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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"

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Just caught up with the story, Nice to see Reading doing so well :thup:

Patty is on hell of a bitch!!!! She talks to Rob saying he is sweet, and seconds later she goes to have sex with Hardcastle!!!! It wont suprise me if the baby isnt Robs!!

Sometimes i just wish that Rob would do the right thing AND DIVORCE HER!!! She is that bad!!!

Otherwise, Fantastic Story as always 10-3 :thup:

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Okay, ground to cover ... thank you for the kind words, fellows. T_s, yes, it is unprofessional of Fowler ... certainly is. He's frustrated. Wonder why? :) Ben, thank you for your support as always. I did speak with a publisher about American Calcio and the process of line-editing that book has been frankly laborious. Perhaps someday though ... perhaps making a few bucks wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, if others like it. Big step!

And Ori, who said anything about sex between Patty and Hardcastle? :)

___

On the other end of the line, Alba’s face quickly broke into a scowl.

She understood Fowler’s considerable frustration and could hear it in his voice. She was frustrated too, for a number of reasons.

However, that was no excuse for him to treat her like that. She bristled.

“Of course,” she said. “Not that I’ve ever touched the man.”

“You have,” Fowler reminded her. “Or have you forgotten the airplane trip from Monaco?”

“I’ve tried to forget that trip ever since it happened,” she said. “I’m a busy woman, Commander, so please state your business.”

“I have a hunch,” he said. “Depending on the Champions League draw, it’s possible Mr. Ridgway may return to Italy. If that happens, it’s quite possible there will be another attempt on him. I would like you to lead the Thames Valley Police contingent to travel to the Continent, where it’s almost certain Reading will play. I’ve arranged it with the club, but I want you to go there with Mr. Ridgway and be his eyes and ears, if you will.

Now, she smiled. Unlike Fowler, however, she kept her emotions out of her voice.

“I can do that, Commander,” she said. “Where might they go?”

She already knew the answer.

“Rome, Milan or Turin,” he replied. “Lazio, Inter and Juventus are still in the competition and are expected to advance.”

Of course, it could be said that any of the English clubs had the same chance at this stage of having to go to Italy. All four of the Premiership’s clubs are expected to advance to the round of sixteen, and if Rangers win on Wednesday night they’d make it five British clubs to go through.

“And when is the trip?” Fulton asked.

“Not until late February,” Fowler answered. “It’s at that time that Mrs. Ridgway may be due to deliver the couple’s baby. As far as bad things that might happen, I wouldn’t put anything past these people. So we will have to be ready, and perhaps we can end this story once and for all.”

“You’ve got it under control now?” Fulton asked.

“We still need concrete proof and we don’t get that proof without evidence,” he said. “These criminals have done a fine job of covering their tracks, whoever they are, and we still need a break that will allow us to find evidence that is not hearsay. I’m confident if we look in the right place, we will find what we seek.”

“So, why me?” Fulton asked. “Why do you need me to do this?”

“Because Mr. Ridgway trusts you,” Fowler said. “Surely you’ve seen that. He trusted you on the plane, he trusts you elsewhere. That is why I asked if you could trust yourself. He already does trust you.”

“So this means …”

“…yes,” Fowler said. “Be ready.”

# # #

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Good stuff 10-3, but I see you are not actually denying being Sara Douglas IRL......... ;)

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Now why would I deny that? :D

___

Tuesday, December 8

With the match against Hamburg looming tomorrow, the talk of the town is about Richmond.

That’s unfortunate. But when you supervise people who can get your name in the paper, it’s just how it goes.

The talk about my job security has slackened somewhat now that we actually hit the Premiership summit for 24 hours. It’s hard to talk about giving someone a P45 when he’s leading the most watched league on the planet.

Really, the fact that the club is playing so well has really helped me on more than one front. Of course, the added points in the table are fantastic but what we really are pleased about is the fact that when we’re playing well, we’re making money hand over fist.

That helps everyone – it will eventually lead to more money for the players, greater exposure and revenue for the club – and eventually greater profits for Sir John.

From my point of view that is even better, because a profitable club is one Sir John is more likely to want to keep.

Every time we win, we make it more difficult for Richmond. It’s like another turn of the knife. At this point, the slower I can make that knife turn, the better I like it.

It got past the personal long ago with Sidney. He’s talking about taking away a job that pays me three million quid a season for no damn good reason. It’s not like I’ve lost the squad – in fact, the exact opposite has occurred.

It’s not like we’re losing – we’re still in every competition in which we’re entered, domestic or foreign.

It’s not like we aren’t profitable. We’re drawing 30,000 fans to every match and yet another stadium expansion is already being built. Soon we’ll be just below the level of the Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals in terms of our capacity and level with the Chelseas and Liverpools.

If I do this right, there won’t be a Big Four anymore. There will be a Big Five.

I fail to see how that could be anything but good for the English game. For years people have wailed about the hegemony of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Well, there’s a challenger now, and that’s good.

It means that other clubs can make the leap too, if they have the chops. My guess is that more will try.

The day the Big Four are no longer guaranteed spots in the Champions League will be a good day for the Premiership. It will help bring more competitive balance, and it will put pressure on the lower level clubs to raise their own games to keep up.

Where’s the problem in that?

So, the question is asked, what’s Sid done now?

Well, he’s royally p***ed off my old friend Peter McGuire. He’s brought in a new company to his consortium.

It’s not Happy Day, which McGuire runs, at least for the time being. Yet, it’s a public relations firm.

Weatherby broke the story this evening, and my thought is that Sid might like to break her. As in, in two.

It’s also raising my eyebrows. The company is Kate’s.

# # #

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“You really don’t care about her, do you?”

Patty was asking a legitimate question.

“No, honey, I don’t,” I said, sinking down deeply into the tub in our master bathroom. The soak felt good. “At least, not romantically. That’s been over for years.”

I thought it might be a good idea to try to soak the aches and pains of the last few days out of me, while I still had time to do so.

“Then why are you so upset?”

“I would have thought she wouldn’t join up with Richmond, especially after what happened last season,” I said. “And doubly so considering her ex-husband is involved.”

“Maybe they’ve reconciled,” she said.

“Maybe they have,” I allowed. “Maybe McGuire grew a pair and apologized to her like he meant it instead of the sniveling little…”

“…Rob,” she said. “You’ve made your point.”

“I haven’t started to make my point when it comes to him,” I said. “I’d rip that man’s head off and stuff it down his neck if I could.”

“And you’d feel very manly, no doubt,” she said cryptically. “It wouldn’t do any good, and of course you know that.”

“Not for anyone but me,” I said. “I’ve had it up to my back teeth with him, and even though he’s stayed away from me since you slapped him at the Oracle, I keep getting the feeling that he’s waiting right around the next corner.”

“In a sense he is,” she said. “He’s in the consortium.”

“I am well aware of that,” I said. “If Sid gets control of the club, I might as well just resign and save them all the trouble.”

“Why don’t you look around you, Rob?” she asked. “When you get the opportunity, look up into the stands tomorrow night. See what the supporters really think of you.”

“As long as I’m winning, sure,” I said. “They might think I’m the best thing since Top Gear. But when I lose four on the spin, they’ll be singing for my head just like they would any other manager.”

“Then enjoy it while it lasts,” she said. “The thing is, Rob, they love you now. When you need them the most.”

“I think of job security at the board level, they make the decisions,” I said.

“Those decisions are influenced by paying customers.”

“When the fans want a change, they often get one,” I said. “Again, when this team begins to lose, we’ll see how strong I really am.”

“It’s your job to see that they don’t.”

She had a point.

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She smiled at me now, leaning against the bathroom sink. Her stomach protruded rather prettily now from her robe-covered body, and the glow of impending motherhood agreed with her even more than usual in the warm air of the bath.

Steam wafted toward the ceiling from the tub, and the smoky haze in the room softened her striking features just a little bit. Just enough to make me forget what I was saying.

“You have a good trip to London?” I asked.

“I did,” she replied. “Just trying to get some sort of schedule set up for after the baby is born. They’d love to have me back.”

“I should think so,” I said. “After all, you made them quite a bit of money.”

“The sales from the Monaco shoot have been steady and now they’re growing,” she said. “It could lead to a lot of things, if I can keep my shape after the little one comes.”

“I should think you can do that,” I said, leaning back and up to my neck in the hot water. It felt divine.

