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"I won’t lie to you Eddie, it’s a tough job. We need to stay in this division for the sake of the club but I can’t give you any money to work with”

The room was filled with cigar smoke and the lingering stench of whisky. The father and son sat on one side of the table, while Eddie Chambers calmly sat the other

“That’s something I’m used to. I wasn’t exactly inundated with lavish funds in my last job”

“That’s settled then. It will be a 12 month contract, with the option to extend it left to us”

“Fine. Accommodation?”

“We’ve got you a club flat for now, but you are of course allowed to find your own at any time you like. Incidentally, will you be bringing your family?”

“Ah. Erm, well, no. I don’t have one to bring since last year”

“Oh. Well I’m sorry to hear…”

He leant over the table, hand outstretched

“Don’ worry about it. I’ll see you Monday morning”

--

It had been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest. Just a week earlier, Eddie Chambers had been working as manager of Margate Football Club, and having seen that his hometown club, Blackpool, were in need of a manager, he sent his CV off – more in hope than anything else. However, surprisingly, he got a phone call 48 hours later from chairman Karl Oyston, asking to meet. It turned out he was the only applicant, nobody wanted to go near the Blackpool job who was already well established, and four days after the call, he was packing his case ready to depart. He would miss Margate, having been there for the last five years, since Barry Ashby was sacked. His job had been to keep them afloat and keep them in the Isthmian Premier, something he had done successfully and he had even flirted with promotion twice too, so keeping Blackpool afloat would be a challenge he had experience with

On the train ride up on the Sunday afternoon, he was reading through the documents he had been given by Oyston. The club was in trouble, three quarters of a million outstanding in loans owed, and because of this, there was no transfer budget, He did however had some room to manoeuvre with wages, and if some players could be sold to release extra, it might help. They were predicted for relegation (unanimously too), and looking at the squad list, it was a real odd collection of talent

His assistant, Noel Blake, had emailed him a summary of the players at his disposal. He had marked out striker Nathan Delfouneso, who could run at the speed of sound, midfielder Jose Miguel Cubero, who was suspended until mid-September, and goalkeeper Joe Lewis, on loan from Cardiff, as the three stand out players, while the rest of the squad included Spanish brothers, Joan and Edu Oriol, talented midfielder Jacob Mellis, and on loan players Donervon Daniels, a defender from West Brom, and John Lundstram, a tough tackling midfielder from Everton. There was definitely some talent to work with, but the squad itself was threadbare and would need some additions, but obviously it would need to be free agents or loan players

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He had the Monday to himself, as the players and most of the coaching staff were not due in until the following day, so he set about working on his formation and making some telephone calls. The first of these was to an old friend from his playing days in Preston, Tyrone Mears

“Hello?”

“Tyrone? It’s Eddie Chambers”

A laugh of astonishment from the other end of the phone

“Hiya mate. How are you?”

“I’m good thanks pal. Yourself?”

“Doing the rounds, looking for a new club, usual summer stuff”

A smile crossed his face

“Oh so you don’t have a club at the moment? Well I might have a proposition for you?”

It didn’t take long to persuade him to join the club, as he was only moving a short distance from Bolton, and was without a club, so the first signing of the season was secured. There were already several players on the transfer list from the previous regime, and while he knew most managers gave everyone a chance, he wasn’t inclined to go for that option, instead choosing to go with the fact that if they weren’t good enough for the previous regime, they weren’t good enough

The first four or five days were spent getting acquainted with the squad, working on fitness in the early training sessions and trying to adapt his formation into the ball work. There were five pre-arranged friendly games, with a mixture of opposition which wasn’t too bad, and would give them good tests before the first game of the Championship season. Phone calls were constantly being exchanged, and Eddie had already secured the sale of two players, David Perkins leaving to join Leeds, and Gary MacKenzie moving to Dundee United. While the £400,000 in transfer fees wasn’t available to him, getting the wages both were earning added to his budget was, and this is what allowed him to bring in a bit of experience and steel in the midfield, as former Fulham player Papa Bouba Diop signed a one year deal. He was a man mountain, and while his 36 year old legs didn’t have the engine they used to, Eddie felt he would add a presence and vital experience into the squad

Noel Blake was sent to watch the England Trailists game, hoping there would be some decent young players he could add to the squad, and training continued in preparation for the pre-season games. It had become apparent early on that he couldn’t play the expansive and open game that he favoured, purely and simply because the defence he had wasn’t strong or quick enough to cope with the attacking prowess of some of the stronger teams in the division. Knowing this, Eddie decided it was more prudent to try and set his team up to be difficult to beat – it may not be pretty to watch for the fans, or for him for that matter, but sometimes needs must, and he had been told it was imperative to stay in the Championship

