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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"

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Thank you for the kind words! I'm on a bit of a break from this due to a new project and some badly needed vacation time but there's plenty of life in the story yet!

___

For me, tomorrow’s match is going to be all about possession.

Sometimes you can win when you counter someone to death – what we have done sometimes against Arsenal during my time here is an example of that – but there are also times when you need to control pace and tempo.

Especially with a reduced squad, we’ll need to have the ball tomorrow. We don’t have the ability to get into a shooting match with them. They’ll eat us alive.

Playing at home, we should have a better chance of being able to do that. Yet the Blues have a number of players who can make it a long day for us in that regard as well.

Thinking about that fact this evening while pretending to watch television, Patty noticed my conundrum.

“I know you don’t like to be bothered before a match,” she said, her heavily pregnant tummy rising as she breathed, “but you really don’t look right tonight.”

I looked over at her, two people respirating as one, and smiled.

“Says the woman who just got out of the hospital,” I grinned, and for once we didn’t have a side discussion about word parsing.

“No, Rob, I mean it,” she said. “You’re red-faced. Are you all right?”

“Just intense, I guess,” I answered. “There’s a lot at stake tomorrow as you know. I wish I felt better about things, that’s all.”

I was also having a flashback to the first meeting of the season between the clubs, the epic 3-3 draw back in August in our third league match of the year.

Daniel Alves had done us that day, with an 89th minute wonder goal that had sent Stamford Bridge into raptures and sent me to the trainer’s bag for an aspirin.

In fact, we led them by two goals on their patch with eighteen minutes to play. And we couldn’t hold the lead.

Had we won that day, we’d be two points clear heading into tomorrow’s match. But we made two key errors, one at the death, and both had cost us dearly.

Chelsea. It’s always Chelsea.

# # #

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Saturday, January 16

Reading (15-6-1, 1st place) v Chelsea (15-6-1, 2nd place) – EPL Match Day #23)

“I hadn't the heart to touch my breakfast. I told Jeeves to drink it himself.” – P.G. Wodehouse

So, yeah, I was a bit nervous when I woke up.

I’ve had my share of nights where I’ve couted the holes in the bedroom ceiling tiles. This wasn’t one of them, but the dreams I had were more than enough to make up for it.

I had several, each more bizarre than the last. The last one I remembered was standing on the touchline watching Dagoberto’s game-winning effort freeze in mid-air just short of Petr Cech’s goal.

Of course, Dagoberto is injured and as such can’t score any game-winners for awhile, but perhaps that was only included in my dream to add to the frustration.

To my great surprise, Patty asked to accompany me to the ground today. She said she thought I could use the support, and in the midst of everything that’s been happening in and around the club and personal health, someone in her condition could reasonably have been expected to beg off on a trip to the ground.

“There are also doctors there in case anything should happen,” she joked.

“That makes me feel a lot better,” I said, reaching across our bed to pat her tummy.

“You shouldn’t have to worry about your wife exploding while you’re managing a match,” she said. “I’d lean over to kiss you good luck but I can’t get any leverage to roll over.”

“Let me take care of that,” I said, leaning over to kiss her warmly. “You never know how much good luck you’ll need.”

# # #

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We had our team meeting at 9:00 to prepare for the noon kickoff, and really there wasn’t a whole lot that needed to be said.

Their mood was good, but quiet. There is generally nothing that needs to be said before a top-of-the table clash and it was good to see that tenet hold true here.

We were shorthanded. We knew we would be the underdogs. But the players seemed to relish that role, and didn’t seem the least bit overawed by their illustrious opposition.

Having just come off an away win at Old Trafford, they could be excused for holding that opinion.

The most intense was, not surprisingly, Maloney, who had played in a few red-hot matches during his Old Firm days with Celtic. Yet, he was quiet about it.

Constructive intensity. Not a darned thing wrong with that.

Entering the changing room as the players prepared for the match, I saw a slightly different bunch. Loose but confident, they had kept their edge – but they dressed in silence.

Nodding with some satisfaction, I headed into my office to begin the process of filling out the final team sheet. Those in it knew who they were, but for official purposes it was always a good idea to tell the referees.

Lobont, Ferreira, Pogatetz, Bikey, Sonko, Dica, Kalou, Maloney, Magallon, Lita, Kitson.

Dica was the only player in the eleven who was a new arrival from the start of this season, so in terms of familiarity with each other, we had few worries. In terms of dealing with the massively funded eleven we were about to face, though, it was eleven against the world.

Finally, a few minutes before the players lined up, I stepped to the front of the room for a quick team talk.

Just like in all the football movies, the players came to a sudden hush when I stepped out.

“Gentlemen, you have a great opportunity today,” I said. “For the first time ever, this football club is playing a match, at home, topping the Premiership. To stay there, you’re going to have to get a result against the champions of England.”

Warming to my task, I began to pace back and forth across the front of the room, as I had done so many times at Padova but had not found time to do so much here.

“You can do that. The eighteen players in this room have the ability to get that job done. The way you’ll get that job done is to dig deep and believe in each other. We have players missing, we have players sick, we are not favoured by anyone to win this match. But the players that are here can get this job done, if you will only believe that you can.”

I turned and looked around the room, meeting the eyes of each player as they sat in their dressing stalls.

“Who’s going to be the hero today?” I asked. “Who will be the player responsible for putting this club three points clear at the top of the best league in the world? Who wants to be that player? If it isn’t you, you don’t belong in this room. If you aren’t willing to do what it takes to be that player, you don’t belong in this room.”

I moved to the doorway and stood inside it, as a steward opened it. It was time to go.

“The team you are about to play has learned how to win matches like these. You want to replace that team? Show me. Show your fans. Show the world.”

“Now get out there and do it.”

# # #

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Wow. I'd sure go out and play my socks off for Mr Ridgeway.

You know what, 24 pages in, 2302 posts, and I think Rat Pack is just getting better and better. More gob-stonkingly good than ever, 10-3. Thanks.

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All I can say to a comment like that is 'thank you'. Counting American Calcio, I've been working on this series for five years now and it means quite a bit to me. So do please read on!

___

As the match started, it began to rain. As the match continued, it rained harder.

That led to understandably tentative play as the teams came to grips with the conditions. Thankfully for us, the Madejski Stadium turf is designed to drain well. With the London Irish rugby team as stadium co-tenants, it needed to be or else the dual use would turn the pitch into a mush pit.

It took nearly ten minutes for the first good chance for either team. It fell to us, as Maloney’s early ball from the left landed near Dica, who had started his run to the hole between the strikers a bit later than he usually did.

That brought about an intervention from Vedran Corluka, who had time to get back and break up the attack after being caught out enough to allow Dica space.

That was our first foray. Theirs turned out better.

Four minutes later, Frank Lampard found our nemesis Alves with a ball to the right and after holding up play, found Michael Essien with his own short ball.

Essien then re-fed Lampard, who looked up and chipped a ball in the direction of Rossi, who had found the channel between Bikey and Pogatetz on the left of our defense.

Lobont came out to close the angle but it was too late. Rossi was merciless and they led with twelve minutes on the clock.

One opportunity, one goal. That’s what champions do.

A few minutes later, Bikey was in referee Lee Warren’s book for a clumsy challenge on Rossi – clumsy, but a challenge that sent a message nonetheless.

The larger issue, though, was that they wouldn’t let us have the ball.

They only had two opportunities in the half, though, with Lobont making a fine save off Lampard’s boot four minutes from the interval. For us, opportunities were fewer and farther between. In fact, they were non-existent.

That was exceedingly annoying, and our fans greeted the arrival of halftime with a sullen buzz that indicated how much work we had to do.

# # #

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Noooooo! Just got to the end - have been reading this from the start a couple of weeks back and now have got the the end! Absolutely fabulous 10-3, cracking job. KUTGW.

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Wow. I'd sure go out and play my socks off for Mr Ridgeway.

Maybe I would, doesn't seem like the players do though !

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Flipping mental series!!!!!! UNBELIEVABLE!!!!! Fair play to you Sir!! This lad deserves to be honoured for services to storywriting!! Insane!

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Gentlemen, thank you very much. Definitely a labor of love, this, and it will indeed continue. And, UK and Mighty Red, welcome to the Rat Pack!

___

“Don’t let this be Barcelona,” I said, reminding the players of our embarrassment at the Nou Camp in the Champions League.

“They didn’t let you have the ball either,” I said. “I’m seeing tentative play but we’re still only a goal down. They aren’t that much better than you. So stop playing like they are and start figuring out what you’re going to do to them.”

The talk seemed to help, as Kitson started the second half with a drive that had to cause Essien a great deal of discomfort as the wet ball smacked against his right thigh.

But Kitson was in more discomfort as the match ticked past the hour. Straining to reach Dica’s lead ball in 63 minutes, he pulled up lame and grabbed his right calf.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I snarled, as Matt Hirons tended to Kitson, who was obviously too tender to continue.

Lita was now the only healthy senior striker we had, with the exception of John Fleck. He sat on the end of the bench to give us a full list of substitutes despite not being at full fitness after that hip injury he suffered on Scotland duty.

I had other options, though – just not as natural strikers.

As Kitson hobbled off, I turned to the bench and told Osbourne to get ready. When he was done, I told him he was going into the raider’s role.

“Tell Dica to move up and play off Lita,” I said. My Romanian maestro had been a striker both at Steaua Bucharest and at Sampdoria, from whom we had purchased his contract. He was now going to try it here, for the first time ever, in the biggest match the club had ever played.

It wasn’t optimal. Playing two fast strikers against Chelsea wasn’t optimal, but then going to one striker while down a goal and generating no offensive threat whatsoever was even less optimal. It was a roll of the dice.

Yet it was just four minutes later that the roll of the dice paid off. The substitute, Osbourne, found Dica at the edge of the area, and he slid a ball to his left for Lita.

