Jump to content
Sports Interactive Community
Sign in to follow this  
tenthreeleader

FM19 - The Great Glasgow Alternative

Recommended Posts

The Great Glasgow Alternative

“If I try to be like him, who will be like me?” – Yiddish proverb

Being a gooseberry isn’t the definition of fun for most people. But Roy Scully didn’t mind it a bit – at least in a footballing sense.

His career had been good, if not spectacular. It had been highlighted by time in the top flight of the English game at West Ham, the team he served loyally for sixteen seasons.

He had come through the Academy of Football and stood tall as a defensive midfielder. He had the unglamorous role in the game – he had to chop down the other side’s high flyer, and administer some high-footed justice from time to time as the situation warranted.

As a result, he was highly unpopular with opposing fans, even as the Eastenders loved seeing his name on the team sheet when he wasn’t injured – or suspended.

That had happened far more than once, but amazingly enough, never for actions taken against an official. He had been sent off a dozen times in the Premier League and served God only knew how many yellow card suspensions, but not a single one of his cards in his entire career had anything to do with dissent.

“I earned ‘em all,” he would say with a laugh.

Opposing players soon learned to respect the Salford boy, who had been “discovered” on a touring team trip to East London when he was eleven years old. Neither of the big Manchester clubs thought he had been worth a youth team slot, but the Hammers certainly did. They brought out the biggest, and the strongest, in the young man.

He never forgot that, and always saved his very best for the big boys in red and blue. His West Ham teams lost more than they won in those clashes but getting the opportunity to put a lump on Paul Scholes after one of his legendarily bad tackles was a duty he was proud of.

Some people called him a dirty player. But he wasn’t. What he was, was fair.

He insisted on it from his teammates, and from himself. You take one of mine, I’ll take one of yours. Fair’s fair.

And so it was when he finally called time on a long career at 35, the club’s testimonial match for him was against Everton – a club he had long respected and one of the very few who didn’t hold some sort of grudge against him.

Like a lot of players who realize they aren’t good enough to hold to their own standard any more, he started sniffing around coaching badges. They came soon enough, but when the time came to look for a new job, he knew that a lot of teams in England wouldn’t touch him.

So, he looked north, and wound up a footballing gooseberry.

Roy strode through the doors of the club offices and knew right where he was going. He had scouted out the location of the manager’s office during his interview. He was in Glasgow, for a job that seemed perfect both for him and for the club.

He sat behind the manager's desk, smoothed out a wrinkle in the desk calendar in front of him, and allowed himself a rare smile.

In Glasgow, there is Rangers and there is Celtic.

And there’s the Great Glasgow Alternative – Partick Thistle.

# # #

___

Author's notes: Yes, the old man is back -- more is the pity for you, I guess. After a change of computers from ancient to brand-new which resulted in quite possibly the worst series of file transfers in gaming history (including an accidental deletion of my documents folder which destroyed my Salford save), I had to start from scratch. So here I am.

Home nations and major European leagues loaded. Game starts in Scotland in summer 2018,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, it's great to have you back, 10-3. Partick sounds like a very interesting club to manage after the ups and downs they've had over the past two years. Also, their mascot is... quite something.

I'm sorry to hear about the Salford career coming to a premature end. What're the statuses of your other story saves, out of interest?

Edited by CFuller

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Gents: great to be back after a little battery recharge. As some of you know, this is my busiest time of the year as I am a college football broadcaster on the side and i spent every fall on the road.

I'm very unhappy at myself for not backing up my Salford save. I had played into the middle of the second season, and though I have notes I can't finish it, so I'm a bit stuck.

As for my other saves, I am still playing FM 15 believe it or not .... I love the character of Kyle Cain and it's one that's too much fun to write to stop completely. 

___

 

Roy thought there was a good fit with the Jags.

He had spent his career trying to get up off the deck, so to speak. The unwanted kid from Manchester had gone on and made a name for himself in London, in front of fans no less passionate than those he had left behind.

So it was in Glasgow. The fourth-largest city club, Queens Park, was set in its back room but for Thistle, freshly relegated from the Scottish Premier League, there was opportunity.

There were a few half-decent players. And there was a sense of anger that what the club had worked so hard to achieve was now being thrown back in their faces through the pain and embarrassment of relegation.

“Those Americans don’t know how good they have it,” Roy mused to himself as he looked at the fixture list. “Imagine a league where nobody gets held accountable for failure. You just get the best selection the next year and try again.”

That wasn’t for Roy.

And there was this to add: as an Englishman, he could claim absolute neutrality in the city’s hottest conflict: the Old Firm.

In fact, that was one of the world’s hottest conflicts in the beautiful game, and Roy could hold himself above it all. The vitriol that passes between fans of the blue and the green isn’t attractive for anyone or anything, and as the gooseberry, Thistle could promote itself as something different.

And it did. They were “The Great Glasgow Alternative.”

You could be passionate – even wear your heart on your sleeve – without a lot of the baggage the Old Firm brought to things.

And of course, Thistle wouldn’t be playing either of them in the 2018-19 season, unless Cup ties decreed.

In front of Roy sat a team sheet. He had seen his team play already, in a glorified scrimmage match against his reserves, won comfortably by the first team – and he knew there were some things he needed to change.

Tactically, Roy was as you might expect. He wanted order and discipline. Regroup without the ball. Engage, but not too high. Be ready to spring into counterattack.

He liked 4-4-2. What Englishman didn’t? But there was a disturbing lack of wide players and he had seen that already. He chalked that up as one reason he was in the position and Thistle had gotten themselves relegated the season before.

Bradford City and his first friendly in charge awaited. The Bantams would be a good test.

He looked down at the sheet and wrote:

GK – 1 – Bell

That would be Cammy Bell, the former Killie and Rangers keeper who was deemed surplus to requirements when the Big Blue Monster got its financial feet under it after the human disaster known as Craig Whyte had faded into obscurity.

Roy put down his pen. It got harder after that.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was a fair bit of annoyance in Roy’s tone as he addressed his team.

“We have work to do,” he said, “friendly or not.”

The Championship side had visited English League One Bradford City and lost by a goal to nil despite dominating the chances and much of the possession. A simple lapse in man-marking twelve minutes from time had resulted in Kai Brünker sidefooting home past a helpless Bell from six yards out.

One mistake had ruined a perfectly good game by the team – yes, it had come against the second eleven in at the end of the match, but Roy still wasn’t impressed.

“We should have had this put to bed long before they scored,” he said, and much of the squad agreed.

Roy’s reputation was a motivator, an inspirational player when he played. It was a skill he was really hoping would transfer into management, and this would be the first test.

Niall Keown, the Irish full back who had just signed a contract extension the previous day, had played well. So had left fullback James Penrice, who had been a substitution but outplayed the man in front of him, Sean McGinty.

Kris Doolan, one of the team’s spiritual leaders, had also played fairly well up front but obviously had not managed to find the goal.

But nobody else had played especially well and Roy was quick to note it.

“We’ve got Edinburgh City in three days in the Cup and you lot had better be ready for them,” he said, “because if you aren’t, they’re going to embarrass you. Learn from this. It’s a friendly. But don’t make a habit of losing matches like this. You won’t like me when I’m angry.”

Instilling a new spirit into a new team wasn’t always easy, and Roy, who had played for his share of managers with differing styles, knew that full well. Having skippered the Hammers on the pitch for the last four seasons of his career, he subscribed to a couple of different ways to motivate players.

One was the positive way. The other wasn’t.

He preferred the Roy Keane method, even though he didn’t care for the team Keane captained. Both Roys would stand for no nonsense either on the pitch or off of it, and woe betide the young player who fooled around in training.

Longtimers around the Hammers loved to tell the story of the day their captain caught two young players not taking a drill seriously. Both had recently been promoted to first team training and were enjoying the status of being with the big boys more than they were in applying themselves to their craft.

Roy took them aside after training.

“Welcome to the first team, lads,” he said, to the delight of the young men, who smiled broadly.

“And, if I ever see you f***ing around in a drill again as long as I’m captain, I’ll kick you’re a***s so hard they’ll be cleaning s**t from between your teeth.” Their smiles slowly disappeared.

He headed home disappointed after the friendly, but not overly so. The first team had done reasonably well for a unit which had yet to do serious physical training. Their upcoming three week training camp – in Manchester, no less – would see to some of that. So would four games in the Betfred Cup group stage.

He could be happy because one of the few people who knew Roy for the man he really was couldn’t wait to see him get home.

His wife of twelve years, Kate, simply smiled at Roy as he arrived and placed his overnight bag in the hall closet. He’d empty it later but for now he had more important things to do.

“Hi, babe,” she said, a smile lighting up her face. She wore her brunette hair long but tonight it was pinned up as she unpacked some of the couple’s belongings in a new home.

“Don’t you look wonderful,” Roy said, advancing to hug his “bride”, as he still called her.

“Didn’t go so well, I hear,” she said.

“Only if you like scoring,” he replied. “How’s things coming here?”

“Well, I could use your help when you aren’t busy being Mister Football Manager,” she teased. “There’s some things for tall people to do in this place and I’m not one of them.”

She stood 5’7” and she was as East London as they came. As she spoke, her dazzling blue eyes looked up at him. He couldn’t help but melt, even though he knew there were things that needed doing.

Eventually, he headed into the kitchen to start putting silverware into its correct slots in the drawer. Some house husband tasks couldn’t wait.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I always enjoy your work, and may Roy have the best of luck. I enjoyed managing in Scotland with Hamilton back in the day. Hopefully you don't have any big teams in your division.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks so much! I love Scotland myself but have never managed in it with anyone but Rangers. A freshly relegated SPL team will have good and bad points -- we'll see how he does.

___

As much as Roy adored Kate, he adored their daughters every bit as much.

Jessica was seven and Shelley was five. They both had dark hair like their mother’s and to say that the girls had their dad wrapped around their fingers would have been an understatement.

There’s nothing like the relationship between a father and a daughter, and Roy would say it to anybody who would listen. His girls were just barely old enough to understand the game and what their father did for a living, but as yet had shown little inclination to play.

That was fine with their dad, who had seen most of what the beautiful game had to offer and didn’t like much of it. But there was a lot to say for the good things about the game and that was why he stayed in it.

The morning after the Bradford friendly was an off-morning, so Roy stayed at home and watched video of Edinburgh City to help the scouts prepare a report for the Cup tie the team would play in a few days.

City was a semi-professional outfit and sometimes looked like it. As recently as two years before they were playing in the Lowland League, earning promotion to League Two by virtue of winning that league that same season.

The video Roy had to look at wasn’t much. League Two wasn’t on television that often and City even less. The point was that the Zags would have to play their own game and, at home, would be expected to win well.

And since it was summer, all Roy’s girls were at home as well. It was the perfect morning.

Shelley did what she loved to do when Roy was home – she climbed onto one arm of his overstuffed sitting room chair and leaned her head on his shoulder while he watched video. It was a very nice distraction.

Jessica watched a children’s show on a tablet in a chair across the room. It was quiet, it was serene, and it was everything Roy had avoided being associated with while he was a player.

In that regard, he was quite happy. The footballing world saw him as a hard man, a person who would tolerate no nonsense in his quest to be better today than he had been yesterday. That was true.

But he was also a doting father, very much in love with his wife, and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for any or all of them. That was also true.

It was their secret.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was better. Not much better, but better nonetheless.

A rather ragged-looking bunch of Jags took the pitch for the club’s first match of the Betfred Cup, with League Two Edinburgh City providing the opposition.

Roy’s tactical meeting the day before seemed to please the players. He was taking their shackles off – at least, as far as he was concerned – by switching to a more positive mentality.

“Look, we ought to have the beating of this lot and with some style,” he said. “You all know that – none of this nonsense about pressure. Don’t let this go to your heads. Just play like you can, and stick to the match plan.”