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Two players had caught the eye in the trialists game, and both Mateusz Taudel, a 19 year old Polish goalkeeper, and Valentin Gjokaj, a 20 year old Albania defender, agreed deals quickly. Despite having signed four players, Eddie was still looking to advance the squad, but loan deals were proving difficult to come by, players not wanting to move to the club. So far, he had been rejected by six players, including Tyler Blackett, Ryan Mason, Jacob Murphy and Jack Grealish, and he had to make do with the squad he had for the visit of Shakhtar. This was a game he himself may not have arranged, as they were a well renowned European side who competed regularly in the Champions League, and a heavy defeat could demoralise the lads. To be fair though, he was pleasantly surprised. They didn’t create a whole lot, a decent chance for Nathan Delfouneso and a half chance for Andrea Orlandi the only real opportunities, but they defended brilliantly, frustrating the visitors into making errors and mistakes. The 1-0 scoreline wasn’t what mattered, it was the resiliency they showed, and this was something to work with

“Boss, can I have a word?”

Tony McMahon had poked his head around the door the following day, and was beckoned in

“What can I do for you Tony?”

He was fidgeting, looking sheepish and Eddie sensed it was something he didn’t want to hear

“Erm, well, I…”

“Jesus, come on lad spit it out”

“Well my agent has heard that Sheffield Wednesday are interested in me. I was just wondering if it’s possible to be allowed to leave?”

Eddie sat back, his eyes burning a hole into his defender

“Well I haven’t heard anything – at least not officially. So this is a discussion we aren’t even having. Now, get your kit on and go out to training. You have a job to do”

“But Boss I..”

“But nothing. If they make a bid and it’s what I consider reasonable, then I will accept it. Until then, you have a contract here. End of discussion”

And with that, he stormed out past the defender and into the changing rooms

--

 

He had paced up and down the entire session, punching his fist into his empty palm all the way through, but he waited until after the session to explode

“Right lads. Listen closely. I’m only going to say this once. I appreciate this is not the ideal situation – we’re skint, we’re favourites for relegation and we have a threadbare squad. But this is what we have and what we have to deal with. I’m not going to force anyone to be here who doesn’t want to be here, but if there’s one thing I will not accept, it’s disloyalty. While you wear the shirt of this club, you give 110%. I will never have a go at you for losing a game, only if you don’t put the effort in. Yes we’re not going to play a scintillating, attacking brand of football, but my aim is to keep you all as Championship footballers by the end of the season. Now I think we can do that, but it’s going to take bloody hard work…”

At that point, club captain Peter Clarke stood up

“Come on lads, the boss is right. If we stick together, and work as a team, we can stay up. Now, are we all in?”

With that a roar went up in the dressing room, and Eddie smiled to himself. Maybe this squad did have the bottle to do this after all

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The next few days went along at a serene pace. No transfer activity, the usual training and a 2-0 friendly defeat to Danish club AaB. It had been a decent game and performance, chances coming in a better rate than against Shakhtar, but the lads just couldn’t finish the ones that came their way. Eddie had made a mental note that this was maybe something to work on with Delfouneso, for all his lightning pace he wasn’t the greatest finisher in the world. The Oriol twins had impressed him, Edu in particular showing some creative flair, and Andrea Orlandi, who had arrived from Swansea the previous season also looked like a creative force. That said, he was earning a high wage, and was an option for release come the end of his contract in the summer

..

“Well I appreciate we haven’t got any transfer funds, and the money brought in goes mainly to help with the running of the club, and I accept that. However I would like to retain the wages saved”

Karl Oyston and Director of Football Joe Royle were sifting through the proposals across the desk. It was Royle who spoke first

“Is this true with the wages?”

“Absolutely, We are under already by £12,000. If we don’t renew those contracts in the summer, certainly the ones in red, that’s another £28,000 saved. The one’s in green I’m waiting to see how they perform first but the red ones are definite”

This time it was Oyston who spoke

“Well I’ll tell you what Eddie. Keep the club in the Division, and maybe get a few quid from the Cups, and keep us under the wage budget for the season and we’ll talk again at the end of the season”

Eddie realised that was as good as he was going to get, so he headed off to prepare the team for their next game in two days’ time

..

Gjokaj had impressed in training, the Albanian showing a maturity beyond his 20 years, and he was given a starting berth alongside Donervon Daniels. The Montserrat defender was on loan until the 2nd of January, but that was already earmarked to be extended as he looked like a nailed on bet to start as one of the central defenders. John Lundstram had been impressive too, in the holding midfield role, and while he was on loan for the season, it was unlikely they would be able to afford a permanent transfer for him. This was further underlined when he ran the next game, a comfortable 2-0 win over Scottish amateurs Wick Academy. Ishmael Miller had grabbed the first, a lovely curled effort from the edge of the box, before Jacob Mellis scored near the end, rifling home low and hard from a Joan Oriol cutback

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That night, bored of spending endless nights on his own in the flat, and with no training the next day, he had decided to have a walk down to the sea front and take in some fresh air. On the short walk, he walked past an inviting looking local pub, so decided to pop in for a pint. Pleased to see they had sport on the telly, one turned into two pretty quickly. It was then that the name of Blackpool emanating from the mounted television caught his ear and he turned to listen

“…they’ve got absolutely no chance. Rookie manager, no money and a small squad. I can’t see how they can stay up”

“Jermaine, do you feel the same?”

