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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"


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Seems Richmond is omnipotent.

As good as ever 10-3, keeps me on the edge of my seat for one, and that's difficult for me to keep up with daily installments, I mean I might fall off my chair one of these days....

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What Richmond is, is a judge of character - both good and bad.


Friday, November 13

Today is the day the superstitious hide and everyone else laughs at them while pretending not to care.

I wasn’t superstitious, dragging the coaches in for a meeting today.

The purpose was to go over the scouting report on Blackburn for next weekend – but also to review video of PSG, our next opponent in the Champions League.

We’ll play the Frenchmen away from home on the 24th, just three days after our Saturday matchup against Rovers. So it looks like we’re going to be busy again after the international break.

Our internationals will be asked to play a fair amount of football over the next 14 days, with two World Cup qualifiers scheduled for next week before the players return to their clubs. Then we play twice in succession but this time we get a bit of a break from the schedule maker.

We don’t play away from home on either side of our Champions League tie, so that’s a blessing. After traveling to Paris, we then don’t have to play until Sunday and then when we do, we’re at home to my old friend Roland Nilsson and Portsmouth.

It’s also a part of our fixture list where we should be expected to do well. Pompey and Blackburn have five victories between them to this point in the season, with Rovers having only two to go with nine defeats.

In fact, they’re 19th in the table so we’ll be expected to win and win well when we get back to play.

PSG hasn’t been playing up to expectation either, currently running fifth in Ligue One, and Pompey will come to the Mad Stad in either 13th or 14th place depending on how their match goes prior to coming to see us.

So, we ought to do well. Ought to, that is.

Of course, we won’t do anything at all without preparation. While on the surface we should do quite well in our next two home matches, we want to win the right way. That’s going to mean returning to our form of early in the season, where we got off to such a strong start and grabbed matches by the throat.

Every team goes through funks, through dips in form that disappoint fans and frustrate managers. I’d like ours to end and I’d like to see us play the way we’re capable of playing again.

Yet we all know it’s a high wire we walk when we have these expectations. The road to Premiership success is littered with clubs who put too much pressure on themselves to beat the makeweights of their fixture list and tripped over the hurdle in the process.

It’s a tricky job to motivate these players while at the same time reminding them that they really should be doing better than they are.

Dillon is good at it, which is why he’s going to be a manager someplace else someday. That is, if he doesn’t succeed me first.

This morning’s meeting was organizational as much as anything else, mainly because most of us have been recharging our batteries for the last week. I played golf again yesterday and managed to break 90, not bad for not playing in over a year prior to this week.

So I actually had my mind clear as we watched video of our next few opponents.

We watched video for about an hour, concentrating first on Blackburn before turning our attention to PSG.

Breaking for coffee, I strode down the hall of the training center into the coaches’ lounge to get the required stuff of life from a pot along the back wall.

Sighing, I poured myself a cup and looked out the back window toward the stadium. Dark, low clouds scooted across the horizon from west to east, a sure sign of the approach of winter.

I don’t care for winter. I’ve never liked cold and it frankly was one of the selling points in my leaving the American Midwest, the place of my birth.

I hate snow too, so when it happens I’m generally in a bad mood. Good things happen over the winter, of course, but to me the best thing that happens is that the days end meaning spring is one day closer to coming.

Jaded? Sure. I’m a curmudgeon.

I sipped my coffee, added a bit more cream to satisfy the Swede in me, and tried to bring my thoughts to bear on the upcoming match.

I couldn’t. My thoughts kept going back to Patty and her obvious desire to have Hardcastle near her again.

It drives me insane. I can’t stand the guy and the feeling is mutual. I know what’s coming, I’ve tried to tell Patty that I know what’s coming, and she either doesn’t believe me or refuses to listen.

Sooner or later there is going to have to be a reckoning with Hardcastle, and I’m thinking it will happen when Richmond’s bid comes, for good or evil. He’ll be riding high at that point and if I’m going to knock him off his perch, that will be the time.

I’ll need my ducks in a row and I know that. Eaton will have to be involved, and it’s going to be dirty politics to be sure. I will be playing hardball.

But I love my wife, and I want to keep her – or at least make sure that that big donkey can’t have her. That’s up to me.

As I thought it through, the light on my mobile phone flashed to indicate an incoming call.

I answered.

“Hi, Rob, Alba here.”

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Get married once, Ori. It's not always as easy as it looks :)


I smiled. “Inspector, what can I do for you?” I asked.

“You can give me half an hour of your time, either before or after lunch today,” she said. “I need to speak with you and I have a few questions to ask you about Italy.”

“How about over lunch?” I asked. “I’m in meetings today and I shouldn’t leave the ground, but I’ll buy at the 1871 Suite if you can get here.”

“That would be smashing,” she said, and I thought I could detect a hint of a smile in her voice. That’s good. I need her happy with me.

“Great,” I answered. “See you then. Shall we prepare for Commander Fowler as well?”

“No,” she said. “What I have to ask you is for my part of the case alone and it’s best that it just be the two of us.”

# # #

“He told you that, did he?”

McGuire’s face held a note of self-satisfaction that he tried to keep from Hardcastle.

“He did, the little…” Hardcastle snarled, his voice trailing off as he carefully considered his words.

“Well, I did tell you we needed a subtle approach,” McGuire answered. “Which you really do need to leave to me.”

McGuire thought it through for a moment and then decided to parse words.

“Did he mention anything about me in that conversation?” he asked.

“Why should that matter?” Hardcastle asked.

“It’s quite simple and if you slow down for a moment you’ll see it,” McGuire replied. “Look, if he thinks you’re out to undercut him he’s going to take you down. I need to know if he has any idea that we’re working together.”

“He didn’t say so in so many words, but if he said what he said to me, we have to assume he suspects,” Hardcastle replied.

“Good thought,” McGuire answered. “We’ll make a Machiavellian out of you yet.”

“What you don’t know is that I already am one,” Hardcastle replied. “Or at least, you haven’t figured that much out yet.”

“I know what I need to know about you,” McGuire retorted. “That’s why we make a good team. I know your strengths and I know how you can best be employed to bring down Sidney Richmond. We will get this job done, I assure you. Just don’t let him frighten you.”

“Sidney Richmond? Frighten me? Are you serious?” Hardcastle was now talking from much firmer and much higher ground. “Don’t be ridiculous, Peter. If he’s got anyone working for him and if they come after me, let me assure you of one thing.”

Now he leaned forward for emphasis.

“Throats will be cut, Peter,” he said. “I won’t let him push me, I won’t let him push you, and I won’t let him undercut our side of this operation. If he messes with me, it will be the biggest mistake of his life. His money won’t save him. And I do believe he knows it.”

# # #

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Kill Richmond ! Kill Richmond ! Kill Richmond ! Kill Richmond ! :mad:

Why do update once a day?? Why cant it be more often??? (joking of course)

About me getting married... We will have to wait at least to 2020 as im only 14 :)

Well bloody done 10-3 :thup:

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Ori, one day you will learn (we hope!) Andy, thanks for your compliment but it's safe to say that at my age nothing tastes good.


Saturday, November 14

I could have listed any of a thousand things I would rather have seen on my television screen than the sight that filled my eyes this evening.

There he was – John Fleck, new acquisition and very promising young talent, lying motionless on the ground as Scotland’s u-21 side faced Bulgaria in Sofia.

The nations were playing a European Championships qualifier and Fleck wasn’t moving after making a sharp cut on the turf and falling to the ground in agony.

He was holding his left hip, which didn’t bode well for him or us. The fact that he wasn’t moving showed that he was too seriously injured to really roll around on the ground in pain. His face gave away all the information that needed to be communicated.

He was ashen, which indicated the pain he was in. Hip injuries are never fun, always painful and if they are inside the joint can take a remarkably long time to heal.

“Well, s**t,” I snarled at my television, angry at everyone and at no one in particular.

Fleck’s studs had simply given way on the turf and that wasn’t anyone’s fault. Now, though, the winger was in intense pain on the ground and as the physios came out, followed closely by a stretcher, I was already on the phone to the SFA requesting details on the injury as soon as they became available.

We’ve had pretty good luck with injuries so far this season – they happen, of course, and no one can prevent them – but a player’s injury while on national duty is especially frustrating for a manager.

Fleck was already on the fringes of the first team after some very good work learning our system. The player he was pressing for time on the pitch was, perhaps ironically, his countryman and former Old Firm opponent Maloney, though Shaun has been playing just as well as last year for us in a slightly different role.

And now he would be lost for an undetermined period of time – and not even from a senior match. That was annoying enough.

His clubmate, Alex Pearce, was an unused substitute for Scotland – which fell 2-1 to the Bulgarians to round off a completely frustrating day for our entire Saltire squad.

The senior side, meanwhile, has qualifying matches with Ukraine this week for a spot in the World Cup, so the interest both north and south of the border is pretty high.

England will also have two matches of note in the coming week – their own playoff against the Czech Republic with the first leg at Wembley. After stumbling against Denmark and finishing second in the group, the Three Lions are under enormous pressure to come through this week.

Serbia faces Romania over two legs and Sweden plays Turkey for the other two UEFA positions open for the tournament in South Africa.

There’s a lot at stake. Dicã and Lobont are playing for spots in South Africa with Romania, and of course Maloney is playing for a place with Scotland.

