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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"

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Ah, Copper, you know me too well!

___

I wished that the two police officers hadn’t approached me with a camera so close by. That would make some significant headlines and I motioned to Waters, who was standing nearby.

I made the introductions, and I then turned to Fulton.

“Inspector, you have placed me in a serious position by the manner of your approach,” I said quietly. The camera was now rolling, and I could see the damage mounting by the second.

“I understand,” Fulton said. “However, you are not being charged. I want you to know that.”

“Great, but I want them to know that too,” I said, making an ever-so-slight motion with my head toward the camera. Other media was now gathering, and Fulton waited until they were all present before she approached them.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is DCI Alba Fulton of the Thames Valley Police,” she said. “There is nothing happening here to indicate that Rob Ridgway is in any sort of difficulty or is any way a person of interest in the recent controversy. I wish to make that known. We are here to ask a few questions related to the case mentioned in the press.”

The scribes began scribbling, which is perhaps the genesis of that particular job title.

I wasn’t happy with Fulton’s word parsing. The phrase “case mentioned in the press” insinuated that there was a case not mentioned in the press – namely, McGuire’s beating – and I hoped none of them would be smart enough to pick up on that.

Vain hope, I suppose.

“There is an ongoing investigation here and I cannot take questions relative to it,” she said. “However, Mr. Ridgway has asked me to speak with you regarding the reason we are here and I am happy to do so.”

Hopkins started to open his mouth, but Fulton gave him the stare of death. As beautiful as she is, that was rather incongruous, but it got the job done.

However, a man in the back of the press pack wasn’t quite as convinced.

Yes, it was him.

# # #

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Can you give me an "E"?

10-3, we really have known each other for quite some time now, haven't we? I wish you the best and, after today's outburst, I'll be sure to be silent about the foreshadowing...I promise (wink).

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Just do me a favor and don't tell anyone about the outcome of my master arc in advance, mmkay? :)

___

“You had reason to want to see Peter McGuire brought down,” Fowler said.

“Sure I did,” I said. Now, though, I was speaking from the relative security of the visiting manager’s office, where I could at least close the door. “He was trying to get me fired.”

“Do you know anything about the incident at his flat?”

“No, not a thing,” I said. “I only found out about it when my wife told me the other day.”

“What are your current feelings toward Peter McGuire?”

“I certainly won’t lie to you. I don’t like him, if that’s what you mean,” I answered. “But I certainly don’t want to see him hurt. I would like him and his companies to get out of my life and stay out of my life, but then I should think that would be natural given the history we have had.”

“What has your wife told you about him?”

“Just about the relationship they once had,” I said. “Patty got taken, as you know.”

“We’ve read the transcripts from the McGuires’ divorce proceedings,” Fowler said blandly. “We know what was said on both sides.”

Biting my tongue to ask what might have been said on the little man’s side to try to balance the proceedings, I simply nodded.

“So why are you here?” I asked. “Are you establishing motive? If that’s the case, I wouldn’t mind speaking with an attorney.”

“You are not a suspect,” Fulton repeated, her brown eyes seemingly cutting me into soft little bite-sized pieces as she did. “However, we must examine all the potential angles in a case in case you might be able to tell us something we have overlooked.”

“Take us back to the situation in Italy,” Fowler said.

“What would you like to know?”

“At one point in time there was a sketchy connection made between Peter McGuire and someone who is presently in an Italian prison, named Paul Marsden.”

“I didn’t make that connection,” I said.

“Italian police records indicate that while you didn’t formally make that connection, you helped them make it later on,” Fowler said. “So what do you know about Marsden?”

“Well, he had something in common with both Peter McGuire and me,” I said. “We all loved Patty, and I’m happy that I am the one who still does.”

“Yet Marsden got nicked and McGuire didn’t.”

“Well, McGuire was here in England,” I said. “It came out in court that Marsden was actively involved with The Supporters. Whether they knew each other or not was not for me to speculate.”

“Mr. Marsden has indicated he had contact with Mr. McGuire,” Fulton now said.

Inwardly, I smiled. Outwardly, I dared not show my feelings.

“Okay, so what does all this have to do with the bugging of my office? Isn’t that why you’re here?”

“Mr. Ridgway, there’s a lot going on around here,” Fowler said.

“Commander, your tendency for understatement is dramatic,” Fulton smiled.

“We have reason to believe the bugging of your office and the attack on Mr. McGuire were related,” Fowler said. “Therefore, we do feel it is important that you re-address your security situation.”

“I’ve had the same thought myself,” I replied.

“We do know there is a business relationship between Special Security Services and the Happy Day LLC,” Fowler said. “Therefore we recommend you terminate that relationship as soon as possible.”

“I’ll write the letter immediately,” I promised. It seemed to be the out I was looking for.

“Don’t write it yourself,” Fulton interjected. “Have your representatives, or your solicitor, do it.”

Fowler looked at her with some surprise.

“Commander, excuse me for offering the personal advice,” Fulton said. “I just thought it would be a good idea to advise on a matter of personal safety.”

Fowler started to speak, but now I interjected.

“Commander Fowler, a remonstration will not be necessary,” I said. “Inspector, I appreciate your advice and I thank you for it.”

“Very well, Mr. Ridgway,” Fowler said. “Inspector, we have others to interview. Let’s get to it.”

He rose from the table but turned to me before he left. “We may have other questions,” he said.

“I know it’s a painful period for you to remember, but do please try to recall as much as you can about any relationship you can recall between Paul Marsden and Peter McGuire.”

With that, they left. I watched them leave, and wondered why Fulton would have suddenly taken such a personal interest in me.

# # #

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Sunday, September 20

A quiet day, before a very short time of preparation for Middlesbrough in the Carling Cup on Tuesday.

The reserves have been actively preparing for the match under the direction of Wally Downes for about a week now, since many of the players who will wear the shirt in that game play for the reserves in any event.

There was even a silver lining regarding Huth’s dismissal yesterday. He is suspended for one English match, which for us happens to be Tuesday night.

Since I have no intention of playing Huth in the League Cup anyway, the suspension won’t hurt the first team.

I’ll speak with him about it tomorrow, as I do whenever I have a player sent off, but I don’t consider his second carding to have been a grievous offense in any event. I wasn’t happy with Tanner’s decision but this morning as I woke up I was remarkably sanguine about it all.

There was enough in yesterday’s match to really upset me – losing two leads within five minutes of taking both being the most annoying – but somehow it wasn’t that bad in my mind.

We have played poorly in our last two matches, but the fact remains that we didn’t lose either one. As good as we were against Newcastle, I do think there’s better ahead for us fairly soon.

West Brom will be a good test of that this weekend, but the Carling Cup match comes between. There are a lot of players who would like to make impressions and get into the first team, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they have up their sleeves.

# # #

The big story of yesterday, though, was that United finally lost.

And in so doing, we missed an opportunity to go top. The annoyance I felt about the draw was a little more palpable as a result.

Chelsea used a 36th minute goal from Didier Drogba to outlast United before a packed house at the Bridge. United’ s first setback of the season is good news for the rest of us, but the champions appear to be gathering momentum as a result – bad news for the rest of us.

Elsewhere, Villa got a badly needed win away to Newcastle. Luke Moore’s goal six minutes from time was the winner in a 2-1 triumph for Martin O’Neill’s men. Gabriel Agbonlahor had started the scoring just before half only to see Jefferson Farfan equalize for the Magpies early in the second session.

Bolton used a goal seven minutes into the second half from Spanish u-21 international Adrián to forge ahead and defeat Middlesbrough 1-0 at the Riverside. After another quick start, Boro is again starting to slide as they did last season, so Harry Redknapp will have a job on. As our next opponents, I’m sure he’s looking to use the Cup as a way to motivate his young squad to take a larger scalp.

Jermain Defoe scored six minutes into the match for Pompey today, and again the away team made it stand up for nearly ninety minutes as Portsmouth defeated West Brom 1-0 at the Hawthorns. The home team was perhaps the better in the match, having double the opportunities and double the shots on target, but keeper Stipe Pletikosa earned a richly deserved Man of the Match gong for holding the Baggies at bay.

The Doldrums Derby was also played today at the JJB, as Wigan and Derby drew 1-1. Colombian international Tressor Moreno scored his first goal of the season for the Latics on the stroke of the hour, but the Dutchman Maceo Rigters earned County a share of the spoils fifteen minutes from time.

Today, though, was the day that held more interest for me.

Liverpool and Arsenal were both in action at home and unfortunately for us, both lived up to billing.

Liverpool’s match with Blackburn was fascinating. Fernando Torres had to set some sort of record today by scoring twice within 1:14 of the first half. Yet, what made it really special was that the two goals came within the first 1:42 of the match.

Torres scored with 28 seconds on the clock and again 1:42 into the proceedings, but Liverpool managed only one more shot on target during the entire match after that.

Meanwhile, Blackburn dominated from that point forward. They had sixty percent of the possession and seven of the remaining eight shots on target during the game – but still lost 2-0.

