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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"

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To make matters even worse, today of course marked our monthly board meeting.

The long-awaited takeover bid from Richmond is due next month. As a result there was a tension in the room as my part of the meeting began.

They couldn’t argue about results, certainly – but they could argue over pounds sterling and with Richmond in the room that discussion was an absolute certainty.

I looked at Sir John, who seemed to have had less and less to say to me over the preceding weeks, sitting at the head of the table. As the outright owner of the club, if he doesn’t want to sell then he certainly doesn’t have to.

Richmond, for all his faults, foibles and owlish expression, is a master businessman. That’s his ace in the hole, and it’s why he’s spent so much time around the club’s general ledger. He knows a very good sized bid will be needed to make Sir John sell, and he’s not about to come out on the short end no matter how much he pays.

That’s why he’s looking at every account line on the club’s books. If he springs out of his own pocket, or into his business holdings to buy Reading FC, every pence that he spends is going to come back to him. From somewhere.

He sat at one of the table and Sir John sat at the other. It wasn’t quite like watching Fischer v Spassky, but there was an element of hostility on both sides that was disquieting to watch.

“Mr. Ridgway, welcome,” Sir John said, as he always did to me in front of the board. “We have had a very pleasing run of results.”

That was my cue to begin, and I did.

“We have,” I responded. “The club is rounding into shape very nicely on the pitch. I can’t really fault much. We are having a good stretch of form and of course, reaching the last sixteen of the Champions League on our first attempt will mean more money for the club as well.”

“Your thoughts on the draw,” he said, without looking up from the performance sheets and tables in front of him.

“Well, we’re a second seed and that means we’re going to face an elite club regardless of who we’re drawn against,” I said. “We’re going to find out where we’re at as a club in any event.”

“That doesn’t sound optimistic,” Richmond said.

“It’s being realistic,” I said. “The building program at this club is ahead of schedule. Results have been very good, and the players we have are a big part of that. If we’re to keep growing, though, we’ll need some new players and that runs the risk of changing our chemistry.”

“You mean you don’t think this club can win with the players it has?”

“That’s not what I said,” I replied with just a tinge of sharpness in my voice. “What I said was that to keep growing we’ll need a bigger squad size than we have.”

“Well, then that’s good,” Madejski said. “We want to talk with you about your budget.”

I frowned. I was well under budget and I knew it.

“Don’t worry, Rob, this isn’t a negative conversation,” Sir John said, as if hastening to add his comments. “Well, perhaps in a sense it is.”

I was genuinely confused.

“Rob, look at your budgets. You are a full fifteen million pounds under your transfer budget and an equal amount under your salary budget. We are giving you this money to spend, and you are not spending it.”

“It’s a business,” I said. “I fully understand that. It has never been my policy to buy players for the sake of buying them. They have to be value for money, and I should think that you as the owner would appreciate that.”

“Believe me, Rob, I do,” Madejski said, casting a sly glance in Richmond’s direction as he did. “But you have indicated that you are losing a substantial portion of the squad for the African Cup of Nations in the middle of January. If we are near the top of the league or, hopefully at the top of it, you will need to be thinking of how to stay there without players like Bikey, Kalou and Sonko. I suggest you direct the scouts toward some targeted acquisitions. We will need players, you yourself have suggested that we need depth, and there is money to spend.”

Then Richmond spoke.

“I personally would like to know why you are not more aggressive, Mr. Ridgway.”

Leave it to Gorilla Cookies to turn a positive into an indictment.

“Because I felt we had what we needed,” I said. “I have no wish to waste this club’s money.”

“See to acquisition,” he said. “Before a Director of Football carries out our wishes.”

Now Sir John spoke.

“Sidney, that is utterly unnecessary,” he said, crossing swords with his would-be rival in front of the board for the first time.

“I say what’s on my mind, Sir John, you know that,” Richmond said.

“Then I will say what is on my mind,” he answered. “You will not berate the club’s employee in such a fashion as long as I own this club. Do I make myself clear?”

The temperature in the room seemed to rise as the two men locked eyes.

“Of course,” Richmond said. In front of him, he had a small note card that I had seen when I walked into the room to take my seat.

It contained the words of Winston Churchill: “ When you must kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

On a happier note, Sir John was back.

# # #

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Wednesday, December 2

Weatherby has reclaimed the lead in the battle to cover the takeover story.

Unfortunately, she has done so due to the death of her main rival, but she still has a job to do.

Today at my media session to discuss our visit to Derby County on Saturday, the talk was about her article on the consortium that appeared in last night’s Evening Post.

She may have scooped Sidney Richmond, or at least pre-empted him. Depending on who you believe and who you choose to listen to, the consortium is either lean and mean – or it’s falling apart at the seams.

While the rest of the press spent its day speculating on who might have been the Chin Lombardo that ran Emiliani’s car into that pole, Weatherby was, as they say, ‘advancing the story’.

It was the sort of day that a journalist dreams of. You’ve got the only story on something big, something important, something you’ve worked on for months. You get to press, and you’re in the clear.

Nobody else has a clue, or if they do, they’re behind you.

When you look ahead, you see no one in front of you. The air is easier to breathe, and you know that the editors of your competitors are going to be having discussions with their beat writers over cold Chinese take-out.

It’s music to your ears. Your dinner tastes better, your drink goes down a little smoother, and you have the feeling of self-satisfaction you figure a player must have when he does something very well.

You’ve done well for yourself. You’re preening. It’s time to puff up like a peacock – until morning.

There are some in the business who hear something on the street and write it as fact. They feel good that they snared a headline, and the next day when whatever club you wrote about issues the inevitable statement denying your story, you get a double exposure.

For some people, that’s just two for the price of one.

Emiliani could be that way. When he wrote something from his point of view that didn’t dovetail especially well with reality, I’d have to take him to task for it. And he’d have fodder for his column.

Part of the manager’s art is to let some of that stuff roll off your back before it drives you nuts. There are certain challenges you have to answer, of course, but if you answer every one, you’re reacting instead of running your club.

So Weatherby really stirred the pot in last night’s edition. And until the next deadline, she’s top dog.

# # #

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She wrote:

Sidney Richmond Sizes Up His Move

By Jill Weatherby, Reading Evening Post

We’re only a month away. Thank God.

The story surrounding Reading FC board member Sidney Richmond’s attempt to dethrone Sir John Madejski at the summit of the Royals’ management team has frankly appeared to be a circus at times.

The long-awaited takeover attempt is into its final countdown now, with a bid due to owner Sir John Madejski at the new year.

Richmond’s self-assurance, and his public pronouncements that his bid will succeed have raised eyebrows around English football. There are reasons for this.

Most notable of these reasons is that Sir John actually does own the Royals. There is no reason for him to submit a bid to anyone other than himself. If he wants to sell, he can. If he doesn’t, no one can make him.

Frankly, one wonders why Richmond would be taken seriously, given the known conduct of some of his associates in the consortium preparing the takeover bid.

With everything from assaults on Richmond’s personal staff to public threats made by the Richmond camp against the job security of manager Rob Ridgway, there’s never been a dull moment this season. Unfortunately, few of those moments – at least off the pitch – reflect well on the club.

Amazingly, the controversy, which has at times exceeded anything Fleet Street could make up, has not distracted the club’s performance on the pitch – which, ironically, may make it harder for Madejski to retain his grip on the club.

It’s frankly impossible to complain about results. The club has qualified for the last sixteen of the Champions League, which is truly a dominant height for Sir John’s operation to have scaled.

Reading is within striking distance of the Premiership summit as well. By any reasonable measure, the building project at the club is miles ahead of schedule.

Again, that may make it harder for Sir John.

Each month, Richmond requests – and receives, in his role as chair of the club’s Finance Committee, a complete report on all Reading FC’s books. He has retained several local firms in an effort to determine how revenue may be maximized from each club department.

However, there has always been an element of cynicism in this approach. I can reveal that Richmond has been asked on multiple occasions by Madejski to provide his figures for the benefit of the club ‘in the present moment’, according to board records.

These requests have always been denied by Richmond, who plans to use them for his own benefit should his takeover succeed.

The advantage is this: with knowledge on how to fully maximize revenue already in his hands, Richmond may make an offer for the club that is too good for Sir John to refuse.

He will make his money. Don’t you worry about that.