Our representation in the biggest show in football could be pretty strong, with Magallón on the fringes of the Mexico team, Federici a likely candidate if the Socceroos make it, Ferreira on the cusp of the Portugal squad, Dagoberto a threat to make the Samba Kings, and of course all the African players we’ve got playing so well.

It’s a cosmopolitan bunch and that’s great. We just need to keep them all healthy.

So as I watched Fleck being carted off a field in Bulgaria, my mood darkened.

# # #

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The worst of it was listening to my phone ring for the next hour from people and friends who all thought they were letting me in on big news.

The people who I wanted to call me – the Scotland physios – were going to have a hard time reaching me if I couldn’t keep my own phone line clear.

They all had the same thing to say – ‘hey, Rob, did you see Fleck got it tonight?’

Finally, I stopped answering my phone since while my friends meant well, I was starting to get a little frustrated with some of them and I didn’t want to let it show. I need all the friends I can get.

“Don’t worry, Rob, I get calls like that all the time from people who ask me if I know my picture was in Hello magazine,” Patty said from her chair to my left.

That was unusual for her – she hadn’t been in a joking mood in the preceding few days – and I counted it as progress. She’s been a lot more chipper since inviting Hardcastle back into her inner circle.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so snarky, though. Even though I’m good at it.

“If that’s the case then I don’t know how you stand it,” I answered.

“You just have to like people,” she said, a cheery expression on her face.

“I don’t like people. I’m a football manager, I’m not supposed to like anyone,” I replied.

“Not even me?”

I smiled at her, and saw her old, happy expression back on her face. It had been too long since I had seen it, and right at that moment I didn’t really care how it had gotten there.

Who knows – I might even have helped.

“Okay, I can like you,” I said. “The baby might take it hard otherwise.”

She looked at me with the expression she had used on the first day I had met her in my office in Padua – an expression of sheepish, almost shy happiness at something I had said. I never forgot that expression from the first day I saw it.

That day, she had explained that I was about to get a nastygram from a guy named Peter McGuire. That day had seemed like such a long time ago, but she had been right about him then.

Now, I felt at times that I could not trust her judgment about men. That was sad.

Yet, Hardcastle had tried, and was surely still trying, to take away the thing I love most in the world and I will not let him succeed as long as there’s breath in my body.

The expression on her face told me there might be some hope after all.

# # #

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Sunday, November 15

The news is in on Fleck, and it’s not good.

Our wonderkid will miss about two months with a partially torn hip flexor muscle. Evidently, it’s an intensely painful injury and it needs time to settle before treatment. He’s ruled out for quite some time, obviously, since he’ll need to play his way back into condition, and that’s unfortunate.

It is going to give Saivet a few more chances, though, as our French wonderkid replaces our Scottish one for the time being.

The call from the Scottish FA’s medical team came at about midnight our time, which meant it was in the wee hours when it was made on the eastern end. Fleck wouldn’t be able to travel until the next day, which meant he’d have to spend 48 hours in a Bulgarian hospital.

No offense to anyone behind the former Iron Curtain, but I’d prefer that such a valuable young player spend his recuperation time a little closer to home as soon as possible.

So while I worried about how to get our prize prospect home as soon as possible to begin his treatment, it didn’t really matter so much to me how the other matches in the World Cup qualifying playoffs turned out.

But it did matter to a lot of people on both sides of the border, so I’ll give it some attention here.

‘England Expects’ came out pretty darn good, thank you very much. Before a capacity crowd of 90,000 at Wembley, the Three Lions dismissed the ten-man Czech Republic 3-0 to take a commanding lead into the return leg next week.

Steven Gerrard opened the scoring just past the half hour and Ashley Cole made it 2-0 from the penalty spot three minutes before the break.

Shaun Wright-Phillips made it 3-0 in 67 minutes before Marek Jankulovski got himself sent off six minutes later by referee Eduardo Iturralde González for an elbow on Joe Cole that left the England man bleeding from his nose.

Thus the Czech Republic. The other news from the evening was a huge victory for the Tartan Army away from home.

Blackburn’s Garry O’Connor and Celtic defender Mark Wilson tallied 20 minutes apart in the first half and the visitors made it stick in a 2-0 win against Ukraine.

Alex McLeish had raised a few eyebrows with his starting XI for the match. He had left his captain, Barry Ferguson, on the bench and played Maloney out of position as a striker. Shaun can play the position, of course, but he’s never done it for me in a starting role, and to see him pairing O’Connor up front was interesting.

What was more, not only had McLeish come up trumps as far as the scoreline went, his tactics appeared to be spot on as well. Having watched that match after seeing Fleck’s injury, from what I could tell the disciplined 4-4-2 the Scots played was more than a match for Ukraine’s 3-5-2. Man-for-man they were just better.

Lobont came out a winner as well, backstopping Rumania to a 2-1 win away from home against Serbia. To make it even better, he was named man of the match, which will surely help his confidence heading into our next few matches.

In the fourth qualifying match of the night, Turkey wasted a two-goal lead inside the first ten minutes earned in Stockholm, as the Swedes picked up goals from Lazio striker Markus Rosenberg and Toulouse midfielder Johan Elmander to get a well earned 2-2 draw.

And so, the teams now travel to play the second legs of their matches with England and Scotland already with one foot into the World Cup. The interest all over the mainland, if you will, is at fever pitch.

Scotland haven’t made it to a World Cup since 1998 and haven’t won a match in that tournament since 1990, so getting to South Africa would be quite an achievement.

That means we can lay under the radar for a few more days while the national teams make their bids for greater glory, and that’s fine with me.

This morning I woke up next to Patty and she was actually snuggling me. I found that wonderful, of course, but it was starting to feel different.

The baby was in the way this morning, which was a wonderful sensation. Patty pressed against me with a delightful warmth and I could feel the wee one wiggling inside her as she did.

“You must love that sensation,” I whispered, stroking a lock of hair off her forehead as she woke up.

“Not when the baby is pressing on my bladder, but yes, it’s wonderful,” she smiled.

She looked at me with her green eyes opened just a little wider than usual, and she just melted me. How could I have doubted her?

I closed my eyes and leaned back on the mattress. My conversation with Alba of the other day now seemed quite a long ways away.

That was perhaps for the best.

# # #

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But there's only one Mark Wilson ... :)

Thanks to all for pushing Rat Pack past 60K, gentlemen. I appreciate your readership! Now onward we go ..


Here’s something I found interesting.

The good folks at The Guardian have been busy making lists and checking them twice, just in time for Christmas.

In an effort to educate the footballing public about who has the chops in my business, they have listed who they feel are the ten top managers on the planet under the age of forty.

Somewhat stunningly, only three of them are from UEFA nations and even more stunningly, three of them are Americans.

Moving all the way up to ‘shockingly’, one of them is named Ridgway, which is why I read the article with profound self-interest.

I’ve been a bit surprised since coming here that the whole idea of an American managing in the Premiership hasn’t gotten more media play, especially given the state of some of the clubs owned by my countrymen. Liverpool’s owners are only slightly more popular than scurvy (and possibly less depending on whom you talk to) and the Glazers have spawned a whole new line of green and gold fashion items in the red part of Manchester.

Thankfully, the writers have so far managed to avoid the sort of talk that would really set me off – a problem some of the Italian writers didn’t have – perhaps because they’ve been too busy writing about my wife.

So thanks for that, Patty. I really appreciate it from the bottom of my selfishness.

But now, they seem more interested in praising me, which leads me to wonder if some kind soul spiked the punch in the Madejski Stadium press room. I wasn’t complaining.

Their top ten list included:

10. Theodore Whitmore (Seba United, Jamaica, Age 37)

9. Steve Morrow (FC Dallas, United States, Age 39)

8. Mauricio Cruz (Nicaragua, Age 38)

7. Jean-Paul Akono (Cameroon u-21, Age 37)

6. Leonardo Astrada (Colon, Argentina, Age 39)

5. Curt Onalfo (Kansas City, United States, Age 39)

4. Rob Ridgway (Reading, England, Age 38)

3. Diego Simeone (Estudiantes, Argentina, Age 39)

2. Ertugrul Saglam (Besiktas, Turkey, Age 39)

1. Roberto Martinez (Wigan, England, Age 36)

Surely some of those names were included to provide fodder for conversation – I had a hard enough time believing that I made the list, but then I do have a team trying to reach the last 16 of the Champions League – but others made sense.

Martinez has the big reputation at the moment, and he has Wigan playing reasonably well. And it would make sense that an English publication would have an English-based manager at the top of its list even though he’s not a native to these islands.

The shocking thing about the list: it contained no English-born managers. For a nation as understandably xenophobic about its football as England, that might be a wake-up call of sorts for some.

However, the list wasn’t sanctioned by anyone except the newspaper, which made it a bit suspect to domestic agendas in any event.

Still, though, it was nice to be listed, and the publication’s words weren’t too bad either:

4. Rob Ridgway, Reading FC (England) – We have had the opportunity to watch Rob Ridgway, 38, mature as a manager before our eyes. The Premiership’s first American boss came to us as a rather tactically naïve and rigid managerial waif but now has shown himself to be learning the trade by leaps and bounds.

No longer a slave to the admittedly effective 4-1-3-2 he used to great effect in the Italian lower leagues, Ridgway has now evolved into a thinking man’s boss. He will line up his Reading side in 4-5-1, 4-4-2 and even 4-2-3-1, which we saw at times during the early stages of his club’s European adventures.