Meanwhile, the day was just about a total loss for David Moyes at the Emirates. His Everton side lost Joseph Yobo to a straight red card for violent conduct just 22 minutes into the match, and then the ten men lost Tim Cahill to a torn calf muscle and Phil Jagielka to a sprained wrist. All that happened before halftime.

In the second half, Eduardo, Abou Diaby and Alex Hleb put Everton out of its collective misery, with Andy Johnson somehow able to respond for the ten men. The 3-1 scoreline hardly flattered the Gunners.

Meanwhile, a wild first half at the City of Manchester Stadium saw five in the net before halftime. Spurs’ Ashley Young opened the fun five minutes into the match only to see Rolando Bianchi pin them back with a brace scored just four minutes apart before the half hour. Young equalized personally eight minutes from the whistle but Micah Richards scored his first goal of the season for City to restore the lead. The 3-2 lead held up all the way through the second half.

And pity Fulham, which is having a dreadful time finding wins. They thought they had one away to Sunderland today, through first half goals from Collins John and Algerian Hameur Bouazza.

However, they threw it away, as Kenwyne Jones picked up not one but two late goals within the last ten minutes of the match, to give the Black Cats a 2-2 draw their overall play hardly deserved.

# # #

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Monday, September 21

As the child’s song says, ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round.’

With a bare 24 hours of preparation with my selected players for the televised match against Boro tomorrow night, my main concern today was to see the squad that Downes has essentially selected for me.

Fleck will make his debut for us in that match, but I’ve insisted on a strong bench in case we get in trouble.

That said, I met with Wally this morning and this is the team sheet he suggested to me:

Federici

Halls

Rosenior

Cathcart

Gaspari

Harper (captain)

Saivet

Fleck

Osbourne

Kitson

Lita

Substitutes

Lobont

Bikey

Pogatetz

Maloney

Dagoberto

“Interesting squad,” I said. “Lots of young ones there.”

“Except for Kitson,” he joked, and even though Halls was getting a chance to play, he probably wouldn’t have seen the humor.

It was a very young team, with the exception of the fullbacks and Kitson.

“Well, we’ll certainly see what we’ve got here,” I said. “What about Simon Shaw?”

I was referring to the eighteen-year old keeper who we bought from Newcastle last January, and who has been the regular keeper for our reserve team.

However, Federici needs games too and he’s the logical choice. My only argument was with the choice of the backup.

“Interesting thought,” he admitted. “Maybe I need to think that one through a bit.”

“Strong bench,” I cautioned. “I still need to take your team onto the pitch on Tuesday night, remember? But don’t be afraid to give the young ones their chance.”

“Of course,” Downes replied. “But these are the fellows who have been playing well and who deserve a shot.”

“Of course,” I answered, repeating his mantra as well as his words. “But let’s do the best we can to put out a side that can threaten throughout the match. It’s too early for this team to be going out.”

“I understand,” he replied. He nodded with some satisfaction. He believes in his players and that’s the best thing I got out of the conversation.

# # #

I had one other very important task to handle today.

I was on the phone to Freddie Eaton between training sessions today with a specific set of instructions.

“Freddie, please get on to my representation and terminate the security arrangement with Hardcastle’s company,” I said. “It’s getting too hot and I can’t have that.”

“Whatever do you mean, Rob?” the firm’s principal asked.

“I’m convinced he has either made a play for Patty or would like to,” I said. “I can’t have that kind of distraction in my family life. Now, Patty denies it, of course, but I just can’t have that.”

I was repeating myself. Throughout my life, I’ve done that whenever I’ve been very angry or very nervous. So I was repeating myself.

“All right, Rob, we’ll get on it.”

“Thank you.”

“When would you like this done?”

“As soon as the attorney reviews the documents.”

“That might be a difficult stretch to do today.”

“It won’t be the most difficult thing there is to do today,” I said. “The most difficult thing will be for me to tell Patty.”

# # #

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I was repeating myself. Throughout my life, I’ve done that whenever I’ve been very angry or very nervous. So I was repeating myself.

Love it :thup:.

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See, now Rob is just causing problems for himself. "I have to terminate the contract because the security firm is owned by Happy Day LLC and with the ongoing investigations surrounding my office, the club, and Peter McGuire's assault, it's too much distraction and foments suspicion. Can't have it."

Even if he can't tell Freddie that and make that official statement, he can tell Patty. Lie, lie, lie, deny, deny, deny. Then, she can't say anything to him about it unless she wants to risk sounding immature and dense. And like a b*tch. Admit the jealousy thing...issues. Problems. Even if it is true.

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This arc is certainly getting interesting in regards to its effect on RR. His explanation to his solicitor is simply baffling. He has at least two superior reasons to give for the termination of the security firm - he was advised to do so by police, and the obvious link with all the hoopla around McGuire - but instead he goes for the most base, simplistic, and from a legal perspective, unsound reasoning. If RR cannot prove that Hardcastle made a pass at Patty, he could easily be sued for wrongful termination of the contact.

If that were to happen, and it escalted into a full-blown civil action, then RR would have to provide evidence of Hardcastle either making a pass or having intention to make a pass. Patty's evidence becomes critical if she remains firm that Hardcastle never did anything remotely resembling a pass. All the tension and dirty laundry then gets aired. It would be absolute murder on a marriage.

...

Damn you 10-3!

Also, copper, if you want to go ahead and spoil all of us regarding 10-3's master plan, please do. It sure beats being killed by the suspense. :p

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Some interesting reactions to yesterday's post. I think it goes to show the range of feelings that certain characters create across the readership. Well, try this on for size ...

___

“Happiness from beautiful downtown Reading.”

The subject line in my e-mail told me that Kate was back.

I didn’t mind that – her notes, widely spaced in time as they have been – have been uniformly harmless. She is moving on, and that’s a good thing.

She only gets in touch with me now when there’s something she needs me to know. She still does occasional PR work with the club, because she never steered anyone wrong when she was working with us in the past. Her ex-husband, on the other hand, not so much.

Patty was away and usually I read Kate’s e-mails right there with her. She has been nervous in the past about my old flame’s communications with me and I can certainly understand that.

I wish she would show me the same understanding regarding Hardcastle, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Yet, she wasn’t there, and I was dying of curiosity. So I opened the e-mail.

Dear Rob:

I apologise for the intrusion but I had a message forwarded to me on Friday that I feel you should see.

I can’t tell you who gave it to me but that hardly matters. What matters is that you read the contents and take appropriate action as soon as you can. I thought long and hard about sending you this but eventually I decided I had no choice.

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this. But if I didn’t, you might not have known and that might have made it even worse when you discovered it.

Do take care, Rob. Best of luck and I hope to see you under better circumstances soon.

With love,

Kate

There was an attached image file. Swallowing hard, I opened it.

The .jpg attachment was a scanned image of a handwritten note. The contents were simple, graphic, and infuriating.

McG:

I got your note. All I can say is I hope you get what’s coming to you.

Had you not said what you said to that magazine about my company, she’d be mine now and I can’t forgive you for f**king that up for me. Ridgway never suspected a thing.

But then, that was your goal, wasn’t it?

SH

I picked up the phone beside my desk and dialed a number.

“DCI Fulton, please,” I said to the operator who answered the phone. “Rob Ridgway calling, I need to speak with her urgently.”

I had had a hunch about Hardcastle.

Or was it Patty?

Whoever had sent that note to Kate had proven me right. At least, if I wasn’t being set up.

# # #

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As much as I love this, I hate that it doesn't all come at once. I just want to flip the page in the book and keep reading...

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Just got caught up, 4 months of missing this, it's been far too long.

Of course I still bloody love it. KUTGW Tenthree :)

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I do love advancing a major story arc. Keeps people on their toes :) Thanks for all the comments. RR is in a pretty bad way at the moment. And Manxie, it's great to have you back with us!

___

Tuesday, September 22

Reading v Middlesbrough – Third Round, Carling Cup

It was hard to sleep last night.

From the point of view of irony, Patty’s expression upon learning that Kate had written me was matched only by the expression of horror on her face when she read the actual note.

Either she’s a wonderful actress or she’s mortified. Or, perhaps a little of both.

The only thing that stopped me from finding a hotel to sleep in last night was that Patty iss pregnant and I couldn’t leave a pregnant woman.

I was furious and had an absolute right to be. My hunch about Hardcastle turned out to have been 100 percent correct – if the note could be believed.

But for her part, she was as penitent as I have ever seen her last night. I confronted her, with vigor, about her true relationship with Hardcastle.

Whatever opposition she had to me firing him appeared to be long gone.

On the surface, she was inconsolable, swearing up and down that she had never accepted any advance he might have made, either intentional or otherwise.

This time, though, she needed to convince me. Of course, you can’t prove a negative, so her task was pretty large.

That isn’t to say she didn’t try, but I sat there doing a slow boil while she explained. I thought I had good reason.

“He’s being pretty familiar,” I said, waving my hand at the screen. “Ridgway never suspected a thing?”

