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Mandy42

Confessions of the greatest football manager of all time

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While I wasn't able to attend the awards ceremony myself I find myself in awe, proud, and more than a little bit jealous of the winners, plus the community as a whole that has inspired them to write in the first place. Galvanised to come up with some content worthy of such a great community, I'm dipping my toe in the water with an idea that's been in the back of my brain for a while.

Full disclosure going in, while it is about football management, it isn't necessarily that involving football manager and has other themes besides, hope you enjoy reading it as much as I am looking forward to writing it!

 

Like the rest of you I believed the hype, my father, now my late father, Max Mcneil was the greatest football manager of all time. He won more games and more trophies than anybody else ever. In the end it became his obsession, probably what killed him, he wouldn't stop until he had won his 100th trophy. It took him 40 years, which works out at an average of 2 and a half trophies a year.

To put it in context, Alex Ferguson won 49 trophies over the course of his managerial career, which in terms of winning spanned from 1976 until 2013. That's 49 trophies in 37 years.

Thus my father was considered a genius, a football management god, achieving managerial feats that would never be replicated.

I am his youngest son, Michael Mcneil, and at the time of his death aged 75 I am 20 years old, and because my father was also rather prolific when it came to sowing his wild oats I am the last of the 12 Mcneil children he sired.

While I might be the last in every other respect, I am the first and only in one very specific category, I am the only member of our family, and potentially the wider world who knows the truth. My father, my late great father is a fraud and a cheat and he has left it to me to decide what becomes of his legacy.

Edited by Mandy42
hit the submit button by accident! curse my fat fingers

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I suppose the only place to begin, would be at the beginning, which seems a bit of a silly thing to say, especially after blurting out the accusations right off the bat.

I guess I understand now, why he told me. Something like this it eats you up inside, it produces a whole mixed bag of emotions. I find myself giggling to myself about how crazy and unbelievable it is, like I know the punch line to an insider joke. Or I just drift off staring into space contemplating the wonder, the power, the sheer temptation of what he had at his disposal.

For the longest time I raged at him, safely hidden beyond the grave,

"WHY DID YOU PICK ME YOU B*STARD! WHY DO I HAVE TO CARRY THE BURDEN OF YOUR LIES" I felt he had dumped the weight of the world on my shoulders, that when he pulled back the curtain, laid it all bare, I was somehow complicit, if I didn't come forward with what I had learned then in some small way I had accepted and agreed with his actions.

Had he picked me because I was young, relatively new to the whole Mcneil experience? Maybe, but I understand now that the most simple reason was, he had to tell someone, he had to let it out before he died, I'm amazed he carried it with him as long as he did.

Once again I'm getting ahead of myself,

my name is Michael Mcneil, I'm 20 years old, born April 1st 2047 (but it was after midday so it's alright). My father was Max Mcneil, born February 15th 1992, died Wednesday October 12th 2067. His 100th trophy had come just 5 months earlier, with his Hoffenheim side continuing their domestic dominance with their 3rd Bundesliga title in a row. That 100th trophy was met with more than it's fair share of apathy, if 99 trophies was a milestone that would never be repeated then how significant was pushing the unbeatable line just one more step to 100. His death however, that sent a shockwave around the sporting world.

Through his career my father had managed in nine different countries, the number of players he had managed, coaching staff he had worked with, peoples lives he had intersected with was unfathomable. Everyone in the footballing world knew a guy who knew a guy who most likely had at one point had a full English breakfast with my father. At football stadiums all over the world, stands packed with fans commemorated his death by celebrating his life, they applauded for 100 seconds at every fixture that took place in the week of his death.

If you think that being a blood relative of the man would make his passing much more personal, then you are sadly mistaken. Was I sad that my father was dead, yes in a biological, psychological way, but not much else. Much like my fathers football family lineage his biological family had spread in the wake of his journey. I had been born in England, and while my father had been chasing more and more trophies, managing in Italy, Denmark and finally Germany, I had stayed in England with my mother. I was grateful to the man, he had looked after me and my mother (a member of the cabin crew whilst he was England manager) set us both up for life and attempted to integrate us into the wider Mcneil family. But he had never been an overly hands on active figure in my upbringing, there was no inner circle, no secret communication, not then anyway. He never missed a birthday or scrimped on Christmas, but when it came to his death, I found out the same way everyone else found out, Sky news.