A member of the ‘get the ball down and play it’ school of thought, Ridgway prefers his teams to play attractive, attacking, passing football – in short, a game for the artisan as well as for the partisan.

His teams have shown themselves to be lethal on the counter-attack due to his preference for speedy, smallish wing players who get the ball into space or run into it. They are susceptible to invasion from the air; but sturdy center-halves with size can generally clean up afterwards.

Tactically, he is increasingly able to match his opponents, and even though he is not yet to the level of the elite, if he is able to keep his personal life out of the headlines and concentrate on football there is no telling how far he might go.

“Not bad,” Patty said with a smile, returning the paper to the coffee table in front of us. “You should be pleased with that!”

“I am,” I admitted. “Maybe that will make things a little easier in the board room, but I think old Sid Richmond has made up his mind.”

“Then he has,” she said. “So what? We’ve got all the money we’ll ever need. If something happens here, come to Barbados with me and we’ll spend the rest of our lives in a beach hut.”

“No Hardcastle?” I teased, and she scowled in return.

“No, Rob. No Hardcastle,” she answered. She got up, and came over to sit in my lap.

Her kiss of greeting was warm, deep and special. She’s trying very hard, and she’s succeeding.

# # #

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Rob Ridgway at a very deserving 4th spot there. Congratulations on reaching the 60k mark, tenthree. I'd be happy with 10k, so I can only imagine the smile you get everytime you see your own story with so many views.

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Thanks, Gav, I appreciate it :)


Monday, November 16

Hardcastle sat at his desk, mulling things over.

His day hadn’t gone well. Brooding all weekend from Richmond’s rebuke, he did what any security-minded person would do – he tried to figure out where the leak in his organization might reside.

It couldn’t have been anything he did. That was a given. He was Hardman, he was a tower of strength, and above all he knew what he was doing.

He had taken courses on how to influence people and due to his demonstrated acumen in such things, was actually considering a second career in MI-6 after leaving the service. He had instead decided to make his mark in private security, and he was glad he had done so.

That career choice had already been rewarding, and nowhere was it more rewarding than in his mind.

She was perfect. Perfect physically, and above all perfect for him.

Damn it all anyway, she even looked great pregnant. Some women did, he thought.

That lucky bastard Rob Ridgway.

“Why is it that the losers in life have all the luck?” he lamented, leaning back in his chair.

Not realizing his inherent self-contradiction, he instead congratulated himself on his wisdom.

She had come back to him, when it mattered the most. He was pleased about that. He was also pleased with her attitude, which had always been good.

He had never slept with a client before. He smiled to himself and leaned back in his chair again. On his face he wore a smile of triumph.

The skulduggery could wait.

# # #

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He had never slept with a client before. He smiled to himself and leaned back in his chair again. On his face he wore a smile of triumph.

The skulduggery could wait.

The baby is it hardcastles and not ridgeways? I need to know, the story is great and I think at twist is about to blow the ridgeway family apart

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"He had never slept with a client before. He smiled to himself and leaned back in his chair again. On his face he wore a smile of triumph.

The skulduggery could wait."

10-3 for the Noble! 10-3 for the Noble! 10-3 for the Noble!

So they did sleep together? :confused: Im willing to bet 50 pounds that the baby is Stevens! :eek:

RR? Divorce Patty!!!! :mad:

Well bloody done 10-3 :thup:

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I've always rated a story/novel on how personal I get with the characters. In this regard you are without doubt one of the best. When I read that I felt true anger towards Hardcastle and sympathy for Rob; that is how good you are.

This is one of the best stories out there at the moment, and I hope it doesn't end any time soon. Best of luck, your a brilliant writer. :thup:

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Gentlemen, thanks for your comments. There's no doubt Hardcastle wants a lot more out of his job than a professional relationship, but how much has he got and is Patty playing both ends against the middle?

Short post today :)


“All right, let’s get him.”

Fowler sat back in his office chair. Unlike Hardcastle’s, the commander’s chair had a metal frame.

It kept him honest, he always said. He didn’t want one of those cushy chairs. He might not want to get up out of it.

Their office trappings indicated some of the more prominent differences between the two men.

Hardcastle lived the life of the successful. Driven onward by the thought of adding to his accomplishments, the bodyguard motivated himself by memories.

Fowler lived the life of the hungry. Driven onward by the thought of what lay outside his office walls, the policeman motivated himself by the thought, and the expectation, of future success.

There was another difference between the men, and Hardcastle was about to learn of it first hand.

In his hand, Fowler held an affidavit signed by Peter McGuire. This time, the policeman would have the advantage of having the last word.

# # #

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Satio, Drogba, thanks so much! Drog, to answer your question, England did qualify for the 2008 Euros but at this point in my story came second in their 2010 WC qualifying group to Denmark. They are now in playoffs now to advance to South Africa.


“I think it went well,” Winthrop said.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” I replied. “Despite appearances, I’d like to see the club commercially successful as well.”

“You should have seen the old man’s eyes,” the marketer said, with a trace of a grin. “You could just about see little pounds sterling dancing in his head.”

“That’s his job,” I said. “And really, it’s yours. Now, what can I do to help you?”

“Jump on the next ‘Kitson for England’ question you get from the press. Please. As a favour to me.”

Not really realizing exactly how I owed Winthrop a favour, or even a favor for that matter, I promised to do my best.

“What makes you think there will be one?” I asked.

“Well, the national team has been fortunate so far,” he explained, and I was curious to hear the marketer’s foray into the world of football expertise.

“Do tell.”

“It’s a public relations disaster if McClaren doesn’t bring them through,” he said, stating the obvious. “I happen to feel that the options up front are somewhat lacking and he might address that before naming his World Cup squad assuming things go well in the second leg.”

I ran through a mental list of McClaren’s up-front options. Rooney, Crouch and Darren Bent were at the top of the list, so with the team reasonably successful I couldn’t disagree with him.

Kitson is a very good target striker. He does a lot of things very well and can score with his feet or his head. Unfortunately, Crouch’s record for Liverpool is just as good and he’s four inches taller. He’s the marquee player at his position in England, and unless he gets hurt, I don’t see Kitson getting a chance.

That’s too bad – but it is the way of the game. I was fortunate in that the United States didn’t have as many options in the center of its defense when I played, so I was out there as often as not, especially when I played for better clubs.

Yet listening to Winthrop talk, he approached the game from the perspective of a marketer, or someone who seemed to be wishing something bad would happen so he could capitalize on it from a commercial point of view.

That was fine for him, but I have nothing against England and I’d prefer not to see them falter at the last hurdle. The whole conversation seemed cynical to me, and I told him so.

He looked at me.

“Rob, marketing is a cynical profession,” he explained. “We’re trained to make people change their minds about how they spend their money. We’re telling people each and every day that their own thoughts about discretionary spending are wrong, and that they should do what we tell them to do.”

I hadn’t thought about it like that.

“So it shouldn’t be terribly surprising to you that we should look to capitalize if there is a possibility something may go our way from a business standpoint,” he said. “The possibility exists for you to make a statement on behalf of one of your players and I can tell you clearly that this organization wishes you would do it.”

“It’s sort of an unwritten code for managers not to interfere in each others’ business if it doesn’t directly relate to our own job,” I said.

“The problem with you, Rob, and I mean this honestly, is that you are too damned nice sometimes,” Winthrop said. In that regard, he had told me in one sentence what Alex Ferguson had needed five minutes to say.

“You have to fight for your players in a different way,” he said. “You wouldn’t tolerate a national team coach telling you that your players couldn’t play, would you?”

“No, I suppose not,” I answered.

“Then why do you tolerate them overlooking your players for national honors?”

I didn’t care for his tone, but he had a point. I didn’t need a dressing down, because I have my own style of management and I happen to get along well with McClaren. A gentle suggestion, on the other hand, could do us a world of good.

I was starting to see it.

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I haven't visited in a while, but on returning I've really enjoyed these last few pages. The direction(s) you've taken some characters in has been tremendously refreshing.

At this stage in Rob's story he seems to be emerging from a dark patch and rapidly maturing in front of our eyes. Particularily noticable is a greater ability to seek and accept the opinions and advice of others; and a willingness to adapt his approach, rather than stick bullishly with his first instincts.


Some questions:

I noticed that Maloney hasn't had anywhere near the impact he had last season. Have you considered returning him to the 'raider' position or do you think the (pretty damned effective) Dica is still the better fit with his more rounded style of play? I do vaguely recall that there were problems earlier in the season when you tried to play Dica in other positions...

Does Ridgway bother at all with scouting players during the playing season? I'd love to hear from the whole scouting side of affairs but they don't seem to be very involved at Reading. Does Rob have any targets in mind?




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Gentlemen, thank you for your kind comments! and kmbll, welcome to the Rat Pack! TV, it is always a pleasure to hear from you and your comments are always most welcome on my thread. Let's see if I can answer some of your questions and observations:

First, RR is seeing light at the end of the tunnel that does not appear to be an oncoming train. He is still worried about what he knows will be the consortium's bid at the first of the year to take over the club but is starting to see that he isn't alone -- and that the consortium has some cracks in it that might sunder everything Richmond is trying to do.

