing to take their sides to the next level.

The games began coming thick and fast as with the ending of the group stage coming on Wednesday the following day would see the first quarter final, two promising young sides in the shape of Belgium and Germany. While both had come through tough groups it was the latter of the two coming away with a place in the semi final as Muller, Schweinsteiger and a double from Ozil saw Germany romp to a 4-1 win, Ogunjimi opener being the only source of hope for the Belgians. The friday night saw more of the same as Portgual and Croatia lodged their bids for game of the competition with a real barnstormer. Croatia cruised to a two goal lead with less that half hour on the clock, Olic and Petric with the finding the net with the latter's coming via the penalty spot. Ronaldo managed to pull one back before grabbing an equaliser in the second half to send the game into extra time. There were then three goals inside of eight extra time minutes from Moutinho, Meireles and Petric to make it 4-3 to Portugal and in the dying seconds Ronaldo completed his hat trick to set up a mouth watering grudge match with either England or Spain...

2012 European Championship Quarter Final

23/06/2012

England vs Spain

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Glen Johnson

LB: Ashley Cole

CB: John Terry ©

CB: Rio Ferdinand

CM: Tom Huddlestone

CM: Frank Lampard

RM: Steven Gerrard

LM: Ashley Young

ST: Wayne Rooney

ST: Andy Carroll

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Chris Smalling

LB: Leighton Baines

ST: Matt Warner

MC: James Milner

CB: Phil Jagielka

RB: Micah Richards

RM: Aaron Lennon

LM: Stuart Downing

CM: Gareth Barry

CM: Owen Hargreaves

GK: Fraser Forster

Once more England returned to the NSC Olympiyskyi Stadium, once more the game was huge and once more the players were left to wonder if they would play a part in the days games. The squad was announced and Matt, though disappointed, swallowed his pride as he took his seat on the bench. The still warm evening air greeted the players along with the ample sound of nearly 65,000 fans eargerly anticipating the clash of two of the best sides in the world. The early exchages gave off a distinctive feel of caution as Spain's well documented 'Tiki-Taka' football went head to head with England's more direct but gritty style of play. Early chances fell the way of Rooney and Carroll with neither able to really challenge Casillas in the Spain goal. The first half hour or so was somewhat of a dull encounter as England held their ground while Spain dominated the posession but the game was given a spark as England found the back of the next. Young slid his free kick short to Rooney who was stood alone on the edge of the area before setting himself and shooting, the effort took a huge hit off the shoulder of Carroll, sending the ball into the top corner to the delight of the travelling support but boo's sounded soon after as the referee raised his flag to signal offside. Though disappointing it drove England to start holding the ball more and think out their chances and soon it enough it paid off. Gerrard was felled by Monreal on the right side, Young was once more handed the chance to deliver the free kick and once more his laid it short to a completely unmarked Rooney who, after setting himself again, rocketed a shot into the top corner to give England the lead, no deflection or flag would be arriving to save Spain this time round.

The game restarted and once more Spain began to fall into their familar holding pattern of play though almost straight away it yielded results. Xavi and Busquets linked up before finding a pass to Alonso, the Madrid midfielder knocked it right to Pedro. He faked to shoot before providing another pass, this time to Llorente who managed to get clear of Terry before bending an effort past Hart to put Spain almost instantly back on level terms. The Spainish dominance continued for the remainder of the half, Mata hitting the side netting after showing Gerrard a clean set of heels while Llorente came within an inch of bagging his second from a Xavi corner. Half time followed soon after with Capello giving his usual broken English team talk,

"We must not eeehh.... Stop... They strong but we aaahhhh... Can win. John... You must be tight... Llorente ok? Too much time..... No change for number two half.... Must ehhhh press more.... All players.... Front and ehhhh back... Ok?" Capello urged his side, Pearce watching on quietly behind him.

The players nodded, sipping back sports drinks while trying to catch their breath but the bell wasn't far away and sure enough it sounded to rallying cries as they flooded out the door for the second half....

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Matt wandered out and once more took his seat next to Lennon, a former team mate from his first stint at Leeds. The game though changed very little in the way it was played, the pinpoint passing and tricky to mark movement continued with England holding up well against what some had dared to call the best techical footballing side ever seen. England did manage to create the odd chance, Rooney being the main threat but Casillas only touched the ball when he had to restart to game. Soon though, as they had done against Holland, they managed to turn Spain's strength against them. Cole made a brilliant tackle on Pedro with Young collecting and feeding the ball to Carroll who turned and moved the ball forward before picking out Young once again running free and clear down the left wing, the Man Utd winger drove in towards the byline, tricked his way past the challenge of Puyol before crossing. Rooney slid in, Casillas saved and the scramble ensued with Carroll eventually driving the ball in from barely a yard out to spark wild celebrations from the bench as the deadlock was finally broken. Following the restart it became quickly clear that Spain would not be rolling over just yet as they continued to control posession, a good passing move resulting in Xavi finding a lovely through ball for Villa but the Barcelona forward could only hit his shot into the waiting arms of Hart. It was only a repreave as once more England showed themselves to be most vulnerable after scoring. Llorente picked up the ball on the half way line after a pass from Xavi before turning and threading a hugely precise ball through for Torres who had streaked away from Johnson. Hart came from his line to close him down, the Chelea forward ducking left before laying it into Villa who this time made no mistake in slotting past an out of position Joe Hart to level the scores once more on the hour mark.

Air horns and even to odd vuvuzela, which had been the cause of much annoyance at the World Cup twp years before, sounded out around the crowd. Both set's of fan's still in full voice as the half wore on, Spain still very much in control as the England back line struggled to contain Torres, Villa and Pedro, the latter being given a golden chance when Torres put him through one on one with Hart but his effort was low and straight, the Man City stopper getting down well to save it. In an attempt to give the midfield a more defensive look the first change of the game came with Lampard heading off the field to be replaced by Barry. As time wore on the game began to even out though now niether could be deemed guilty of creating anything clear cut, most efforts being tame and easy for the keepers to handle or wild and crowd bound. Further changes came as once more as Richards replaced Young while Gerrard made way for Baines at the game entered the final 10 minutes with the first action of those minutes coming from England. Baines knocked in a free kick from the right to find Terry free and clear with only the finger tips of Casillas denying him what would have been a possible winning goal. With that chance the complextion of the game changed with England forcing Spain to chase the ball around as the possession percentage began to swing in England's favour. The final action of the half saw England once more go within inches of the semi final as more slow build up saw Johnson cross, the effort deflecting right into the path of Huddlestone with his curling effort just narrowly missing the top corner. The final whistle blew signalling a second bout of extra time in two days with the scores tied at 2-2.

Matt and the majority of the other subs took the chance to get changed while Capello, Pearce and the rest of the coaching staff gave their final talk. By the time the players returned from the changing rooms, Matt included, the game was once more just getting started with tired legs and minds leading the game into an end to end sort of affair as Torres and Baines both had chances but failed to take them. It was the same two who were causing the most problems for each defence, Torres having the better of both Ferdinand and Terry on the ground while Baines seemed to always be in miles of space as Puyol failed time and again to contain him. Carroll also came close as his turned with his back to goal to shoot goalwards but the effort skimmed the top of the bar. With a tence first half of extra time coming to a close and some running on mere fumes, England struck. Johnson came forward with the ball, exchanging passes with Carroll before waiting for the perfect moment to thread a ball through for Rooney who kept himself onside, beat Pique to the ball and then finished after side stepping Casillas to open up the angle. A nation rose to it's feet as Rooney ran off into the corner to celebrate his second goal. On the bench the celebrations were just as intence as nearly all the players sprung from their seats and into the technical area, all knowing that just 15 minutes stood between them and Portugal.

Though once more as the goal went in at one end mistakes seemed to be forming a line to be made as Torres laid the ball to Xavi, Carroll gave chase before lunging in with a tackle that had tiredness and inexperience written all over it. With Xavi in pain and with the England players surrounding the referee, giving desperate plea's, the official showed no hesitation in raising the red card in Carroll's direction. The young striker was distraught as Terry walked him off, his chance at the semi and maybe even the final disappearing in an instant of poor judgement. Half time followed shortly after with everyone mucking in as players sought to stave off cramps and tiredness in the few moments they were given. Words of praise and encouragement were handed out to those who would play while Hargreaves and Green both tried to console a very upset looking Carroll in scene's that reminded many of Italia '90 and Gazza. Everyone soon took to the bench once more as the last 15 minutes began with England looking to park the bus. Wave after wave of Spanish pressure came, Ferdinand and Terry both making superb tackles and interceptions to deny clear cut scoring chances for the likes of Pedro and Xavi. Spain started to throw everything they had at the England backline, the slow and calculating build up play disappearing in favour of all out attack and overwhelming numbers but England stood tall, matching them punch for punch as each cross and shot was met by an England player. When the defence failed Hart stepped up, twice denying Pedro after he got free from the attentions of Cole. The players now were all stood in the technical area waiting for the final whistle as the clock went beyond the 120:00 mark on the scoreboard.