He paused. “And another thing,” he said. “When I tell you that you’ve done well, you can believe it. Don’t look at me like I’ve got two heads. I don’t compliment often and when you do, you can be assured that I bloody well mean it.”

That was one of Roy’s pet peeves. Why on earth someone should respond negatively to being encouraged or praised was beyond him. He lived in a world where being complimented actually meant something and he didn’t care for the attitudes of some of the younger players in that regard.

He wasn’t supposed to be a mind-reader. He was supposed to be their boss.

So he sent them out onto the pitch and watched the players carry all before them – for the first half hour.

Within thirty minutes, the Jags were two goals up and playing with a fluency Roy had scarcely thought possible after the Bradford match.

Miles Storey scored the first goal of Roy’s tenure 14 minutes into the match, and winger Blair Spittal followed in 33. That was great, since both central defenders, Thomas O’Ware and Sean McGinty, wound up in the book within the first twenty minutes for clumsy fouls.

Then they conceded, with City striker Denny Handling bundling over the line just sixty seconds after Spittal’s goal, and the players’ reaction was worrying.

It was the footballing equivalent of getting punched in the mouth, and the players didn’t handle it well. Roy saw something in his players that he felt was a significant factor in their getting relegated the previous season.

They drooped when they faced adversity. That was an issue of mental toughness, or rather lack of the same.

He had a choice. He could coddle, or he could show some tough love. When the match rolled to halftime, Roy had a decision to make.

He chose the latter. “You nearly threw away half an hour of good work because of one sequence,” he said. “That’s all this game is, really – one play after another. They strung a few together and look where it put you. The question is what are you going to do about it?”

The reactions Roy was getting showed him that he was on the right track.

“This is still a match you should win comfortably,” he added. “You are better than this team and everyone in the ground knows it. But if you fall back into your shell now you run the risk of not getting out of it again. Stay aggressive. Take the play to them. Show that there will be no upset today and then put your boots on their necks.”

He sent them out for the second half and was curious to see their reaction. It was a match that Thistle dared not lose if it harbored hopes of reaching the second round.

Tactically, City was not hard to deal with. It was a bit cheeky for a League Two club to go on the road to opposition two divisions up and play three at the back with two strikers. Whenever the wingers were slow tracking back in City’s 3-1-4-2 look, Roy’s better wing players would simply knock the ball into the open space on the flanks and run until they either ran out of real estate or dropped.

It was one of those wings – Jack Storer – who put the match to bed in 66 minutes when he took a ball in that expanse of open space on the left. He cut inside and not only was the winger nowhere to be seen, the right-sided defender was trailing the play as well. Storer made no mistake and Thistle went on to a 3-1 win, at a canter.

“Good, good,” Roy told his players as they headed back to the changing room after the match. “Now it gets tougher. In four days you’re away to Livingston and that’s a team that should be in our league while we should be in theirs. You have a chance to show them. Rest day tomorrow, but report for tactical and video at 10 am. Enjoy your night.”

Betfred Cup Group Match #1 – Partick Thistle 3-1 Edinburgh City

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks very much, Carlos!  I appreciate it!

____

 

“I don’t pay attention to reporters and I don’t pay attention to gamblers.”

Roy’s words after the City match – spoken in private, thankfully – still showed what made him tick.

He was speaking to the board, which made the comments amusing enough. He was asked to attend a meeting to explain his philosophy and most importantly, his plan for returning Partick Thistle to the SPL.

The news had come that the club was third favorite for promotion and a 2-1 favorite in any event, behind Dundee United, which was considered the prohibitive choice at 1-5; and Ross County, which was at even odds.

“All well and good, but you do pay attention to us, I trust?”

This was board member Ian Dodd, and at least it was said with a smile.

“Of course,” Roy said. “I paid attention to my managers when I played, and that’s what you all are, right now.”

“We know you are your own man, but we do want to know what plans you have.”

“I would like to see us get back to basics,” he said immediately. “That means good wing play, and that means better wingers than we have, and it means stout central defenders. I think we have the defenders to make that work, and I am also fairly certain we have the strikers. It’s the midfield what worries me.”

“In what way?”

“We can’t cross a ball,” he said. “At least, sometimes we can’t. We have decent talent there but no pure wingers. We need someone, preferably a veteran player, who can come in and change a match.”

“So you aren’t looking for a whole new set of players?”

“We can’t afford it and I’d be daft to ask,” he replied, matter-of-factly. “I’m here to do a job with what I have and I’ll ask you for what else I think we need, but for now shoring up this midfield would be a nice start.”

He paused.

“Oh, and a backroom staff would be lovely.” Now it was Roy’s turn to smile.

As it stood, there were two coaches and Roy was one of them. It made training a bit of a chore.

“We know that there are a number of unfilled positions and you have our blessing, of course, to fill them.” That was Jacqui Low, the chairman, and obviously her word carried more weight than anyone else’s in the room.

In the back sat a man very special to everyone at the club – Colin Weir, the club’s first-ever patron, so named for his role in helping the club achieve debt-free status. That was a distinction Roy was acutely aware was his to maintain.

“We have to be sensible,” Roy said, to the general agreement of everyone in the room. “But there also may be a balance between what is prudent and what is necessary to get this club back to where we all want it to be.”

There were no signs of dissent. This was a good thing.

They also seemed to have Roy’s back. That was even better.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looking good tenthree! Special club. I used to go through Maryhill a fair bit in my early 20s so consider my interest vested

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you, gentlemen: very nice to be back in the swing.

___

Sensibility took a couple of different forms for Roy.

One of those forms was on the left side of midfield, and was a priority area for the manager to improve. And as such, 38-year old Brazilian winger Adrianinho came in on a free transfer. Past his best years, the winger still provided a veteran presence and a standard which still was good enough for the Scottish Championship on a one-year deal.

He could still play, even if his last club had been Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the second-tier American NASL. He showed that in fairly short order.

Next was a loan signing. 22-year old Islam Feruz came in from Chelsea – a player who could play midfield, either wing and also a spot of center forward when needed.

That was that. For the time being, it would have to do.

Roy also couldn’t mess around with his team before the Wednesday match at Livingston. The newly-minted SPL club figured to take the scalps of the newly-relegated Jags – but Roy had other plans.

At training the Monday before the match, he remarked that he had never yelled “keep your shape” so many times in a single session. The way to beat Livi was through discipline and since Roy was running training by himself, it was hard for him to be everywhere at once.

Help was on the way in that department, though.

After getting the board’s blessing to fill out his staff, he had hired former England captain Terry Butcher as Director of Football, and immediately set him to work helping fill out the rest of the staff.

The matter of his number two, Roy wanted to handle himself.

He got a number of interesting applications but finally settled on former Ajax, Liverpool and Finland striker Jari Litmanen. His technical expertise would help improve skills in areas that were necessary for the style Roy wanted to play.

It was all sensible – but all the new men were settling into their roles as the Livingston match approached.

Adrianinho was the worry. He spoke three languages, none of which happened to be English. So he was on a crash course to learn – and when Jack Storer had to come off late in the first half of the match with a dead leg, Roy’s fervent prayer was that if the Brazilian couldn’t speak English yet, he could still speak football.

And he could. The team got to halftime with the Premiership team scoreless, and in added time it even got one better when Kris Doolan – captain, prime influencer and also u-18 coach as his side hustle – shook loose and struck home a fiercely taken volley right as the match rolled over into added time.

The home faithful at the Tony Macaroni Arena fell silent – as a wag behind the bench suggested they should have with a stadium carrying that kind of name – and the Jags got to half a goal to the good.

“You’ve done well for yourselves,” Roy said when the din had quieted down in the changing room. “Don’t let this slip away. You want to make a statement? Now is the time to do it, and here is the match to do it in.”

So Roy sent them back out there, and watched as Livi flailed away at the Jags’ back four.

It made sense to the players all of a sudden. Thistle was compact, keeping its shape and denying the entry ball from wide spaces like a team that knew what it was doing. They were also much better in the air than their hosts and that mattered a lot as well.

But it was Niall Keown, fresh from signing a one-year extension to his contract, who made the biggest difference. The Irishman was everywhere he needed to be and nowhere he didn’t, and working with a seamless back line it was a pleasure to watch him in action.

Loan defender Dan Jeffries, a gift from Dundee, came on late as did fellow loanee Shay Gordon, who was Motherwell’s contribution to the Jags’s season. And as odd as it might have seemed, Thistle were never seriously threatened.

It was a big win. Passage out of the group stages now rested squarely on the shoulders of Roy’s men – with a brand new coaching staff in place at the same time.

Betfred Cup Group Match #2 – Livingston 0-1 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was a bit to be happy about on the travel day. The Jags had clawed back a bit of their pride after the previous season’s relegation and the team was in a good mood.

Ahead lay two lower division clubs and the goal of progression from the group stage loomed large. But with the matches coming thick and fast in the early stages of the season, Roy’s men – and Roy himself – had little time for the niceties of life at the top of the group table.

He had a family to transplant, a school to find for his kids, a place to furnish and a wife who needed his attention.

Kate had been patient for a long time when Roy was a player. Jessica and Shelley were too young to really understand a lot about their dad’s occupation, but some of their new schoolmates knew quite well.

Children can be cruel, and some of the less filtered kids reminded the Scully girls that their father managed “the small” Glasgow team. Those were the children who had the Rangers and Celtic gear and who gathered off into little tribes when it came time to play outside.

School hadn’t yet begun so the girls were home a lot with their mother, and nobody really minded that.

As a result, an off day was a treasure – and the afternoon after the team arrived home from the Livingston match was just such a day.

Roy got to spend some play time with his daughters and that was wonderful. He took them shopping, they went to the playground, and they had a little kickabout in their backyard. They were a football family, after all.

Kate watched it all happen, putting the finishing touches on setting up the dining room as the stood near the back window.

Their new home was pretty – just right for the four of them in size, with a big backyard and a patio which would be good for entertaining for a couple of months yet.

She smiled. Every time Roy played with his kids, he looked younger and she looked happier. Yes, football was their life but at least for the time being, family got to come first.

And, of course, the gentle side of her husband came out at these moments, since scything down one’s own daughter in possession obviously wouldn’t have done.

Kate felt fortunate. Even if he hadn’t been a footballer playing for the team she supported, Roy would have been the love of Kate’s life.

She was everything Roy wasn’t in terms of her upbringing – as East London as they came, direct, challenging when she needed to be – and she made the perfect foil for the quiet man from the Northwest who had het her like an emotional steamroller when they had met.

It was at a club benefit shortly after Roy had joined the club, and the end result was a player who was supposed to be minding other duties and talking with other fans seemingly glued to the side of a lovely young woman who showed no inclination at all to leave him.

They fell hard and fast and were married within a year of that night. She had adapted to the life of being a footballer’s wife as best she could – tending his minor injuries when he had bumps and scrapes and comforting him through the larger ones like sprained ankles, knees and ligaments.

They had never had to face the type of career-ending injury that some people do, but they had one of the major issues to contend with after Roy retired; what to do with oneselves?

Management came at a good time for Roy and at a so-so time for the family. He really wanted to be around his girls but he couldn’t get the game out of his blood and really, no one expected him to.

He could still take part. He could still be competitive. And more importantly, he could start being more than a part-time dad.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Roy thought about the movie “Groundhog Day”, with himself in the role played by Bill Murray. Only there were differences.

Murray’s Phil Connor woke up every morning to find things exactly the same way they had been the day before. Roy’s flashback was to look at the field and see Miles Storey taking the ball out of the Albion Rovers goal.

The hitman was a one-man wrecking crew but it was more than just Storey doing the damage. Adrianinho was making his full debut and the Brazilian was just that good, whipping cross after cross after cross in from highly useful positions on the left to even more highly useful positions in front of goal.