His conversation with SAF showed a man who is trying to ease his own burden, and this is a good thing for him. So, in my eyes, is his friendship with Alba Fulton, which helps him see into other personal relationships that do not involve intrigue (at least, not much!).

Now to your other questions: Maloney has had a reduced impact, but is still popping in a few goals and doing what the tactic requires, which is to get forward, cross the ball and be a wizard at set pieces. His match ratings are still well over 7 for average but he isn't scoring the goals. The 4-1-3-2 tactic makes the raider the superstar and Dica's better playmaking ability as well as equal finishing skill makes him the preferred player at the position, which is really a glorified 4-4-2 diamond when Reading is in possession.

And, you have put your finger on a weakness in my writing. Ridgway does indeed have targets, but I have spent so much time in plot development in recent weeks I haven't written about them. I will try to work that into future posts. Again, thanks for your thoughtful comments, as always I appreciate them!


“I categorically deny such an assertion, Sidney.”

Richmond and McGuire sat in their weekly meeting and it seemed to the little man that the director was on a fishing trip. He hadn’t left his office, so there was only one thing he could be fishing for, and McGuire refused to take the bait.

“I know you are not happy with your role in the consortium and I know you feel I have been hard on you,” Richmond said. “I am merely asking if you would like a different position.”

“I’m happy where I am,” McGuire replied. “Frankly, Sidney, I look at you as I would look upon a client in my old firm. You are my primary client and there are needs you are have that are unique among my client base.”

“Such as?”

“Advanced assistance in public relations,” McGuire said smoothly. He didn’t miss a beat, this one. “With the media issues about the white paper now starting to surface and the police sniffing around Steven Hardcastle – and be honest, we both know they are – you’re going to need help sooner rather than later. I figure it’ll be good to have me around then.”

“Public relations,” Richmond snorted. “What does it matter when I get what I want?”

Both men knew the answer to that question perfectly well, but McGuire let the director speak his piece. He was asking rhetorically, since an angry fan base is not exactly good for business.

McGuire also felt he knew the deeper reason behind Richmond’s question. He had his suspiscions.

Richmond had long been critical of McGuire’s personal conduct, specifically in his competition with his other chief attack dog, Hardcastle, in his pursuit of Patty Ridgway.

It didn’t speak well for any of them, McGuire thought. McGuire and Hardcastle were fighting over someone they had no chance of obtaining, at least not while Patty’s husband was still in his job, and it didn’t speak well of Richmond for not minding his own bloody business.

That was one thing McGuire and Hardcastle could agree on. They both figured Richmond hadn’t slept with a woman since V-E Day.

He couldn’t possibly understand.

McGuire had had Patty Ridgway and wanted her back. Hardcastle … well, he wasn’t saying. The big jerk.

That was what had annoyed Richmond. Two of his subordinates were concentrating on something other than their boss’ goal; purchasing Reading Football Club. That didn’t sit well with him.

It had shown through in his tone, but McGuire felt he knew how to read people after so much time in the PR game. When it got too hot – and he always knew when it got too hot – he’d simply ratchet down before the boss decided to shoot the messenger.

It was part of McGuire’s game. It kept him employed.

Richmond could read people and liked to show them he could read them. McGuire could read people but held his talent in reserve.

Thus, the difference between the two men. Both were operators. Both used people to the greatest extent they thought they could get away with. And both thought they had the upper hand against the other.

They sat for a long moment and stared at each other, keeping their thoughts to themselves.

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Tuesday, November 17

I was a pundit today.

That was sort of an interesting feeling.

Weatherby had finally written her column – which was keenly unflattering to Richmond – and I was invited down to the ITV studios to talk both about tomorrow night’s England match and about the goings-on at my club.

Weatherby had, as they say, ‘stolen a march’. She had also chosen to believe Peter McGuire.

While she still couldn’t prove the meat of what she thought she knew, she could write about what she had been supplied. There was leeway, there was the chance for a juicy national headline, and besides, she had seen the transcripts. Her writing would therefore be factually correct.

The only area where she could be questioned was context, and the ITV interviewers wanted to talk about that as their first order of business when I came to their studios this afternoon.

I was in a good mood. Weatherby related that Sidney Richmond had ‘placed the England squad above Reading’s interests’ by advocating so strongly for Kitson not from a football standpoint but from a marketing one.

She further wrote that:

Richmond’s actions at the recent Reading FC board meeting called the priorities of manager Rob Ridgway into question – again, not relating to the club’s performance on the field but rather in relation to Kitson’s selection for the national team.

Internal documents supplied to this reporter allow me to reveal the manager’s frustration at this latest turn of events, when the club is fighting to reclaim a top four table position and succeed in the group stages of the Champions League.

It can hardly be considered professional or proper to place an external, money-making consideration in a position of priority over club results which, in any case, would drive financial results and profit should such results arrive in sufficient quantity.

That was real ‘whistle while you work’ stuff from my point of view. From my point of view, I can certainly assume Jill is on my side, and I appreciate that.

It was also a significant public relations black eye for Richmond at a time when he can afford few more. I won’t say I mind that either.

So, sitting in the studios, presenter Sarah Driscoll was pointed in her questioning.

“Rob, who is in charge at Reading Football Club?” she asked.

“On the football side, I am,” I answered. “On the managerial side, Sir John. At this point in time, no one else is in the equation.”

That was an open-hand slap at Richmond that I at last felt powerful enough to make in public.

“So why do stories like these keep surfacing?”

“It’s a fact of life, I guess,” I replied. “People want to own successful operations, and it seems there’s a group that is gearing up to try to take over the one which presently employs me. That is their right. However, their methods seem to be under scrutiny so at this point it’s probably best that I stop talking.”

“What will be the end result of all this, in your mind?”

I took a deep breath.

“The end result will be that the owner of the club will make his decision as to what he wants to do, and we will all follow along with that result,” I answered. “The final decision is up to him and no one can make it for him. The fact that this story keeps hanging around tells me that no decision has been made, or if it has that it hasn’t been communicated, so at the moment all any of us at the club can do is go out and do our jobs as best we can.”

“And what of the furor surrounding Dave Kitson?” she asked.

“Dave is a professional. He’s also a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow and if there is any pressure on him, or any resentment that he’s felt, he hasn’t shown it at training or communicated it to me,” I said. “Really, it’s his issue and at the moment it doesn’t seem to be much of one for him.”

“Should he be playing for the national team?”

I thought quickly.

Winthrop had practically begged me to jump on the first question I got surrounding Kitson. Weatherby had gone way out on a limb to defend my position of not commenting on Kitson to place team results ahead of financial gain.

I would have to disappoint one of them.

I looked at Driscoll, and took my time answering the question.

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Perhaps Sidney has a problem on his hands ...


I tried weasel words.

“We’d all like to see Dave Kitson play for England,” I said, after carefully measuring my reply. “He certainly deserves the opportunity. But to suggest that I’m going to subordinate this needs of this club to that individual goal would be in error. If I think Dave Kitson is the best answer on a given day then he plays. If I don’t, then he doesn’t. It really is just that simple.”

“This would be a reflection of last evening’s column in the Reading Evening Post?”

“I’m not going to comment further on that topic,” I said. “I will not be drawn out into places I don’t feel it’s wise to make comment.”

That was about as plain as I could be.

It also took Driscoll by surprise. My reputation to this point has been based on giving the press what they want when they want it, and they’ve repaid me for my kindness by eating me alive. That’s no good. So it was time for that to change, and I figured an ITV taping was as good a place as any to start.

“All right, Rob,” Driscoll said, taken aback by my new turn of personality. “Let’s talk about England, the team, then, and their chances this evening.”

“I think they are pretty good,” I said, immediately answering Driscoll and taking a bit of the heat out of the situation. I felt I could assert myself with the press to a point but pushing that point might not be my wisest course of action.

“I like how they played in the first leg but for me the big thing is keeping up their confidence with an early goal. Really, this team has only had one significant setback under Steve McClaren, but it was a setback that would have hamstrung a lesser side. I think England are very, very good and I also think they have what it takes to bounce back from the loss in Copenhagen. But restablishing confidence is the key to the whole thing.”

“You suggest England lack confidence?” Driscoll asked, and it was again time for a dose of The New Ridgway.

“Don’t put words in my mouth, Sarah,” I said. “That’s not what I mean and you know it. What I am suggesting is that confidence is vital and you can never have too much of it. These players are world-class which means their highs are world-class and so are their lows. I think Steve will be looking to get the high established first and if he can do it, England are going to be just fine.”

I couldn’t resist.

“And that is what I said,” I added.

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See, that's why I ask questions in the story ideas thread. Didn't say I always asked the RIGHT questions, though .. :)

The story goes that the 1960s American TV show "Dragnet" was so popular that tourists to Los Angeles would stop at police stations and ask to see the very popular (and highly fictional) Sergeant Joe Friday. They would be told "Sorry, but Joe's got the day off." So, I can tell you that in my world Andy Townsend has the 'day off' :D


Hardcastle sat down heavily on the bed in his apartment.

It had not been an easy day.

Fowler and his boys arrived at the office just before closing time and they had neither minced words nor wasted time.

They took him in for questioning on the McGuire matter and he had been, shall we say, direct.

The questioning had centered around a single hair, believe it or not. One hair.

The intruder at McGuire’s flat that night had worn an all-black body suit and gloves that masked fingerprints. In short, it seemed like the perfect crime.