“You haven’t gained fifteen pounds in the last five weeks,” she groaned, running her hands up and down her abdomen, seemingly to try to shift the baby’s position.

Her task impossible to fulfill, she settled for shifting position against the front of the sink. That seemed to provide temporary relief, and our conversation resumed.

“No, I haven’t,” I admitted. “But I have to admit, I think pregnancy agrees with you.”

“For some of the day, and when my bladder is empty, I agree,” she giggled. “For the other 23 hours, maybe not so much.”

“I’m almost sorry I did this to you,” I smiled, shifting position in the tub and reaching over the side to turn on a whirlpool jet on my lower back.

We were talking about a nice hot bath before. When the jet came on, the ante was upped to bliss.

Patty uses that particular jet quite a bit, when the day is long, I’m not around and she needs to relax after a hard day of baby-carrying. She loves it, and I found out why after only a few short moments.

She looked at me and when I could open my eyes again, I looked at her. She had a happy expression on her face, one I hadn’t seen in awhile.

So I told her.

“Hon, you look pleased,” I said.

“I am,” she answered. “And why wouldn’t I be? You and I are sharing a quiet night at home talking about our family. Despite appearances, Rob, that is something I really enjoy.”

It was like someone had hit me with a two by four.

“I thought you were trying to keep your distance,” I said.

“I was, for a time,” she said. “After Monaco, I didn’t know what you believed about me and about Steven – or about anything, for that matter. I’ve been giving you space and frankly, I haven’t enjoyed it very much.”

I looked up at her. I know Hardcastle wants her and I also know he doesn’t care about things like propriety when the idea is to get what he wants. So yeah, I’ve been nervous.

“I need to know that you trust me,” she said, now running her hands up and down her abdomen again.

“Of course,” I said. “I’ve never not trusted you. It’s him that has always bothered me.”

“Well, I had the last word in Monaco and I have the last word now,” she said. “That, you can believe.”

# # #

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Anyone else seeing a red flashing light and a mechanised voice shouting 'Warning, Warning Rob Ridgeway' ?

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I like how every time Patty appears she inspires paranoia in the readers :D 10-3 couldn't have achieved a better effect if he was using an old-style movie soundtrack -

Dun dun dun dun!

Dun dun dun dun!!

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I can't see why the character of Patty Ridgway draws such ire. Rob adores her, and all she's done is spend a lot of time around a big, strong hunk of man who plainly wants to ... oh.

___

Wednesday, December 9

Reading (3-1-1, second place) v Hamburg SV (0-1-4, third place) – Champions League Group F Match Day 6

With only one match to play and the event virtually a dead rubber, the goal was to get some new blood into the match. Qualification already assured, it was a chance to rest some players while giving others in need of a game an opportunity to play twice in a week, with the League Cup quarterfinal coming up against City this weekend.

The chance to make some noise at home, though, wasn’t lost on anyone. The crowd arrived early and clearly they like this European lark upon which we are presently embarked.

Hamburg manager Thomas Doll could certainly have been excused for thinking the same. Despite his club’s abysmal performance in Europe this season, they entered play on a 13-match unbeaten run that has them in second place in the Bundesliga – and which, of course, will earn them a return trip to Europe next season. So I expected to see an eleven which would reflect a domestic priority.

Meanwhile, Patty’s words to me last night were welcome. I haven’t had a lot of time lately to be a husband to her, and the way Hardcastle has been behaving certainly hasn’t helped with that.

It’s the same old, same old. So waking up next to her and seeing her ever-so-slightly rumpled little expression on her face was really nice.

I need to see more of that. I guess the best way to get that expression is not to be so pedantic, but I really do need to know that I can trust Hardcastle around her. It’s not Patty.

It’s him.

So that was on my mind as I drove in this afternoon to prepare for the match. The radio talk shows were all about the match, and the thought of who we might draw in the first knockout stage of the competition when all the smoke has cleared.

The draw won’t be announced for nearly ten days yet, so there’s lots of time to speculate.

As a near-certain second seed, all the potential ties look daunting. All four of the English clubs in the competition look likely to progress along with Rangers, which would make nearly one-third of the knockout phase British.

Spain are likely to land four clubs in the round of sixteen as well, with Zaragoza ready to join Valencia, Real and Barcelona in the elite group. Italy may have three, but Lazio will need a win to get there to join Juventus and Inter.

Bayern Munich are already through but aren’t likely to be joined by any other German clubs, with the remaining spots up for grabs as the competition hits its final day.

Those will all be second seeds, though, and we won’t face any of them in the knockout stage. We’ll get the big boys, but that’s okay. If we want to show we belong on this stage, we’re going to have to beat them sooner or later anyway.

We did have a match to play, though, so keeping my attention on that was certainly the preferred course of action.

In walking from my car in the stadium cark park and crossing Biscuitman Way to reach the players and staff entrance, I noticed a subtle difference in the crowd as I approached.

More of them were wearing security outfits than I had previously noticed. Clearly, someone had been thinking ahead.

It was the first outward acknowledgement by the club that the staff needed protection. It was chilling, but comforting to note at the same time.

As I approached the door, I looked to my right and noticed Kate walking around the corner of the stadium wall to join me.

“Hello, Rob,” she said, joining me to one side. “Mind if I walk with you?”

“Only if you don’t want to catch what seems to be following me around,” I replied.

“Which is?”

“Trouble.”

“Meh,” she said with a soft smile. “I attract my fair share of that myself. Don’t worry so.”

“Easy for you so say,” I sighed, as we reached the door. From the inside, a security man opened it and we stepped inside. As we walked, I waved to the crowd lined up along the railing looking for player autographs.

Some teams arrive at home matches by coach. Since our training ground is adjacent to our stadium, we don’t do that. We just show up one at a time.

As a result, fans can get close to the players at our stadium – closer than they can at many others, as a matter of fact.

So seeing all those yellow weatherproof slickers in and around the entrance told me the guard was changing at the Mad Stad, in more ways than one.

# # #

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Is trouble brewing ???? methinks it may be..........

Top notch as usual 10-3. Carry On.

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Just finished reading, it's taken me close to two weeks along with a couple of all nighters.

Fantastic as always 10-3

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cf, always appreciated, sir .. and Kiwi, welcome to the Rat Pack! I'm glad to hear you have made the long slog all the way through, I hope you enjoy what's coming up!

___

Kitson was one who did get the nod in the starting eleven, and he had the first good chance of the match just five minutes into it. Frank Rost tipped his low drive around the post and that set a bit of the tone for the match.

Our passing had carved the Germans open easily – but then, in the Champions League, whose hadn’t? HSV had set some standards for futility by conceding 16 times in the five group matches to this point, and Kitson’s early attempt asked questions for which they had not yet found answers.

However, to our consternation, Hamburg at least delayed their answers long enough to keep the ball out of their net.

Patiently, we waited for the breakthrough. We dominated possession in the first twenty minutes, but a packed-in defense that soon appeared nothing like the 4-4-2 diamond with which the visitors had started the match served to foil us.

It took a full twenty minutes for the visitors to get possession for an extended period of time in our half. Dica then compounded Thomas Doll’s satisfaction by getting himself booked for knocking Fabio Rochemback to the deck.

Thus buoyed, the Brazilian soon swung back into the thick of things a few moments later, taking Rost’s long ball and playing it onto Peruvian striker José Paolo Guerrero. He in turn gave Magallón a quick shoulder dip and was past him at the edge of our area.

Sonko moved to close, and Guerrero tried to chip the ball over him. He fluffed the effort – but right onto the head of my defender.

Unable to twist out of the way, Sonko redirected the ball artfully over Lobont’s outstretched arm and into the net for an own goal.

Twenty-seven minutes into the match, we trailed in a most undeserved fashion.

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Guerrero gave the grin of the man who knows he’s lucky as the teams moved back to the center circle for our kickoff. To this point in our season, we have managed to avoid this sort of calamity on a regular basis, but now it had kicked us squarely in the change purse.

The goal allowed Doll to pull back a bit, with his team gaining an opportunity to celebrate just their second lead of the entire group stage – their first, naturally, coming against us in Hamburg.

We came close a few minutes later, though, with Rosenior crashing in late from a corner and ripping a piledriver that ricocheted off Brazilian midfielder Renato, who was guarding the right post.