“I think so David yes. I’d probably say Blackpool, Rotherham and then any one of five or six others”

“So why do you think they’ve gone with a rookie manager?”

“To be honest, I don’t think anyone established would have wanted the job. The chairman doesn’t have the greatest history and it’s a hell of a job…”

Just then he was distracted by a voice over his left shoulder

“Not giving you a lot of chance are they?”

He turned round to see a familiar face stood at the side of him

“Graham? What are you doing here?”

Graham Alexander had been his roommate at Preston for three years, from 2002-2005, and they had formed a close friendship in that time

“I live around here. I manage Fleetwood now”

“Oh that’s right – I remember seeing you get the job. Want a pint?”

“Aye go on, I’ll have one more. I was going to ring you actually and say well done but the little one hasn’t been well”

“Oh don’t worry. She better now?”

“Aye. So how have you ended up here? You’re a brave man taking on this job lad”

So for the next couple of hours he chatted with his old friend, and after parting ways having been offered advice any time it was needed, he headed back to his flat, flicked on the telly and crashed out on the sofa

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The penultimate friendly was another home game, a visit from Irish side Coleraine, and this proved to be even easier than the Wick game, as a 3-0 win saw goals from Delfouneso, Orlandi and Tyrone Mears. The lads were playing with enthusiasm, although looking at the opening few games, this could soon disappear as they had three of the promotion favourites in the first seven games. A good start would be nice, but Eddie had earmarked the games against rival teams near the bottom of the table as must win games

..

“Damn!”

He slammed the phone down into its handset, cursing as he did so. Noel Blake, sat at the other desk, looked up quizzically

“Problem Boss?”

“Another bloody no. That’s ten players now, ten who have all refused loan offers to come and play for us”

“Why? Wages?”

“Not even that. The clubs have all accepted offers without us paying anything. They just don’t see it as, and I quote here, ‘a viable career opportunity’”

“Nowt we can do about it boss. Just stick with the lads we’ve got. Oh, speaking of that, there’s a couple of decent youth prospects we might be able to blood this year”

There were three in question. Mark Waddington looked the best of them, a two footed central midfielder with good passing ability and a decent shot, but it was Charles Dunne who caught his eye. The defender had somewhat stagnated in his progress thus far, but he could read the game, was quick and had a good size to him. Tom Barkhuizen was the other but he was wanted on loan by three different clubs and Eddie felt he would be best served going out to get first team exposure, but he decide to bring Waddington and Dunne in for training with the first team and play them in the final game of pre-season to see how they gelled with the rest of the lads

This game was the only away game of the pre-season, and it was a relatively short trip to Boundary Park to play Oldham. It was a thrilling game, both sides creating chances throughout the game, but it was real opportunity for Eddie to see just how good a ‘keeper Joe Lewis was. He kept everything out they threw at him, using virtually every part of his body to keep the home side at bay, only being beaten by a sublime free-kick in the 84th minute, but the 1-1 draw was a fair result. Waddington impressed in the central midfield role, looking calm and collected and distributing some lovely passes, while Dunne had a decent 30 minutes in the second half. The opening game was just six days away, and Eddie felt his side were as ready as they ever could be

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“Eddie, thanks for joining us for this interview. Settled in well?”

The Football League Magazine had asked for an interview, and while he himself hadn’t been keen, the board had seemed to relish the opportunity and once again stressed the importance of media work, so reluctantly he agreed

“Yes very well. The lads have worked their socks off in pre-season, and they all know the task ahead to stay up this season”

“Well as you are many bookies favourites to go down, how do you rate your chances?”

“Well I’m not going to be making predictions or saying anything silly Paul. All I’ll say is that we will work hard, give 100% and that is all we can do”

“Fair enough. Will you be looking to add to the squad?”

“Well I have been entrusted with a budget and will be keeping within that, but should the right player come up at the right time, then I wouldn’t rule anything out”

“And who do you see as favourites for promotion?”

“Well that isn’t for me to say I don’t think, all I’m concentrating and worrying about is my own team and what goes on at Bloomfield Road”

“So tell me about your playing career and management before Blackpool?”