However, it appeared that at the time the intruder had paused to wipe the picture of McGuire and Patty across the little man’s bleeding face, a chink had appeared in the intruder’s armor.

A single hair.

An infra-red sweep of the room had revealed the presence of a few little nasties – despite appearances, McGuire really wasn’t that good at keeping house – but the size and scope of the investigation meant resources not usually available to the police were now being brought into play.

The hair was one of the items found. It didn’t belong to McGuire. So who did it belong to?

Hardcastle sighed. They couldn’t pin the hair to him, he thought – and the hair was blood-stained, which made it particularly damning for whomever it did belong to. A DNA sample had been taken, but what worried Hardcastle the most was the reference to an affidavit.

Fowler had been coy during his questioning, but had let it slip once that he had a statement in writing. He didn’t say from whom or why it had existed, but it was enough to make the ‘Hardman’ wince.

Of course, Fowler hadn’t noticed the change in his appearance, Hardcastle thought. He was much too clever to let on that it worried him.

Not that anything should, mind you. He wasn’t involved in the beating. But one man’s word against another could cause a lot of trouble.

Hardcastle knew the DNA sample wouldn’t come back to him. So much for that, Commander Fowler.

He had also tried to avoid leering at that dish Alba Fulton, who had shown up in her cute little Thames Valley DCI getup and her blouse open to the second button to give just a hint of some truly remarkable stuff inside it.

“Might work with some men, but not with me,” Hardcastle thought to himself during the questioning. “I’m spoken for.”

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Wednesday, November 18

Well, the pundit in me turned out to be fairly intelligent after all.

There’s a lot to celebrate this evening – on both sides of the border, in fact. It’s going to be an interesting World Cup.

Playing before a jam-packed Wembley this evening, England needed exactly twelve minutes to get the start I had said McClaren was after, and when he got it, the Czech Republic folded like the proverbial house of cards.

Steven Gerrard did the business just twelve minutes after the kickoff, and then did it again just before the half hour to stake England to a 2-0 lead. There was no way back for the visitors after that, and Michael Owen’s goal six minutes after the restart sealed their fate and punched the Three Lions’ tickets for South Africa.

The final was 3-0, and a very comfortable 6-0 on aggregate, which really did the business in a highly professional manner.

There was news just as good from far away, as well. Scotland qualified for the World Cup as well, soundly defeating Ukraine 3-0 at Hampden Park to send the Tartan Army into a rather predictable state of delirium.

Taking a 2-0 lead into the second leg after a really terrific away leg, the Scots got a huge hand – or rather, a huge head – from defender Olexiy Gai after thirteen minutes. The Auxerre defender put through his own goal from Paul Gallagher’s corner to put the home team ahead and make the visitors’ task well nigh impossible.

The scoreline was made prettier by Aston Villa’s Scott Brown, who scored just after the half hour, and a man we’ll be facing on Saturday, Blackburn’s Garry O’Connor, who made it 3-0 two minutes after Brown’s goal and ended the visitors’ resistance.

So, we’ll surely have Maloney playing in the World Cup, even though he didn’t step on the field for Alex McLeish tonight. We’ll also have Lobont playing there, as he backstopped Romania to a 2-1 win in Timisoara tonight over Serbia and a 4-2 win on aggregate.

Also, in a mild surprise, Turkey is out after losing 3-1 to Sweden in Istanbul to fall 5-3 on aggregate. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a brace for the Swedes and Henok Goitom of Murcia, a player I have had scouted on more than one occasion, scored the third.

I have him in mind as a potential target striker if anything ever happens to Kitson, and the big man showed a turn of pace in latching onto a nice ball from Johan Elmander to net fourteen minutes from time.

Referee Rob Styles was not popular in that game, sending off Fenerbahce’s Cakmak Yasin for a second bookable offense just before Goitom’s goal, making it the least popular Empire action in Turkey since Gallipoli.

We gathered at the training ground tonight to watch the matches, and then listened to Winthrop mention a World Cup draw party at the Oracle on 4th December that the club needed volunteers to attend.

“Since we have players in the World Cup, it would be a good thing from a club standpoint if we can show support,” he explained. “We will have a strong contingent at the megastore and we would like players there to help the club effort.”

He passed a signup sheet around but players, knowing of his involvement with the unpopular Richmond, were reluctant to help.

“Look, I can’t make you do this,” he said. “But it would be very helpful.”

The sheet reached me and I picked it up off a large center table where good and nutritious snacks had been provided for those players watching the matches.

“All right, Willie, I’m in,” I said. “I don’t see anyone else signing your paper, so let me be the first.”

I signed it and tossed the paper back on the table. That brought the players forward, and allowed me to look at my onetime rival with a smile of satisfaction.

This time, he returned it.

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“You could look at it this way,” Winthrop explained. “It may not be Kitson, but it is our captain and the reigning Premiership Player of the Year. Surely we can make some money off that.”

Richmond, ever the opportunist, had summoned his protégé into his office moments later to talk about the potential commercial opportunities to be found in a ‘Reading World Cup’. The club had never had a performer taking part in football’s biggest event before, and now we would have two.

He wanted three.

He couldn’t have three, but then who would have suspected any other opinion from the man? If he had one, he wanted two. If he had two, he wanted three.

And all this despite having no clubs of his own and very much wanting one.

For Winthrop though, the idea was to try to convince Richmond that he was still working on additional marketing options. The young man was starting to feel the pressure, and with England qualified without the help of Kitson, he had to come up with something different.

He had already floated the Reading/Scotland and Reading/Romania logo ideas past Richmond, but they were by now passé even if good ideas, and as such weren’t sufficiently new to suit the money man.

That was worrisome to Winthrop. While day to day operations at the club were still under Sir John’s control, the idea of a new wave washing over Reading FC had caused him to cast his lot with the insurgents, if you will. So, if he lost Richmond’s favor, he might well love everything no matter how the pending power struggle would turn out.

He looked at Richmond, who looked back with an expression somewhat less benevolent than he had had even a few days earlier. An American expression flashed through his head.

‘Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas,’ he thought to himself.

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The story goes that the 1960s American TV show "Dragnet" was so popular that tourists to Los Angeles would stop at police stations and ask to see the very popular (and highly fictional) Sergeant Joe Friday. They would be told "Sorry, but Joe's got the day off." So, I can tell you that in my world Andy Townsend has the 'day off' :D

That is the most well thought and executed excuse ever given, sir. :thup:

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TV, again you see through me to the essence of RR :) Yeah, he can throw a barb with the best of them. His character is changing a bit, as I have mentioned earlier.

Gav, you know I don't make excuses :D ... but if I did, that would be a darn good one!


Thursday, November 19

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, if you will.

We were right back at it today as the national hangover of World Cup qualification pounds its way through the skulls of Three Lions aficionados – but we have work to do.

Blackburn visits on Saturday and with a number of players on both sides in very good moods, motivation to get back to club football might prove to be a bit of a task.

From our point of view, motivation should be easier – we have the opportunity to make a real move in the table with matches against teams lower placed in the table on the immediate menu.

Blackburn has leaked goals at a rather frightening rate, so the thought of getting the nineteenth placed team in the table on our own patch ought to be enough to make the players start salivating as though they’ve heard Pavlov’s bell.

We’re going to go after them. I intend to start the match in an aggressive 4-1-3-2 with Dica completing a triangle behind the strikers which will make our shape a true diamond for the first time all season.

The VEGA analysis makes me think we can light Blackburn up like a Christmas tree. It’s my job to put the players in the best alignment to make that happen and I’m optimistic.

For once.

Some of that is due to Blackburn, which hasn’t played a match in over two months where they’ve held an opponent to fewer than two goals.

Their last clean sheet came in the League Cup on 26 August – against League Two Bristol Rovers. Since then, United have hit them for five, Fulham for four, Derby and Portsmouth for three and everyone else for two.

That said, we’re due for a breakout game. The players reported ready to get back to work and for our non-international performers the break came at just the right time.

We had a very good video session with the players this morning and hit the practice pitch in high spirits.

They can score, Blackburn can, and Kevin Doyle’s return to the Madejski is always good for a sidebar story. The player who wanted so much to leave just before I took over here is now coming back with a team in a relegation battle, which is sure to make our fans with longer memories smile.

I’ve noticed through my time in the game that football fans have the longest memories in sports. Some of the longest memories in the world, in fact. They can tell you who started at left back five years ago and some of them can even tell you why that player left the club.

So Doyle’s return will add a bit of spice. I didn’t sell him – Coppell did – but it’s still a ‘coming home’ story of the player who earned the club’s highest ever fee for a sale.

Personally, I don’t care about that. All I want are three points and hopefully a large crooked number on the scoreboard.

Doyle leads their club with five goals, and their attacking options are pretty good with Morten Gamst Pedersen, Roque Santa Cruz, Benni McCarthy and Scottish national hero Garry O’Connor also available.

Mark Hughes’ problem, though, is that he’s only got three goals all season from non-strikers, and two of those are from Pedersen. Once you get past Blackburn’s front line, they’ve been toothless and there’s really no way to disguise it.

That was part of our planning. I want to take the ball right at them and when we’re in defense, to make their midfield beat us. I don’t know that they can do it.

