Dec 6, 2012
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Ho boy. I really do love and hate this game. I've got so much to do, yet in my downtime I find myself coming back to this game far too much.

After the last story I decided to skip some time ahead; opened up leagues I would be interested in for when I did have a lot more time to play and waited. Satisfied with that, I earmarked the teams I would happily take control of, and then en route to waiting for one of the positions to open up the mother of all jobs landed in my lap when I had completely forgotten it even existed.

Not a chance could I say no, it made no sense to the story to turn it down, and no sense to me as a patriotic Brit.

The posts for this story will however likely be slower in production, though I've already played a fair part of the game, the crashes were so frequent and horrendous in the lead up to the World Cup that I've been unable to get as much done as I would have liked to already.

So with that, it's time to tell the next chapter of the manager's career, one in which I will be continuing to rip off every piece of music and writing cliche I desire! My god it'll be rife, famous theme tunes dropped in as if they were nothing. No one has commented on the music feature, but personally I've come to quite like it upon reading them back so regardless of opinion I am going to press on with it; it is of course optional anyway.

Again, you do not need to have read the previous stories of mine to do with this manager; however, the year is 2024 and the history you need to know is that at Brighton countless trophies were won and now they are the biggest side in England and one of the biggest in the world:

Then Ghana were taken to the Africa Cup of Nations and crucially the World Cup:

The pointless role of narrator to simply put a face on things was incredibly tough for this one, my do you pick from the roster of English stars who would be surely lining up to tell this story?
Brian Blessed and John Hurt would probably be too old; Stephen Fry would lick the words into your ears but does he have the gravitas for some football drama? Sean Bean is a favourite of mine and **** he'd bully that commentary but narrowly missed out.

The nameless drug dealer with a plan, Tuvia Bielski, Jake Lonergan, James Bond. Straightforward choice really.

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2022-26: Rebuilding a Nation

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((College feat. Electric Youth - A Real Hero (Drive Original Movie Soundtrack) - YouTube))

View attachment 309303
Ghana were still rejoicing, champions of the world, it had a nice ring to it.

The Manager had only one thing in mind as he departed from the African continent, home. Never had he been so worried about returning to his homeland. There would be familiar faces with smiles ready to embrace him as he arrived, but what of the English public at large? It was his team that knocked out the English and crushed their hopes yet again.

Shaved heads with earpieces in suits greeted him upon stepping off the plane; shielding from the good few shouting faces at the barriers screaming abuse, these people had nothing better to do with their day; with their flipping lives. Whenever he was to turn up somewhere, so too did the shouting.

It was weeks before the furore died down, people began to forget the pain of another tournament, normality resumed as the fanatisism of football gave way.
The England job had been up in the air immediately as Martin Jol conceeded he had failed in his task, yet little was done to pick up the falling faces of the hopeful when Eddie Howe was appointed the new man in charge.

A promising manager everyone said; he had achieved very little success when compared with all his speculated talent for command in the past. Optimism, thats the key; it was a fresh face, a new start, that was the English way...believe.


Two years passed, Brighton gained further success under Ancelotti, the footballing world cooed over the flashes of brilliance popping up all over Europe, it was nice to watch from his livingroom for a change.

Just about every single job going had been offered his way, his agent pleading with him to take some of the lucretive contracts as clubs desperately tried to lure him to their door. It wasn't about the money though he kept a folder with all the offers, maybe he'd make a collage out of them to hang on the wall, hundreds of thousands of prospective pounds.

Then it was the summer, and the Euros, Howe's chance to show his worth. The Manager watched his screen like the rest of the country.

Italy 1 - 2, Belarus 1 - 2, Austria 2 - 2.

1 Point, bottom of the group, out before the competition had even really got going. Disgraceful, utterly disgraceful.

The team limped home; likely the same fans turned out to boo their national 'stars', England were looking like a nation full of depressed individuals. The rest of Europe and the World laughed behind their arrogant smug grins; English football had always struggled to an extent internationally, but they were just a laughing stock now.

View attachment 309065 If he hadn't jumped he would have certainly been pushed. The circus started.

Sitting watching the reports he was comfortable, his wife however was not. She stared at him, a look of determined fury.


"Don't you dare take that job!"

"Huh? What England? I haven't been offered it, and to be honest I hadn't really thought about it..."

"Good, because the way they treated you when you came home from Africa they don't deserve you."

"Honey, thats just what fans do. If I had taken charge of a team and beaten Brighton I'm sure some of the fans there would be hurling abuse in my direction."

"I don't care, they shouldn't. It was just unlucky that England came up against you was all. You're not taking it!"

He held up his hands in defence and repeated ok meekly. The past years of unemployment he had learned all too well that when taking a job after the Ghana surprise that it was really her who had the biggest say in his career path. All thoughts of England went out of his mind; the footballing world hadn't even seen him for two years anyway.

It was only a day later when his agent rang. Now the offer was there, the imploring of the blood-sucker down the phone unwelcome as he let the offer sink in. His order was to delay the offer, just for a few days, he needed to get his head straight.

The argument had been fierce, she was dead set on him not becoming the manager. The intrusion into their lives would just be too much, so much strain on their family. Yet as he crashed out on the sofa his mind was a whirlwind; even his child happily watching cartoons was little distraction. The thoughts were obvious. The England Manager job was the biggest job an Englishman could ever have, it was the top.
Then there was the fact that English International football was in tatters, ruins. The world was laughing, something he found hard to take as they lauded their successes. But the English never made things easy, the job came with so much pressure, and the fans who took it too far had the potential to destroy his valued private life, the media were absolute monsters, the worst on the planet when it came to the big job.

Shaking his head he watched along with his kid; something he enjoyed doing from time to time, it was nice to stay in touch with what his nipper was in to.

Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places, stunned, he watched his revelation unfold before his child's excited eyes.


((Kick *** Score Track 10 I'm Kick *** - YouTube))

He had to take the job. England could go so much further than they were, it had been so long since they achieved something special, since they were up there with the best. He called his agent, accept the offer. His wife walked in, her face a distorted picture of both anger and sympathy. Hitting him, they hugged. It would be a rollercoaster.

View attachment 309067 His name went on the dotted line, and the head of the FA calmly pushed a shirt across the table, the badge all the manager could focus on as his hands took hold, every child's dream.
The old boys were smiling as if they'd brokered some amazing deal; the manager couldn't care less what they or anyone else thought, his only focus and goal was to shape England into one of the best, that was the galvanising force now.

They held their press conference, and the media began their customary barrage of questions, looking for the cracks even though it was their ****** team. He dismissed them all with simple answers or a rebuff. They could leap on his back and try to pile on the pressure, it didn't matter, they could all make up whatever they felt like to print, he just didn't care about them or the distraction they presented.

Business time.

((Rolling Stones-start me up - YouTube))

View attachment 309066 In his new office the phone was already off the hook. Steven Gerrard had found employment with his true home of Liverpool FC as a coach. Allowed to take an international job alongside the choice had been the easiest in his life, the new Assistant Manager of England as he followed his boss and friend for another adventure, this time at least they would be on the right side.

Next with England already having a fair amount of qualified staff in place for the first team and major roles in the youth setups he decided he just needed a few more coaches.

View attachment 309069 Keisuke Honda, recently retired was looking to get back into the game immediately. Hiring a Japanese man might have irked a few of the more hardcore English supporters, but the fact that he'd taken duel nationality after spending the entire remainder of his playing days in England would help that fact.

View attachment 309070 Finishing his duties with the Ghanaian Olympic team after a Quarter Final exit, Dave Watson too followed the Manager once more, joining the coaching staff happily.

Then there was just the gaps. Clare Houston former Brighton Physio now at QPR became the team physio; Xavi became under 19's coach, Marco Di Vaio became under 21's assistant manager, David Trezeguet under 21's coach, Scott Carson under 21's goalkeeping coach, Alan Mannus under 19's goalkeeping coach, Neil Dewship under 19's assistant manager.

View attachment 309071 View attachment 309072 Meeting with his main staff, there was just Simon Smith goalkeeping coach and Gary Neville as coach to meet for the first time. Smiles went around as clearly everyone was excited with the opportunity they all had before them, the record of the Manager was incredible, the fans already were joking that the World Cup was all but a certainty.

"Welcome to England boss" Started the former Manchester and England right back Neville. "Would you like for me to show you around the offices?"

Gary ****** Neville. The only reason he hadn't let the man go was because he was in fact a brilliant defensive coach; other than that he saw no reason to keep the bearded fool on board, especially since his influence clearly had done nothing to help all the previous England teams.

"Thanks; no its fine, Steven can show me around I'm sure...former England captain and legend ought to know his way around this place having been before." He received a grin and a chuckle from the liverpudlian.

"Right ok, well can I just say that I'm delighted it was you they appointed."

"You can I suppose, little bit awkward but thanks I guess. I guess next you're going to say something like 'It must be written in the stars'?" A little catty, but he didn't care. Neville did himself no favours. Gerrard just laughed lightly with him.
"Oh chin up Gary, I'm pleased you're here of course. Now chaps, it's time to meet the players."

"I'm fairly sure the players know who you and we all are."

"Shut up Gary. What a stupid thing to say; the point isn't they know of us, they need to know us personally so that when it comes to getting them to do as we instruct they will actually listen, then I can get them playing my football and we can start winning something at ****** last.

He looked like a smacked child. Christ. "Steven, who do you want to take since I gave you the supporting cast at Ghana?"

"Eeeerrrrrmm.....I'll take Phil Jones the captain, Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshire, Martin Bateson and Nick Powell for a start."

"Ok that sounds good."

"I'll take then-"

"Shut up Gary! I'll tell you who you're going to see." He shook his head in disbelief "Go and see Tyler Blackett, Adam Bacon, Dalian Corns, Stefan Murtagh and Kieran Rowney."

"Right boss."

"I'll quite obviously go see my old boys. Aaron Towler, Ashley Stannard, Yalcin Akarsu, Jimmy Armstrong, Jack Butland; then I'll hop over to Madrid to see Nathan Hull. Steven you either take the rest over here or delegate, I don't mind which."
Meeting over, they set about their tasks. Stepping into the Brighton's Lancing training ground, Carlo Ancelotti welcomed him personally with his customary broad handshake, the smiles between them genuine as always.

"So this time I'm not welcoming you as the shadow over my own legacy here, but as the England big cheese!"

"Stop that fool" He grinned "I just need to meet the boys and get them on the same page."

"Of course, when I knew you were coming I pulled them out to come and see you. I've got to say, they look excited."

"Thats a good start, England haven't had a lot to feel good about for a long time now."

"Si, sadly true for you. At least Italy had a good tournament to get things back to how they should be. Bella brilliante Italia!" He exclaimed with his hands flying upwards.

"Haha, I'll not say anything this time. Are you and your wife still coming over for dinner next weekend? The misses threatened me not to forget to ask."


"Marvellous, I can go home tonight."

The players were indeed thrilled at the appointment of the Manager. Their previous England duties had been regrettable, each mistake punished in the media, the fans less than kind when they came back early. Half the battle was already won with the squad; Jimmy Armstrong was now the England number 1, Yalcin Akarsu was instrumental down the left, and Aaron Towler was one of the best midfielders on the planet with a passing ability second to none. The last time he had checked, Towler was valued at something obscene over £30 million in the market, no doubt if anyone was stupid enough to put in an offer for the Brighton player they would have to break the £100 million barrier.

They loved him, and importantly would do anything he told them to, but why invent some new wild tactics to completely baffle them? They would be playing the football they were used to at Brighton in his time; all the players were there for the positions and roles, it made perfect sense.

Players met one on one, he knew Wembley all too well, so it was on to St Georges Park.

The pinacle of training centres, they were never going to be short of facilities to iron out those wrinkles with each of the players, nor left wondering how they would improvise when trying to focus on one aspect with the team. The cameras followed round the manager as he was given the guided tour, he didn't really want them there but the FA had made it clear that one part of his job was to be a face for the national side; he couldn't be aloof, they wanted a ****** smile to go with the work.

Splendid, the next step, start watching some games. Hopping into his DB5, it wouldn't be all that bad bombing up and down the country to watch the Premier League and make himself visible to the masses.

View attachment 309076 Manchester United Vs Manchester City for the Community Shield made a good start; followed by the first game of the season Hull Vs Brighton and Hove Albion.

Come mid August it was already time to meet the squad together for the first time.

12th August First Squad Meeting.

Feeling a habit was coming of it, he beckoned the camera crew following his exploits through the double doors, into the room filled with all the staff and players - looking anxious for some reason.

Rubbing his hands together with a little shrug of his shoulders he tried to disapate some of the tension. "Ooooh hooo, here we are then, the England team." He paused a moment, searching the room and making sure to lock eye contact with a few of the more senior key faces. "Right, first things first, I want to hear what you think...go on..."

They began to shuffle in their seats as the dull roar of dozens of concealed whispers rising up took root in the room. "Come on, you're all big boys, don't be shy. Phil, start us off." He pointed to captain Phil Jones.

"Well...I guess I want to know what you're going to change?"

"Yeah..." Followed many of the players in unison.

"Change. Do you think anything needs changing?"

"...I suppose, yeah I think so, we aren't winning anything."

"And what would you change first of all?"

The low buzz of the whispers rose again as Jones tailored his answer, the expression on his face clearly indicating he was probably worried over his captaincy.

"...the mentality?" The Manager rolled his hand to tell him to continue "...we just don't think whenever we face a big team that we can truthfully win without some kind of fluke..."

"Good. You're still my captain Phil." He tapped his head "Mentality, that's your problem. I know from my own experiences having players in my team at Brighton here, and those of you who we faced in other sides that you are all MORE than capable of beating the so called big teams, but after some -I'll be frank- poor management and some bad luck, the belief has gone."

Neville looked as if he was about to interject as his mouth opened in a snap; the Manager held out a hand to stop him right there.
"Of course things are going to change, but what we are going to work on first of all is trying to get you to realise that if you work together, even the underdog can punch well above their weight - just look at Ghana! Alright so they beat you, but you all watched that final against Portugal - you saw that furious desire to do all they could!

"Once you realise that you'll come to see that in fact you won't be punching above your weight at all; you are in fact one of the finest collections of players on the face of the Earth.

"So what are we going to start doing you're thinking; well, to begin we're going to get out onto that training ground and find the linkups, create some fluid movement, and for goodness sakes get some wingplay working! Yalcin, I bet you're itching to get out on that wing after years of being stuck in the middle for Carlo!"

The now 27 year old natural winger chuckled "You're not wrong boss."

"Don't tell him I said that" He responded with a quick wink. "There will however be one immediate change before you've got out there to train; I've already informed him, but Jack (Wilshire) will be ceeding the Vice Captaincy to Yalcin there."

"Oh what?! I thought that was a joke! How can you do that?"

"I'm sorry what was that?" He almost gasped with a little disbelief at the petulance.

"He doesn't deserve that!"

"Right ok. If you'd come to see me in a quiet moment or in my office, fine, but we'll do this here then. By the time of the World Cup you'll be 34 years old Jack, and frankly I don't know if you're going to make it into the squad."

"I've been one of England's best players for years! You can't do this! Besides Phil will be 34 too!"

"Except Phil plays week in week out for his club, you on the other hand are struggling to get into any starting line up for your club, and on top of that your legs have already started to go. Please, keep this little display up by all means...I've got more" The midfielder senior as he was piped down in the face of the Manager's strong words "What I suggest you do is show me now on that training pitch that you've still got what it takes, and then do the same at your club; and if I get another response like that I think you can look forward to focusing entirely on your club career."