Rovers had no answer; as in, at all.

The League Two opposition was expected to be little more than a speed bump for the Jags but it was soon apparent they wouldn’t even be that. Sixteen minutes into the match, there was Storey to convert from six yards. Six minutes later, Storey missed but Blair Spittal didn’t, and it was two-nil.

For all practical purposes that was that, but six minutes after Spittal’s goal there was Storey again, turning in an inch-perfect cross from Adrianinho for three-nil that looked like it was a lead made out of solid steel.

He praised them at half – he’d have been daft not to have – and asked them to not lose their focus in the second half.

So they didn’t. It was Storey again eleven minutes after the restart, lashing home from one of Thistle’s twelve corners in the match.

Then it was the new fellow, Souleymane Coulibaly, fresh in from Inverness, who put a fifth home just after the hour, his first goal for the club. He was there to lead the line, but Storey was having all the fun.

With the score five-nil and Storey with a richly deserved hat trick, Roy started to bring in players he wanted to see; the West Brom loanee Max Melbourne being one, and Gordon and Erskine being two more.

Unfortunately, that was all the rules would allow, and as the bench players watched happily, Roy started to think about what he would say post-match. As he did, Storey scored again, in the last minute of standard time.

He felt like Phil Connor, but unlike the movie character, Roy didn’t want to wake up to a different day.

Betfred Cup Group Match #3 – Partick Thistle 6-0 Albion Rovers

Edited by tenthreeleader
Oops. Every time I make a mistake, CFuller catches it :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is that Albion Rovers or Airdrie United? (And if it's the latter, wouldn't they be Airdrieonians now?)

Regardless of that, this is shaping up to be quite some story (and I guess Miles isn't too bad either). ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you, gentlemen, and to CFuller, my personal proofreader, I am blushing whenever I'm caught out :D

___

 

The change in the players in the dressing room had been marked.

When Roy started just a few short weeks before, the players had looked at him with a mixture of skepticism and silence.

They weren’t used to winning anymore. They weren’t used to doing what needed to be done to secure victory, and they weren’t used to putting themselves in the positions they needed to be in to get what they wanted for themselves.

His philosophy had been simple; back to basics. He had the Jags playing in a standard 4-4-2 with organization and good wing play at the forefront of the entire philosophy.

When they didn’t have the ball, they were to regroup and stay sound, defending as a compact unit, until they could get it back – and then hit the opponent for pace.

He wanted the ball to go into open space so the Jags could take advantage of their team speed – and if it wound up in a wide area, so much the better.

So far, it was working a treat. So, when he gathered the players after the match, he now had a room full of players who weren’t looking at Roy Scully the former West Ham player; they were looking at their boss.

“Very well done,” he said, and you could almost hear the players purring. “But then remember, this is what you ought to do to those.” As he spoke, he pointed to the visiting dressing room down the hallway, which was silent.

“We’ve got another match against much the same on Saturday,” he said, referring to the trip to Gayfield Park, Arbroath, which would bring the group stage to a close. A draw would see the Jags through to the second round, but Roy was after more than that.

“You’ve done very well in training and you’re doing the things you need to do to come together as eleven men,” he added. “But Saturday we’re going to get a look at some different people in different places, but I’ll be expecting the same result. Then we play matches that mean something.”

He was referring to the start of the Ladbrokes Championship, which would see the Jags away to Ayr in the first round of fixtures.

“There’s plenty of football here for everyone if you will keep doing the things that make you feel like you feel right now, after you’ve won,” he said. “Our work is only beginning – but tonight, go enjoy this because you gave them a real hiding.”

He then headed through a side door into the manager’s office, and sat behind his desk. His chair squealed in protest as he leaned back in it; he hated its noise and wanted it fixed, though no one had yet gotten round to it.

A tea cozy sat to the right of his desk and he was more grateful that someone had remembered to fill it. He liked his cuppa after the match and while he went through the post-match report and analysis, he enjoyed a cup of Earl Grey with cream.

Litmanen knocked on the door frame and Roy waved him in.

“Not bad, Jari,” Roy began, as the Finn sat on the couch opposite the manager’s desk.

“We’ll take six,” he smiled. “But I’m pretty sure you saw some of the same things I did.”

Roy nodded, offering Litmanen a cup of tea, which he accepted. “Aye,” he responded. “I see a group that has some potential but which needs to believe in itself and needs to start acting like a unit.”

“I wouldn’t have put it in quite those words,” Litmanen said with a smile, as he took his first sip.

“I’ve tried to keep it simple but we’re going to need other tactics.”

“Maybe not for awhile,” Litmanen said, and Roy frowned. He motioned for the deputy to go on, and he did,

“We aren’t fluid enough in anything yet to add to their load,” he said. “You see some of the players whingeing at training already.”

“We aren’t training for their enjoyment,” Roy replied immediately. “We’re training so they can win football matches.”

“I know that,” Litmanen replied. “But if you’ll pardon advice you didn’t ask for, now’s the time to remind a few people of that, if you take my meaning.”

Roy nodded. He understood. He didn’t like it, but he understood.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

“So, Mr. Erskine, is this more to your liking?”

Chris Erskine had let it be known he didn’t like doing the up-and-downs the first team did in training, He was a quick enough lad, he said.

Now he was running. Around the practice pitch. Roy was running alongside him.

“You don’t like the intervals,” Roy said matter-of-factly, already knowing the answer to his question.

“Lots of us don’t,” he said. Roy loved a man who stuck to his guns.

“Well, lots of you do,” Roy said, and it was at that time Erskine noticed that his manager wasn’t breathing especially hard. He was keeping right up, thanks very much.

“Chris, what I need you to understand is that while we like it when you enjoy training, the coaching team has a plan in place and it’s to help you win matches. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Aye,” he replied.

“Good,” Roy said. “Because this is the kind of thing that doesn’t help a squad. You’re one of the influential players here, yeah?”

“That’s what they say.”

“Well, help us out, then. You want to go through what you went through last season all over again?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then give us a chance,” Roy urged. “Results have been good so far so maybe we know what the f**k we’re on about, know what I mean?”

Erskine smiled. “I still don’t like those bloody intervals,” he said.

“Don’t blame you. I hated them too, when I played,” Roy replied as the two finished their first lap of the training pitch. “Now, how’s about you train and let’s call it good, okay?”

Erskine smiled again and headed off to his work. The intervals were over for the day and the winger noticed that he hadn’t had to take part.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The trip to Gayfield Park hadn’t been especially long – none of the trips in Scotland really are.

Roy thought back to the joke from the American comedian Steven Wright – “cross-country skiing is great but only if you live in a small country” -- but the coach ride had still given Roy the chance to think about the team going forward.

There were certain players he liked – Coulibaly was one, even though he wasn’t scoring yet – and Bell was another. He was a legitimate Premiership goalkeeper even if Rangers hadn’t thought so.

When they were climbing back up the leagues, the Bears had utilized Bell’s services. A former Kilmarnock man who made 115 appearances for the club, Bell did the dirty work when Rangers were walking the lower leagues despite losing almost all of their stars when the club nearly folded.

Then when they finally reached the big time again, Bell was gone, replaced by Wesley Foderingham, who was in turn replaced by Allan McGregor – who had left the club when it tanked.

Somehow, it didn’t seem fair.

But to Roy, Bell was just what the doctor ordered – a highly competent keeper who knew Glasgow and who was itching for an opportunity to get back into the Premier League to show everyone what they had been missing.

Roy had played with some good keepers – many of whom had more talent than Bell. But few of them had Bell’s drive to prove a point, and he admired that in his number one.

After leaving Rangers, Bell had gone to Dundee United and then to Hibs and finally back to Killie – playing exactly twice, both for Hibs, in the season just concluded. He was only too happy to leave.

But to his teammates, Bell was a free-spirited regular guy. He didn’t fit into any of the predetermined molds and team groups and he didn’t seem to mind. Everyone liked him and he could move from group to group with nearly equal ease.

Those were the kinds of players Roy could build around.

Yet, here was Bell, back in his League One roots, facing Arbroath in the last Cup group stage match. He seemed at home, even if his being at Thistle was supposed to get him away from fields like these to as great an extent as possible.

Today, though, it was his teammates who did the hard work – especially Max Melbourne, the loanee from West Brom. The 19-year old had bags of pace and could make things happen either up the park or down in his defensive third, and he seemed to rarely get tired.

Bannigan had served notice of intent after only eight minutes, taking heed of Roy’s wish for a bright start by slotting past Darren Jamieson from about ten yards to get the Jags off to a flyer.

Not long later, there was Melbourne, dropping a perfect cross from deep onto the forehead of Storey, who netted for the fifth time in two games right on the half hour.

Really, there wasn’t much more Roy could ask for. His team had 13 shots at goal in the first half to just one for the home team, so Bell had very little to do.

The second half was every bit as good, as was the Jags’ tackling. They won 25 of 26 challenges on the day and were only whistled for nine fouls. They were efficient in their defensive third and they were effective all over the park.

Blair Spittal scored his first goal fifteen minutes from time as the Jags held off Arbroath with considerable comfort and right as the match ticked over into added time, Melbourne himself capped a great day with a swerving little volley from the edge of the area that was fit to win any football match even though it made this one four-nil.

Thistle was through to the knockout stages without so much as breathing hard. Four wins from four and only one conceded with 14 goals for. Only Edinburgh City had managed to dent them.

If Roy was looking for a better way to get through to his players, he’d have been hard-pressed to find it.

As the team boarded the coach for home, Roy waited for Bell to walk past him just outside the door. As he did, Roy extended his hand.

“Good job, big fellow,” Roy smiled, even though the keeper had made only two saves, neither of them difficult. “Winning is fun, yeah?”

Bell grinned. “Thanks, gaffer,” he said. “And yes, it beats hell out of the alternative.”

Betfred Cup Group Stage Match #4 – Arbroath 0-4 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

They were starting to believe. The trick would be making the players believe for an entire season.

Having run the table in their Betfred Cup group, the Jags awaited their second round opponent with interest.

It was a bit disappointing to learn that they had been drawn away to Livingston – the same team they had beaten in the group stage – at the same location, the Tony Macaroni Stadium.

“At least we’ll know the way there,” Roy mused to Litmanen when the draw became public.

“Look at this way, Roy, we’ve already stuffed them once.”

Roy nodded. “True,” he said, stroking what would have been his beard hairs if he had had one. “Belief shouldn’t be an issue. Beating a team twice in a row on their own patch will be, though.”

The match wasn’t scheduled for another two weeks, and there were three matches between – Championship fixtures at Ayr and home to Falkirk with a friendly at Accrington Stanley set between them.

At first Roy had thought he might want to cancel the arrangement but then he looked at the fitness reports and thought better of it. There were a lot of players who needed match time and with the reserve league not due to start for a few weeks he planned to take a second eleven south and get them some match fitness.

Yet while looking the report, it might have been difficult to avoid looking at who was giving it.

Partick Thistle’s new chief physio was 21-year old Alannah MacPherson. Not only was she young enough to be Roy’s child, a wag might have said she had chosen the right profession because she was vivacious and probably in better shape than some of the players.

In the age of #MeToo, though, Roy had had to issue a quiet reminder to the more boisterous people on the football side that the club would tolerate no harassment of the young lady, who was there to do a job and had been hired because she showed unusual acumen for it for someone her age.

That said, Roy appreciated what she brought to the club – which was a fresh, young eye that was up on all the latest practices in the profession.

Before long she was cranking out reports for Roy on a near-daily basis. Who needed more work in training, who needed less work in training, who ran a higher risk of injury from training too much – all the things Roy needed to make informed decisions, and he hadn’t had to ask for a single one.

That seemed to be a very good hire. Sean Cullinane was in as the new full time fitness coach and the players loved the idea of Roy not running the interval training any more.