That is why the morning of Thursday October 13th 2067 you would have found me leaving my riverside penthouse apartment in Leeds city centre and getting into the back of a taxi bound for the airport, on route for a plane to Sweden. Why Sweden you ask? (I certainly did!)

The night before I had received a call from my ,then, late fathers solicitor, a man as aloof as the name Tiberius Clark might suggest. There was no chit chat, no enquiry into how I was taking the news just a precise and efficient undertaking of the task at hand. I was informed that the funeral and the subsequent reading of the will would take place in Stockholm Sweden. After I enquired as to why, Tiberius simply stated,

"It was you fathers wish to handle the details of his death in a country which he had not managed, as not to alienate any of the supporters in any of the countries he had worked. He also always liked Sweden and always regretted there was never a Nobel prize for sport." Without another word, Tiberius then hung up on me.

Just another day in the life of a Mcneil descendant. Though even on important days like today, when the world stops and holds its breath for a microsecond to mark a great man's passing, the minute daily details still need attention. I had an Amazon delivery to sign for before I got in the back of the taxi.

 

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I have to say, that is quite excellent writing.

Looking forward to more.

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22 hours ago, mark wilson27 said:

Now this has intrigued me

 

20 hours ago, BenArsenal said:

Oh wow, a mystery!

Consider me intrigued too. :D

 

19 hours ago, bigmattb28 said:

Hmm very interested in seeing how this pans out

 

4 hours ago, BenArsenal said:

I have to say, that is quite excellent writing.

Looking forward to more.

thank you for the kind words :)

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The flight time from Manchester to Stockholm was 2 hours and 20 minutes, and like most people who find themselves trapped in a pressurized metal tube hemmed in on all sides with a generous sprinkling of average humanity, I was mildly irritated. My noise cancelling headphones had me safely cocooned against the generic background noise that many people make, usually punctuated by the thrilling solo performance of discontent children. Safe in my silence, head pressed against the side of the plane, my mind wandered.

It wandered, before settling on Lawrence Fishbourne.

He's sat drenched in sweat, tied to a chair, with electrodes attached to his temples. He's also drooling in a very unattractive way. Before you make all sorts of assumptions about my mental state and sexual preferences, Hugo Weavings magnificent voice floods the scene describing how mankind cannot exist in paradise as the human brain fundamentally rejects any sustained state of happiness.

Now while I don't subscribe to the idea that we are all hooked up to a master computer and our existence is nothing but a fabrication to keep us compliant, I do see where he is coming from with the whole happiness thing. In a relative sense my life is exceptional.

I want for nothing, food, clothes, a roof over my head. Like most of my siblings I could while away my days doing precious nothing, my livelihood sustained by my Fathers fortune, the fact I chose to attempt some level of further training and employment is simply that, a choice. There have been women, lots of them in fact, and I am yet to reach an age where finding one specific woman becomes a big deal. I also chose to not dwell on whether these women are attracted to me personally or my affluent family in general. Thus why am I irritated, annoyed, not just by my present surroundings but how the day has unfolded to this point?

You might instantly jump to my defense and suggest, your father just died! give yourself a break. It is a strong position, a convincing argument, but the man who provided for me in life is likely to continue to provide for me in death. A 12th share in 40 years success, is still a decent sum. It's 3 and a 3rd years to be precise, if I get to pick which years I'd definitely take his England managers career. That technically would be 4 years and it includes his only international trophies so there might be some opposition from the others, but its the time I was born and the most time he spent with my mother so they can sod off! Ultimately though my relationship with him will continue much the same, despite the unfortunate fact he has past away.

My frustration stems from celebrity and societies obsession with it. Now lets be clear, there are no photographers leaping small children in a single bound to take a photograph of me. There is never likely to be a requirement for me to obtain a super injunction to hide the details of which of my relatives, or team mates relatives I am misbehaving with. I fly pretty far under the radar. That said, due to my fathers nomadic progression across Europe, and the fact that football is a universal language, my name rings a larger bell than I would like most places I go. I have no qualms about falsifying my last name for day to day things like takeaways or table reservations (unless hypercritically my surname might get me in somewhere that a Mr Bloggs, Jones or Smith might be ignored.) However when presenting ones passport to board an airplane, there really is nowhere to hide.

It also doesn't help (Thank you Tiberius Clark) that the public seems to know more about my fathers funeral arrangements than I do. The funeral isn't until Sunday, which in itself is ok, however the fact that it will be a public ceremony, held in the Nationalarenan, or Friends Arena, home of the Swedish National teams and AIK, is less ok. It's a 50,000 seat stadium! I'm struck for a moment which might be worse, the wider Mcneil family standing in the centre circle surrounded on all sides with empty seats and a random three Swedish men and a token dog, or the opposite, every seat packed and my fathers vision realized, his death celebrated as raucously as any kick off.