“His plan, not mine,” she protested. “The nerve of that man! Why would he write a note to Peter like that? He’s asking for a visit from the police now!”

“Do you honestly think I care?” I snapped. “Really?”

Patty began to pace up and down the living room carpet, which I had never seen her do before. Subconsciously, she was doing what I often do when I’m under stress. However, her striding back and forth across the carpet effectively kept me in my chair.

That was hard, and it also raised my stress level.

I had to fight down the urge to think that she protested too much, but a quick look at her growing abdomen was enough to stay my judgment for the time being – but only for the time being.

“The nerve of that man!” she repeated, taking on another of my traits, that of repetition.

I left, in a huff, for the ground. On the way there, I thought things through.

It would have been rather stupendously stupid for Hardcastle to write a threatening letter to McGuire unless he either planned to succeed or knew his back was covered. Or, unless he was completely innocent.

So the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether it wasn’t all just a set-up.

And why Kate? Why would she get an e-mail regarding this situation? Who would she get it from?

There could only be one person, in my mind. If they were talking again, I couldn’t imagine what the potential consequences might be.

That assumed any of a number of things, however. In a sensible world, which this was not.

Perhaps McGuire had a PA who was a friend of Kate’s and wanted to get the word out about what was going on, while trying to stay anonymous in the process.

If that was the case, this person hadn’t thought the strategy all the way through, since whoever it was had supplied potential evidence in a criminal case. It’s a bit hard to stay anonymous under those circumstances.

None of that matters to me, though. What matters to me was finding out whether the note is genuine before it destroys my marriage.

The more I thought the more confused I became. That was a closer to normal for me.

The list of people I want to run over with my car is starting to get annoyingly large. So as I drove into the car park on the far side of Biscuitman Way today, I had to try very hard to stop from squashing one of my targets.

Winthrop walked, alone, down the street toward the staff entrance. I drove past him, instead of over him, only by the hardest.

He gave me a neutral expression as I moved to my reserved spot in the players’ car park.

I headed toward the offices, to take care of some desk work before heading over for training. I got to the door just behind the marketeter and he headed upstairs to the club offices while I headed downstairs to mine.

As we parted ways, I watched him go. I imagined I could see him speeding up his gait, but put that down to wishful thinking.

I turned the last corner to walk the final twenty yards or so down the tunnel leading to the pitch. I stopped at the end, just before the doors leading to the ground itself.

Turning right, I unlocked the door to the home changing room and as I did, saw Fulton following me.

“Inspector, good to see you,” I said. “But may I make a request?”

“Of course,” she said. “I’m not sure I can honor it, but feel free to ask.”

Shoveling down all the crap that has swirled around my mind since last night, I forced myself back to my job.

“Would you mind not disrupting my training routine if you possibly can? I mean, the players are starting to joke about us being Harchester United as often as the police are on the training pitch. Either grab a football and help with the passing drills, or let’s try to find a way for you to do your jobs a little less conspicuously, okay?”

“We don’t wish to intrude, but when we have questions we need answers. We’re busy people and we have other cases that need our attention too,” she said.

I wondered how true that was, if a full Commander of Scotland Yard was poking around us with such regularity.

“Well, we are a place of business and no one has accused me or any of my players of wrongdoing,” I said. “Therefore, I do request that you keep enquiries to the times and places the club has provided.”

Fulton thought it over and then looked at me with a determined but friendly expression.

“I’ll see what we can do, Mr. Ridgway,” she said. “I’ll let you know.”

# # #

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“The note was delivered?”

“With some style.”

“Good. The message needs to get sent. And the picture?”

“Will be delivered on schedule.”

“Anything else happen to it?”

“No. It’s still in the original container.”

“Excellent. It should make him think twice, anyway. He’ll be wondering what’s next before long.”

“What about the police?”

“Under control. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“This business about the SFO.”

“They don’t frighten us. It’s not called the ‘Serious Farce Office’ for nothing.”

“Suddenly, I am feeling a bit better about all this.”

“We must always have something else up our sleeves.”

“It’s an exciting time.”

“We have an opportunity to wrap up everything we want over the next few months if we do it carefully. The right stories have been planted with the right people. We’ll bring all our guns to bear soon and when we can do that, the overall situation will improve. We just have to be patient.”

“That’s hard.”

“Don’t I know it. But keep your eyes on the prize. It’s well worth having.”

# # #

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Devious little...you sure you don't want to start writing real books instead of writing here? It's top quality stuff, 10-3 :)

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Well, I like it here, viper :) .. but thanks for the kind thought!

___

“What a sneezeclot.”

Dillon’s turn of phrase made me smile, but as my assistant and I talked about McGuire, it seemed an apt expression.

I shared the information about the note with him. Of course, I can’t prove Hardcastle actually wrote it, and after all that has gone on over the last few weeks around this team I won’t make any assumptions. That’s for Fulton to determine.

But if it’s all true, I might just take the guy apart with my own two hands and I don’t care how big he is. I harbored a deep sense of injustice this morning that rapidly turned to rage.

That is exactly the wrong frame of mind for a manager to be in and Dillon was fully aware of it. I was in no shape to work, but I had a job to do.

So Dillon’s task was to try to turn my mind from the homicidal thought to the merely malevolent. That was a surprisingly difficult task.

At four o’clock this afternoon, the earliest arrivals made their way into the changing room to prepare for the night’s match. The kids, the nervous ones, were there first. I found that interesting, and I made myself get up and move around the room to offer a bit of advice to each one.

One of the pieces of advice I gave was for them to not dwell so much on the match. Fleck was an especially energetic bundle of nerves, wanting to make a good first impression wearing his new shirt.

The fact that he was wearing that new shirt fully three hours before kickoff told me that he was probably a bit too charged up for the match.

So we had a brief discussion about saving energy for the pitch and to his credit, the boy seemed to take the instruction just fine.

“Look, I know you can play, we paid £2 million to bring you here,” I told him. “There’s no need for you to try to put on a big show because you’ve got teammates to help you and we’re fully aware of your skill. What I need from you is a team performance in the position you’re asked to play, filling the role you’re asked to fill. Okay?”

Fleck nodded. Still amped up, he decided that simple acknowledgement of his instructions would suffice. And in his case, it did.

Maloney then arrived, which was probably the best thing for Fleck.

I found it a bit ironic that the former Ger and the former Celtic star would find common cause. But then, Maloney and I had always seemed to understand each other and surely you’d never suspect me to be one welcome at Parkhead.

The two sat and talked. That was great to me as it showed Fleck trying to fit in and Maloney trying to accommodate. That’s the atmosphere I want.

The remaining players, ‘Young Royals’ and elders alike, arrived one by one from the training area. It was time to play and it was time for everyone, young and old alike, to be professionals.

# # #

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Thanks, Copper ... and now a post that you especially should enjoy.

___

I did have one very enjoyable experience as the teams lined up for the entrance onto the pitch.

The last time I had seen Seb Hines, he was wearing the colors of Blyth Spartans.

Copper Horse’s one-time loanee was now wearing a Boro shirt, and that was a great thing to see.

Clearly, his time spent helping Copper win the Blue Square North last season was well spent and his rise had evidently been meteoric.

He had a word with Harry Redknapp and then approached me. It was one of the very few times I allowed myself to talk to an opposing player.

“Just wanted to tell you that you were right,” he said, his hand extended.

“Hard work always wins out,” I said, shaking his offered hand. “Good to see you wearing that shirt.”

“You told us not to lose sight of our dream,” he said. He was beaming.

“Well, now you need to keep dreaming,” I said. “The Cup is great for that. Good luck to you.”

“Copper always told us Boro people that if we worked hard eventually we’d get a chance to beat you,” he said, and my eyebrows raised.

“Personally?” I asked.

“He did say that, yes,” Hines replied.

“Well, that’s certainly his right,” I said, now thinking about the fellow who had once been my friend. Shaking my head sadly, I wondered if he was doing any better. It just hurt to think about.

“Sorry,” Hines added. “I didn’t know if you were aware of that.”

“I wasn’t, but I’m glad you told me,” I said. “Good luck tonight.”

“And to you,” he said in a sporting fashion. That was a nice touch. Seb certainly owed me nothing, but it was nice to hear a young player say thanks.

I stood at the end of the line and now Redknapp joined me.

We shook hands as well.

“Rob, what did he tell you?” he asked.

“He said thanks. I saw him play while he was on loan at Blyth. The boy has a future.”

“Yes, he does,” Redknapp replied. “Whether it is with us or not remains to be seen, but he’s a decent player.”

Harry could tell from looking at my team sheet that I hadn’t started my best squad. That was all right. Neither had he, but his was a lot closer to scratch than mine was.

“We’ll see how we do against your kids,” he said, with a faint smile.

“They deserve the chance to play,” I said, trying not to sound defensive.

“And play they will,” he said as the lines began to move. We reached the double doors that led to the pitch, and as we climbed the stairs to the pitch, we again shook hands.

# # #

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Banglared, welcome to the Rat Pack! It's a bit of a slog to read this all the way through but I am glad you made it! I appreciate your time and effort reading my work.