Spain looked to muster one last chance as Villa drove forward before cutting it back to Torres. He moved the ball to his right before hitting a hard effort towards goal and for once the man that blocked the shot wasn't wearing white as the shot pinged off Llorente's shoulder before going out of play. Hart didn't even have to collect the ball as the referee blew the final whistle to send them into the semi final to face Portugal. Those on the bench flooded onto the pitch while the Spanish players hung their heads, some chosing to just fall to the ground as the disappointment and tiredness of the day finally took it's toll on them. There were hand shakes and wishes of luck but before long it was just a joyful looking England squad left on the pitch as the travelling supporters showed their appreciation.

(

)

AET

England 3 (Rooney 34, 103; Carroll 54) [Carroll s/o 104]

Spain 2 (Llorente 37; Villa 60)

MoM: Wayne Rooney (England)

Att: 63,467

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Though he'd never wish it on anyone, least not someone so young who had in truth deserved his place in the starting line up, Matt couldn't help but feel that his chance to finally make his mark on the tournament could be within his grasp. Uefa made it clear very quickly that the day of the semi final would be when they would make their final choice over Carroll's red card and wheather it would carry more than the usual one match ban. Back in Leeds there were announcements made with the fixture list for the Premiership was released, Leeds being handed an extremely tough start which would see them take on Man City, Fulham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Tottenham in their first five games. There was also the unveiling of another Leeds signing as they captured Alejandro Faurlin for a reported £5m from QPR. The final quarter final in the European Championship's saw Holland meet France in what was another close encounter but with a potential semi final against Germany up for grabs it was the French who took their chances to record a 2-1 win with all the goals coming from the French side. Cabaye and Evra sent France 2-0 up before a Lloris own goal set up a nervy final 20 minutes. The dying seconds of the game saw Van Der Wiel recieve a 2nd yellow to put an end to any hope of pushing the game into extra time. It meant that the semi finals were now decided and four teams stood just two wins away from clinching the title. Of the teams though England stood as the odd one out as France, Portugal and Germany had contested each of the last three European Championship finals.

2012 European Championship Quarter Final Results

Q1: Belgium 1-4 Germany

Q2: Portugal 5-3 Croatia

Q3: England 3-2 Spain

Q4: Holland 1-2 France

2012 European Championship Semi Final

Germany vs France

Portugal vs England

Though the hopes of the nation were sky high there was still plenty of work to be done against a Portugal side that had become somewhat of a bogey team for England due to losses in three out of the last six international competitions and memories of Figo and co destroying a 2-0 lead, Ronaldo's wink and the pain of two shoot out exits. Now though it was a chance for both Matt and England to set the record straight.

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Two years ago to the day.

A nation sat in anticipation of the day England were due to turn things around, to cast away memories of what had been a hugely poor group stage. The hopes and dreams of both fans and players alike sat in the hands of the eleven chosen. The day in question was June 27th 2010, England vs Germany, last 16 of the World Cup. A day which many would be remembered for many reasons but the big one was the defeat by 4-1 scoreline, some say had Lampard's goal stood it would have been a different outcome but many say, players included, that England just weren't good enough.

Since that point, England had been unbeaten while brushing aside the likes of Spain, Holland and Italy on their way to winning sixteen of their last nineteen games. Game number twenty would see them face Portugal but before that the first of the semi finals would see Germany vs France. Germany had been touted a potential 2014 World Cup winners with their stylish young side winning many admirers during and since the World Cup in South Africa. Matt got comfy in his room as he sat watching, waiting to see who England may have to face in the final should they be successful. Both sides started well with even possession but it was Germany who took the lead, Mario Gomez on the score sheet for the fourth time in the competition. Despite some good play from France the sides went in with the score at 1-0. In the second half it was a far different French side as they began to dominate possession, the likes of Ribery and Benzema beginning to shine. Soon the equaliser came, Nasri leveling the scores on the hour mark. The game continued in the same pattern but Germany managed to hold on, taking the game to extra time but eventually the unrelenting pressure told and France snatched the lead for the first time. Ribery netting in the 101st minute of the game to take them to within touching distance of another International final. Even though he wasn't playing Matt still feel the slight twinge of nerves as the final minutes ticked down and soon enough the referee blew his whistle to confirm one half of the final due to take place on the Sunday.

Rising to his feet he took one last look at the screen before turning the TV off, climbing into bed a short time after. Unlike many back home, Matt soon found himself drifting into a deep sleep, thoughts of Portugal slowly running through his mind...

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The day of the game had come, preperations being made as both sides made their way to Donetsk and the Donbas-Arena. It was another highly impressive stadium and home to Shakhtar Donetsk, a team that had also impressed many with their progression in recent years. The morning though came with bad news for both England and Carroll as Uefa increased the ban to three games due to what was viewed as violent conduct. The decision was upsetting for Carroll but not really unexpected, many media outlets predicting that such a ban would be forth coming though Capello was keen now for England to focus fully on those that could play. Despite England's lofty position in the world rankings they were penned as the underdogs for the game by the bookies. As per usual the team was kept as a secret until the squad made it to the changing rooms, Capello handing over the team sheet to Psycho to read out,

"Ok lad's settle down.... Right the starting line up is... Joey in goal, Glen, John, Rio and Ash across the back. Stevie your right of midfield, Gareth and Frankie are in the middle and Youngy your going left..... Up top it's Wayne and Matt ok?"

They all nodded before all the post match preperations began, the players getting changed in time for the warm up. On the surface Matt was cool and calm but on the inside, even though he was glad to be starting, the nerves were starting to jangle a little bit as he saw the stadium slowly filling to capacity.

"You got this... You got this!" He thought to himself.

2012 European Championship Semi Final

28/06/2012

Portugal vs England

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Glen Johnson

LB: Ashley Cole

CB: John Terry ©

CB: Rio Ferdinand

CM: Gareth Barry

CM: Frank Lampard

RM: Steven Gerrard

LM: Ashley Young

ST: Wayne Rooney

ST: Matt Warner

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Chris Smalling

LB: Leighton Baines

RM: Aaron Lennon

MC: James Milner

CB: Phil Jagielka

RB: Micah Richards

LM: Stuart Downing

CM: Tom Huddlestone

CM: Owen Hargreaves

GK: Fraser Forster

The early exchanges were understandably tense, chances few and far between as both sides sought to settle in and consolodate early on. The first major chance took nearly 15 minutes to come as Lampard laid a short free kick to Young, he came in from the left and played a neat ball through to Gerrard on the right but his shot flashed wide of goal with the Portugese defence stood helplessly watching. The game continued on in the same fashion with neither side capturing the imagination, they almost seemed to cancel each other out but the first real incident of note came with just 25 minutes gone. Ronaldo picked up the ball and drove in at goal, Johnson, already booked for a foul on him earlier challenge, slid in as they entered the area. Ronaldo went down and sat up pleading for a penalty to the annoyance of the England players as the referee blew his whistle, the hearts of every England fan stopping for a moment. The referee's hand reached into his pocket as he trotted over, a yellow card coming up from his black shorts.... For Ronaldo. The English heartbeat's began again. The booking was handed to him for simulation, despite protests from many a Portugese fan and player with the incident showing how much you could lose for trying to cheat as he would now miss the final through suspension. The game was starting to burst into life, Young playing a ball up the left for Matt who came back inside and played Rooney through on goal though Patricio was equal to it, palming it away for a corner. The kick was taken by Young to the near post where Matt met it with a diving header which hit the post before Patricio gathered it. The half in all fairness had been a dull one but it was England who were looking the more likely to score. Portugal had efforts, a distance shot from Ronaldo went straight at Hart, the England stopper making light work of it but at the other end England almost took the lead on the brink of half time. Matt and Gerrard linked up well down the right hand side before Matt cut the ball back to Gerrard, he shaped to cross before laying up Lampard to hit one low through the crowd, once more the base of the post coming to the rescue of Portugal.