“Well I spent 15 years playing in the lower leagues, six with Bury and nine with Preston, before moving to Barry Town to finish my career. I took the Margate job as it was a nice place and a first job, spent five years there keeping them afloat. Flirted with promotion a couple of times, and now here I am”

As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad, and Eddie managed to come away relatively unscathed, so now his attention was squarely on their opening game in the Championship

--

August 2014

They couldn’t have been handed a much tougher start, as an away trip to Stuart Pearce’s Nottingham Forest was what the fixture computer had spat out. They had fire power in abundance, with the likes of Assombalonga, Fryatt and Blackstock up front, but Eddie couldn’t believe the start of the game. Robert Tesche was robbed of the ball in midfield by Jacob Mellis, who swung the ball wide to Tyrone Mears. Mears swung the ball into the box, and the missed interception allowed Andrea Orlandi to control the ball and slide it home. The home fans were shell shocked to be behind in less than two minutes, but they were doubly shocked three minutes later, Orlandi swinging in a corner and Valentin Gjokaj powering home a header. It was an unbelievable start, and with the home fans starting to get on their teams back, they started making errors. Amazingly, this led to the third goal, as a short pass was stolen by Edu Oriol, who jinked and weaved towards goal, laying the ball off for Nathan Delfouneso to smash into the bottom corner. Nobody had expected this start, and for his side to be 3-0 ahead after 16 minutes of the opening day was incredible, and Eddie watched with amazement as Forest just went out with a whimper, hardly testing Joe Lewis the remainder of the game, and a chorus of boos greeted the final whistle

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With the league providing their most important task for the season, the League Cup game against Notts County was a distraction, so much so that eight changes were made, only Joe Lewis, Jacob Mellis and Edu Oriol keeping their places. It was a slow start, the changes seeming to slow the team down, and the visitors made that count, taking the lead with a nice team move that was ended by Blair Adams. They picked it up second half, and Ishmael Miller levelled it up, and despite falling behind again, to a Hayden Mullins header, Mark Waddington marked his full debut with a rocket from 25 yards to take it to extra time. The extra fitness they had worked on made a difference, and Formose Mendy grabbed the winner in the first half of extra time

--

“Let’s not get carried away”

Noel Blake had waxed lyrical about the six goals in two games, but Eddie knew better

“Oh come on boss. The boys played well”

“Agree but we’ve had one league game. Opening day is an unknown and anyone can have a bad day like Forest”

“You really don’t get carried away do you? I thought it was all a myth”

“I’m just pragmatic Noel. It’s a 46 game season, let’s judge how we are at Christmas and go from there”

As expected at this level, there was no time to dwell on results, and the next game proved that, as local rivals Blackburn made the short trip. The biggest problem in this game, aside from conceding two goals, was the poor finishing, Delfouneso missing two good chances, Mellis hitting the bar with a header and Lundstram sliding wide when it was easier to score, but there was something special, Mikele Leigertwood doubling the visitors lead with a peach of a strike, a volley from fully 30 yards that left Joe Lewis with no chance. Delfouneso did pull one back late on to restore parity but it didn’t matter

If the Blackburn defeat had been frustrating, that was nothing compared to the next game, another home game that welcomed Brentford, and it was a game that they dominated. Wave after wave of orange bombing forward, but they were denied again and again by David Button, including one ridiculously good double save from an Orlandi drive then somehow tipping the rebound over the bar. Eddie feared the worst when a clumsy challenge from Mellis gave the visitors a free-kick in a dangerous position, and his fears were confirmed when Jake Bidwell stepped up and curled the ball into the top corner. His reaction and the flying water bottle earned a reprimand from the fourth official, but he couldn’t help but feel his team had thrown the game away

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The flashing lights and hustle and bustle of the Post Match Press Conference did nothing to hide his mood

“Eddie, disappointed with the performance and result?”

“Performance no, I thought we played well for majority of the game and created good chances. Result is disappointing yes, but I was more annoyed about the free-kick”

“Oh so you thought it was a bad decision?”

“It was soft, to say the least, and he went down a bit easily”

“Fabulous strike though wasn’t it?”

“Well I’m not in the business of praising opposition to be honest. My lads will pick themselves up and look forward to the next game”

--

He sat that evening with Noel Blake watching the tape of the game

“Bloody annoying game to lose that”

“I know. We were good in every area, just not clinical enough. We need a goal poacher, a real fox in the box”

“I’d love to go out and get one but we can’t just do that. Nathan is going to have to work on his finishing. Pass us a bhaji”

Passing across the Bhaji’s, Noel Blake offered another observation

“I was impressed with Andrea though. I think he might be better in the middle so he can have a free role”

“I was thinking about that actually, but the problem is who do we play on the left? And also, with Jacob and John in the middle it adds more stability”