___

Less than ten minutes into the game, Darren Bent was already limping after a two-car pileup with Cathcart. My defender had gotten the better of the encounter after a hard challenge just outside our area.

Redknapp, who had chided me moments earlier for playing kids, hadn’t banked on the full Norn Iron international being quite so ready to play.

Thus enraged, Bent tried to make an immediate impact upon events by taking a great 1-2 ball from strike partner Jeremie Aliadiere and cruising past Cathcart to loose a shot at Federici.

He missed the target, though, and my Socceroo keeper was untroubled.

Then the youngster, Fleck, saw his opportunity. With a wonderful turn of pace he flew right past Julio Arca, cutting to the center of the park to advance aggressively with the ball before being turned to his left by Jonathan Woodgate.

No matter, thought the youngster, and lofted a ball to the right looking for Lita.

Now Ross Turnbull in the Boro goal came for the ball. But he was late.

Lita rose and lofted the header over the keeper’s outstretched arm. The ball bounded toward the goal – and rolled wide of the unobstructed left post.

Like Bent’s play moments before, it was a moment of great skill lacking in the final application. We remained scoreless.

The ebb and flow of the game in its early stages had been really fun to watch. Now Boro surged back into things, with Bent and Josh Walker working the ball methodically to the edge of our eighteen.

Walker, though, actually put his foot on the ball to hold up play, while Osbourne looked at him like he had two heads. But instead, Walker had a plan.

He played the ball square to his left looking for Clint Dempsey, and my countryman took two strides before dropping the ball back to Alidiere, who hit it first time.

He hit a sweeping, bending shot that gave Federici no chance, crashing home to put Boro into the lead with nineteen minutes on the clock.

Thankfully the crowd was painfully small, especially for us of late, so the outrage expressed wasn’t of the volume it otherwise might have been.

It didn’t matter, though. We still trailed.

There was another thing that didn’t matter – our game plan. That was just as annoying as the falling behind part.

The kids immediately began to press after falling behind. The goal had come early enough to cause some significant distress in the psyches of players like Saivet and Fleck, who were trying to make impression and felt themselves behind in their tasks.

So, they surged forward, with an enthusiasm that bordered on recklessness at times. Saivet and Fleck actually switched positions at one point, which is a no-no in my tactic unless I expressly allow it.

Noticing this, I shot Saivet a baleful stare, since he was the one who should have known better. Well, both of them should have known, but since Fleck was making his debut I cut him a little bit of slack.

That didn’t mean he got away scot-free, if you’ll pardon the expression. My shouted instructions to ‘mind your own side of the park’ registered in the form of an embarrassed expression from the youngster.

Yet as the half wore on, we weren’t showing much life. The youngsters were huffing and puffing, but not only couldn’t they blow Boro’s house down, they weren’t even moving the twigs of the straw house.

It was nerves, pure and simple. The youngsters were continuing to have trouble while the veterans selected couldn’t steady them.

Bent walked right around Gaspari a few minutes later and was one on one with Federici, but pulled his effort wide to our great relief.

The crowd, such as it was, was starting to get a bit restless. The central defence looked shaky at the absolute best, but we were making up for it by providing no service to the strikers. Great balance, huh?

Finally, though, we did manage a decent opportunity. It didn’t come from the strikers, though. It came from Osbourne, who was now starting to stand tall in the holding position.

Halls was the provider, which was good for him personally. He crossed from the right and found Kitson, who had leapt over Hines.

However, Hines’ positioning meant that even with the height advantage, Kitson didn’t have a route to goal. So, he laid the header back to Osbourne, crashing up the middle with a purpose.

Isaiah had the opportunity to actually set himself to shoot, while Turnbull’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. Osbourne wound up, and shot over.

The look of frustration on his face was shared by most of us. You have to hit the target, of course. As he backpedaled back up the park for Turnbull’s goal kick, we all viewed it as opportunity lost. That hurt, but there’s no better way to teach than through constructive criticism. We didn’t have to say a word.

However, he had a chance at redemption just before halftime. The match had really slowed down by that point, with Redknapp content to play for the interval since he had the lead.

We did put on a bit more pressure toward the two minutes of added time, with Hines forced to head Halls’ cross from deep behind for a corner that Harper hurried to take.

He approached the ball and hit a high, arcing effort to the back post. There was Osbourne again, trying to make his presence felt.

He easily towered over Dempsey, who was late in his leap, and powered a ferocious header toward goal. This time, it smacked against the base of Turnbull’s right goalpost and stayed out – actually rebounding directly into the arms of the well beaten keeper, who gratefully clutched it to his chest.

Now Osbourne had his head in his hands, which wasn’t good. Mark Halsey’s halftime whistle was the best thing for us. These kids needed to settle down.

# # #

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I skipped the match reports and looked at the scores at the end, because I couldn't be bothered TBH. But the few I did read were really good.

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Admittedly, there's a lot there. Some people who contact me like my match writing while others prefer subplots and story arcs. Thanks for your kind words.

___

At the break, we had what I guess you could call a ‘teachable moment’.

There wasn’t any recrimination. I reminded Osbourne, as upset as he was, that his job isn’t necessarily to score. That was part of a larger reminder to those players whose job is to score that I needed to see better from them.

Boro had hardly bothered us in terms of generating opportunities, but Aliadiere had taken his chance while we hadn’t. Naturally, that was the difference.

But, since the squad was young, they didn’t get the hair dryer. Dillon and I gently reminded them that there was a second half to play and that sticking to the plan, and not running around like chickens with their heads cut off, would pay dividends in the end.

I did need a word with Fleck personally, though, and the youngster took the instruction well. Calling Saivet into the conversation was also a good idea when the moment was right.

Henri is learning only basic English and my French is rotten, so substitute Andre Bikey was called into help translate exactly what I needed. The three of us had a quiet conversation in two different languages, and God only knows what Fleck was saying at times.

Yet, we seemed to be on the same sheet of music as we broke for the second half. Boro was stealing a march on us to be sure, having had a difficult half but coming out on top despite it all.

I was watching Redknapp’s formation closely as the second half began. Sitting on a lead for 45 minutes against us was a bit of a risky proposition, even though the team was of course not at full strength.

The answer I got from him was 4-4-2. Immediately, Osbourne tried to interject himself into the play again, and again, he was denied.

This time it wasn’t by the keeper, or a post. It was by Josh Walker, who just hauled him down and wound up in Halsey’s book as a result. His energy was impressive – and it certainly was helping us.

Fleck showed he got the message a few minutes later too, taking off on a searing run down the (correct) left side, and forcing Hines into a similar foul with a similar result.

However, we weren’t doing a good job of getting the ball into good shooting positions, and that was becoming painfully obvious.

But again, Osbourne tried to ride to the rescue. This time, Cathcart actually generated a chance, off a corner earned eleven minutes after the restart.

Challenging Turnbull, Cathcart rose and headed powerfully toward goal, only to see Woodgate clear his header off the line, pooching the ball only about five yards ahead.

The rebound spun to the left, and right into the path of Osbourne, now determined to set things right.

A football goal contains 192 square feet of target space. It is 24 feet wide by eight feet high. Of those 192 square feet, about eighteen of them were covered by the bodies of Woodgate, now scrambling to regain his feet, and Turnbull, who was hopelessly out of position.

Osbourne managed to find the latter with his shot, cranking a drive that went directly at the keeper and off his legs.

This time his look wasn’t one of frustration, but rather of resignation. It was a horrible sign to see, but at least he was still plugging away. He had spurned three amazing chances and with the march of time now starting to really work against us, I was starting to wonder how many more chances we’d get.

Meanwhile, Cathcart was starting to stand up for himself. That was at least the minimum required. A second header from a corner a few minutes later forced Turnbull into a save and at the other end he was starting to dominate in the air. It was a glimpse of his massive potential being realized.

However, players like Lita were practically invisible. The strike partnership with Kitson was accomplishing exactly and precisely nothing, which was starting to worry me. It was 67 minutes before Lita got the ball in a meaningful position, and then he shot over the bar.

The match ticked over seventy minutes and the very real need to generate real offense started me in the face. We were having much the better of play but just not finding the finishing touch.

Redknapp went to his bench first, removing Aliadiere for Mariano Pavone as the clock passed 73 minutes. The kids had had their chance – now it was time to try to stay in the Cup.

I made a double substitution soon afterward, removing the ineffective Kitson for the pace of Dagoberto and replacing Saivet with Maloney, giving my Old Firm connection a chance to play together in a 4-3-3 with fifteen minutes to play.

Maloney made an immediate difference. The play swung through him when we were on the attack and, freshly buoyed by his first goal of the season against West Ham, looked hungry for another.

His optimism was also infectious and the younger players immediately followed his lead. A surging run down the right resulted in fine service for Dagoberto, who forced Turnbull into a fine save at feet on his running shot from sixteen yards.