I was still trying to process this while I was in said passport queue. Now I don't want to be disparaging about the woman handing out the boarding passes and checking the documents. When not in her work uniform she might have been found at any one of a number of football stadiums, striped to the waist, covered in appropriately colored body paint, screaming abuse at players and referee alike, all while holding a plastic pint pot in one hand and her meat pie of choice in the other. On the other hand she might only log onto BBC sport to check the water polo and dressage results and therefore not have a clue who I was. 

In the end, the sort of person she was, was irrelevant.

She had been standing in departures twiddling her thumbs for god knows how long waiting for passengers to check in, during this time she had been subjected to the news ticker on the TV screens opposite. They repeatedly repeated that Max Mcneil's funeral would be held in Sweden on Sunday, with more details to follow. Regardless of her sporting interests, she had eyes and a brain, thus when my documents passed before her eyes, her brain made the connection. My name was Mcneil and I was travelling to Sweden.

She gave me, the look.

The look is excitement, tempered with a conspiratory glance that indicates the person knows who you are, but is going to protect you without freaking out about it and making a big scene. This is all well and good, as long as you respond to the look with an acknowledging and appropriately deferential gesture, usually a nod of the head, which indicates your eternal gratitude at not having attention drawn to yourself. If however you do not complete your side of the transaction, then all bets are off. Also, the transaction only lasts as long as you are in their general vicinity, as soon as you have moved away, they usually can no longer maintain the immense level of professionalism required for a microsecond longer and turn to the closest work colleague to share their story. This is usually accompanied by some form of sagging or deflating, either collapsing into a chair or simply making a noise that resembles a deflating balloon.

I suffered through this two more times at security and boarding the actual plane. Thus my mood on board was poor to say the least. Little did I know, this would turn out to be the high point of my long Swedish weekend.   

 

  

Edited by Mandy42

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I'll be honest, I've read a few good stories here on FMS, but this feels like it could be written into an actual novel that people would buy. It's that good. :thup:

Keep going mate. You're doing fantastic.

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3 hours ago, BenArsenal said:

I'll be honest, I've read a few good stories here on FMS, but this feels like it could be written into an actual novel that people would buy. It's that good. :thup:

Keep going mate. You're doing fantastic.

thanks a lot for the amazing feedback! will continue to try live up to it!

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Obviously getting on the plane is only, by default, half the journey. I went through the whole rigmarole again upon landing at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. I will be the first to admit I do not fly well, my head fills up with what feels like cotton wool and no amount of sweet sucking or ear popping seems to result in it clearing any quicker.

Young man flying alone with large suitcase (because my suit won't fold down very well into cabin luggage) must tick a certain box on a certain check sheet at airport security as I was politely but firmly moved to a windowless room where I was asked to open my suitcase. A woman with white gloves on proceeded to carefully search through my clothing, while her male colleague kept an eye on me in order to judge any reaction I might have.

"Could I please know the nature of your visit?" The man asked. I blinked, mentally processing what he had said. I might take in some of the city while waiting for Sunday but I would definitely not class this trip as falling into the pleasure category. It also felt distasteful to consider turning up for my fathers funeral as anything akin to business, even if financial assets were going to be divided up. In the end I went with the cold stark truth.

"I am here to attend my fathers funeral." I stated flatly, rubbing my right temple as I attempted to dislodge some of the cotton wool. The woman raised her head to look at me,

"I am sorry for your loss," she managed in my direction, while she held open a large white carrier bag that I had stuffed full of it's contents before ramming it into the bottom corner of the case. She indicated with her free hand for her colleague to take a look inside. They shared a glance, one eyebrow each raised in a silent question. The man looked into the bag, looked at me, then shrugged, with that less than definitive gesture my suitcase was zipped back up and returned to me and I was free to continue my journey. For me that was a 20 minute train ride from the airport to Stockholm Central Station on a completely automated electric train. A scan of my boarding pass on the platform secured my passage meaning there wasn't even a conductor working the train. From the central station it was a further 10 minute metro ride to my hotel, the Lydmar Hotel, where I had a large king room booked, unfortunately under my real name, with an advertised exceptional view of the harbour and Royal Palace. However by the time I reached the hotel none of the cotton wool had budged, which left the view or anything but collapsing on my king sized bed out of the question completely. My mood was so sour that even the cursory,

"We hope you enjoy your stay with us at the Lydmar," When I had finished checking in, was met by a,

"How am I supposed to f*cking enjoy a funeral," Which I am only 50% certain I didn't say out loud. Upon reaching the haven of my room I mustered maximum effort to kick my case into the corner and yank the curtains closed in the bedroom before collapsing face first onto the as advertised wondrous king sized bed. 