The interval was one of encouragement from the England coaching staff but they also warned against getting complacent, Pearce in particular warning them of getting too far ahead of themselves. "We have been the better side but we have to start taking our chances. Defence keep doing what your doing, your getting around them and they can't handle it. Midfield exactly the same with you, they're central unit is split up and you've been picking them apart... Keep it going! Matty and Wayne, it's coming.... Just keep going and it WILL come!"

The confidence was high as they stepped out onto the field again, though it hadn't been an epic first half by any means, England had been the better side. There was just one change as Huddlestone came on for Young, the Man Utd winger clearly disappointed as he took a seat on the bench. The second half started much quicker and it was all one way traffic in favour of England, Gerrard and Rooney both had chances but the next best one fell the way of Matt as he turned and ran with a ball that came from Huddlestone, with the Portugal defence closing in on him he struck it towards goal. Patricio was well beaten as the ball hammered off the crossbar before being cleared. There was more woe for those who failed to stay out of the referee's book as both Huddelstone and Rooney ruled themselves out of the final thanks to silly challenges. England continued to sweep the ball around with confidence as the clock went past the hour mark though at times it felt as if they were trying to walk it in, Matt and Rooney having words with both full backs for their reluctance to just cross the ball in. At the other end Ronaldo's final action of the game before being replaced was the first bit of Portugal pressure for a while, his effort though lacked the killer touch which he'd shown earlier in the competition. With the change Portugal began to find their footing in the game a little with 15 minutes left, Quaresma's low cross into the 6 yard box causing havoc for Hart and his defence before eventually Huddlestone launched it clear. The nerves were beginning to show as Coentrao got away from both Gerrard and Johnson to cross into the box, Hart flapping at the ball and sending it into the 18 yard box, Cole thankfully the first one to get to it.

The game entered the last few minutes, the tence feeling around the stadium growing more and more with each minute that passed. The nerves were done no favours when Barry's pass inside to Huddlestone was intercepted and played through to Quaresma with Hart out of position, the former Inter winger getting clear of Terry and shooting. The net moved but luckily for Barry it was the outer netting which the ball struck, the clearest indication yet that there were two sides still left in this game. With that near miss and with extra time lurking both Barry and Lampard made way for Baines and also Milner, making his first apperence of the competiton due to injury at the end of the season with Man City. Then, the chance came. The clock clicked over to 90 minutes, the board showing 3 added minutes as Rooney cut in from the left after getting the ball from Baines, his looping cross field ball found Gerrard, the defender drawn to him leaving Matt clear as the ball came through for him and into the 18 yard box. Patricio came out of his box, Matt lined up the shot and hit it.... But the ball dragged agonisingly wide leaving Matt cupping his face in shock and annoyance before giving Gerrard the thumbs up for the pass. It proved to be the last chance of normal time, 93 minutes failing to seperate them as they used the brief break to take on fluids and loosen up their legs....

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There was more than one breathing a little bit heavily as the coaching staff flooded onto the pitch. Once more there were words of encouragement and urges not to give up. Soon though the referee had ordered the coaching staff off the pitch in order to start the first half of extra time, the crowd still in full voice. England got things underway and picked up where they left off, as the dominant side but, just as England really began to settle the wind was taken out of their sales. A Johnson shot was cleared via Pepe's diving header to Quaresma, a cheeky flick taking the ball away from Terry as the both turned, acres of space between Terry and Hart as the former gave chase. Just as Quaresma was getting away from him Terry lunged, the ball gone in a instant leaving just leg on leg contact, the Portugese forward hit the ground and the referee blew his whistle as the England captain stood with his hands raised, pleading for mercy. The whole nation held their heads in their hands as the referee without flinching strolled over and brought out a second yellow followed by a red. The majority of the England player's went to surround the referee, Matt guiding Terry off the field as he passed the armband to his defensive partner Ferdinand with the England supporters booing loudly. With no more subs left it meant Capello would have to mastermind a plan to save their championship, Huddlestone for the time being slotting in at centre half.

The boo's aimed at the referee soon turned into a rallying chant of 'Come on England' as the game got restarted and in the minutes after the sending off very little seemed to change, Johnson got free down the right before cutting it back for Baines to have a go, Patricio going airbourne but the shot was off target. The England pressure continued and the sides looked a complete opposite, Portugal resembling the team that was down to ten men more than England. With the first half of extra time nearly at an end England went close to opening the scoring via a Baines corner from the right, the new Tottenham full back aiming to the near post when Matt dropped off his marker, sprang into the air and worked his neck to it's fullest, nailing a powerful header goalwards which Patricio managed to just tip away as it looked destined to sneak over him. The break came soon after as, after one more quick intake of fluids, the teams quickly swapped sides before the game was once again up and running.

The slick passing and domination of both the ground and air continued, Portugal looking helpless at times with England streaking forward looking to break the deadlock with Cole forcing Patricio to palm away an effort with a cheeky toe poke, the Portugal keeper looking less than convincing in the way he dealt with the shot. The peppering and probing went one, Baines with another corner to the near post which saw Rooney break free to connect while unmarked but the effort was mistimed, the ball blazing over the bar as another guilt edged chance went begging. The final moments began to tick down as penalties began to loom larger and larger with each chance that went unfinished. With 120 minutes on the clock it all came close to an ending which would haunt anyone's dreams for the rest of their days. Danny getting the ball in the middle before threading the needle with a through ball which had Ferdinand scrambling back, he lunged and won the ball but it caught Hart flat footed as he sprang off his line. The ball trickling towards the goal as Hart turned and burst into a sprint. Players and fan's alike held their breath as the Man City stopper leapt to keep it out and only just managing to grasp the ball inches from the line as millions at home finally exhaled along with a fair few on the pitch. With one last hoof up the field the whistle went and now, the fate of each side's tournament would go down to yet another penalty shoot out....

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1996.

The last time England won a penalty shoot out.

The likes of Shearer, Sheringham and Pearce sending Wembley of old wild.

Twice in the last eight years England have fallen to Portugal, twice due to penalty shoot outs.

Many of the players on show today, Rooney, Ferdinand, Lampard, Gerrard, Terry were all there the last time they came up against the dread of spot kicks.

Pearce and Capello had been in deep talks a good ten minutes before the end of extra time deciding who would take the spot kicks should it go that far and now, it had.

"Ok first up... Wayne, next Matty your up, then Ash you'll take number three, Stevie will take the fourth and then Leighton, you got the last one ok?" Pearce said in an authoritaive tone.

The players nodded as stand in captain Ferdinand met with Bruno Alves and the officials for the coin toss. The large silver coin flicked into the air, the flood lights making it sparkle as it span over and over before hitting the turf, heads the winning side meaning Portugal were given the choice. Alves thought for a moment before opting for Portugal to take the first spot kick and after a brief word with his team mates Joao Moutinho stepped forward with Hart following suit. Soon they were both in position, the referee gave them both a nod before blowing his whistle. Moutinho strode up and struck it to his right, low and placed to the bottom right hand corner to put Portugal in front giving Hart little chance. There were a few fist pumps before Rooney passed him on route the penalty spot.

The keepers made their swap and once more they were set to go again, Patricio doing his best to put off the Man Utd forward as he waited, hands on hips, for the signal to strike. The whistle blew once more and Rooney lept forward straight away, striking it low to the keepers right and leveling the scores to a roar from the crowd. Matt and the rest of the England squad watching from the half way line celebrating as Rooney trotted back with a slight smile.

Next came the turn of Miguel Veloso, taking a moment to set the ball before turning away to prepare his run up. Hart gave the thumbs up to the referee before getting a nod from Veloso, the whistle following a moment later, Veloso giving a glance to the right hand side before striking viciously, the ball going up and over the bar to the delight of the England fans to the right of the penalty area.

Matt recieved a few pats on the back as he took a deep breath and headed for the penalty spot. The walk there seemed to last for 30 minutes rather than 30 seconds, his heart pounding against his chest, partly from nerves and partly from 120 minutes of football. Patricio took his time in getting set while Matt stood, eye's locked on the ball as he waited and before long the whistle sounded. With a quick look to the dark sky and a thought of his dad he made his run up, striking the ball with venom into the keepers left hand corner to put England 2-1 up. In scenes that reminded many of Pearce's 1996 effort Matt punched the air, screaming "COOOME OOOON!!!!" as he pointed to the England fan's dancing in the stands to his right.