The team had been disheartened in the lead up to the next game, which saw the Sky cameras make an appearance for the 12.30 kick off. The build-up had all been about two relegation candidates, but for over an hour of the game, there was only one team who looked like relegation fodder, and it wasn’t the home side. Delfouneso had used his pace well to open the scoring, collecting a Lundstram pass and sliding home past the ‘keeper, but from the 27th minute, Wigan took control. Oriol Riera equalised, the defence allowing him to turn inside the box and fire a low shot, and it was the Spaniard who set up the second, bullying Gjokaj off the ball and sliding in Kvist, who finished exquisitely sending the home side in ahead at the break. They controlled the game after that, Eddie watching his side give the ball away time after time, and they were punished on 73 minutes, Riera heading home at the far post from a James McClean cross. They should have had a fourth actually, Riera missing a relatively simple chance late on, but a third defeat on the spin, aswell as easily the worst performance so far, spelt trouble

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The Capital Cup had drawn up Swansea, in a game he neither wanted nor expected to win, and once again made several changes. The Welsh side played a strong team, but they didn’t have it all their own way, with Oriol, Waddington and Miller all missing good opportunities, and just before half time, Wilfried Bony slid his side in front, latching onto Shelvey’s ball and sliding home beautifully. They used all of their nouse and experience to see the game out, and Bony sealed it nine minutes from time, rifling home after jinking in and out on the edge of the box, but Eddie wasn’t too disappointed to be out, as he could focus his attentions on the Championship

“We need a result here lads. Winning, and losing, are habits, and we need to get out of this slump. Jacob, you know what to do, control the midfield. Andrea, Edu, use the flanks and whip crosses in for Nathan. Don, Pete, stay solid at the back. Do those things and we have every chance”

Eddie’s resounding words left the team in no doubt what he expected for the game at Millwall, and boy did they respond, starting like an absolute train. Orlandi struck the bar within forty seconds, and Delfouneso headed a cross wide, but it was Edu Oriol who started the scoring, playing a beautiful one two with his brother on the left before cutting inside and lashing a right footed shot into the top corner. Things were going well, and the lead should have been extended, but just before the break, Delfouneso pulled up right in front of the dugout, having been chasing a clearance down the wing. He was replaced at half time with Ishmael Miller, and the bad news continued as Ed Upson levelled things up, stealing the ball off Donervon Daniels and firing a low shot past Lewis. The more the minutes ticked away, the more animated and nervous he became on the touchline, but twenty minutes from time, things changed for the better, and when Orlandi skipped past two defenders, only to be caught by a trailing leg, Miller stepped up and smashed the penalty home. He sealed it three minutes from the end, when the ‘keeper hesitated about coming for a long ball, Miller nipped in, rounded him and sealed a much needed win

League Position – 17th

--

September 2014

“****!”

It was becoming a regular occurrence now to see Eddie slam the phone down, so Noel Blake hadn’t looked up this time, but he knew there was bad news

“What’s wrong boss?”

“That was Steve. Nathan has torn his hamstring completely off the bone. Four to five months out”

This time he did look up, twirling his pen between his fingers

“That’s not good. Think Ish can step up?”

“Regardless of whether I do or not, he’s going to have to. Steven Davies might have to get some more playing time in the next few months too”

It was a huge blow to learn that Delfouneso would be out until January, but there was nothing he could do about it. To add to that, the next month was very difficult, with three of the current top six to play. Not only that, but the transfer window was closing, although he was pleased to learn that he could still loan players in on a limited basis, and he had already set the wheels in motion to look for a striker to cover Delfouneso’s absence

The morale around the dressing room was fairly good, the win over Millwall having done plenty to help that, so when it came to his team talk before the game against Wolves, he didn’t need to say too much

“Right lads. We’re second favourites here, so just relax and play your game. Nathan’s absence isn’t ideal but Ish, it’s your time to shine. You all know your jobs, so let’s go out there and compete”

His words must have had the desired effect because the team were fantastic, holding a rearguard for the 90 minutes that frustrated the table topping visitors. Daniels and Gjokaj were phenomenal in the centre of defence, and John Lundstram was magnificent, putting in a man of the match performance. The only real poor period was the last twenty minutes, when the visitors pressed and pushed forward, but they were thwarted at every turn, and the 0-0 draw was a hell of a result

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With a near two week break for international fixtures up next, there was time to rest and get ready, but some good news did brighten things up, as Jose Miguel Cubero finished his suspension two days before the next game. He had been training with the boys so was at a decent fitness level, he just needed match exposure. It would be a welcome addition back into the squad, but Eddie still felt that he needed an engine in the midfield, for the reason that Papa Bouba Diop couldn’t complete a full ninety minutes, and Cubero wasn’t anywhere near match fit, and it was Noel Blake who had alerted him to the availability of Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Jose Semedo. The Portuguese was tough tackling and didn’t shy away from getting his foot in, and he would be a vital cog to add into the team. However, even with Wednesday accepting the offer swiftly, he didn’t hold out much hope of the player agreeing terms, but to his surprise, less than an hour and a half after his loan bid was accepted, the player’s agent was on the phone and on the way to Bloomfield Road to complete the move. Along with Cubero, these were two great additions into the midfield that would add a bit of needed steel

--

“Eddie, come in”

The chairman had requested a meeting with myself and Noel Blake, but Noel was unavailable due to a family emergency, so I attended by myself. A decision I regretted when I saw his face

“Karl, what’s up? You sounded serious on the phone?”