The u-18 side had a new boss as well, as Nick Barmby came aboard. The 23-times England-capped native of Hull knew a thing or two about rivalries, having played on both sides of the Merseyside Derby. He became the first player in 41 years to move from Everton to Liverpool when he was purchased in 2000. He also spent time at Leeds and Middlesbrough, who have a minor relationship according to some. He had also managed the Tigers so he brought a well-rounded resume to Glasgow.

He was a good person to instruct the youngsters – and as one of only nine players to have scored for six different Premier League teams, he was someone they could look up to. He had a history, as well – he was believed to have been sacked by Hull because he had made comments out of turn regarding ownership and transfer policy.

So, he was looking for a way back into the game at the professional level and Roy was only too happy to provide it.

He was also invited to the senior team bench on match days when his younglings didn’t play. Roy was comfortable enough in himself to not need help making decisions but a set of eyes as experienced as Barmby’s would be just fine.

The two had played against each other and came into direct physical contact more than once. Barmby, a pacy attacking midfielder, would often attempt to get the beating of Roy in his holding midfielder position when West Ham would play one of Barmby’s teams.

They respected each other. They hadn’t chested up against each other on the pitch, but Roy had nailed Barmby a few times with hard but thankfully clean tackles to which some players would still have taken exception.

So, they had something to talk about on the bench.

As a result, the coach trip to Ayr was interesting, with the Premier League players talking about old days and everyone else on the coach talking about the match.

That should have been an omen of some sort.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The omen turned out to be that the players were ready for the match.

From the outset they were on their hosts, pounding ten shots at the goal in the first half alone. The fact that none of them went in was due as much to the brilliance of 20-year old Ross Doohan in the goal, an Honest Man if ever there was one.

Robert Burns had once written that no town surpassed Ayr in the poem “Tam o’Shanter” which gave the club its nickname, but once the second half started the men from Glasgow surpassed them on the pitch.

Roy’s instructions at the break had been short and to the point. We’re the better team. Act like it in the second half and you’ll break them down.

He was willing to be patient with his men because they had had the vast majority of the play in the opening 45 minutes and he felt the home team was waiting to be carved open.

Both teams evidently felt they had the upper hand, as the pace of play picked up dramatically in the second half.

Roy was surprised and pleased to see his Jags taking the best the Honest Men had to offer and doing so with a panache which made him smile. You’d have thought it was Brazil out there, except for the non-scoring part.

But then the breakthrough game – through Erskine, the player who hated intervals but who seemed to really enjoy scoring goals now that he was in match condition.

Storey had done the hard part – taking an entry ball into the box and laying it off with a perfectly placed header for the central midfielder, who slotted home a very patiently taken goal five minutes after the restart.

Forced out of their patient game, Ayr found themselves suddenly having to chase it instead. Set up to absorb pressure, the Jags made the home team pay not once, but twice on the counter.

The red-hot Storey was the culprit on both occasions. First he took a perfect lead ball from Spittal on a counter to score on 51 minutes; then he and Coulibaly worked a perfect 1-2 game as the only two attackers against two defenders ten minutes later.

Storey couldn’t miss, and just like that it was three-nil to Partick Thistle with nineteen minutes to play.

That got the fans singing and it was music to Roy’s ears. Over one-third of the crowd of 2,715 were away supporters so the singing was good and loud:

If you want to go to heaven when you die
You must wear a Thistle scarf and Thistle tie
You must wear a Thistle bonnet
With "F**k the Old Firm" on it,
If you want to go to heaven when you die.

The fans’ concentration on the hereafter was amusing since Ayr was, figuratively speaking, dead and buried. But for now, the present was plenty good enough.

Coulibaly then found the range with three minutes left in regular time for a 4-0 advantage that was simply icing on the cake.

Not even a rather ridiculous goal conceded to Ayr’s Michael Moffat two minutes into added time could take the luster off a very nice win indeed.

Shaking hands with Ian McCall after the match, Roy received congratulations on his first league win in Scotland. McCall, rather bravely, suggested that his team would give the Jags a tougher time next time around, but then he had to say that, didn’t he?

The men wished each other well but as Roy headed to the visiting support to thank them for their singing and screaming, he thought that McCall had rather a bit more work to do than he did at that moment.

Ladbrokes Championship Match #1 – Ayr 1-4 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After such success in the Cup group stage, the team took step back to play its last remaining friendly.

The visit to Accrington’s Wham Stadium would give lots of different people an opportunity to play, and for those who weren’t playing regularly with the first eleven to get some badly needed match fitness.

After that match on 6 August the rest of the month would be all business, with two league matches and two cup ties on offer.

It would be a difficult stretch for a number of reasons. First was that the matches were two days apart. Second was that they were both away.

Ayr was southwest of Glasgow by about forty miles, so the players had the chance to have their recovery from that match at home while Roy took the opportunity for an evening with his family. The team would travel to 208 miles to the English northwest on the Sunday and spend the evening in Accrington before Monday night’s match.

But for the short term that meant an evening with Kate, which were starting to get fewer and farther between now that the season was in full swing.

They sat on their overstuffed couch watching a movie after putting the girls to bed and Kate sat as she often did, with her legs curled up underneath and her head resting on Roy’s shoulder.

Roy’s thoughts wandered from the movie, which wasn’t especially entertaining to him anyway, and to his wife who rested so comfortably against him.

“Penny for your thoughts,” he finally said after noticing that she wasn’t really watching the movie either.

She smiled at him. “Oh, just thinking about the girls,” she said. “School is going to start soon and they need the usual things. I have to go shopping.”

Roy smiled. “Seriously, we’re laying here watching a movie with me having to go tomorrow and you’re thinking about shopping with the girls?”

Kate grinned and looked up at him. “Well, I have to get three sets of outfits,” she said.

Roy touched her cheek. “You do not need a back-to-school outfit, young lady,” he teased. “Or even a costume.”

“I wasn’t talking about me,” she said. “All three of our kids.”

Roy suddenly couldn’t hear anything else in the room. He looked down at her.

“Really?” he asked.

She giggled. “Yup,” she replied. “What do you think about that?”

He hugged her tight. “I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “When did you find out?”

“Well, I was late this month so I took a home test and got it confirmed just today.”

He reacted very much as he had during Kate’s first two pregnancies. He melted, the big galoot.

“When are you due?” he asked.

“If the maths are right, around May first,” she said. “Nice present for you at the end of the season, yeah?”

“For us,” he corrected. “I was wondering if we would get to have this feeling again.”

“Me too,” she said, as they shared a kiss. “I couldn’t be happier!”

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Roy sort of drifted to the coach the next morning for the trip to Accrington. He had other things on his mind and was happy that the trip to play Stanley would be a friendly.

Litmanen noticed. He’d have to have been blind not to have.

“Kate’s pregnant,” he answered in response to his deputy’s question. “We’re due in May.”

“Marvelous!” Litmanen exclaimed, shaking Roy’s hand. “Well done, old man. There’s life in the old boy yet.”

“So to speak,” Roy replied, slinging his personal kit bag into the cargo bay underneath the coach. He blushed bright red.

Despite his hard man approach to football, when it came to his family Roy was a giant softie. Unless you tried to hurt them, that is. Then he would be your worst nightmare.

So Litmanen was handling things quite well. And as the players climbed aboard for the trip, the rows looked quite different.

He wasn’t even taking a full squad to Accrington. The players who needed match condition were going, and that was that. They needed the time because the reserve season hadn’t started yet and they simply wanted to play football.

It was also their chance to impress against a League One side – the last League One team they had played was Bradford City, and they had lost that match. The players knew it and as well as their mates were playing, they hoped it transferred to them.

Sunday night in Accrington is a pretty quiet affair most weeks, and the players seemed only too happy to lounge around the hotel, take part in a short video session and listen to Roy’s tactical briefing. The mood was light.

“Nothing fancy tomorrow,” he said. “Looks like this is going to be a 4-4-2 type of team and that seems to suit us down to the ground. Get the ball wide, get it into the box, pass into space and enjoy the game.”

There were those who thought Roy possessed limited tactical acumen – everyone knows how to play 4-4-2, for goodness sakes – but it didn’t take him long to realize once he had arrived at the club that the people who said they were good attacking midfielders, shadow strikers, false nines and the lot were really nothing of the sort.

A relegated team needed to get back to basics, get its confidence back and get back to what made it successful in the first place.

To Roy, that meant taking a lot of the mental load off the players and returning them to the type of play they knew from boyhood.

Who could argue? They hadn’t lost yet in the alignment and had actually played some pretty attractive football at times. The skill set was there and Roy wanted to see if a different group of players could show they had it as well.

In some ways they could and in other ways not so much.

Roy was flabbergasted to see his team down 2-1 to Accrington after only eighteen minutes of play. They had no answer for former Derby man Offrande Zanzala, who twisted first the central defenders and then keeper Aaron Lennox into all kinds of contortions before mercifully firing home only four minutes into the match.

Stung, the Jags responded through Andrea Mutombo, a player Roy really wanted to utilize more but who couldn’t break past Storey and Coulibaly up front. His goal three minutes later made it 1-1 but just before the quarter hour there was Zanzala again, finishing powerfully for 2-1 to the home team.

The defense’s heart, which on this day consisted of Dan Jefferies and the newly acquired Tom O’Brien, was frankly not very good. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were awful, and it showed on the scoreboard.

But that was one thing friendlies were for – to see who could play with whom and who couldn’t. Roy checked down “couldn’t” for that pairing, at least mentally, and settled in to see what else could go wrong.

The Jags slowly found their feet and started limiting Stanley to long shots that Lennox could handle, but the strike pairing of Doolan and Mutombo, with youngster Jai Quitongo sitting just off their shoulders, couldn’t get much going either.

The match dragged, until just before halftime Mutombo manufactured a moment of brilliance on a turn-and-shoot from twelve yards that would have been a wonderful goal in any match, even one like this which didn’t count. Still, it was 2-2.

And then, it wasn’t. Despite the attentions of Jefferies, Zanzala squirmed free again and beat Lennox along the floor right at the end of regular time to make it 3-2 to Stanley at the break.

“I’m glad there aren’t more people here to see this s**tshow,” Roy said matter-of-factly at the break. “Andrea, you’re where you’re supposed to be and well done to you for that but I’m damned if I can figure out where the rest of you are supposed to be. Clearly you don’t know either.”

For players fighting for first team spots, that was harsh stuff to hear. But three conceded in 45 minutes said all that needed to be said.

With both teams substituting freely and Roy fervently hoping that Cammy Bell, who had been left behind in Glasgow for this trip, would have a healthy and productive season, the Jags started the second half with 20-year old Jamie Sneddon in goal.

The players who needed the work stayed in the game but as the half wore on those players wore out, so Roy gave the last half hour to a few of the regular first-teamers who had come to fill out the squad.

So it was that Stuart Bannigan found the range thirteen minutes from time to make it 3-3 and spark a momentary flurry from Partick Thistle in response. Looking for a fourth goal, the players piled forward and put some pressure on the Accrington youngsters who finished out the match.

But another goal was not to be found for either team, and so everyone went home disappointed. Great way to finish a friendly.

Friendly match – Accrington Stanley 3-3 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

LOL.  So maybe out of character a touch but it's my universe.  :D

___

To be fair, a lot of people had treated the Accrington match as a holiday, including Roy himself.

He couldn’t really be happy with anyone’s performance except Mutombo’s, but he also wasn’t happy with himself, and that guided the team’s preparation after the Accrington match.

He had allowed himself to think about Kate and the whole wonderful process she was going through instead of managing his team.

Thankfully, it was just a friendly and the team hadn’t been burned too badly. Now Roy needed to cut himself a little slack.

He obviously didn’t say anything to Kate about what he was feeling – it would have caused absolutely needless hurt – but he tried to separate his family situation from his work with a concerted effort as the team reported back to training.