Only Lita played a perfect dummy, letting Kalou take the ball as he cut to the middle, with Dica slotting wide to fill the space.

The ex-Chelsea man made his point by drilling a low shot home past the diving Cech to get us level on 67 minutes – with our first shot on target of the match.

That brought the crowd to life, obviously, and it showed that if we got any type of meaningful possession, we could be dangerous. We just hadn’t had any to that point, and it had showed.

Kalou had given us a huge lift and immediately, I moved us to 4-5-1 to handle the expected Chelsea riposte, with five natural midfielders on the pitch and Lita as the lone striker.

It took exactly four minutes for all the good feeling to evaporate.

It was Alves – again – who started the play, finding Shaun Wright-Phillips down the right, and his early ball cannoned off the rapidly retreating Maloney, hustling to get back into the play.

Unfortunately for us, it bounded right to Lampard, who took a few steps to his left and took a screamer of a shot.

Fortunately for us, Lobont made a superb save.

Unfortunately for us, he couldn’t control the rebound, which fell to Rossi.

Devastatingly for us, he scored to wipe out Kalou’s work.

All four of my defenders immediately raised their arms as they felt Rossi was offside, but there was no way we were going to get that call.

Being unable to clear our lines had cost us dearly and now we needed to find a way to get back into the match.

Four minutes later Maloney had an opportunity, but his set piece deflected off Terry in the Chelsea wall. Again, the deflection was kind to Chelsea, and the ball floated harmlessly into Cech’s arms.

And that was it.

Chelsea had done it again. In the rain.

In the cold, persistent rain.

We were second, again. The post-match cup of tea with Grant warmed my body, but it couldn’t warm the black cloud that now dominated my spirit.

Reading 1 (Kalou 4th 67)

Chelsea 2 (Giuseppi Rossi 13th 12; 14th 71)

A – 30,819, Madejski Stadium, Reading

Man of the Match – Giuseppi Rossi, Chelsea (MR8)

# # #

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“Considering how shorthanded we were, we can’t complain,” I said.

Talking with the press after the match wasn’t something I relished. We are fortunate not to lose often at this club and the thought of a post-mortem after such an important match galled me.

“Were they that much better?” Hopkins asked.

“They were better,” I admitted. “There’s really no way I can say anything different than that. We aren’t deep enough to compete against them without two of our top strikers and our big central defender, among other things.”

“That sounds like an excuse.”

“Hello, Rocco.”

“Well, it does.”

“We don’t make excuses,” I said. “Their eleven was better than ours. We found when we played Barcelona away in the Champions League that we still have work to do and this match simply proves it. We aren’t able to handle a club like Chelsea yet in the midst of a fixture list like we’re in when we are missing players. I think we’ll get there, but today was a good opportunity to get our players some experience in a high-tension match at the highest level. We didn’t win, but we will learn from it, and I think that’s just being honest.”

“It’s only going to get worse,” Weatherby said, trying not to sound glum. “You lose players to the Cup of Nations now.”

“The squad players at this club have to step up,” I replied. “We lose Kalou, we lose Bikey, we lose Sonko, we have one healthy senior striker at the moment and we have to go to Arsenal for the second leg of the League Cup semifinal next Wednesday where we are presently losing. I can’t think of a better circumstance for a player who wants to get noticed to make an impression.”

“We have to do something different,” I added, holding up a copy of the stat sheet. “This sheet says we had 23 percent of the possession today and it didn’t even feel like we had that much. That is simply not anywhere near good enough. We have players who say they want to play and now have the chance to show me something. Now’s the time. We have to get better in a hurry if we want to challenge for anything.”

# # #

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The news, everywhere, wasn’t good.

Arsenal did as we expected them to do and won 4-2 at Fratton Park over Portsmouth. Eduardo and Emanuel Adebayor each had braces on either side of halftime for the Gunners, while Jermain Defoe’s brace for Pompey wasn’t enough.

Wenger’s men will be in imperious form when they face us at midweek, unbeaten in their last 14 matches in all competitions heading into the match. Their last loss of any kind came over two months ago – on November 8, 1-0 away to West Ham. They’ve kept nine clean sheets in those matches and are playing as well as anyone right now.

United dominated at Villa Park but had to settle for a goalless draw, meaning they picked up a point on us as well.

Spurs drew 2-2 at White Hart Lane against West Ham, with Yakubu and Jermaine Jenas netting for the home team while Dean Ashton (who else) and Italian Arturo Lupoli scored for the Hammers. Lupoli, a £3.5 million signing from Fiorentina this summer, scored his first goal for the club.

Bolton and Everton played to a 1-1 draw at the Reebok. Ricardo Vaz Te opened the scoring twelve minutes into the contest with Mikel Arteta levelling from the spot five minutes after halftime for the Toffees.

Liverpool are making a nuisance of themselves as well, as Fernando Torres scored a hat trick in a 3-1 home win over Sunderland. Diomansy Kamara scored the opening goal for the visitors just fourteen minutes into the match but the Reds overwhelmed their guests after that.

Fulham survived an early injury to Moritz Volz in their home matchup against West Brom at Craven Cottage, with Billy Sharp and Collins John scoring just two minutes apart in the second half for a 2-0 win.

The only good news we got was Wigan’s last-moment win at the City of Manchester Stadium. Emmerson Boyce headed home Michael Brown’s corner in the third minute of added time in a 1-0 win for Roberto Martinez and his men, just the third league win of the season for them. Only Sunderland and Blackburn have fewer, but the Latics’ eleven draws are a league high and have them out of the relegation places.

So, the day was just about a total loss.

The idea of us losing ground to virtually all our chief rivals was naturally repugnant to me so as I met Patty to take her home after the match I was pretty subdued.

Then I asked her how her day went.

“I didn’t enjoy the match, if that’s what you mean,” she said.

“I was just hoping it was a quiet day for you, given your condition.”

“We could have used a little more noise from the players at times,” she joked, managing to avoid the fish eye from me in response.

“I’ll take that as ‘yes, I had a good day, thanks’,” I replied, as we reached the staff entrance.

I pushed the door open and we stepped outside, the ever-present Hardcastle waiting to escort Patty – but not me – to the car.

“Perfect way to end the day,” I mused, not caring if ‘Hardman’ could hear me or not. “Lose the game and then I have to submit to this crap.”

We reached the car, and he moved to open the door for her. Then I stepped in.

“Sorry,” I said. “There are still some things that I get to do.”

# # #

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Hello, ntf, and welcome to the Rat Pack. The rest of the story is in my computer, but I've taken a sabbatical. Here's some more!

___

Sunday, January 17

It could have been worse, I suppose.

We could have been kidnapped, or something.

The newspaper headlines were appropriate – for Chelsea. They were much the better side but as I expected, no note was made of Reading missing five first-team performers in yesterday’s match.

After a top-of-the-table clash, you either top the table or you don’t. Today, we don’t.

I was quietly glad I didn’t have to go into the office today. Despite our poor performance, I did give the senior squad the day off to prepare them for the return League Cup semifinal leg against Arsenal at midweek.

As much as I would have liked to run certain players ragged for their performances yesterday, what’s staying my hand is that we’ll already be short for the coming match and I can’t have even more tired legs.

Sonko, Bikey and Kalou are already on their way to Lagos, Nigeria for the start of the Cup of Nations. Not for the first time, I am annoyed with FIFA for sanctioning such an event during the middle of the club season.

I get that January is the middle of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, where a good portion of the continent lies, but when that much of the continent is that close to the equator, why can’t this tournament be played in the close season like the European Championships?

I know, Ridgway, I know. Just shut up.

I had to keep my bad mood away from my wife as well. Few things are more destructive to a heavily pregnant woman than a crabby father-to-be.

The unimaginative “Royals Flushed” type headlines I saw, which I had seen before, were annoying but sadly, accurate. We just didn’t have the firepower to deal with them and I don’t know that any club in England does.

We just have to keep plugging away and hope that someone, somewhere, can catch them on an off day.

Now the owner of a proud record of zero wins, two draws and two losses against the Blues, I guess I’m not managing the club that can do that. Yet.

It’s also odd, in that our recent record against United is very good – three wins and three draws in the last six – but none of the wins came when I was managing the club.

The first two, in the 2007-08 season, came when Coppell was still here and the third, last week, came while I was serving a touchline ban.

My personal record against United: zero wins, three draws.

It’s enough to make a man turn to drink.

# # #

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From out of the ashes arose the phoenix. Welcome back 10-3. Tip top to see you're back on form over the lurgy and this story is back.

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Why thank you, Jibby .. a bit singed around the edges, this phoenix, but energized to produce once more.

___

Monday, January 18

At least we don’t have to travel far at midweek.

The Emirates Stadium is only about forty airline miles away, so we’ll coach there on matchday afternoon so as to cause minimum disruption to our schedule.

We’ll also hope that the Gunners don’t cause maximum disruption to us. We have a mountain to climb to get back into the tie, but with the way they played us at the Mad Stad, we’ll have to come up with something different for Wednesday.

I spent my day watching video of the Gunners to try to come up with a tactic that will work. While away from home, a counter makes more sense, but given that we need a goal to force the issue, we really can’t sit back and let the match come to us.

That’s the problem with losing the home leg first. It sure decreases your options.

I watched training from Ridgway Towers and tried to scheme. Thinking back to my sleepless thoughts of last night, I remarked that at least Arsenal are a club I’ve held my own against to this point.

Our matches against the Big Four have come in clumps this season, which isn’t good from the point of view of a still-developing squad. I’d prefer they be more spread out but you play the fixtures in the order they’re given to you, I guess.

I looked over the railing from my elevated position and saw Richmond and two other board members watching training from near the touchline. That was virtually unheard of.

Board members are almost never at training, though sometimes I see them at lunch when I’m invited to take part in the 1871 Suite.