Soon though they began to settle with Meireles making his way to the area, Portugese fans silently saying prayers for the next kick to find the mark. The fan's behind the goal held their breath as Meireles turned and began his run up following the signal from the referee. The chorus of boo's suddenly turned into cheers from the England contingent as the ball blazed once more over the bar to put England on the brink of their first final in nearly fifty years.

Cole receieved the same support as he made the walk, passing his dejected looking Chelsea team mate, he knowing all too well the diappointment of missing a spot kick in past fixtures between the sides. With the England fan's in full voice, dancing in the stands as Cole got ready for the go ahead from the referee. Again the whistle sounded, again the run up began and again the ball nestled in the back of the net, Cole going to the keepers left and leaving him standing as the Chelsea fullback indulged in a brief moment of celebration.

Almeida was next, a nations hopes squarely on his shoulders as Hart got himself set on the goal line. Once more worried faces in the stands behind the goal looked on as the forward got himself ready, setting himself for an effort on his left foot. He made his run up, hit it low to Hart's left who guessed correctly but the pace saw it sneak away from him and into the bottom corner to give Portugal a glimmer of hope at 3-2.

The England players and staff all stood, arms around each other watching as Gerrard strolled forward knowing that if he scored England were going to the Olympiskyi Stadium once more to face France. Gerrard, one of those to miss in 2006, set the ball with a deep focus, Patricio choosing once more to dance on the line in an attempt to draw his attention from the task at hand. Some closed their eye's, some prayed for one last kick to find it's target, even Matt could barely watch as the whistle became one of the few sounds in the stadium.

Gerrard made his run....

Hitting it low to Patricio's right....

England hearts again stopped as the ball met the post....

.... Before hitting the back of the net and sending the fans to his right into dreamland. Matt and the entire England squad let loose with a collective "YEEEESSSSSSSS!!!" before taking off running towards a joyful looking Steven Gerrard.

The hoo-doo broken, the final drought ended, their hopes.....

Alive and Well.

(

)

England 0 (pens: O-O-O-O)

Portugal 0 (pens: O-X-X-O)

England Penalties: 4 (Rooney, Warner, Cole, Gerrard)

Portgal Penalties: 2 (Moutinho, Almeida)

MoM: Pepe (Portugal)

Att: 51,504

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The nation rejoyced, the hurt of forty-six years close to vanishing in the space of a few hours. The parties back in England went on well into the night as many companies and business' braced themselves for a mulitude people calling in sick. The press went wild, front pages around the nation dominated by the breaking of the penalty hoo-doo that had plagued them for many years against the likes of Portugal, Germany and Argentina. Text's and calls flooded in from friends and family with wishes of congratulations and requests for tickets, Matt managing to get his hands on a few for Joe, Pancho, James, his brothers, nephew and mother to all come over. Once the dust had settled focus turned to the final, the same papers praising the win now asking who would start. The aftermath of the match had seen confirmation from Uefa that Terry, Huddlestone and Rooney would join Carroll on the sidelines for the final handing England a very big problem. While the defence and midfield had more than enough in terms of back up, Capello's choice to only bring three recognised strikers now looking like a massive error in judgement. Many had questioned the choice during the selection of the final squad and now were left wondering if Capello would stick with 4-4-2 or change the formation to accomodate the personnel they had available. Some had wagered that they would go for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Gerrard behind Matt while Young and Lennon took to the left and right wings.

Matt though was happy just to be playing as, after failing to come on against Spain, his chances of even appearing again in the competiton were getting slim until the sending off of Carroll and Rooney's winning goal against the reigning world and european champions. Now however it seemed that England's hopes of coming away with something laid quite heavily on him as the only players left in the team to have scored in the competition were himself and Glen Johnson, the other's coming from the now suspended pair of Rooney and Carroll. The day of the final arrived, the team spending the Saturday travelling to Kiev to spend the night closer to the stadium where they would meet their destiny for better or worse. After breakfast and the team meeting the players were allowed a couple of hours with their families.

"So... Ya nervous?" Allen asked as Matt got his face pulled and gently slapped by his laughing nephew.

"A little... It's hard not to be."

"Well it's like you told me.... You got this. Yeah Wayne and Andy ain't playing but that means the stage is set. You can eat the back line alive with your pace." Chris added.

"So where's mum?"

"Oh she's back at the hotel, she's a little tired from the trip." Chris replied, taking his nephew.

"How's she doing?"

"Coping as best she can but happy that she's here to see the game."

Matt nodded.

"You'll see her after the match... She said to wish you luck and so on.... And to go show everyone why dad was so proud.."

Matt nodded again, thoughts now turning to his dad and how much he would give to have him here badgering him with advice...

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For a third time in nearly as many weeks the England team coach arrived the the NSC Olympiyskiy, the players sat in silence as the lights from the police escort in front of them lit up each of their faces. Capello led them off the coach, each player stopping and signing an autograph or two for the fans that had lined the entrance hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes as they entered the stadium. Many listened to music, some sat deep in thought while others just passed the time chatting with their team mates. Regardless of what players say though, all of them had that knott in their stomach, that little ball of tension and fear when something big was on the horizon.

The team meeting a few hours earlier had revealed that the formation would not change though as of yet the squad had been kept waiting anxiously for the team to be announced. With an hour left the players were gathered, a hush filled the air as Pearce was once more given the honors,

"Ok boys... Joey in goal, Micah, Phil, Rio and Ash across the back line..... Aaron starts on the right, Stuart on the left.... Stevie and Frankie in the middle with Matty and Youngy up top."

The warm up followed once more as the ground began to fill to the brim. The noise from the English and French ends of the pitch already enough to induce headaches as the teams went through their warm up drills and programmes but, as if at the blink of a eye, the teams were sat recieving their final instructions.

".... We have come far. This... Our time to make... ehhh victory for fans. Ahhhh.... Must stay strong and.... focus. You know eehhhh... what to do." Capello said, giving what would be his last pre-game team talk.

The players sat in silence for a moment before the bell rang, all of them in unison rising to their feet with a deafening war cry as they poured out the door and into the tunnel where the referee was waiting. Rio and his opposite number Sakho shook hands for a moment as they waited, the noise building as the fans waited eagerly for the teams come strolling out and after a multilingual introduction over the stadiums speaker system the sides walked out to a flurry of camera flashes from every corner of the stadium. Each side walked past it, the European Championship trophy, each player glanced at it for a moment before focusing their eye's on the player in front of them as they lined up for the national anthems and pre-match handshakes. After winning the coin toss Sakho opted for kick off, the noise building and building with each second that passed until the referee pulled the small silver whistle to his mouth and gave the players the signal....

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2012 European Championship Final

01/07/2012

France vs England

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Joe Hart

RB: Micah Richards

LB: Ashley Cole

CB: Phil Jagielka

CB: Rio Ferdinand ©

CM: Steven Gerrard

CM: Frank Lampard

RM: Aaron Lennon

LM: Stuart Downing

ST: Ashley Young

ST: Matt Warner

SUBS:

GK: Robert Green

CB: Chris Smalling

LB: Leighton Baines

CM: Gareth Barry

CM: Owen Hargreaves

RB: Glen Johnson

GK: Fraser Forster

MC: James Milner

The volume jumped up a few notches as Martin and Benzema got the game started, the sun out but faint as the day started to draw to a close and in the early going the was almost a goal in under a miniute as after a good build up of passing from france Benzema managed to turn with his back to goal after a pass from Diarra. Ferdinand struggled to keep up as the Madrid striker fired across goal, the fingers of Hart being called on early to send it out for a corner. Even though the resulting kick was poor it set the stage for the early tempo of the game with France in control, Martin and Benzema linking up before the former set Sissoko through on goal with only Hart to beat but his tame effort aimed at the bottom corner trickled just wide of the post to hand England another early let off. At the other end England managed to calve out their first chance of the game, Richards and gerrard exhanged passes on the right before playing the ball forward to Lennon who in turn picked out the run of Lampard. The shot was good but Lloris got behind it well and palmed it clear, Rami removing the danger moments later. England began to get into their stride from that point, Downing also going close after latching onto Gerrard's through ball, Lloris once more getting a strong hand to it. The game was becoming a very even affair with both sides showing they had what it takes to get at the other as the half hour mark was reached, Downing and Martin both going close for their nations with the rain now making it's first apperence in the final as dark clouds started to loom over head. As the turf began to gain a bit of zip with the light summer rain falling the game started to quieten down, France holding more of the possession without ever really troubling England.