Then Baptista limped off after landing awkwardly in an aerial challenge, which impressed me not at all. That put both our Samba Kings on the shelf and as he headed toward the changing room in favor of Lita after only 33 minutes, I was wondering if we were snakebit.

“Damn good thing this doesn’t mean anything,” I sighed, leaning back in my chair on the bench. Dillon just smiled.

“They all mean something, and I suspect you know that,” he said. He then nodded to me, knowing what I was going to do. It was time to pace the touchline for awhile, and so I did.

I have a hard time staying seated when things aren’t going well. Some people interpret that as a sign of panic but I look at it as simply turning up my intensity when I feel the team needs it. I felt it right then, to be sure.

Kitson was a one-man front for us, with Lita struggling to find his legs. He knows he needs to find them quickly, and with Baptista out he had the chance to show it on Europe’s biggest stage.

Yet he was struggling to make an impact, while providing a pace option for the targetman. Kitson was doing all the work himself.

Ferreira, returned to the eleven for the contest, swung the ball to the middle just before half and found Dica waiting to receive his pass with some unaccustomed space. He had slipped his marker, and looked up to see Kitson running past defender Joris Mathijsen in the left channel.

He knocked a lovely little ball forward for the striker, who took it at feet instead of his preferred elevated service. It didn’t matter. Rost had no chance once Kitson brought the ball to control, and he knocked his tenth goal of the season home with just a minute of regular time remaining.

It got us to halftime level, of course, but we still had work to do.

# # #

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10-3. I have a quick question. Is it ethical to use these stories as scouting reports of a sort? I have recently signed Dica purely based on knowing him from your story.

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Personally, I don't see why not. I've done the same by reading other stories. Some players have worked out, while others haven't. But then, as they say, 'that's football'. Dica happens to excel at three things I need an AMC to do in my tactic -- pass, run with positional sense, and finish. So can Shaun Maloney in this save, which is why he was the Players' Player of the Year in the season just finished.

___

Urguayan midfielder Victor Sanchez took the field as the second half began, as a substtution for Brazilian u-21 Guilherme. Doll had chosen to blood some of his youngsters in this match as well, but with the outcome in doubt he had elected for some more experience in his midfield.

With the momentum on my side as the second half began, I gave the eleven already out there the opportunity to keep the pressure on.

Seven minutes into the half Lita squared for Saivet and the youngster fired shot directly into the arms of Rost in the Hamburg goal. Lita especially needed to play well for the sake of his confidence, and he looked like he had the bit between his teeth as the half began.

Moments later, we were threatening again as Rosenior and Saivet worked the ball down the left side of the park together. The wonderkid took charge as Rosenior laid the ball forward for him one final time at the byline, and his cross was both true and right on the noggin of Kitson at the left corner of Rost’s six-yard box.

It was, as they say, a ‘useful ball’, and Kitson made the most of hit, heading back across the body of the flailing Rost and home in 56 minutes to get us into the lead.

The goal forced Doll into another change, that of Leon Andreasen for Guerrero, as his team assumed a more attacking shape.

Ibrahim Afellay then tried to climb inside Dica’s shirt, which earned him Hamburg’s first booking of the night, as the Germans began to flail away at our midfield. Frankly, I thought our play had deserved the lead, and Kitson’s brace had borne out my confidence.

There was no reason to get up out of my chair for much of the second half, which was great from the point of view of my legs. The players were doing just fine and saved the gaffer some mileage.

Saivet again found Kitson in 68 minutes, but this time the striker’s lead ball couldn’t defeat Rost. Hamburg cleared their lines but we recycled possession and when the ball again came to Kitson, he was tripped to the deck by their full back, Gabriel, which put his name into the book as well.

As the match moved past seventy minutes, it was time to put some fresh legs onto the park to try to hold the lead. Maloney came on for Saivet, and the wonderkid left to a very nice round of applause from the faithful.

Just after he stepped off, Kitson tested Rost again, this time from distance, and again the keeper was up to the task. Had it not been for his acrobatics we would have put the match away long before, but now he was simply holding Hamburg in the contest.

Andreasen now hacked Dica to the deck, as our fluid play forced the Germans into physical contact to stop us. Maloney then swerved an artfully-taken free kick at goal, but Rost covered his right post in the nick of time to hack the ball away.

“I think this is about as complete an effort as we can make, Rob,’ Downes said to me, seated at my immediate left.

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“Can’t think of a thing wrong with it,” I admitted, before signaling to flatten our midfield to a flat 4-4-2 and switching to a counterattacking tactic.

Afellay then had to leave thanks to a thunderous and thankfully fair challenge from Bikey, who appeared to get not only the entire ball but also a portion of the attacker’s soul as the Cameroonian showed the Dutchman just who was boss.

David Jarolim came on in place of Afellay, and immediately the Germans threatened, with the striker trying to cross from the left side of our area. His cross hit Pogatetz squarely in the left arm in a rather clear case of ball-to-hand, but the visitors immediately screeched at referee Carlos Megia Davila for a penalty that was never going to be given.

Now the visitors were buzzing in search of that tying goal. Jarolim was the fulcrum of their attack, with Rochemback in support and Gabriel barely missing Lobont’s right post with a curling effort four minutes from time.

That brought about the inevitable shift to 4-2-4, the formation that has given us so much trouble in defending in recent weeks. This time we tried to spread the ball wide and exploit numbers in the midfield.

Rochemback launched a mighty effort that deflected sharply off Bikey, with Lobont still managing to tip the carom over the bar for a corner in a save that was as good as any he’s made all season.

Rost came out of his goal and into the attack as the Germans pulled out all the stops to try and find an equalizer.

Jarolim whipped in the corner and after a scramble the ball wound up at the feet of Pogatetz, forcing Rost into a full-length sprint back to his goal before the ball him him there.

He won the race thanks in part to Alex Silva’s determination in closing down Pogatetz before he launched the long ball that would have sprung us into counterattack. Unfortunately, Maloney then decided to obstruct Silva as he in turn sprinted back to defense, earning himself a booking and also stopping play to give the Germans time to regroup.

Matias Vuoso, who scored against us in Hamburg and who has scored half of his club’s goals in Europe this season, then got his first chance of the match with a header from still another HSV corner. This time Lobont caught the header and caught the visitors napping.

He heaved the ball straight up the middle and over the packed-in Hamburg attack, finding a curious player – Bikey – behind the Hamburg defense. We roared over the center line with a four against two advantage, and André had the good sense to give the ball up at his first opportunity.

The player he chose was Maloney, and the Scotsman’s eyes grew big as dinner plates as he closed in on Rost. Without trouble, he slipped the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs and into the back of the net to put us home and dry.

Davila’s whistle came soon after and we learned Barca had, as expected, hammered PSV. It’s second place for us – but we’ll take it.

Reading 3 (Kitson 10th 43, 11th 56; Maloney 6th 90+1)

Hamburg SV 1 (Sonko o/g 26)

A – 30,812, Madejski Stadium, Reading

Man of the Match – Dave Kitson, Reading (MR9)

# # #

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Welcome back tenthree - glad the (unexpected) break hasn't dimed your fine writing.

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Welcome back tenthree - glad the (unexpected) break hasn't dimed your fine writing.

:D

Isn't there some American saying about "dime novels"?

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Fair call Spav. I'll have to cop the ticking off from the Ref there. Poor spelling.

Or you just going me because I'm from Melbourne and you're anti-Mexican? :lol:

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Fair call Spav. I'll have to cop the ticking off from the Ref there. Poor spelling.

Or you just going me because I'm from Melbourne and you're anti-Mexican? :lol:

I'm originally a Victorian, born in Benalla and lived in Melbourne for 17 years, so definitely no anti-Mexican bias there.

My comment was actually aimed at tenthree - I should have put his name in front of it.

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Well, gentlemen, yes, there were dime novels over here, but you'd have to be as old as I am to remember them. Too, after working on these three stories for over three years now, to me they're worth at least twelve and a half cents :D

___

“Can’t complain. For a change,” I smiled. There was a lot to be pleased about, for sure.

Statistically, we had given up a bit too much of the possession to a visiting club, but we had managed 15 attempts at goal with a mostly young eleven in a Champions League match. There was really no reason to nit-pick.