Gerrard got up, sensing the mood needing bringing back to the one they had been in the process of constructing. "Ok fellas, we've got some set tasks to put you through, going to really seperate the men from the boys!" The Manager nodded lightly to him and brandished a smile, the players quickly followed.

"Here we go! Everyone show me what you've got!!!" He clapped his hands together encouragingly; Honda was over by the door ushering the boys up and out the door. Gerrard stepped over briefly.

"Jumped up *****, hopefully we don't have too much of that to deal with."

"Eh" He shrugged "Jack's been through the worst of it with England trying his best always, losing his rank must have felt like another slap in the face. Was kind of fun though" They chuckled together.

((England Football Song - Vindaloo - YouTube))

14th August Saudia Arabia - Home - Wembley - Friendly
A pre-arranged friendly from before the European Championships. He didn't mind the fixture in all honesty, the the Middle-East side would be an easy chance to get the players used to the tactics in match conditions. Wembley was to be the fortress now, the ground at which no side would dream of being able to beat them, regardless of the badge on their shirts.

Looking at the players at his disposal, he decided on a teamsheet which would fingers crossed resemble that of the World Cup in 2 years time. Their pure goal now was to make it to that tournament in Argentina, and he knew who would be getting them there.

View attachment 309077 The Saudi fans filling their section of Wembley must have felt that if ever they had a chance of beating England on home soil that this was it, broken as the team looked after their terrible championship. Looking to the pitch as the green shirted Arabians stood over the kick off, the Manager eyed Towler, Akarsu and Stannard.

They were the key; the three Brighton players he had signed all those years ago. Now in their prime, they played each week together, were good friends; and now that bond would be doing it for their country too.

Akarsu to Stannard 31 minutes, Akarsu to Oxlade 32, Stannard 64, Akarsu to Towler 76. 4 - 0.

The scoreline read well, they had only had two days with his staff to work on the shape and tactics but already the nation could see that his Brighton boys would be the heroes if they were to have any at all. The fans had something to sing about again already.

As the press gathered for their customary interview however, the only thought that filled the Manager's head was how stale things felt with England after the wonderful displays and carnival atmosphere of the Ghanaian supporters. He was resolved; the **** England band and their dirge playing would have to change, at the very least some more songs would need to be added to their repertoire.

It was time for the qualifiers then. Group 8 in the European section: England, Switzerland, Slovakia, Romania, Cyprus, Lithuania.
That group wouldn't pose any kind of problem, maybe the odd surprise, but they'd qualify certainly. A few more Premier League games as he'd be doing throughout the year, and it was onto the real job.

View attachment 309318
6th September Slovakia - Away - Stadion Pasiensky - World Cup Qualifier
Jones 17, Towler 27, Akarsu 36. 3 - 0.

10th September Cyprus - Home - Wembley - World Cup Qualifier
Akarsu pen 17, Christofi 42, Stannard 45, Corns 45+3, Wilshire 86. 4 - 1.

View attachment 309317
11th October Romania - Away - National Arena - World Cup Qualifier
Akarsu 7, Stannard 28, 71. 3 - 0.

15th October Lithuania - Home - Wembley - World Cup Qualifier
Towler 9, Oxlade-Chamberlain 13, 54, Danks 81. 4 - 0.

It was a simple task at each time of asking as the squad understood what they were being asked to do with increasing efficiency. They might have the odd lapse in concentration or judgement which allowed the other side a sniff at the goal, but it wasn't something the Manager was about to jump down their throats for; that would be counter-productive, this was all about building them back up, he didn't need to break them down to do it given the state he found them in.

However what was clear was the opposition strength wouldn't be enough to suit his needs anymore. The friendlies were the only opportunity to give the players a bigger challenge, but just how much of a challenge did he dare go for? It'd be pointless if they were just thrashed or undone at every step against a team such as Spain or Portugal, Brazil or possibly even France at this point.

Germany. The nation considered a fierce rival from the British end, the European powerhouse couldn't really care less about the English football team and whatever threat they posed. Perhaps they could change that. The next generation of German stars were well and truly making their stamp on the international scene, taking them down would be a scalp worth the effort.
13th November Germany - Home - Wembley - Friendly
Of course they had accepted the offer of the friendly, to everyone who was looking on from the outside it appeared to be a good chance for the Germans to display their superiority once more before they move onto bigger tests such as their much bigger rivals the Dutch.

View attachment 309231 Wembley filled with the two sets of eager supporters; the English were well aware of how dominant they had been against all opposition under the current Manager, if they could get anything against the Germans then that faint spark of hope they had forming might be allowed to grow into genuine dreams.

England kicked off, and starting smartly the ball was retained expertly as the Germans sat back attempting to soak up the pressure.

Yalcin Akarsu, Aaron Towler, Ashley Stannard. Those were the names once again.

The Manager had taught them in their youth how to attack determined compact sides, the efficiency of the German's defence would stand for nothing if they didn't know how to take on the clever dynamic pass and move of these three south coast stars.

Akarsu had it and was off down the left as England biding their time early on released the sprinter, his marker falling behind all too quickly. The centre back came across to try and close him down, limit the options as they regained the shape with bodies piling backwards. A shimi to the left, it didn't take much and the defender was sold.

His eyes looked up, Stannard was there timing his run just a few paces back of the defensive partner. One more touch and the setup was complete, across it went, and the goal at his mercy all Ashley had to do was calmly roll it home. 1 - 0 in 5 minutes.

No flips or wild celebrations, the Manager had warned them about those so early on into the game, Germany kicked off, and just as they felt their attack was building Akarsu had it again. He cut into the middle, Stannard was with him, with the defender wise to his footwork at the last second he laid it off to his attacking counterpart.

Ashley darted with it, the keeper came, famed for one on ones he would have the better of the England striker no doubt, his legs wide and arms high he'd seen the tapes of Ashley Stannard, he knew he would hit it right or take a touch and use his pace; he readied himself, eager to make the dive and look the hero. Stannard shaped up, the keeper poised on his toes...and sideways the ball went.

Speeding beyond the fullback, Aaron Towler knew all the time where the ball was going, to his feet, and into the back of the net. The three of them all immediately celebrated their team's second goal. Germany begrudingly reset things, and looking far more cautious held onto the play for a while before probing again.

They didn't want things to settle, that wouldn't do at all. Stepping to the edge of his technical area, the Manager cupped his hands and gave out the instructions to his boys. Press, and push up to do so, hem them in.

A skeptic might think the gaps might begin to show as they played a higher line and chased down every ball, but he knew what he was asking of them. Germany happy to try and keep the ball and wait for their chance suddenly found themselves with a lot less time to organise their plays.

View attachment 309235
Hull and Weatherby were becoming a nuisance for them, forcing their desperate attempts into the air, the German boss was screaming his head off likely telling them to keep it on the deck. Too late.

Taking the initiative, Phil Jones raced onto a clearance to rise above the Centre Forward trying to play a simple knock down. The header went flying up the field, Towler had the space as it came down, the Defender turned with a simple piece of skill. He looked up, out to the left Akarsu was off. Over the top beyond them all, Akarsu's legs were so much faster. One touch to take it inside the box, the second to blast it into the opposite high corner. Wembley were on their feet again. 3 - 0 to England.

Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain out on the right wing came across before Germany were in place to take their third kick off of the half. It didn't take a lip reader to tell he was asking for some love out on that side of the pitch, the three Brighton boys were so far having all of it in the attack, it could get embaressing.

38 minutes he got his wish, striding clear of the defence, the keeper once again came out to meet the attack, only for Oxlade-Chamberlain to cooly pass it across to Towler rushing into the middle of the area. 4 - 0.

The Germans looking shocked to the core and unable to cope stuck it out to half time. They might as well have just packed their bags and gone home.
Weatherby struck it sweetly from the edge of the area on the hour mark; Stannard with his absolutely unbelieveable pace blitzed the exhausted defence on 85.

England 6 - 0 Germany

View attachment 309238 The visiting supporters looked unimpressed as the final whistle blew. What had just happened? England danced, the pundits dug out the superlatives that hadn't already been thrown about during the 90 minutes. 2024 had been a rough year initially for the English to take, but at least they ended it with something to cling to, a performance which really sent a statement to the rest of the world.


((Pulp - Babies - YouTube))

How to challenge the squad after the high of the Germany win? The hosts of the coming tournament, and another rival, thats how.
4th February Argentina - Home - Wembley - Friendly
He didn't feel they were quite ready to start playing these kinds of sides on their own soil just yet, it was simpler to keep to Wembley and finish forging themselves into world beaters first. Besides, the fans would find it much easier to attend rather than just those with bottomless pockets of cash able to jet off around the world at a moments notice.

View attachment 309243 It was still all about their old hero Diego Maradona for the Argentinians. Lionel Messi despite Ballon D'ors almost every year of his career with Barcelona had failed to promote his talent into inspiring the national team to victory. Their forgotten years of the 80's were starting to become much alike England and the 60's.

With the tournament coming their way in a years time, their belief in a home victory was well founded; their group of players were reaching their peaks just as England's were.

England however, without Aaron Towler as he picked up a knock just days before still dominated from the off. Unable to find the net in the first half, it wasn't until the 57th minute that Weatherby found the Argentinian goal. 1 - 0 was a good score against such strong opposition even if they had failed in a number of their promising chances. Knowing that some important fixtures were coming up for a lot of his players the Manager made mass substitutions, give the fringe players and some youths a chance to play against the best Argentina had to offer.
As the clock drew close to the 90 minutes, Lucas Ocampos, the hope of the Argentinian people for their coming World Cup decided to take the initiative and play outside of their gameplan, it hadn't been working. Taking the ball in the middle where he was way out of position, rather than lay it off he just took off, diagonally bursting past the internationally inexperienced English replacement.

Armstrong had let his concentration go with nothing to do all game, Ocampos got the better of him and the whole defence with a snap shot from range. 1 - 1.

View attachment 309247 The South Americans celebrated as if it was a victory when the final whistle went. It was just a friendly, so the slip didn't matter, and the positives far outweighed the negative of the late goal; they had controlled the entire game against a formidable opponent, and whats more they'd done it without their midfield lynchpin and half an hour of replacements.

25th March Switzerland - Home - Wembley - World Cup Qualifier
Towler pen 1, Oxlade-Chamberlain 13, Hull 54, Frey 65. 3 - 1.

As April reared its head, Brighton strode clear of the chasing pack in the Premier League table to win the title, it was becoming a habit as the Seagulls had built on the previous success to bring in more players who were the top draw talent.

The victory for the Manager's boyhood club however was marred with some regret, and unfortunately Carlo Ancelotti decided that after so many years in the game it was time to call it a day and retire.
Head Coaches and Managers around Europe immediately began to state how much they admired Brighton and Hove Albion as a club, what a wonderful philosophy they had there, it was a really attractive place to go to manage and anyone would be lucky etc etc. It was all bullshit, they just were trying to state their own case for the job under veiled words so as not to anger their own club's supporters.

View attachment 309272 Tony Bloom wouldn't be drawn on who was to be the manager, his usual bright smile disappearing whenever he saw a flock of reporters all desperate to hound him into releasing his thoughts. The England Boss watched on as the BBC reports kept coming, Sky Sports News, ITV, they were all making it their headline story since the Albion had grown into England's biggest club.

The phone rang, unexpectedly, it was almost midnight. Bloom.

He'd been in negotiations with the English FA, and after some pushing and pulling they were willing to allow the Manager to take control of both Brighton and the National side, they felt he was showing enough competence in the position that he could handle it.

A formal offer would be sent, but was he interested?

The conversation was merely minutes, but as the offer reached his brain it seemed to last for an eternity. To manage both his beloved Brighton and the National team, that would be incredible...he could buy up all of the English talent over the years and then promote them to play for the country. Youths would gladly joing the academy to train under the England Boss to gain a better chance of reaching the national squad.

Looking across at his wife's vexed features he began to see the situation with more clarity however. In her narrowed sleepy eyes and unimpressed expression he saw just how the career would be it. He'd have no time at all for his family. Whenever Brighton duties were done it would be England duties, and visa versa. Then how would he handle the talk of bias towards his own players playing for the country?

The answer was no. He had to carefully tread the line between his private life and job, and taking his job seriously as the leader of the nation's squad, there couldn't be any doubts over his commitment and loyalties. Putting the phone down, she didn't even ask what the conversation was, just kissed him on the forehead and went to sleep. He lay there for hours; dreaming of the perfect world he could have managed it.

View attachment 309275 Frank De Boer was appointed Brighton boss, £2 million compensation to Dortmund. The Manager knew his style of play, he liked to use the wings and speedy individuals to man them, that would help his own cause. Give it a week and he'd head down there to meet the Dutchman, offer any help and hopefully make another firm friend as he had in Ancelotti.


6th June Slovakia - Home - Wembley - World Cup Qualifier
Skroback 12, Stannard 27, Towler 49, Stannard 72, Towler 84. 4 - 1.

It was time for another friendly, and this time he decided after the way Ukraine had shown their pedigree against his Ghana side that they would be the opposition. In fact they had been doing the business against a number of teams around the world, so a stern challenge.

View attachment 309281
10th June Ukraine - Home - Wembley - Friendly
Stannard 6, Corns 34. 2 - 0.

The smiles they turned up with disappeared quickly with Stannard's goal, the lightning forward making short work of the defence with his unmatched pace. Corns wrapped things up early on and then the subs were made to give experience elsewhere.

It was 2025's season and a rinse and repeat of duties. Malmo Vs QPR in the Euro Cup Qualifiers; the Community Shield Manchester United Vs Brighton and Hove Albion. Both entertaining enough. However as the weeks were passing his mind was on one thing. The next hurdle he had lined up for them to jump over.
13th August France - Home - Wembley - Friendly
Another rivalry, it was good for motivation and for the public; especially if they won.

Kebede 10, Towler 45, Tsengwa 61, Stannard 69, Towler 90+4. 3 - 2.
And that was why the Manager placed such faith in Aaron Towler. Superb.

5th September Cyprus - Away - GSP Nicosia - World Cup Qualifier
Jones 75. 1 - 0.

9th September Romania - Home - Wembley - World Cup Qualifier
Weatherby 2, Avram 6, Hull 72, Stannard 74, 87. 4 - 1.

View attachment 309319
10th October Switzerland - Away - Stadion Letzigrund - World Cup Qualifier
Stannard 65, Jones 70. 2 - 0.

14th October Lithuania - Away - S.Darius and S.Girenas Stadium - World Cup Qualifier
Huxtable 2, 7, Sterling 21, Urba O.G 31, Huxtable 45, Bennet 86. 6 - 0.

Group 8WDLGDPts

Job Done, they were not only going to the Argentine next year, but they were going there with the world wondering what else they had in their locker. England were back on the map; not yet a side where the name was feared long before they showed up, but they were getting there. It was time for some more challenges to push the limits.
14th November Brazil - Home - Wembley - Friendly

View attachment 309286 Neymar now the aged veteran of the Brazilian side tried his best to work his magic as he had been doing for Manchester United all year round, and with a World Cup winners medal already he was well known as the danger to defences in his yellow shirt. But Keisuke Honda had sat down with the Manager, set the task of finding his weaknesses specifically which they could exploit.

They worked. Removed from the game, it was left to the rest of the Brazil team to try and make the moves work. Dalian Corns kept things even before the break just, but as they re-emerged the tie was so closely fought out. Cracking tackles taking place all over, stylish passing from both teams; it was left to Ashley Stannard to become the hero and gain England a win over the South American giants of football.

Gilberto 44, Corns 45+3, Stannard 90+2. 2 - 1.