However, there is one major element still to be determined in the Richmond proposal. Sources close to the situation tell me that discipline within the consortium is a major concern for the Royals’ would-be owner.

So the question that remains is who will be at the forefront of the bid. Richmond will obviously lead it, but he can’t run the club alone.

Sources have indicated that Richmond will reserve seats on a new Reading FC board for public relations executive Peter McGuire, ousted from a position with the club by Madejski last season, and current Director of Marketing and Business Development William Winthrop.

Less clear is the role of Happy Day LLC in the takeover of the club. A shadow company set up under McGuire’s direction last year, this group appears to be the repository for takeover funds. Profit and loss statements are not immediately available because the company, as a non-public endeavor, is not required to provide them.

However, I can reveal that insiders in the Richmond organization confirm Happy Day as the group which will have oversight over the day-to-day operations of the club in the event Richmond’s takeover is successful.

Should Richmond be successful, he has promised to relieve Ridgway of his duties and replace him with both a Director of Football and a new, continental manager. There have been few indications as to who that individual might be, but sources in the Richmond camp have said the individual will make Royals supporters ‘forget Ridgway’.

All that is still in the future. And, at long last, we’re about to finally see what it looks like.

# # #

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Something in the bid tells me that it wont be succesful (At least i hope so).

but, what i know about your story 10-3?

Im bloody waiting to see more 10-3 :thup:

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Great stuff! Glad to see the long-awaited takeover bid is finally getting off the ground.

I'm also very curious to see who Ridgway's transfer targets are.

On 08:

This week, for the sake of distracting myself from an essay, I loaded up 08 (0.2 patch with a custom data update) and played a couple of seasons. I'd actually forgotten how utterly reliant 07 & 08 were on 'Squad Cohesion'. I noticed that if you have low squad cohesion you tend to get punished at the 90th minute more or less regardless of how well you play ... and vice versa ;-)

PS - Has Rob's Reading squad got 'Would Die For Each Other' yet?

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Yes, it is indeed takeover time, Ori ... can Richmond keep it togther?

TV, always a pleasure to see you post. Squad cohesion is important but I've seen so many matches in my Premiership wind up with very late goals I don't know ... is there ANY cohesive Premiership squad? As for RR's January targets, he's torn (and I haven't yet reached January in my game play). He will surely lose at least Bikey, Sonko and Kalou to the African Cup of Nations and I don't know that there is yet the depth in this squad to deal with that without purchases. There's money to spend, and my guess is that Reading will buy. As for 'will die for each other', no, that hasn't happened yet but then there's already been enough death in this story :D

___

Today’s training session seemed almost normal.

The mood of the players heading into the weekend matchup against Derby is excellent. We’re playing reasonably well, we’ve got some momentum and there’s a rhythm about the squad that really is pleasing to see.

Of course, I’ve felt this way before, most notably before the Manchester City matches where we’ve crashed and burned, so I try not to read into these things so much.

Still, I’d rather have them happy than upset, of course, so I take what I can get. We’re expected to do reasonably well even away from home, and this sort of reaction from the squad can only help.

Dillon, Downes and I sat in my office at the training ground after the morning session watching television, where we saw video of Sam Allardyce getting his Manager of the Month award for leading Newcastle to four wins on the spin.

“Nice bauble,” I smiled.

“You don’t have one,” Downes joked.

“You got that right,” I replied. “Probably won’t get one, either.”

“Now, now, Rob,” Dillon grinned, moving across from my desk to grab soft drink from a refrigerator. “There’s no conspiracy.”

“Remember, we’re the Rat Pack,” I said, unconcerned about the lack of personal trophies on my wall but enjoying the tweaking of my deputy. “Nobody wants us.”

“Well, maybe not you,” Dillon said, opening his cold drink and taking a sip. “I’m in high demand.”

“Whatever,” I smirked. “You got rid of me once before, you can do it again. Maybe you’ll be Sidney’s choice when I’m gone.”

He knew I was kidding – thankfully – but his role on staff when I had been non-tendered here as a player was one that had caused discomfort early in my tenure.

“Not likely,” he mused. “I’m not a ‘continental manager’. Anyway, I’d as soon not work for that man.”

“Good for you, Kevin,” I said, in seriousness. “It’s not like I’d get the opportunity, even if I wanted to. But who wants scars all over their body?”

The story on the screen then turned to a report on Weatherby’s story. Media does that whenever they’re behind on a given piece of news – and Jill’s work had gone national.

Good for her. If Richmond does end up taking over this club, I hope she exposes every skeleton in his closet. I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.

# # #

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As for 'will die for each other', no, that hasn't happened yet but then there's already been enough death in this story :D

There goes my hopes for Richmond.

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Aww, Ben, if I killed off Sid Richmond, who'd be left to hate on? :)

___

“So, when will the players arrive for the event on Friday?”

I didn’t care for Winthrop’s tone, despite his recent evident desire to make nice with me. He was being his usual self, perhaps having read the papers last night. There was an arrogant streak in the young man.

He had lied to me. I could see that as plain as day but I really couldn’t do anything about it. He was on the front office side of the operation while I ran the football side. If he had worked for me, I’d have handed him his cards for giving me that song and dance about caring for Reading FC.

He worked for Sidney Richmond, which meant he figured out how to turn a personal profit. I had no use – at all – for people who try to step on others to reach that particular goal.

We do it together, or we don’t do it at all.

So, I reminded him of a simple fact.

“You do know, don’t you, that we’re away on Saturday?” I asked. “At Derby?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Friday is our travel day,” I said. I turned back to my training session plan and answered him as disdainfully as I could.

“We leave at 9:00 a.m.,” I said. “There will be no one in the traveling squad at your event, because of my curfew rules the night before a match. You may have access to any player not on the 18-man traveling squad, Mr. Winthrop.”

His jaw dropped.

“Now, if you’re nice to me, I’ll let you have that list tomorrow. I’m still selecting my squad for that match but I might have a better idea of who is and who is not going to Derby by that time.”

He looked at me, thunderstruck. A first-rate marketer, and would-be board member, had been holed below the water line because he hadn’t considered the fixture list.

“Team travel comes first, Mr. Winthrop,” I said, no longer looking up from my plan sheet. “It’s an absolute priority.”

He looked at me for a long moment, and finally spoke.

“Why didn’t you remind me of this when I first told you of the event at the Oracle?” he asked.

Now I did look up.

“Because you lied to me, Mr. Winthop. You suggested one thing about your character and then turned around and did quite another.”

He said nothing. So I hammered home my point while I still had the chance to do so.

“Don’t lie to me,” I said. “Good day.”

# # #

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Go where? :D

___

Thursday, December 3

“I’ve decided I will take you up on your offer.”

This time, Winthop was surprised. Kate sat across the table from him and her words weren’t what he had expected to hear.

He was still steaming from his miscalculation of yesterday. He had had to go tell Richmond that the mandatory party he had been directed to provide wasn’t going to happen – at least not in the way he had intended – and that had hurt him to the quick.

Richmond’s owlish reaction was dreaded by those staff who actually had to work with with the man. They looked at him as sort of a male Anne Robinson, which wasn’t intended as a compliment.

Yet this news would go a long way toward smoothing things over with his boss.

Richmond wanted Kate back with the club not so much for her professional skills, which were considerable, but rather for the impression of normalcy she would bring.

After all, when your goal is to foment chaos within an organization so you can take over the selfsame organization, there has to be some kind of smoke screen in place to make those in charge believe that all is well. Until the moment came to strike.

Winthrop knew that full well. He wasn’t aware that Kate did too.

They both knew, however, that she needed the work.

Times were lean all over and the public relations executive had managed to build up quite a bit of local goodwill while working with the club on her first go-round.

Their conversation passed amicably, and before long Winthrop had given Kate a list of things in the community that frankly ‘needed doing’.

Kate’s first thought was to why they hadn’t been done in the first place, but then she figured she already knew the answer to that.

They hadn’t been done befcause Winthrop had spent the majority of his time scheming with Richmond on ways to undermind management and take over the club. He was simply too busy to do his job.

She noted these things in her mind, having already committed them to paper in her home. She knew that somewhere, the people who had beaten Peter were hiding. She also knew, in her heart of hearts, that it was more than likely William Winthrop knew where to find them.

She thought that if you opened a book of tropes to the phrase ‘too clever by half’, you’d see a picture of Winthrop.