The aggressive nature of the 4-1-3-2 is designed to recycle possession, which we hope to see a lot of, and show disregard for their ability to build.

Hughes has a history of doing well with teams that don’t have a lot of resource but now he’s got a real battle on his hands. My job is to pile some pressure on him.

We worked on quick passing drills today. We’re supposed to have decent weather this weekend so I want us to play the ball on the ground and get forward. I have some expectations, in other words. It’s going to be a big day, the kickoff of a good stretch of fixtures, and I will expect much.

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Thanks as always, Ori .. sorry for the delay in posting, I am out of town on business and sneaking on during a presentation :)


“What is this?”

Emiliani didn’t usually like to read his mail directly. It wasn’t worthy of him on most days, but now his undivided attention was on the envelope handed him by his editor.

“It was addressed to you,” the man said. “No return address but the words are quite threatening.”

The letter was a warning, and the reporter could guess where it came from. He had covered The Supporters in Padua and Venice and knew their hallmarks well. But to threaten reporters was not like them. They preferred to remain in the background and they preferred to operate effectively – and quietly.

“This makes no sense,” he said, reading the note and tossing it onto his desk. “I will notify the police.”

“I already have,” the editor replied. “I want to know if you feel you can continue on this beat.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” he asked. “We don’t know who this is, we don’t know who sent it, and I’m not about to stop writing about Reading because I get some note in the post.”

“I can’t take chances,” his editor responded. “You are due for time away, and I would like you to take it. I can’t risk this and while the police make their enquiries, I would like to know my best football writer is safely out of the picture.”

Emiliani sighed, and threw up his hands in a gesture of frustration.

“I don’t want to leave the beat,” he said. “Weatherby and the English press will catch up to me and pass me and I can’t let that happen. You can’t let that happen. For the sake of our readers.”

“For the sake of my reporter, I want you away for at least a few days.”

“I’m telling you no,” he said. “I decide when my vacation is used, and I don’t want it now. This whole thing is insane. We can’t be intimidated.”

With some disgust, the journalist turned back to his call sheet. He had spent his morning combing the media offices of Premiership teams looking for comments on transfer rumors – and in the finest tradition of the English press, some of those rumors were started by the press men themselves.

Not surprisingly, he hadn’t found any takers, so he was preparing to write the next best column he could write.

Instead of writing “Dagoberto back to Sao Paolo” stories, he was reduced to “Reading Football Club had no comment on rumors that star striker Dagoberto is seeking a return move to his native Brazil.”

It was a mug’s game. But it sold papers.

And now for some reason there were bad people who wanted him to quit writing about one of the plum stories of the year in English football – the battle for control of the only club who could realistically mount a challenge to the Big Four.

He couldn’t understand the violence, but he could understand the sentiment. There was a lot of money at stake.

That didn’t matter to him, though. All he wanted was the story. And, he wanted to see how his old foil, Rob Ridgway¸would react to it all when it was said and done.

His reactions had always been interesting, if predictable. The American, if he could ever learn to deal with the press, had a future. If only he wasn’t so thin-skinned.

Could you blame him? Emiliani leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers up and down the sides of his goatee, something he always did when pensive. He couldn’t figure out Ridgway, and he thought that if he ever learned, he might gain valuable insight into the struggle for control at Reading.

Who could help him?

He then got the proverbial blinding flash of brilliance.

Getting up from behind his desk, he approached his editor.

“You say you want to go to the police,” he said. “I know just the officer.”

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“Alba, what can I do for you?” I asked.

“Rob, it’s nice to speak with you again,” Fulton said, with a cheery tone. “I was wondering if you could meet for lunch.”

“What do you need to talk about?” I said. “We’re getting into the busy part of the schedule and time is precious. Is there something going on that I should know about?”

She took a deep breath.

“Possibly,” she said. “I think it might be a good idea for us to talk. There are threats being made to someone you know, and I want you to be aware of them. And, it will be good to catch up with you.”

I thought back to the last time I had seen her. I was happy to be in her company, and she in mine. There was nothing wrong with that.

There’s something fun in the thought of being around people who can wipe out their entire neighborhoods, and Alba was definitely one. If not through police power, then through looks.

The last time I had seen her, I thought I had noticed a touch of red in her hair, but put that down to a fevered imagination.

She wouldn’t do that. She was a good cop. There was no point in getting emotionally involved with a witness, especially a married one.

I shook that thought out of my head, and took a deep breath.

“Alba, is there any way you could come see me after morning training tomorrow instead?” I finally asked. “You’d get your message to me sooner and I could find time in my day.”

“That would be fine, Rob,” she answered. “I do need to speak with you, and I think as soon as possible.”

It was nice to think about, I had to admit.

I hung up the phone, and turned back to my video.

I smiled, and leaned back in my chair.

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Friday, November 20

The weekly Premier League preview show has an interview with Mark Hughes in it that is pure gamesmanship.

He’s talking about jumpstarting his team’s season with victory at Reading, and I don’t blame him a scrap for that. The show’s feature story this week was about the clubs facing the relegation battle.

At the moment, those clubs appear to be West Brom, Derby, Blackburn and Sunderland, who are all within three points of each other at the foot of the table. Wigan, Portsmouth and even Aston Villa aren’t out of the battle either, with those teams only a few points ahead of the tail-enders.

The league is splitting into three distinct strata as the race approaches Christmas. The Big Four, ourselves, and Manchester City make up the first level, the teams I mentioned are at the bottom and everyone else is between them. It’s sort of like a Neapolitan Premier League.

But ‘Sparky’, as he was known at Manchester United, is taking the offensive to try and change the order of things.

“We haven’t done the things we need to do to get off the foot of the table, and that’s clear,” he told the television cameras. “But we have plenty of time to get things right and that’s the best thing we have going for us at the moment. We are playing a Reading club that might look past us and we have to be ready to grab three points if they present themselves.”

So he was playing the underdog card rather more publicly than one would expect. I didn’t care for his insinuation, but then he probably doesn’t care what I think. He was a tremendous competitor at United, and I am quite sure his level of comfort with having two wins from fourteen league matches is stupendously low.

So his target is Reading. That shouldn’t be surprising.

It made for a bit of motivational material today, though. The interview aired last night and I opened today’s video session and squad meeting with the comments.

“Don’t you dare take this club lightly,” I warned. “I have already communicated my expectations to you for this match. It’s a chance to go out there, and get something we’ve been after for awhile if we play to the level we are capable of playing. You will have to earn it but as we have discussed, it’s definitely there for us if we are able to grab on.”

I turned off the DVD player and dismissed Hughes’ face from the screen.

“You’ve got a club that needs points badly doing and saying what they need to say for their own confidence,” I said. “I personally do not care about Blackburn’s confidence. I care about three points for this team and about this team playing like the Champions League team it is. If you can do that, great. If not, we’re going to work until you do. Let’s get it done.”

I continued to work on the players as they did their stretching prior to the training session.

More and more, I have chosen to watch training from above the fray, if you will, in what I term ‘Ridgway Towers’ since my injury earlier this season.

When I played, I always thought of the team as one big family, which meant the manager was part of it. I was that way at Padova, even with players who weren’t getting the time they thought they deserved.

Now, though, with the stakes so much higher, I have chosen to disassociate myself from the day to day activities to the greatest extent I can. Dillon has taken on more of that responsibility and rightly so.

Today, though, I was among the players, which meant they were going to hear more of the message I wanted them to receive.

I’m coming to believe that you have to pick your spots in this game. So this was one of them.

The players were lined up in rows so the physio staff could observe all of them, so I walked up and down the rows, obstructing their view.

“Today I’m going to be watching for quickness in execution,” I said. “If we play to the level of pace we are capable of playing, we’re going to have a big day. Saturday is going to be all about pace. Don’t be the player who is slow today. We won’t train for long today so you’ve all got only a short time to make your impressions for tomorrow.”

That drew some looks of surprise from our more regular players, who were more or less expecting their spots in the eleven for a visit of a lower-ranked opponent.

“Complacency is going to get us hurt,” I warned, catching some of the looks I received and using them for a constructive purpose. “It’s time we raised the level of our game, gentlemen. The upcoming fixture list gives us a chance to play some clubs we should beat, and prepare for going back into the Champions League to get the points that will allow us to continue in Europe.”

“You ought to want that,” I reminded them, “and I am sure you do. But now comes the time where you have to prove it where it matters the most. You can do this job. But there comes a time when you must execute, and that time is now.”

I then walked out of the stretching area and to the touchline. I kept walking.

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I thought back to the last time I had seen her. I was happy to be in her company, and she in mine. There was nothing wrong with that.

I think I know at least one woman who won't agree with that statement ! That's one in the story, as well as the one I know in real life !

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Who said anything about cheating? :)


Since nobody from the Premier League Preview Show interviewed me this week for the match tomorrow, we all had a chance to watch a Reading-free show later that evening.

The players gathered after their plunge pools, physio work, rubdowns and whatever else they needed for a team dinner and one last set of urgings from their coaches before being dismissed home for the evening.

We knew what Hughes was trying to say. We smiled at it, but there’s no doubt we’re going to get Rovers’ best shot tomorrow on our ground. We’ll have to be ready for that and we will have to do what needs to be done in response.

We watched the television in silence, and I sat by the door.

Feeling a presence over my shoulder, I turned and was shocked to find Alba standing directly behind me, watching the television right over my shoulder.