The post-match news conference, though, centered around the final sixteen, which was now decided after the final whistles had gone:

Knockout stage second seeds

Reading

Rangers

Juventus

IFK Goteborg

Zaragoza

Lazio

Steaua Bucharest

Valencia

Knockout stage first seeds

Chelsea

Bayern Munich

Barcelona

Manchester United

Real Madrid

Arsenal

Inter Milan

Olympique Lyonnais

It made for interesting reading, anyway, and the results were as I suspected.

We were the only English club that hadn’t won its group, though, so some of the snarkier journalists were asking if we could expect to be taken seriously as a result.

“I think there are sixteen clubs still in this competition and I think all sixteen have at least a mathematical chance of winning it,” I said. “I should like to be one of those sixteen clubs rather than one of those who drops to the UEFA Cup or who drops out of Europe. What kind of a question is that?”

Having got a rise out of me, they swarmed.

This was actually where I thought of Emiliani. I wouldn’t have given him the satisfaction of a smart-ass answer, but without him in the room I let myself go a little bit.

“It’s a valid question,” one said as a follow-up.

“It’s a stupid question,” I said, dismissing it literally with a wave of my hand. “There are sixteen clubs left and we’re one. Someone will have to beat us over two legs to knock us out and that’s fact. Just like everyone else.”

I stared at my interrogator and wondered who he might be. I wondered also if it might be Emiliani’s replacement.

It’s not like the press needs to let me know these things, but eventually they are going to have to replace the man, and my thought is that it would have to be sooner rather than later.

Emiliani wasn’t a muckraker like some of the British press. He simply expressed a lot of errant opinions, which earned him scorn from me when I felt it was necessary. Some of the tabloid writers, though, can knock a few sentences together but have only a passing acquaintance with the truth.

Sometimes they’re right, though. Even a blind hog can find an acorn sometimes.

But now, they were being negative and I’ve had enough negativity. So I shut them down.

That felt good.

# # #

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Aww, Balty, you're gonna make me blush. :) But thanks!

___

Thursday, December 10

“Rob, you do know it was for your own protection.”

Alba sat across from me on a completely unscheduled visit to my office. She was explaining the presence of additional security at the stadium last night.

“I’m aware of that,” I said. “But what brings you here this morning?”

“We received word that a threat was made against you – nothing that we felt we needed to bother you with, but it was enough to make us act on it,” she said. “And, since last night’s match was European, we thought it would be wise to add the security since other elements might have been involved around the match.”

That was a curious turn of phrasing and I sounded her out.

“You never know who travels to away matches in Europe,” she said.

“Surely the police have databases of troublemakers, who aren’t allowed to travel?” I asked.

“We do, but those are known troublemakers,” she said. “Obviously, we have more trouble with unknown troublemakers – after all, they are unknown. That should go without saying.”

I had to concede her point.

“We’re just being careful, Rob,” she said, giving me a smile I hadn’t seen since the plane trip home from Monaco. “There’s no need for alarm.”

I looked at her, and the smile remained. Her auburn hair was tucked under a duty cap and she had done her face just so. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought she was trying to impress me.

# # #

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It's Back!!!!

Have to admit i missed it a lot and it's nice to see it back.

May I ask if you will continune with the story together with "The Ace of Spades"?

And I still think there is something between Alba and Rob...

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Ori, thank you. I appreciate your loyalty to the work, which has gone on for some time now (since my sign-up date, in fact). To answer your question, I am continuing to work on this story, The Unwanted and my newest, The Ace of Spades. As time permits, I am also continuing work on my fourth piece, Legend in My Mind, but that story was always going to be written at a more leisurely pace.

___

“She’s going to be where?”

McGuire was sat behind his office desk, his face the picture of concentration. For the most part, the scars from his beating had healed and though he looked a bit older for the experience, he was looking surprisingly not much the worse for wear.

He couldn’t help but touch one of the scars as he spoke. It was under his left cheekbone and it was going to be permanent. He kept nicking it while shaving in the morning and as a result it had drawn his attention. With the phone in his right hand, he absently ran his fingertips over the scar as he spoke.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

“At her agency,” Winthrop said. “She’ll be in London tomorrow morning.”

“Then that would be the time,” he said.

“It would certainly seem to be,” Winthrop replied. “You can give her the news then.”

“It’ll be delicious,” McGuire said. “Not because of what she’ll say, because she’ll understand, but because of what that imbecile she’s married to will say. He’ll have a stroke. Which I wouldn’t mind, truth be told.”

“You’re a bad man,” Winthrop laughed.

“If needs be,” he replied. “But then you know that.”

“I do know that,” the marketer answered. “But honestly, Peter, is it really the right time?”

“I don’t care,” McGuire spat. “I honestly do not care. There is money to be made and I am going to make it. If that means I get to take Rob Ridgway’s wife wherever I want to take her, then that is what I am going to do. And there’s sweet f**k-all he can do about it.”

Winthrop smiled, on the other end of the line. When McGuire got very mad, he liked to show what a hardman he could be through the use of his language.

“Maybe someone will mix Ridgway a nice bleach and tonic while we’re gone,” he continued. “Know anyone who would do that?”

“Now, now, Peter,” Winthrop said, now laughing at the sight he imagined.

“And then when we get back, we go after what we really want,” McGuire said.

“Peter, you know we shouldn’t discuss that over the phone,” Winthrop countered, his voice now taking on an urgent tone.

“It won’t matter in a month’s time anyway,” McGuire said. “We’ll have everything in place and we’ll get the job done. You know as well as I do that we haven’t been treated well, and it’s time for us to give a little reminder of how much we’re really needed around here.”

“Peter…” Winthrop said. “Don’t.”

“I’ll do what I please,” McGuire said, his blood now fully up, and his resentment boiling over.

As he spoke, a red light began to flash under his desk. Tucked away against a back corner of the wooden frame, a recorder was gathering every word he said.

# # #

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Friday, December 11

I want to try something different.

When City visits for the League Cup quarterfinal tomorrow, I will unveil something they haven’t yet seen from us. I want to play 4-2-3-1 for the first time in a match and I want to experiment.

I know the board expects the final from us, but I’m going to try something different and for the most part, I’m going to stay with the younglings.

That means there won’t be a place in the eleven for Kitson, who is in the form of his life at the moment. I want to save his energy and his form for getting back into league play against Sunderland next Wednesday.

The fixtures are starting to come fast and furious now, and we haven’t even hit the holiday period yet. After Saturday, we are away to Sunderland, away to Villa and then away to Bolton on Boxing Day.

It’s a fair amount of coach and plane time over that period, and with nothing going on at home for about a fortnight after the match against City, it’s the wrong time of year to be away from a festive standpoint.

Since we’re in the Northwest on Boxing Day, that means we’re going to have to travel either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, neither of which are terribly palatable to yours truly.

Despite appearances, I’m really something of a sentimentalist at heart and I love Christmas. It should be an opportunity for me to spend time with Patty and celebrate the pending birth of the wee one.

She has a pretty significant baby bump now, and it’s really heartening for me to sit and look at her at night. It surely was last night, when we just lay together as we used to do, her head on my shoulder while we watched television.

I think it’s really starting to get better. All we need is time together and that’s going to do a lot of good for us.

It was so nice, in fact, that I didn’t mind heading in to the stadium today. And I didn’t even mind Sven talking a little bit of Scandinavian trash about us.

Naturally, the press wanted to know why City has had such good luck against us when so much of the league hasn’t over the last year and a half.

“We’ve got a good system to play them,” he told Sky Sports in an ‘exclusive’ preview interview that will now naturally be reported all over the nation. When he was asked what that system was, he smiled and you could almost see that Swedish twinkle in his eye that Faria Alam had found so appealing.

“You’ll have to come see for yourself,” he said. “Why would I give that away?”

Of course, there’s nothing in Sven’s system that is any different from anyone else’s. His midfielders just happen to match up very well against ours. That’s annoying as hell to have to admit, but it’s true.

In the League Cup, of course, it is probably going to be a little different since neither Sven nor I will put first-choice elevens out there. But when we play in the league, his midfield drives me nuts.

There, for whatever reason, I’ve never been able to find an answer for David Jones, the ex-Derby man who Sven pipped me for two years ago. Tom Huddlestone, the England u-21 midfielder, is also there. Scott Parker has had a very nice season for City as well, and we just don’t seem to have a way past them.