It all seemed so simple. All she had to do was keep her nose clean, stay out of trouble, and keep her ears open.

She had been stupid to marry McGuire, even if her beloved children were the end result. She loved them more than her own life, and she wouldn’t have traded them for anything.

Yet, she still cared for the man as the father of those children, even if he had turned out to be a cheating, marriage-destroying philanderer. Personally, she disliked him. Privately, she couldn’t escape his presence.

As much as she wanted to.

The meeting broke up, and Kate headed down the hall to the small office she would occupy, primarily on match days. Inside, she dropped off her purse and left, locking the door behind her. She then went downstairs to the changing rooms.

# # #

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WTF?! Kate is going to spy against her ex-husband?!

Im Bloody waiting to see more 10-3! :thup:

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I always get this weird feeling about Kate. She's more than a bit 'funny' around Rob. Sometimes I think that she hasn't got it entirely together.

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TV, Kate has her own agenda. She's one of my favorite characters to write and I'm glad she's back.

___

I hadn’t seen Kate since Venice.

Frankly, I thought that was a good thing, considering the kerfuffle that her presence had brought about the last time we had been in the same room together.

Patty, naturally, had been incensed. I, on the other hand, was merely mortified.

The two women had faced each other down, with good old Robbie Ridgway in the middle, evidently the object d’affection of both.

Now, for some guys that’s a turn-on, but for me it was a rather amazing inconvenience.

Patty and I were getting serious about each other and Kate’s presence at what Patty and I finally jokingly referred to as ‘the Battle of the Biennale’ had really served to throw a monkey wrench into the works.

We had persevered – though some wags were already wondering whether that was a good thing or a bad thing – and the result had of course been marriage and her current pregnancy. Despite the trials and tribulations and her obvious shine to Hardcastle, I wouldn’t have changed any of it.

Well, okay. Some of it.

Her tap on the door had brought my nose out of Winston Churchill’s The Second World War.

I’m an avid reader. My thought was that since World War III seemed to be looming on my horizon, it might do me some good to see how the guy who helped win the last war had gotten the job done.

I turned, looked at her, and did a double-take.

“Hi, Rob,” she said. “Mind if I come in?”

“Uhhh…”

“I know, you’re surprised to see me,” she said, coming in anyway and sitting down opposite my desk. “I’m back with the club.”

She fastidiously avoided shaking hands with me – so obviously that I couldn’t help but notice.

“I can see that, Kate,” I said. “So what form of demon possession took over your mind so you’d do this?”

“Well, it’s not that,” she said. “Do you mind?”

She pointed to my coffee pot, which sat on a shelf to the right of my desk.

“No, go ahead,” I said, my head starting to spin.

She got up and served herself, which saved me the trouble, and returned to her seat.

“It wasn’t demon possession,” she said. “It was the highly persuasive Wiliam Winthrop.”

“As Mr. Spock once said on Star Trek, ‘a difference that makes no difference is no difference’.”

She grinned, and stirred in a container of non-dairy creamer. “Actually, it’s something else, and I think you might know what it is.”

“Surprise me.”

“I think it’s easier to keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” she said quietly.

“You do realize that you are sitting in the office of a man who has had his conversations wire-tapped,” I said.

“I do,” she responded. “All I know is that I’ve been asked to be here and I’ve been asked to do a job. I accepted that job, and if they fire me now, they fire me and I go to the press. They don’t frighten me.”

I bit my tongue. I wanted to say that the people she doesn’t fear probably know others who wouldn’t stop at mere frightening when they wanted something.

Yet, I didn’t. Instead, I frowned at her.

“You need to respect everything that goes on in this place,” I said. “That’s my advice to you. Don’t let any detail slip past you. If you do, it will come back to bite you as sure as we’re sitting here. I myself have no margin for error. If I make a mistake I can wind up fired and if I wind up fired, it’s just a matter for me of how quickly I can get back to the States before whoever’s looking for me, finds me.”

She frowned right back at me.

“Then why don’t you just go, Rob?” she asked. “Honestly. It’s what you wanted to do before, it’s what you wanted to do when you asked me to marry you back in the day.”

“And look how that turned out,” I countered. “Kate, I can’t run now. If I run, they win and God knows what happens to the people here I care about. If I stay, at least I’ve got protection as long as I’m here.”

She sipped her coffee. “You’ve thought this through,” she finally said.

“I have. What choice have I got?”

She looked at me, with an expression bordering on pity.

“And if I had married you, all this worry would be mine,” she said.

“Be glad you didn’t,” I said, feeling a bit sorry for myself even as I didn’t care for her choice of words.

“Well, there are some things in life that you regret despite the way things actually do turn out,” she said, rising from her chair as she finished her coffee.

“I just want you to know I’m here,” she said. “I’m no threat to you, Rob. But if you need someone to talk to … well, you know where to find me.”

She left, closing the door behind her.

# # #

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Excellent work as usual! And we need more use of the word "kerfuffle."

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The sexual tension between RR and Kate can be felt...

I love this way of writing 10-3 so keep up the good work!! :thup:

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Apologies 10-3, it was actually meant to be a compliment. For me Kate feels like a very 'real' person where perhaps for example Sidney Richmond is more of a 'fun' character. But like a real person Kate creates a distinct reaction in me. At this moment - unease and distrust :(

I suppose it's not altogether dissimilar to how some of the other posters feel about a certain female police officer...

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Thank you, everyone ... back to posting after another business trip ... I appreciate your patience.

___

Today’s topic of discussion among the coaches in training was the plight of AC Milan.

Carlo Ancelotti is officially ‘under pressure’ there after last night’s UEFA Cup result in Copenhagen. His veteran side was comprehensively handled by a 3-1 score, which places them third in their qualifying group.

To say that is rather un-Milanlike, if you will, is an understatement.

It does appear that Milan will still go through, which would be expected in that part of Italy. However, Ancelotti’s troubles appear to be only beginning there.

Milan are in tenth place in Serie A and playing very poorly. For a side as expensively assembled as i Rossoneri, that’s just not good enough.

It’s more than likely Ancelotti knows this. Today’s conversation, though, was a primer on how the mighty have fallen, not just here but elsewhere around Europe.

Bayern Munich remains atop the Bundesliga and Real Madrid are pacing La Liga, but some of the traditional powers are really struggling.

For example, Barcelona, despite their European dominance, are seventh in their domestic table and can’t seem to get out of second gear in their home league. Werder Bremen are ninth in Germany and playing every bit like a mid-table side.

There has been something of a changing of the guard, however slight, in some of Europe’s top leagues. We’re one of those clubs at the forefront of the change, which most observers think is at least reasonably good for the game.

It’s no fun for the neutral to see the same clubs win every year. We’re too new to the top of the table for people to be sick of us yet, so we have the advantage in the press of being the underdogs.

It is also starting to lead to the first real pressure I’ve encountered in management.

At Padova, we weren’t expected to win. But we did, and in my absence the club was relegated from Serie B.

In my first year at Reading, we weren’t expected to win, but we reached the Champions League.

Once there, we weren’t expected to win, but we reached the last sixteen.

It’s getting to the point where people are starting to expect things, and not just Sidney Richmond.

We look at a guy like Carlo Ancelotti – who has accomplished much in this game, won a lot and gone places we have yet to go – and we see him starting to buckle under the pressure of increased expectation.

If we keep winning, it’s coming for all of us.

If we start losing, it’s coming for all of us.

So we might as well get ready for it.

# # #

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One will wonder why did you write about carlo ancelotti... RR is gonna manage Milan?

Keep up the good work 10-3 :thup:

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My suspician is that kate may pop up as a sort of "counter spy" for Rob, dropping him hints and sliently sabbotaging the assbags toeing Richmonds line. Also would it hurt you to have a look at some more australians for your side? I don't even know if Fed is still in your squad.

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Thanks, gentlemen. To answer questions: Ori, I have long had RR's eyes looking about him in his game world. He has also always kept an eye on Italy since that is where he finished his playing career and started his managerial career. And, with Richmond rumbling, you never know ...

Twizted_seed, Fed is still in the Reading squad and still in the senior squad. Unfortunately, he's still squarely blocked by the club captain, Lobont, who is presently playing more like an acrobat than a goalkeeper. I wouldn't mind more Aussies, actually, but they need to fit my scheme -- pacy, skilled players who have a nose for goal and who are team-oriented. This Reading eleven has the highest cohesion of any group I've ever managed in any version of this game and I don't want to compromise that.