“Hello, Inspector,” I said, and she smiled in reply.

“Rob, good to see you again,” she replied. “I need a word with you.”

“I thought we were going to talk after training.”

“I need to speak with you more urgently than that,” she said. “May we use your office?”

Her choice of words drew a chuckle – stifled quickly – from a few of the players, but Alba’s mood seemed such that I ought not to deny her.

“All right, Inspector, if you wish,” I said. “Follow me.”

I rose from my chair and headed for the door. “Now you guys behave,” I said, which was an open invitation to comment.

“We will if you will, gaf,” Kitson cracked.

Blushing, I led the inspector down the hall to my office. The door stayed open.

“What can I do for you, Alba?” I asked, motioning her to a seat. I could be more informal out of earshot of the team.

She closed the door. She’s the police. She gets to do that, I guess.

“I want you to know that we have managed to lift a portion of a fingerprint from one of the listening devices found in this room,” she said.

“All right. What does that have to do with me?”

“It’s important that you know so that you are not surprised when we take the action we are now taking,” she said. “As you know, the SFO’s investigation into the consortium is ongoing.”

“Yes. And that really does have nothing to do with me.”

“Well, that’s true, but what we are going to do will affect your operation.”

“Tell me you aren’t arresting a coach.” Now I was getting worried.

“No, it hasn’t come to that,” she said. “But we do know that there are people who had access to your office who should not have had it.”

“Not Paula.” The vision of my PA, who knew just about everything about my schedule, day-to-day operations and any of half a hundred other nuances, flashed through my head.

“She has been questioned,” Alba admitted. “You need to know that. Somehow, someone had to get into your locked office to plant the bug, and she is one of the people with keys for your office.”

“And?” I asked.

“And I can’t comment further on that,” Fulton said. Suddenly I remembered that Paula had not been at her desk when I had passed with Alba on the way to my office.

“So, what are you telling me?” I asked.

“The fingerprint we found belongs to William Winthrop,” she said. “He is being detained for questioning.”

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Been a while since I've commented, your recent erratic posting due to your travel etc has made my reading schedule for your story all disjointed! Anyway, this tale is starting to get so many twists in it that it's getting hard to follow! Still entertaining as ever though.

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Balty, I'm sorry about the posting. Work has been pretty nuts lately and I'm back to producing two stories again (Unwanted deserves a bit of a push so I'm doing both). Normal service should be resumed soon. Jamcee, good to see you back on thread - glad you are continuing to read along!


Saturday, November 21

Reading (8-5-1, 6th place) v Blackburn (2-3-9, 19th place) – EPL Match Day #15

I woke up this morning to two headlines.

The first was on Sky Sports and gave the juicy details of a rather shocking training bust-up between Newcastle teammates Steve Sidwell and Joey Barton. The fact that Sidwell is of course a former Royal made the headline hit a bit closer to home, but the fact that it was Barton he busted up with made him worthy of a standing ovation in the eyes of many of our fans.

Sidwell earned the enmity of our supporters by leaving us before my arrival on a Bosman to sign for Chelsea. That right there would be enough to make most fans upset for a very, very long time but Barton is as popular around England as a good case of the Asian flu.

So, to see that information – with video from the end of training showing the players being restrained by manager Sam Allardyce – was interesting.

The other was the headline on the Post’s website. Someone on the night desk had run the police blotter – known as ‘calling the trap’ in American media – and discovered the arrest of Winthrop. No wonder he had wanted to be so friendly.

“Bull Market”, the headline read.

It was a none-too-subtle play on words, of course, and it spilled the beans about the bugging of my office finally having been cracked. There was no doubt now that it was an inside job, and that someone had made a very big mistake.

That someone now appeared to be Winthrop, and I didn’t shed any tears at that knowledge.

It also cast suspicion on Winthrop’s associates – including my old friend McGuire and maybe even … his boss.

Now, wouldn’t that be a nice Christmas present for ol’ Robbie Ridgway?

For me, it was a very good morning. I watched television for a bit after the headlines hit and tried to relax. Any news that would make my life easier around the club was certainly welcome. It will give me an opportunity to finally bring all my guns to bear on Hardcastle, who I still do not trust any further than I can throw him.

Patty’s happy, even though she hasn’t left the house since I re-hired Hardcastle.

I would have thought that the man might have had a little professional pride and wanted to either renegotiate his deal or else turn down a chance to come back since I had sacked him so unceremoniously the first time.

That hadn’t happened. He had jumped at the opportunity, which raised my suspicions immediately. They aren’t difficult to raise these days.

Yet Patty was happy. As long as she doesn’t have to be seen with the man, or spend time around him, I can certainly pay for that happiness out of my pocket.

What worries me is when she finally goes out in public again. She is now visibly pregnant and while I love the look, I fear it makes her a target if the more unsavory elements of our opposition decide to show themselves again.

Two Ridgways for the price of one, if you will. However, Hardcastle’s assurances that he was the best in the business had been enough to easily satisfy Patty’s fears even as they raised my hackles.

I didn’t like it then and I do not like it now. I do not like the thought of my wife being played for a pawn in a high-stakes game between Hardcastle and me or Hardcastle and anybody.

It’s a mug’s game. A dirty, rotten mug’s game.

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The mood was surprisingly tense as I headed into the stadium for the match.

The usual congregation of fans in the car park by the players’ entrance was as intense as ever, but the intensity this time was more quiet.

The club has been in the news a lot over the last few days, and all for the wrong reasons again, but it’s a winning club so that erases a lot of the bad feeling.

I’m one of the more popular public figures in Berkshire now since we are in fact winning, but if that ever changes the ride could get very rough very quickly. I’m acutely aware of that, which was one reason I wanted my players to stick Blackburn’s heads on the proverbial pikes.

Outside the players’ entrance, two motor coaches were waiting. One was for Rovers, to take them to the airport and home. The other was for us, to take us to the airport and to France. It showed a bit of the contrast between the clubs. One was on the way up; the other was on the way home.

Yet the two coaches also were an allegory for a different concern I had; my hope was that we could keep focus on Blackburn long enough to last us through the evening before going to Paris for the rematch against PSG.

That was one reason I had been so intense in training – I wanted the players focused on the league and not looking past Blackburn and toward a European tie that is really important to this club.

One thing at a time, though.

Our mood was quiet. That was by design.

I entered my office, flipped on the television to catch some of the pre-match interview shows which are often good for a laugh, and reclined in my office chair with a cup of coffee cupped between my palms.

It was a chilly morning, and I enjoyed the feeling of the warm mug seeming to throw its heat into the center of my chest. I watched the Soccer Saturday pundits through a veil of steam rising from the mug, and figured that that method was the best way to look at some in the press.

“Blackburn away to Reading,” presenter Jeff Stelling said. “A real banana skin for the Royals, who are off to France at midweek for a Champions League test against PSG. It’s fair to say Rob Ridgway is doing everything he possibly can to make sure his players aren’t looking past Rovers.”

“The way Blackburn have played, it’s hard to avoid looking past them,” Paul Merson replied. “In fact, not only can you look past them, you can look around them, over them and sometimes right through them. I don’t see Reading having much trouble today. They have recovered from a blip in their form and I see them gaining the three points today with some ease.”

“Matt, this is your match,” Stelling said, pointing to Matthew LeTissier. Each match was assigned to one of the pundits for additional information, with Phil Thompson and “Champagne” Charlie Nicholas looking on with interest.

The man nicknamed “Matthew Le God” for having raised the scoring of golazos to an art form during his playing days, took a deep breath and pontificated.

“The pressure is on Reading in this match,” LeTissier aid. “They are expected to win and win well, but the thing I’d be concerned about is that even though Reading have lost only once this season, they are still in sixth place. The top teams in this league simply do not lose, so this is a match where the Royals will be expected not to make a mistake – because they can’t afford them. I see Reading struggling in this match, perhaps mightily. The big stage hasn’t always been kind to Rob Ridgway and this is a case where the bright lights may blind his team.”

I leaned back in my chair, disgusted at the insinuation but knowing also that I couldn’t discount it.

In other words, he had us pegged.

I watched the players arrive one by one, to prepare for the match. They were in a professionasl mood, which seemed to give the lie to the second pundit. Still though, Blackburn were already in survival mode and I couldn’t help but think that desite it all, we might well struggle.

We can’t afford a slip. They’re right – the top five are machines. We have to play like one as well, with a top four spot at stake.

I finished my coffee and headed into the changing room once the players had finished dressing. Dillon was drawing the tactical alignment on the board and I stood in a corner, waiting for him to finish.

“Remember your instructions, gentlemen,” I said as Dillon finished his talk. “The word for today is statement. We want to make one and we need to make one. See that you do.”

I wrote the eleven names on the board and the players proceeded to go out for warm-ups. The crowd was large and appreciative and we prepared to entertain them.

Only it didn’t work out that way.

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Can you imagine the nightmare you'd have if Hollywood asked you to compress this brilliant epic into a 90 minute movie? ;)

could be a pretty hefty challenge... but I'm sure it would be worth it. To tenthree at least, who would be a few bucks richer.

Fantabulous as always.

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The trick is to avoid confusing myself :D .. thanks for the kind words, gentlemen!


Welsh international keeper Jason Brown figured to be a busy guy in the early going of the match, and indeed he was as we surged forward looking for a quick strike.