Once more you would be forgiven from assuming that a family event, all be it a funeral, might have contained some planning and communication between members of the family. We had our traditions, hence the contents of the plastic bag in the corner of my suitcase.

Communication was not one of them.

Any of my relatives could be staying in the suite next to mine at the Lydmar, or they could be staying anywhere else in Stockholm, Sweden or the wider world. I had positioned myself in the general vicinity of proceedings at a hotel I liked the look of and was not inconveniently situated, mainly due to the wonders of European capital public transport. Tiberious Clark would inform me where I needed to be and when, or at least that was our usual family plan. 

While I dosed, fully clothed in my hotel bed I had a dream consisting of snapshots of 11 journeys similar to my own. 11 other Mcneil children descending on the Swedish capital, some of them being stopped, as I had been in customs, others getting taxis to the most expensive room they could find, while a couple were at the opposite end of the spectrum, finding the cheapest room they could and sweating the pennies as they did so. In reality most of that might be true, the only part of the dream I knew would be inaccurate was the number of journeys, some of my relatives would most definitely be travelling together.

I woke to the contrasting sounds of my light, care free ringtone and the harsh almost violent rumble of it vibrating against the nightstand. I stretched my hand towards the phone just as it stopped ringing. This gave me time to conduct a brisk physical inventory. In the negative column I had drooled into the pillow, but on the positive side of the scale the cotton wool had packed itself back into whichever compartment of my brain it sprung from whenever I flew anywhere. A few blinks and a rub of some sleep from my eye and the phone screen swam into focus. 

1 New Missed Call: Martin.

1 New Voicemail. I manipulated the various screens until I was able to find and dial my voicemail number

"Hey Mick, its me Martin, I figured you'd be one of the first ones here, all that youthful exuberance and can do attitude! Anyway, I've just landed and I know this sounds rather soppy, what with the old man being a long distance dad and all, but I'd rather not spend too much of this trip on my own. Get back to me if you want to catch up this evening, if I don't hear from you I'll get the unsaid message and simply man the f*ck up. Cheers!"

I lay on the bed a moment his message resonating within my head, he was right, when it came to "the old man" there had always been an acceptance of the distance and the hole that left in our daily lives, but there right then there was another layer to the emptiness that I had carried with me for most of my twenty years of life. I decided I would call him back and we could man up together, but first I would shower.

Before I go to meet Martin I guess I should give you the cliff notes on the "Mcneil dirty dozen," I doubt they will all be so courteous as to approach single file so I can introduce them to you all. Plus I am under no illusion that you are hanging around for the scandal of cheating and fraudulent football and not the Mcneil family tree captured in all it's glory using different coloured crayon.

But my hunger has won out, I've called room service, so I need to shower before I eat, before I call Martin, so you'll have to wait a while longer!

  

Edited by Mandy42

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I think by now you are well aware that my father never had just one of anything.

His managerial career spans 9 countries.

He managed 11 domestic clubs successfully and 1 International team for a total of 12 (we don't talk about the unsuccessful clubs)

He won 100 trophies

In his personal life he had 4 girlfriends

He had 12 children, one for each different team he managed, if your brain thinks that way.

Adding a few broad strokes to the bare bones above. He managed in the following countries in the following order:

England, Scotland, Switzerland, Holland, France, Spain, England National Team, Italy, Denmark and finally Germany.

He managed the following clubs (successfully):

Guisley AFC, Nottingham Forest, Ayr United, Servette FC, HHC Hardenberg, Amiens, Celta Vigo, England, Empoli, Fredericia, Vendsyssel FF and Hoffenheim.

In his professional career my father was adored, not just for the brand of attacking football he favoured, but because he was never shy of a challenge. He could have (with maybe a few exceptions) at the height of his power and fame, taken charge of any club in any division, anywhere in the world. He didn't just manage in big leagues, he didn't just manage big teams, he went where he wanted and success followed.

Now to his personal life.