___

Friday, December 4

“I must suffer fools.”

Richmond sat back in his high-backed leather chair, a copy of Weatherby’s article on his consortium laying perfectly flat on the polished surface of his mahogany desk.

Unlike many people who have had unflattering things written about them in the public arena, Richmond was not upset at the reporter. She had simply been doing her job.

He was, however, furious with whomever had leaked her information about the consortium without his permission.

He had a short list of suspects. It really couldn’t be that long, and most of the people who worked for him lived in such fear of his malice that they wouldn’t dream of going to the press, even if they did have permission.

It was always good to be the boss, Richmond thought.

“Well, maybe not always…”

He reached to a tea cozy to the right of his desk, where a pot brewed to his specifications was placed, twice daily, by his orderly staff.

If he drank it, that was wonderful. If he didn’t, it was no big deal. And if he offered a visitor some, well, that was a sign of unusual favor.

For now, though, the tea was all his. He needed to think.

There really was nothing that was going to prevent him from taking over the club save for the presence of the Old Man himself. And, as Richmond well knew, every man has his price.

If the offer is good enough, he’ll sell, Richmond thought to himself. How can he not?

He turned to the article again and read where he had promised board seats to Winthrop and McGuire.

That made him smile.

“Why do I need a board?” he now said, aloud. “Why does Sir John need a board? He needs a board to keep track of his property while he does other things. I have no other things. I need no board.”

He leaned back in his chair and talked to himself some more, as if comforted by the sound of his own voice.

“I’ll do it my way,” he said. “I’ll run it my way, I’ll make the decisions my way. And if people don’t like it, they can simply lump it.”

He chuckled to himself and took a sip of his perfectly prepared tea. He liked chai. It soothed him.

“Yet, I suffer fools,” he thought to himself. “Why do I do this?”

# # #

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Fowler looked at the same article, but looked at it with a different set of eyes.

In this case, the eyes were figurative as well as literal. His superiors at Scotland Yard were keenly interested in the makeup of Richmond’s group, and Weatherby’s article had hardly broken new ground on that front, but it did appear that the reporter was well connected enough to be of use to the police when the moment arrived.

The investigations had stalled, but they all seemed to point now in the same direction. Toward Italy.

Honestly, he thought, that conclusion had hardly been a stretch. The problem was that more and more people who could connect the authorities with those in Italy who were probably responsible for all manner of crimes seemed, of late, to be turning up dead.

For Fowler, that wasn’t a surprise. He was a real ‘crime doesn’t pay’ type, and he found it not the slightest bit unusual that the criminals were falling one by one.

Except for Emiliani. He didn’t seem to be a criminal. He just seemed to not be very smart, which was the next worst thing he could have been.

However, that didn’t matter now. It was just another thing to investigate.

Contrary to popular opinion, Fowler did have other cases he was investigating. One involved a rather nasty financial deal involving the CEO of one of England’s largest manufacturing companies, while another was a case of grand larceny that was about to rock the board of directors of a good-sized financial services company.

Yet those cases seemed like child’s play compared to these Italians.

“It shouldn’t be that way,” he thought, placing even more paper in the huge file sitting on top of his desk. It was getting to the point where he would no longer drop it on his desk – the ensuing avalanche of paper would quite simply be a waste of his time to clean up.

“You’d think that sooner or later these people would slip up. I can’t prove a thing.”

Sighing, he leaned back in his metal chair. It wasn’t like Fowler to admit that he was spinning his wheels.

Yet, he clearly was doing just that.

# # #

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I can do that :)

___

Our trip was uneventful. We went by coach, which meant it took about four hours to get where we needed to go.

That didn’t seem to faze the players, though. At this stage, even our coach travel is first class. There was plenty of room to stretch out on the bus, the players kept their music to reasonable levels in their headphones, and we simply enjoyed the day.

All except for the injured Dagoberto, who was left behind in Reading for Winthrop’s World Cup party.

So, in other words, he drew the short straw.

He’s actually on the cusp of A Seleçao for the World Cup, having made two of Dunga’s recent squads for friendly matches. So, if Winthrop wanted a potential World Cup star to go to his shindig, he might actually have gotten one.

What he didn’t get, though, was Kitson, whom he really wanted to have in the megastore. That was the whole point.

The coach drove on, toward Derby, with the players I wanted away from Winthrop all listening to their music on the trip.

It was a moral victory for the manager over someone who had shown he couldn’t be trusted. Now, he was going to have to pay the price.

Had he simply shown me a little respect, and been true to the sob story he told me about loving the club of his youth, I’d have put players on an overnight coach for him. Maybe not the first eleven, but certainly someone who could have made his event a success.

I’d have tried to help him. But he didn’t want that. He wanted victory.

So, I hung him out to dry.

There’s nothing more important to this club than getting a result tomorrow. There’s nothing more important to this club than getting a result the day before the next match, or the next match, or the next.

Do I make my point?

I looked out the window as the coach rolled on, and checked my e-mail on my Blackberry. Patty had written me a note, which was nice. I shook the thought of yesterday’s conversation with Kate out of my mind and concentrated on my wife.

It seems like in recent days we haven’t had a lot to say to each other. We’ve been like ships passing in the night.

Since her meeting in London, she really hasn’t talked much with me. I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought and I’ve tried to keep my thoughts centered on the positive things in my life, but it would be nice if we could just have a little time together.

Her note was rather perfunctory, but at least it ended with “Love, Patty”. I thought that was nice.

And I have to admit, she’s getting more and more wonderful to look at by the day as her pregnancy really begins to show.

Some mothers have ‘the glow’, as the phrase goes, and when she’s in a good mood, she really does look every inch the part of the happy mother-to-be. It’s those days when all the crap is worthwhile, when all the aggravation I go through to keep and hold the job that pays me very well seems worth it.

I just hate Hardcastle.

That’s a very strong word, I realize, but it’s completely and absolutely true.

This man has made no secret of his desire to steal my pregnant wife, and that’s enough to make me want to wring his fool neck in response.

Unfortunately, even though I’m a reasonably fit and fairly strong fellow, he’d put me in the hospital or worse if I tried it with my bare hands.

I closed my eyes as the coach continued to head towards Derbyshire, and thought back to that dream I once had where a much different Rob Ridgway had taken matters into his own hands.

That, frankly, had been a very nice dream, even if I hadn’t been able to reconcile the end of it.

I like Alba – as a friend. But I had no idea that my subconscious thought quite that highly of her.

One of the most beautiful women on the planet is carrying my child. You would think that would be enough for me.

# # #

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The Oracle had started to fill early. That made Winthrop smile.

His promise of “Reading’s Stars” to be in attendance at his event had brought out the good people of the town, but his hope was that once they arrived they wouldn’t be disappointed.

Dagoberto’s attendance helped a lot with that. Despite not being in my eighteen due to his separated shoulder, he would indeed be on the cusp of Dunga’s national team, which was one of the favorites to win the World Cup draw about to take place.

The current world rankings show Brazil with a healthy lead over Holland, with Argentina and England tied for third a tidy 222 points behind the Brazilians.

The remainder of the top ten included, in order:

Romania

France

Germany

Spain

Croatia

Cameroon

While the FIFA delegation assembled on a stage in Johannesburg to draw the ping-pong balls for the World Cup group stages, the pundits on B Sky B speculated as to what potential Groups of Death awaited the field.

They didn’t have long to wait.

The balls came out fast and furious, and before long, people were able to make up their own minds:

2010 World Cup Group Stage Draw (alphabetical, world rankings in parentheses)

Group A

Chile (31)

Ghana (23)

Italy (16)

Spain (8)

Group B

Argentina (t3)

Australia (21)

Costa Rica (50)

Croatia (9)

Group C

England (t3)

Nigeria (22)

Sweden (25)

Uruguay (28)

Group D

Cameroon (10)

Holland (2)

Iran (29)

Portugal (13)

Group E

Germany (7)

Morocco (27)

South Korea (34)

Switzerland (33)

Group F

Colombia (36)

Mexico (15)

Romania (5)

South Africa (68)

Group G

France (6)

Ivory Coast (14)

Japan (32)

Scotland (18)

Group H

Brazil (1)

Denmark (11)

Saudi Arabia (38)

United States (19)

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are you going to be keeping us updated on the world cup like you do with your EPL wrap up or just keeping it to Teams your players make, the US and Rooney's loonies?