Where to go from there? Another rival perhaps. Feeling they were now ready with the win over Brazil, it was time to leave the safety of Wembley Stadium.

18th November Scotland - Away - Hampden Park - Friendly
Wilshire 8, Stannard 16, Wilshire 27. 3 - 0.

Easy enough. 2025 only had a few more things in store for the England management, they came in form of office work and the chilling group draws.

The flight out to Argentina had been a nervy one; he remembered the fear when sitting in the seats as Ghana boss before their name was plucked out to go inside the easiest group. What a tournament that had been, and with the experience of it things could only go even better he told himself.

Gerrard one side with Keisuke beyond him; the manager was rather excited to have Prince William grinning alongside him to the other.

View attachment 309290 A Royal trip to Argentina to try and get the **** South American nation to stop from constantly deflecting their domestic problems politically with English bashing over the Falkland islands was going well, but with his duties as the president of the English FA he decided to share in the nervous excitement of the Manager and his staff.

Seeded first, that was better than Ghana had to work with.

"Group B, England."

Early on, that was good, now who would they face? The other groups all filtered out, each nation murmering between one another as they discovered what letter they had to start printing.

"B: Ukraine......" What luck! They knew them well already and could easily the Manager felt get the measure of them again for the big occassion.

"B: Chile........" A South American team, they were planning to go to the southern continent to practice in the climate, that fit in with their plans. Now the hopefully whipping boys of the group.

"B: Iran...."

England, Ukraine, Chile, Iran. They would take that all day long. The fellas all shook hands with one another, it was a silly gesture to make as they had no control over the draw, but they made it all the same to express their approval for how things had turned out.

A few weeks later they were back in Europe for the European Championship Qualifying groups draw.

Group H: England, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Liechtenstein.

Simple again. The Office staff for England also pulled their finger out before the year was done and arranged their training camp for the coming tournament; Colon de Santa Fe, where their first group game will be held against Chile. Everything was coming together perfectly.


It would be a while before they got the team together again to work with. Games were watched as usual, the media each time making some big deal out of the presence of the England Manager. Already they were becoming a problem as the year of the World Cup appeared on the calendars. Speculation was stupidly erratic; on the one hand they hadn't lost under the current boss, beating Brazil, France, and the emphatic win over Germany.

Yet there were always factions who seemed they would like nothing more than for England to fail again. History was weighed against the exploits of the current team, oh they'd crack under the pressure, England always did, they hadn't got anywhere worthwhile in a long time now.

Fools, they were just looking to further their own careers rather than holding the nation's interests at heart. If they just reported what was going on, gave a little artistic touch to what the future may hold and then just let the growing optimism of the nation take the lead then they may just yet enter the tournament with the ideal platform.

3rd March Mexico - Away - Reliant Stadium - Friendly
The Mexicans were after their impressive exploits at the last World Cup a team to be reckoned with; they had some real world beaters in their attacking lineup, strikers who were playing as the focal point for some of Europe's top sides.

View attachment 309292 Fierro and Esparza they were called, and the pair of them knew they could score against just about any team they faced.

The white shirts of England started brightly, both teams cancelling out. 42 minutes Murtagh broke the deadlock from a corner, something England were getting better and better at hitting the back of the net from. In fact all set pieces were becoming a speciality to partner the enticing open attacking play.

Unfortunately with Aaron Towler out injured there wasn't a chance for him to show off his free kick skills which fell just shy of the legendary David Beckham.

View attachment 309293 Instead, Carlos Fierro seized upon some English complacency just after their goal and as they re-emerged a real end to end battle took place, delighting both sets of fans as they left the stadium together.

Murtagh 42, Fierro 44, Bateson 52, Esparza 72, Edgerly 74, Fierro 86. 3 - 3. A very credible result.

On the homefront Brighton were again performing well in Europe though the league looked beyond their grasp in De Boer's first season at the helm. The Manager went to see their Champions League Semi Final against Inter; The Europa League Final between Manchester United and amazingly the recently relegated Queens Park Rangers; and then as the season drew to a close, Brighton Vs Porto in the Champions League Final.

2 - 0 to Brighton. It was the 6th time Brighton managed to lift the top club trophy and the 2nd since the Manager left 7 years ago. Even now he had trouble believing it fully when he saw the timeline they had carved out; in just 14 years Brighton had gone from being a second tier middle team, to the most prolific and well known club in the world.

Jimmy Armstrong, Yalcin Akarsu, Aaron Towler and Ashley Stannard now in May had themselves a Champions League winners medal. They'd take that atmosphere and throw it into their only remaining goal of the season. It was the final stretch, five friendlies and they were there.

With all the dates booked, they would do things backwards unfortunately due to scheduling. No matter, they would get their tour of South America before heading to Africa to take on some of the best sides there; the invites had been too good to turn down as the African teams continued to stake their place in world football as they were on the rise.

View attachment 309295
25th May Chile - Away - Nacional - Friendly
Bryan Soto red card 4 mins, Hull 11, Stannard 45+2, 53, Corns 74, Rubio 77, Stannard 83. 5 - 1.

View attachment 309297
28th May Uruguay - Away - Estadio Centenario - Friendly
Corns 11, Hull 25, Corns 43, Towler 65, Bateson 77. 5 - 0.

View attachment 309298
31st May Paraguay - Away - Defensores del Chaco - Friendly
Towler 3, Stannard 9, 15, Towler 30, Romero 48, Weatherby 66, Edgerley 81, Towler 86. 7 - 1.

((John Barry: 'Zulu' Main Theme (John Barry Memorial Concert at Royal Albert Hall) - YouTube))

Three games, three wins. It was on to Africa, the mood within the squad so high it would be more difficult getting them to concentrate on the tasks at hand than anything else. The plane over he insisted that they stick Zulu on as somehow most of the players had yet to see the 1964 film, it didn't matter that geographically they were going to be nowhere near where it all happened.

Half of them just played cards or slept; he would refrain from forcing them, it would be silly to risk damaging the mood even if they hadn't watched an absolute classic.

View attachment 309300
3rd June Cameroon - Away - Stade Omnisports Ahmadou Ahidjo - Friendly
Bacon 2, Hull 44, Towler 56, Hull 61, Murtagh 67. 5 - 0.

View attachment 309301
7th June Nigeria - Away - Abuja Stadium - Friendly
Hull 12, Towler 27, Stannard 36, Akarsu 60, Opara 73. 4 - 1.

A staggering 26 goals in 5 games, just 3 conceeded. The morale was as good as it could get to head in with; the media were thank goodness laying off the pessimism and instead believing they had a real shot at the goods.

Still yet to lose, England were ready.
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The World Cup 2026

View attachment 309442


The history always filled the Manager with regret; a childhood that every member of his generation shared, its moments of euphoric fist pumping as the English heroes produced something sensational always smothered in the absolute heartbreak of a so nearly, of a defeat.

((Quantum of Solace soundtrack- Camille's Story - YouTube))

Not this time. 2026; 60 years of hurt...30 since he could remember that night as a 10 year old, Gary Southgate's best effort sadly rolling into the welcome palms of the German, how he cried himself to sleep that night.

It had felt like a cruel dream, everything up to that point was just as it should be, it was storytelling afterall...things went the way he wanted because the good guy won in the end always. Early lessons for young minds, England were the good guys alright, but they didn't win.

Standing up in the plane he looked down the rows of seats, his squad all smiling with anticipation for what lay in store.

"Ok boys listen up a second." He placed his hands on the seats either side of him, his coaching staff craning their necks to look at the side of his head from the front where they always sat. "I know you're all excited about this, rightly so its a World Cup, but I need to inform you of some things to watch out for.

View attachment 309459 "Argentina are still kicking up a big fuss over the Falklands, I know - its stupid, but the sad fact is that when we arrive there are likely to be a few protesters. You're not the government, nor the military, and you've earned the right to be at this tournament...but just be aware that you're the most English thing that some of the more feverant locals can get at.

"No disappearing off for a night out, no welcoming back the local ladies for a bit of fun - not that you would of course because your wives would never approve and you're all serious monogamists I know. If the press gets ahold of anything at all however small the Argentines will use it, make you a scapegoat and blow things out of proportion.

"So best behaviour, and I mean that. We're here to play the game better than anyone else, when we've won the thing we can do the partying back in England!"

A cheer went up through the cabin before the lovely looking ladies of British Airways padded through to inform them to fasten their seatbelts, they would be arriving shortly.

View attachment 309460 View attachment 309461 View attachment 309462

Far fewer angry South Americans greeted them than he had expected, perhaps the reports were meant just to scare them into taking all available precautions, or perhaps the growing density of the English supporters crowd when they realised the team had actually arrived made them pause for thought. Politics wern't his concern anyway, so long as no one gave them undue trouble, they would keep their minds fully on the task at hand.

View attachment 309463 The buses ready and waiting, it was off to Santa Fe to prepare for their first group fixture, North West and luckily not too far, though it would be like crossing all of England.

Maybe it was the spectacular scenery, or the concious willingness to reserve their energy for the crucial moments ahead; but the bus was quiet. Such a change from the madness of the Ghanaian team in motion, always singing and banging something, creating a party atmosphere wherever they went.
The English had headphones on, switched off and let the time roll by. Good, getting their heads right and bodies ready was important, nothing could be left to chance if they were to break the hold history had over the nation.

View attachment 309683 Santa Fe had something to offer for charm and looks, but when one travelled the world and saw the skyline of every nation's metropolises they had to be captivating or unique to take the breath away. He'd always had a liking for Bruges and its wonderful architecture.

Gerrard and Honda were experienced at organising players, they were both veterans of the international scene, Neville also. Directing the players upon arrival, there was no incident, nothing to get worried over. Into the hotel, and then the following morning out onto the training field.

View attachment 309685 Fitness was good, the banter was pinging back and forth. The Manager had discussed with his staff what they needed to work on upon getting down to it; there was re-hashing the preparations for Chile and the Ukraine, Iran wouldn't need much work to get right. But then there was what lay after. It might seem arrogant to be preparing that far in advance, but to be caught without a plan would seem much dafter than to be looking ahead now.

They went through each player, looking at who would likely play in each fixture and what shape to take since it was all on neutral ground. He felt that their ages should be taken into consideration also, whilst some of the older players might be substitutes here the Iran game would present a chance for them to get into the starting lineup for probably the last time at a major tournament.

Goalkeepers: Jimmy Armstrong - 24, Jack Butland - 33, Dave Hirst - 25.

Defenders: Phil Jones (c) - 34, Dalian Corns - 25, Adam Bacon - 25, Dean Burton - 29, Stefan Murtagh - 27, David Ware - 25, Tyler Blackett - 32, Sekou Boukie - 23.

Midfielders: Aaron Towler - 29, Yalcin Akarsu - 29, Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain - 32, Nathan Hull - 25, Lucas Weatherby - 28, Nick Powell - 32, Danny Edgerley - 25, Kieran Rowney - 26, Dave Nicholson - 26.

Forwards: Ashley Stannard - 25, James Huxtable - 28, Martin Bateson - 25.

The first names from each one in their 4-5-1 system would be their prime choices; Aaron Towler key to any success England were to have.

View attachment 309692 The Manager and Gerrard turned out to greet the press in their new exotic setting, the major papers having sent their premier reporters to pose the 'difficult' questions and generally irk the Manager as much as they could.

Q. "Brazil have been made the favourites for this tournament by the bookmakers, with Spain, Germany, Argentina, France, Italy and Holland and Portugal all close behind. What are your thoughts about the omission of England in any talk of winning the cup?"

A. "Good, there'll be less pressure this way if each game we go into they feel we are just going to slip up. The lads can play without weight on their shoulders and score for fun like we have been in all the matches leading up to this."

Q. "You bring attention to your impressive series of results before now, England are yet to lose under your charge. Do you think personally that you can lift the trophy?"

A. "No I don't, I just fancied a nice holiday in sunny Argentina with the press following my every move. I hear they've got a great waterfall up on the northern border, I can't wait for when we get dumped out early so I can go and visit it."

He sat back in his seat and rolled his eyes, exasperated over the stupidity of the question.

Q. "Given you've already played and beat Chile and Ukraine in previous friendlies, if you progress from your group without too much trouble who would you like to face?"

A. "Am I going to get another good question or was just the one my limit for this session? Mexico, Sweden, Paraguay or really doesn't matter, we'll play any of them. What manager has ever really answered that question straight out for you?"

He looked to Gerrard, the Assistant gave him a face which summed up his own boredom with the situation they were bound to. Maybe it was the heat also getting to him besides the lack of topics he actually want to discuss.

Q. "You're decision to leave out Jack Wilshire and a few others has been met with a lot of skeptisism by the public back home. Given Jack's record for England, do you not think it would have been prudent to include him in the 23 man squad?"

A. "......What do you think? Had I have thought it prudent then he would already be here wouldn't he? Jack didn't make the cut as he wasn't the best man for the job, thats it. The players here at the ones I have faith in, I've seen what they can do and so have you all."

It was a pointless waste of time; each reporter spending more time trying to probe for answers which would never be forthcoming rather than asking the questions which should have been asked. All that followed for the remainder of the conference was a pattern of questions over players who wern't there rather than the ones who would be actually lining up to do their bit in the white shirts. The media were nothing but trouble, and had far too many idiots filling their own ranks.

Ignoring all further requests to spend time with the press, it was left to the media to generate the hype on their own in the build up to the first fixture.

View attachment 309733 Lineker: "Hello there and welcome to Santa Fe, it's June 2026 and that can only mean one thing. It's England, and here we go again!

"Joining me are Liverpool Manager Alan Shearer and former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen. Gentlemen, we've all seen the build up, some promising things, but the Manager has been a little short of patience in front of the cameras of late, do you think that's a reflection of some discord in the England camp?"

Hansen looked to Shearer with a little raise of an eyebrow, the look all the Newcastle man needed to take the lead in the question as a fellow manager.

Shearer: "No I don't think so, he just hates fielding ridiculous questions which I think anyone can associate with. The press spent more time in that meeting asking him about players who aren't here at the tournament than those who are, if that were me I'd have probably had a few choice things to say myself."

Lineker: "Yes...well we won't get into any of those." He flashed that award winning grin, the one which had made him the lifetime salesman for every British person's favourite brand of crisps. His hand motioned to Hansen "You've been saying some encouraging things in the previous games leading to this point; no one else seems to be giving our boys a chance, any thoughts to the contry? Could England do it this year?"

Alan Hansen sucked in his breath for a moment, a little rising of the chest as he pondered his opening.

Hansen: "Well, never say never. England have been very good in their attitude toward the teams they've faced under the current man and the goals have made for some pretty stuff; but it takes a lot to look beyond the favourites for the cup...Brazil have since the loss at Wembley gone onto some real dominating wins, and the Spanish have matched them step for step.

"It's too early to rule out teams at this point, Italy and the hosts Argentina have been cranking it up through the gears over the past month...but England might be in the picture if they hit the ground running."

Lineker: "Of course they will be, we'll do it won't we?" The three men chuckled together "Lets have a look at how the lions got here..."

((One Vision - YouTube))

13th June Chile - Group B - Sante Fe Community Stadium
View attachment 309751 Time to get down to it at long last; it had been 4 years since his last taste of the greatest footballing tournament, this time it was with the crusaders instead of the carnival.
Chile apparently fancied their chances, they'd learnt from the friendly the manager apparently was saying to the cameras. Rubbish, a fully fit and high in spirits England were never going to be denied.

Guillermo Sarabia O.G 22, Jones 30, Stannard 38, 72. 4 - 0.

A commanding performance throughout, there wasn't anything to be said beyond it was the perfect start and just what they had been asked to do. Back to the training ground to wind down before the next installment.