The girls, for their part, seemed excited to be welcoming another sibling. They had always seemed to get along with each other – at least as long as Mum or Dad was within earshot – but there seemed no rational reason why either would be upset at having another Scully around the house.

And as for Roy, well, he was too much of a softie, at least on the inside, to think that way for too long. Yes, he wanted to rededicate himself because the fans deserved it and he needed to buckle down at the start of his managerial career.

But then, when news reached Glasgow of what had happened to Bruce Arena, he wondered if it was all worth it.

Arena, the twice-former boss of the United States national team, had been driven off in disgrace after the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. After a time away from management, he had been hired by the new Los Angeles Football Club of MLS to face his old club, the LA Galaxy, in his first match.

He won, 2-1, and was immediately sacked.

So, really, what was the point?

Having an American mother, Roy was half-Yank. That was his only similarity with Winston Churchill, but it also meant he could take an interest in more than one national team. And he had been just as bewildered by Arena’s failure as anyone else wearing their red, white and blue.

The management game is hard. Sometimes it’s unfair. For Arena, unfair seemed the kindest word to use.

So as the team prepared to get back into the swing of things for Falkirk’s visit in the league, Roy decided in the end to be a bit easier on himself.

Another sometimes-Premier League club like his own, the Bairns had been out of the big show since 2009, having had the bad luck to finish second in the Championship in two of the last three years and miss out on promotion both times. Last season they finished eighth and that led to the hiring of Ray McKinnon as manager.

He had Falkirk fifth and their visit would be a nice test for the Jags.

Roy had changed back most of the lineup from the Accrington trip but gotten a nasty surprise in training.

Lennox, who was trying to train his way back into Roy’s good graces after an awful showing in the friendly, went up to collect a corner in a set piece drill and landed very heavily on the right side of his back – so awkwardly, in fact, that he had to be taken off on a back board.

That sort of thing is unsettling to watch and Roy wound up ending training early as a result. The word from the physios was about as bad as it could get: at least four months on the sidelines due to a compression fracture of one of the keeper’s lumbar vertebrae.

That meant a callup to the senior team for young Jamie Sneddon sooner than anyone could have anticipated. The onetime Hearts trainee had spent three seasons at Cowdenbeath, playing thirty matches for them before moving to the Jags on a free last season.

Still only 21, he had made his professional debut at age eighteen and was one to watch. Yet at this level, it would be a bit nervy to place him between the sticks in a big match. It simply solidified Bell’s status as the absolute number one.

So there was Sneddon, sitting on the substitute’s bench, as the Jags prepared to play a match of no small importance.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Having his first choice eleven back in front of him made Roy smile. Watching them perform against the Bairns was just as enjoyable.

Coulibaly, who had had some trouble starting out his Partick Thistle scoring account, got a gimme early on in the match. Storer and Storey played one of the more remarkable 1-2’s in memory to start it off.

Storer, on the right, crossed the width of the field for Storey on the left. The winger reached the byline and returned a cross into the center of the six-yard box for Storer, who had embarked on a lung-busting run to get himself in position to score.

He nodded the ball at the feet of keeper David Mitchell, who couldn’t hold onto it. He fell in a heap trying to collect the ball and Coulibaly simply barged in and scored with the entire goal at his mercy.

Right on the half hour, he did it again, this time taking a feed from Berrigan at the top of the penalty area before striding to his left and stroking home a low drive to the keeper’s left.

The strikes gave the Ivorian four goals for the season including one in the Betfred Cup – still a ways off Storey’s team lead but a very nice complement nevertheless.

The team seemed to be good for a couple of goals a match in the old-fashioned alignment but what Roy wanted to see now was solid defending. The team had showed sufficient quality to be a threat going forward but to keep the team in contention, more was needed at the back.

Roy had been through relegations at West Ham and he knew too well that one of the things that can get a freshly relegated team in trouble (and to use Sunderland as just one example, relegated again) is lack of discipline in defense.

So, with a two-goal advantage, Roy wanted to see how his team would handle prosperity.

The answer was “pretty darn well, thank you very much.”

Roy had experimented with a few different back lines, having players who could play more than one position at the back, and found he liked the look of the four men out there at that moment.

Sean McGinty, Thomas O’Ware, Tam Scobbie and Niall Keown were the four from left to right. McGinty was listed as a backup on the depth chart but didn’t play like one; O’Ware and Keown were staples and Scobbie was a loanee who was already making noises that he liked playing in Glasgow rather than in Dundee.

Bannigan went into the book for a particularly clumsy challenge right before halftime but otherwise there was nothing to complain about.

So Roy talked about consistency. “You’re at home, beating a team you should beat,” he told them. “Don’t be the man who changes that.”

Aside from the goals, the best news of the half was that Falkirk hadn’t put a single shot on frame in four attempts. The Jags were holding their shape in defense, regrouping and holding their width, and then hitting back on the counter when possession was regained. In short, they looked organized – everything they hadn’t been at Accrington – and that was wonderful.

So as the second half began, Roy was looking for more of the same. The chances didn’t exactly flow, but then they didn’t flow for both teams and that was satisfying.

Thistle generated a couple half-chances through Coulibaly, who was really having a nice game. Settled in to the tactic and to the team, he was a real danger man, finding space in the channels or making effective runs as he chose.

When the final whistle went, it was comprehensive and the same score as at halftime. But Roy didn’t care. That was the kind of match that would make opposing fans grumble and that was just fine with him.

Ladbrokes Championship Match #2 – Partick Thistle 2-0 Falkirk

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Positive start in the league and the Betfred Cup, and really enjoying your writing. Do you think that you can get promoted this year?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I hope so. The board's expectation is the playoffs and if we can stay injury free I think we have a decent chance.

___

One of the things that Roy had to keep in mind was that in August, his team only had one match at home, and they had just played it.

The financial figures were coming out soon and they weren’t going to look very good. But with an away friendly, two away matches in the league and two cup ties away from home in addition to the Accrington away friendly, that should have been expected.

January would be better. So would April, in which the Jags were scheduled away only once.

Ahead lay the Betfred Cup second round and the second trip of that tournament to Livingston, and the IRN-BRU cup first round match away to Kilmarnock Reserves.

Of course, the IRN-BRU cup is contested by youth players and those under 21 years of age for Premier League clubs – colt teams, in other words. Since Roy wanted the players to consider themselves Premier League players in their minds if not on actual practice, and the board didn’t care about results in this particular competition, he decided to use a young team as well. So it was a hugely different group of players Roy would be taking on the road.

He was going to get a good and extended look at his players, particularly the youngest ones, and that’s always good for a senior team boss.

The trick, of course, was figuring out how he was going to put a team on the pitch. The numbers on the youth team weren’t great and there were only a few players on the senior team under 21, and fewer still of those that Roy wanted to risk in this particular competition.

So before the team left for Livi he had a lot to think about.

The thing about Glasgow that was a bit odd was that you could walk down a street, into a pub or to the grocery store and find a footballer. Perhaps it was part of the Scottish “everyman” nature, but as Roy went to buy his family groceries as part of his weekly excursion, he resolved to count the strange looks he got.

The answer was three. That wasn’t a lot. If he was going to become famous in Glasgow, there had to be another way to do it.

By the time he got out of the baking goods department he knew he was going to field a strong squad. The first team would have a week off so he could take the younglings to their cup tie so there was no harm in letting it all hang out, as it were, against Livi.

He got home and found Kate in bed, not feeling well.

“The first couple of months aren’t great,” Roy sympathized, moving to get his wife a glass of water.

“I’m afraid that’s about all I can keep down,” she mused, sitting up against a backrest to take Roy’s offered beverage.

She took a sip, placed the glass on the nightstand beside her, and smiled. “But the ending is wonderful,” she said. “Don’t you think?”

“I do,” he replied, holding her hand. “I just hate to see you like this.”

“Well, you did have something to do with it.” She giggled and Roy couldn’t resist her when she did that.

“Lucky me,” he smiled.

As they spoke, their girls entered the room and clambered onto the bed to snuggle with their mother. They couldn’t quite figure out the issues behind morning sickness, especially when it didn’t happen in the morning. All they knew was that mum wasn’t well and that made them sad.

Dad was going away again the next day, which didn’t help matters either.

It was just another day in the life of a football family.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Loving this story. 

As a Celtic fan, at least if you do end up toppling us, it's preferable to the blue half of Glasgow doing it :p

Good luck. Will be following the story as it develops. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Pechorin,I'm the guy with the banner picture of Ibrox on my profile. I'm surprised you can stand the sight of me. :D 

___

 

Roy had worked around some half-decent dead ball specialists during his time in the game. He was starting to think that Adrianinho was going to take his place at the top of his list.

The Brazilian’s game belied his 38 years of age. He seemed to have found a fountain of youth since arriving in Glasgow.

He was so good from set pieces that Roy had changed the team’s tactic to take advantage of it. Before the match he told the players he wanted them looking for dead ball situations and not only had they agreed, they had done so loudly. These players weren’t fools, after all.

So it really wasn’t a surprise to see Adrianinho score from 25 yards out just before halftime in the Betfred Cup match with Livingston. It was just artful.

Somehow, he had languished with Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the second-tier NASL in America the previous year and before that, with Brazilian second division side PON.

He seemed to be ideally suited for the Scottish game – some flair, but also a graft and work ethic that allowed him to go up and down his wing for ninety minutes without complaint. He wasn’t the best man-marker in the world – far from it – but nobody could fault him for the shift he put in.

At age 38, he was three years older than his manager and still pumping goals home, which made Roy wonder what Adrianinho had looked like when he was younger.

What was obvious after the Brazilian’s goal was that Livingston was having a hard time coping with opposition from a league below.

After earning a second successive promotion the year before through the play-ins, Gary Holt had a job on to keep his team in the top flight. Already struggling in the league, he was hoping a Cup win over lower-level opposition would kick-start his players.

Only it wasn’t happening. After the early goal, the Jags effortlessly kept the sheet clean until the break gave Roy a chance to talk with his players.

“Did you like how it felt beating a Premier League team on its own patch last time? Then go and do it again and see that doing it twice feels even better,” he smiled.

The team was playing extremely well away from home and he saw no reason to give them any of the business about complacency. They were the better side and Roy felt it best to simply add fuel to their fire.

Whereupon they went out in the second half and played like it. They were patient, compact, kept their shape and regrouped smartly when out of possession, looking dangerous on the counter when they won back the ball.

Not only did Roy’s men restrict the home team’s chances, they numerically cut them in half from the first half, while managing almost sixty percent of the possession in the process.

By the time substitute Islam Feruz had scored his first goal for the club since his loan from Chelsea, when the Jags had caught the home team with only one defender back in an effort to score on an 89th minute corner, the result was not in doubt.

There was no doubt which team looked like the Premier League side. It wasn’t the hosts.

Betfred Cup Second Round – Livingston 0-2 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Roy’s back room was starting to look pretty cosmopolitan – and had names bigger than Roy’s all over it.

In addition to Director of Football Terry Butcher, Litmanen and Barmby being associated with the club, Roy was more than a bit surprised to see the name of Edgar Davids on the application list for a board-approved first-team coach slot.

As a skill player, Davids had few peers. “The Mayor of the Street” (or “The Pitbull”, if you prefer) was remarkable with the ball at his feet. His highlights were plastered all over YouTube – and understandably so. He was a wizard.

Ajax. Both big clubs in Milan. Juventus. To a lesser extent, Barcelona and Spurs. His resume was certainly impressive.

As a holding midfielder, Davids was also excellent, but the reason he applied at Partick was to eventually get back into management. A rather odd stint as manager of Barnet which saw the club relegated out of League Two had been enough to whet his appetite, but he was now looking for a way back in, and that meant finding a bit of self-discipline as well.