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My stab at it to progress:

Spain, Ghana, Argentina, Croatia, England, Uruguay, Cameroon, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Romania, Mexico, France, Ivory Coast, Brazil, USA

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I do plan to update on the World Cup. However, it takes place during Ridgway's close season, so it will probably be a less-detailed summary than readers here are probably coming to expect. Unless of course, the plot of the story takes him there, which is as yet undetermined.

Makonnen, interesting thoughts on the group draw. USA never does well in my World Cups (every single one of which have been won by England in every version of the game I've ever played, a rather amazing feat), so I'll be hoping you're right.

Ridgway's thoughts below.

___

Obviously, the crowd was keenly interested in where England would be drawn, and even as Dagoberto had a somewhat different view, he was kind enough to play along with the fans.

England can’t be too disappointed with their draw and will be the clear favorites to advance from a group that includes the 22nd, 25th and 28th ranks in the world in Nigeria, Sweden and Uruguay respectively.

The only problem with England at the moment is that they were not a group winner in the qualification process – Denmark won their group – and they had to qualify through playoffs.

There are a a few candidates for the Group of Death. For me, watching from our hotel in Derbyshire, it’s Group D.

There, Holland, Cameroon and Portugal will fight it out for two spots in the final sixteen, with Iran presumably ready to take some lumps. You could also argue for Group G, where three of the world’s top eighteen meet up, with Japan possibly a surprise.

That top eighteen includes Scotland. The Tartan Army came on at the right time, with Alex McLeish’s side performing brilliantly throughout the qualifying, handling a playoff with ease to punch its ticket to South Africa.

And then, there’s my nation.

We could easily be on the outside looking in through Group H, which boasts top-ranked Brazil and group champion Denmark in addition to presumed makeweight Saudi Arabia.

Something will have to give. I’m not sure what it is, but it probably won’t be Dagoberto, who looked at the draw with satisfaction.

From far away, his teammates looked on and gave him a good-natured razzing as he texted his clubmates with his reaction to the news.

In Derby, meanwhile, Lobont and Dicã were available to talk with the fans by phone, and they were kind enough to do so after Winthrop asked them very, very nicely.

Kalou and Huth spoke as well, but Baptista, who is not happy that he wasn’t selected for the last Brazilian squad, opted to keep his thoughts to himself. He’d like nothing better than to be part of Dunga’s squad, but he’s on the inside looking out at the moment.

That is, while Dagoberto is healthy. Now that he’s not, Baptista is going to get his chance to play alongside Kitson and lead our line.

Kitson is making one last bid to be a part of Steve McClaren’s side too, and the run-in to the end of the season is going to be crucial for both men’s international hopes.

It will also be crucial for our European chances, which is where my main interest lies. If Kitson and Baptista bag ten each in the second half of the season, both those issues will take care of themselves.

Yet at the Oracle, Winthrop sulked while the stars he craved were far away.

Kate noticed, and she also noticed that Winthrop wasn’t even trying to market his shirts. It all seemed odd to her, but then after the last two years, nothing about Reading Football Club surprised her anymore.

The crowd, though, had a good time with Dagoberto and the injured Fleck, who also put in an appearance.

From their point of view, it was Reading players showing up and that was what Winthrop had promised. So, the marketer’s position was tenable.

Or, so he thought. As the party began to break up, a text message showed up on his phone. He pushed a button to read it, and he sighed heavily.

“Not good enough, William.”

# # #

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Thank you, Chao, and welcome to the Rat Pack!

___

Saturday, December 5

Derby County (2-5-9, 17th place) v Reading (10-5-1, 4th place) – EPL Match Day #17

We’re approaching the halfway point of the league race. Today we were hoping for some good fortune.

We entered the match in fourth place, but just two points behind Chelsea, which plays tomorrow. We all knew what that meant.

Gathering for the pre-game meal, we had an unusually high level of focus from the players.

As often as not, they are focused and professional, but today was special.

There has never been a moment in club history when we have had more points in the table than Chelsea. Since they are the Champions of England, overhauling them is a longstanding goal of mine.

From the first match of my tenure here, when we lost a late lead to the Blues when Giuseppi Rossi erased a 1-0 lead in second half injury time, we’ve never topped them in the table.

They are an excellent club and Avram Grant has then playing wonderful football again this season. So, to top them, even for a day since they play tomorrow, would be fantastic.

Then we’ve got some time away from the league, so the tone we set for this match will help carry us until we get back into domestic play.

All these things figured into my mind while I watched the players eating their food.

As I’ve mentioned, we play Hamburg at home at midweek and then have a League Cup tie against our hoodoo club, Manchester City, next weekend.

That will mean, since progress in the European Cup is already assured, that we can concentrate on our league. We’ll be rotating our squad for the League Cup and I expect Sven will too.

But today was different. It was a day we have tried to bring about for a year and a half at this club, and now it’s here.

The players knew it. The coaches knew it. I knew it.

So, sitting back while sipping my morning cup of coffee, I was well pleased.

The morning shows were talking about the matches, of course, and we were fancied to do well.

The issue, though, wasn’t whether we were fancied, it was whether we had the chops to simply do what was necessary.

We’re playing about as well as we can at the moment, so the natural thing for me to do in the changing room was warn against complacency.

“They know you’re good and you know you’re good, I’m going to be honest about that,” I said. “But don’t you dare let the facts get in the way of what you came here to do. You’ve got the opportunity to go out and earn something real for yourselves this afternoon but I can’t do it for you. You need to go out there and do it for yourselves.”

I gave them a little smile and they knew something was up. It helped lighten the mood.

“Reading FC, Premiership leaders,” I said. “It’s out there for you. All you have to do is play like you can play and relax. Then watch the fun.”

It seemed to strike the right tone, but as the teams lined up to take the pitch, I wondered if it was enough. A manager always does.

# # #

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From the beginning of the match, I could see that the right tone had been reached.

It wasn’t hard to figure out, as I watched the ball bouncing up and down inside the Derby goal just 96 seconds into the match.

Kitson had done the deed, his ninth goal of the season banked down off the crossbar from a powerful right-footed turn-and-shoot that sure seemed to get everyone’s attention.

With the trouble Derby has had scoring goals this season, such a flying start really sent the message I wanted to send. I wanted the Rams back on their heels and that was right where Kitson’s strike had put them.

In the beginning, it was almost unfairly easy. The players moved so well on and off the ball. They moved with ease and they moved with confidence. They played like a last-sixteen European side should play, at home to the 17th placed team in its league.

Only we weren’t at home. We were away, but playing like we were at home. I couldn’t have asked for better.

We made our hosts put all hands to the pumps much sooner than anyone would have expected. Dicã came close with a rasping shot from twenty-five yards just two minutes after Kitson’s opening goal, with hardly a reply from the home side.

Maceo Rigters appeared to be the only player in a Derby shirt who showed up both ready to play and willing to put in a shift. The early goal had had exactly its desired effect.

They couldn’t string two passes together. We, on the other hand, could, and before long we had some of the home fans whistling in disgust.

They were really out for blood in the 9th minute, when Dicã got another chance on a nice little lead ball from Maloney on the left – and this time the Romanian didn’t miss, powering home his ninth goal of the season to put us two up inside the first ten minutes.

Dillon grinned after the second goal and turned to me on the bench.

“They want to top the table,” he said simply. “This could be a big day for us.”

“Could,” I admitted. “If we keep our feet on the ground.”

# # #

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He saw what I meant, and got up from his chair to go to the touchline. The balancing act of not destroying momentum had begun, but we had to mind our responsibilities.

The conventional wisdom said the match was already over. However, conventional wisdom has never won anything the last time I checked.

Sebastian Seja was the busiest man on the park, but unfortunately for Derby he was in their goal. We continued to pile on the pressure, with the keeper saving from a Baptista header two minutes after Dicã’s goal.

We didn’t even give them a sniff. That was remarkable.

It was a full 23 minutes before they threatened us, when veteran Polish international Sebastian Mila finally managed to float in a cross f0r R0bbie Earnshaw that the striker couldn’t direct toward goal. It was better than nothing, but not by much.

Again, though, Rigters was the only Derby player who seemed interested in being out there. Nené, for his part, looked sullen, his season-long goal-scoring drought now really seeming to catch up to him. His confidence looked shattered.