18th June Ukraine - Group B - Godoy Cruz Community Stadium

Unfortunately England had been given the short end of the stick with the locations for their fixtures. Should they win every game they would be visiting just about every city with one of the fresh crop of stadia built for the competition. At least the travelling was something the squad were used to, and more than that they knew the opposition well enough. The fancy dress in tow, they lined up against the bright yellow of the Ukraine.

View attachment 309755 An opening win against Iran for the Eastern European side, again much alike the Chileans they believed they now knew how England operated and could get the better of them.

Akarsu 19, Oxlade-Chamberlain 64. 2 - 0.

It was another 90 minute full domination, the Ukrainians got nothing out the fixture, in fact the only positive was the gritty defending and their heroic keeper which kept the scoreline as low as it was. England had already qualified for the knockout stages. With their win and only Chile to play, at least the Ukraine supporters still believed they would be progressing beyond the groups.
23rd June Iran - Group B - San Miguel De Tucuman Community Arena

Iran in comparison to the others in the group knew that their chances of a result against the English was slim at best. Already heading home as the other spot would be the Ukraine or Chile, they were now playing for honour, trying to get whatever possible moment for their fans to cheer in the stands and back home.

Stannard 17, 21, Akarsu 42, Towler 58, Stannard 81. 5 - 0.

It wasn't a charity match, they were there to win and win by however much they could. Saving his players toward the end of the match, the squad was a mixture of the aged and the key players as he had previously thought on. The only regret was the injury to Adam Bacon, the first choice left back. Of course they had cover, but losing the man who by far the best choice for the position was a blow. 2 - 3 weeks, with any luck they'd get him back before the competition was done.

Group AW

Group B

Group C
Czech Republic201+16

Group D
DR Congo102-23

Group E

Group F
El Salvador102-53

Group G
South Korea111+14

Group H

Germany and Brazil exited the competition immediately to the shock of everyone. The Brazilians just never found their rhythm despite still managing to stick a hatful into the back of the net. Germany, their camp was in total disarray, similar to the scenes of the French years ago, players falling out with the manager, the fans didn't help matters getting into trouble unusually for the Germans.

It was an understatement to say that the English felt no sympathy for their fellow Europeans departure, having them out of the competition removed any chance of a revenge match for the spanking they received last time.

27th June Sweden - Round 2 - Cordoba Community Arena
The Swedish and the English; the two nations had played each other on a number of important occassions, the record between them surprisingly close despite the English turning out arguably stronger teams on paper. That had always been the case with England though, they looked good on paper, but not as a team.

View attachment 309779 The Swedish were in good voice, fully confident it seemed of a Scandinaivian victory. So too were the English, three lions booming from the stands as the anthem survived the years. The referee blew the whistle and they began, England taking the initiative right away.

Quick play, fast closing down, it was wonderful for the English to watch, terrible for the Swedish. Every moment on the ball they were hampered and panicked into making a mistake, unable to keep possession cleanly as the English just kept coming on and on, most of the ball at their feet they tried to find the gaps.

There wasn't any opportunities for them to get at the Swedish defence as their holding players did a fine job of shutting down anything which dared to develop, but it was all England.

Until a long ball caught Corns out of position. Through the Swedish striker raced, Armstrong spread himself as the pair came together. A cheeky **** over the top, and Sweden had an unlikely lead against the run of play, 13 minutes Mikael Ishak.

That wouldn't do at all. They restarted smartly, the Manager calm as it was just a fluke, no reason to get bent out of shape as there was still a lot of football to be played. His side found their stride once more and as the Brighton boys continued their probing of the Scandinavian defence the cracks began to emerge.

23 minutes Aaron Towler drove a low rocket in; Ashley Stannard broke clear twice to slot home sweetly, 43 and 60; Danny Edgerley on for Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain rounded things off for England on the 87th minute. 4 - 1.

Nathan Hull, crucial in their midfield picked himself up a knock right before the game was done. The physios told the manager 2 - 3 days till he was fit again; that would be a problem, the quarter finals would take place before he was back to 100%. Again there was cover, but it wasn't ideal, he was the best central midfielder they had, Aaron Towler only showing his best when sitting right behind the striker.

Second Round Results

Mexico 2 - 4 Ukraine
Sweden 1 - 4 England
Holland 2 - 1 Turkey
Czech R p1 - 1 France
Italy 2 - 0 Belgium
U.S.A 0 - 3 Spain
Argentina p2 - 2 Ghana
S Korea 0 - 3 Portugal

((Three Lions 96 - High Quality Song and pictures - YouTube))

3rd July Holland - Quarter Final - San Miguel De Tucuman Community Arena
View attachment 309790 The sea of orange fans, it was the Dutch. Time to break out the videos of Euro 96 again, that one game where we thoroughly beat a big team in a major competition. Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham, what a strike partnership.

Holland were of course the favourites, their line up impressive as always and some of the play on show had been splendid to watch as their midfielders created plays defence were dumbstruck by.
Fortunately their key players were well known to the Manager; Roel Djik the left back who had a penchant for getting forward and netting a goal or two was Brighton's current player, and though one of the best left back's in the world, he wouldn't be up against Akarsu.

Rob Bosschaart the center mid of Brighton also and David Creemers now plying his trade in Madrid were the big dangers. But he'd signed them both, he knew their strengths and weaknesses, that would count for everything surely.

Nerves took centre stage as both sides lined up for the anthems. The fans sang with everything they had, but despite the songs before the whistle, minutes in they were all but silent for fear of somehow upsetting what was unfolding.
View attachment 309801
It was England again who took the ball and made the better of it; the Manager was out of his seat when Akarsu cut in from the left and cracked the bar with an effort, so close to dipping in as the goalkeeper fell backwards, eyes wide open with desperation.

Holland wouldn't be shown up, they had the power to create chances too. Bosschaart close to one himself before fluffing his lines in a nice move developing for another. Jones and Corns at the back were rigid in holding their shape, the offsides racked up for the Dutch forwards, nothing was getting past either.

Sensing the tie might be slipping away, the Manager was on his feet again, one hand about his mouth the other waved in great sweeping motions. "Attack!!! Forward!!!!"

England poured up the pitch, Weatherby finding Oxlade-Chamberlain out on the right. Djik looked to have the better of him as he closed down the aged England winger, yet he and every other orange shirt were caught off guard when he sent the ball high and across the pitch, the play switched...Akarsu collected it with one touch and was off.

Stannard made the run, his eyes always flicking between his teammate and the space he was running into. More and more frantic the looks became as he was running out of space, timing his run as best able before he hit the accelerator and blew every defender away. The crowd started to become agitated, Yalcin had to release it! He had to do it soon surely....

The winger took one more look up, it was now or never to Stannard as he approached the box. His foot drew back, the defender rushed in to make the block, and Akarsu weaved inside. His head was up again, see the goal, size it up, bang.

30 yards out, the ball shot into the back of the net. No keeper in the world would have saved that no doubt went over the airwaves. 35 minutes and a precious lead.

Holland composed themselves, they had been in the tie as much as the English, all it would take was a bit of magic just as Akarsu had just produced. Reformed, they began to slowly build up the play, taking their time. Bosschaart found the space in the middle of the park, Creemers each time the ball coming up to him knocked it down and backwards to retain the possession.

42 minutes, Djik got forward, whipped in an early cross to David Creemers, and challenging Armstrong in goal the Dutchman won the header. Into the back of the net, an equaliser.

View attachment 309804 The fans went nuts; prematurely. The referee had been blowing his whistle as the stands drowned out the noise, the linesman's flag up...he was adjudged to have challenged the keeper unfairly. The Manager raised his eyebrows, it didn't look unfair, but he'd been in this situation before with a lucky break...he'd take that decision all day long.

Half-time, England were in good shape. The Dutch came out looking angry, their goal should of stood and they knew it, but as things stood they would be the ones exiting and all they could do was suck it up and get on with it. The pushed up, pressing the English and mirroring the play used against them. Yellow cards came out, Holland ran at the fullbacks, tried sliding through their forwards beyond the centrebacks.

Nothing was doing. Cancelling each other out, the fans of both sides began to chew on their nails, their shirts, anything. It rested on a knife-edge, England with the lead, Holland with the momentum.

Almost 20 minutes to play, the English substitutes were made; Kiaran Rowney for a battered looking Dave Nicholson, Hull on for the tired looking Weatherby, his fitness deemed enough to see out the 20+ minutes remaining.

The fresh legs worked, England started to show some attacking promise again as the Dutch legs faltered. They hit the post, the centreback cleared off the line...England were close, but time was running out. Attack is the best form of defence, they threw themselves into trying to bag that second goal. Aaron Towler collected it on the centre spot, around one he went, he looked out wide to Oxlade, a feint! He dove into the space with the ball at his feet, both centrebacks bore down on him.

Akarsu had made the run. The ball looped over the top, Yalcin took it on his head, and before it touched the ground lashed his boot at it to send it high into the roof of the net.

The fans reconstructed the giant flag with their tiles, the stadium shone with St Georges. 90+2 minutes, it was the semi-finals for them.

View attachment 309813 Holland had the ball out of their net in a flash and were back at the centre spot ready to kick off. Creemers passed it and ran, Jan de Jong from midfield bursting forwards as if it were the last thing he would ever do.

Back to Creemers it went, he turned and sent it high up the field. De Jong bullied Jones out of the way, turned and sent a screamer low to Armstrong's right. 2 - 1, 90+3 minutes!

English fans gasped, silenced. That was it for added time, the Dutch couldn't pull of a miracle...

They kicked off, and almost as soon as they had the final whistle blew. The stadium roof lifted off; England, were into a World Cup Semi-Final for the first time in 36 years.

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Quarter Final Results

Ukraine 1 - 2 Czech R
England 2 - 1 Holland
Italy 1 - 0 Portugal
Spain 2 - 0 Argentina

England were ecastic, a World Cup semi-final again! After so long it felt like it was the end of a long uncomfortable road. They would be taken seriously again for sure with the Holland victory, not to mention their convincing wins over the past 2 years.

Yet as the rest of the population were rejoicing over the dizzy heights of the penultimate stage, the manager wasn't ready to call it day and pat them all on the backs. He had won a World Cup 4 years ago, and he wanted that trophy again with his home nation.

The team gathered for their next match, one which would test them further than they ever had been before. Italy.

View attachment 309815 The Italians had been playing supremely well, knocking out the Belgiums was a good sign of their power, but the victory over the Portuguese should have been by more than 1 goal alone such was their flair and prowess.

((Gone in 60 Seconds Original Score))

Taking a deep breath, the manager addressed his players as he always did, yet with some nerves evident in his voice as he fought to control himself visibly.

"Guys, everyone. A Semi Final, well done! If we lose tomorrow, you can go home with their heads held high, they love you already for what you've done. England expected, and you delivered."

The players smiled brilliantly, pleased to be hearing some recognition for their achievements.

"However, I won't be happy if that game tomorrow is as far as we are to go. I don't need to mention 4 years ago again, but...that feeling...."

He paused, another breath.

"Just win. Do it for all those that came before us; for God sakes do it for yourselves and for your entire country! Think of those legends who lit up a generation, gave it their all and emerged as icons for every generation that will ever follow:

"Sir Bobby Charlton..." View attachment 309818

"Sir Geoff Hurst..." View attachment 309819

"Sir Bobby Robson..." View attachment 309820

".........Bobby Moore...." View attachment 309821

"Every one of these men epitomised our nation; determination, strength of heart...they never gave up, never. Heroes every one of them...their names will live forever. Think of your own boyhood heroes; David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer, Paul Scholes,---"

He looked across to Steven Gerrard, the man's name not needing to be said before the squad all hanging on the every word.

" all you can, have no regrets...none. Play with your hearts and your heads; make the Spanish and the World believe that you deserve to be in this final! Make them all believe that you deserve that trophy...champions of the world...."

It was getting heavy, he took a final deep breath.

"**** do it for Sir Michael Caine!"

They exchanged puzzled looks after the buildup of legends.

"The Italian Job?" They looked blank "Oh **** ME!!! You haven't seen the Italian Job?!! Right, win, else I'm going to sit you all down and force you to watch every ****** film I **** well please, and that golden legend didn't just have Zulu or the Italian Job mind...Escape to there's a stonker of a football film...."

((italian job theme - YouTube))

8th July Italy - Semi Final - Lanus Community Arena

Buenos Aires again at last, with any luck after the coming 90 minutes they would be playing out one more final game to cap their tournament.

Gianluca Caprari and Jonathan Menichini. Striker and midfielder, two of the key players for Italy, and once again the Manager knew them all too well. Brighton players bought by him, trained by him. They loved him as the Dutch boys did, but now his knowledge of them would be removing them from the game, he'd see to that.

If the big screen was to be believed it was the battle of the morphsuits rather than the two nations. It seemed Ghana and the African teams wern't the only ones who showcased all manner of eccentric fan displays.

Italy kicked off, and looked good with it.

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Despite what the Manager had thought, Menichini was beginning to pull the strings. He'd always had the look about him of an Italian midfield conductor, he'd seen that in him a long time ago. Now wasn't the ****** time for the lad to be showing it though.

They made their first attack, Simone Pizzi who had been netting most of Italy's goals made a smart run, England looked undone, except Tyler Blackett the replacement left back's sliding clearance...he looked keen for the fixture, desperate no doubt to impress upon the Manager incase they made it to the final with Bacon almost back to full fitness.

With England on the ball, Towler sized up his options. Stannard and Akarsu made runs, but Oxlade looked to be in good space. He offloaded it to him and sped forward himself. The aged Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain held it up, he let the white shirts push forward before releasing a cross, it was heading to Towler.

The Italian defenders marked up, got where the ball was going and it had the look of a simple clearance already. Weatherby got up, the ball skimmed the top of his head and jumped toward the box. Aaron tussled with his man, but as they turned to get beyond the line and after the ball the defender slipped, Towler was through!

6 minutes, the keeper was furious as with no chance he dived all the same, but never got near the thunderous strike from the midfielder. 1 - 0 to England!

View attachment 309834 Their little caper was coming off already. Sitting back, they'd play the counter-attack for the rest of the game now, let the Italians come to them.

And thats just what the mediterraneans did; Italy looked a threat from every move, Caprari came close with an effort from 25 yards but Armstrong was having a cracking game.

Simone Pizzi starting to have a bit of a battle with the keeper managed to smuggle the ball clear of the England defence. The commentators did their best to hide the disappointment and remark fairly on the play as it looked like the Italians would level things up, yet as the shot rocketed from the striker's boot Armstrong smashed a wrist against it with reflexes amazing even for him. The crowd were starting to sound like spectators to a fireworks show with their 'oooooos' each time the stars plucked something out of nowhere.

Menichini dropped back to the edge of the box as another attack looked on the cards, the Italian winger beating Burton with consumate ease. In it flew, Jones cleared...but as it dropped down to the feet of Menichini the white shirts began to brace for impact.

It cannoned off his foot, clipping Pizzi before it caught Hull full on the back. Armstrong was wrongfooted! He pushed his ankles to their limits, knees dipped, and throwing himself with everything he could muster his body curved through the air as his hand sunk low, his fingertips angling toward his far corner, brushing the ball just wide of his post as it kissed the woodwork on its way out.

The Manager could even hear the press officers behind him somewhere screaming their delight for the incredible save: "My Word!!!" "Incredibile Salvataggio!!!" "Ausgezeichneter goalkeeping!!!"

Italy looked a little shocked, hands raised to scratch heads as they wondered just what they needed to do to beat this keeper. England cleared the corner as the nation watched on from screens all over the land, agonising over the prospect of a World Cup final as the game still could go either direction.