And of course, up front they have Rolando Bianchi, who is a one-man waterboarding crew to our club. I would be shocked if he doesn’t start against us, League Cup or no.

Sooner or later, though, we’re going to need to put on a performance against them. Every club has a hoodoo opponent, and they are ours. So we need to deal with that.

I’m hoping a change in tactics and a change in personnel will do the trick.

# # #

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“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it--namely, in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” -- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

__

The ride to London had been pleasant enough, even if Hardcastle’s fawning attention to Patty was starting to wear a bit.

He had showed up in his usual attire – business dress that gave off sort of a James Bond-like air – and he had been gracious to her and deferential to me when they headed off in his personal car.

He did like to show he was in total control when he was with her, and part of me didn’t mind that. I want her safe regardless of anything and since I’m paying ol’ Arsewipe Hoover to do just that, I’d prefer he earn his money.

So off they went, and immediately his conversation turned to the personal.

“How’s the little one doing?” he asked.

Beside him, Patty sat in the left seat of Hardcastle’s Humvee, scarf tied tightly around her ears with her green eyes shaded by a pair of designer sunglasses.

“It’s getting a bit uncomfortable, but so far, all right,” she answered. She could have been answering any number of questions with that response, but he chose to gloss over any double entendres.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “I haven’t had as much time around you lately.”

“I have had home obligations,” she answered. “And frankly, I’m starting to enjoy the pregnancy.”

That hurt Hardcastle. “I’d give my left nut to be able to see more of it,” he thought to himself as they drove.

He looked over at Patty, who at the moment happened to be looking out the window. For someone so suddenly famous, she had an unpretentiousness about her that was really appealing.

That and her cheekbones. Hardcastle loved looking at her face.

As she looked out the window, Hardcastle performed one of his favorite imagination games. He undressed her with his eyes.

She continued to look the other way and he imagined to his heart’s content. He had to force himself to look back at the road, but the thoughts remained in his head.

“Yeah, well, I’m glad it’s going well for you,” he said, which brought her attention back inside the car. She looked at him, and he returned her gaze.

“Thank you,” she said. “Looks like it’ll be around the first of March when it all happens.”

“I’ll be ready,” he said, with his own smile now meeting hers. Unlike hers, it wasn’t pretty.

One corner of his mouth turned upward while the other seemed rooted to his cheek. It was sort like a half-smile, only more disquieting in appearance.

To Patty, it looked more like a leer.

Hardcastle had returned to his thought game and lapsed into silence for a moment.

Patty sighed. She knew what he was doing. There was always one way to tell, but she preferred not to stare at that part of his anatomy.

“Why did I ever let him get so close?” she thought to herself. The car rolled on.

# # #

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Hardcastle had returned to his thought game and lapsed into silence for a moment.

Patty sighed. She knew what he was doing. There was always one way to tell, but she preferred not to stare at that part of his anatomy.

Why did I ever let him get so close?” she thought to herself. The car rolled on.

# # #

Does that mean the baby could be Hardcastle's?????

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Patty is one unfaithful bitch.

Poor Rob, He has a cheating wife, a man who will sack him at the first second he takes over the club, and maybe even a bastard child.

I feel sorry for RR, I really do.

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Interesting comments, gents ... thank you for them. I should say that when I developed the character of Patty Ridgway I had no idea she would become as unpopular as she evidently is. All I will say regarding this story arc is 'keep your eyes open'.

___

The meeting went as she thought it would. Her agency was acutely interested, of course, in knowing her personal timetable for a return to work.

She had thought long and hard about the whole idea. While she loved modeling, she was starting to like the thought of being a mother more and more, and had done some research into traveling with a small child.

“I’d like to do both,” she had said. “I think I have the right to at least try that, don’t I?”

Naturally, they had agreed. Sales of her pictures, particularly her first efforts but now more and more from Monaco, were very good. People liked looking at her.

She was starting to make quite a bit of money for not working – which also appealed to her the more pregnant she became.

“I really don’t have the desire to get right back into it,” she admitted. “I need to get my shape back first and since I’ve never had a baby before, I don’t know how long that might take.”

“Of course,” she had been told. “We are happy to source you to nutritionists and personal trainers to help in that process. We’ll help make it as painless as possible.”

“I’ve never been in a position in my life where I’ve had to lose weight,” she admitted. “I’ve been fortunate.”

“Your family situation of course challenges you,” she had heard. “You know that you still have obligations on your contract with us but we do know this won’t be an issue. We want to make certain that the lines of communication are open between us.”

“Of course. I have no issues with this. It’s going to take some work, though.”

“Of course.”

With that, a door opened at the rear of the room. McGuire stepped through it, and walked to the conference table, seating himself without saying a word.

“Patty,” he finally said, looking up from a folio that contained a series of notes.

“What brings you here?” she asked, her eyes widened slightly in surprise.

“Happy Day LLC has purchased this company, as you may know from reading the papers,” he said. “This means, in essence, that you work for me now. So I thought I’d sit in.”

# # #

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Gentlemen, thank you. Scottlee, I appreciate your appreciation for Patty :)

___

She tacked smoothly.

“If you have anything to say, you can say it to my representation,” she said. “I’m under no obligation at all to talk with you and after the last time we saw each other, I thought I made that clear with the back of my hand.”

Absently, McGuire touched his scar again. It was located nearly where Patty had slapped him at the Oracle after the miscarriage of her first child.

“Ah, Mrs. Ridgway,” McGuire said smoothly, now again locked in on his target. “As long as you were here, I thought I’d approach you directly. As you know, we are now the executor of your contract. So my reason for being here is to give you this.”

He slid a file folder across the table to Patty, who picked it up and opened the flap. It contained a shooting schedule.

“This is what we need,” he said. “So, that’s what you’ll need to do.”

She saw an impossible schedule given her physical condition, so she did the only thing she could do.

“I may not be able to meet these obligations,” she said. “I am rather obviously pregnant.”

“This is what we need,” he said, rising to leave. “So, that’s what you’ll need to do.”

He turned his back on her and left the room.

He closed the door, and Patty looked at the other firm representatives with a smile on her face.

“He’s an odious little man, isn’t he?” she asked.

# # #

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Saturday, December 12

Reading v Manchester City, League Cup Quarterfinals

As a rule, I have found myself quite reluctant to anger my wife.

Her redhead’s temper is certainly not something I care to experience on a regular basis, even if my slow boil does match hers in intensity. It’s just not a place I care to go.

This is why I was happy to be on her side this morning.

She was fuming all evening long after coming back from London, and even Hardcastle hadn’t crossed her during the forty-mile journey back to Reading.

That in itself counted for quite a bit. When Patty told me that the former SAS man hadn’t dared to open his mouth, I knew that her mood was approaching incandescence.

I ordered dinner in, and wasn’t sure whether I should keep my distance or not.

She was in the middle of an order of stir-fried rice when she finally spoke.

“I hate that man, Rob,” she said.

“Which one?”

“You know.”

“There are so many.”

“McGuire,” she said, “and I’m in no mood for games. He wants to make me work right after the baby is born.”

“He can’t do that,” I said. “You aren’t physically ready, and if he makes you work before you’re physically ready, you can damage your reputation, not to mention your health.”

“I know that,” she countered. “But it seems that my contract requires it.”

“Even for pregnancy?” I asked. “Isn’t there some language in there that would –“

“ – evidently not,” she said, cutting me off in my tracks.

“That’s ridiculous,” I replied. “Your agent should know what to do about that.”

“I’ve been in contact,” she said. “He says he’s not sure, but they want to read the language of the contract before they tell me anything further.”

“If they negotiated a deal for you that didn’t include a safeguard, they should be fired,” I said.

“Thank you, Sherlock Holmes,” she said miserably. “Nothing personal.”

“No. Not at all,” I said, halfway between a snarl and a grin at her sarcasm.

“I just don’t want to go out there right after the baby is born,” she said. “It makes it worse that the person who gains the most financially from me doing it is the person who tried to wreck my life.”

“It isn’t fair, I’ll admit that,” I said. “Really, though, you may have to make the best of it.”

“The only thing that would be good would be the location,” she said. “Being away, trying to get used to being a mother for the first time, having the baby with me…”

Her voice trailed off and now it was my turn to frown. This idiot McGuire was going to rip my newborn child away from me, so it wasn’t just Patty he was hurting. As with everything Peter McGuire did, it was now personal.