I figured that after losing on Saturday, I wouldn’t be invited to take part today and it turned out that theory was correct.

I try to avoid Richmond these days but today he came looking for me. When training was over, he was waiting for me at the foot of the stairway leading to my elevated platform.

# # #

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Just a little good old fashioned hatred between RDR and his chief adversary.

___

“Mr. Richmond,” I said brusquely, heading toward the players’ entrance to the practice facility. “What can I do for you today?”

“Just answer me one question,” he said, picking up his pace to walk alongside me toward the entrance. Once I got there, I’d be safe – it was very much a players-and-staff-only place and everyone at the club respected that. Today, it would be safe harbour.

The problem was in getting there. It was fifty yards from where we were now walking together. I started to count the steps.

I knew why he was there and the malice in his tone was unmistakeable.

“Kevin Dillon won at Old Trafford and you lost at home,” he said. “How do you explain that?”

“Twelve, thirteen, fourteen....”

“Kevin used the match plan I gave him for Old Trafford and Chelsea was a case of us being beaten by a better team when we were missing some of our key players,” I replied.

Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one...”

“Excuses. So you’re saying he had nothing to do with the win at Old Trafford. Like we’re paying him to be your figurehead. I don’t find that terribly credible.”

“No, I’m not saying that, and I don’t really care what you find credible,” I said. “Kevin’s a fine coach in his own right. But to suggest I had nothing to do with it wouldn’t be accurate either. Kevin takes his marching orders from me, and from me alone.”

“Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty...”

“The bid process is complete,” he said. “Soon I’ll have someone in place who can beat Chelsea with the squad he’s given. Unlike you.”

“Thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine...”

“Great, Mr. Richmond,” I said, fighting down a red haze. The twerp was really starting to frost my shorts. “But until that happens, I’m still the manager of this club.”

“That is sadly true.”

Forty-three, forty-four, forty-five...”

“And while I’m manager of this club, Mr. Richmond, I only have one more thing to add.”

“Yes?”

“Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.”

He then stopped, because he had to. I continued on into the tunnel, because I still could.

“Go to hell. Good day, Mr. Richmond.”

# # #

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I'll say this, Gav: of the characters in this piece, Sidney Richmond is one of my very favorites to write. Thoroughly slimy. :)

___

Tuesday, January 19

Well, perhaps we have the right answer.

We may play 4-2-3-1 against the Gunners tomorrow night. We haven’t unveiled it much (okay, not at all) in our games to this point so perhaps the surprise of the new alignment might do some good for us.

First and foremost, we want, and we have to have, the midfield. We have to have it if we’re to have any chance of winning. While I love 4-1-3-2 and we’ve ridden that horse very successfully during my career so far, we get overrun by the better clubs when we only play three wide with a holder behind them.

Our “one” at the top is going to be Lita, and he’s going to have to run his rear end off to give us a shot.

It’s the kind of chance he’s been looking for all season, as the super-sub wants to play the full ninety minutes for a change. Now he’ll get his chance.

We don’t have Dagoberto. We don’t have Baptista, who is still gaining strength from his bout with Montezuma’s Revenge. Playing as a lone striker isn’t suited for Kitson.

We’ll be missing so many midfielders for the contest I can’t spare Dica by moving him up front. All five of our best remaining midfielders will play and that’s that.

It’s the only alignment that makes sense given the status of my squad, so it’s the one we go with.

Weatherby’s line of questioning today was centered around what I could possibly do to avoid getting overwhelmed by the Gunners.

“I love a positive approach from the press,” I groused, and Weatherby smiled but didn’t back down.

“Rob, surely you’ve thought about it,” she said, and I thought back to my conversation with Wally Downes about our alignment before the first leg.

Wally had been right, I had been wrong, and my apology to him after the match had certainly reflected that truth.

“I have thought about it, yes, but it’s not something I dwell on,” I said. “We still spend more time thinking about what we’ll do to an opponent than what he will do to us. That is putting my players in the best position to win the match and that’s why I’m in this job.”

She started writing. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear but after my misstep with the press before the Champions League tie at the Nou Camp I felt I had little option but to say what I said.

Complete honesty with the press can be risky, since they so frequently don’t respond with equal honesty in their reportage. Jill was someone I felt I could trust but who else was on that list? It wasn’t a long list, surely.

Abiatti sat, looking like a leopard about to pounce, at least in his own mind. To mine, he looked more like a buzzard who had missed out on his share of the morning road kill.

It’s an important match, there’s no doubt about it. Even though it’s “only” the League Cup, it’s still a match against a Big Four opponent with Richmond still trying to turn up the heat on me.

My conversation with him yesterday hadn’t gone well. That was to be expected. But he was going for my throat, and he should have expected the response he got.

His bid is ready. Somehow I need to concentrate on Arsenal as the greater worry.

Club first. Club first, always. Win the match and let the chips fall where they may.

Weatherby sat, writing my words. Abiatti sat, something on his mind making him appear miles away.

I sat, stewing.

# # #

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Great to see you're back to write. My monthly checks if you were back are finally rewarderd!

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Thank you, Ricardo, that is very kind!

___

“I am ready, Peter.”

Richmond sat behind his desk, his hands folded in front of him. He was every inch the businessman, every inch the man in charge.

“Congratulations, Sidney,” McGuire said. His expression was one of confident deference. He had done his part, and to his reckoning, had done it very well.

“Thank you. I now wish to discuss with you a few more items relative to the future board of directors of Reading FC, and what your role will be.”

McGuire nodded. This was what he had been waiting for from the beginning.

He wanted to know where he would fit, how he would be involved in the new club which would be both a money pump and a championship contender. The club was going places and McGuire knew that the right leader was now waiting in the wings.

Richmond slid a manila folder across the desk to McGuire, who couldn’t help suppressing a smile as he opened it. He knew it was the list of those who would make up the new Reading board.

He read the names on the list. He knew he wouldn’t find Winthrop’s name.

Yet, his name wasn’t on the list either.

Slowly, the smile dissolved off his face until it sat as virtual droplets on the hard wood floor between his feet.

“Sidney, what’s happening here?” he said. “I’m not on the board. You promised me a seat on the board.”

Richmond smiled thinly, and pulled out a Woodbine from a gold case he kept in his suit pocket. McGuire had only seen him smoke once before, and that instance had alarmed him.

Reading FC’s would-be owner lit his smoke and leaned back in his chair. He knew from the last time he had done this in McGuire’s presence that the little man didn’t like smoke.

Richmond knew he wouldn’t like fire, either.

“In going over the new organizational structure, it occurred to me that there was a different place you should occupy,” Richmond said. He took a drag from his cigarette.

That made McGuire feel better.

“Senior management?” he asked.

“No,” Richmond answered. “Outside.”

It hit him.

“You can’t.”

“I can, and I am,” Richmond said. “I warned you at the time the Serious Fraud Office investigation was revealed that we couldn’t handle any additional mistakes from your end of the operation. I am hearing that the results of that investigation are now complete, Peter. It’s best that you not be involved in the takeover.”

“What?” McGuire felt the back of his neck getting red as he absorbed the implications of what was being said.

“The results will be public in a few days,” he said. “For the good of the takeover, it’s best that you be away from the board room.”

“Am I nicked?” he asked. “For what? I’ve done nothing wrong!”

“From what I am hearing, no, you’re not nicked,” Richmond said.

“So what gives? Why are you doing this?”

“Pardon me, Peter,” Richmond said. “I misspoke. I meant to say that you aren’t nicked by the authorities. On the other hand, you are nicked, by me, because I choose to nick you.”

He took a drag from his cigarette.

“This club will be mine to control and given your history, your presence in upper management or on the board will reflect negatively on my control of the club. If you’d like to invest and gain a share of the profits we will surely generate, you’re welcome to do so, but in a non-voting, non-directorial position. And your money will have to come through your own company instead of through whatever other means you use with your friends in Italy.”

McGuire started to see a haze. He was being goaded, and he hated being goaded, by either that Ridgway creep or anyone else.

He was smart enough to turn, though, and saw Hardcastle standing near the door.

McGuire stood, and said nothing. He turned to leave, passing Hardcastle as he did. No move was made by either man toward the other, but McGuire was already plotting as he headed to his car.

# # #

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Wednesday, January 20

Arsenal v Reading – League Cup Semifinal Second Leg (Arsenal leads 2-1 on aggregate)

Our mood was quiet as we rolled off to North London.

There was a lot at stake. The players all knew it. The chance to play in a Cup final, even the “diddy cup” as we called the League Cup when I was at Rangers, was one not to be missed.

Yet to do so, we had work to do on the ground of a club fast becoming a rival.

My goal for the day was the squad’s total immersion in the task at hand. With that in mind, I set an early reporting time for the sixteen players in the squad, plus the two spares I brought along in case of utter catastrophe in warm-ups.

I had the players meet in the lounge prior to starting our day, and they arrived to something they had never seen before.

Their large-screen TV had video on it. A frozen frame of the inside of a locker room greeted them and one by one they sat in overstuffed chairs and on couches wondering what in the hell the gaffer could be up to now.

Five minutes before the meeting’s scheduled start time of 10:00, everyone was present. That was a good thing – the players know there’s a standard fine of £100 for being late for a team meeting.

I stepped to the front of the room, and the players could tell that I was locked into the match in a different way.

“Good morning,” I said. Novel approach, that.

They looked back at me, and very quietly, I began the day’s preparation.

“How good do you want to be?” I asked, starting my eye contact at the back of the room with the captain, Lobont, and moving forward as I talked.

“This club has made huge strides in the last three years and you’ve done well for yourselves. Fair play for that, well done, all that sort of thing. But tonight you’ve got an opportunity that’s pretty special.”