After a very dull final 10 minutes of the half the referee blew the whistle and the sides trotted off, both looking pleased with their first half displays. Matt took a seat in the dressing room as water bottles and sports drinks were handed out, the manager being the last person to walk into the changing rooms,

"Ok.... It was a good first eeehhh half but we need to.... Be tighter. They move and pull you... All over and make big holes. We ahhhh need to make their pass.... harder to make! Up top we... ok, but need to take chance when comes. Keep going.... It will ahhh, come.... Have faith in your ehhh team mates and the win will come!"

There was one change however as Pearce gave Lennon the nod to get changed with Barry already stripped, ready to come on for the second half as the players poured out the door.

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Matt wandered back out onto the pitch, taking one last big gulp from the water bottle he was handed before tossing it along the floor to the physio in the technical area. Young was already waiting in the centre circle with the ball as Matt approached, ready to get the game back underway. After a quick fist bump and a few words of encouragement to the players stood waiting behind them the referee blew the whistle, Matt rolling the ball to his strike partner to get the game going. The early going fell into the same dull pattern of play until it was given a spark of inspriation from France. Martin ran down the left wing, holding off Lampard before crossing at the byline with the effort almost catching Hart out as it crashed off the near post with Richards clearing moments later. Once more the game became boring viewing for both fan and neutral alike until an incident in the middle of the park yielded action more familar to fans of WWE than football. Barry picked up the ball before sliding left to Downing but as the ball left his foot Sissoko came steaming in before going down over Barry's outstretched leg in a theactrical dive which saw Barry take massive offence, attempting to drag him to his feet. That was what kicked off the mini royal rumble as players from both sides poured in, some to add their two cents while some went in to calm their team mates down. The end result was bookings for Barry, Evra and Sakho as incident subsided, football soon becoming the main focus once again as the deadlock was at last.... Broken.

The clock clicked past the hour mark as Baines', on a subsitute for Gerrard just a minute before, whipped in a corner which was punched clear by Lloris, the ball being picked up by Matt on the right side. After a cheeky flick saw him leave Remy for dead, he burst into the space before cutting the ball back inside for Downing. The Liverpool winger then shrugged off the challenge of Evra before setting himself for a left footed shot towards the near post, Lloris looking flat footed as the shot zipped past him and into the back of the net. The English half of the crowd were on their feet, scenes of utter joy in the stands as Downing was mobbed by his team mates in celebrating his first goal for England. They were now on the verge, forty-six years of pain and disappointment close to being erased with just half an hour of play left on the clock. France though weren't about to roll over, almost instantly in the minutes that followed the goal they almost got on level terms as Benzema collected a clearance from an England free kick. He passed wide to Briand who managed to nick the ball away from Cole leaving nothing but space and Hart in his way but as he got to inside the area his effort lacked only placement as it flared horribly over the bar. Moments later France went close again, this time a nice passing move which ended with Cabaye threading a ball through for Remy who broke the offside trap and shot first time, the shot again heading over the bar with the England fan's behind the goal once more breathing a sigh of relief.

France continued to dominate the chances and posession, Nasri whipping in a ball for Benzema who found himself unmarked, the effort lacking the power needed to challenge the keeper as Hart plucked it out of the air with ease. With the game sneaking into the final 10 minutes the pressure intensified despite England's best efforts to hold the ball and grind out a result. Once more France flooded forward with a pass to Benzema in the middle with his back to goal, he turned and again layed a pass to Briand who zipped past a tired looking Cole before entering the area and shooting low across Hart who tipped it back out through a crowd of players. Benzema got to the ball and turned, hitting it goalwards with Hart again getting down well to push it away before it dropped at the feet of his domestic team mate Nasri to hit, Hart this time unable to stop it as it hit the back of the net. Players, fans and staff alike all sighed, the clock reading 87 minutes as Nasri ran off in celebration with his team mates. Matt shook his head, England now back to square one as once again facing the prospect of extra time and maybe even penalties if they were to erase a trophyless 46 year stretch. The game restarted, the fourth official holding up the board to signal 3 minutes of time to be added on as France once more continued their possession of the ball, England again fighting tooth and nail to keep the wolves from the door so to speak, Richards dealing with two very inviting crosses as the clock approached the 92nd minute of time.

Hart placed the ball down before hoofing it forward towards Matt, Sakho beating him in the air to head it away as hearts were racing everywhere, be it in the stands, dug out or at the clubs, pubs, bars and homes all over England and France. The loose ball was collected by Richards before he laid it forward to Downing who had been deployed on the right of the midfield, the whistle due in the next few seconds as the managers on the sidelines began to plan their moves for extra time. Downing looked inside for Young who'd dropped into space and with time to look up he saw and heard Matt screaming for the pass before looping one into the gap between both Sakho and Evra. Matt watched the ball intently as it fell into his path, the first touch near enough perfect as he began to stretch his legs with one last burst of pace towards the penalty area. Lloris, Evra and Sakho all closed in as he broke into the penalty area, the space around him disappearing quickly as he bore down on goal. Everything was almost happening in slow motion now as he looked up, eye's finding the spot he wanted to go for before opening his body. Both Sakho and Evra looked to make one last ditch challenge, Lloris making himself as big as possible before Matt swung his right foot at it....

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Lloris dug his feet in and pushed his body to the left, arms reaching as far as they could....

Matt now could just watch as the keeper stretched as far as his muscles, joints and tendons would let him....

Sakho and Evra, too late to make a challenge also just watched. Their fate now out of their hands...

Lloris reached and reached, his finger tips almost there as he felt it....

Contact....

In a split second though it was gone, his eye's searching for the ball before the realisation came that he'd managed to only feel the air move as the ball flashed past....

The net buldged. The sound was like nothing he'd ever heard as his eye's finally locked onto the ball resting in the goal, spinning away against the still slightly damp turf.

"YEEEEEEESSSSSSSS"

He screamed before turning and running towards the England fan's that were on their feet to his right as Evra and Sakho both fell to their knees. He rose from the ground in a leap before punching the air, no sooner had his feet touched the ground that he was mobbed by his team mates. On the sidelines Blanc and his players slumped into their seats, their dreams dashed while Capello, the coaching team, the subs and those who couldn't play all poured into the techinical area in celebration. Matt, after finally freeing himself from the dog pile he was at the bottom of just lingered on his knee's with tears flowing freely from his eye's as the absence of his dad seemed to finally strike him harder than ever. It took a moment but eventually he stood, both arms strethed out pointing to the sky, eye's almost searching for the face of his dad in the clouds as he whispered to himself "That was for you old man..." Try as he might to wipe the tears away more emerged as he jogged back to the centre circle.

No sooner had he worked his tired legs back to the centre circle did France kick off, the referee instantly responding with the final whistle to an explosion of sound from the English contingent in attendance...

(

)

France 1 (Nasri 87)

England 2 (Downing 61; Warner 90+2)

MoM: Matt Warner (England)

Att: 63,467

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The sound was electrifying, the scenes one of both chaos and joy as those stood waiting on the sidelines suddenly flooded onto the pitch. After 46 long years of waiting England had won a major competiton once again. The French players all had that lonely look of dejection while they watched England celebrating their success, some even breaking into tears as the realisation of being so close to extra time only for it to be snatched away being too much for them to bare. There were handshakes and pats on the back from the England players but little would help numb the pain of defeat in such a big game. Matt was once more mobbed by his team mates following his last minute heroic's, the final whistle seeing him once more point to the sky and then to the area in which his family and friends were seated before being surrounded. The celebrations were manic but soon it all calmed for a moment as the stage was erected and the trophy was carried to it's podium by Michele Platini, the head of Uefa. First was the turn of the French players, the England squad offering a round of applause along with the rest of the stadium as they went up one by one to be handed their runners-up medals by their fellow countryman. It was at that point that it dawned on Matt that, even though it was never confirmed nor denied by Platini, it seemed that the man who has for so long seemed to have an agenda against the English game was now going to have to crown them as champions ahead of his homeland. Even though it wouldn't be spoken about now, he was sure the press would play it up to the maximum and Matt for once was hoping they did as it has seemed clear for a while his objections against English football.