“Well we have a problem. Having worked out our expected financial input, we might fail financial fair play”

“Right. So what does that mean for the team?”

“Well dependant on severity there are different penalties – we’re allowed to make a loss of no more than three million in the period, and we’ve looked at it, it looks like we might be nearer four”

“I thought we were looking alright financially? Regardless, what do we need to do?”

“Well I’ll reiterate, a good FA Cup run might be useful. All TV money will go into the club, and we need to completely gut the youth team and use their wages”

“Well if that’s what we need to do, then we will. I’ll do my best with the cup run anyway, but there isn’t anyone in the youth team I want to keep especially”

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The news of the financial peril was kept strictly between Eddie and the chairman, although he did inform Noel on his return, but the arrival of Semedo had buoyed the team, and the spirit was at a season high for the visit of Watford. They were chasing promotion, but watching the game, you wouldn’t have guessed, as a fantastic performance almost brought the home side a surprise three points. Edu Oriol was the creative force, while Semedo slotted into the midfield seamlessly, making his mark within three minutes and crunching Troy Deeney, who isn’t exactly a midget, and he rifled a shot just over the bar too, but despite the half time score of 0-0, the mood was good. It got even better just before the hour mark, as the rain brought sloppy football from the visitors, and Eddie watched a great team goal put his side ahead, nice midfield passing allowing left back Joan Oriol to collect the ball on the corner of the area, and rifle a low shot into the bottom corner. Mind you, it was the rain that played a huge part in three points becoming one, Tyrone slipping while trying to intercept a pass, which allowed Fernando Forestieri in, and he slid the ball to Deeney who lashed it in for a late equaliser. It was harsh on the lads, and they got nothing but praise from Eddie at full time

--

“We’ve got eight points from seven games. You work that out over the season and I think that might be enough to keep us up. We only have to finish 21st remember?”

Blake was filtering through papers on his desk at this point

“I’m just looking at the last few seasons boss. The team that finished 21st got 44 points last year and two years ago, but 55 the season in between. So I don’t know – 50 could be a safe figure”

“Alright so we’ll aim for 50. I will say one thing though – We need to start winning home games, and we have to beat the teams at the bottom and around us”

50 points was the target for points – Eddie and Noel felt this was enough to guarantee safety, but that was a long way off – they had agreed to assess it again at the turn of the year and see what sort of position they were in. That said, they had another promotion contender to deal with, as they made the trip to the coast to play Sami Hyypia’s Brighton. They had been a little inconsistent early on and sat 9th, but they were expected to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, Mind you, they weren’t overly impressive in this game, at least going forward. They were tough to break down, as Eddie had expected with the former Liverpool defender in charge, but going forward they were poor, Joe Lewis only having one save to make, and even that wasn’t from a proper chance, The game was what could be described as a ‘bore draw’, but sometimes it was better that way, and another draw and another clean sheet had positives to look at

Having looked at the table, after eight games they sat 18th, a position Eddie would be delighted with in May, but he almost felt a pang of pain for bottom of the table Rotherham, who had lost every game thus far. Things could be worse at Bloomfield Road right?

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The games came thick and fast, and they certainly didn’t get any easier. Norwich were the next visitors to Bloomfield win, and while they weren’t winning, they at least weren’t losing, and as Eddie had aimed for, and certainly hoped, they were becoming hard to beat. This proved to be the case again, and while Ishmael Miller probably wasn’t enjoying his lone striker role, feeding on very few clear cut chances, but credit to the lad, he gave everything he had, held the ball up, worked hard and gave the defenders a hard time. He actually set up the goal too, using his strength to muscle off his defender and flicking the ball through for Steven Davies, who curled it home from just inside the area. The visitors did press forward and get an equaliser, Gary Hooper firing home a rebound from a Joe Lewis save, but once again Eddie watched his side battle hard to grab a point, and while four draws in a row didn’t sound great, four games unbeaten certainly did

“Worried about the lack of wins boss?”                                                    

Training on the Monday was sluggish, and Eddie was deep in thought when he was interrupted by the voice of Noel Blake

“Sorry Noel, miles away. What was that?”

“Worried that we’re not winning games?”

“Well I’d be a fool if I wasn’t, but on the other side we aren’t losing. I wanted us to be hard to beat and at the moment we are. Especially given the sides we’ve played lately"

“I agree. Ish isn’t gonna score us lots of goals but he’s working hard as the lone striker”

“As a team we aren’t going to be scoring loads, so we need to make sure we’re solid at the other end. Semedo has made a difference”

“Yeah he’s added stability hasn’t he?”