“This evening you’ll go to North London and play for a spot in a Cup final. This club has never won this competition – or the FA Cup either. It’s easy to take this as a distraction, from our role in the league race.”

“Hell, you guys are shorthanded. Kalou’s gone, André’s gone, Ibrahima’s gone. You guys that are left, those of you that aren’t injured, haven’t got a ghost of a chance. The experts say so, the pundits say so. We’re finished.”

“I can even think of one board member who thinks so,” I said, cracking a wry smile. The lads knew where I was headed.

“You can tell I don’t believe a word of it,” I said. “I think you can do it. But I’ll tell you something else that’s as serious as a boot to the stomach. You’re going to need a special effort. We are short. We are banged up. We are injured. But you’ve got a chance to play for something if you can get the job done tonight.”

“Now, I want to show you something. Take this attitude tonight, and you will succeed. It’s the wrong sport, but the idea is the same.”

I hit the ‘play’ button on the big screen’s remote, and the actor Al Pacino walked into the frame.

The speech, of course, was from Any Given Sunday. But the words were apropos for any sport, especially the beautiful game.

It was also appropriate, in some ways, for me.

“I don't know what to say, really. Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives all comes down to today.

Now, either we heal as a team, or we are going to crumble. Inch by inch, play by play, ‘till we're finished.

We are in hell right now, gentlemen, believe me. And we can stay here, get the **** kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb out of hell. One inch at a time.

Now, I can't do it for you. I'm too old. I look around and I see these young faces and I think…

I mean…I made every wrong choice a middle-aged man could make. I, uh....I pissed away all my money, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who has ever loved me. And lately, I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you. That's...that's…that’s part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

You find out that life is just a game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small, I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don't quite make it; one half-second too slow, too fast, you don't quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in every break of the game, every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch, because we know when we add up all those inches, that's going to make the f***ing difference between winning and losing, between living and dying.

I'll tell you this; in any fight it’s the guy who is willing to die who is going to win that inch. And I know if I am going to have any life anymore, it is because I am still willing to fight and die for that inch, because that is what living is -- the six inches in front of your face.

Now, I can't make you do it. You gotta look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes. Now, I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows when it comes down to it, you’re gonna do the same for him.

That's a team, gentlemen. And either we heal now, as a team, or we will die, as individuals.

That's football, guys. That's all it is.

Now, what are you gonna do?”

I turned off the television, to silence from the players.

“All right,” I said. “How good do you want to be? What are you gonna do?”

# # #

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Well stated, written and team building motivation that includes a personal element indeed. Amazingly enlightening... your team is very fortunate for your insight and encouragement even in the gaming world. Hat's off and bows.. once again! :)!

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"It is better to fail with your own vision than to fail with another man's vision." – Johan Cruyff

The message had been light-hearted, but unmistakable.

A camp Hollywood movie had gotten the point across and after the players had had a very light kickabout and lunch, we boarded the coach to head off to North London.

This in itself had violated a team policy of mine. Usually we travel the day before a match, even to places close by like London. This time, though, I wanted the players to have one more night’s sleep in their own beds after a short work week.

It was a calculated risk. Some managers like to travel with complete control over their squads – and usually, that’s me. But to keep the players relaxed, I decided to roll the dice.

The trip was about 40 airline miles and provided enough time for players to get their headphones on, listen to their music, and send a few text messages.

I have several hard and fast rules for team travel. Players can text until the bus reaches the ground but they can’t make phone calls and they can’t use social media of any kind.

I have a policy regarding Twitter, too – no use on the day before, the day after, or most especially the day of, a match. There’s a club fine for violating that policy as well.

Twitter distracts, and if a player is in a running argument online, his mind isn’t on the match. Tonight, I needed everyone’s mind in the same location. And that wasn’t online.

I sat in my usual position, front row seat opposite from the driver, as we made the trip. I leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes now that i knew the bus driver wasn’t going to try to kill me, as had once happened in my past.

The pressures of my job are great, and added to by the would-be owner of the club combined with his minions. But now, with just the match to think about, I felt the freeing sensation that I usually feel when the world gets bit too heavy.

Eleven men were about to play eleven other men in a football match and I would have a modest role to play in the outcome of that match. The players, of course, had the lion’s share of the work to do. I was the guy who got to put them in the position I thought was best to help them win it.

Our focus was good. It stayed good though our arrival, preparation and warmup – and even my pre-match team talk, which was short and to the point.

“We’re in North London. Wembley is that way,” I said, pointing in the general direction of the stadium. “If you want to get there from here, you need two more goals than they get. Who’s going to be the hero? If we’re going to get to Wembley, I’m looking right now at the group that will produce that hero. Think big. Dream big. And then do it for yourselves and for this club. We didn’t have that hero against Chelsea. Let’s find him tonight.”

The issue, though, was how we were going to do it minus five first-team players.

And then I lost my nerve regarding 4-2-3-1.

Reading (4-4-2): Lobont, Pogatetz, Cathcart, Huth, Ferreira, Maloney, Dicã. Magallón, Saivet, Kitson, Lita. Subs: Federici, Osbourne, Gaspari, Rosenior, Fleck.

A huge crowd had shown up to root their Gunners into an elusive final – it had been awhile since Wenger had managed to put his team into one – and their squad showed their intention.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski, Clichy, Djourou, Barzagli, Alexis, van Persie, Fabregas, Denilson, Maxi Rodriguez, Vela, Eduardo. Subs: Foster, Bendtner, Hleb, Traoré, Fonte.

A cold rain and wind had been brewing all day, and as the match kicked off the wind began to howl a bit and the rain started to sting like darts hitting exposed flesh. It wasn’t a pretty night for the beautiful game.

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That hurt the Gunners and their short-passing game more than it hurt us, at least in the beginning.

We had the better start. Saivet’s energy was quite helpful on the right and his pace stretched out the Arsenal defense in a most pleasing way.

Maloney’s cross earned us a corner in seven minutes which he took himself, and Cathcart, getting a chance to shine on a big stage, rammed his forehead into the set piece. Fabianski saved, though, palming the rebound right onto the boot of Lita, who screwed his reflex volley barely wide of the post.

That obviously would have been a dream start, and obviously I would have been in a much better frame of mind at that moment if Lita had gotten that particular job done. Yet we weren’t behind in the match, so it was a better thing for me to simply sit back down and shut up.

Magallón went down for a minute after a clattering challenge by Denilson that rattled his teeth, won the ball, and annoyed the visiting manager. Like that mattered or something.

It mattered a bit more a few moments later when Martin Atkinson carded Cathcart not five minutes later for a highly similar challenge on Eduardo.

Approaching fourth official and sometime adversary Lee Mason at a slow walk, I kept calm despite the mounting anxiety I was feeling. I wanted to manage in a Cup final and was trying not to let it show.

“Sauce for the goose, Lee,” I said simply, and stood alongside the fourth official for a few moments. I was waiting to see if Wenger would say anything, or more importantly, do anything, as I had a perfectly civil discussion.

He sat impassively in his dugout. The calls had both gone his way, and he was winning the tie. In short, he had no reason to move.

So, he didn’t.

Kitson forced Fabianski into a sharp save in 26 minutes, but the tandem of Fabregas and van Persie then got back into the match. I wondered if van Persie would play well after my interest in him had been expressed, and unfortunately for me, it turned out that the answer was ‘yes’.

After two slide-rule wall passes between the men, van Persie’s cross to the middle for Eduardo found Cathcart’s head first, and he knocked it behind for a corner. Yet the intent of those two had been established and it was worrisome.

To make matters worse, Huth then went into Atkinson’s book two minutes later for a hard foul on Vela, meaning both central defenders were now in the book less than half an hour into the match.

Not surprisingly, Arsenal then surged forward and took the ball right to the center of our defense, with van Persie forcing Lobont into a save on the half hour that my captain held comfortably.

Dicã then roared in for a shot that sailed harmlessly over the top of Fabianski’s goal. Arsenal wasn’t quite so fortunate moments later when Magallón anticipated Fabianski’s short distribution perfectly and harassed the ball off Clichy.

Playing much higher up the park than I would have liked, Magallón suddenly had a glorious chance, but Fabianski clawed the Mexican’s quick effort around his right post for a corner.

My heart returned to its more accustomed position in the center of my chest from my throat, and as Atkinson blew for half time, we were no closer to our goal but were playing acceptably well.

# # #

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The team talk was short and sweet.

“Get a goal,” I said. “Find a way.”

Dillon then schemed with them to find that way, as I headed to the visiting manager’s office to try and calm my nerves. If I had been a smoker, I’d have burned through a couple while waiting for the teams to return to the field.

I couldn’t recall having had nerves like that before. It felt odd. But it also felt human.

We had never been this far as a club in a Cup competition. But without another goal, it would all end in 45 minutes.

I wanted it for the players. But they had to want it for themselves.

Maloney seemed to want it more than most, barging straight into the Arsenal penalty area right from the second half kickoff and forcing Fabianski into a save.

We kicked things into a higher gear after that, because we had to take the game to the opposition – which opened Arsenal up for the counter strategy that had worked so well for them against us, and which traditionally works so well for us against them.

As the match approached the hour mark, I was starting to consider my attacking options.

I was considering 4-3-3 but wanted Kitson out there, so I thought better of it.

I wanted any change in alignment to have time to settle in so as the match passed the hour mark I thought long and hard.

Somebody forgot to tell the Gunners we were thinking, and it was almost disastrous for us. Hearts went into throats when van Persie’s long-range effort appeared to have Lobont well beaten, but Ferreira deflected the shot – directly into his keeper’s chest, which was amazing.

Lobont couldn’t control a shot that had changed direction so dramatically, and the ball ricocheted to beyond the penalty spot where Eduardo, wearing the captain’s armband, couldn’t miss.