The Italians turned to face their own goal, and in a moment realised they had been caught out. Akarsu raced down the left breaking free of all opposition.

Towler got up with it, the defender closed on the winger making good ground, he passed it sweetly to Aaron, Aaron gave it straight back cutting out the defender in an instant as Akarsu continued his run. Just the goalkeeper; he side footed a little one underneath the man to calmly roll into the back of the net. 2 - 0.

The Italians tried to pick up the flow again, but England on the break again hit the crossbar, and were but a whisker away from another.

Another 45 minutes, but Italy looked done. A half time teamtalk had ironed out the problems they were having with the blue shirted onslaught. Working their space and taking their time, Nathan Hull got himself one from the edge of the area on 59. Still the Italians couldn't find an answer, though they kept the ball and pushed up, each attack amounting to nothing. Blackett to his horror clipped Caprari out wide; the yellow card came out. He'd miss the final.

A look to the bench with his distraught features told the story; the Manager brought a finger to his chin and lifted it. The man understood, he still had a job to do.

Finally with the game all but done, Burton downed Pizzi in the box by accident. The replays showed that Pizzi didn't take a lot to send to the ground, but with 3 goals to the good they didn't fear too much. He got up the moment the penalty was given, scored it, grabbed the ball out the back of the net...but all too late. 3 - 1.

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Semi Final Results
England 3 - 1 Italy
Czech R 1 - 2aet Spain

The Manager once the scenes had died down got his players out of there. The Hotel was picketed with a blanket of reporters, the fans adding to the masses as they all seemed desperate to get a piece of the England stars.

He called Gerrard, Honda, Watson, Smith, Neville, and any other member of staff to one side. Keep everyone and every distraction the **** away from the team! It was bubblewrap until the final. They would do their training, fulfill arranged press meetings, and then they would keep to themselves.

They couldn't leave anything to chance.

England, in a World Cup Final.

((Independence Day [OST] #8 - Base Attack - YouTube))

12th July Spain - Final - Lanus Community Arena

All day the fans had been preparing, making themselves ready for the occassion they had been praying for all along; for most of their lives. Flocks of supporters roamed the streets, unsure of what to do with themselves other than sit nervously in bars and parks to deliver their predictions.

Those with tickets but a team who didn't make it aligned themselves, and for a change it was the English getting some extra support. The Spanish, such a force for so many years now were seen as the firm favourites, and the English despite their international standing gained the underdog masses. Anyone without a tie to Spain became a supporter of the St Georges Flag.

View attachment 309871 Night fell, Argentina was ready. The World made time; every television an audience beyond its usual capacity.
The players and fans sang their anthems with that little bit more gusto; the tense atsmosphere of the climax a rising menace to those lacking courage inside the stadium, its stands echoing the tens of thousands chanting their chorus.

View attachment 309890 The Spanish coach Josep Guardiola called to his players as they readied for the start of it all. The man looked confident, his players looked relaxed despite the occasion. They were without a doubt one of the strongest collections of players alive, every position had a star in it who was a master of their trade, with another only slightly behind ready to fill the spot.

It was all up to his own heroes now.
View attachment 309893 Phil Jones the Captain would need to keep his line more perfect than ever now. Spain kicked off, and the stands began to shout plainly their versions of "Come on!!!"

The red shirts knew what they were all about, the ball flew back and forth well before any white shirt got near it. The movement was exceptional, even with England's pressure the Spanish were just playing on another level.

10 minutes, Fresno took it at the edge of the area, turned and let fly. Armstrong saw it late, but getting across turned it onto the post and out. They were shakey, was it the Final itself? The Manager was up on feet shouting encouragement, it was doubtful they could even hear over the roar of the crowd.

They cleared, but nothing seemed to be working. The midfield collected the ball, yet were shut down in an instant, nowhere to lay it off as each runner was picked up.

Spain pushed harder, the gaps would form they knew it, they kept coming....Mikel Martin their magician of the tournament and dangerman worked himself a fraction of a gap 16 yards out. England realising the worst was about to happen plowed bodies forwards, too late.

23 minutes Spain had the lead, their players arms outwards as they played to the fans, the scenes of red and yellow fluid as the supporters leapt about in a frenzy.
View attachment 309902

"Get the midfield back!!!" The Manager cried, Stannard and Towler waiting for Spain to join them again before they resumed. Hull and Weatherby were getting overrun, Towler was ineffective in his creative plays, the wingers were being forced to drop back rather than bomb on. It wasn't working.

They were irresistable, football even they hadn't shown all tournament. The English commentators were aghast with what they were seeing, struggling to find the words of encouragement for those watching at home. It looked a matter of time before more went on, England had nothing.

Fresco was pulling Corns all over the pitch; his movement was too much, the Chelsea defender didn't know whether to get tight or give him space, the strength of the man could roll him at any moment, but give him space and who knows what he would do with it.

Back from injury Bacon was covering, and Jones was doing everything to make sure his line didn't falter again. Weatherby was dropping deeper and deeper, Hull unable to orchestrate anything still was defending with the rest of them.

Fresco called for it, he received and took a touch bursting at the English back four. Jones lunged in with eyes for the ball; the Spaniard flicked his foot over the ball and changed direction in a second. Corns fearing it was just him now steadied himself, backing up as the man raced toward him. Was he going left or right? Left or Right?!

Through the defenders legs Fresco rolled it, darted about the side of him, and curled it beyond Armstrong. 2- 0.

The England bench couldn't restrain themselves from showing their appriciation, it was goal of the tournament for certain, it just had to come against them was the crying shame.

Turning to his coaches, the Manager asked for a notepad, quickly.

He scrawled something down, turned to Gerrard and had him boom the orders out, England playing it between their back four as they figured out what to do.

They staggered to half-time, holding back the Spanish hordes with fiercesome willpower and teamwork.

The Manager just apologised, he hadn't known Spain were capable of turning it up further still. He'd seen football of this calibre, but never Internationally.

They had 45 minutes...just remember what they came for, remember the occassion, and now know that they have nothing to lose.

Give Everything.

England kicked off, back to Hull, he waited. The Spanish blasted at them, players picking up their counterparts as they sought to close England out of the game agian, rinse and repeat.

Hull flicked it up and over the attackers head, picked it up and looked to his side. Oxlade-Chamberlain was going, and the look in his eyes said he could beat his man. Over the top Hull crafted a pass, the defender and Oxlade chased it, the old winger never on a normal day would have outstripped the Spaniard, yet today he found that extra something.

"Come on..." muttered the Manager. Get that ball in...

His right foot smacked it sweetly, into the box it went. Stannard climbed into the air, the defender beat him, out it went. Towler raced onto it, first time!

The angle rang out throughout the stadium as the ball sailed back out for a throw in. He covered his face with his hands, figures in the crowd mimicked not knowing what else to do. So despairingly close.

Spain were rattled, and on came the English now; the attacks were so fanatical almost in their drive that Spain were only just coping, Guardiola flicking gestures at the midfield to get back and muck in. So many red shirts, it was a nightmare, 9 players at all times were behind the ball, protecting that precious two goal lead.

"Come on boys....COME ON!!!" Cried the Manager, his fists that pose of pure hope as they clenched by his sides. The English prayed, they were having it all but they couldn't find that end result.

He glanced at the screen, oh christ...where did the time go?! With each attack it seemed 5 minutes disappeared, and now looking desperately back to his players he bellowed with all he had.
"THE CLOCK BOYS! EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT!!!!!" his voice went hoarse, screaming his lungs out. Hearing their Manager, the fans built up a storm in the stands, every England face roaring their encouragement, their final hopes.

Jones copied, he pointed to Towler, Hull and Akarsu, and bawled out his lungs with his final commands surely. The ball played back to him, he darted past Fresno's outstretched foot and went for it.
View attachment 309909 The Spanish got a foot in; Jones tackled them back at once. Hull gave him an option and taking the pass he turned and went himself. The fans roared harder still, 85 minutes, England had to do it now!

Akarsu went down his wing, Hull spotted it, waited, and released. It cupped onto his foot the skill was so perfect, the defender exhausted chasing him all night was in no mans land; Yalcin Akarsu cut inside, the centre backs bouldered over, squaring up to take him out.

Stannard dropped back a pace, Akarsu fed him the ball, and into the back of the net it sailed. Textbook. England let go a cry of agony and joy, the screaming so maniacal as Ashley sprinted to claim the ball out the net before the keeper could take hold of it and waste the remaining precious minutes.

The Spanish tried to stick it back to their rear guard and play out the final minutes; the English would have none of it as the Manager joined the stands again, Gerrard was on his feet crying out, Honda was there even bawling his heart out.

Towler pressured and pressured, Stannard with his incredible pace and acceleration was on each defender the second before they got the ball. Oxlade-Chamberlain threw himself into a tackle, and won it!! Down the wing he went, the whole of England held its breath, his eyes up, the ball shot inward. Stannard tried, the defence that inch higher, it skimmed across, out to the left.

Akarsu was there! He looked up, in the ball went again; oh god the heart couldn't take it, the fans had nothing left as they screamed and cried. Towler got a forehead to it, pushed by the defender it dropped outward, the side to Hull....through to Stannard!!!
The 89th minute! He took one stride, the defender tugged with an arm, pulled him toward and slashed a desperate rash boot at it; Stannard went down!!

The ball rolled into the keepers arms, he scooped it up with a theatrical dive onto his front, anything to waste time he thought; but England were furious! Ashley Stannard writhed in agony as he clutched his shin, every player in a white shirt surrounded the referee, Spanish shirts tried to fight to get inbetween the English and the official but they wouldn't be denied their protests.

The man in black waved them away, the linesman kept his flag down. The commentators of every nationality, the stands, everyone saw a penalty!! It was as clear cut as they could get!!!

The yellow card came out for the captain, and for Hull...the players backed off, the expressions on their faces crystal pictures of their emotions torn to pieces.

Spain got it into the corner, ran down the clock, and the final whistle blew.

Spain 2 - 1 England

((Gandalf falls - YouTube))

Every Spain shirt ran about with the adrenaline high they were feeling; mouths open with achingly wide smiles everywhere to be seen in red.

England, dropped to the floor, defeated, heartbroken, crushed, disgusted.

All they wanted to do was leave as soon as possible. The torture of watching the Spanish jump and dance about, hugging anyone else who brandished the same grin. Their runners-up medals small consolation for the effort they had given; their chance at the prize still felt like a mugging.

The trophy lifted up, confetti plumed out, and Champione rang from all Spanish mouths.

Cameras on the pitch tried getting into the face of the Manager, he held a hand out, no words. Walking over to his players he put an arm round any of them still struggling to cope with the raw emotion of the loss. His staff assisting, they got them back to the changing rooms.

The evening dragged on, English fans filtered out of the stadium, not wishing to witness the scenes any longer. Disbelieving patriots at home continued to watch their screens, somehow hoping that the picture would change to the real one, the one where England won and all was right with the world at last.

Eventually the Manager emerged, heading to the corner for an interview; the BBC man was a least kind as he held out the microphone.

Q. "I think I can say from everyone here and in England, I'm so sorry..."

A. He shook his head a little, forcing an obviously fake smile "No; it should be me that apologises. Last time around I was the one out there still jumping like a fool; yet I couldn't get it to happen for my own country. I feel sick, and I can't apologise enough to every loyal devoted Englishman."

Q. "Now none of that is required, for the first time since 1966 England made it to a World Cup final, I'm sure when all of the initial pain has subsided the positives of this competition will start to show their worth. Congratulations on the success you've achieved, do you have any idea how you'll build on this fine campaign?"

((A Bridge Too Far Theme - YouTube))

A. "Mmm, I've been thinking. I think that perhaps this time around it was just a bridge too far for us. Next time, who knows how far we can go. I believe all the way, I always do with each time the three lions step out onto that field.

"We've got some work to focus on for the European Championships which are to be held in Sweden in two years time. I know I'd like nothing more than to depose the Spanish as Champions of Europe, I'm sure the rest of you will join me in that."

View attachment 309926 Lineker: "Well, where do I begin with that..." Hansen, Shearer and Lawrenson all laughing "The man stole my closing line! I'll let him off this time."

Argentina gave the English no stick; they'd been robbed of their chance right at the death, a worst enemy wouldn't wish that treatment upon anyone.

It was another good tournament. A lot of travel, a lot of sights. England had a new set of games to crow over, victories they would be proud of for another 20 years should any more be shy in being forthcoming. Buenos Aires staged their show and got some drama to attach to the Cup that was theirs to give; they hadn't managed it themselves, but they'd given a good account...and most nations bar a few giants felt they could go home having achieved something credible.

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England had covered themselves in glory, even if they fell at the last.

Stiff upper lip, it was all the beginning of something. The Manager wasn't going anywhere just yet.

On to Sweden.
2026-28: Sneers turned silent

View attachment 326690

((D:Ream - Things Can Only Get Better - YouTube))

The genuine hopes of the nation were well and truly back; children who hadn't known years of the many campaigns which had just deteriorated to nothing; floundered, fell away beneath a wash of underperformance and anguish cried to their parents over how unjust it was to see the world cup in hands other than their own.

Knowing smiles greeted them; smiles which had seen the red cards from the moments of madness, the managers who had failed to even qualify....the penalties. England were back, the world still tried to mock they had a fluke tournament, Greece did that once but got a trophy for it. Never mind what they said, they knew as well as the hoards of white shirted proud faces did that now was England's time, at last.

Great throngs cheered as their national heroes emerged from the plane; chants followed every step of the way, the profound sadness of the ‘what only’s buried beneath the rallying cry to back their boys, a nation united against a common enemy for once as club rivalries stepped aside for a summer.

The Manager spoke to the cameras, turned down any and all requests for the limelight, took his thanks, and slept for a week as his family revelled in the birth of their newfound status despite not coming home with the goods.

Despite what he may have wished however, the work was perpetual while he remained in the job, much like the sport itself was seemingly without an end. Arriving at the offices for the first time since returning home all staff were on their feet in waiting, their applause a moment they had all clearly been anticipating since the beginning of the final.
View attachment 326691 He smiled, waving gingerly at them whilst feeling a little out of sorts, noticing then that somehow a few suspect pictures had made it into their workplace.

First a picture of himself next to their prized emblem, a photograph all England managers were subjected to as he understood it; his posture and face one of obvious discomfort at having to perform the necessary event to succeed at his job apparently. Yet quickly glossing over his own mug as a few faces in the office cottoned on to his acknowledgement of the new additions he grinned broadly, Gerrard and Honda both approaching as he took note of its neighbour.

View attachment 326693 "Haha!!!" He burst, pointing to the vast wall scroll of Gerrard hanging dominantly alongside his own laughable portrait "Oh it’s like looking in a mirror!" The three of them chuckled together as Steven did his best to move onto business.

"Heh, yeah. So erm we've got the friendly all booked..."

The Manager assumed the same bold pose as the picture of the former captain, puffing his chest out as his eyes looked seemingly into the distance. Raising his voice for the room he gave an unapologetic grin to his assistant "I demand that anyone who is stood still for more than 10 seconds in this office must pull this pose else face a forfeit!!"

Honda and the staff all chuckled at the expense of their England legend as those stood over the desks of colleagues immediately heeded the order of their boss. Waving his hand with the tail end of his laugh, he forced his face to recognise that it was business talk time.

"Sorry, yes, the Russia friendly. Should be a good way to resume things as we foresaw. Is everything already fully organised?"

Keisuke spoke up before anyone else nearby might "The ladies were just telling me that there was a problem with the hotel, but that it’s all but sorted now."