I meant what I said when I referred to the children's mothers as girlfriends, my father was never once married. Perhaps he was blessed by the times in which he lived in, shotgun weddings and the requirement to be married before having children were no longer any kind of taboo. If you were married or in fact sleeping together was seen as insignificant compared to whether the correct pronouns were being applied for the rapidly increasing number of discovered genders (over 200 at last official count). Perhaps he was a man of his word, none of his exes have ever really had anything bad to say about him, he always looked after them and provided for them, even after they had drifted apart. Perhaps there were would be in laws privately tearing their hair out at the prospect of their daughter not definitively securing her future with a piece of paper, but none of that ever made it into the media spotlight.

On a first come first served basis his children are:

Melinda and Melissa (twins)

Marcus

Mary

Mark

Maria

Mandy

Maggie (definitely not Margret)

Martin

May and Meghan (Identical twins)

Michael

I hope you were able to notice the trend.

In some way all of us are cursed with the same obsession that drove my father to greatness, but depending on the era in which we emerged, that obsession has been twisted into something quite tragic.

Both Mels, Marcus and Mary were born in the early years to the first girlfriend Olivia. As they were the first four, and because everything our family does is somehow distilled down to sports they gave themselves the rather arrogant nickname "The Top Four." There problem (which they would frequently remind us about) was that they had suffered through the leaner years, the years before the success and knew what it was like to go without. This experience, rather than keeping them humble and ensuring they knew just how fortunate they were, instead led them to never want to be without ever again.

The Mels were stereotypical WAGS, though they fell very much into the G category. They had clothing and perfume brands which survived on the strength of the name alone. Along with Marcus and Mary they were terrified of losing the celebrity spotlight, the name the wealth and the fame was crucial to their sense of self. There had even been talks of a television show: Going Mad with the Mcneil's But thankfully nothing had ever come of it.

Mark, Maria, Mandy and Maggie all came (one at a time) to the second girlfriend Anna. The family was based in Switzerland, while my father worked first there and then managed in Holland and France. Where as the Top Four eventually wanted for nothing, these Mcneil children never knew anything else. They had everything they needed and more. Plus growing up on the continent and in such a linguistically diverse country as Switzerland they were able to speak multiple languages. Marcus is always easy to wind up when we inform him that unfortunately scouse does not count as it's own separate language. To this day there is definite tension between these two groups. The Top Fours self importance does not sit well with the others, they can in no way relate to the sparse years, despite how often they get reminded about them, they don't get it, don't want to get it and made sure they didn't. This mixture of sibling tension and opulence was a bad mixture for the European children, they strayed from the tracks early and often, with the financial backing to stray far. To this day they live in excess, Mark will drink anything, Maria and Mandy smoke or inject anything and Maggie shag anything that stands still long enough. They almost feel guilty for having always had more than their older relations and always being blamed for it. This guilt has led them to be unable to live in the adult world where they would be forced to take responsibility for these feelings, so instead they stay as blasted as possible.

Next up are Martin, May and Meghan, they were born to the third girlfriend Sofia, while father was managing in Spain. Sounds slightly stereotypical but they all have such intense passion, which in the case of the twin girls seems to have tempered their Mcneil obsession into something extremely positive. Martin's passion is words, he is a sports journalist, unfortunately for him he is also rather enthusiastic about gambling on sport. May and Meghan have both taken their genetic gifts and made the most of them. Picking their fathers nationality over that of their mother they are both current England women's internationals at the highest level.

That leaves me, the last Mcneil, born to Freya, my fathers final girlfriend while he was England manager for one 4 year cycle. I am singular in that I am the only, only child, which sounds ridiculous in a 12 child family, but I am also the only one yet to truly fall into the grip of the Mcneil obsession. It is impossible not to be involved in some way with sport if you are a member of this family, but my chosen career will (hopefully) be much more altruistic than the others. I am currently completing my education in the field of sports psychology, not the motivational stuff that sees you closeted away with a team the week before a main event. More the desire to ensure sportsmen and women are prepared for their life after sport, when the screaming crowds have died away, when the money is beginning to run dry and the glory days of ones athletic prime are but a fading memory.

I could bore you with many examples, some humorous, some tragic of why such a field needs to exist and why I am motivated to be a part of it, but luckily for you it is time for me to head out and meet Martin, so you are spared for a time at least.

  

 

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2 hours ago, BenArsenal said:

That is brilliant.

Get thee a book deal. :D

I live in dread of the day this feedback changes to "nah it's sh*t now mate" lol!

thanks for the continuing praise, hope you keep enjoying it :)

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I rang Martin before I left the room, check he was still on for meeting, and determine what his plans were.