He was on target. Unfortunately for him, Cathcart hacked the shot off the line, the ball squibbing wildly off to the right and setting off another mad scramble for possession. We won this one, though, and Ferreira boomed the ball into touch to get the pressure relieved.

I turned to Dillon, red-faced with both anger and excitement at the same time.

“This is killing me,” I sighed. He returned my gaze with a determined expression.

“See that it doesn’t, Rob,” he admonished. “Frantic defending, but effective.”

He was right.

It didn’t get a lot better for us. Hleb came on for Vela and immediately sent Denilson away, but his shot found the side netting instead of the netting that would have sunk us.

Fabregas then came close, but Lobont was able to hold his effort, but his long punt was headed right back into the left hand channel where Maxi Rodriguez was there to carve us open again, this time for Eduardo.

It was starting to feel like surgery without anaesthesia, but Ferreira again was our hero, sliding to block Eduardo’s effort onto the path of Pogatetz, who cleared – but again Arsenal came back only for Eduardo to thunder over the top.

They were putting us onto the rack and pulling. It wasn’t pretty. I had a major decision to make. It was time for something different, and dramatic.

I decided, in the finest American tradition, to double down.

I stood and walked to the touchline, calling for Maloney’s attention.

“Flood,” I yelled, and all of our players knew what that meant.

# # #

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We didn’t have the right players out there, but with twenty minutes to play and needing a goal, we had no choice.

Our “flood” formation is a 4-3-3 alignment which allows us to put six men in the opponent’s penalty area with two supporting full backs on the flanks.

It’s a go-for-broke tactic which Lita used to some success last season at its head, and which Maloney used to equal success as a late-arriving raider.

Fleck came on for Saivet, one wonderkid for the other, and moved with Lita to support the targetman.

But Leroy wasn’t at the top of the formation now. Kitson was, because I was out of healthy strikers and Lita could at least make a passing attempt at playing off a lead striker, whereas Kitson was all targetman, all the time.

Wenger then worked a substitution, and really raised my eyebrows.

He removed the highly effective van Persie on 72 minutes in favour of Bendtner. I breathed a sigh of relief that I hoped the cameras didn’t catch, decided it didn’t really care, and watched the results of my tactical handiwork.

It didn’t take long. Ferreira moved the ball into the attacking third and did what he ought to have done – looked for Maloney’s run ahead of him. The Scotsman whipped a cross into the box looking for Kitson, but Alexis headed behind.

Maloney moved to take the corner, and put the ball just outside the six.

And Arsenal didn’t get Huth marked.

Fabregas saw the six-foot-three-inch “Berlin Wall” steaming toward the goal, and moved. It was too late.

Huth met the ball squarely with his head, driving the ball down into the ground and bouncing it past the helplessly diving Bendtner for the goal we absolutely had to have.

We were level on aggregate, our support was going berserk and the Reading manager was having a unnatural reaction.

Fists clenched, I raised both of them to my players and showed some real emotion as the players headed back up the field for Arsenal’s kickoff.

Wenger then used his third substitution, taking off Clichy for Armand Traore. They were now down both van Persie and Vela, which certainly was a good sign for us in the event of extra time.

I pulled us back to 4-4-2 immediately, but the Gunners poured forward. Fleck, of all people, outjumped Barzaglia to head an immediate Arsenal corner to safety.

Maloney blocked an effort by Hleb, and as the match moved past eighty minutes it was time for another move. We moved to a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Lita behind Kitson leading the line. Again, not optimal, but as the saying goes, you go to war with the army you have, not the one you’ll have later on.

I wanted calm from the players that I wasn’t showing myself, but that was simply not going to happen.

In the 84th minute, we got a throw in that Ferreira took, finding Magallón in front of him. Ferreira then took off for the corner and Magallón saw him, leading him with a ball to the right.

The Portuguese then floated a cross all the way across the Arsenal box – where Lita, playing near Ron Atkinson’s famed “second post” – had slipped the mark of Djourou.

We all jumped off the bench as we saw Lita break free and it was a mob scene as the striker finished powerfully to put us ahead 2-0 – and ahead on aggregate 3-2.

Off I tore in a mad celebratory circle around the technical area, avoiding players hugging each other, because I still had work to do.

I returned to the touchline, with Osbourne trailing me by his shirt collar in one hand and Gaspari trailing me by his shirt collar in the other. Neither had expected to be ushered into the game in quite this fashion, but neither of them minded as I looked for Lee Mason in an entirely different context.

They came on for Kitson and Magallón respectively, as we went to 5-4-1 in yet another alignment change.

The Gunners went to 4-2-4 and immediately Fleck, who had just come on, was crocked with a dead leg. That put us down to ten at the start of four minutes of added time.

Playing with two central defenders and Huth as a sweeper, I felt confident. Eduardo, though, undressed the defense with a wonderfully creative ball that would have been more wonderful had it not happened against me.

The three central defenders hadn’t communicated and Rodriguez was in alone on Lobont. “The Cat” came out to challenge, made himself big, and dove to collect at the winger’s feet.

Rodriguez flashed around him to the right – and shot wide.

The crowd howled with disappointment, the energy from our support in response was palpable, and three minutes later it was all over.

I shook hands with Wenger, whose face was now a mask. Twenty minutes from time, his players had one leg in the final.

Huth and Lita had taken that from them, claiming it instead for themselves and for all of us.

# # #

They were singing.

Watching the travelling fans singing was perhaps the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had in football.

I hadn’t won much as a professional except at Rangers, where winning was a habit, but this was special.

My Padova team had reached a Serie C Cup final and lost it. Now I’d get another chance in a bigger venue.

“Que sera, sera ... whatever will be, will be ... we’re going to Wemberley, que sera, sera!”

The players walked as a group over to the corner where the travelling fans surged to the edge of the stand like a wave, wanting to engulf their heroes in the emotion of the moment. I followed, from a distance, applauding the fans hands over head, but stopping well short of the celebration.

This was the players’ moment.

Dillon approached and stood beside me.

“Well done, Rob,” he said, extending his hand.

“Amazing,” I said, shaking his hand firmly and accepting a hug from the man who had once let me go from the club. “This group is amazing.”

“Tell it to the press,” he grinned, as one by one the players headed back to the tunnel and the start of a well-deserved celebration.

On my own way to the tunnel, I looked at the director’s box. Sir John stood next to Sidney Richmond. One of them was smiling.

Arsenal 0

Reading 2 (Huth 5th 72, Lita 9th 84)

A – 60,387, Emirates Stadium, London

Man of the Match – Leroy Lita, Reading (MR 8)

Reading wins 3-2 on aggregate

# # #

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I see by your latest post that you're writing talent is even more enjoyable and you're able to capture bits and pieces of the game so well...then, to add fuel to the fire to read more, you leave us with another fine ending. It really is a joy to read.

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“Couldn’t be more pleased,” I said. I was trying not to cackle with glee.

“To be in a final, the first Cup final in the history of this club, is wonderful,” I added. “We beat an excellent team over two legs and do to so tonight minus five of our first-team players is about as good as it gets.”

“Does this give you some ammunition, Rob?” It was Weatherby, and she knew that I knew what she meant.

“I wasn’t aware that I was under threat,” I said, as coolly as I could. “But if you want to look at it that way, sure. The knock against this club was that it couldn’t win a big match. Well, this was a pretty big match, it put us into a cup final and I think it validates what we have been trying to do here.”

“You now get United in the final.”

“Yes, we do,” I said, referring to Coppell’s club, which had erased a 2-1 road deficit of its own on Frazier Campbell’s 98th minute extra-time goal to best Aston Villa 3-1, and 4-3 on aggregate at Old Trafford. News of that result had reached us in our changing room and had brought about a shout of acclimation from our players.

“We’ve had some good success against United, including just recently,” I added.

“This time, though, you’ll be managing,” Abiatti cracked, and I gave him a death stare for his cheekiness.

I also made a little mark on a notepad in front of me that said, simply, “A”.

I’d know what it meant when it came time for the club to strip him of his credential for the Mad Stad for his impudence.

“We’re second. They’re fifth,” I said. “Like you could do any better.” He scribbled down my words, and I knew I had hit both a hot point and his headline for tomorrow.

Weatherby resumed her questioning, shooting an equally nasty look at the Italian as she did. “The word we are hearing is that a deal is close to sell the club.”

“I’ve not heard of it, and that’s none of my concern,” I said. “We would, as a group of coaches, staff and players, surely be informed if anything like that were on the cards. In the meantime, we simply go back to what we are doing.”

“You sound like a man who knows he’s secure.”

I then decided to tweak Richmond.

“What if I wasn’t?” I said. “What if the Richmond group does what it says it will do and buy the club? They’ve made no secret of their plans and that would mean I’d need to find another club. Someday, someone else will be in my chair in any event, but would I stay unemployed if I decided I wanted to stay in the game? I’d hope not, but that’s not for me to decide.”

I locked eyes with the blonde reporter, and she seemed to read my meaning.

“You’re saying Sidney Richmond doesn’t scare you.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Jill.”

I know what tomorrow’s headlines will say. So be it.

Tonight, Reading FC is on top of the world.

# # #

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Glad to see you back 10-3. Still one of my favourites and just keeps on going with the quality.

Thanks

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A good win against the Gunners, as usual Tenthree a brilliantly written piece of work. An inspiration to all worters new and old sir

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Pan, thank you very much. Have always loved this story as you know, and it's fun to write it especially since I have story arcs planned through next season.

Mark, thank you as well. I will say this, that match was the most satisfying win I've ever had playing any version of FM. My daughter actually came into my den after Lita's goal and asked me if I was all right. :)

___

Thursday, January 21

“Ridgway: Do Your Worst, Richmond!”

“Big Man On Campus: Ridgway Doesn’t Fear Richmond”

“Doing It the Ridg-Way”

Okay, so it wasn’t great literature.