"Good good. Right" He rubbed his hands together "Off to a European Championship then lads!" They smiled together, as Gary Neville realising he was late to the gathering meandered over.

"Hi guys"

"Gary" Nodded the manager.

"I noticed they didn't get a picture of me up on the wall" His voice trailed upwards at the end of his sentence, the question implied where it might be.

Keisuke looked to the defensive coach, his face completely deadpan as they paused for what the Japanese man might even contemplate saying "Oh I think I saw yours on the cubicle door...."

Following the customary viewing of the Community Shield match, Manchester United versus West Brom this time, the gears reset to first as England prepared to go through the motions all over again.

View attachment 326699
12th August Russia - Friendly - Luzhniki Stadium

England ranked third in the world following the World Cup, and truthfully Russia looked as if they wouldn't put up any kind of resistance should the Three Lions have retained that fighting spirit which took them so close to the top. As the teams paraded out into the field, the Manager looked about behind him to see the fans who had journeyed into the heart of Russia to follow their nation. Spying the gaze of their man in charge, a fan turned his back, evoking a welcome smile from him as those around held their arms aloft, ready for the coming celebrations.
Towler 13, Stannard 16, Oxlade 36, Korneev 41, Towler 69, Huxtable 90. 5 - 1.

The fact that they had opted to play in the confines of Moscow did little to deter the English romping to victory; just one lapse blighted the scoreline. Under a month until their next challenge then.

Just as he would do throughout the year, the Manager began to attend the key fixtures of any and all teams containing those English players showing promise. It didn't matter how lowly the side was, should there be a skillful individual someone drew his attention toward for putting in some worthy performances, he showed up to cast an eye. The home grown talent were pulling the strings alongside the best the world had to offer, making sure they were not to be outshone. That was except for in the ranks of Manchester City.

The billionaire club had a number of English players, one of whom was a certain for the national side as Dalian Corns held down a regular place in the first eleven. The rest however, were being relegated to the substitute’s bench more often than not, and with little to no playing time, regardless of their skills they would be finding that the Manager would be reluctant in giving them that longed for phone call.

View attachment 326730
4th September France - Friendly - Stade de France

The mainland neighbours were already a force on the international scene since they had manufactured their conveyor belt of talent successfully to create a host a world class individuals. Playing them on their own turf represented a fair challenge to the English.

Akarsu 7, Corns 50. 2 - 0.

The French had no answer to the tactics, shut down at every opportunity, their weakness of defending set pieces became a glaring flaw to the analysts pouring over the 90 minutes of football as viewers gradually peeled off to find their beds. Every sign was there to those who wished to acknowledge them that the English were still on the rise.

View attachment 326731
8th September Greece - European Championship Qualifying Group H - Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium

Qualifying begun, and away to the only team perceived to be a threat within the group. The Manager saw no real problem where the media speculated danger.

Edgerley 14, Akarsu 34, Edgerly 45. 3 - 0.

The games would then tumble effortlessly before the public's screens as witnessing opposition fall away who were viewed as being scrapping for second place right from the off became a routine practice for the supporters of England.

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9th October Bosnia and Herzegovina - ECQ Group H - Wembley
Edgerley 12, Stannard 22, Oxlade 26, Idrizovic 36, Jones 50, Palmqvist 66 O.G, Sehic 74, Edgerley 84, Stannard 87. 7 - 2.

View attachment 326733
13th October Montenegro - ECQ Group H - Pod Goricom Stadion
Towler 3, Corns 27, Stannard 35, Rowney 70, Stannard 81. 5 - 0.

((Def Leppard - Pour Some Sugar On Me (lyrics) - YouTube))

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18th November Brazil - Friendly - Wembley
It was, somehow, regrettably becoming a bore watching England smash half a dozen goals past the meagre opposition. The great comfort in the easy viewing was the now distant memories of when the three lions used to actually struggle against such sides.

Just as with all previous international management years the Manager decided that with the doldrums of these matches he could continue to pepper his team with challenges more befitting their current status and form. Just as he had done in the past with Ghana and this England side, he looked to the likes of Brazil to see just where they really stood in their progress.

It hadn’t been a hard decision for the Brazilian FA to accept the invitation to Wembley once more, they knew that the English were still making progress as a side and pushing onto new heights each year that the same players were turning out together; but they needed a victory of their own against a team now recognised as a threat.

Following their utter failure at the World Cup the Brazilian people had been rocked to the core, never really could they have envisioned that their always impressive national side could fail to even climb out of their group, the added shame of exiting so early increased by taking place within the borders of their rival neighbours.
Optimism wasn’t in short supply for the South American supporters; they knew too much of victory in their past and the feeling of arriving anywhere to a congregation of nervous smiles writ upon their opponents features. The yellow shirts kicked off.

Gilberto 2 minutes, slipped beyond the last man and brushed it home beneath the body of Armstrong.

8 minutes, the striker wrong footed Boukie, and with the space curled a sumptuous effort to glide beyond the outstretched arm of the England keeper. 2 – 0 Brazil.

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The Manager watched with horror as the stands bloomed their incredible cacophony of green and yellow, drums banging as ladies clad in all manner of attire danced with smiles which seemed ever reaching. He turned to look at the bench, realising that in the move by the South American’s he had risen to his feet, amazement at how appalling his boys were at keeping them at bay.

Were they asleep? Were the tactics wrong? Inside 10 minutes and 2 nil down at home was bad regardless of who the opposition were. He beckoned Gerrard.

“Quickly, thoughts.”

Steven could only puff out his cheeks “They’re asleep….” He shrugged “What more can you say? No point changing the tactics since they haven’t been following them.”

A boot from Jimmy in the goal having picked the ball out sent it back to the strikers, who looking a little unsure of themselves moved to reset the action.

“OI!!!” roared the Manager. English eyes looked over, the Brazilians still enjoying the feeling of redemption. As soon as he had their attention they knew any words he might say; the gesture of pushing his hands violently out with the palms slanted toward the sky would have been enough, but a face like thunder sealed it. They were playing ****, they knew it, and unless they sorted it their England careers may well be up for debate.

Yalcin Akarsu realised that as Phil Jones was failing to find enough fitness and match readiness for the time being to make the first eleven of these matches it fell upon his shoulders. An arm out as he looked meaningfully to his teammates, they restarted with some purpose, eyes suddenly with a burning desire to stamp some authority.

Oxlade 16, Stannard 22, Murtagh 47, Stannard 52, 66, 72.

Four goals from striker Ashley Stannard, assists aplenty from the usual faces in midfield, a team such as Brazil as bright as they had been looking for all their flair and creativity was thoroughly crushed.

View attachment 326750 The English cheered and whooped as they marvelled in the result, a similar feeling like that of the demolition of Germany only heightened by the manner in which is was delivered. The media lavished praise, rightly so.

2026 was nearly at an end, yet as the month of December introduced itself the Manager was requested to pick up the phone, an old Harry Kane was feeling he had to convey something to the England boss.

“Hello Mr Kane, speaking.” As his P.A. passed on the details just prior.

“Afternoon Sir” the lad tried. Sir, he didn’t like being called that, he hadn’t even called his father Sir. Such a title would only ever seem acceptable to him should he find himself kneeling before his royal highness for his deeds.

“What can I do for you Harry? I understand you needed to speak with me before the year was out.”

“Yeah, yeah I felt I needed to speak to you directly. See I’ve been playing pretty well.”

“Yup, I suppose you have yes, some decent enough performances for your side.”

“Right, so I was wondering why I haven’t been selected for any of the England games? Alright so my season didn’t end with the kind of performances I am putting in now, I got to understanding why I wasn’t in Argentina….but surely now I’ve done enough?”

The Manager let him speak his piece before calmly delivering the blow “I know what good things you’ve been doing for your side Harry, but I also know what your weaknesses are, where you play best, and what style of play you like to utilise. Certainly you’re a talented individual there is no denying that, but unfortunately for you I’m afraid where you play best and where I would use you should I call you up there are at least two people who have consistently been outperforming you.”

“That’s rubbish! I’ve been playing better than Aaron (Towler) and Kieran (Rowney)!”

“If I agreed with that then I would have called you up to the squad already, wouldn’t I? I’m afraid you’re 33 years old, and these players called ahead of you just have more to offer the side currently.”

“My age should have nothing to do with it!! Adam (Oxlade-Chamberlain) and Powey (Nick Powell) are both old and still get picked”

“Adam is still currently the best player for his position, you know that as you see what he does, he also plays week in week out as captain for Juventus, a top European team. Nick Powell is finding his playing time with the England squad less and less on the other hand as he is being kept out by Aaron and Kieran.”

“I can’t accept that you’ve already made up your mind about this.”

“I never say never Harry, but you need to understand that I’m not being unfair here, you just aren’t the best man for the job even with your good run of form.”

“No, that’s not on. If you’re going to not pick me, then I’m going to make it public”

He could only let go of a sigh, such blind obstinate behaviour was impossible to deal with. At the end of the day he only wanted the man to realise that it was unrealistic to assume a few good weeks would result in dislodging Aaron Towler one of the best and consistent attacking midfielders in the world from his spot.

Sure enough a day later the red tops were splashing the story on some spread inside their covers of the apparent feud with the England boss and Harry Kane, how he was retiring from the international scene until the current manager moved on from the position.

Not a single care was given.


Brighton found themselves having a change of guard as Frank De Boer found his job increasingly difficult to manage with the huge level of expectations the club demanded these days. His position in upper mid-table of the league enough despite progress in most competitions to see him packing his bags.

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Truthfully the Manager didn’t feel any sympathy; he had offered the branch of friendship when he took the role at his old club on the south coast just as he had done with Carlo Ancelotti; except the Dutchman was uninterested.

He had stated quite publicly when taking the job that whilst he had the utmost respect for the Manager; that he was going to do it his way and didn’t need the help of the England boss to achieve any success. It was understandable, a man wants to achieve his own success rather than seemingly borrow that of others, but it wasn’t the right way to go about things, Brighton was very much still his club both as a supporter and the way he had helped transform their fortunes.

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Antonio Conte made the journey from Juventus to fill the leadership position, a stark example that despite the Italian giants own reputation even they couldn’t hold onto their long time manager when faced with the lure of the Albion, such was their standing in Europe and the World.

Not making the same mistake, Antonio gladly stated that whilst he would do things his way, he would be picking up the phone before long to the England boss to have a friendly chat about the club he was now in charge of; England, and some lovely wine.
Smiles all round, that was how it should be done.

Watching games, various meetings such as with the new Brighton man in charge, and congratulating Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain on winning the World Golden Ball and World Player of the Year at the sagely age of 33; the first Englishman to win either award for more years than should have been the reality.

Time with his family, it wasn’t until March that the workload would pick back up.

((Queen - A Kind of Magic - Original Movie Version (Highlander) - YouTube))

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20th March Mexico - Friendly – Wembley

Aaron Towler picking up a knock saw Nick Powell make a start, that wouldn’t do anything for the ego of Harry Kane. What the man did do though was repay that faith almost immediately in a tight but ultimately boring encounter.

Powell 5, Rocha 57. 1 - 1.

No one was too bothered, the Mexicans had been picked for the fixture as they were the only other side who alongside England were making great headway in the International Footballing world. Little by little each time the sets of supporters met they were coming to recognise one another as welcome rivals in their pursuit of glory.

26th March Liechtenstein - ECQ Group H – Wembley

Akarsu 2, Stannard 5, 11, 29, Akarsu 35, Stannard 57, 64, 86, Edgerley 89. 9 - 0.

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Six for Ashley Stannard. The England striker’s record now stood at an outstanding 58 goals in 54 games. Danny Edgerley and Martin Bateson couldn’t complain too hard when they saw the teamsheet for each game with their names on the subs bench, the man was going from strength to strength for both club and country.

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4th June Belgium - Friendly – Wembley

Stannard 1, Degryse O.G 3, Corns 7, Akarsu 13, Milambo 37, 57. 4 - 2.

8th June Greece - ECQ Group H - Wembley

Akarsu 73. 1 - 0.

The football season drew to a close once again as fans around the continent geared up for a summer filled only with speculation of transfers for their teams; no international tournament to get excited for, it was that dreary year where the game seemed to disappear behind closed doors for a few months before re-emerging as if newly invigorated.

Old men who felt too self-important and former footballing legends gathered for a customary occasion as they drew the World Cup European Qualifying sections. The big teams didn’t bat an eyelid as they showed up all the same, it was merely the middle and lower nations who bit their nails with anticipation for whom they might be battling hard against.

Group 7 - England, Greece, Lithuania, Hungary, Israel, Andorra.

No real worries. 1st​ of July and Gary Lewin the England physio decided it was time to retire. Realising that with just Clare Houston on the medical team now, some replacements would be required. Sangi Patel and Eva Carneiro both hired by him in his Brighton days happily accepted the roles alongside their former colleague.

The Dutch and Peru FA’s got in contact, the coming international breaks had been drawing ever closer, something the Manager had been dithering over what teams to ask for a game to the point where he considered just having intensive training sessions instead. A strong European side and an easier South American, one not far away the other at home, that’d do nicely.

He wondered just why they had both suddenly decided to pick England as their choice of opponent, the Dutch especially since if they were going to go for revenge for the loss in Argentina they would surely just cross their fingers for the next tournament; they had a decent side after all.

Arriving at his desk one morning, a little post-it note sat cheerily on the corner of his vast screen, the upbeat hand-writing merely ‘Check the rankings!’

1st​ place in the world. So that’s why.

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11th August Holland - Friendly - Amsterdam ArenA

Unfortunately in the days just prior vice captain Yalcin Akarsu injured his neck; nothing serious but it would rule him out of the slightly big fixture. In fact looking at the squad available they would be without a number of faces they had come to rely upon, it was one of the reasons the squad had been performing so well as there were no cliques contained within, everyone understood each other well and welcomed what each other brought to the table.

One of the replacements however caused a little stir amongst the media and fans, as Andrew Irvine who currently played for Lyon in France wasn’t in the strictest sense of the definition English. Technically he was eligible to play for the country, else he couldn’t have been called up at all, but he had lived in France all his life, played for the French youth sides…yet now sat at the age of 24 without a senior cap thus far.

He spoke English, otherwise the Manager felt it couldn’t have worked at all, and likely the player wouldn’t gain a huge amount of caps unless his mental understanding of the game progressed well in the next few years, but he could do a job in the middle of the park, especially when they invited the opposition onto them in order to counter.

It dominated in the press conference, the chatter between the supporters, but they would voice no mass concern, just the troubled minds of individuals who had a little difficulty coming to grips with their own concept of nationality and the identity that went with it.
The controversy was helped by a good debut performance.
Dalian Corns headed home on 23 minutes from a corner, a ball from Irvine to Stannard inside the English half ended with the striker beating three men before getting crowded out on the shot – just edging wide. Again England threatened, Nathan Hull hitting the post a few minutes later.

It wasn’t until the second half when they would rout the Dutch, Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain 54 minutes, Ashley Stannard 70 minutes. The Manager made his substitutes on the 60th​ minute and 75th​ as half the team became fresh faces in the friendly, until things were capped quite spectacularly by Kieran Rowney’s goal in the 89th​ minute. A supposed cross from right near the halfway line just at the sideline turned into a world beating goal as it clipped the underside of the bar to head in. Amazed expressions greeting the man as the fans both orange and white couldn’t quite believe he ever meant it. He said he did. 4 – 0.
3rd September Bosnia and Gerzegovina - ECQ Group H - Bilino Polje

Akarsu 4, 34, Sabovic 54, Towler 66, Akarsu pen 90. 4 - 1.