Ian Black went down under a heavy challenge from Magallón just before the half hour and earned the first card of the match from referee Andre Marriner, but even that bit of perceived thuggery on the part of my Mexican international couldn’t even wake up the home team – or its sullen support, which was completely out of the match by that point.

For long stretches of the half, our traveling support did nearly all the singing. That should have been embarrassing for the Derby faithful, but they were instead waiting for their heroes to give them something to sing about.

It wasn’t forthcoming.

Derby’s next real foray didn’t come until just before halftime, when Giles Barnes started what was easily the home team’s best move of the half. He crossed for Earnshaw and this time the striker laid off for the late-arriving Rigters.

His shot was low and to Lobont’s right, but Romania’s number one had the pass read perfectly and his dive to tip the ball was well timed. Then it was Earnshaw and Black playing a two-man game outside our area while Magallón and Sonko stood and watched them. Black then stung Lobont’s palms with a blistering drive that the keeper was forced to parry to the left corner of our third, where it was finally dealt with by Golbourne.

His long hoof actually found Kitson at the halfway line, with the German merely trying to clear his lines.

Like a red-headed gazelle he looked, galumphing his way into the Derby half only to have his shirt unceremoniously pulled by Black, who thankfully for his team was not the last man.

Marriner carded Black and Dicã quickly took the free kick. Looking for Magallón on his right, the pass was true. Jonny took two steps forward and was dumped by Mila, leading to more yelling from our bench for Marriner to go back to his cards.

The official didn’t, but Maloney was now over the free kick twenty yards from goal. The Scotsman’s kick was true, but a bit too close to the keeper to wind up in the net.

That wound up the half, and as Marriner blew his whistle, the only noise in the place was coming from our traveling support.

# # #

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“Great work,” I said, stepping to the center of the visitors’ changing room. Pride Park appeared to be friendly to us and our play in the first half had been among our sharpest of the season.

“That said, there’s no reason you can’t keep your boots right on their throats,” I said. “Clearly you’re the better side, clearly you have taken them and their crowd right out of the match, and now you can finish the job. You know what’s at stake with a win here today. Three points puts us top – don’t be the man responsible for wrecking that. Stay loose, stay sharp and finish this match off as strongly as you started it.”

It was a short speech, for sure. I wondered if we’d see any changes from Steve Clarke in the second half, and when the referees informed us that no such changes were forthcoming, I wondered why he hadn’t decided to shuffle his pack.

As the second half began, it seemed apparent to me that even a shuffling wouldn’t have helped. For a change, we picked up right where we left off, which was probably the most gratifying thing my players could have done for me.

Seven minutes into the half, they did get a freekick that Mila dispatched toward goal. Lobont beat it away but couldn’t control the rebound – yet Golbourne bailed out his keeper by clearing off the line.

Everyone was right where they were supposed to be, and above all everyone understood ther responsibilities and executed them. For a change, I could sit back on the bench and watch my team play knowing it was in absolute control of the match.

Maloney and Baptista played a great little two-man game a few minutes later, with the Brazilian finding the Scotsman on a searing run down the left flank. Maloney’s return ball was flicked on by Baptista to Kitson in quite a bit of space.

He two steps toward the Derby goal only to find Nenad Kovacevic closing him. The two collided, Kitson fell, and Marriner did the only thing he could do, pointing to the spot.

Dicã wrestled the ball away from Baptista, who really wouldn’t have minded connecting for the sake of his confidence, and promptly sent the Argentine keeper Seja the wrong way to seal up the points 59 minutes into the match.

There just wasn’t a way back for Derby at this point, but after the third goal Clarke finally went to his bench in an attempt to restore some pride, if you’ll pardon the small ‘p’ pun.

Off came Mila and Earnshaw, who I thought had been two of his better players, with Jaime Lozano and Calum Elliot preferred.

With a three goal lead and a Champions League tie at midweek, I went to my bench as well. Baptista came off as I saw the chance to get Lita some badly needed match time without the pressure of needing to score.

He saw it too, and the striker smiled as I motioned to him to approach the fourth official. Baptista was none too pleased at having to come off, but knowing the reason, he didn’t say anything about it.

The match then degenerated, perhaps understandably, into a back and forth slog whle Derby tried once again to find its collective feet.

Clarke’s preferred method of doing this was to shift his team into a 4-5-1 alignment and pushing his wings forward when the opportunity presented itself. One such occasion came when Dicã got himself booked for tripping Rigters, who was still putting in a yeoman’s shift in leading a rather toothless Derby line.

They tried a quick free kick, but we stole it and Kalou galloped off down the right flank to pull the ball back for Lita in wide-open spaces to the left of the Derby goal.

Leroy dipped a shoulder to swerve his way around James McEveley, advanced on Seja, rounded him … and shot wide.

The look of frustration on his face was profound. In a substitute’s role, Lita knows he has to score to impress and frankly, that was a chance he would have buried last season. He knew it. I knew it. We all knew it.

So as Seja restarted play, Lita and I looked at each other. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to.

Clarke used his third substitution in 71 minutes, removing defender Lewin Nyatanga in favor of João Carlos, for a slightly more attacking bent. It was a cosmetic substitution, though, with little potential to significantly impact the game.

In 75 minutes, I removed Dicã in favor of Bikey, for the same reason I had brought on Lita. There was really no need to tinker with this unit at the present moment, but I wanted Andre to stretch his match legs a bit and Dicã had clearly done enough by that point in the match.

We wound it down, and even a brilliant free kick by Lozano five minutes from time that cleanly beat Lobont to his left couldn’t dampen our good mood.

We had lost the clean sheet, but Derby was burning. And when the whistle went, we were top of the league.

Marriner gave his whistle three long blasts and I turned to Dillon.

“Enjoy it,” I said, as we shook hands before approaching the Derby staff. “It only gets harder from here.”

Derby County 1 (Jaime Lozano 1st 85)

Reading 3 (Kitson 9th 2; Dicã 9th 9, 10th 59 pen)

A – 32,877, Pride Park, Derby

Man of the Match – Nicolae Dicã, Reading (MR 9)

# # #

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Hey 10-3 I find all your stories good reads although I rarely post but my personal favourite is The Unwanted.

Are there any plans to carry it on?

Thought I would ask :)

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Thank you, gentlemen ... today's post is entitled, "Stefano Emiliani, take THAT!

:)

___

            Team          | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | [color=red]1st   | Reading       | 17    | 11    | 5     | 1     | 32    | 13    | +19   | 38    [/color]| 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 2nd   | Chelsea       | 16    | 11    | 5     | 0     | 26    | 11    | +15   | 38    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 3rd   | Man Utd       | 16    | 11    | 3     | 2     | 32    | 8     | +24   | 36    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 4th   | Arsenal       | 17    | 11    | 3     | 3     | 33    | 16    | +17   | 36    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
 | 5th   | Liverpool     | 16    | 9     | 5     | 2     | 19    | 7     | +12   | 32    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 6th   | Man City      | 16    | 9     | 3     | 4     | 22    | 16    | +6    | 30    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 7th   | Newcastle     | 17    | 8     | 5     | 4     | 27    | 22    | +5    | 29    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 8th   | Tottenham     | 17    | 8     | 5     | 4     | 27    | 22    | +5    | 29    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 9th   | Everton       | 16    | 5     | 5     | 6     | 21    | 21    | 0     | 20    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 10th  | Bolton        | 17    | 5     | 5     | 7     | 27    | 30    | -3    | 20    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 11th  | West Ham      | 17    | 5     | 5     | 7     | 25    | 31    | -6    | 20    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 12th  | Portsmouth    | 17    | 4     | 6     | 7     | 23    | 27    | -4    | 18    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 13th  | Middlesbrough | 16    | 5     | 3     | 8     | 25    | 30    | -5    | 18    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 14th  | Aston Villa   | 17    | 4     | 5     | 8     | 19    | 27    | -8    | 17    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 15th  | Fulham        | 16    | 4     | 3     | 9     | 24    | 34    | -10   | 15    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 16th  | Wigan         | 17    | 1     | 9     | 7     | 15    | 27    | -12   | 12    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 17th  | Derby         | 17    | 2     | 5     | 10    | 14    | 25    | -11   | 11    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 18th  | West Brom     | 16    | 2     | 5     | 9     | 12    | 24    | -12   | 11    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 19th  | Blackburn     | 17    | 2     | 4     | 11    | 20    | 35    | -15   | 10    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
 | 20th  | Sunderland    | 17    | 1     | 7     | 9     | 10    | 27    | -17   | 10    | 
 | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

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Chelsea has a match in hand and faces Liverpool at Anfield.