But everyone, from The Evening Post to The Guardian to The Mail posed their headlines just the way I wanted them. It’s good to be on top, even if only for a day.

Our little Berkshire soap opera has gotten great play across England and to have a leg up in that fight, even if only for a day, was most refreshing.

Now we prepare for an FA Cup weekend and a Fourth Round matchup against Villa at the Mad Stad. They’ll be smarting after their League Cup elimination by United last night and even though they sit 15th in the Premiership, they’ll be ready for us with a good squad that ought to be doing better than it is.

From our point of view, though, it was a light hearted day at the office. The players were still pretty pumped from the nature of our comeback – especially Lita, who had done what he did so many times last season in scoring a vital goal at exactly the right moment.

His reputation as the giant killer and scorer of enormous goals was preceding him again and you could see the old confidence just oozing out of him as we did some light drills to start off the morning.

We aren’t going to do a lot of heavy stuff as we prepare for Villa, but we’ll work on general defensive play as part of our pre-match stuff tomorrow afternoon.

I’m glad we get this match at home. Having to travel, even if it’s only to Birmingham, after the midweek trip to London would have been an annoyance.

The quick turnaround in games is going to test the small squad again and that can’t be helped but right now with the squad short there’s plenty of football for everyone who’s left behind. That can’t be bad.

No Kalou. No Sonko. No Bikey. No Dagoberto. No Baptista.

No problem.

That was my thought, anyway, though I obviously didn’t express that sentiment in front of the squad. However, both my Samba Kings got their share of ribbing for not being around when the big moment came last night.

They didn’t like it – and Dagoberto especially has a known issue with being kidded about injury – but they put up with it. It was perhaps our ultimate team win.

So that made my morning stroll past the executive offices all the more sweet. Sticking my nose into the owner’s office to greet the staff was a pleasure this morning. Everyone associated with Reading Football Club was in a good mood.

# # #

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Am I the only one sensing a 'However' or a 'Meanwhile' or a 'But everything in the garden wasn't quite that rosy forever' on the horizon ?

Top work, fella, I think the fact you enjoy writing this comes across loud and clear. Carry on.

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What, me, write a cliffhanger? Never happen. :p

But thanks for the kind words. Many is the time I have thought abou letting this go and starting other projects I'd love to try (one of which is a rags-to-hopefully-riches Rangers tale begging to be told starting in FM13) or even continue ("Legend In My Mind" is screaming at me for more attention and it would give me a chance to play CM01-02 again) but in the end I come back to the Rat Pack like a comfortable suit of clothes.

___

“How in the bloody hell did they do that?”

McGuire was sat reading the afternoon paper with the same sense of frustration as everyone associated with the consortium had.

It was the perfect opportunity. Half the first team was gone, for God’s sake. They were either playing in the Cup of Nations or being treated for injuries, hangnails, Montezuma’s Revenge, call it whatever you want.

They were playing the mighty Gunners – away from home – and they needed to rally in the final fifteen minutes to win.

And, they had.

How the hell did they do that?

This win would make things immensely more difficult. Ridgway wasn’t supposed to win the club’s first real trophy. He was supposed to be forced out as he inevitably failed at the last hurdle, a victim of his own near-success, but darn it all anyway, just not quite good enough to meet the expectations he had raised by being not quite good enough.

Now Ridgway had a chance to do exactly that thing – win a trophy – and it was hard to fathom how such a club, with such self-belief, was going to lose.

If they did, though, it would be the more delicious. Yet, rooting for your club to lose a Cup final is sort of like turning traitor. Even the consortium couldn’t do that.

Not that McGuire really cared. Now out of the consortium, he was wallowing in his own misfortune.

At that moment, his misfortune tasted like Scotch, so it wasn’t completely horrible, but it was also starting to taste a bit bitter as the liquid took hold of his throat.

He also kept fingering his scars.

That was starting to become an obsession.

And really, why shouldn’t it be? He hadn’t done anything to Richmond, yet he had been beaten to within an inch of his life.

His wife was gone, she had his kids, and he had lost what he wanted most, which was a shot at big money by siphoning it off a Premiership football club.

He knew how things were supposed to have gone in North London. The Royals were supposed to suffer a gallant setback, pressure was supposed to mount on Ridgway for losing to another Big Four club, and Sir John was going to be forced to sell to fulfill the ambitions of the fan base – and those ambitions were starting to get pretty large.

Yet now, it didn’t matter. And if it didn’t matter to Peter McGuire, it really didn’t matter if it mattered to anyone else.

He hadn’t really had a “Plan B” in the event of disaster with the consortium and part of him felt that he was still irreplaceable. That scrawny old ****** Richmond didn’t, though, and for that his reckoning would have to come.

And when it did, then Rob Ridgway had better watch his step.

As he sat alone in front of his fireplace, McGuire stared into the flames and fingered his scar again.

He knew the Reading manager had arranged for his beating. He just knew it. Richmond be damned, but even the guy whose mental driveway didn't quite reach the street wouldn't be that stupid to arrange to have an associate beaten.

He couldn’t prove it. Yet. But the moment he could, he’d commit a crime for which no jury in the world would ever convict him. That was how the mob worked, and after all, he was now Scarface.

That holier-than-thou, smug, arrogant ******* Rob Ridgway. The golden boy. The guy who doesn’t know when to shut up.

All you had to do was read the paper today. His mouth was writing checks that his performance would never be able to cash.

Well, Ridgway would learn the hard way. It was all in the cards.

# # #

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Friday, January 22

We’re preparing for tomorrow and a quick turnaround in the FA Cup against Villa.

The fallout has been what I hoped it would be from the open-hand slap I took at Richmond, but today it was all business at training.

The players are ready, morale is good and I look for a good match tomorrow.

What I can’t worry about, though, is my own future.

The end of the month is approaching quickly so even if Richmond is successful in buying the club, we might make it all the way through the January window before it happens and avoid any transfer embargo that is automatically placed on teams undergoing takeover.

The other issue from my post-match news conference that I had to deal with was my comparison of the table positions of us relative to United.

For United to miss out on potential Champions League football next season would be a huge shocker and if it transpires, my club would have been one of the key players in making it happen.

“We’re second. They’re fifth,” I had said to Abiatti. The context of the quote regarded the reporter’s mocking of my abilities, however kiddingly he had intended them.

A quick meeting between Waters and the reporter after the news conference, which I hadn’t even had to ask for, brought about a change in attitude from the Italian, who didn’t like the idea of being banned from the stadium. I suspect his editors would have liked it even less.

I’m still holding it against him though. I have that right. I have that responsibility to my players, who shouldn’t see their club slated in such an unprofessional manner.

To me, Abiatti is becoming just like Emiliani – smug, arrogant, holier-than-thou and an Italian who looks down his nose at the mere Yank who dares take his club to a new level of play.

The idea was for me to assert a bit of authority relative to Abiatti. Waters had done that for me, and for that I was grateful. The law had been laid down and I hadn’t had to do it myself.

Villa is loaded for bear. So today we were able to concentrate on them. I like that.

We’ve got all kinds of momentum. And we’re at home. I like our chances.

# # #

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Saturday, January 23

Reading v Aston Villa – FA Cup Fourth Round

I always liked the FA Cup, even though I had never done well in that competition as an active player.

Previous entries have disclosed my love for the tradition of the world’s oldest knockout competition, which I would dearly love to win as a manager now that I’m too old and decrepit to play in it any more.

Martin O’Neill, one of the greatest Celtic men you’ll find, was the visiting manager today and, as always, the ex-Celtic man, Maloney was going to be in my eleven. He loves playing against the man who once managed him – and who sold his contract to me.

Martin has undergone considerable stick for that particular sale, due to the great season Shaun enjoyed last year. And, Shaun’s afflicted with what I call “Old Firm Alzheimer’s Disease.” You only remember the grudges.

I got an early start today – I was at the team breakfast an hour early so I could greet the players on their way in – and was pleased to see the stadium staff putting up a sign inside the changing room as I walked past it.

DWWD, it read. “Do What We Do.”

It seemed reasonable to me. Over the last week we had shown huge resilence and in our search for a different hero every day, we had had to improvise.

Do What We Do. When we concentrate on that, we’re a damn good side. When we don’t, as against Chelsea and Barcelona, we can be had with ridiculous ease.

So, with that phrase front of mind now for each player as he prepared for the match, I retreated to my office to wait for the noon kickoff and the television cameras in my office for the pre-match interview.

We were the main match for the broadcasters today, so that meant i had to clean up the office before the live cameras arrived. Since I want to remember where I put all my stuff when I do that, I generally do the straightening myself.

At ten o’clock, the match broadcasters were seated across from me.

Jon Champion and Craig Burley were sat across from me wanting the inside scoop. Craig’s uncle George was guiding his Motherwell side in a First Division match against Clyde that afternoon, so Craig was probably going to see a bit higher standard of football where he was.

“How do you propose to bounce back against Villa with such a depleted squad, Rob?” Burley asked. The camera was rolling.

“We’ve had to be careful,” I admitted. “But we do feel the squad we have is deep enough to handle a Cup tie like this one.”

“With more big matches coming up you must want to avoid a replay,” Champion mused.

“You always want to avoid replays, but we’re at home,” I replied. “We have to believe we can avoid a replay. Villa are a good side but we think we can handle them. We have to believe that, especially coming off our success at midweek in London.”

“Let’s talk about that,” Champion followed. “Was that your most satisfying win? Judging by your reactions on the touchline it would appear to be hard to top it.”

“I’d be hard pressed to argue with that, Jon,” I admitted. “It was an emotional win on aggregate, left late, against an excellent club. We have the chance to play in a Cup final now and there are good players who will play their entire careers without being able to say that.”

“So how do you continue that momentum? You are still short five players and your team sheet has young Niklas Berg on it.”