The Manager knew this meant they had now qualified for the European Championships, comfortably just as with the World Cup. He’d expected nothing less.

7th September Peru - Friendly – Wembley

Oxlade 27, Butland O.G 61, Edgerley 80, Hull 90+1. 3 - 1.

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8th October Montenegro - ECQ Group H – Wembley

Stannard 11, Bell 40, Stannard 45+1, Oxlade 46, Stannard 60, Zenke 62, Corns 72, Zenke 75. 6 - 2.

12th October Liechtenstein - ECQ Group H - Rheinpark Stadion

Towler 18, Akarsu 31, Towler 36, Stannard 41, Akarsu 47, Hilti 84. 5 - 1.

Bosnia and Herzegovina116-144

The table looked nice enough, had it have been anything less than it was come the end of the fixtures he would have called a meeting for some strong words, but they had done their duty admirably, keeping concentration when required and rescuing the situation when it slipped. Italy took over 1st​ in the world for rankings, but that didn’t matter, people knew that England meant business. All that remained were the dates for friendlies before the competition and the group draws. He had something special lined up for their next challenges.

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12th November Portugal - Friendly - Estadio Municipal Dr. Magalhaes Pessoa Stadium

In talks with Gerrard, Honda and Neville they had decided that a stiff challenge was required following the series of easy wins, even those against the strong opposition had resulted in scorelines which seemed to flatter the English heavily. They were to play two of the most dangerous nations in the world on their own soil; games which would show how well the three lions coped with the particular brand of football which was seeing both the Portuguese and the Spanish make their way into the latter stages of every single tournament.

Pinheiro 48, Hull 76. 1 - 1.

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16th November Spain - Friendly - Mestalla Stadium

0 - 0.

They were boring games, but they also were draws, something the man in charge as he stood looking stoic at the edge of his technical area with arms folded would have taken any day of the week if offered. Not losing to either side was a good indication they were still making incredible progress; Spain actually managing not a single shot on target in their clash. That spoke volumes of what they were trying.

30th November Euros Group Stages were drawn, the normal routine of fear and anticpation.
Group A - England, Croatia, Russia, Wales.
A good group. A home nation rival to spank and assert their authority over, and two slightly unappealing but not overly difficult games to contend with.
The office staff sorted out their training facilities for the initial chapter of the tournament, Malmo FF would be their base to begin with.

2027 was done. Showtime.

There would be nothing to do for months on end other than his regular duty of see who was looking likely to make the squad, that and pray his key players avoided career crippling injuries.
Closer to the time as speculation was beginning to build steadily the odds for the Euros came out bit by bit from each of the companies ready and willing to take the punters money off their hands:

Spain were made the favourites at 6-4, followed by a somewhat unimpressive Germany at 2-1, the reputation for pulling through perhaps influencing the bookmakers more than the efficient nation’s performances on the big stage of late. France also 2-1 genuinely represented a very real threat; Italy 5-2, Portugal 3-1, Holland 3-1. Certainly they were all the sides no one wanted to face too early on.
England however only managed to garner an outside shot of 6-1.

It would do the home nation betting types just fine, the cheeky £10 or £50 they always placed on their own boys would yield greater results should the encouraging form of the side continue.
Friendlies looming, the Manager announced his squad.

Gks: Jimmy Armstrong, Nazeer Burton, Dave Hirst.
Defs: Adam Bacon, Sekou Boukie, Dalian Corns, Dean Burton, Tony Bowman, Ishmel Gavin, Tunji Gibirilu, Les Nicholls.
Mids: Aaron Towler, Yalcin Akarsu, Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nathan Hull, Joshua Bell, Lucas Weatherby, Dave Nicholson, Kieran Rowney.
Att: Ashley Stannard, Danny Edgerley, James Huxtable, Martin Bateson.

Individuals omitted were outraged; the media lapped it up as the Manager was forced to defend his choices despite most of the names being regulars who had already been turning out in the shirt to good effect.

All that was put to one side when the excited faces gathered together at St Georges Park. No one commenting on the absence of Phil Jones who was officially still the captain of England on paper.

“Ok everyone sit down” He called over the dull roar of the gossiping bunch of school children, their anticipation evident in the smiles they all wore.

“Shut up Danny and sit down!” Tried Gerrard, the Manchester United striker turning as he still shuffled down the row of seats, pushing past each player in his way as he shot back some statement of protest over his singling out.

“URUSAI!!!!” Boomed Keisuke in his native tongue. You didn’t have to speak Japanese to know what it meant, the foreign language and ferocity of its delivery enough to shock every individual into settling down.

“Erm……” murmured Gerrard.

“Yeah, cheers Keisuke.”

“Mondai nai” he replied with a satisfied smile as he too sat himself down.

“Right lads, you know what’s coming. It’s the final opportunities we have to work out those kinks before we get to what really matters, the Euros. You’ve all been playing well, and I expect though some of you might be tired from the end of that domestic season you’ll be buzzing to get tearing into those teams once we arrive in Sweden.

“Jimmy (Armstrong), Aaron (Towler), Yalcin (Akarsu) and Ashley (Stannard) will all be joining us after Croatia, but you all already knew that. However with all of them staples of the team first eleven what their absence represents is a chance for some of you to dislodge them from their nice secure positions.”

He looked over Edgerley and Huxtable. “You’ll never get a better opportunity to stake your claim to your own positions than now when they aren’t here to force you to the subs bench. Use the opportunity wisely.”

Taking a little moment to pause and leave the statement to sink in, the Manager turned to Gerrard. The whole thing felt like some military briefing in his head.


“Erm…..hmmm.” The man set himself as he pulled open a slideshow they had put together. “You all know where we are heading; we’ve been a little suspect with our choices of friendly, playing both Croatia and Russia from our group beforehand. It’s legal, so don’t be worried over what people say, just learn all you can from your opposite numbers so when it counts properly you’ll rob them blind.”

“Just like a scouse eh Stevie?!” Called out Rowney. It only took Honda turning his head around with a fierce look to send the man into submission immediately, the fear of another Japanese word he had no idea what the meaning was being bawled into his ears.

“Ehh, yeah Kierie…just like a scouse, just like I robbed your mam of her virginity all those years ago.”

The Oooooo’s rang about the room, but no one dared challenge the remark. Grinning broadly, he continued un-heckled.

“We’ll be arriving in Sweden on the 4th​ of June right after Norway, ready for the final friendly which we’ve managed to bag against Sweden themselves. By that point, you should all make sure you are in your tournament mindsets; we don’t want to see any weak performances just because it’s a friendly.”

Steven nodded to the boss, and picking up the lead the Manager had only one thing to add.
“Five games chaps, all away and all to get you used to both the type of opposition and the climate though that won’t be much of an issue.” The low chatter began to rise again in the room as the players realised that the meeting was coming to a close.

“However!!” They fell silent at once. “I’ve a little bet to have with you. You’ve all been playing superbly these past years, especially in the last one where we took down Brazil in that turnaround. So, should you win every single one of these friendlies and not cause any great headaches you will all get to pick the transport music for the entire duration of the championship….so whatever **** it is you’re all into these days, Inuit techno rap; Electronica pop rap or pap…I don’t care how offensive it is to my ears.”

It was a simple bet, but they relished the prospect of putting their Manager whom they knew hated every single kind of modern music they seemed to thrive on for gearing them up for the big occasions through such ****.

“BUT!” The smiles faded. “Fail to win even one of the games, and I pick all of the music for this shindig, and believe you me, that is something none of you want! Not even Steven or Keisuke go in for what I’ll subject you to.” A knowing finger came out to sweep the rows of faces, those of his staff members fell at the prospect.
“Alright, lets do this!”

((Blur - The Universal - YouTube))

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23rd May Croatia - Friendly - Maksimir Stadium

Hrstic O.G 19, Adam Bacon sent off 2nd yellow 52. 1 - 0.

Not convincing at all, despite the win. They shut out the Croatians, but offered nothing in attack, the chances of the fringe players squandered in the Manager’s eyes as they failed to impress upon the game.

The consolation was the joining up of the Brighton players, absent so that they could acquire another Champions League winners medal. The morale was added to the camp, though the four of them were clearly still shattered from their battle against Athletico Madrid.

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26th May Russia - Friendly - Lokomotiv Stadium

0 - 0.

Oh dear, the bet already lost.

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30th May Ukraine - Friendly - Arena Dnipro

Stannard 4, Khomutov 9. 1 - 1.

Oh dear oh dear.

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3rd June Norway - Friendly - Ulleval Stadion

Towler 6, 13, Bell 62, Weatherby 90. 4 - 0.

Norway was already going to be a comfortable game, the Scandinavian side failing to find any hope in their national exploits for any number of years now. Geographically they made for a decent game to play out, just a short hop over to Sweden was all that awaited them now.
The journey wasn’t long or particularly bad, but the Manager agonised silently all the way. He knew he had to speak to the press about something before the coming game, and whilst it was now a necessity since his hand had been somewhat forced he wasn’t pleased it had dragged on to such a conclusion.

Sitting down a the long table alongside Yalcin Akarsu, Gerrard and Honda, the press took their usual pictures before quieting to hear what the England boss had to say to them for a special meeting to be held.

“Good morning everyone”

“Morning, what’s this all about then?” One familiar journalist spoke up above the congregation. His voice didn’t convey any annoyance; they were already in Sweden for the friendly and championship so an extra meeting meant only easier columns to fill for their websites and newspapers.

“Well, we’ve arrived here in Sweden, and felt that now was the time we had to cement a change in the England camp officially rather than let it drag on any further.” The Manager paused a second looking over to Yalcin with a smile “I’m pleased to announce that I am promoting Yalcin here to the position of England captain from his former one of Vice Captain.”

The cameras flashed again as the two shook hands for those watching, the gesture feeling a little strange as they were good friends.

“What does this mean for the previous captain Phil Jones? Isn’t it a little harsh to demote him without giving him a chance to stake his claim to the position?”

He’d expected some **** stirrer to try and kick the bee hive. “Honestly I can’t see why anyone would take umbrage at this decision. Phil Jones though he has been called up to the squad for many of the fixtures over the past two years, initially still holding down a spot in the back four, has sadly not been performing at the level required for England.

“He has for the most part of the season just finished been sitting in the Arsenal Reserves, and he is 36 years of age. I have the utmost respect for Phil; he has been a tremendous servant to his country doing us all proud with his performances and leadership. Unfortunately, I feel he perhaps should have stepped aside on his own, with grace, rather than cling onto the position despite not actually getting onto the pitch for some time.”

“What does Phil make of this decision?”

“I won’t lie, he wasn’t terribly happy about it, but then when I explained just why it wasn’t a snub but rather a logical decision he came to the same realisation we all did. We wish him all the best, and should he find regular first team football next season and put in good performances then of course there is still a place for him in the squad; just not as captain.”

They wrapped things up quickly, more questions which probed and dug at the treatment of Jones. The matter was dealt with; the media would speculate that the captain change would be discord in the England camp, that any negative results such as the poor performances in the run-up friendlies thus far could be attributed to the issue. Didn’t matter, the ones who mattered: the players; knew that it wasn’t a big deal. Akarsu wasn’t welcomed with some great fanfare as he had effectively been the captain for some time.

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6th June Sweden - Friendly - Friends Arena

Corns 52, Bateson 59, Maziarz 74, Stannard 76. 3 - 1.

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A spirited contest after a slow first half, both sides had positives to take from the day.

Already in the country, it was off to their training camp in Malmo; meet the press, do their interviews for the folks back home, and then play their hearts out for what would hopefully be 7 games, and 1 month of dreams being realised, at last.
This is insane !! What a story! Loving the level of detail your putting in
The European Championship 2028

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((Loverboy - Chance Of A Lifetime - YouTube))

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Glum faces stared out of the broad windows of the team bus, their expressions that of suffering and surrender to their fates.

"Aaaaaarrrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh! Turn it offffffffff!" Screamed Armstrong, the moans of his teammates accompanying his outcry. One laugh rose above the noise filling the coach as the driver diligently ignored the ridiculous distractions.

"Lets see shall we?" he let it hang until those within easy ear shot got their manager's drift.

"Beat them" They droned in chorus.

"Yes you beat them, needed an own goal but a win is a win. Then there was Sweden and Norway, who you also...."

"Beat" They continued, drearily following the torturous game to its conclusion.

"But then....oh.....oh no!! Russia and the Ukraine!! You...."

"Drew...." The sighs were unanimous as hands covered ears. All headphones had been confiscated, and even worse punishments lay in store for anyone who dared to play their own music from devices or had they any lungs then from their mouths.

"Hahahahahahahaha!!!" The Manager laughed triumphantly as he retook his seat, eyes to the front as they rode through Sweden's glorious beautiful landscapes.

"Argh!!!" Came one final cry of exasperation "This music is ****** 45 years old!!!! AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!"

The Manager was a man of his word if nothing else. At least they didn't have a huge distance to cover, Stockholm to Malmo was east down to the South, a fair few hours but bearable even with their forfeit dominating the atmosphere.

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A night of rest before they got started training in their new surroundings. For once other than the constant domestic attention from the English fervent supporters came a vast array of international supporters. In the city for their first game or simply locals, they were all curious to get a look at this England side that were proving their worth against many of the best on a regular basis.

Gerrard fancied a break from the bore of the press, he had never enjoyed having to speak to them in the manner the interviews always took place. Allowing him to exercise his wishes, the Manager instead had the company of Neville for his audience with the eternally frustrating.

Q. "You controversially made the decision to intentionally organise friendlies against two of the teams in our group. Do you think this was both wise and in the spirit of the tournament?"

A. "Wise, perhaps. Our players know what they are up against so now they just need to show up on the day and do their jobs. In the spirit? Maybe not, I know its not against the rules, but when looking at suitable teams in the regions we had targeted to play our friendlies they genuinely were the top choices."

Q. "Could it possibly backfire having played them both so recently? You've effectively allowed their manager's to get an in-depth look at your tactics."

A. "That’s both assuming that I will be implementing the same tactics against them when we play for real; and that their managers didn't have the foresight to attend any of our other games or watch any videos. It does help being on the sideline, but sometimes being in the stands you can see more of what is going on."

Q. "Do you believe that the decision over leaving former captain Phil Jones behind and ignoring his experience will cost your side during the course of this tournament? Do you really believe that Yalcin (Akarsu) has the qualities to lead this England team?"

A. "I thought this issue was behind us. Next question."

Q. "Spain are once again the favourites, and both European and World Champions coming into this championship. Should England be drawn against them in the latter stages do you feel you can overcome them?"

A. "Hmm...." he looked across to Gary, the man was keeping as quiet as he dared, most likely after previous attempts he had made to speak up when the Manager was in control of the room "I think it would depend upon a number of factors, but if you lined us both up now...yes...I believe we could beat them."

The room stirred a little, unrest as they clearly felt surprised by the confidence shown from the Manager.

Q. "Were a result to be possible then surely defensively England would need to have some special system in place to deal with them?"

Now the Manager looked to Neville as defensive coach and motioned that it was his to answer. Clearing his throat, he was no stranger to speaking to the press.
A. "We feel that there doesn't necessarily need to be any particularly special tactic to deal with the Spanish, just individual instructions for certain players as with...."

How queer it was that the press were so hung up on both the Captain issue, and the Spanish of all teams. There were plenty of threats in the competition, to focus on the favourites again seemed odd, but then the press were odd, lurching from provoking statement to outrageous headline in their attempts to procure more readers.