___

It was loud, I’ll say that much.

You don’t go top of the Premiership every day, at least when you are outside the Big Four, so the players were not surprisingly in a great mood.

“You leave this place as leaders of the best league in the world,” I said, choosing to stoke their collective fire a bit. “You’ve done this through hard work, application and above all, through dedication to what we are trying to do at this club. Be proud. Be proud of yourselves, be proud of the shirt you wear, and above all, I want you to be proud of each other. We’ve built a team concept here and you’ve bought in. Today’s result just goes to show that it works.”

They gave a series of loud, confused and mixed yells. Everything seemed to merge together in to one larger roar, though, which was just fine. They were letting off steam, celebrating a gigantic accomplishment. It was time to let them enjoy.

I headed off to face the media and as I stood in front of the interview wall outside the changing room, my first thought was that I wished Emiliani could have been there to see it.

“We’re top,” I said quietly to myself as I opened the door. The television cameras were waiting, their portable lights flashing and burning brightly.

“Take that.”

# # #

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Sunday, December 6

Yesterday, we were top.

Today, we are not.

Chelsea had a match in hand on us, so our time atop the Premiership lasted just under twenty-four hours.

There was good news and bad news in that, I guess. In fact, the results of the last twenty-four hours have been a real mixed bag.

Yesterday, the best result we could have realistically hoped for saw red-hot Arsenal held to a goalless draw at 16th placed Wigan. The Gunners piled on pressure for ninety minutes, but man of the match Chris Kirkland stood tall in the Latics’ goal and held the visitors off the scoreboard.

Elsewhere, Spurs were making a run before being held 2-2 at home by a soon-to-be-opponent, Bolton. Robbie Keane and Matt Derbyshire staked Spurs to a 2-0 lead on either side of the interval before the highly effective Keane went off with a heel injury. Moments later, Kevin Nolan had netted for Bolton and the visitors equalized through Ricardo Vaz Te two minutes from time.

Aston Villa traveled to Blackburn and took three points they can really use off Rovers thanks to a brace from Scott Brown. Morten Gamst Pedersen had given the home team a lead in 37 minutes but they couldn’t hold on.

Portsmouth rebounded from their beating by us to post a solid 2-0 win at Sunderland. While the home team flailed away, Jermain Defoe and Jakub Blaszczykowski found paths to goal for Pompey. They might just stay up.

Yesterday’s match saw Newcastle reduced to ten men for over an hour at West Ham, only to come out with a highly credible 1-1 draw that our fans won’t mind seeing a bit.

Alan Smith opened the scoring 14 minutes into the match for the Toon, but Vagner Love got his marching orders 26 minutes into the match for a forearm to the nose of Anton Ferdinand. Referee Peter Walton liked that not at all, and sent him off.

Dean Ashton then scored for West Ham in first half injury time but despite a whole half of playing eleven against ten, Billy Davies’ men were unable to find a winner. Meanwhile, Ashton continues to score goals at a ridiculous pace, with 12 in 15 matches in all competitions this season.

One match that went the right way, though, was a surprising result in the Manchester Derby.

There, City thrashed ten-man United 4-1 at Eastlands, stopping the Big Red Machine in its tracks.

The turning point of the match came when referee Steve Bennett showed Carlos Tevez a second yellow card – for simulation – in the 40th minute. While the United faithful went crazy, Rolando Bianchi took over the match.

The striker scored just before halftime, did it again just after the hour, and watched with glee as Micah Richards made it 3-0 in 72 minutes. Nani pulled one back for United very late in the match but Bianchi cemented City’s dominance on the day by replying just two minutes later to complete a humiliating rout of their arch rivals.

Elsewhere, Fulham had things their own way at Craven Cottage in a 2-1 win over Everton that helps the Cottagers’ chances of avoiding the drop.

Seol Ki-Hyeon opened the scoring for Fulham just ninety seconds into the match and Everton never recovered. Collins John, the club’s leading scorer last season when it won the Championship, made it 2-0 before halftime and even Victor Anichebe’s goal in the waning seconds wasn’t enough to save the visitors.

Yet, it was today's Chelsea/Liverpool match that interested us most.

The Blues leapfrogged us back into pole position by beating Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield. We were actually pulling for our Big Four rival for obvious reasons, but the champions had too much for the Reds in the end.

Giuseppi Rossi scored twice in the first fifteen minutes for the Blues and they made it stick throughout the match. Dirk Kuyt’s strike on the hour reduced the arrears for Liverpool but they couldn’t find a way home despite the enormous willpower exerted by their faithful support. It was a very entertaining match – but unfortunately for us, it went the wrong way.

# # #

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There was also an horrific incident in West Brom’s 2-1 defeat by Middlesbrough at the Hawthorns. Boro’s Lee Cattermole mistimed a challenge in the 73rd minute and ended the season of Balazs Dzsudzsák through a badly broken leg – the kind of challenge they won’t even show on replay.

The Baggies were incensed that referee Phil Dowd kept Cattermole out of his book for the challenge, and were little happier in the 90th minute when he sent off keeper Gavin Carlin as he dove to take the ball off Darren Bent’s feet.

That cemented West Brom’s fate, after Dent and Mariano Pavone had scored for Boro. Leon Barnett scored the home team’s goal, but after the match Tony Mowbray laid into the official in such a way that he might wind up with a charge to answer.

He was very frustrated, and I could certainly understand that. I had had the same feelings myself last season after Newcastle’s Jean-Il Makoun broke Magallón’s leg with a challenge.

Yet, you have to keep a handle on your reaction because if you don’t, you wind up really hurting your club.

Mowbray didn’t. That reaction was perfectly understandable, but in the end might cost him a ban.

His words were sharp: “I’ve got a player in hospital with a leg that bends in the wrong direction after that challenge and we had a referee standing and watching the whole thing,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to the sport. There is no rational reason for Phil Dowd not to go to his cards, and I mean the red one, after a challenge like that.”

I sat in my living room watching the interview on live television, and commiserated with Mowbray.

“He’s going to have to answer for that,” I said, and beside me, Patty looked up from a new pastime.

She was knitting, something I would never have imagined possible from her even a few short weeks ago. She has never been the type to engage in arts and crafts, but her nesting instinct appears to be kicking in with the baby coming closer and closer each day.

We don’t want to know the baby’s gender, so she has been working on socks for each possibility. The pair of blue socks sat to her right, and she was working on pink booties while I watched Mowbray.

The doctors say she’s about six months along now, with an expected due date around the first of March give or take a week in either direction.

Patty’s lips were pursed in a cute little pout of concentration as she maneuvered the needles back and forth. I muted the television for a moment so I could hear their clicking, and that brought her out of her momentary reverie.

“What, Rob?” she asked, looking over at me.

“Just listening to you.”

“Was I talking to the voices in my head?”

“No,” I smiled. “Just enjoying a quiet evening. We’ve had far too few of these lately.”

She sat in her easy chair, footrest extended to allow her legs the respite they needed after carrying two people around all day.

She looked over at me. “That’s fixable, you know,” she said. “You can be around here a little more often.”

“Don’t start,” I said. “Please.”

“I’m not starting anything,” she said. “You’ve been avoiding me since Monday.”

“Have not.”

“Have too, admit it,” she said. “Every time you see Steven, you get uptight and I’m the one that winds up paying for it.”

“And exactly how do you wind up ‘paying for it’?” I asked, now turning to her and keeping a smile on my face.

“I don’t get time with my husband,” she said. “Look, Rob, you know Steven is important to my sense of well being, because I trust him to keep me and your child safe from harm. I know you’re jealous of that and I know you’re jealous of him. You might as well admit it.”

I frowned, the smile gone. “What do I have to be jealous about, Patty?” I asked. “I would certainly hope nothing.”

She put down her needles, and the half-finished sock dropped into her lap just below the swelling of her abdomen.

“Exactly, Rob,” she said. “You’ve nothing to be jealous about and when you shut me out because I utilize Steven’s services, who pays for that? Not in a financial sense, I mean. We both do.”

“You know how I feel,” I said, ready to unmute the television now that Mowbray’s face had left the screen.