He shook those thoughts aside however as the last French player collected his medal leaving John Terry to lead the players up the small ramp to where Platini was waiting with the winners medals. One by one each player had their medal handed to them with a firm handshake and a slightly forced smile, Matt stood at the back of the line with Capello as they got closer and closer to the pristine trophy which sat proudly at the front of all the players.

"Not a bad way to go out, eh Gaffer?" Matt said as Capello laughed, the excitment in his eye's like that of a childs come Christmas morning.

Soon though Matt was shaking Platini's hand and recieving his winners medal which was instantly out of the case and around his neck before joining the rest of the players on the small stage behind the trophy with the excitement building. They all watched on as Capello recieved his medal and a few words of congratulations before he waved over John Terry, the noise building as they both grasped onto the trophy before thrusting it into the air to a chorus of cheers, fireworks and music in the form of Queen's 'We Are The Champions' playing out. Confetti rained down on them like a blizzard as the fireworks display lit up the darkening Ukrainian sky above. They must have taken at least three laps of honour, each player getting the chance to hoist the trophy up for a few moments until it changed hands once more before they all lined up for one big team photo that would grace the mornings papers around the world. Not long after though they were back in the changing rooms and while Matt knew he'd have an insane amount of messages on his phone the first one that popped up on the screen was from Redknapp which simply read "Not a bad first day back as a full Leeds United player....." Matt could only smile as more champagne came his way.

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3 weeks later....

After a long list of parties, TV interviews and constant media attention both at home and abroad, Matt returned to Leeds United for the first time since he made the move perminent. Following the success of the European Championship's he, and many others, went off on holiday to recharge the batteries. Matt opted for trips to L.A. and Cancun in Mexico, enjoying the time to himself for the most part as he finally found time to fully think through the events of the season just passed, the joy of promotion and Engand's international success and the massive sadness felt at the loss of his dad and the failure of relationships with both Kelly and Becky.

Soon though his holiday had come to an end and eventually he was back in Leeds where he was added to the nine other new players that would be wearing the famous white shirt of Leeds for the coming season, the last of those signings being the £3.7m capture of Real Sociedad central defender Vadim Demidov the day before the European Championship final. In addition to the various different players going in and out of Elland Road there were a fair amount of changes in Redknapp's staff as the entire four man physio team, both fitness coaches and a scout all left with no less than ten new staff members coming in to replace them though one name courted more interest than others as it wasn't just Matt who recieved a heroes welcome during the return to training.

Lucas Radebe, The Chief, had returned to Leeds. A footballing legend the world over due not only to his ability on the field but also his work off of it as well. Renowned as a world class centre back, he captained both Leeds and South Africa, a man who was once refered to by the great Nelson Mandela as his hero. The signing was greeted with mass support from all sides as he slotted in to take charge of the defensive side of the coaching set up and, if he could turn the promising young players such as Dawson, Lees and Gimpel into half the player he was, Leeds have a very bright future ahead of them.

Over the course of pre-season there wasn't really much in way of drama. Their pre-season schedule, though tough, went well while avoiding any major injury worries. As the hype of the European Championship's began to die down slightly it was replaced by the start of the Olympic's with many still left wondering how Steve McClaren managed to get the job which Redknapp himself made known publicly he'd applied for. The Olympic's, though big news, did however take a back seat to the main story of the month which was the F.A.'s search for the next England manager.

Many names were bartered around as candidates for what now was looking an even tougher job after Capello's leading of the England team to glory at the European Championship's. Mourinho, Redknapp, O'Neill and even that of former Chelsea man Claudio Ranieri were all touted for what had been described by many as the toughest job in football although there was another job in the world that could perhaps rival it. Josep Guardiola, perhaps the best manager in the world at this point, resigned from his role as manager of Barcelona in order to become the new Spain national team coach after Vincente Del Bosque was sacked.

Elsewhere the transfer market was in full swing for the majority of Europe as sides looked to build for the season ahead though Leeds, having already done alot of early business, were seemingly done in the transfer market though it didn't stop rumours of possible exits and even offers as McCarthy became subject of a cheeky £1m bid from Man Utd which Redknapp knocked back almost straight away. Though he'd looked shakey at times the young stopper was rated highly and was seen as a possible future England international aswell as a long term number one at Elland Road if he could continue to progress.

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The weeks that followed contained more than it's fair share of news from the football world, the big headines being the changes in management at several big clubs as the early merry-go-round got into full swing. The first and perhap biggest piece of news came from London as the F.A. announced that Harry Redknapp would take charge of the English national team after agreeing to leave Spurs. Though it was disappointing for fans of Tottenham and Matt's good friend Pancho, it always seemed on the cards that the F.A. would be looking for an English manager, despite the success of Capello before retiring.

"Well your lucky man, he's an awesome manager.... I thought we'd be challenging those top three this season.."

"Ya still might... If the new manager can keep the squad together then i reckon you lot have a big shot at doing the business..."

"Yup... Though i have heard a few whispers that Harry put Jamie's name forward as a possible successor... Heard anything at your end?" Pancho quizzed.

"Well he's just signed a new four year contract so i reckon he's intent on staying. I doubt he'll join Spurs right now, i think he wants to make a name for himself here before moving on to perhaps pick up where his dad left off.... I think it's more likely that Jamie will succeed his dad with England if i'm honest... Anyway, you coming out for Mills' birthday in a few weeks? He wants to do a night in Blackpool..." Matt replied.

"Yeah he mentioned it to me a few days ago so i'm in..."

They went on talking about the various managerial changes as Tottenham weren't the only North London club looking for a new manager as Arsene Wenger resigned as manager in order to take up the offer to manage Barcelona. Both sides played a very similar sort of football and if he could get them clicking like Guardiola did, they may just continue their spell of dominance in Europe. Over the days that followed his departure though new men were installed at the head of both Arsenal and Tottenham with the Gunner's deciding on Louis Van Haal while Spurs opted for promising young Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino who quit Espanyol to make the move to the English Captial.

At Elland Road there was a mixture of good news and bad as Leeds finalised the signing of two more players. Firstly that of 17 year old Danish midfielder Thorsten Norgaard and along with 31 year old keeper Stuart Taylor both joining on free transfers after leaving from OB in Denmark and Man City respectively. The mixed news was that two players from Leeds had been selected by Steve McClaren in his 18 man Olympic's squad, Alex McCarthy and Scott Sinclair both linked up with Team GB though it would mean both would be unavailable for the rest of pre-season.

Team GB Squad

Goalkeepers

Joe Hart (Man City)

Alex McCarthy (Leeds Utd)

Defenders

Glen Johnson (Liverpool)

Chris Smalling (Man Utd)

Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)

Phil Jones (Man Utd)

Midfielders

Gareth Bale (Tottenham)

Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)

Matt Phillips (Blackpool)

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Tom Cleverley (Man Utd)

Jack Cork (Southampton)

Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa)

Scott Sinclair (Leeds Utd)

Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

Forwards

Wayne Rooney (Man Utd)

Andy Carroll (Liverpool)

There were more than a few questioning glances aimed at McClaren for his squad selection. Though the team was a strong one, the choice to take only four recognised defenders already had him taking flak from all corners especially when he decided on taking no less than five central midfielders. Many, including Matt, were left asking why the likes of Craig Dawson, Kyle Walker, Ryan Bertrand, Martin Kelly and Kyle Naughton were all left out. There were also call ups for both Jake Sinclair and Zac Thomson for the England U19 side that would be heading to Estonia for the Uefa U19 European Championship's.

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Over the course of pre-season up and down the country teams began to take shape as deals were done and dusted on nearly an hour by hour basis and as always there were a few exciting deals. Firstly Man City splashed out nearly £30m to take both Rafael van der Vaart and Diego Perotti to the Manchester while Liverpool also made big moves with £12m deal for Nicolas Otamendi and a nearly £20m for young Brazilan star Leandro Damiao. Spurs signed Urby Emanuelson from Milan on loan while Adam Johnson left Man City on loan to Fulham.

The night out in Blackpool for his friend Joe's birthday was also something much needed but due to the pre-season fixtures he couldn't enjoy it as much as he wanted, the night out falling the day before the Leeds team, Matt included, were due to depart to Russia for their friendly against Locomotive Moscow.