"Hello?" I was ringing from the hotel room phone so he wasn't certain who it was.

"Hey Martin, it's me, you still in the mood for a catch up? or was that a fleeting experience?"

"Definitely be good to see you Mick, can't shake this empty feeling and it's beginning to get to me." That's family code for SoS, the Mcneil obsession does not do well in crisis.

"What did you have in mind?"

"AIK are playing tonight at Friends Arena, can you believe they moved  their game from Sunday to tonight in order to accommodate dads funeral?" I couldn't quite believe it, but then I thought nothing about the old man could surprise me.... how wrong I was.

"You want to go to a football game?" I asked, ruefully shaking my head at this families obsession with the game. "I take it you have money on the outcome?"

"Eh... well yeah," I could feel from the tone of his voice that he was getting defensive, changing his mind. "Look if you don't want to come that's fine, its a stupid idea anyway, I can always go on my own." Yeah I thought, and blow even more money on in play betting from his seat in the stadium. That wasn't the reason I was going to go though, I too could sense the creeping emptiness that came with living in a world that didn't have our father in it, and in all honesty it would be good to see Martin.

"I didn't say that, I'll be there, just a couple of things though, where are you staying? And is this an official Mcneil outing?" Martin laughed, his defensiveness evaporating as  though it had never been there in the first place.

"I'm staying at the Quality Hotel Friends, right next to the stadium, just rock up there when you are ready and no, I think I'd rather go incognito for as long as possible."

"Suits me just fine, I'll come to you, see you shortly."

With that I hung up, picked out a generic jeans, jumper combo from the suitcase, left the big carrier bag alone as it wasn't an official family outing, found my coat in case the Swedish autumn decided to bite, and was out of the door a couple of minutes after putting the phone down.

 

Was going to keep going with this piece but I fear my man flu is winning, don't want to lose what I've already got down, so I'm going post this and edit it when I feel better. Sorry for the short post!

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No worries mate. Do it at your own pace. You're doing brilliant so far.

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In the end it turned out to be a good game, which wasn't really the point of the evening and speaks volumes about the state of the typical Mcneil family relationship.

Both teams needed a result, with only a couple of games left in the season AIK were in need of a win to keep the pressure on Malmo at the top of the table. Their opponents Kalmar FF were only 2 points above 14th spot and the dubious honour of "qualifying" for the relegation playoff game. Despite the large gap in table position the two teams played attractive open football which kept the 25,000 ish supporters entertained.

While I enjoyed it, I must admit my mind wasn't entirely on the game, I was looking around the Friends Arena imagining what it would look like for my fathers funeral. It currently sat at about half full and even then the noise was impressive, I was concerned over how much noise could be created if it was full, or conversely how oppressive it would feel if it was cavernously empty and silent.

One thing I wasn't worried about was Martin's gambling habit, yes he had money on the final result, he had gone for a 2-2 draw, hoping that both teams attacking intent would cancel itself out, at 10/1 he was full of gamblers optimism. That was the extent of his gambling though, no impulsive stabs at number of corners in the next 30 seconds or any of the other daft in play markets, simply because I had demanded his phone from him as soon as we had met in the bar at his hotel. Yes he had grumbled, but in the end he had coughed it up with a rueful smile.

As has been the way of male Mcneil communication since the dawn of time, we talked, but without really looking at each other. Our sporadic attempts at showing interest in each others lives with a,

"You alright then?"

"Your looking well, you lost weight?"

"You heard much from the others lately?" Were intermingled with crowd noise and our other comments regarding the game,

"Their center back looks like a right bruiser! He could mount a solar panel on that forehead when he retires and still make a living!"

"Come on ref! he's offside!" and a couple of huffs and puffs from Martin when either team looked close to breaking the deadlock.

The friends arena has a large cube suspended from the rafters below it's retractable roof. Each side of the cube has a massive jumbotron screen which played advertisements, safety announcements and game highlight footage directly after they had happened. This was how I experienced the game, deep in thought regarding my father, the funeral, the will, I would be alerted by a swelling in the level of crowd noise, and then look up at the screen to see what had just happened.

In the first half Kalmar FF hit the bar twice, AIK had a goal ruled out (correctly) for offside, which was a perfect use of the VR (Video Review) technology which had been prevalent in sport now for almost 40 years. Where ever possible, the rules of the game had been simplified down to remove rule interpretation as a source of inconsistency. Now offside was simply any player beyond the line of defense when the ball was played forward, linesman could flag if they were certain, or could leave the decision to the VR system, which would flag up any rule infringements and alert the referee if a goal occurred before a definitive change in possession.