I was surprised that someone had leaked my team sheet. It was the FA Cup, so I felt I could blood a young player, and the one I had chosen was the Finnish u-21, Berg, whom we had purchased from TPS on 1 January 2009.

Now he was ready, with a fine return of six goals in thirteen matches for the reserves. And we needed him ready.

We were very thin. The sheet also included Halls, who hardly ever plays for the first team now, and Cathcart, whom I had high hopes for during the Cup of Nations. It was time for him to earn his spurs.

Hunt was also in the starting eleven, so rarities abounded.

“Niklas is ready,” I said. “John Fleck isn’t quite ready yet after a dead leg against Arsenal so we are dipping into the squad.”

“Deeply, Rob,” Burley said. “You have to admit that.”

“Every club has its crises,” I answered. “But we have players under contract at this club for a reason, and that is because we think they can do a job. I refuse to accept the notion that we are scraping the bottom of the barrel or something. Halls and Hunt have Premiership experience and Cathcart and Berg are players of the future for this club. They have to play sometime and that time is today.”

# # #

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Spewing out the party line without giving too much away before the big match...In respect of one of the greatest movies I've ever enjoyed seeing, "Lord willing, you'll be able to do it!"

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Thank you, TwinsFan. Still very enjoyable after all this time too. And Copper, we'll see if the Little Engine That Could ... could.

___

It was quite the eleven.

Reading (4-4-2): Lobont, Rosenior, Golbourne, Huth, Gaspari, Osbourne, Saivet, Hunt, Maloney, Lita, Kitson. Subs: Federici, Magallón, Cathcart, Halls, Berg.

The fans could be excused for wondering what had happened to most of their first choice eleven, but the short answer was that they were either resting or injured.

As referee Martin Atkinson prepared to lead the teams on to the pitch for the start of the match, I looked over at O’Neill and we shook hands.

“Bit thin, Rob,” he said. I knew it was gamesmanship, so I just grinned.

I ran my fingers through my hair. “I know, Martin, but at my age it doesn’t grow back.”

He smiled at me with a sort of sideways grin, and the teams began their walk onto the pitch.

Looking around me as I entered from the players’ tunnel, I saw a decent, but not spectacular, crowd waiting for the match to start. The place was about half filled and while that wasn’t bad, it wasn’t going to be the money-spinner I was sure certain people hoped it would be.

The match started slowly. Kitson, still tender from his injury against Chelsea but ready to answer the bell, collided with Zat Knight in a real clash of the titans a quarter-hour along, with the defender needing treatment.

The defender soon came back on, though, with only a bit of malice in his eyes, and decided to obtain his revenge about thirty yards from the Villa goal. Unfortunately for him, Atkinson saw it and the free kick put us in business.

Golbourne’s kick into the area found the head of Osbourne, who simply nodded on to his right for Lita, who had slipped his defender. It was no problem for the striker to finish and get us a goal to the good 21 minutes into the match.

Obviously, that was the best thing for us but we still had to deal with Villa with our underpowered squad.

Eight minutes later, we were even more underpowered as Luke Moore barrelled into Rosenior and sent my defender to the deck in a heap.

That got Halls off the bench, and thankfully since Rosenior was playing the right side instead of his customary left, the substitution was still like-for-like. Halls stepped onto the pitch for his first first-team action in nearly a year to a nice ovation from the crowd, and I’m sure he felt he was ready to show the manager why he shouldn’t be the forgotten man.

Two minutes later, Halls was chasing Gabby Agbonlahor, who had flashed right past him and into the channel between he and Gaspari, who was also nowhere to be found.

With only Lobont to beat, though, the striker misfired and put his shot wide to the right of the goal. Lobont sighed with relief and I simply stared at Halls, who was going over a few things with Gaspari judging from his gesticulations.

Lobont was forced into another save a few minutes later, making a dive to his left to slap away a free kick from Stephen Defour, whose effort bent nicely around our wall. Yet “The Cat” was there for the save and the captain was well pleased with himself for it.

The rest of the half was fairly pedestrian with the closest shave for us coming when one of the few first-team regulars in the match, Huth, made a complete hash of a backpass to Lobont, who had to clear our lines with Agbonlahor closing him down like a madman.

Atkinson blew for halftime and our little squad had, so far, done the job.

# # #

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What could I say at half other than “gee, great job, men”?

It had been, even if some of the men in question were ones that had, until recently, appeared on the sides of milk cartons instead of in the first team.

From the start of the second half, though, Villa were much brighter, and they found a well deserved equalizer nine minutes after the restart.

It came through the energetic Agbonlahor, who was on the finishing end of a very nice team passing play. Captain Nigel Reo-Coker started it, working the ball to Aaron Lennon down our right.

He switched play to Defour, who squared for Juan Mata. The midfielder worked to his right and lofted a lovely little ball into the middle of our area where Agbonlahor somehow found a way to outleap the Berlin Wall, Huth.

His header was true, Lobont didn’t have much chance and the visitors were level in 54 minutes.

Gaspari was unhappy since he thought the play was offside, but then Andrea hadn’t exactly been near the ball a whole lot to that point so I guess I’d have expected that from him.

Perhaps a bit surprisingly since we were so understrength, Martin then shifted his team into a 4-5-1 alignment, but it seemed to work as we flailed around in the midfield for the next ten minutes or so looking for a way to get the ball deep.

We were so listless, in fact, that Agbonhalor got the next good chance as well, heading over from ten yards out in 61 minutes from Ryan Taylor’s cross.

And then, since it was the FA Cup, it was my turn to be a little adventurous.

I brought on Berg for his Reading debut, in place of Kitson since we have a league rematch with Arsenal on Wednesday to worry about as well and a definite shortage of healthy strikers with which to face them.

The crowd gave the young man a nice ovation and secretly I hoped he could find a way through, since I certainly didn’t mind the idea of giving him a bit more time in the squad if he could show his stuff.

At that time, though, Martin outdid me by pulling off both Defour and Luke Moore in favour of Luis Pérez and John Carew, leaving us each one substitution remaining. Martin burned his a few minutes later by bringing on the Spanish wing back Ángel in place of Lennon ten minutes from time as the match seemed to slog toward the inevitable replay that nobody wanted.

Berg then made something happen by bursting through the right channel in the Villa defense, forcing Thomas Vermaelen to haul him back by the shirt, earning a card from Atkinson in the process.

The Finn was running hard, and very late on he made something else happen.

His highly intelligent diagonal run into the box earned him a pass from Saivet – and a lunging challenge from Gary Cahill that felled him two strides inside the box.

Atkinson pointed to the spot and Maloney sprinted for the ball.

While the visitors protested, there could really be little doubt. Maloney placed the ball on the spot and after a bit of gamesmanship from Stuart Taylor, blasted the ball into the top right corner with one minute of regular time remaining to surely put us through.

Waving frantically for Magallón, I brought him on for Lita, with Berg running well and with much fresher legs than our more experienced striker. The fans were singing, we were looking very good and all we had to do was survive three minutes of added time.

Which we could not do.

Reo-Coker, Carew and Agbonlahor all played a very nice little three-way passing play with the ball winding up at Agbonlahor’s feet. Lobont’s save on his rising drive was frankly wonderful, bur we couldn’t get our lines cleared.

Perez didn’t miss, and we had been pegged back in added time.

Words could hardly describe our feelings, and Villa’s elation. Martin shook my hand with the look of a man who knew he had really won, and there wasn’t much I could say about that.

Reading 2 (Lita 10th 21, Maloney 8th pen 88)

Aston Villa 2 (Gabriel Agbonlahor 8th 54, Luis Ernesto Perez 2nd 90+2)

A – 17,423, Madejski Stadium, Reading

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

# # #

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“I told them that I thought we had done enough,” I told the press.

“We hung in there with an underpowered squad and we got a late penalty for a result that would have been very good. But we couldn’t get our lines cleared at the end of the match and that means we have to go see them for a replay soon.”

“How disappointing is that, Rob?” It was Weatherby.

“It isn’t helpful,” I admitted. “We should have won the match when we went ahead with a minute to go and frankly there’s no excuse for us not have done so. Credit Villa for coming back on us and putting together a good flowing move to get a second goal but honestly, I can’t see a team with Premiership title aspirations conceding like we did no matter who we have out there. We just have to be better than that at the end of the match. No doubt about it.”

“How much of your squad decisions were influenced by the rematch with Arsenal, which will be hopping mad for the rematch with you?”

“We put out the best squad we have available, Jill,” I replied. “I don’t worry about the match after the match we’re playing. Doing that can get you sacked in a hurry. I don’t care for that idea, so we do the best we can with what we have.”

“Will you be looking to add to the squad in the next week, the last week of the transfer window?”

“If we can find a player that we know will help us and we don’t have to overpay, we’ll consider it,” I said. “The issue I have here is with getting a group of players that I know can help us back from the Cup of Nations. Getting back to full strength is a huge priority for this club.”

And so, I headed back to the office, thinking ahead about Arsenal on Wednedsday.

Weatherby was right. They’ll be hopping mad after we smashed and grabbed a spot in the League Cup final from them on their ground.

Now we have to go back to The Emirates for the second time in a week and figure out how to do it again.

# # #

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To quote the great football philosopher Steve McClaren: "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

Keep the good work up, sir!

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Why thank you, gentlemen. This game was as galling as the Arsenal match was wonderful.

___

Sunday, January 24

Some days it doesn’t really pay to get out of bed. This was one of them.

The memory of Perez burying Agbonlahor’s rebound into the back of our net made it a sleepless night for me and even Patty soon realized that she didn’t need to kick me to stop my occasional light snoring because I wasn’t asleep.

I’ve had nights where I’ve counted the dots in my ceiling and last night was one. I get that we were understrength. I get that we’re in the middle of a difficult stretch of fixtures.

But, damn it, professionals hold a one-goal lead at home in stoppage time!