“That f***ing rat bastard,” I snarled.

“Colorful, but appropriate,” she said. She took another bite of her rice.

If it’s not one thing with that gutter snipe McGuire, it’s another.

# # #

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Patty’s spleen vented, I enjoyed a quiet morning at home with her, quietly stoking her fire against McGuire, before heading off to the stadium at mid afternoon.

I secretly hoped she would want to watch the match – the new luxury suites at the stadium are even nicer since the first addition to the place last season – but I had no such luck.

She doesn’t seem as interested in the matches now, and I suppose there are reasons for that. Her advancing pregnancy being the first, but I supposed that she simply was not in the mood. There was that to consider as well.

Under such circumstances, it’s best for me to simply leave her be, and even though she promised to check in via television, I had no illusions that she actually would.

Yes, she’s in that bad a mood.

Quietly, I’m quite pleased that her priority is with me and the baby but I know full well that eventually she will want to go back to her career. She likes the good life and she doesn’t mind being pampered, either. I suppose that’s natural too.

Yet now, when she’s starting to appreciate what is happening inside her, she is being forced – literally – to take a prescribed course of action by a man she despises. There’s certainly no sense of happiness in that.

She wanted to keep her dark mood at home, so I had no problem with that.

Arriving early, I drew 4-2-3-1 on the wipeboard and attached magnets with the players’ names on them where wanted them to play:

GK Federici

DL Golbourne

DC Pogatetz

DC Gaspari

DR Ferreira

DM Harper

DM Magallón

ML Hunt

MC Osbourne

MR Saivet

ST Baptista

Clearly the squad players were going to get a real workout. I had even swung Pogatetz from his preferred left full-back position into central defense alongside Gaspari, away from his preferred position at right full-back.

Hunt was up from the reserves for a rare start, along with the promising but blocked Isaiah Osbourne. And since I’d really love to see Baptista score again, he led the line with Kitson getting a rest despite his wonderful form of late.

My first look at Eriksson’s eleven showed the ubitquitous Bianchi right where I thought he’d be, and the midfield tandem of Jones and Parker ever present as well. However, young Mathieu Debuchy got a start on the right side of midfield, flanked by Peruvian Juan Manuel Vargas on the left. Neither were exactly fixtures in previous Eriksson elevens.

Veteran Freddy Kanoute got the start up front alongside Bianchi, which made it a bit odd that the visitors would begin the match with more strikers than the home team.

I had one thought before the match. I wanted to see if we could beat them in midfield and counter them, with players who weren’t my first choices. Eriksson started a stronger eleven in terms of first choice players than I did, but my hope was that the change in tactics would slow them down.

As the match started, the scoreboard flashed a picture of France manager Raymond Domenech in the stands right behind me. I thought that was a bit curious, until I realized that Saivet and City’s Julian Faubert and Debuchy were all on the pitch at the same time and Sven had Issiar Dia on his bench.

Captain Obvious, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

# # #

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"After this, therefore because of this." -- wonderful logic :)

___

Osbourne took a strong role in the center of midfield from the start of the match as the main link to Baptista. He set up the Brazilian with a tasty little chip eight minutes into the match, but Kasper Schmeichel was up to the task in the Citizens’ goal.

Vargas was active early in the match, taking Jones’ lead ball and forcing Federici into an acrobatic save soon afterwards, the Socceroo showing he still had what it took despite being off the pitch for an extended period due to Lobont’s brilliance.

Bianchi was lurking dangerously in the right hand channel of our defense, and went to ground far too easily under Gaspari’s challenge twenty minutes into the match. The Italian rolled around on the ground, an action I had seen far too often managing in Serie C, and Martin Atkinson was so impressed he carded the striker for simulation.

While our crowd roared with delight, Bianchi looked at Atkinson like someone had killed his dog.

Petulant as Bianchi was, he couldn’t hold a candle to me just five minutes later as Parker went in high and with two feet on Osbourne right in the center circle and somehow got away with only a yellow card.

I didn’t just get up, I fairly flew to the touchline as Osbourne very slowly and gingerly got to his feet. I didn’t dissent with words, but rather with a red-faced glare that made my point without resorting to the sort of profanity that would have made me feel better but surely have earned a sanction in the process.

Parker was damned lucky to stay on the pitch and without looking anywhere except straight forward, I let my expression do the talking.

Heading back to the bench after saying my wordless piece, Dillon looked at me.

“You know, you looked like a bald eagle out there just now,” he said, stretching his neck muscles to make his point.

“That’s only funny because Osbourne doesn’t have a broken leg, Kevin,” I warned. “That was nasty and you know it.”

“Of course I know it,” he said. “Didn’t you see me standing behind you?”

I had to admit I hadn’t, but Dillon had barely lost the race to the touchline to me, in spite of all sorts of rules on that subject. I hadn’t even heard him yelling – he had found voice while I simply saw a red haze.

He had also managed to beat me back to the bench, which was no mean feat either. To complete his hat trick, he had also cooled his jets sooner than I had, perhaps due to urging from the fourth official.

Meanwhile, Baptista was struggling mightily to score. As the half wound down, he worked well with the slowed-down Osbourne and powered a shot that Schmeichel turned around his right post with an acrobatic save.

Hunt took the ensuing corner and this time the keeper palmed a Baptista header over the bar, forcing my Samba King to show his frustration by throwing his head back and screaming.

Hunt took another corner and Baptista leapt for it – only to be shouldered aside by none other than Pogatetz, who crushed home a header to score his first goal for the club.

Even Baptista had to like that, as Pogatetz was mobbed by his teammates. As one of my first signings for the club, he had been very patient in a scheme that rarely asked him to get forward. Now he had opened his account at just the right time.

Five minutes later, the half was done and we headed to the changing room as leaders through a most unlikely source.

# # #

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No posts on Rat Pack for 6 days & rioting in the streets. Post hoc ergo propter hoc?

Who's been watching The West Wing again ?

Can't blame you if you have, I'm currently midway through Season 7 on a complete rewatch of the whole lot !

Meanwhile, as good as ever 10-3, not that you need me to tell you that.

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Who's been watching The West Wing again ?

Can't blame you if you have, I'm currently midway through Season 7 on a complete rewatch of the whole lot !

Meanwhile, as good as ever 10-3, not that you need me to tell you that.

I've never seen an entire episode of the West Wing although I believe it's awesome.

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I never have seen it either, so there you have it.

___

So far, so good.

The first half had come to a more than satisfactory conclusion, with the Citizens on the short end of the score, for a change.

The change in formation had appeared to at least momentarily surprise the visitors – we had never used the 4-2-3-1 setup in a competitive match before – and as the second half started my thought was to keep with it until the visitors forced us to change.

As the half began, City still looked befuddled in attempts to attack us. Pogatetz was especially good, his goal and a quick word of praise from me at half time being all he needed to get out there and physically dominate in the second.

A free kick from Harper after Richards narrowly avoided a booking for tripping Baptista came to nothing, but it was much more newsworthy that Parker had another run-in with Osbourne moments later, with Martin Atkinson giving the ever-popular ‘no more’ washout signal with his hands.

For me, that would have been the signal to make a substitution, but Parker meant too much to Sven in the center of the park, so he carried on. It was clearly a roll of the dice from my point of view, but if anyone had listened to me then Parker would already have been dismissed by now.

The best thing about the second half was that it seemed to move fairly quickly. In 74 minutes Eriksson finally went to his bench and replaced Parker with Gelson Fernandes.

He then switched out the other half of his central midfield, bringing on Pablo Zabaleta for Jones.

Meanwhile, we sat there with five midfielders and dared City to come at us.

While daring them, it was time for me to make a move as well. I brought on Bikey and shifted Pogatetz to his regular spot at left full back, moving Gaspari to the right in place of the substituted Ferreira.

We were slowly choking the life out of the match. City couldn’t find a way through, so it was time to expect the inevitable shift to 4-2-4 that always seems to accompany a side looking for a tying goal against us.

That would presumably happen because we really haven’t shown we can defend it yet.

Eleven minutes from time, Bianchi finally managed to make an impact on the match. The two central midfielders worked a wall past with Zabaleta finally in possession. He in turn moved the ball artfully to the wing where Vargas took the ball with an excellent first touch, crossing usefully for the Italian.

However, my Italian – Gaspari – jumped at the same time, forcing Bianchi just off his stroke and guiding his header wide.