Thus in the AIK goal that was ruled out, AIK scored from a corner, there was nothing wrong with the corner, however in the build up to winning the corner, an AIK player had been offside, hence the corner should not have been awarded and the goal was chalked off. In general the system was well received, missed infringements were only enforced if they led to a goal thus fans got to see attacking moves completed and the stoppages were short and only if they were needed.

The first half drew to a close without either team finding a way to score, Martin was still holding onto his optimism as his result was still possible. Though now devoid of any distractions and in real danger of having to have a proper conversation until the game resumed, we left our seats and sauntered for a drink and some snacks.     

Edited by Mandy42
work computer is being slow, keyboard keeps freezing!

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Well let's hope VAR in the future is as you've described, and not the shambles it is now...:p

Edited by BenArsenal

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21 hours ago, BenArsenal said:

Well let's hope VAR in the future is as you've described, and not the shambles it is now...:p

I had a moment where I thought, why not make it what I want it to be? :p 

Plus get rid of the stupid "interfering with play" part of the offside rule, because for the money I am paying players in wages, you better be interfering with play for the full 90 minutes!

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I have been informed by someone who knows a lot more about it than me, that hope can drive you insane, my brothers eagerness to return to his seat having purchased a "Stor Stark" of Jamtlands Bryggeri Hell (a choice based completely on the name alone). I settled for a Skal cider and shuffled back after him trying to not dribble too extensively from my plastic cup.

Martin seemed to visibly relax once he was back in his seat, as though football fate would have looked down upon him and judged him to be wanting if he had not shown the due diligence of being back in his appointed position before kick off. His relaxation was however entirely relative, he was still rocking back and forth and dithering his leg up and down with enough force, to earn himself perplexed looks from the people who could feel the vibrations he caused, through the connection of their seats.

The second half commenced with both teams adopting a slower tempo, they seemed to realize that the pace at which they had tried to bludgeon each other into submission in the 1st period, was not sustainable for the full 90 minutes. 10 minutes, 15 passed with no real cut or thrust from either side, the majority of the crowd became more interested in the conversations and singing going on around them. There was however, no point in me trying to pick up even the small talk of before with Martin, with each passing moment he focused more and more upon the game before him, to the exclusion of everything else. If before he had been restless energy, now he was leaning forward, elbows on his knees, chin in his hands, channeling all that energy through his eyes onto the pitch as though he could influence the game by sheer force of will.

Interesting, in my broader psychology reading, many people have had many interesting and borderline crazy things to say about force of will. In one such textbook is the following exercise, designed to highlight the arrogance of the human condition, and question how much we truly know about the world around us:

Pick a denomination of coin, any will do, it doesn't have to be go big or go home, size, despite what women tell you isn't the end of the world.

Say you pick a £1 coin, spend a fixed period of time searching for them wherever you are, be that on the pavement or in the desk draw at work, your partners wallet, wherever. Do you find more or less £1 coins? Is it pure luck? or because you are looking for them you are bound to find more?

Next take the same fixed period of time, search for £1 coins, but truly commit to the belief that you will only them because you have willed them into being through the power of your mind. To be clear, these objects did not exist and your mind has pulled them out of the stream of creation and forged them into what you want them to be.

Continue the exercise alternating between focusing on luck and will power as your source of £1 coins, you can keep a tally of your findings and see which belief yields more coins than the other. However the real point of the exercise is to ask yourself to conclusively prove which method is possible and which is not. Can you say without a shadow of a doubt that the coin you found in the desk drawer that wasn't there yesterday you didn't simply will into being?

I cannot prove conclusively whether Martin's intense focus lead to Kalmar FFs goal against the run of play in the 62nd minute. It was a simple goal really, a poor clearance from AIK led to a press around their box and resulted in a Kalmar corner. A well delivered cross was met at high speed by the slab like forehead of Ragnar Gustafsson, who when he wasn't cleaving people in half with his battle axe on a frozen beach somewhere, played centre back for Kalmar. The away fans went wild, they were one step closer to the promised land of top division security. Martin on the other hand simply turned to me with a tight smile and a slight nod, ticking the goal off in his mind and muttering

"Just three more now" under his breath. The game opened up again, the AIK fans howling and demanding retribution, while the Kalmar fans whooped and chanted with delight at being ahead. Martin was much more neutral, he willed both teams on, as at this point he was at his most relaxed, he needed both teams to score so whoever got the next goal was irrelevant, as long as they got it soon.