Maloney wasn’t done. Now playing the right side as the attacking midfielder in the formation, so Fleck could stay in his natural position on the left, he did almost the exact same thing not two minutes later., This time he zoomed past Julio Arca to launch another moon shot into the middle of the Boro six-yard box.

Dagoberto was never going to be tall enough to handle it, so it wasn’t surprising to see Wheater tower over him to head the ball back in the vicinity of whence it came.

What was a bit surprising was to see Maloney’s exceptional anticipation. He saw the ball come off Wheater’s forehead and ran to the spot, leaving Arca flailing in his wake.

He got to the ball first, brought the ball to ground with a wonderful first touch, and unleashed a left-footed volley that Turnbull saw too late.

It was artfully struck, and ten minutes from time we were level.

Those fans who could be bothered to show up were now on their feet, with Maloney celebrating a superb strike to make it 1-1.

Now the whole calculus changed. I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of extra time for Maloney and Dagoberto, but I had to consider it.

Maloney had no such ideas, though. His energy continued unabated, and Redknapp soon made two substitutions of his own. Jonathan Franks came off in favor of Matthew Bates and Bent came off in favor of Sanli Tuncay.

Bent is regarded as a better penalty taker than Tuncay, so I counted us a bit lucky there. Meanwhile, I schemed for a way to put a side out that would conserve its legs for extra time.

The sides danced around each other for the next few minutes and it was then determined we faced three minutes of extra time.

I had Bikey warmed up and ready as my final substitution, and he prepared to step onto the pitch at the end of added time.

Arca was having a horrible time containing whichever of our midfielders was opposite him. Not that I minded that, but now it was Harper who was running past him. I love James as a player but to call him fleet of foot would be frankly ridiculous.

Yet Arca was nowhere to be found and Harper now found Osbourne, determined to make something happen once again.

He sized up a shot from about thirty yards and swung his leg back to take a long effort, but then slid the ball deftly to the right for Maloney.

This time, he cut to the inside against Wheater. His first shot had beaten Turnbull to the keeper’s left post. His second shot beat Turnbull to his right, with about forty seconds of added time remaining.

Amid the celebration, I looked at Bikey.

“I’d like you to go on anyway,” I said, and the midfielder returned my wide grin. “Little bit of a different purpose, though.”

We both knew what it was, and we both knew that Shaun Maloney had stolen us a cup tie.

Reading 2 (Maloney 2nd 80, 3rd 90)

Middlesbrough 1 (Jeremie Aliadiere 2nd 19)

A – 12,368, The Madejski Stadium, Reading

Man of the Match – Shaun Maloney, Reading (MR 8)

# # #

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Gotta love the veterans! "Loyalty, Rob! Loyalty above all!" I also liked the brief scene in the dressing room using Bikey as a translator regarding Fleck's half-time talk. Interesting perspective which makes your story that much better.

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STILL with the last-minute comebacks! I feel tempted to say that it's 'getting old' and scold you for using the same plot device constantly, but then again, it's not really your fault, is it! :p

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Well, all I can do is write up the matches as they are played. As I understand it the FM08 game engine is really good at generating late goals. I've certainly scored them and I have had them scored against me.

___

“Do not think for a minute that what we did tonight is going to be good enough going forward,” I cautioned our celebrating youngsters.

“Enjoy the win, but remember how it happened. We got two late goals and got a win that we probably shouldn’t have had. They are going to feel hard done by and that’s up to them, but remember that you need to apply for ninety minutes to give yourself the best chance of success.”

Two players – Fleck and Osbourne – took the words to heart. I approached Osbourne and, despite the tone of my words, had some consolation for him.

“Unlucky tonight,” I said. “But remember that if you play your role and play it properly, you’re going to be just fine. Shake this off, okay?”

He wasn’t really all that upset because the match had been won, but I was concerned about the look of resignation he had shown after missing his third chance.

“It’ll be okay,” he replied. “Would have loved to score, though.”

“Wouldn’t we all?” I asked. “Shake this off and learn from it.”

I headed off to the interview area to face the television cameras – this ugliness had actually been televised – but before I got there, I saw Fulton’s smiling face waiting for me.

Evidently, the inspector had more questions. This time, though, she was waiting with a few of the stewards who had passes for the interview area.

That was much better. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of more police questioning, but to find out who is messing around with me and with my employer, I’ll answer whatever questions I can. Just not in public.

Heading to my car, the events of the preceding 24 hours were starting to tell. The emotions of the e-mail and my conversation with Patty were really weighing on my mind.

She hadn’t come to the match tonight and I knew that a decent father-to-be would return home and try to patch things up.

“What the hell,” I thought, as I slid behind the wheel of my car. “I don’t have anything to patch up. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

With that, I drove north instead of east toward home.

# # #

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Well, all I can do is write up the matches as they are played. As I understand it the FM08 game engine is really good at generating late goals. I've certainly scored them and I have had them scored against me.

___

It seems as if FM 08 also mirrored so many of the late goals in this seasons campaign. I can think of more than one Arsenal match coming down to the final 10 minutes. Same with Man U too. Not to mention both the Europa league matches this week, as well as Barca scoring late against Inter.

Fulton in the crowd....ahhh...what a sight for sore eyes, assuming she similar in appearance to the beautiful Alba of real-life (as you've mentioned before). Was she, by chance, wearing leather chaps? OR does that come later? (wink)

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Ah, yes ... the charming, talented and beautiful Alba Fulton ....

___

Wednesday, September 23

“By The Hardest” was the headline that greeted me in tonight’s Post. I don’t suppose that should have come as any great surprise. Last night’s match sure wasn’t easy.

However, I pled extenuating circumstances when meeting with the press today. We were mostly kids out there last night, and they have to learn somehow.

We know our fourth round Carling Cup opponent – it will be Wigan, and the match will be played toward the end of October. This morning, some of the buzz was directed at whose kids did better than others.

Arsenal needed a last-minute goal from Carlos Vela to defeat arch-rival Spurs 1-0 at the Lane, while Villa needed 1-2 minutes to get on the board against Championship side Wolves. Soren Larson netted twice in extra time to give Martin O’Neill’s sluggish starters a 2-0 triumph.

There was good news and bad news for United last night as well. First their good news – Louis Saha connected four times in a 5-2 thrashing of Blackburn. Then there was their bad news – Nani strained knee ligaments and will miss two months.

At least I can sympathize with Coppell on more than one level.

There were several upsets as well. Cardiff, which raised frustration to an art form in last year’s Premiership, knocked off Premiership opponent Sunderland 2-1 at the New Ninian Park, which presumably had everyone doing the Ayatollah.

Charlton, another club recently relegated from the Premiership, won a hugely entertaining 4-3 decision from Bolton at the Valley, and Championship Leicester was bounced out by League One high flyers MK Dons by a 2-0 score that I’m told hardly flattered them at all.

All that said, my goal was to swing the attention to Saturday’s home match against West Brom, at which I hope to see our regular players restore normal service.

The visitors have one win from eight and are in 17th place, with only Derby’s ineptitude keeping them out of a relegation place. We’ve got five wins from eight so far and will enter the match in third place.

On paper, it ought to be a snap. My job is to make sure that, in this case, the game is played just like it were on paper.

We have an opportunity in upcoming matches to gain some ground, but I’m scared of a couple of teams. One is Arsenal, who seems to be able to roll over everyone in our league except for us, and the other is Liverpool.

We do have a match coming up with them in about a month, and the Reds, a year removed from their championship season, are starting to play a lot better.

Cracking the Big Four was hard last season. Doing it again this season will be even tougher.

Thinking back on our first Champions League excursion of the season, I’m reminded of just how tough it’s going to be. Our squad isn’t yet big enough to handle all the different types of challenges we’re going to get with the degree of success people are starting to expect.

PSG was a team we could, and should, have beaten. We didn’t. Middlesbrough was a team we should have handled much more easily than we did. We didn’t.

Now, we didn’t lose either of those games, but I am led to wonder what matches will be like later in the season with a squad full of jaded players and expectations still running high.

That isn’t fun to think about. Yet, it is why I am well paid.

Come to think of it, maybe focusing attention on Saturday’s game isn’t such a good idea after all.

# # #

Freddie Eaton called this afternoon.

He asked where I had been last night after the match when he was trying to reach me by phone.

I told him I had gone for a drive that wound up turning into a 90-minute sojourn along the Thames. I needed to clear my head and I needed to vent my emotions without anyone else to see or overhear.

It hurts. It hurts a lot.

So I was in the mood to read the product of his handiwork this morning. Nice man that he is, the letter Freddie had drawn up for my solicitor’s approval wasn’t nice at all. It was the communication that terminated the relationship with Hardcastle.

“Rob, it’s done,” he told me. “It’s all set to go, the attorneys have reviewed it for any potential breach of contract and it’s quite clear that this is being done on the advice of police. But I have also been asked by DCI Fulton to enquire with you as to what plans you have made for security.”

“At this point, none,” I said. “So I would prefer that the letter not be sent until such time as those plans are finalized.”

“That is wise,” he agreed. “In the meantime, however, you should lay low. That would be my advice to both of you from a public relations standpoint.”