“And it’s entirely unjustified,” she said. “I know you didn’t like what went on in Monaco, and he did make a play for me, but I turned him down flat. You know that, I know that and what’s most important, he knows that.”

“I’m not so sure he does,” I said. “But thank you for the reassurance.”

She lowered the footrest, struggled to her feet and crossed over to me as she used to do, gingerly sitting in my lap.

She laid her head against my shoulder and nuzzled in close. I had almost forgotten what that sort of affection felt like and it felt foreign to me.

So, shame on me.

“Having a baby alone is hard,” she said quietly. “So I’d prefer not to do that. I need my husband. Can you please take part?”

I looked down at her and she looked back up at me, her green eyes filling with tears.

“Of course,” I said, lifting her chin to me. She kissed me softly, and her release of emotion was both gratifying to her and a sign to me.

She broke our kiss and returned her head to the position it had formerly occupied. She draped her hand across my chest and stroked me softly.

Instead of turning the television back up, I turned it off. Raising the footrest in my double-sized chair to hold her up, I looked down to find Patty fast asleep in my arms.

# # #

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I hope the 'supporters' get hold of Patty, she is the most annoying person I feel like I have met.

In saying that, fantastic as always 10-3, very well written.

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Read most of this over the last few days, it's a good story.

Couple of things I noticed, there is no such thing as LLC in the UK (it's Ltd instead); Rob was working on a plan to stop Defoe before the match against Tottenham even though Defoe plays for Portsmouth in this game (posts 180-190); and lastly Bordeaux is an odd airport to use for flying to Monaco, being a whole 8 hour drive away and with poor connections to the UK. I would suggest Nice as a more sensible option instead. I appreciate this must be a bit annoying as Bordeaux is mentioned quite often due to the incident.

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Pan, you have a serious case of Patty-hate going on there, my friend :)

pelicanstuff, welcome to the Rat Pack and thank you for checking my continuity. I am bound to make a few errors over time, but the Defoe one is frankly embarrassing because I have the save in front of me. As for Bordeaux, you've got me there as well. There are a few gaps in my research and it's good that you check them. It makes me better in the long run so I do appreciate that.

___

Monday, December 7

Our visitors for the final Champions League group match arrived today, which meant a day of pleasantries.

Hamburg SV will play us on Wednesday night in a dead rubber for both clubs. We’re moving on – we know that – and they’re dropping out of Europe. They know that too.

We also know we have next to no chance to catch Barcelona for the group championship, so I’ll try to blood some players who have yet to feature in our campaign, or else a few who have had comparatively little time on the European stage.

I’m very pleased with how we’re playing at the moment but as well as we are playing domestically, unbeaten in our last five matches, Hamburg is playing even better.

They will enter the match unbeaten in their last 13 matches in their league, moving to second place behind mighty Bayern Munich.

However, Europe has been an umitigated disaster for Thomas Doll’s men, and I don’t use those words lightly.

They’ve scored only five goals in their five matches and conceded sixteen, including 4-1 and 5-1 hidings by Barcelona. In fact, those two matches are the biggest reasons why we have no chance to catch the Catalans regardless of how well we perform on Wednesday.

Their only point of the competition came in the fourth round of pool play, when they drew PSG 0-0 at home. Otherwise, it just hasn’t been much fun for the Germans.

They arrived determined to go out in style, though. We had a light workout today to prepare for them and we watched video of our 3-2 win over them in Germany on the 29th September.

We’ll be expected to win, though, so we’ll put out a strong side. The fact of the matter is that we have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks against some very strong opposition.

We play Manchester City in the League Cup quarterfinals on Saturday and we’ll show a pretty young squad even if Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side has beaten mine like a drum since I came here.

The festive holiday period, though, will see a repeat of the beginning of our fixture list, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all over it.

Today, though, was media day, with the Germans arriving at lunchtime for the usual festivities. I sat with Doll at a press table and we answered questions about each others’ teams.

In theory, it will be a battle between the second-placed teams in England and Germany. In actual practice, it will be a battle between two teams for whom the match is not the top priority.

Doll would like a win in Europe as a going-away present. I’d like a win in case a miracle happens and PSG hold Barcelona. I’d like to think we have equal chances of those things happening.

I got to spend my time talking about their talented striker, the Argentine Matias Vuoso. He’s a pure poacher in the Dean Ashton mold, and he’s the kind of player who can ruin your day if you give him the time and space.

It was easy to praise him, as well as his partner, the Peruvian José Paolo Guerrero. The two have combined for about eighty percent of HSV’s goals this season so it’s safe to say that if we can shut off supply to the strikers, we’re going to be in good shape.

Doll, for his part, got to talk about how to stop the many-headed Reading monster, which gets goals from places widely distributed around the park. I would like to think his task will be tougher than mine, but if we don’t start strong, we’ll have difficulties of our own.

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I sat for the Champions League magazine show cameras in that sit-down type interview format. That’s where the viewer sometimes feels as though the manager has been asked something important when in reality it’s the same stuff he sees each weekend in much prettier packaging.

It was no different this time. Now that the media furor surrounding Emiliani has subsided to a point, it seemed like dealing with the press was getting easier. How could this be, and how could I think such a thing?

When you do, it just seems to come back to bite you.

Between takes in the interview, I thought about my wife and her sweetness last night. I can’t get over my suspiscions about Hardcastle and I won’t ever trust the man around Patty, but surely her emotions of last night would be enough to convince me that I need not fear.

For crying out loud, she’s pregnant. Six months so, in fact. If she were seeing him socially, someone would surely notice that.

I couldn’t get the thought – or the suspiscion – out of my mind. Monaco is dying hard with me, and I should think that would not be any great surprise to her.

When my part was done and the interviewers waved Kitson into my interview chair, I decided to call her for the heck of it.

“Hi, Rob,” I heard her say. “What brings you to me in the middle of the day?”

“Just thought I’d call,” I said.

“You never ‘just think you’ll call’,” she said. “What’s on your mind?”

“You. How are you?”

“Why, Rob, I’m fine,” she said. “Why would you think otherwise?”

“I’m not,” I said. “Just thinking about last night.”

“Well, that’s sweet of you.” I could detect just a little lilt in her voice – or so I thought.

“I’m a sweet guy,” I smiled. “That’s why you married me.”

She laughed softly, and answered my question.

“I’m doing well, Rob,” she said. “And it’s sweet of you to call. I’ll find you tonight, and we’ll have a nice dinner.”

“Good,” I replied. “I’ll bring the wine.”

We hung up.

“Okay, Princess, let’s go,” Hardcastle said, extending his hand. Patty got up with his help, and together they headed off to London.

# # #

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“It has to be the Italians.”

Fowler leaned back in his chair and just for once he wished he had been a little less Spartan in his choice of office furniture.

The files on his desk had continued to grow, but amazingly, the Scotland Yard man felt like he had their contents committed to memory.

Frankly, after all that reading it wasn’t a difficult conclusion for him to reach, so he reacted to his own intelligence with barely disguised contempt. He studied the blotter on his desk, discolored at the corner after he had spilled his morning coffee on it.

That in itself was annoying – Starbucks is expensive these days – but the pattern of the spill on his desk seemed to entrance him. It further annoyed him that he happened to decorate his desk blotter right after he would ger around to changing the month on its calendar.

He was tired. That had to be the reason for all this nonsense.

All the signs pointed to Italy, from the contacts made with the English group, to the circumstances surrounding Emiliani’s unfortunate accident.

These men don’t take prisoners,” Fowler thought. “Well, I do. They’re about to learn that at first hand.”

Slowly, he got up from that metal office chair and worked a kink out of his back. It was past midnight, and the policeman was finally ready to make his move.

He sat back down, thinking better of his stretching exercise, and dialed a number on his desk phone.

“Alba, it’s Fowler,” he said. “Do you think you can keep your hands off Rob Ridgway long enough to do a job for us?”

# # #

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Thats a rather unprofessional sentence for Inspector Fowler. I know he may be joking but he has previously had chats with alba about that very subject earlier in the story.

I love the story still 10-3. I have read worse published books than this. Anything by Sara Douglas springs to mind.

Afterthought: If you are infact Sara Douglas, then this is much better than your previous works.

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Seriously 10-3, we have said all along you should get your work published.

I read a lot of books similar to this and this is equal if not better.

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