After relegation, Davids had refused to accompany Barnet – the team he managed – on Conference National away trips which required an overnight stay, which was an impossible thing for a manager to do. So, he resigned.

Now, he was re-earning his spurs and when he was asked if he would mind teaching the Jags midfielders even a small portion of what he knew, agreement came quickly.

So there was a pile of international experience in addition to Roy’s own nine England caps and one goal. Butcher, Litmanen, Davids and Barmby had combined for 311 caps and 45 goals among them with Butcher of course captaining England.

It made for some odd company. Roy was the least experienced of the group internationally and every member of that foursome of players held a higher coaching qualification than he did.

There was also the problem of conflicting egos. Davids especially was known for being strong-willed, and Butcher himself had been a former caretaker manager for the Jags in 2007, making his present job his second tour with the club.

Yet it was Roy who called the shots and that took a great deal of self-belief and self-confidence to do in a group that experienced.

The saving grace, if you can call it that, was that Butcher and Davids weren’t particularly effective managers. Butcher’s lifetime win percentage of 35.03 percent was barely beaten by Davids’ 36.1, with his best work coming at Inverness, where he won 41 percent of his matches over five years.

To offset some of those issues, Roy had gone to the board to ask for permission to study for a Contintental B license during the season, but was turned down, with the not-so-subtle suggestion from Jacqui Low that he concentrate on leading his own team.

So much for vanity. And so much for improving the standard of coaching at the club. Roy was on his own.

But Roy was used to leading men on the pitch. On a staff filled with leaders, he had to find a way – every day – to be the alpha male, the guy who set the tone and set the course.

It wasn’t easy. But those were the hires he had chosen to make. It added to the pressure.

Yet there were times when he would welcome that experience around him. He was starting to look ahead to the first match of the season at Tannadice against Dundee United, one of the promotion favorites. After taking the younglings up to Rugby Park in Kilmarnock for their IRN-BRU test against Killie Reserves, that match was next on the cards.

He figured he would have to lean on his star-studded backroom staff sooner or later. So be it.

That said, it was fun to be able to turn to the youngsters in training for a few days to run the rule over them. There were players who were going to get a good, long look. Only the Premier League teams had to field youth sides but one of the things Roy wanted to teach his players was that they should think and act like they were still in the big time.

So he was taking an all-youth team for the first round. The board said it didn’t particularly care how Roy did, so he wanted to blood some youngsters. He wanted to play the way the Premier League boys did – with a colt team.

One of them was Shea Gordon, brought in on loan from Motherwell before Roy’s arrival. The boy looked like he could play a bit – but with Bannigan, Craig Slater and Chris Erskine all ahead of him in the central midfield pecking order, the boy wasn’t going to get as many chances as he liked to play.

So here was one. Gordon was twenty years old, and that was just fine for this competition.

So was another loan player Roy had brought in – twenty-year old Alex Pescanu from Leicester, who could play any position on the back line and figured to be a very good depth option. He wasn’t as keen to use Max Melbourne in the IRN-BRU, but he was of age and would probably be the best player on the pitch in any cup match he played in.

The rest were real youngsters, prospects, and hangers-on who were hoping for a contract but were unlikely to find one waiting at the end of their respective rainbows.

But they all deserved Roy’s undivided attention during match preparation and that’s exactly what they got.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That is a very interesting backroom team. Well done to Roy on getting Jari Litmanen in to the club. Hopefully he will improve the technical abilities of the young midfield players. 

It will be interesting to see how Roy copes with having these footballing luminaries around him. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was frankly surprised at some of the names that showed up on the application list, I think he's a nice acquisition and I think he'll help.

___

 

He treated them like the big boys and they seemed to like that a lot.

It was a regular Championship away day as far as Roy was concerned, and he made sure the youngsters got the full treatment. They needed to know what it was like with the first team, anyway, and those who already knew expected no less.

Roy couldn’t bring a full team to Rugby Park. Counting noses the night before, Roy and Litmanen could only come up with 17 viable players for the match squad. No matter – they got the full tactical briefing, same as the senior team. So, when they took the pitch they were ready.

GK – Jamie Sneddon
DR – Shea Gordon
DC – Alex Pascanu
DL – James Penrice
MR – Lee Duncanson
MC – Anton Eadie
MC – Callum Wilson
ML – Jack Storer
ST – Jai Quitongo
ST – Evan Galasso

There was a sprinkling of senior team experience in that group – Gordon, Pascanu and Storer had sniffed around the edges of Roy’s XI on most match days – and Max Melbourne, who had done more than sniff, was on the substitute’s bench.

The crowd was under 1,000 but that didn’t matter to the players on either team who were getting debuts in cup competition. The match was still full-blooded.

The cubs did well. It was the young striker Quitongo, one of the club’s brightest prospects, who got things started in 27 minutes by turning in a perfect cross from Storey. Honestly, it was nothing less than their play deserved, and Thistle led.

Having dominated possession, it was a good first half in every way for Thistle, who continued their dominance in the second half.

Goals wouldn’t come, though, not that any more were really needed. For Roy the trick was to keep his players from getting frustrated, so the manager played the role of nursemaid on the touchline, trying to instill confidence and keep the players from the kind of switch-off that might really damage confidence by getting them beaten.

Happily for Thistle, young Aiden Fitzpatrick lifted spirits still further with a very well-taken goal in 71 minutes, with Callum Wilson the provider. The young players were coming good and they were fun to watch in the process.

To put icing on the cake, Galasso was bundled over in the penalty area in added time and the penalty was given. Quitongo completed his brace with the last kick of the match and the final scoreline was more reflective of the Jags’ dominance.

IRN-BRU Cup First Round – Kilmarnock Reserves 0-3 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Roy’s decision to play a youth side when the rules didn’t require it raised a few eyebrows around the team. But he was determined to get the players into at least a few first-team games even if it was in a cup competition where the rules were a bit odd.

Two Welsh Premier League teams – TNS and Connah’s Quay – joined two Northern Irish Premier Division teams, two Irish Premier Division teams and two English Conference National sides starting in the second round.

As a result, Bohemians, Sligo Rovers, Crusaders, Coleraine, Sutton and Boreham Wood would all join the draw in the next round with the Scottish clubs, with Scottish Premier teams required to field youth sides.

But the board had made its feelings pretty clear – they didn’t rate the IRN-BRU and as such Roy was free to do as he pleased in terms of fielding a side.

The senior squad didn’t seem to mind – time off was time off, after all – and he hoped it would help keep the team fresher overall.

That was important since just three days after the cup tie, it was off to Dundee for the first meeting of the season with the Terrors. It was important to get off on the right foot so playing youngsters to save the legs of the first team was justifiable for more than one reason.

While it was only the third match of the season, Dundee was one of the punters’ favorites for promotion along with Ross County. And the Jags would have to find a way to win without Tam Scobbie, who was on loan from United and thus ineligible to play.

In short, it was standard stuff, but a match that would be used to establish bragging rights early in the season.

It was also a good time to be playing away – the team had real momentum from the Betfred Cup and spirits were high. It was a good test against a promotion favorite away from home.

Roy tried his best to instill a big-match atmosphere in senior training leading up to the trip, but it was hard to hide the fact that it was still the dog days of summer and as such he had only limited success.

What he could demand from them, however, was hard work and application in training no matter what time of year it was. Some of his old West Ham friends would have been proud to see Roy chewing on his best players for taking drills off or letting their focus wander.

“That’s what got you relegated,” he would snap, but only at players who had been there the season before. For the new arrivals, he would simply say “You want a promotion pay rise? You won’t get it like that.”

The next step in the process was Roy getting across to the players that he was hard on them for their benefit.

Anyone can scream and shout and demand. Generally, those types of people are known as “dictators”.

When he was a player, Roy liked being complimented because he knew his manager meant it. False compliments were to be avoided at all costs. But for Roy’s master plan to work, early results were important to obtain.

Then when he took a player aside, or dressed down a player for not training hard, they would know why. He was fair, he didn’t play favorites, and he made his feelings known.

“We don’t hold training for your enjoyment,” he would sometimes say when things were going particularly poorly on a given day, or some variation of it. “We hold training for your benefit. And before you leave here today, that’s what you will do. You will benefit. That’s my job and it’s my promise. Now, do that drill again.”

So when the team boarded the coach for Dundee, they were, more or less, on the same sheet of music.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The word was that the fans weren’t happy Roy had paid a transfer fee for another central defender.

Tom O’Brien was Roy’s selection to replace Scobbie in the XI due to the central defender’s loan restriction and there he was, next to Thomas O’Ware in the middle of the Jags’ back line.

He looked nervous and Roy didn’t appreciate the heat the young man was already having to take so soon into his Thistle career.

Purchased for £5,000 from Arbroath, some of the fans felt that was £5,000 too much. Well, the lad was big, strong as an ox, and could jump, head and man-mark, and do so while staying in good position. What else could you expect from a squad-depth purchase?

Yet it was almost as though the fans didn’t want him there. That was annoying to Roy, but everyone in Partick Thistle colors was smiling only nine minutes into the game.

Adrianinho had curled a simply stunning free kick around the Terrors wall and past Matej Rakovan from every bit of thirty yards to put Thistle in front.

It was a genuine goal-of-the-season caliber strike and to say it lifted spirits would be an understatement.

He hadn’t cost anything, and the wags were sure to note that. But he was on close to £1000 per week, three times O’Brien’s wage. Fans never seemed to notice those kinds of things in the midst of all their gripes.

So they led, and settled in to the long slog of trying to stay a step ahead of a half-decent United side, one with a little pace albeit no flair whatsoever.

But then it was the former Rangers and Dunfermline man Nicky Clark squeezing his way past O’Ware – whom everybody loved – and beating Bell to his far post in 23 minutes to get the match level again.

It was a man’s goal, to be sure – power against power, and the attacker had won this time. O’Ware gave himself a moment after the goal, but the hulking center-half had been second best and he knew it.

It was O’Brien, of all people, who mussed O’Ware’s hair and escorted him back to his line. Roy could read his lips – “just don’t let the bugger do that again” and saw another reason why O’Brien was a good purchase. He was a teammate.

Thistle was always dangerous going forward in the first half, finding time to squeeze off 15 attempts at goal in the opening 45 minutes alone. So it was that Roy gave an upbeat team talk – as far as he was concerned, his had been much the better side even if it didn’t show on the scoreboard.

The second half saw the home team come out like gangbusters, getting more of the possession and finding ways through to Bell. But the keeper stood firm, the defense got the lines cleared and now on the counter, the Jags looked dangerous in a completely different way.

With Coulibaly “couled off”, if you will, his place in the XI went to Kris Doolan, the veteran striker and sometime u-18 coach, but the big man wasn’t effective and Roy replaced him with the Ivorian just after the hour.

The one constant in the team was the oldest player on the pitch. The Brazilian seemed to have found the fountain of youth – dangerous going forward, quick to backtrack and God forgive you if you gave the man a set piece.

Yet, there was no way through for either side in the second half. The match ended in a stalemate, and the Jags went home disappointed for more reasons than one.

Ross County had won to keep its 100 percent record, dropping Partick Thistle to second in the table.

Ladbrokes Championship Match #3 – Dundee United 1-1 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

“We try not to dwell on those things. There’s a lot of season left and we showed that we match up pretty well with a promotion favorite away from home. I think this is a point gained.”

Roy was answering the inevitable question from the pack of journos who seemed to thrive on making life difficult for managers. “Since they scored after you, do you think you lost two points today,” “why couldn’t you hold this lead,” “why does a bear s**t in the woods,” those sorts of questions.

When someone finally asked about Adrianinho’s goal, Roy cracked a sideways smile.