“It’s from a police standpoint too,” I said. “Inspector Fulton has already told me that she doesn’t want to see us caught in any crossfire between Hardcastle and McGuire. Or anyone else, for that matter.”

“And crossfire, it could be,” Eaton said.

“Freddie, I didn’t know that you were a tactical expert too,” I smiled.

“Rob, I’ve fought plenty of political battles in my day,” he said. “I’ve got eyes in the back of my head, or so some people tell me. I don’t like the sense I’m getting when I think of this dispute. I’d advise you to stay as far away from it as you possibly can.”

“What else can I do, aside from shave my head and become a monk?” I asked. “It’s frustrating, Freddie. I have a job to do, sometimes I have appearances to make, and I can’t do any of these things because I’m worried about something happening. That’s no way to live!”

“I agree, it’s not,” he said. “But do remember that the worm does eventually turn, Rob. You’ve done nothing wrong, at least nothing you’ve told me about. So that said, this will eventually turn for the better.”

“Sometimes I think it would be better to just leave,” I admitted.

“Don’t,” Eaton advised. “Stay here, do what you are good at doing, and be strong. You’ll see. All will come right.”

His advice was almost paternal, and at that moment I could certainly have used a father’s advice.

“We’ll see,” I said. I thanked him for his time, he told me the letter would be e-mailed to me for final approval, and we hung up.

Just then, my office phone rang again. I saw it was my father-in-law on the caller ID. Either Patty had been talking with him about Hardcastle, or my day was about to get worse for some other random reason.

Either way, it didn’t bode well.

# # #

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“I will not argue with you over this, Martin. Not now. Not ever.”

The reappearance of my father-in-law in my life was as unwelcome as it was surprising. Neither emotion was an attractive thing to contemplate.

I know, football managers who don’t like surprises are probably in the wrong line of work. Yet, after having laid low for such a long time, the retired auto worker was now back into things with a vengeance.

“I hear you’re firing my daughter’s bodyguard,” he said.

“That’s right. And with good reason.”

“What does she think about that?”

“Well, after talking to her about it, my thought is that she’s okay with it.”

“Have you considered what’s best for her?” he asked, assuming his usual challenging tone.

“You know what? First, I don’t answer to you. And second, since I’m in a very good mood, I will answer your question anyway. Yes, I’ve considered what’s best for her, both from a personal protection standpoint as well as from a marital one.”

“Come again?”

“Oh, Martin, you didn’t think this all the way through,” I said, my voice now assuming an ever-so-slight mocking tone. “My employee apparently sent a note to my sworn enemy placing a claim on my wife, and on your daughter. Since it’s my judgment that Patty’s marital health is as important as her physical health considering she is carrying my baby, this decision just got a whole lot easier.”

“You need to consider her feelings,” he lectured.

“I do. And I need to consider my family, without intereference. Now, if there’s nothing else, we can either move on to a less confrontational topic, or we can simply say good day.”

Patty wasn’t around so I could say what was on my mind. I frankly find Martin ridiculous at times and now was one of them.

If he thought the idea of his daughter being entrapped – for a second time – was a good idea purely out of spite for me, then I could skip the preliminaries and consider him an official waste of human skin.

My patience is starting to wear thin with certain people. Martin Myers has just zoomed to the top of the list.

# # #

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Tell me about it...Martin Myers reminds me of Mr. Pewterschmidt, from the TV Show, The Family Guy, but Rob's got a lot more brains than Peter Griiffin. Definitely enjoyed this confrontation between in-laws.

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The relationship between RR and Martin has been strained from the beginning as you know. Now it appears as though it's broken. A shame, really.

Meanwhile, pardon the slightly short entry today. Gearing up another arc :)

___

Thursday, September 24

One of my plans for the weekend is foiled due to a ham sandwich.

Of all the things that could defeat me, I’d have thought that would be pretty low on the list, until I got a call from Wright this morning on my way in to the ground.

Pulling over to a stop on a side street so I could talk on my mobile, I got bad news. Dagoberto will be unavailable for Saturday after an overnight bout with bad food.

“You know, you could have had better news,” I sighed, as the physio told me that my top striker had lost four pounds overnight and was still sick.

“How many of those things did he eat, a dozen?” I asked, irritably.

“One was plenty, believe me,” Wright answered. “I’m going to go look in on him this afternoon but there’s no way I’m going to clear him for Saturday. He’s too weak now and I don’t see him at match fitness before Saturday.”

Sighing again, I thanked Wright and hung up the phone. My mind was churning as I completed the rest of the trip to the ground.

I have striking options. That much is certain. Maloney, Kalou and Dicã can all play up front so I certainly don’t have a shortage of players to fill in. Even Fleck and Saivet are able to play the position, in addition to Lita and Long.

The trick will be to decide whether I want a big-little combination, as I generally prefer, or if I want to try something different. Lita didn’t seem to show much in his last start, which has been customary for him during my time here, so my preference is to keep him as the elite bench option that he has become.

The other option I’m toying with is playing Baptista as a fast striker, which might sound like a contradiction in terms. His pace isn’t bad – and I have long been curious to see how he would play off Kitson.

Now, I have a decision to make. I confess that I don’t mind making that decision against the 17th placed team instead of against, say, Chelsea, but it’s a decision nonetheless since we all play for the game three points every week.

Telling Dillon of the situation brought about the same reaction from my deputy, which I guess I expected. We have lots of thinking to do between now and then.

Dagoberto’s absence from training was duly noted by Weatherby, and I had to give the news to the press at my daily briefing that we will be without our top scorer.

That will generate the usual number of alarmist headlines, but those are the least of my worries. I know my team, and I think we will pull through.

# # #

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“You are kidding me.”

Hardcastle sat at his desk, trying not to crumple the letter into the ball he so desperately wanted to form.

All sorts of thoughts raced through his head. None of them were positive.

He had never been fired from a job in all his years in private service – until now. The letter had been curt, perfunctory – and infuriating.

“So I’m sacked,” he said aloud. “Bloody f***ing hell.”

He looked to his right, to a shadow box hung on the wall between the windows of his third-floor London office.

The box contained decorations from those military operations he been involved with that he was allowed to talk about. At times like these, Hardcastle liked to remind himself of what he had once been.

It was better to do that than think about what he had become.

He looked around his office, which was festooned with memorabilia from his military days. Models of military vehicles, both modern and historical, sat neatly on rows of a specially built bookshelf to his left. Framed pictures of old mates rested on a section of wall directly opposite his desk, by the door.

A new picture, though, now sat on his desk. It was of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington.

The picture was there for several reasons, only one of which was for inspiration in his work. Hardcastle looked at the photo and reflected.

“Work hard,” Hardcastle reminded himself, speaking aloud to no one but himself. “And be patient.”

Kitty Pakenham could attest to the power of patience. That was the main reason the picture had recently appeared on the corner of his desk. He was there to serve as a reminder. Wellington, the hero of Waterloo, had waited thirteen years to marry Pakenham.

So, Hardcastle thought, he could have a living reminder of his goal without arousing suspiscion on the part of any office visitor. Secrecy was everything, and hidden meaning the story of his life.

There were no family pictures in his office, because he had no family he cared to think about. He had joined the Army at age eighteen, with his mother deceased and his father nowhere to be found. In another day, he might have been a better candidate for the French Foreign Legion.

He had risen through the ranks and his superiors had been keenly impressed by Hardcastle’s complete disregard for his own physical safety. When the time had come to go to Basra, they recommended him for special duty, which he had performed with a relish.

He was legend in his unit. Stories abounded of how Hardcastle, or simply “Hardman” to his friends, had gone places, done things, and even killed enemies in numbers his mates found hard to believe.

On his desk, there rested an opened copy of one his regimental yearbooks. It was opened to the page containing his picture, along with a caption by which his mates could remember him.

Combs his hair with a flamethrower,” it read. He thought it fit, which is why he was mad enough to roast his former employer.

Yet, it wasn’t time, and if he did, he probably wouldn’t reach his ultimate goal.

“Be patient,” he repeated, now of a slightly different mind concering the letter. He took a deep breath, and sat back in his high-backed office chair.

Leaning forward again, Hardcastle pulled a special file out of his desk and carefully placed the letter inside it. Folding the file’s cover over, he now smoothed it flat with his hand, subconsciously almost stroking the paper, before returning the file to its regular place.

Now he looked over to his right, by the windows, where his file system sat. Those were the files his staff knew about.

He produced a key, and locked his desk. Some files – well, they just needed to remain secret, didn’t they?

Hardcastle was still angry, but now he had a sense of purpose that was different than the one he had had only a few minutes before. Usually, the morning mail brought good news but today, it had brought disaster.

Not so much a business disaster, but a personal one. Those were always harder to abide.

# # #

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WOOT! WOOT! Brilliant post! This is exactly the kind of post which makes you my nominated candidate for Writer of the Year in the fall!

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Why thank you, sir!

___

“You fired him.”

“Yes.”