The fitness levels were without question, and Eddie was delighted with his lads commitment, but he was a realistic man, and after 14 minutes of the game against Middlesbrough, he feared the worst. Karanka’s side had some talented players in the ranks, and they started like a train, goals from Kike and Emmanuel Ledesma in the opening quarter of an hour virtually sealing the game. It was damage limitation time at this point, which to their credit they managed to do, Lundstram supporting Semedo, and they restricted the hosts to just one more, Mustapha Carayol dinking over Joe Lewis, and the win saw Middlesbrough go top, but more importantly, dropped Eddie and his side down to 20th

League Position – 20th

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October 2014

The next game was another on Sky, a 5.30 kick off on the Saturday, but bad news before the game emerged. Noel Blake had brought the team sheet to Eddie, a slight smirk on his face

“Team sheet boss. I’ve had to change the ‘keeper though, Elliot Parish will have to play”

“Why? Joe’s fit isn’t he?”

“Perfectly. Problem is he’s on loan. From Cardiff”

“Bollocks. Well, nothing we can do. It is what it is”

A full house packed into Bloomfield Road for the visit of Cardiff, and while Joe Lewis wasn’t available, young Elliot Parish got the chance to show what he could do, and Eddie was delighted with his impact, as he kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 win. The team were excellent in all areas, but none more so than Edu Oriol. The winger was fantastic, creating everything, and even opening the scoring, meeting his twin brothers cross at the back post and nodding it into the empty net. The Welsh side were poor, no doubting that, but the second goal came before the half time break, Oriol playing a lovely one two with Orlandi, feeding in Steven Davies and he finished it into the roof of the net. Any win is a good win, and this one showed lots of encouragement and plenty of positives

“Eddie, happy with the performance?”

He had been grabbed by the tunnel interviewer for the football league programme as they were a featured game

“Delighted. We were excellent in every area today and fully deserved the points”

“Must have helped that Cardiff weren’t at the races?”

“I’d rather focus on how well my team played today. We did all our jobs and made them as poor as they were”

“Edu Oriol was superb wasn’t he?”

“It’s what we’ve come to expect from Edu, he’s a fantastic player and an asset to the squad”

--

It was nice to get a win under the belt, but he made sure there was no room for complacency and worked the lads hard ready for the next game. As always, they responded well, and he was delighted with the spirit around the squad. The foreign lads had mingled well, laughing and joking around with the English lads as always, and though there were cliques and friendships as always at any club, they did things as a team, a luxury which Eddie permitted to keep the team spirit as high a it could go. He himself was starting to form a friendship with Noel Blake, especially with them working on a day to day basis so closely together, and that night they were in the closest pub to the ground having a pint together

“So tell me boss, what made you take the job?”

“How do you mean?”

Blake raised an eyebrow over his glass as he sipped his pint

“Well it isn’t a job that was attractive – you know you were the only applicant right?”

“I know. To be honest, I needed a fresh start, get away from everything”

“Bad times?”

“Well, I won’t bore you with the details, but problems with the ex and things just went from there. Loved the job but it was the right time to move away”

“So no ambitions? No clubs you’d love to manage?”

“To be honest I don’t. Just want to do well here, see where it goes and then take it from there. I’ve only got a 12 month deal here after all”

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The conversation and pints had flowed, so a couple of thick heads turned up for training the next morning. Eddie had no problem with his players having a drink, as long as they had 48 clear hours before the game off it, and they knew and accepted that. A trip to Yorkshire was next on the schedule, as Huddersfield provided a stern test. It wasn’t a great game, both sides cancelling each other out. James Vaughan was the standout player for the home side, and it was the former Everton striker who put them ahead, a brilliant strike that he chested down and volleyed instinctively into the top corner, but Eddie was again delighted with his side’s performance, and they got their reward five minutes from time, Orlandi swinging in a corner and Donervon Daniels powering home a header to rescue a point

“Boss, you got a minute?”

Chief Scout Joe Charlton had phone him a couple of days later as he was driving into the ground

“I’m on my way in Joe. What’s up?”

“Still wanting a striker?”

“Well as a short term option I’d love one, but there’s not much out there”

“Steve Morison at Leeds. He isn’t getting a game there and would be available on a three month loan deal”

“OK. He’s a different option to what we have. Make the offer Joe, see if we can get him in”

Morison didn’t have the pace, but he was good in the air and had strength, perfect for holding up the ball, so he would provide a decent option for cover until Nathan Delfouneso was fit, and the offer was made to Leeds to bring the striker in

--

“Eddie, I’m glad I caught you”

He had been leaving the office one night just as  Karl Oyston caught up with him

“Oh Karl. I didn’t realise you were here. Anything wrong?”

“Not at all. There’s a dinner party tonight that I have to attend, but I’d like if you were there”

Eddie’s heart sank

“Ah well, I don’t really…”

“I know it’s not something you normally would but please? I would like it if you were there and there’s some people I’d like you to meet”

He sighed. He couldn’t really say no to the chairman

“OK I’ll come. Where is it?”