I had no choice but to give the players who had played yesterday the day off. Working them like I wanted to work them with a return trip to the Emirates just 72 hours away would have been madness.

But these days you can’t improve performance by running players ragged. Sit Matt Busby or Bill Shankly could have done that with yesteryear’s players, but Robbie Ridgway would have a squad revolt on his hands if he tried it today.

I can’t even threaten people with their places at the present time because we’re too threadbare.

So, it was just Dillon and me in my office this afternoon watching video of our last two matches with the Gunners, looking for anything else we might exploit against a club fast becoming a rival.

Looking past him into the empty first-team changing room, I wondered how we were going to get this particular job done.

“We’re about wrung out,” I said. “We’ve got guys who are dead-legged and tired.”

“The Samba King might be back,” Dillon said, pointing to the trainer’s report on my desk, which I hadn’t yet seen for fear of shocking myself into a stroke.

“Really,” I said, opening the document from Hirons to read that Dagoberto could indeed be considered, having passed a fitness test. He was far from ready for ninety minutes, though, but the thought of having one of our mainstays back in the fold lifted my personal spirits a great deal.

It also meant that Berg was headed back to the reserves, but even though the young man had run his tail off and done what we asked, he wasn’t ready for the Premiership quite yet.

Watching Wenger’s men stroll about the park against us during the first leg of our League Cup tie was galling, but watching us peg them back at the Emirates was obviously a lot more satisfying.

We will need another effort exactly like the latter one to have any chance at all of taking points on Wednesday. And with Chelsea ready to spring out and take charge of the league race if we falter, such an effort isn’t simply nice to think about, it’s mandatory.

# # #

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“Oh, this will drive him crazy.”

Richmond scanned a sheet of paper handed to him by one of his secretaries, a middle-aged lady who seemed to look like she had her head on a swivel whenever she was near him.

She was cowed. That was a good thing to Richmond.

“Sir?” the woman asked.

“I wasn’t speaking to you, Doris,” Richmond said curtly, and the woman clammed up, her lips forming a tight seal that even x-rays couldn’t pass through.

She simply nodded in reply.

“You may go,” Richmond said, waving his hand in dismissal. The woman turned her back to her boss and headed out of the room at a brisk pace. She was working on a Sunday, and that didn’t please her, but she didn’t dare say anything if she liked her paycheck. And, she did.

Richmond didn’t like dawdling on the part of his staff. He expected a fast pace, rapid movement off the ball, if you will. That was how those people had helped make him his money, and if he wanted more money, well, they’d just have to work harder to help him get it.

And Richmond always wanted more money. Even on a Sunday afternoon.

The sheet was from the front office of Reading FC and contained a list of players the scouting department said might be targets for other clubs.

What better way to help take the wheels off a suddenly prosperous Reading FC than to sell someone the manager wanted especially to keep?

Smiling with satisfaction, Richmond reached over to his right and buzzed his secretary on the intercom. For him, a way to make more money was as good as sex. Whatever that was.

“Doris, did you do as I instructed regarding the dispersal of this memorandum?” he asked.

“I did, sir,” she said.

“And what was my instruction?”

“Mr. Ridgway’s copy is locked in my desk,” she said.

# # #

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Monday, January 25

It was media day today, my favorite day of the week.

Or, not.

The papers were buzzing about how O’Neill had gone to the press, talking about how rallying for the draw at Reading would give his team added momentum not only for the replay but for the rest of its season.

Naturally, the journos ran to Biscuitman Way in a pack to get my reaction to such a comment, but what could I say?

Other than the truth, that is.

“We have to go to their place now because we couldn’t get the job done at our place,” I said. “That said, we’re in the same position with Villa now that Arsenal are in with us. We’re mad as hell. We feel we should have had the result regardless of anything and now we have to go there and try to get one.”

I was accused of evading the question. No great surprise there.

“I don’t blame Martin for thinking that,” I finally said. “Let’s be honest, getting a late draw away from home against a side of our calibre when we’re on our game is going to help most clubs in England.”

Then it was time to reassert our position.

“Look, we’re a Champions League side and we have done the job to the extent where we’re second-placed in the best club league in the world. Good for them for thinking what they think, but our job is to go and take it all away from them in a week’s time. Whether we do or not remains to be seen but I have to believe this group of players can do that.”

# # #

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“Kevin, I need to know if we can do that.”

My meeting with Dillon the day after each match is generally positive because we generally win. But when we don’t, as was the case over the weekend, the meeting can sometimes take on a different tone.

And today, it did.

“It’s the same old, Rob,” he said. “We have all the confidence in the world going forward but right now I notice a definite lack of belief in the team when we’re trying to protect a late lead.”

The problem, of course, is 4-2-4. One wag even suggested that the ‘desperation formation’ was proving so popular that the legendary football mag “4-4-2” was considering a name change.

We are one of the few teams in the top flight that does not have a 4-2-4 package. Instead, we use our 4-3-3 “Flood” alignment when we need a late goal and there have been times when it has worked as well as the 4-2-4 for us.

The goal of each alignment is the same – get six men in the opponent’s penalty area and have them supported by two full backs playing as high up the pitch as they dare.

There are ways to deal with that type of alignment. We just don’t seem to be able to do it successfully. We can slow down the play to keep the ball, and that makes a lot of sense. We can play the ball wide, since the attacking full backs have to cover an area usually covered by both full backs and midfielders.

And, of course, we can also play a deeper defensive line, so getting the ball to players in an attacking position either gets the ball swallowed up by our midfield advantage if played to the middle, or to the corners of the park if its not.

That all works well in theory. In practice, though, it hasn’t always been such an easy thing to master, especially with so many of our players out or still away from the team.

Hence, my question to Dillon.

“Obviously, Rob, we didn’t get it done on Saturday,” he said. “We’ll need to figure something out before we go back to Villa Park but right now we have to worry about Arsenal again.”

Wordlessly, I nodded. It’s a tough time for our threadbare little squad.

As I mulled that over, Waters knocked at the door with a friendly smile.

“Rob, are you ready for some good news?” he said. My return expression must have looked like he had scored a direct hit on my head with a thrown life preserver.

“Lay it on me,” I said, knowing I could trust my media coordinator.

“The Serious Fraud Office investigation findings will be released tomorrow,” he said. “Just thought you might want to know that.”

# # #

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Tuesday, January 26

“With all the money my uncle embezzled over the years, it's no surprise he lives in a gated community. But what is amazing, however, is that he somehow managed to get his own cell.” – Jarod Kintz

It made for interesting reading, anyway. And Peter McGuire is in a world of hurt.

I can’t say that I mind that.

Some of the information in the report had been known to the police since October, at the time someone had made a try for Patty in Bordeaux. Yet not all the “t’s” were crossed and not all the “i’s” were dotted, if you will, so the Serious Fraud Office had taken its time.

I can’t say I mind that either, since the end result appears to have been to delay Richmond’s bid to buy the club past the end of the January transfer window.

Before reading the article in The Times about the findings, I looked over at a framed item on my desk by my telephone.

It was a stanza from a poem by Longfellow that I had placed there late last season. It seemed appropriate now.

“Though the mills of God grind slowly,

Yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience He stands waiting,

With exactness grinds He all.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Retribution

I’ve been put through so much simply because I want to manage a football club. Now, maybe, some of that retribution is finally at hand.

Berkshire company probed by SFO

The ongoing investigation into the consortium that hopes to purchase Reading Football Club has received a significant finding from the Serious Fraud Office, which published some of its findings Tuesday morning.

Happy Day LLC, an advertising and public relations firm owned by Berkshire businessman Peter McGuire, 43, is believed to be involved with siphoning profits from its organization to and from an Italian gambling syndicate which may be trying to influence UEFA Champions League and Barclay’s Premier League football matches.

The company was, until recently, part of a consortium headed by another Berkshire businessman, Sidney Richmond, 62, who is actively bidding to purchase the club from owner Sir John Madejski.

The SFO’s findings were reportedly serious enough to force Richmond’s consortium to part company with McGuire’s firm due to a fear Richmond could not pass a fit-and-proper-person test in order to buy the club if Happy Day were still included.

The report indicates that over a period beginning in 2008, Happy Day LLC used profits from the publicity arm of its business to launder money to and from a group of Ultra supporters in Italy which is allegedly involved in attempted match-fixing.

Interpol is handling that portion of the investigation, and we can reveal that that organization has not found a solid money trail between the organizations, but amounts believed to correlate with each other passed into and out of certain bank accounts during that two-year period.

Investigation by Scotland Yard also continues into the recent bugging of Reading FC Manager Rob Ridgway’s office, in a case believed to be linked to the gamblers.

Investigators were alerted to the possibility of links between the groups after prison testimony from Agostino Galliano and Gotardo Ricci, two men convicted of attempting to kill Ridgway’s wife, model Patricia Myers Ridgway, in early 2008.

Galliano and Ricci reportedly told investigators of the existence of bank accounts linked to a group known as “The Supporters”, to which the men belonged, in exchange for early release from prison and witness protection.

However, the two men were found slain shortly after their release earlier this year, in a case which remains under investigation.

Happy Day also owns the financial rights to Myers Ridgway’s lucrative modelling shoots, which have made her wealthy and which have made her face a subject of pin-ups all over the world.

Reponse to SFO enquiries as to whether gambling money may have been used to help finance Richmond’s offer to purchase the club was not satisfactory according to the report, but Richmond himself has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the initial findings.

McGuire, on the other hand, may have more difficulties. Police and SFO officials are hoping he will choose to cooperate with authorities to untangle the financial mess now created.

With the initial SFO enquiries completed, Richmond has now been green-lighted to attempt his purchase of Reading FC.

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You should get self-published on Amazon through Kindle 10-3 and I am serious. Hoofing story goes without saying.

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