Patty looked at me with an expression of relief mixed with apprehension. That’s a tough combination to manage, but she did it.

I tried to read her, as we sat at our dinner table. I had ordered in so we could have time to discuss the day’s events and our next move.

She was resigned to her fate in terms of having to speak with her father again. I told her about the conversation we had had and her reaction was thankfully supportive.

The rift between my father in law and me is probably never going to be completely repaired. That’s too bad. Two people as stubborn as we are, with one of them as wrong as he is, are going to have trouble just on general principle.

Still, though, it’s a difficult situation for her to be in. She loves both of us but knows full well that she should support her husband. At least, I think she does.

She picked at her food, the very act showing her stress.

She has developed a taste for Thai food, and to see her moving her portions around her plate rather than ‘eating for two’ showed me there were big things on her mind.

I was about to ask her to come out with her trouble, but this time something stopped me. Usually I like to get conflict out in the open as the first step toward resolution, but there was a hard check on that thought in my mind now.

She wasn’t ready. That much was clear.

Finally, she looked up and her eye seemed clear.

“You know I signed for another modeling job,” she said.

I found it interesting how a facial expression could transfer from one face to another so quickly.

I elected to try humor in response.

“No, but hum a few bars and I can try to fake the rest,” I smiled.

“Rob.”

“No, I didn’t know you had signed for another modeling job. And how did you do that? Through McGuire’s company?”

“Freddie handled my representation,” she said. “I want nothing to do with Peter and I think you know that.”

“But you’re going to make him a lot of money,” I said. “You know that.”

“For now, yes,” she said. “But the job I’ll be doing doesn’t involve swimwear for obvious reasons, it’s for maternity wear, and I just need to get back into my profession for awhile. I can’t just sit around and rot, Rob. I have too much time to think and that isn’t good.”

I certainly can’t begrudge Patty her career. However, I had something to say and I needed to say it.

“I thought you weren’t going to model until the baby is born,” I said.

“I have the right to change my mind,” she said simply. “Surely you can’t be that controlling, Rob?”

“Of course not,” I replied. But now, it was time to bring things to a head.

“I just want to know your thought process. Are you taking shoots to get away from the things you’re thinking about, or are you taking shoots to get away from me?”

That was pretty bald-faced. I had to admit it to myself.

Her expression now was one of surprise. In that regard, the direct approach had certainly succeeded.

“Why would you ask that, Rob?” she asked.

“Because I want to know the answer,” I said. “If you think I’m stifling you, now’s the time to say so – before you go back to work.”

She looked at me. “You know, sometimes I feel sorry for you, Rob,” she replied. “I don’t say that because I’m angry, I just say it because there’s something in your makeup that means you have to be in control. I suppose you’re in the perfect job for that, but it must be hard.”

I took her rebuke calmly. Taking a deep breath, I replied in a tone that was just as calm.

“I ask because I am a human being, a man who loves his wife,” I replied. “Part of being a good husband is taking the time to learn his wife’s needs and to respect her feelings. I don’t say this to control you, I say it because I want you to be happy. Now, will you please answer my question?”

My calm demeanor evidently took her by surprise. She went back to her food, sipping at a lukewarm cup of tea before deciding she needed a warmup.

She rose from the table and walked to the stove, where a pot was warming. She refreshed her cup, and sat back down, watching the steam rise from the mug.

“Rob, I need to get away,” she said. “It’s not anything bad, I don’t want a divorce or anything like that, but there’s so much pressure around you – around us – I just need some time away.”

I could certainly understand that. She could leave, but I didn’t have that luxury.

“Where are you going?” I asked. I was resigned to my fate. She would be leaving again. And the last time she had left while pregnant – well, I didn’t really want to remember that.

“The shoot is in Monaco,” she said. “And we aren’t telling anyone about it, since we’re going to have to hire private security now that Steven isn’t in the picture.”

It could have been worse. She could have been going back to the States.

“Who’s going to handle your father about this?” I asked.

“I will. Did you think I’d make you do it?”

I said nothing. We fell into silence, both of us now picking at our food.

I guess misery loves company.

# # #

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Really, really enjoying this story mate, it was hard for me to catch up as a newbie but i'm starting to get the plot now :thup:.

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Friday, September 25

I’d like Freddie Eaton to do a little homework for me.

With my energies focused on tomorrow’s matchup with West Brom, I don’t have a whole lot of time to start the process of finding new security for Patty. Since that’s mission-critical, I want someone I trust to start that job.

And, since the list of people I can trust seems to be getting shorter by the day, Freddie’s loyalty has been very much appreciated.

In fact, he hired a search company to make us a recommendation, which is something I should have done when I hired Hardcastle. It was part of a good argument, in my mind, for having the professionals handle such things.

Our conversation this morning was highly professional and I appreciated it. I was trying to concentrate on the match and trying to restore a sense of normalcy to the training schedule.

For the first time since the latest bugging incident, Fulton was not at training. That was great for me, but not so good for the single players on my first team who like looking at her.

The focus did us good. Crutching my way to the outdoor training area on a simply beautiful early fall day, all I could hope for was a work day that would be as nice as the weather.

Dagoberto, naturally, was not present since he only stopped tossing his cookies last night. I’ve decided what I want to do with my strikers, though, so we had an uninterrupted day of training with the strike force that will be available to play.

I am going to pair Baptista with Kitson and see what happens. Sooner or later I’m going to need to know how those two will play together and even though Kitson’s understanding with Dagoberto is wonderful, he needs to show he can adapt his game to the power Baptista offers us.

For a change, things were quiet.

I ascended the steps to the platform where I’m now watching training while I heal up, and the players jogged to their positions for the opening drills. Dillon stood in the center of the ground, very much the man in charge.

Just for a moment, I thought that normal service might be restored.

At that point, my mobile phone buzzed. Frowning, I answered it – now that I’m not on the training ground with the players anymore, I can carry it with me – and saw it was Fulton.

“Mr. Ridgway, you are needed in your office,” she said by way of greeting. “I need your thoughts on a piece of mail you’ve just received.”

“From whom?” I asked.

“I highly suspect a fictitious return address,” she said. “But please come to your office. Your presence is required.”

So much for the ‘ordinary day’.

# # #

Arriving at my office, I greeted Fulton but her return expression was one of concern.

“Take a look at the photograph on your desk,” she said. “It came in an envelope addressed to you. Don’t touch it, but look at it.”

Frowning, I advanced to my desk, and recoiled in shock at the photograph I saw.

It was a framed picture of Peter McGuire holding Patty in his arms, and it was smeared with dried blood.

# # #

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First yesterday's hammering blow. Now today's.

I imagine the commentator announcing, "10-3's got Copper on the ropes in the corner of the ring and is pummeling him with plot twists. A few more punishing plot points shots like these and it appears that Copper will need a standing eight count."

Solid writing as ever, my friend.

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I have to admire your efforts in maintaining the story line.

I can handle one tale at a time and introduce twists as and when it seems that the tale needs such a thing.

I think that I manage to make a reasonable stab at it - and get away with it.

To have two or three tales coinciding with each other is something that you seem to handle with ease. For me that country would be a desert upon which I would not survive.

I find your style to be very entertaining and something I look for every time I log on.

Congratulations.

Your friend

Jim.

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He missed the target, though, and my Socceroo keeper was untroubled.

Sorry, just reading the Carling Cup game v Middlesborough (I'm behind a bit) and read this, and was so inspired I had to say.........

GO YOU BL**DY 'ROOS!!!!!!!

*ahem* Sorry. Will regain my composure sometime soon. Carry on. :)

(suffice to say I'd be the twit in the crowd with the 'roos keeper's jersey, Aussie flag, and Fed's name and number on the back - there's always one I'm sure)

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Rob is going through a very difficult time ... thanks for the comments, fellows!

___

“You’re kidding,” I said to no one.

The picture was, thankfully, of a younger Patty Myers. Blanching at the sight of the picture as well as at the sight of the evidence it contained on its face, I looked away, my eyes tightly closed.

“I’m sorry you had to see that, Mr. Ridgway,” Fulton said, as kindly as she could.

“You aren’t the only one,” I sighed. “What’s the story behind that?”

“Paula Ryan opened it about half an hour ago,” Fulton said, referring to my personal assistant. “It came in the morning post. We’re checking it all for prints but as of now the only prints on the photo appear to be Mr. McGuire’s.”

“Makes sense,” I mused. “Not that any of this has to make sense. Why would it come here, to me?”

“I had rather hoped you might help us with that,” Fulton admitted. “The obvious answer, of course, is Mr. Hardcastle.”

That did seem easy. Almost too easy, in fact, but then that isn’t my job to determine. My job is to manage a football club and somehow try to keep my family together. The challenge seemed to be getting larger and larger all the time.

“Does Patty know about this?” I asked.

“Yes, she has been informed,” Fulton said. “I understand she is leaving the country soon?”

I sighed. “Yes,” I replied. “Looks like fairly soon, but I’m not sure as to the exact timetable. She would know that better than I.”

“You haven’t talked about it?” Fulton asked.