“In the Conference Suite, 8pm. Smart dress though, suit and tie”

“OK. I’ll see you later”

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He had dusted off his blue suit he had worn for his first meeting with the club and headed to the ground, walking as there was a nice breeze, with his jacket slung over his shoulder. He expected a lot of older club executives and a boring night, but when he opened the door to the conference suite he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The room was aglow with purple and blue disco lights, a DJ standing in the corner and at least 50 people laughing and dancing to the music

“Eddie! Glad you could make it”

“What is all this?”

“Oh just a little idea we had to raise funds for the club. Music, booze and a few speeches later on”

He looked around the room before staring back at Oyston with a smile on his face

“Well your surprise me Karl. Not what I was expecting”

A wink and a smile back

“Us chairman like to have fun too you know. Anyway, grab a drink and mingle, I’ll come and grab you later on”

He spent an hour introducing himself to people, discussing football, survival and other aspects, before he was pulled to one side by the chairman

“Eddie, let me introduce you. This is Howard Langley, he’s the head of our sponsors…”

He shook hands, although he did look distinctly uninterested

“This is Leon Grant, he’s my accountant…”

“Pleasure”

“…and this is my step sister Natalie. She’s new onto the board this season”

Eddie hadn’t expected this. In front of him stood an attractive woman in a stunning dress, smiling at him with a perfect set of teeth

“Eddie. Pleased to meet you. Karl speaks highly of your talents and it’s a pleasure to finally meet you”

“Erm, yeah. Sorry I’m a little shocked, Karl hasn’t mentioned you before”

She laughed

“Why does that not surprise me? Come and have a drink and let’s have a chat”

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It had been a surprisingly fun evening, and anything that brought extra money into the club was always a bonus. Maybe, just maybe, things could be achieved here. There was a few days rest due to League Cup action, and he settled down that next evening to watch Chelsea take on Everton.

Three days later, he visited Nathan Delfouneso in the physio room

“How you doing Nath?”

He was working on the treadmill, just at a steady walking pace

“I’m OK boss. Frustrated to be injured for so long and it’s a slow process getting back fit”

“Well we don’t want you getting injured again, you just take your time and get back fit and you’ll be back in the side”

Training followed, and it wasn’t until ten minutes into the session he noticed he was missing a player

“Where’s Mendy?”

Noel Blake didn’t turn round from his position

“No idea. Tried ringing his phone but no answer. Might be late again”

“Again. What do you mean again?”

“Did I not tell you? He was late last Friday”

“Oh was he now? Right I’m going to try him again. If he turns up send the sod to my office”

Twenty five minutes and three phone calls later, there was still no answer. It was only through sheer luck he saw his midfielder slinking across the training pitch. He opened the window and bellowed out of it

“Mendy! My office. Now!!”

He must have walked at a snails pace, as five minutes later he sheepishly shuffled in

“I’m sorry boss, I oversleep..”

“Listen to me. If you oversleep, then you need to phone, as a pure courtesy. I believe you were late last week?”

“Ah. That was, how you say, not fault. I stay up late training…”

Eddie held his hand out to stop him

“Formose. Just stop. Consider this a warning. You need to be on time for training in future. Any more instances of lateness and I’ll have to fine you. Got it? Now get downstairs and get an hours training in and we’ll say no more”

The midfielder seemed to be relieved, jumping out of his cheer muttering thankyous and racing to get his training gear on

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Mendy had trained like a Trojan the next few days, so much so that he started on the left hand side for the visit of Derby. They used thee flanks well, both Mendy and Oriol flying down and whipping crosses in, and it was one of these crosses that led to the opening goal, Edu Oriol slicing a deep cross. However it lifted over the ‘keeper, landing into the far corner of the net. The Spaniard stood with his arms outstretched, laughing to himself, but whether he meant it or not, the score was still 1-0. They managed to hang on to thee lead until the 78th minute, but Jacob Mellis missed a glorious opportunity to double the lead five minutes before that, being the width of a stud away from converting the ball, but he didn’t and they had to settle for a 1-1 draw

“Hello”

“Oh hi. Natalie? It’s Eddie, Eddie Chambers?”

“Oh hello. How are you?”

“I’m fine thankyou. Listen, what we were talking about at the dinner party? Well I was wondering if you were free to discuss it further?”

“Absolutely. Are you free Monday night?”

“Monday is perfect. Do you want to go out…”

“OK, Monday it is. I’ll send my driver to collect you from the ground at 7pm. Dinner at my place?”

He hadn’t quite expected that, and was unsure how to respond

“…still there?”

“Sorry. Yes that’s fine. I’ll be at the ground anyway so I’ll wait until 7”

“Excellent. I’ll look forward to it”

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