"Well thanks for coming out man... Maybe we'll draw each other in a cup and i can give you a schooling." They both laughed as they shook hands once more as Matt left the group, heading off to his car to make the drive home. Upon reaching it he took a glance around, his eye's picking up on a familar face as they wandered down the main stretch across from where he'd parked his car, "Becky?" he asked quietly. He was just about to go over, his heart beginning to race before it sank completely at the sight of a man approaching and kissing her, much to her delight. The twinge of hurt made his stomach turn before letting loose a disappointing sigh and with one last glance as they walked hand in hand, enjoying the warm evening air, he got in his car and took off at speed off back to Leeds.

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In the weeks that followed Leeds had seemingly had finished their summer spending spree as they now instead concentrated on an intence pre-season which brought five wins and two draws with some large results along the way and one slight disappointment,

14/7/2012

Kaiserslautern 0

Leeds Utd 4 (Nunez 39, 69; Demidov 43; Howson 58)

21/7/2012

Leeds Utd 4 (Vyntra o.g. 1; McCormack 32, 57 & 65)

Panathinaikos 1 (Touche 9)

24/7/2012

Guiseley 0

Leeds Utd 6 (Warner 19, 29 & 59; Beccio 32; Jones 45+3, Demidov 62)

29/7/2012

Locomotive Moscow 2 (Loskov 46; Lees o.g 62)

Leeds Utd 2 (Yanbaev o.g. 43; McCormack 44)

3/8/2012[b/]

Notts County 1 (Pearce 31)

Leeds Utd 5 (Warner 12, 28, 46 & 66; Beccio 78)

5/8/2012

Leeds Utd 3 (Warner 5, 58 & 87)

Genoa 0

11/8/2012

Leeds Utd 1 (Beccio 15)

Fenerbahce 1 (Bilica 13)

The manner of some of their wins had people suggesting that Leeds may have what it take to muster a top ten finish. As mentioned however, it didn't all go off without a hitch as De Bruyne picked up an injury which would rule him out until perhaps the start of September but apart from that Leeds managed to keep a near enough clean bill of health as they all settled in after the game with Fenerbahce to watch the final of the Olympic's...

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Don't know why you had issues, Matt. I will make some inquiries. Drop me a PM if this happens to you again. I had a note from another poster describing a similar situation and shortening the posts seemed to fix it, though I don't know if that is a true fix or not.

Meanwhile, nice work!

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Thanks and i split it into two with no issue but i'm certain i've posted bigger updates than this without an issue, post 185 and 184 together isn't huge but if ya get any answers about it drop me a PM.

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With England still on a high after the summer's European Championship's there was a sence and a hope that Team GB could pull off a repeat and walk away with some winners medals when all was said and done. During the group stages they made an early case for being one of the favourites as they won all of their group games, scoring nine goals and conceding none,

26/7/2012

Ivory Coast 0

Team GB 2 (Rooney 62; Walcott 64)

29/7/2012

Team GB 4 (Rooney 3, 18; Jones 26; Bale 36)

Costa Rica 0

1/8/2012

Australia 0

Team GB 3 (Rooney 18; Jones 22; Carroll 83)

With the likes of Mexico, Spain and Brazil all making it through to the quarter finals it made for interesting reading as the competition went on. Spain lost out in the game of the round to Brazil by 2-0, South Korea managed a 2-0 win over New Zealand while the Ivory Coast fell by 1-0 against Mexico. For Team GB, they swept aside Ghana with ease to progress to the semi final,

4/8/2012

Team GB 3 (Rooney 4; Cleverley 13; Walcott 72)

Ghana 0

The semi finals saw Team GB draw the short straw with Mexico being their opponents while Brazil would face South Korea and in truth the Korean's gave a very good account of themselves as they took Brazil the full distance. After going a man down with over half an hour left Neymar put the Brazilan's ahead only for Ji Dong-Won to snatch an equaliser in the dying moments. New Liverpool striker Damiao handed Brazil the lead once more with just 3 minutes of extra time gone only for Ji Dong-Won to again hit back just two minutes later to make it 2-2. In the shoot out all was going good for both sides until Park Chu-Young missed and after Danilo and Fabio scored for the men in yellow, Suk's missed spot kick put Brazil into the final with a 4-2 win on penalties.

In the other game it was another dominant display from the hosts as Team GB had the better and majority of the chances and possession on their way to a 2-1 win meaning they would be handed the chance to make it two international footballing successes in as many months after nearly 50 years of next to nothing.

7/8/2012

Team GB 2 (Rooney 27, 42)

Mexico 1 (Hernandez 47)

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"So Matty, how goes the search for an agent?" Redknapp asked without taking his eye's off the Olympic's final showing on the large TV in the players lounge.

"It doesn't really, for the time being i've been able to handle it all, even with all the increased hype after the Euro's..."

"Well we've had a few people call offering their service's or just trying to get your contact details..." He said befre cursing loudly as Damiao got to Hulk's flick on before firing low past Hart to put Brazil in front with less than 15 minutes gone. The whole room followed suit with a collective sigh. The game wore on with Team GB struggling to contain the slick passing and movement of the impressive line up of young Brazilan stars such as Neymar, Damiao and Rafael. There was however hope in the fact that as much as they managed to bypass the midfield, Cork, Smalling and Jones all seemed upto the task as they produced tackles, blocks and clearences in abundance.

Then, the nation was given further hope as Cork, filling in at left back for the day, played a pass into the feet of Rooney who dinked it into the box where it evaded everyone but Carroll who met it with a powerful placed header to send the 90,000 at Wembley stadium wild. The room erupted in a loud cheer and though Leeds pair McCarthy and Sinclair hadn't started, there was hope that at least one of them would be able to get on and aid the cause in bringing home another honor.

"Yeah, i got a call off that Simon Fuller.... His agency has the Beckham's, Lewis Hamilton, Andy Murray..... I just dunno, why pay for something i'm handling well enough on my own...."

Near enough instantly from kick off though there was another round of swearing at the TV as once more Brazil took the lead. This time Sandro finding space to play in a lovely through ball for Porto striker Hulk to collect and smash into the top corner to silence the vastness of Wembley. There was more of an angry responce from those watching, many cursing the naivity of the backline for switching off so quickly after getting level again. Half time followed soon after, a few Leeds players partaking in the modest refreshments that were put on for them, most the team spending the day in the players lounge as earlier in the day Man Utd beat Liverpool by 2-1 in the Community Shield, Hernandez netting either side of a Gerrard strike.

"True but maybe it would be helpful. As you said, that Fuller guy must know what he's doing if he has those sorts of names on his books..... Help you focus and enjoy your free time instead of having to trawl through all the crap that agents normally deal with..."

The second half kicked off with a loud roar from the sizeable home support. The players in the Leeds players lounge once more settled into the seats,

"I'll leave things as they are for the minute... If it starts to get too much then i'll probably look into..."

His sentence was cut short as everyone was again up on their feet again, images of Rooney celebrating. Again it was Cork playing his part from the left with a cross from deep finding Rooney at the back post to volley through the legs of Renan to put Team GB again on level terms. The game wore on with both sides trading blow after blow but neither able to break the deadlock as both Sinclair and Ramsay came in with moments of the 2nd half left. The final whistle came soon after signalling at least another half hour of football and perhaps the drama of penalties. After a quick break to refuel for both player and fan alike the game was once more underway.

Both sides were visably tired as the half wore on though the chances were few and far between, both sides though managed to hit the woodwork. Neymar first with a rasping drive which had Hart well beaten but not the cross bar while at the other end a teasing run from Sinclair yielded a shot which hit the near post before being launched clear. In the second half the chances were even fewer, the best one though fell the way of Brazil as a nice passing move yieled a through ball for Hulk but Hart was again on hand to deny him low at the Brazilian forwards feet. Once more though the referee blew his final whistle signalling the dread of the penalty shoot out.

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"It don't get any better being on this side of the penalty shoot out i tell ya that.." Matt said as Hulk made the walk to the penalty spot. The ball was placed carefully as Hart stretched his arms out wide before setting his feet. The referee received a nod from both of them before blow his whistle, Hulk taking off in a measured run before sending Hart the wrong way by placing it in the bottom right hand corner.