“Sometimes when you tell players to play for set pieces they just groan a bit but on this team, they look at who’s taking them and they grin from ear to ear,” Roy said. “That was a brilliant goal by a brilliant dead ball specialist. We have confidence in every set piece we take when Adrianinho is on the pitch.”

“Does that add pressure?”

“I guess I should have seen that question coming,” Roy said, in an unhappier mood. “No, it’s not a negative and it’s not intended to be a negative. Sometimes I wonder if you lot sit up in the press room during the match and look for ways to turn good things into bad things.”

That put a damper on the rest of the questioning, which was just what Roy wanted. Sometimes, if you play your cards right, you can control the direction of the media’s questions.

Of course, in the snowflake world of the modern player, saying something nice can lead to pressure. When Roy was growing up, players lived and died on the words of their gaffer – now most of them seemed to rely more on their agents.

So the question had been valid. Roy just didn’t want to give the answer the reporter was looking for. And by burying the question, he changed the direction of the interview.

He was surprised at how easily he had gotten away with it. Roy put it down to being new, with smart journalists wanting to build relationship with him.

With that, the Jags got back on the coach for Glasgow and Roy got a chance to text his family on the trip.

if it makes you feel any better, I miss you,” Kate texted.

Roy smiled and leaned back in his seat. That was always the best part of even a great day at the office – coming home to know that his home front was secure.

Now the fixture list pointed homeward again. After a brief rest period, the Jags would host Morton – but that team had an away trip to Ibrox in the Betfred Cup on the Thursday, so he hoped Rangers would suitably soften up his next opposition beforehand.

As the coach rolled toward Glasgow, Roy had a long think and then asked O’Brien to come to the front of the coach.

Nervously, the new man approached and sat across from Roy.

“You want to see me, boss?” he asked.

Roy took a deep breath. “Yes, I do,” he said. “I just want you to know that I’m none too pleased with how the away support treated you today. I think it may have affected you and I think it’s down to me to tell you that you have my full confidence.”

O’Brien took a deep breath.

“I appreciate that,” he finally said. “If I’m honest, yeah, I heard them. Who couldn’t have heard them? It wasn’t great to hear, let me tell you.”

“Well, I heard it too,” Roy responded. “Just remember that at least for the time being I have you as a backup to the first team so you can get your feet wet but that in no way changes how I think of you or your ability to play the game. Are we clear?”

The defender nodded and smiled. “Yeah, gaffer, we’re clear.”

“Good. Enjoy the trip home,” Roy replied. “You’ve got work ahead of you.”

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simply Perfect is back! Excellent! Thanks for the comment!

___

Rangers dismissed Morton from the Betfred Cup in a rather cavalier fashion, by a 3-1 count that flattered the visitors heavily despite two goals in arrears. Rangers could have scored six or seven and as such Roy had lots of interesting video to look at after the match to see where the Blueshirts had gone wrong.

He thought he found a few vulnerabilities in Morton’s back line and spent the days between matches preparing a few small variations to the standard match plan to exploit them.

Roy was a possession man first, figuring that if you have the ball there’s no way your opponent can score. That meant playing for control out of the back and a slow and careful buildup that emphasized good decisions, crisp passing and sharing of the ball in that buildup until the time arrived to pass into space and run onto the ball like banshees.

It was working, but it wasn’t exactly Total Football in that regard and it hadn’t been tested against high-caliber opposition. There had to be a better way.

In part to avoid the accusations of a lack of tactical acumen that he was already starting to hear, Roy decided to try a few different ideas for Morton – and since he was very much his own man, he reserved the right to change them back if he didn’t like them.

The main change came in the area of distribution. For the first few matches Roy wanted Bell to be very conservative, rolling the ball out to a full back or finding a high-percentage pass which would allow his team time for that patient buildup he craved.

That may have been safe, but it was also dry as dust. Litmanen had quietly been working on Roy for weeks to allow for faster distribution and allowing Bell to take advantage of what he saw on the pitch.

Finally, one day over lunch, Roy gave in.

“Jari, we’ll try it but if we lose that way you’re probably going to come in and find every bit of training kit you own wrapped in cellophane.”

“Could be worse,” the Finn said. “You could sack me.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Roy smiled. But he had tried to get across to everyone at the club that he wanted to hear different ideas and would adopt those which made sense. He had to prove it. This was one way.

So at the tactical briefing before the Morton match he unveiled his new scheme, which involved greater freedom all over the park, long distribution and starting the match with a positive outlook instead of the neutral approach he liked when he wanted to see how a match was going to shake out.

“I’m turning you loose on this lot,” he said, and the looks he received from around the room ranged from surprised to pleased to incredulous.

He then went through the plan and to a man, there was agreement that this was better. But, Roy had a qualifying statement to make as well.

“That isn’t to say we won’t play in different ways,” he said. “There will be times when we’ll shackle you up to protect a lead or when there’s a particular way I feel we should play. But when we’re at home against a team we should have the beating of, I want to see what you have up your sleeves. Don’t let me down.”

He had come far enough with the team that he could use that specific phrase without fear of it sounding like an ego trip.

Roy smiled. “Or better yet, don’t let him down,” he said, jerking a thumb at Litmanen sitting across the room to the squad’s delight.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To look at Morton, it was as if they had never seen a team trying to stretch them before.

From the beginning, the Jags were much more attractive to watch, especially whenever the long stuff connected. They weren’t a long-ball team, far from it, but in selected instances they soon found they could strike like lightning.

Roy still had his buildup play – but it started farther up the park and the difference was noticeable. The young Chelsea forward Islam Feruz was the first to take advantage, ghosting between the central defenders to latch on to Bell’s goal kick, finishing deftly past keeper Ryan Scully (no relation) thirteen minutes into the match.

There was a good crowd on hand – nearly 6,000 came out on a windswept first day of September – with more than a few light jackets to be seen in the 12-degree temperature.

As fun as that early goal was, Roy’s intention was to be solid from the goal outward and that meant keeping shape. Playing with two out-and-out wingers as Roy was doing along with at least one overlapping fullback in attack meant his team could be stretched out on the counterattack if they weren’t careful. Hence, his continual instructions to players to keep their shape off the ball.

And for the level of competition at which they played, they hadn’t really had significant difficulty. Morton wasn’t providing much of a challenge either.

Part of that was due to a bit of a gulf in class between the sides, but the rest was due to some truly nice defensive positioning by Roy’s men.

They were compact and tight across the back and since Morton was also playing 4-4-2, it wasn’t terribly difficult to match up with them on a player-to-player basis for marking purposes.

The first half saw a few more decent chances for the Jags but nothing else in the goal, which gave Roy the opportunity to give his team his favorite kind of team talk.

They had performed well and earned their lead, which meant he could be positive, but they hadn’t put the opposition away and couldn’t afford complacency.

Roy’s team talk was therefore centered around continued application, hard work and putting in a ninety-minute shift.

The second half saw the Jags continuing to play nearly immaculate team defense, holding Morton away from the goal and even from decent shooting areas with ease, but not finding a way to put the game to bed.

That is, until Craig Slater took over.

Not as scorer, mind you, but as provider. He put two perfect lead balls right on the toes of Chris Erskine in the 74th minute and little-used Andrea Mutombo ten minutes later. Both players took their chances and a 1-0 lead ballooned to 3-0 with six minutes to play.

The fans could sing, the players could breathe more easily and a short time later, the Jags could celebrate a nice bounce-back win after a previously disappointing result.

Ladbrokes Championship Match #4 – Partick Thistle 3-0 Morton

 # # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Kate smiled. She loved looking to her left in the morning and seeing her husband beside her.

They had come home together the night before, and Roy had introduced his bride to the club’s board after the match.

They all met in the Ambassadors Lounge, located in the Jackie Husband Stand, which was across the pitch from the players’ benches in front of the Colin Weir Stand.

The lounge was the third largest of four hospitality rooms at Firhill – the Alan Rough Lounge, the Aitken Suite and the board room itself were the others in order of size – but it was the most intimate.

Firhill itself was built in 1909 and also serves as the home of Glasgow Warriors Rugby. It’s got stands on three sides with the south end ready to expand when finances permit. That end, which is a grass berm, is known to supporters as The Bing.

It certainly didn’t have the star power of Ibrox, so much of which was designed by the master himself, Archibald Leitch; or the size and stature of Parkhead, or Paradise as Celtic supporters like to call it. It was Glasgow’s fourth stadium, when you throw in Hampden Park for good measure.

But to survive in today’s game, you have to have facilities to match, and so the old place got an internal facelift to host corporate clients on match days.

The crowd had been decent – over five thousand, for the second home match of the league campaign – but one area where the club was going to have to start doing better was in the area of hospitality and corporate money.

Rangers and Celtic would suck the life out of most clubs in Scotland in that department but to have to share the same city with the two monsters meant opportunities weren’t as numerous. And of course, getting relegated out of the Premier League hadn’t helped matters either.

So while everyone met Kate, and the couple got to share its good news, they also got a bit of a primer about life north of the border in footballing terms.

“I’m afraid the board meeting won’t have much good news for you,” Low said, “other than that we love the job you’re doing.”

“That bad?”

“Well, it isn’t good,” Low replied. “Not being in the Premier League isn’t helping the bank balances.”

Roy had noticed that going back to the start of the calendar year, there wasn’t a single month save for June – when the season ticket receipts came in – where the club had shown a profit.

That was cause for concern. There are clubs which receive large sums from their board members to help keep the books balanced but the idea of long-term debt was appalling to everyone at the club. This was especially clear to people like Colin Weir, who had given so much to help retire the club’s previous debt.

That meant a number of potential consequences. The board was likely to keep more transfer revenue, or it could even mandate the selling of players. With the start the Jags were off to, nobody wanted that to happen.

Yet the reality of the modern game is that clubs don’t have cash to throw around anymore, if they aren’t owned by Dubai tycoons. Staying in the top flight in your country is vital and since Thistle hadn’t done that the previous season, they were now having to pay the piper.

The next day, Low did what Roy thought she would do. She reduced available transfer revenue to 35 percent as the club posted a six-figure loss for the month.

That was to be expected. For all practical purposes, Roy was being told to win with what he had.

However, there was a nice consolation prize. The Ladbrokes Championship Manager of the Month award bore Roy Scully’s name. It would make a nice bauble for his office.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It seemed odd, but that was life in the modern game. The club appeared to be hemorrhaging money yet everyone at Partick Thistle just loved what Roy was doing.

Roy and Kate had had a laugh about that on their way home from the ground when discussing their meeting with the big wigs.

“As long as you win, they’ll be happy,” Kate observed in a bit of a “Captain Obvious” moment.

“Then they won’t be able to afford me,” he joked, and she reached for his free hand as he drove.

“Well, I think this has the chance to be a half-decent group,” he added. “Of course, I need the board onside so they don’t start selling players on me if they can’t turn a few more quid.”

“Aren’t board members supposed to help fund the club?” she asked. It was a profound observation.

“Yes,” Roy said. “Bill Shankly once said that at a football club there’s a holy trinity – players, managers and supporters. Directors don’t come into it – they are only there to sign the cheques.”

“He didn’t really believe that,” Kate marveled.

“I wouldn’t have liked to tell Bill Shankly what he did and didn’t think,” Roy smiled. “Anyhow, yes, he did believe that, and he managed like that.”

“And you?”

Roy paused and finally squeezed his wife’s hand. “I believe that too,” he said. “But the difference between us is that Bill Shankly had managed Liverpool for about ten years when he said that. I’ve managed Thistle for what, nine weeks? One of us will get away with saying that, while the other will get the sack.”

Kate looked at him. “Don’t tell me that frightens you,” she said. “That isn’t the Roy I know.”

Just then, they reached home. Roy pulled into the driveway and shut down the car’s engine. He looked at his wife.

“There will never be a day when any board member or any chairman tells me what I can and cannot say and gets away with it,” he said. “If it means that I sacrifice my job to keep my integrity, well, then that’s what it means.”