We would take that. It was then time for our second substitution, as Baptista trudged off, goalless again, in place of Kalou who would get a rare opportunity to lead the line.

I wanted as much pace as we could put on the park, to try to beat the City shift to 4-2-4.

Kalou walked to me before coming on and I spoke into his ear.

“Get it wide, use your pace to get it wide and once you get it there, keep in there,” I told him.

He nodded, and ran onto the park to try to cement the victory.

Eriksson then burned his final substitution, bringing on Dia in place of Vargas.

We immediately gained possession, and Kalou immediately got the ball wide to Hunt before heading to his new place leading the line.

Hunt then did what I had directed not be done; he worked the ball to the middle, but Osbourne outworked Dia to keep possession.

He then went back to the left, for Golbourne, who had overlapped Hunt neatly on that side.

Golbourne had the ball wide, but it was then his turn to disregard instructions. He crossed the ball for Kalou, probably the smallest man in the penalty area.

I looked on, aghast, as Golbourne whipped the ball right where it shouldn’t have gone.

However, Kalou found space, and headed the ball down with his forehead, past Schmeichel and into the goal.

It was hard to argue with that.

None of it should have happened, but we were two goals to the good with six minutes to play. With the alignment we had on the park, City had no way back.

“Don’t you love it when players don’t listen?” Dillon smiled, and ruefully, I grinned back.

Reading 2 (Pogatetz 1st 39; Kalou 3rd 84)

Manchester City 0

A – 30,807, Madejski Stadium, Reading

Man of the Match – Emanuel Pogatetz, Reading (MR8)

# # #

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The rather emphatic nature of the win was tempered only somewhat by the fact that both clubs had fielded substrength elevens.

Yet to us, it didn’t matter. We had finally managed to beat a team wearing blue, which was enough for all of us.

I was especially happy to see Pogatetz get on the scoresheet for us. He’s been a good servant to the club in his year-plus with us, but has rarely been in situations where he’s been able to make a difference offensively. We don’t overlap much as a rule mainly due to the quality of the wing play we’ve had over my time here, so he’s been able to hang back and make sure we don’t get roasted on the counter.

Tonight, though, his move to the center of defense put him in the six-yard box on our set pieces and he got a goal. The look of satisfaction on his face in finally cracking the scoresheet was really nice to see.

And even Eriksson was gracious, knowing full well that when we next meet in the league he’ll have his boys ready for our scalps. This was nothing special to him.

It also means we’ll have two dates with Arsenal coming up after the New Year, which will make our fixture list after the first of the year daunting. And that’s using a nice word.

The two-legged tie comes during a stretch where we meet three of the Big Four in the league:

6 Jan - Arsenal home, League Cup leg 1

9 Jan - Man Utd away, Premiership

16 Jan - Chelsea home, Premiership

20- Jan - Arsenal away, League Cup leg 2

27 Jan - Arsenal away, Premiership

That’s quite a bit of high-pressure stuff over a three-week span. We’ll have most of the squad with us for the first part of that stretch, with the African Cup of Nations not scheduled to begin until 23 January, but it’s going to be a big ask nonetheless.

We’ll need to prioritize but the press wanted to know about that stretch of fixtures.

“We’ve done well so far in our league,” I pointed out. “The only club that has had better success are the champions so we can be pleased with what we’ve done. We’re going to have to play everyone again in the second half of the year so we might as well get them out of the way and see what happens. We think we can handle the list of fixtures. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.”

The talk then switched to the pending loss of our African-based players. We won’t be at full strength, of course, and our squad will be stretched.

“Are you going to buy in January?” Weatherby asked.

“We always look at what the market will support in terms of investment in the squad,” I said. “However, and I think other managers will agree, the market tends to be inflated during the January window. Teams buy out of need or desire at that point in time as opposed to the close season when most clubs will have a strategy. Values for players are going to rise and we have to be mindful of that.”

“And, of course, the issue of Reading’s ownership will be resolved then as well. Are you worried that a transfer embargo due to a change in ownership might hurt your ability to improve the club?”

I had thought of that, but it was merely a matter of time before someone in the press actually asked the question. Weatherby’s followup was designed to make me uncomfortable.

It worked.

“I can’t really worry about that, Jill,” I said. “My job is to improve the club but if the rules say I can’t because of an ownership change, we will soldier on with the players that are already good enough to be in the first tier of the Premiership.”

# # #

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It had really been a nice few months.

Answering the phone to speak with my father-in-law was something I suppose family duty called me to do. That didn’t mean I had to like his tone, his manner, or even the way he parted his hair.

I could feel the disdain in his voice all the way from Chicago.

“Keeping the bad people away from my little girl?” he asked.

“Martin, you know that that’s happening,” I replied. “She’s being well looked after.”

“Good,” he said. “That Hardcastle, he’s quite a man. Man’s man.”

“Whatever.”

“He’s protecting her. You aren’t.”

“We’ve been over this before,” I sighed, trying to remain patient. “You want me to put a cape with a red ‘S’ on it and leap tall buildings in a single bound, you’re going to be disappointed. If you want me to pay for the services of someone who can, then we’re having a mature conversation.”

“That would be a switch.” His voice dripped with sarcasm.

“It would,” I agreed. “It would mean you’d have grown up. Now, would you like to speak with your daughter?”

Patty’s entrance into the room, and her detetction of my tone of voice, brought her to me with palm extended. She wanted the phone.

“Before you hurt yourself,” she whispered, her face in a half-smile.

I handed her the phone. “Him and whose army?” I asked, before returning to sit in my chair.

So, Martin liked Hardcastle. I knew that. Evidently he had man-crushes on Action Jackson sorts of figures. Maybe it was the auto worker in him, an expression of the he-man, real-man, ultra-gruff exterior kind of thing.

Or, maybe he was just being a jerk. I couldn’t rule out that possibility completely.

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In any event, Patty had a conversation with her father that she knew I was keeping an ear on, so she was pretty businesslike. Lots of ‘yes, Dad’ and ‘no, Dad’ sorts of answers.

Patty did say she didn’t appreciate him goading me about Hardcastle. At that, I tried and failed to hide my surprise.

Then, she looked over at me and winked. It was a curious gesture, but I chose not to read into it. That would have only led to trouble.

They talked for a bit and then hung up.

“Sometimes I see your point about Dad,” she sighed, settling down into her easy chair.

“What now?”

“Well, he doesn’t like the idea of me going back to work so soon after the baby is born. He said we could ‘live on your husband’s huge salary’.”

“He’s right,” I said. “We could, and I wish we could.”

“But he seems to think Peter McGuire should do the right thing and put a stop to it.”

I laughed. In fact, I laughed so hard I snorted.

“I don’t put it past McGuire to put a camera in your changing room,” I said. Her return gaze would have peeled the paint off the far wall had my body not been in the way, but she couldn’t say anything because she knew I was right.

“So what does your esteemed father suggest I do about it?” I inquired.

“He wants Hardcastle to talk with McGuire,” she said.

“That’d go over well,” I said. “One guy who wants you but can’t have you talking with another guy who wants you but can’t have you, with one of the two thinking the other guy tried to pound his face in with a crowbar.”

“I told him I didn’t think it was realistic,” she said, returning to the knitting projects beside her chair.

“Maybe we should give them both crowbars and let them fight it out,” I said. She didn’t care for that.

“The only person who would win in that event would be you,” she said.

So, what’s wrong with that idea?

# # #

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Me thinks that Patty's Dad wants her to marry Hardcastle and leave RR.

The reason? IDK, perhaps the childs is Hardcastle's?

Superb story 10-3 :thup:

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There's a fair bit of speculation as to who is father to the Ridgway child. Just goes to show the general level of disrespect for the female lead character in the story, methinks ...

___

Sunday, December 13

The day we’ve waited for has finally arrived, and it came because of a shock result in London.

Clint Dempsey did the business for Fulham, his 67th minute goal holding up all the way to the end as the Cottagers knocked off Chelsea by a goal to nil.

The result means the Blues stay top by three points but now we have the match in hand – and goal difference on Chelsea.

If we can go to tail-end Sunderland on Wednesday and win the match, we’ll be top and we’ll stay there.

Watching the match with Dillon at my house this afternoon was quite an experience. I don’t often open up my home to other people and I thought it would be a nice change of pace – and a breath of fresh air after my conversation with Patty last night – to have someone over.