Next up it was the Team GB captain's turn as Rooney passed a still celebrating Hulk on his way to goal, Renan doing the same as he replaced Hart between the sticks. The same process followed before the referee gave Rooney the go ahead to take the spot kick, Matt and some of the other Leeds player's covering their eye's slight as he ran up and smashed it into the top corner, leaving Renan stood static. The room erupted in a chorus of cheers, as did Wembley while the next man stepped forward, scorer of the opening goal Leandro Damiao. Again there was a moment spent in placement of the ball before he took a few steps away. Hart prepared himself for a few seconds, the referee checked the placement of the ball, took a few steps back before blowing the whistle, releasing Damiao to fire an effort low the Hart's left and though he guessed right the pace on the ball was enough to see Brazil again into the lead.

The nation gave a collective sigh before returning their eye's the screen, new Leeds signing Sinclair caught the ball before placing it on the spot, the noise around Wembley grew while at Elland Road there were more than a few there were more than a few shouts of encouragement aimed at the TV. Sinclair was no stranger to scoring penalties at Wembley having bagged two of them during the 2011 Play Off final win over Reading. The noise grew as he ran up and tucked it low down the middle, Renan leaping right in vain before batting the ball away in frustation while the home crowd celebrated. Ramires recieved words of encouragement from his manager and team mates before making the long walk to the penalty spot, the ball already there waiting for him as he passed Sinclair. Hart stared intencely at the Chelsea man as he set the ball the way he wanted it before taking just three steps backwards. The whistle blew once more before Ramires completed his short run up, his standing foot came loose from the turf, his right foot pushing the ball tamely goalwards for Hart to collect with ease leaving the Chelsea midfielder with his head in his hands.

The fans once more erupted, sencing a chance for Team GB to wrap up a second tournament in as many months. But as many of them looked up at the action once more, Matt included, was left in a state of confusion. Hart, still holding the ball placed it down on the spot before taking a few steps back while Renan prepared again. While a keeper taking a penalty wasn't unheard of in a shoot out, the fact that he was taking the third penalty left many wondering but soon enough the choice was being praised as Hart hammered it into the roof of the net, Renan once more guessing wrong as he went to the left side. The was a quick switch over as Fabio moved from where he'd been stood to take the next penalty, his brother and team mate Rafael watching on as he set himself. The referee made his replace the ball twice before he was happy with it, the Man Utd full back ready to go against his cross city rival Hart. The noise once more rose and rose, the whistle blew and the run up began, the defender choosing power over placement but Hart was equal to it, palming it away as it looked destined for the top corner.

The nation rose again in celebration, Team GB now standing just one spot kick away from a gold medal. The chance to clinch glory was handed to Glen Johnson, the last of the senior players. He got more than a few pats on the back from his team mates before making the walk to the penalty spot. Renan was stood waiting on the goal line when he got there, the ball also sat on the spot with the full back making a slight adjustment before walking away. Johnson set his gaze on goal, looking over each option as the nation held it's breath when the whistle blew once more, there was a pause before he began his run up and struck the ball with the inside of his foot. Renan once more pushed himself to the left, the guess being correct but his lunge was over shot as ball squirmed under him and into the net to seal a first gold medal in football for one hundred years....

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The room stood as the judge returned to his seat, "Be seated." He said in a blunt and stern tone of voice.

"Has the jury reached a verdict?" He asked.

The lady on the end nodded as Matt watched on, the trial of his two attackers taking up most of his day but he'd been keen to see justice served.

"It is the view of this jury, due to the overwhelming evidence presented, that we find Kyle Morgan and Jacob Jones guilty of all charges."

The judge nodded, "In that case i sentence you both to a minimum sentence of five years in prison. Not only have you shown blatant disregard for the law but your disgusting actions, along with your previous crimes give me no option. Sentence will begin immediately."

The pair protested, throwing various insults the way of the judge before being led away directly past where Matt was sitting. Despite the rational part of his brain saying otherwise he couldn't help but smile at the both, giving a slight wave while aiming one last insult their way, "Don't drop the soap bi**hes!" The pair kicked off again while Matt was given a warning over his conduct before heading out of the court room. He'd just about made it to the door before he was stopped by a familar face.

"Mr. Warner..." He said, approaching with his partner.

"Inspector Phillips... Whats up?"

"Mind if we have a word in private?" He asked, motioning towards a room to his partner.

Matt agreed, curious if nothing else before heading into the room that the other officer had held open....

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"So.. Whats up?" He asked.

"Ok well first off this is my partner, Inspector Richards... I'm just going to cut to the chase..." He said, pulling out a photo from the file he'd been carrying, "Do you know this man?"

Matt looked over the picture for a moment before shaking his head.

"That is Michael Morris, a pretty serious crime boss. Known to operate in various illegal ventures through multiple cities including London and Leeds."

"Okaaay.... So what's this got to do with me?"

"When was the last time you spoke to your agent, Rory Matthews?"

His mind drifted back to the aftermath of the game away to Millwall, "Not since i fired him after our final game last season... Why?"

"Well... We'd been monitoring Morris but, up until roughly three months ago, we'd see a lot of contact between him and your agent. Now this man is known to be involved in match fixing and other forms of illegal gambling..."

Matt's eye's narrowed, "Are you implying i've been swinging games?"

"Oh no no. Like i said, up until about three months ago we'd seen alot of contact between the two of them. Are you aware of Rory having money troubles, did he seem on edge the last time you spoke?"

Matt shook his head for a moment before stopping, "Now that ya mention it... Ok basically the reason i sacked him is he witheld an offer from me while trying to push another one through. The one he witheld was offering him a lot less in terms of agent fee's than the other. He said he needed the money but... By that point i had no interest in hearing what he had to say."

"Well from what we've managed to gather, Rory had got in pretty deep with this guy but like i said, we haven't seen him and the office space he leased looks like he hasn't been used in months including late payment on the rent for it. Not to mention the fact that his car has been in a police impound since May. Are you sure you haven't heard anything from him?"

Matt nodded, "Yeah, like i said i got rid of him and the last time i saw him was at Millwall."

The two policemen nodded, "Ok well that'll be all i think. If you here from him or can remember anything at all call us straight away as were very concerned about Rory's well being at the moment."

The three of them left the room before parting ways in the corridor, Matt heading towards a flurry of camera flashes outside the courts entrance....

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The team assembled a few days later for the final team meeting ahead of the season's opening game against Man City. The players all settled in as the manager and oddly enough, the chairman, walked in and took a seat at the head of the room.

"Ok guys settle down. First, lets thank Mr. Bates for joining us, he's got some news for us but lets get down to the nitty gritty before hand.... Squad numbers for the new season.."

Redknapp went around the room, confirming old numbers or handing out new ones with a couple of the clubs promising youngsters such as Byram, Poleon and Dvorak getting their first squad number until Matt was the last one left.

"Ok and lastly... Matty, you've got the number seven this season alright?"

Matt nodded with a smile. He'd always wanted to have the number seven at Leeds or at any club he'd played at, something about that digit had always seemed special to him. In his first stint at Elland Road he'd been playing in the number twenty-five while at Arsenal he'd had the number twenty-three so to now gain the number seven shirt he was over the moon. Next though Redknapp ran through the rest of the business which included the conformation of the Carling Cup draw which saw them get a home tie against Charlton Athletic along with introducing new staff formally to the entire team before he handed over the Ken Bates for his announcement.

"Ok gentleman, i know your all keen to go home so i'll be brief. When i first came here my aim was to get the club into a stable footing financially so we could build, move forward and return us to the Premiership. It's been hard work, it's taken a fair few managers, Jamie being my sixth and that doesn't include caretakers.... But now were there i feel the time for me to step aside, sell my stake in the club and move into retirement."

Alot of the players seemed a bit stunned, anyone who'd ever heard of Ken Bates always got the feeling that retirement was a word he'd never get a full grasp of until he was on his death bed but it seemed everyone had their time to call it a day and Bates' time had arrived.

"So for those who were here last season i thank you for helping us get back to where we are now and for the new guys i have every confidence that you can help keep us here."

There was a slight tear in his eye as he gave a fairwell, each player taking a moment to shake his hand. He'd always been a very crude man who spoke his mind but now he'd come to the decision to retire it just seemed like a weight had been lifted, that guard he always had seemed to have dropped. Soon Matt got his turn to give him some thanks,

"Ya know, i always regretted having to sell you in 2006.... But i'm so glad i had the chance to bring you back.."

"Well like i said, there's no where else i want to be right now.... Who know's maybe i'll finish my career here like you..."

"Well your a long way from that. Get us back to where we belong, at the sharp end..."

Matt nodded as Bates departed along with the rest of the squad....

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