Gone was the quiet, loving Roy Kate was used to seeing around her. Unknowingly, she had managed to tap into her husband’s inner competitor – the driving force behind everything he had managed to build in his life.

Question that drive, and he wasn’t likely to react well. Kate was the only person in the world who could talk to him this way now that his parents were gone, and it was a gift she didn’t utilize often.

Finally, after an awkward silence, she spoke again. “I’m sorry, Roy,” she offered. “I didn’t mean to…”

“…of course you didn’t,” Roy replied, his pleasant demeanor starting to return. “You just want to make sure I’m the same old Roy.”

“I didn’t doubt it,” she said, opening the door to head into the house. “I can honestly say that in all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never doubted that even once.”

He chuckled. No self-made man likes to be challenged, and he felt she had done. But he simply took her hand.

“Sometimes it’s good for you to remind me,” he said. “And I have to be man enough to take it. Let’s go inside and get the babysitter paid.”

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Postponements due to weather were next on the cards and as a result, the Jags had eleven luxurious days between matches at the start of September.

The break was even longer for the first-team players, who were held out of the trip to SuperSeal Stadium in the IRN-BRU Cup so the colt team could have a chance. For them, it was two weeks between matches.

As a reward for playing so well out of the chute, Roy gave the first team three entire days away from the training ground with the proviso that if any of them wound up on a police blotter he was going to rip up contracts.

He said it with a smile, though, and the players accepted Roy’s warning as the friendly reminder it was. He had a good squad, a dedicated squad, and had no worries about their conduct away from the club.

This meant family time for Roy and he was delighted. The girls had just started school and for now, things were going well on that front.

Maybe it was because the Jags were playing so well. Despite not having lost, they still trailed Ross County in the table. Second place wasn’t horrible but Roy wasn’t going to rest until he had erased that deficit.

He did also worry about the effect his job would have on his girls. Too young for most public schools, his hope was that the kids around them would play nicely in the sandbox. Generally, kids have to grow up in age before they grow up or down in temperament, but he was keeping a sharp eye out for anyone who might seek to hurt them.

Roy, of course, worked from home during that time, watching video and helping around the house. For example, taking Kate to the Tesco was fun in itself because it gave them a chance to let their hair down. Being alone with his wife for the first time since the children were born when they were away at school wasn’t so darned bad either.

But then it was back to work. Hamilton awaited and Roy enjoyed working with Barmby and the younglings to prepare them for an away cup tie.

SuperSeal Stadium awaited them, as did a young Accies team. Sort of a glorified youth cup event, Roy supposed, as the match kicked off.

Immediately, the baby Jags dominated play, knocking the ball around the park with aplomb, flair and verve, and every other adjective Roy could think of to say they did everything but score.

Quitongo, who had been good in the first round, wasn’t as good in this one. That was a bit unfortunate since, in Roy’s quest for an all-youth team he wasn’t required to field, he had only three substitutes he would consider for selection.

One of them, Jamie Stevenson, was the spare goalkeeper. The others were Penrice and prospect Andrew McCarthy.

So, one defender and one midfielder. Keown, Spittal, Bannigan and Coulibaly came along for the trip but had been told that barring pestilence, none would get onto the pitch.

It took 43 minutes before the breakthrough game and then it was Aidan Fitzpatrick who did the deed. He found room on the right, cut that direction, and squeezed a shot between Reegan Campbell’s outstretched arm and his near post.

The kids had played well and deserved their lead, and Roy was gentle on them in the changing room at halftime. “This is the kind of football we expect to see,” he told his team. “You’re leading away. Now it’s down to you to finish the deal.”

Forced to open up slightly due to chasing the game, Accies left a space just big enough for Shea Gordon to get into early in the second half and the loanee didn’t miss from twenty yards, arrowing a top-corner drive home in 58 minutes that made it 2-0.

But then the Jaglets let down their guards and the home team roared back into the match. A rather sad lack of communication between centrebacks Dan Jeffries and Ruaridh McIntyre led to Steven Boyd finding himself in an embarrassing amount of open space only two minutes later, and Sneddon was left with no chance.

That gave Roy the chance to get off the bench and, shall we say, educate his center halves.

“Just a thought,” he yelled. “Maybe next time the striker stands in front of goal, one of you might consider marking him.”

It was good for a laugh, but Roy needed to address the issue anyway the next time he handled youth training. It had been a schoolboy error – they were supposed to be in a zonal marking scheme and neither player had remembered what zone he was in, so they chose neither.

However, Gordon bailed out his teammates with a superbly taken strike only four minutes later, for a 3-1 lead in 64 minutes.

Then he was there again, heading home Fitzpatrick’s perfect cross only three minutes after that to complete his second-half hat trick in a blistering span of nine minutes.

Ronan Hughes scored off a set piece in 72 minutes, meaning the teams had scored five combined goals in only fourteen minutes, but the end result was fair.

The baby Jags had 21 attempts at goal away from home and scored four times. It was hard to be anything but happy about that.

IRN-BRU Cup Second Round – Hamilton Reserves 2-4 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The win was nice but the undercurrent that followed? Not so much.

The prize money for the IRN-BRU was negligible – in fact it cost as much to send the team to the match as the club earned from winning the tie. And it wouldn’t get any better in the next round.

For the Third Round, the Jags were drawn away to Welsh side TNS. Once called Total Network Solutions after their sponsor for nearly ten years, the club earned the scorn of Sky’s Jeff Stellings, who routinely said after home victories that “they’ll be dancing in the streets of Total Network Solutions tonight!”

Yet the club, which is officially named The New Saints of Oswestry Town and Llantsantffraid Football Club, kept finding ways to make Champions League qualifiers by winning the Welsh Premier League.

And now under the rules of the competition, they were entitled to entry into the Third Round of the newly-international IRN-BRU Cup.

So now was there not only another road trip for the Baby Jags, it was to Wales, which was a bit of a jaunt.

The kids loved it, of course, and were more or less cock-a-hoop at having knocked off Accies for a few days after the match. And why not? They had scored four goals away and looked very good gong forward.

It also gave Roy a decision to make about Gordon, who had vaulted into some truly fine form over the last few matches and now deserved consideration for the senior XI.

Managers will never tell you this, but they do like being forced to make a decision once in awhile. The best managers are able to use runs of form and strong play to incentivize others (to use the corporate phrase) to play better or lose their places.

As such, one player who wanted to speak with Roy was Andrea Mutombo.

The forward wanted to play more. There were a few problems with that.

The first problem was named Storey, who led the club in goals. The second was named Coulibaly, who was hot on his heels. The third was the fact that Mutombo’s preferred position was as an attacking midfielder, a position not found in Roy’s 4-4-2.

He could play striker, he could pass as a target man, and he could also pass as an advanced forward – but none of those were his area of specialty.

So in effect, what he was asking was for Roy to let him play, and oh, do you mind changing your tactic to do it?

For Roy, the answer was, in the words of Buckaroo Banzai, “yes on one and no on two.”

He hated to see players wasting away. That was plain in the way he treated them in training. He wanted everyone to excel so they could play, and the hardest part of the job was to tell someone they hadn’t done enough.

And with the team still alive in all the cup competitions, there was enough extra football for Roy to be able to say yes, I’ll play you more often. So he left the office happy, and left Roy with a dilemma he was only too happy to have.

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The New Saints. Interesting. EvilDave will be thrilled! :p

It's perhaps worth pointing out, though, that Oswestry is technically on the English side of the border, in Shropshire. (My sister works in Oswestry, so I should know.) :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is it really? I didn't know that. That's the good thing about this forum -- when I mess up, you guys let me know :)

___

 

Mutombo’s problems aside, the team was playing really well. It was playing so well, that Litmanen made a joke to Roy at the first training session after the Jaglets had triumphed.

“You know you’ve worn exactly the same clothes in every match you’ve bossed?” he asked.

“No, but hum a few bars and I’ll fake the rest,” Roy had replied.

“I’m serious,” Litmanen had said. “Are you superstitious?”

That was a question every footballer answered differently.

Some people Roy had played with wouldn’t step onto the pitch unless they had tied their shoes the same way, put on in the same order, and had performed their personal pre-match ritual. Others just showed up and played.

Roy was a creature of habit, but Litmanen’s question had made him think.

“It’s warm now,” he finally said. “When it gets cold, should I sacrifice my health?”

“You’re an optimist,” Litmanen laughed. “But I’m curious.”

Roy thought it through. “Sometimes I am,” he finally said. “On the coach, of course everyone has their same seats. But when I get to the ground, I guess I’m pretty well locked in to what I need to do.”

Then he smiled. “I had never thought about clothes,” he added.

“Think about clothes,” Litmanen advised. “There are laws to deal with people who don’t.”

“Very funny,” Roy said, cracking a sideways smile.

But the damage had been done, in Roy’s mind.

He drove home to find Kate waiting for him, the girls waiting for him, and takeout on the table.

“I must really rate,” he said. “All my best girls and even food!”

Kate smiled as Roy removed his team jacket.

“Be careful with that, you’re going to wear through the elbows,” she said. Roy looked down and saw that his new jacket, which he wore everywhere and especially on the touchline, was already starting to show signs of wear.

“I’d better be careful,” he said, hugging his daughters tight as he entered the kitchen. “This jacket is the reason we’re winning.”

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just discovered this really enjoyable tale. Hoping it has more legs in it. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks much, fellows! Plenty more where that came from...

___

 

The north of Scotland can be a pretty gray place and as the Jags took the pitch for their match at Inverness, Roy was silently glad it was still September.

The wind was blowing in from Moray Firth and that meant a chilly day. The Tulloch Caledonian Stadium is right on the water’s edge so when the wind is wrong (or right), it can make for a miserable day for a visiting side.

Today wasn’t bad, though, because the sun was out. The wind was blowing but only just hard enough to make you realize that summer was nearly over.

The kickoff temperature was 13 degrees, just right for Roy to wear his “lucky” jacket. He hadn’t even realized it until Litmanen had pointed it out to him, and the two shared a quiet laugh.

Having his regular players around him again felt good to Roy as the match kicked off, but any thoughts of an old home week were quickly put to bed by a physical Caley side that seemed to think the best way to slow down the high-flying Jags was to kick lumps all over them.

Naturally, it was a Thistle player who was first into the book as a result. Spittal took a particularly nasty kick to the shin running after a loose ball and retaliated, which was of course the only thing referee Craig Napier saw.

Roy reacted by throwing his hands up in frustration, which only served to draw the attention of the fourth official in the form of a glare and a friendly invitation to stay off the pitch.

The parade of fouls which followed weren’t exactly the best advertisement for the beautiful game, but all of Caley’s were committed by different players so there couldn’t even be a caution for persistent fouling.

That led to a frustrating, and scoreless, first half. Roy took the players to the changing room with the matched poised on the knife’s edge, so to speak.

“This lot knows it can’t stop you without fouling you,” Roy announced. “So, that means a few lumps on our shins. But we’re tougher than that. Just do what we talked about doing – get the ball into good positions and let’s get a set piece for the Brazilian.”

Everyone knew who that was, and the lighthearted nature of Roy’s comments alleviated some of the frustration the players were feeling at being booted around the park.

That said, the second half was little better in terms of physicality, though now Caley players were starting to go into the book. That restored a bit of order but now the Caley Jags were playing in a tight, compact shape which was proving very hard to break down.

Try as they might, Coulibaly and Storey couldn’t find a way through. But 73 minutes into the match, Coulibaly earned a set piece about twenty yards from goal on the left side – the perfect place for ‘the Brazilian’.

Adrianinho took the ball and placed it on the turf like it was made of crystal.

You know the rest.

Ladbrokes Championship Match #5 – Inverness CT 0-1 Partick Thistle

# # #

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...