Zurab Khizanishvili dropped Dicã about a yard and a half outside the Blackburn box seven minutes into the match and the Romanian could hardly wait to take the set piece. He had to hold off Maloney to earn the honor though, as our Scottish set-piece specialist rivaled Dicã drool for drool at the location chosen by Mike Riley for the effort.

Dicã took it, and managed to somehow hit Kevin Doyle with his attempt, with the striker tracking deep back into his own half to help defend.

He almost wound up putting through his own goal, with Brown making a fine stop off the deflection, punching the ball almost straight down into the ground before diving and smothering it at the second attempt.

It was fairly obvious that Blackburn couldn’t stay with us for pace. This was proven not two minutes later when Benoit Assou-Ekotto somehow stayed out of Riley’s book after making Kalou look like Plasticman through a shirt grab for the ages.

All this had happened in the first nine minutes of the match and we looked like we were going to break through straightaway.

But it didn’t happen.

They packed men behind the ball – at least ten of them whenever possible, in fact. Kalou rang a shot right off Khizanishvili’s melon in fifteen minutes that left the defender seeing two Kalous – but the ball stayed out of the goal.

The Georgian was first to feel our thunder – and then his Russian teammate Alexey Berezutskiy charged down a long-range shot from Dicã that bounded off his kneecap and well into touch. The defender fell like he’d been shot – and the deflection really had had to hurt – but again, the ball had stayed out of the net.

We were pounding lumps on Blackburn and nothing was even getting through to goal. That was starting to get a bit annoying.

Yet as the match ticked past its quarter pole, we hadn’t scored and didn’t really look like we would. Blackburn was going to take some breaking down, and it also didn’t look like we had a terribly good idea of how to get that job done.

When they moved forward, Blackburn had as little on the ball as we did. The highlight from our point of view was a thundering and fair challenge by Huth on Roque Santa Cruz which won the ball and forced the striker to take treatment at the same time. Huth just destroyed him, to the roar of the crowd, and he won the ball as well.

Santa Cruz’s teammates went to remonstrate with the German, but he paid them no heed.

Moments later, Assou-Ekotto tried to play tit-for-tat by running over Kitson. Not only did that not work, as my target striker bounced off the Cameroonian, it forced the visitor into treatment as well, reducing Rovers to nine men for a few precious moments.

That amounted to naught, though, as the chance we got saw Dagoberto shoot over the bar on a nice cross from Kalou.

Assou-Ekotto couldn’t take Kitson’s measure, but Steven Reid could, and he brought down the striker with a full-blooded challenge in 33 minutes that didn’t win the ball, leaving Riley no option but to go to his cards.

Kitson was slow to get up, but Rovers had done what they set out to do, which was to serve notice regarding our treatment of Santa Cruz.

Ours had been clean, though. There was that to consider and most in the crowd of 26,000-plus had that figured out.

The card meant a suspension for Reid, but that of course didn’t matter right at the moment. For my part, I wanted to see him challenge for another one, so we shifted our passing through Maloney’s side of the field for a few minutes to see if Reid would do anything rash and get himself sent off.

We could only hope.

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He didn’t take the bait, though, so we went back to our regular game plan after testing his side a few times.

Now Gaspari, preferred to Ferreira at right full back for this contest, surged forward and was knocked off his pins by Gamst Pedersen. I wouldn’t have thought him capable of such a rough tackle, and even Riley looked on in disbelief for a few moments before going right back to his cards.

From the set piece, Huth suddenly came charging forward like a madman, evidently looking for a high ball to thunder home with his head. Instead, the ball came to his feet, leaving the big defender nothing to do but play ahead to Kitson.

The target striker strode forward into the area and looked for Dagoberto as Assou-Ekotto was closing to challenge. Attacker, defender and ball all seemed to disappear in one violent challenge, and suddenly our fans behind the Blackburn goal were screaming for a penalty.

Kitson had been hacked down and there had clearly been contact. I was blocked from view of the play by other players in the way, but the fans’ shouts told me that I needed to see a replay.

Dicã was shouting too, yelling for Riley to use his whistle for something besides costume jewelry. Yet the referee was nonplussed, jogging backwards back up the field as Brown collected the loose ball.

Kitson was just as upset, and went down under duress in the penalty area again just before the stroke of halftime.

Only this time, Riley booked him for diving, which made the support behind the goal doubly angry.

This one I had seen – Kitson had gone down under a challenge from Khizanishvili. Had he won a penalty I’d have been delighted. It would have been a soft penalty, but I thought I had seen contact. Just more video to watch – but Kitson was really upset.

Two big calls had been made in Blackburn’s box and both of them had gone the visitors’ way. That was unfortunate, but it was the way of the world.

Beside me, the coaches on the bench were upset as well. I hadn’t seen the first penalty shout and turned to Dillon.

“Should I be looking at video at half?” I asked.

“Hell yes, Rob,” Dillon snorted. “Horrible officiating.”

I wondered what my deputy had seen that I hadn’t. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz was giving Blackburn its first decent chance of the first half by working a wall pass with ex-Ger Kevin Thomson just outside our area – but screwing his shot well wide of Lobont to his left.

My captain had had very little to do in the first half. Yet we hadn’t broken through.

Riley left the pitch to whistles from the fans. We were goalless at halftime.

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There was no point in yelling. We had dominated the first half and just couldn’t break them down. Clearly, Blackburn was playing for one point, and it was up to us to find a way to break through.

Rovers were still being physical, though, and it took less than sixty seconds for a Blackburn player to wind up in the book in the second half.

It was Evander Sno, Blackburn’s £4.5 million summer purchase from Celtic, who was punished by Riley for tripping Dicã in full flight.

This time Magallón fed the ball into the Blackburn box from our set piece but again Brown was there, electing to punch the ball all the way out of play and to safety. They looked impenetrable.

Santa Cruz surged forward and beat Magallón for pace only to have Pogatetz pick his pocket and feed the Mexican heading back in the other direction.

Jonny’s prescient pass found Dicã, who worked a 1-2 with Dagoberto that saw the Brazilian played right past a flat-footed defense with the return ball.

It was only Brown to beat – and the Welshman robbed him with a simply brilliant save as Dagoberto tried to round him.

We were really starting to assert ourselves by this point in the match and Gaspari was right at the forefront of it, feeding the ball right back into the box as it came to him.

The Italian found Kalou cutting sharply to the inside and put the ball right at his feet. Kalou then walked right into the human wall of Assou-Ekotto – and at last the Cameroonian was booked.

Sarcastic applause came from our faithful as he went into Riley’s bad books for persistent fouling, and play resumed with yet another Blackburn player carded.

Yet they remained gritty in defense, holding us off the board with an organized, physical display. So far, brute strength was holding its own against the idea of stylish football.

It was frustrating, but there was no alternative for us. It was time to get back down to business, and the hard slog resumed as soon as Riley had put his cards back in his shirt.

Julio César Cacares was next to wind up carded, thanks to a truly inventive trip on Kitson where he somehow managed to slide in from behind the player and get his front striding leg while missing the back leg and the ball at the same time.

It was a truly awful tackle and that was the moment that I finally got out from under the dugout canopy and got right in the fourth official’s ear.

While Maloney was getting his way in the argument with Dicã to see who should take our set piece, I was letting Rob Styles have it.

“I’d like to know why he’s still out there,” I snapped. “Really, from behind and nothing of the ball? Hell, Kitson almost kicked him in the face with his trailing leg!”

He turned to me, not with a look of malice, but rather one of annoyance, as Hughes made his appearance from the Blackburn dugout right behind me.

“And what’s that look about?” I challenged. “I’m saying my piece.”

“Sit down, Rob,” Styles said.

“I’ll stand in my technical area, thanks,” I replied. “And I would also like an answer to my question. A good one would be preferred.”

Styles gave me that look you sometimes get when someone wants to answer you but can’t think of anything smart to say. He just sort of stared at me and I think if he had said anything he’d have blown a spit bubble.

He had no answer for me, and my attention was jerked back to the action when Maloney bent a wonderful shot around the Blackburn wall, forcing Brown into acrobatic save to turn the ball around his right hand post.

If we couldn’t beat them from open play we could do it from set pieces, so I changed our philosophy slightly to try to recycle more possession. The more of this game we could play near the Blackburn area the better chance we had. I was, unfortunately, starting to become convinced that we couldn’t beat them by passing the ball into the goal, even as much as I wanted to see us do it.

The hits, as they say, just kept on coming. Not three minutes after Cacares wound up in the book, Gamst Pedersen, who was already on a yellow, slid right through Kalou and forced my wing wizard into treatment.

Riley made a show out of giving Pedersen the public ‘no more’ washout symbol but the back of my neck was starting to warm up. Red-faced, I glared at Styles from my spot on the touchline.

The war of the eyeballs progressed apace. I got the feeling that opening my mouth was going to get me sent to the stand, but with Kalou rolling on the ground and Blackburn already sitting on five yellow cards, I knew I had to risk it.

I simply looked at Styles and spread my arms, palms upward.

Officials hate that. They don’t like to be shown up publicly, but then I don’t like seeing my players injured.

So we sat there and looked at each other. Hughes came out of his dugout and started yelling at Styles as well, asking him who was officiating the game.

I glared at Hughes, and he at me. We were at a flashpoint, to be sure.

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