Besides, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I lived like Howard Hughes. I mean, you can lead a secluded lifestyle but why raise unnecessary questions?

It was nice to feel like the proverbial ‘fan on the couch’, drinking a beer and watching the match. Of course, we were watching both teams carefully, and that should have been expected since we still have to play them both at least once more.

Yet I can’t say I was disappointed with the result. Not by any stretch.

We certainly were not neutrals. We shared a smile and a handshake as Ady Boothroyd shook hands with Avram Grant with only one man in that scenario smiling.

The setback was Chelsea’s first domestic loss of the season, meaning England now has no undefeated clubs just prior to Christmas.

The other significant scoreline came from White Hart Lane, where Spurs drew United 1-1, with Michael Dawson and Wayne Rooney scoring the goals to ensure a split in the points. We’ve got a little more room to maneuver against United now, but we still have to do the business to reap the benefits of our rivals’ mistakes.

Liverpool wasn’t quite as cooperative, choosing to manhandle Boro 4-1 in another Sunday match, to stay fifth.

As we talked after the matches, though, Dillon flipped me a copy of The Observer.

“You’re mentioned,” Dillon said. “What do you think?”

Some of the article was interesting, but the part about me was uncomfortably close to the mark. Either some agent had been talking or I had a leak to worry about. Another one, that is.

“Transfer talk is already beginning ahead of the start of January’s window. Perhaps the most notable talking point is Juventus’ not-so-secret desire to buy Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal. The second most notable talking point was Arsene Wenger’s reaction, which was not unlike that of an exploding geyser.

Turning to Spain, Valencia will enter a serious bid to prise Micah Richards away from Manchester City. The full back will command a price in excess of £15 million and even though Sven-Goran Eriksson doesn’t want to lose the player, it’s believed this bid will have a better chance of succeeding than that of Juventus for Fabregas.

Domestically, striker-short Villa is ready to pay Middlesbrough £12 million for England striker Darren Bent. All parties in this case are tight-lipped which means there’s something really on with this one. Look for this deal to be concluded early in the window, to give Boro maximum shopping time for a replacement.

Players will surely come in to England from overseas as well. The hottest rumor has Reading set to pay £8 million for Valencia defender Raul Albiol. Manager Rob Ridgway needs to flesh out what will be a depleted back line during the African Cup of Nations and Albiol is believed to suit Ridgway’s requirements – a solid defender who can play either full back position as well as the centre of defence. The only thing that will stop him making a bid would be the sale of the club to financier Sidney Richmond.”

“S**t,” I said to no one in particular.

“At least it’s not about Beckham,” Dillon said.

“Actually, as a short-term loan option I could do worse, when Kalou leaves,” I said. “I don’t want him as a permanent squad member but he might be able to do a job for us from the right side of midfield. Problem is, if I brought him in, Richmond would never let me hear the end of it.”

“Not even to save your job if he takes over?” Dillon asked.

I hadn’t thought about that.

# # #

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I had the opportunity to get into Reading proper after the matches today to do a little Christmas shopping for Patty and a few friends.

Chances like that are becoming increasingly rare for me and I enjoyed the chance to get into the shops and look around.

I got a large amount of respectful distance, which was both good and bad. Patty was right – I need to connect with supporters if I’m going to cement whatever position I might have with them in the event Sid is successful in buying the club.

There’s a sense of fatalism in all this. I do think that if we don’t win the league my position is in jeopardy regardless of whether Sir John still owns the club.

Paranoia? Perhaps.

Realism? I think that’s a lot more like it.

The problem of what to buy for the woman who has everything crossed my mind more than once, but it was actually a welcome diversion from the other things on my plate.

Baby items? I think we’ve already bought out most of the shops in town.

Jewelry? Passé.

A can of mace to use on Hardcastle? Now we’re talkin’.

I don’t dare buy her any clothes – even if I did have some idea of what she likes to wear, the fashion suppliers in her network make sure she is well supplied with whatever she wants to have. Meanwhile, I buy my touchline suits off the rack.

Ah, fame.

I was starting to run out of ideas. How about shoes?

Was I kidding myself?

Walking around The Oracle looking for something that might jog my thought process, I walked past the megastore, and that brought me into direct contact with fans.

My presence was quickly noted and that turned into a mini-autograph session along with a general discussion about the team.

It was good to connect. Their words were kind.

One older lady expressed her loyalty in a rather unrealistic way. “Mr. Ridgway, you can’t let that man buy the club,” she said.

“Ma’am, I don’t know how I could stop him if he chose to do something like that,” I said. “I have to be honest.”

“Well, then we’d lose you and I’m not too keen on that,” she said with a smile. She handed me a print of my official portrait for me to sign as she spoke. Gladly, I complied with her request.

“I’m not keen on it either, to be honest,” I answered, returning the picture duly signed.

“There has to be something you can do.”

I thought back to all the things I had tried to do, and looked at how far they had gotten me. Not very.

“There are times a manager has to know his place,” I said. Brian Clough, I am not.

“There’s talk of a supporter protest at the last home match of the calendar year,” another man said, and that made me turn my head. Somehow I had managed to miss that little tidbit.

“Everton match?” I asked.

“That’s right. The 30th.”

I raised my eyebrows. We’re going to be heading into the busiest stretch of fixture during my time here right after that match, with some of the most important regular season matches this club has ever played on the docket. Supporter unrest would not be helpful.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t read the message boards?” the man asked.

I shook my head. “In my business, all that does is give you ulcers, sir,” I replied. “But thank you for the information.”

The autograph requests satisfied, I headed back to my shopping. I wasn’t any closer to an idea for Patty’s gift, but I had something else to think about now.

# # #

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Monday, December 14

It’s the start of a very big week for this club.

Wednesday we play at Sunderland and if we win as we will be expected to, we’ll be top of the league. On Friday, the draw for the Champions League knockout stages will be held and we’ll learn our fate in Europe. It’s an exciting time to be at the club but after last night’s experience at The Oracle, it’s also a lot more complicated.

What manager wouldn’t mind support from the fans in regard to his job security? I’m grateful. I was so grateful to hear the news that I actually lurked the Hob Nobbers board for a bit after I got home.

I expressly forbid the players to post there, and I’m about an inch away from formulating a club policy on Twitter as well.

Truth be told, the curmudgeon in me thinks it’s a waste of time. I have yet to find a universal truth about football expressed in 140 characters or less, with the exception of “score more goals than the other guy” (35 characters).

On the other hand, you can get yourself into a peck of trouble with 140 characters or less and in the case of John Halls, you can almost get your contract torn up. So really, there’s not much need for that kind of distraction in a professional footballing context.

But, I digress.

I’m of two minds on the whole idea of a supporter protest. Yes, I’d love the support from the faithful, but it’s a time of year when we need everyone wearing blue and white hoops to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Our January schedule list is murder, as I’ve noted before. It’s not going to be a good thing if we have our support divided and a takeover bid in process while we play matches that will more than likely make or break our season.

It’s important to me that I know the fans’ mood, though, so I lurked through a few threads while skipping those which were obviously related to me personally and my team selection.

There were several threads speculating on the relative financial power of Richmond and Madejski, which, while they made interesting theatre, were hardly based in fact.

It seems as though every fans’ message board has someone who claims to have ‘insider knowledge’ at the club, so it was interesting to look through the posts and see what people thought they knew about my employer.

One post, though, struck me as a bit odd. It came from a poster with the name of “BecksMan23”.

Fair enough. Evidently a Beckham fan. The level of the poster’s knowledge seemed pretty high, though, so I read through what he or she had to say.

Really you need to understand what Richmond is all about. He wears a black hat thanks to people like JW (Weatherby) and Ridgway but then all he’s trying to do is save his job. Guess I cant blame him for that lol.

He’s got financial clout SJM could only dream of having and the people he has in mind for the board are arse-kickers who will get the job done in bringing in additional capital to the club.

The first paragraph didn’t exactly match the second. The poster’s signup date was 1 August so I just sort of smiled to myself as I switched over to the next thread.

“The things people will say on the internet,” I said quietly, moving on to read additional words of wisdom from the Hob Nobbers.

# # #

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Haha, indulging in a subtle dig at all of us here in FMS? Or hoping that we will bathe in the delicious irony of it all? :D

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