“She hasn’t shared it with me,” I said. “I’m sure she will when the time is right.”

“Do you know her exact travel plans?”

“No,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“Steven Hardcastle is now a person of interest in this case,” Fulton said. “Considering the correspondence he may have had with Mr. McGuire concerning your wife, I think I would keep a close eye on her plans if I were you.”

“Do you mean to tell me that he might try something when she leaves?” I asked. I was thunderstruck.

Fulton nodded her head toward one of my guest chairs. “May I sit down?” she asked.

“Of course,” I answered. “I’m sorry, Inspector, I forgot my manners.”

She sat, crossing her legs in front of her.

“Mr. Ridgway, this photo is a clear message sent by someone,” she said. “Surely you can see that. For this photo to be taken from Mr. McGuire’s home while he was being beaten could suggest no other thing. Since your wife is in the photo, I would do everything I could do to make sure her plans remain as secret as possible, if you understand my meaning.”

So, Fulton thinks Patty’s in danger. That’s the last thing in the world I need, on more than one front.

Either that, or she thinks I am. Both men want my wife. And she is going to be away from me for a time. Perhaps that is my imagination running away with me, but I’d rather not take the chance.

“I could just cry,” I said, leaning heavily back in my office chair.

“Mr. Ridgway, you need to do what you need to do,” Fulton advised. “We do ask, however, that either you or your wife notify us of her plans. We may need to know where she is and God forbid, we might need to check on her well-being from time to time.”

“Is it really that bad?” I asked.

“It could be,” she said. “Let’s don’t mince words about that, Mr. Ridgway. Attempts have been made on both of you within the last two years, and it appears as though the stars are lining up, if you will, for some fool to try again.”

“So the bugging of my office might have nothing at all to do with the takeover of the club?”

Fulton sighed heavily as she thought, her shoulders rising and falling with just a touch of the dramatic.

“It’s possible, but I’m not prepared to say that for certain and neither is Commander Fowler,” she replied. “Mr. Ridgway, all I am saying is that you need to take precautions for your wife’s safety. Too many people don’t do that these days.”

“I have our representatives finding a new security firm this morning,” I said.

“That’s good,” she replied. “If you would be so good as to let us know what is determined, I would be in your debt.”

She seemed to be showing an unusual amount of deference. While most men would have loved to see such an action from such a beautiful woman, for me it seemed almost unnerving.

“Inspector, you can just tell me what you want,” I said, cutting to the chase. “There’s no need for you to make requests of me. I am a busy man, you are a busy woman, and if an instruction of yours means helping ensure my family’s safety, I assure you I will obey it to the letter.”

She looked at me without saying a word.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Ridgway,” she finally said. “I know you are busy and I merely wanted to show respect for your schedule and your sensibilities.”

Now I smiled. “Inspector, there’s no trouble,” I said. “I’d just like you to take charge of me in this. I haven’t done anything wrong yet I’m the one who seems to bear the brunt of all the trouble. I would like to know what to do to get my team and my life back to some sense of normalcy and I’m relying on you to help me do that.”

Our eyes met.

“Fair enough, Inspector?” I asked.

She smiled. “Fair enough,” she answered.

# # #

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Fantastic reading as always, 10-3

I hadn't posted something in a while, thought it was about time.

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Thanks. Pan ... always great to hear from you :) And I have been remiss in welcoming new readers like Docklanders to the thread, so I will rectify that now.

___

Saturday, September 26

Reading (5-3-0, 3rd place) v West Brom (1-2-5, 17th place) – EPL Match Day # 9

“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

The words of the cartoon character J. Wellington Wimpy seemed to echo through my head as I drove to the stadium this morning.

Right after the match today, we leave for Hamburg and our first away test in the Champions League against the German powerhouse Hamburg SV. With matches just 72 hours apart, the test – and the decision – for me was one of priorities.

I owe the Champions League my best shot until we can’t do anything else in that competition. There’s the potential for huge money there and to make it to the knockout stages would be something that would be very special for this club.

Unfortunately, since we didn’t do the business against PSG, we now need to do it away from home. Somehow I’m not exactly optimistic about the home-and-home against Barcelona that follows. If we want to avoid sinking out of sight in our group, we need to get on the stick on Tuesday.

But first, there’s the matter of a league match that is very important to us. Staying with this pack is vital if we want to avoid getting swamped in our league too. So, with a squad a bit thinner than I would like, I have no choice but to prioritize.

There was a lot to think about. With the match against the Germans coming up I need a set of healthy strikers first and all – and I haven’t got that.

But what I also don’t have is the sort of depth that will allow me to interchange as I wish. Arriving first in the changing room I wrote the eleven on the wipe board outside my office door. Barring pestilence, it’s a lot like the eleven I am going to play on Tuesday night. I have no choice.

Lobont

Ferreira

Pogatetz

Huth

Sonko

Magallón

Dicã

Kalou

Maloney

Baptista

Kitson

Substitutes

Federici

Bikey

Rosenior

Golbourne

Harper

Saivet

Lita

Not a bad selection of eighteen – if we didn’t have a match to play three days hence followed by an away day at Wigan on the Saturday week.

Sitting down in my office chair, I was left to remark that this was indeed why I signed up, but sometimes I really don’t enjoy thinking about it.

“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” I mumbled, repeating the words of Popeye the Sailor’s sidekick. The bill for what I needed to have happen today will come due in Hamburg on Tuesday night.

Hamburger SV. My play on words was hackneyed, but the concept was right on the nose.

# # #

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Ah, you can know that your additional stories are working well when the football takes a back seat to it all. I was almost disappointed that this post was about football! :p

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Well, Balty, I appreciate that. The arcs I am presently writing have been a lot of fun and they seem to resonate, which is a nice bonus!

___

Speaking of payment on Tuesday, the papers this morning had the story of an impending takeover at Fulham.

Mohamed Al-Fayed is ready to sell up after a colorful career as chairman at Craven Cottage. Managers have come and gone there and the club is now back in the Premiership after a relegation two years ago.

I suppose now he feels it’s time to leave, but I do feel that when he goes, the Premiership will lose one of its chairmen who has an abiding love for club.

Board member Nathan Thomas wants to run the show there, and the word in The Mirror this morning was that Al-Fayed is ready to let him.

Time marches on. And since Fulham is evidently a club that Sidney Richmond does not want, it marches on in a different direction.

# # #

Prior to the match today, I got a piece of both good and interesting news.

Niklas Berg, one of the young players I brought in last January and who will be a candidate for a loan this January, led the line for Wally Downes’ reserves against Chelsea’s reserves this morning.

The 18-year old scored the only goal of the match as we beat them 1-0. That was a great scoreline for me to see, given the reluctance I have had at times to dip into my reserves. There are good players there – Long, Golbourne and Osbourne to name just three – but to see them take Chelsea down a peg is news I can use.

Cathcart and Gaspari are the central pairing in that team and both of them are just about ready to make the big jump. That result was important for us and it was important for me to see.

Those players reported to the main players’ lounge after their match and most of them were in a pretty good mood. They would do their plunge pools, take their treatments and then watch the senior game.

The place was just a little short of capacity as we took the pitch. West Brom’s traveling support was both large and loud, so that left only one alternative to explain why the place wasn’t full.

The Baggies were better out of the chute, which, considering some of our recent play, wasn’t terribly surprising.

Hungarian international Balasz Dzsudsak carved out the first good opportunity of the match, swinging ball into the middle for Swiss international Bierim Dzemalli. To complete the troika of “Baggie Names Hard To Pronounce”, he then slid a pass to Israeli international Roberto Colautti.

He, however, has simply pronounced his name ‘g-o-a-l’ since his arrival from Borussia Moenchengladbach last season, netting 17 times in league play and four more times internationally.

He moved in, sized up his shot and tried Lobont from twenty-five yards, hammering his shot well wide in the process six minutes into the match.

They kept up the pressure, though, forcing Kalou to scramble the ball away a few moments later with a thundering clearance that drifted down the left where Maloney was first to it.

He was even given time to play the bounce, which I found odd. He moved forward, looking for options, and made it all the way to the byline before turning the ball to the middle. That was also odd.

His cross was headed behind by the ex-Royal, Alan Bennett, for a corner that Maloney promptly took.

His in-swinger from the left side found Kitson, but he headed the ball inaccurately, back across the six. Bennett had the opportunity to clear his lines, but was under pressure from Baptista.

Julio tried to beat him to the ball. Bennett elected to clear with his feet – and knocked it right past Jamie Ashdown at the left post for an own goal.

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Do whatever to West Brom, but just Make for Damn Sure you whip HSV apart.

WE LOVE ST PAULI! WE DO! WE LOVE ST PAULI! WE DO! WE LOVE ST PAULI! WE DO! OH ST PAULI WE LOVE YOU! OI! OI!

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And I have been remiss in welcoming new readers like Docklanders to the thread, so I will rectify that now.

Not sure what that means, but yes, i'm really enjoying it :).

Shame you're constantly pushing my story down the page :(.

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