Perhaps there is something to this mental focus lark! As a swift Kalmar break led to them scoring again 10 short minutes after they had netted the 1st time. Once more Gustafsson the marauder played a role, smashing into a tackle and winning the ball from AIK's Turkish top scorer Turgay Kucukandonyadis, leaving the striker apparently dead on the edge of the Kalmar box. His raking forward pass left much to be desired in terms of accuracy, but with the open nature of the game he had a full 3rd of the pitch to aim for and Kalmar's right winger Karl Wicksel scampered onto it. One touch and another searching through ball played in speedy Kalmar striker Axel "The Energizer" Alfredsson, who slotted between the legs of the stricken AIK keeper and doubled the visitors lead.

"Don't you dare score another now!" Martin whispered, he could have yelled it for all I know as the roar of the Kalmar faithful was deafening. They didn't, seemingly happy with their 2 goal cushion the visitors shut up shop, using the Energizer as a frustrating out ball to relieve the pressure of wave after wave of AIK attacks. Now the nervousness was back, Martin once more rocking from side to side, swearing at the ref every time a spirited Kalmar challenge went unpunished, or when they blatantly pushed the boundaries of what was seen as acceptable time wasting. His neutral demenour was most definitely gone, Kalmar had served their purpose, but his interest in them was gone now, his silent message was clear, he needed them to capitulate not once, but twice.

The Kalmar fans message was also quite clear, at least their sentiment and emotion, I have no understanding of the Swedish language so can only assume that the repeated chant they peeled off with increasing glee was something along the lines of

"WERE GOING TO SEE YOU TWICE NEXT YEAR..... YES WEEEEEEEEEEERE GOING TO SEEEEEEE YOU TWICE NEXT YEAR!"

10 minutes to go and if I had felt the creeping urge to look in my coat inside pocket to see how much money Martin had placed and how much he stood to win, that urge dramatically intensified when some fantastic trickery from who else but Kucukandonyadis saw Gustafsson turn instantly from hero to villain as he scythed the front man down in the box and conceded a penalty. There were the usual histrionics from the Kalmar supporters but as the huge rectangular screens replayed the AIK striker getting harvested like so much wheat, the appeals petered out to the murmuring of the blind and biased. The howling started up again the moment the ball was placed on the spot, but to no avail, cool as the proverbial cucumber, a phrase which does not take into consideration cucumber encountered in sandwiches in most petrol stations across the European continent, Kucukandonyadis slotted home into the bottom right corner. 

Martin was out of his seat without him really understanding how he had got there, my hand was in my jacket pocket and his phone was in my hand in much the same way, my eyes boggled, £1,000! I know use Mcneil's were loaded but such a sum on a game against two teams he knew nothing about was surely excessive even for an excessively excessive family like ours. The only thing on show 12 minutes later, 2 minutes into 5 of time added on was an excessive show of emotion. Those two were at it again, Kucukandonyadis using his pace latch onto a hopeful ball behind the Kalmar right back, with a deft flick he knocked it beyond the defenders attempted recovery tackle and drove straight into the box. He charged straight into Gustafsson's path, the Swedish defenders face (gloriously picked out on the big screen) looked as though he wanted to snap the puny Turkish man's legs before feasting on a couple of his children,, but probably due to what happened the last time he attempted that he hesitated for a split second. Betrayed by his body the Kalmar centre back was helpless to prevent The Turk's sharp step over and swivel to create himself enough space to attempt a right footed curling effort at goal. The Kalmar keeper dove valiantly trying to tip it onto, over or away from the crossbar but blocked as he was by the not inconsiderable size of his team mate, he saw the attempt late and could not stop it from cannoning off the underside of the bar and restoring parity between the two sides.

I would like to say I retained my composure, but that would be a lie, me and Martin embraced, laughing and hollering like idiots in a very un Mcneil display of affection. The next few hours were a blur of bars and drinks which saw me deposited back at my hotel room in the early hours of the following morning. I staggered rather merrily into my room to find a parcel, that most definitely had not been there when I left, sitting rather innocently on  the desk at the foot of the bed. My brain intended to enquire as to it's contents straight away, my legs said "**** that ****" and I promptly fell face first, fully clothed, for the second time in so many days and passed out on the bed.    

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