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The matches started and Sweden displayed a brilliant passion for their tournament, clearly determined to bring it back to their shores as it seemed strange they managed to host it again after such a relatively short space of time since the previous one in 1992.
English screens replayed the archive footage of the previous failure of a campaign to remind and educate those watching just what happened when the England under Graham Taylor had a stab at this competition here.The well worked goal of the Swedes when they dumped out the English, a disappointing exit at the group stages hard to take at the time after such an encouraging World Cup in Italy.

With no great distractions, the team were able to concentrate on what was to come fully. In no time at all it was time for them to kick off and start to carve out their path to the trophy.

View attachment 329743 Lineker: "Hello. You're seeing me again, which I'm sure you've figured out by now tells you why we're all's another tournament, and its England. Joining me in the studio is the eternal Alan Hansen, Italian former Chelsea player Gianluca Vialli, and the now Porto manager Alan Shearer.

"Guys, surely this time?"

Hansen: "Well, England have been looking strong. Good draws away to Portugal and Spain, cleared the qualifying without any problems, and key they don't have any players missing."

Shearer: "The likes of Towler and Stannard will be massive if we're to get anything out of this championship."

Lineker: "Yes, Gianluca, what do you think of our chances? Obviously you're going to be rooting for your home Italy to sneak off with the silverware, but is there a realistic chance for England to finally get a trophy again?"

Vialli: "If you don't come up against Italy, then sure why not?" The four men all chuckled together, the light atmosphere of the box with its view over the pitch just what the viewing public wanted each time the nerves began to rise for their nation's appearance.

"I think as Alan said, the lack of any big injuries could mean the difference for England. You, you want to see your world beaters such as Ashley Stannard putting in performances like at his club, Brighton; or the captain Yalcin Akarsu...they are going to be the faces which will need to drag the others through."

Lineker: "Mmm of course. Aside from the players I don't think anyone can doubt that the measured success of England has at the very least been helped by the current manager; and we've got something very special on our boy; Clarence Seedorf who will be working with us at this championship got to speak to someone very important indeed on the man in charge."

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Seedorf: "Mr Cruyff, Johan, I'd love to talk Holland with you but we're here to talk about something else entirely today, one of your protégé."

A now very aged Cruyff smiled as he sat back in his chair, the familiar interview setting inside the neutral looking room.
Cruyff: "One of my protégé; an Englishman of all people." He gave a little laugh to himself.

Seedorf: "The English have been transformed of late, their revival down to many factors, one of which most agree is the Manager. The man himself has made no bones about the importance he felt of working alongside you for those years at Brighton, his first job. Tell me, what was it like?"

Cruyff: "I can tell you its a strange situation to be having him called my protégé when I was the assistant manager!" The pair smiled together before the older man continued "Its always nice to have people attribute some of their success or growth to you, makes you feel as if you've managed to do some good besides that aimed at yourself. He, learned a lot, and quickly, dealing with players, the press, handling the pressure of the job. They were things which he would have learned sooner or later, I suppose I was just there when he happened to pick them up."

Seedorf: "You've been responsible for many revivals and blossoming of team's fortunes, your philosophy and mental approach something often remarked upon. Was it this more than anything which you think the Manager took from you at Brighton?"

Cruyff: "Hmm" He puffed out his cheeks, thinking on a suitable answer "Perhaps, but then we were constantly talking with each other about where to take the side; who to sign, how to deal with problems on the training field. The result was more a mixture of both of our thoughts on how to progress."

Seedorf: "Now, England whilst not favourites for the tournament are quietly the dark horse many feel could break the hold history seems to have on them. What are your thoughts on their chances under the Manager?"

Cruyff: "England have always been a presence in international football, though they've often fallen short of their billing. It just takes a group of players coming through at the same time such as we had in the 70's in Holland, with the right leadership to guide them and you have a shot at the trophy. I think any team which comes up against this England side will struggle, they're very dangerous."

Seedorf: "I'm required to ask, will you be cheering for England?" Seedorf grinned broadly, the silly question clearly one which had been put to him to ask.

Cruyff: "Root for the English?!" He looked to the camera with a sly smile "Pah, maybe if the Dutch are found wanting...I'll cheer on my friend. That what you want to hear? Go on the English?"

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12th June Croatia - Group A - Helsingborg Community Stadium

They looked confident, the English. Striding out onto the field, the anthems played and each face turned to the tops of the stands before them to sing with their full breath instead of mumbling the words like some embarrassed surly teenager being forced through the uncomfortable actions.

The crowd cheered as the beautiful slender lady with the pair of lungs they’d all never heard of finished the national themes to allow the action to finally get under way. Croatia had the kick off, but as they lined up the Manager looked over the Croatian formation.

Honda stepped forward “Chotto hen….”

“English Keisuke.”

“Its strange, their formation.”

“Just what I was thinking.”

As they looked over the line up, the Croatians had completely radicalised their side from the looks of it. Players who were deemed by the media in general as crucial to their campaign were warming the bench behind their manager, and instead a crop of fresh faces barely broken in with the chequered shirt were looking eager to get stuck in.

Then there was the three at the back, a packed midfield and one man up the pitch in attack. Studying it a little further as the referee blew the whistle he realised it mirrored something close to the kind of tactics the Italian national side sometimes used and certainly a formation Antonio Conte implemented at Brighton currently.

He’d watched enough games to know what worked against the formation, but they hadn’t prepared for it, the players would need to adapt though it was well within their abilities to do so. The Manager and Honda took their seats to watch the play unfold.

View attachment 329747 The brass band still without talent or inspiration murdered a few classic tunes repeatedly to the dismay of those who had been unfortunate to get tickets right near where they all lined up pretending they were important or welcome. The wailing sound of the instruments the backdrop as England attempted to ply attack after attack once underway. Each move however as the stands built with every run would simply fizzle out; a body to block, an interception, a pass sent just too long and out of play.

It was the English pushing, working the channels as players pointed fingers into space as they tried to exploit it with runs getting up the pitch into the opposition half, but as they came into the final third all Croatian bodies got back and shut out the move before it had a chance to produce that lethal final touch.

They might have only three at the back in open play, but clearly their tactics were to throw every single player back into their box the moment the English began racing toward them, the routine and drill of the defensive wall hurrying into position quite clearly had been the focus of their training since the friendly.
Sighs started filtering from English spectators behind, audible from those fans at pitch-side slumped back into their seats. The Croatians however were in full voice, they knew that they would need to defend well to keep out the English attack, and seeing their boys do just that was inspiration enough for them, yet as the half was starting to close out they seemed to be growing in voice.

And then it happened. One ball was sent forward from the rigid defence; the Manager couldn’t see where it came from, he didn’t care. It floated through the air into the England half beyond Corns and Boukie marking the Croatian lone striker. The defenders sticking to him like glue, all three men chased where the ball might land; Corns arrived first as it would bounce, only to miss it.

Sekou Boukie stayed with the man, but in the tussle between them it was clear he was going to lose a conflict of strength as the tall striker kept his balance. It came down again, and as the two went in the forward took it onwards with a touch, they pushed alongside one another still following it dutifully; the Croatian crowd rose in volume, their chance was there at last if their boy could just see off the last lines of defence.

Armstrong woke up, snoozing for 40 minutes, his eyes checking his positioning and the oncoming play. Boukie decided he couldn’t keep the chase up any longer, the arm of Kovacevic keeping him off balance all the way. Lunging with a desperate outstretched foot he tried to knock the ball clear of the pair; yet only managed to touch it into a goal scoring opportunity as he hit the deck.

Kovacevic stepped up, eyed Jimmy as he came rushing out of his 6 yard box, and brushed the ball about him into the corner of the net. Croatia went wild; no threat all half, they would be going in with the lead.

He’d been there before with a team, a disappointing scoreline at half time, a side he was in control of looking incapable of scoring as they seemed devoid of inspiration to break down a dogged defence. The Swedish volunteers and stadium staff gave sheepish smiles to one another as they gestured to one another silently what a racket was flooding through the England team’s dressing room, such was the noise of the chewing out.

They lined up again, the 11 English faces looked both stunned and eager at once, hungry to address their failures. Sadly, they just hadn’t got the answer in them.

View attachment 329750 The 71st​ minute Kovecevic doubled the lead, another good break catching the defence off guard. Despite all the possession and intent each English attack broke down; it wasn’t until the 81st​ minute Towler managed to drill one through the crowd at last into the net. Fresh legs for both sides, Croatia dug in to keep their lead. 1 – 2.
An amazing score considering the sheer dominance of the English, surely the other teams possibly worried by the prospect of facing the previously in-form Anglo-Saxons would be licking their lips. Matters were made worse by an injury to Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain; he’d only be out for 8 days but should they find little creativity against yet more determined defensive teams in their group he may not get to play for his country again. Aged 34, he couldn’t complain too much about that however, having just achieved his 170th​ cap for his country.

There was one silver lining to the grim fact that England after one game sat in a precarious position within their group and the tournament. When the band played the Great Escape, this time it seemed actually justified.

((The Great Escape Theme - YouTube))

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17th​ June Wales – Group A – Kalmar Community Stadium
The Welsh, that was perfect for picking the spirits back up. Delighted at having qualified for the tournament, they had no ambitions on the trophy itself, just to make a good showing for those back home and discover some pride within the game of football.

In only the 2nd​ minute they seemed to have that pride, Michael Wigley making a surprise run before the game had really got going, a doozy of a shot and Wales had an incredible early advantage.

With the lead in their pocket, the red shirts sat back just as they had seen the Croatians. England fans rubbed their heads in frustration as once again their white shirts seemed to have no answer as to how to unlock them and score against the weaker side.

The half slipped away; and just as the manager could feel his anger boiling to breaking point Ashley Stannard beat two defenders to side foot home and spare some blushes. It didn’t detract from the fact that having arrived at the tournament and possibly even in the friendlies in the run up to the championship this England team weren’t the free scoring dangerous one from previously.

Another all guns blazing team-talk, they came back out, and this time worked out the magic answer to solve the scoring crisis.

Stannard 49 settled nerves shortly after the restart, Edgerley after substitutes were made to save some legs saw off the Welsh in the 77th​ minute. 3 – 1.

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It wasn’t as everyone had expected, but it was enough to show England were beginning to wind it up at last; only took them over 2 hours of football to do so. Feeling his frustrations still lingering after a difficult tie, the manager supplied the newspapers with some fuel as he joked “Stick to rugby” when asked of the Welsh performance.

20th​ June Russia – Group A – Malmo Community Stadium

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The fans continued to follow, staying wherever they could find a spot, training went better, they ironed things out, and when the day they played the Russians rolled around, the Manager felt supremely confident at last since arriving in Scandinavia.
Stannard 12, 15, 21, Towler 27. An awesome first half hour with the lightning hat trick from Ashley, his assist for Aaron Towler was just the icing on the cake. They rested individuals early into the second half and the game finished 4 – 0, England fans relaxed at last that they would see some more football even if would be rougher going for their early lapse. The only negative to come from the calm easy fixture was the injury of Danny Edgerley, he would miss the rest of the tournament. A shame for the lad, but fortunately Oxlade-Chamberlain was back to full fitness to retake his spot on the right wing.






Czech Rep111+14

2nd​ in the group. They knew they would have to beat the best to win the thing, but fears were evident upon the faces of the hopeful as they clearly hadn’t desired to face the elite just yet. The nerves were eased at least by the delight that the Germans had once again failed to get beyond the groups, their national side still in the thrall of distrust and disjointed teamwork, so unlike them. One superb factor for the tournament itself was the imperious winning of the group for hosts Sweden; it was common knowledge that whenever the hosts did well the whole competition felt infinately livelier.
The finalised schedule for the second round made, most ties looked straightforward save for one.

(("I'm Still Standing" by "Elton John" - YouTube))

26th​ June Holland – 2nd​ Round – Kalmar Community Arena

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5 good days of rest and practice to ready them, the Manager knew probably better than anyone on his side how tough the game would be, the Dutch so desperate for revenge by now after not only the World Cup but the friendly in Amsterdam. He knew the dangers, he knew how to prep his boys to deal with them, but sometimes there was no preparation for a game when raw desire and intense hard working legs combined to propel a team on.

It was one for the highlight reels of desperate football. The revival of England from their group was a premature assumption, an overconfident estimation of their strength against those who perhaps wanted it more.
Holland started brightly, David Creemers the Real Madrid front man bagged the first goal on 36; England offered nothing. Half time, the Manager ripped them a fresh orifice to put it lightly, nothing else for it, they knew it was knock out football, fail to find something against the orange shirts or go home empty handed for another two years.

England hit the post, they hit the bar, Weatherby pounced on what was the third goalmouth scramble in 10 minutes to equalise the scoreline, it was all England now. They pressed and pressed, but couldn’t net the second and winner. 90 minutes was up.

The staff came out onto the pitch, rub downs of legs, substitutes informed as they began to warm up. Play resumed. England still had it all, so impressive was the pass and move, the cheeky ***** back as players rushed in to support while Dutch legs tired. Dalian Corns was absolutely bossing the Holland attack; England hit the bar again before finally Corns got up for a corner and mashed his face against the ball to beat the keeper, 102 minutes, real grit.105 minutes and the final 15 to come, they did their best to gee up the players. Now Holland went for it, yet on the counter England managed to hit the woodwork yet again!
Finally the whistle went, the Dutch were a side of broken men as they couldn’t believe they had let their first half dominance slip away. England could be mighty proud of their turnaround, and well and truly felt now after another scare that they were up and running, or at the very least just keeping pace with the rest all looking good for the silverware. Another major win against the Dutch, the boss wondered just how many more times they would have to play against them, each one felt like a fight to the death when it mattered.

Second Round Results

Scotland 2 V 2p Croatia
Portugal 2 V 0 Denmark
Switzerland 1 V 2 Spain
Ukraine e2 V 1 Sweden
England e2 V 1 Holland
Bulgaria e4 V 2 Italy
Czech Rep 0 V 4 France
Belgium e3 V 0 Austria

Football fans were treated to a wealth of ties in only the second round as heroic underdog sides gave everything they had to give to try and see their side progress. Scotland so close to getting further than they ever dreamed; the hosts going out to the Ukraine who found that extra something from nowhere apparently; but surely Bulgaria managing to find 2 goals in extra time against one of the favourites would be the tie of the round.

And the Manager was grateful for it. Oblivious to the other matches as he had been so focused on getting England into shape, the Bulgarians were the next opposition.

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1st​ July Bulgaria – Quarter Final – Friends Arena

To say the Bulgarians had been inconsistent this tournament would be an understatement. The Portuguese had walloped them 5 nil in their group early on, yet somehow scraping progression thanks to the mathematical wonder of the other groups they found the performance of their lives against the Italians.

England in blue the Bulgarians in white, the Manager had informed them of how to deal with the side, pinpointed the kind of moves to work, the players to exploit. They were prepared.

1 minute in Ashley Stannard clipped the heels of a midfielder as they played from the kick off, earning a yellow already. Yalcin looked across to him urging him to calm down in line with his duties as captain.
Bulgaria kicked off, played it up to Rumen Nikiforov, and scored. 2 minutes.
Inside the 2nd​ minute again! The cameras panned to the bench as the Manager had to turn to the stands in an attempt to hide his fury. It was the obvious place to look given his reactions for every other game England had failed to get out of the blocks. All players in blue shirts sporting the three lions shared the same image of their man in charge about to explode.

Whether it was a genuine wake up from the goal itself, or fear from the surely incredible and possibly harmful half time team talk that awaited them if they didn’t sort their lives out; England decided to join the proceedings. Playing it back to defence, the ball then with two touch slick play pin-balled right the way through the side until Stannard in the 4th​ minute struck it sweetly home. The team goal of the tournament for sure.

View attachment 329771

Akarsu set up Stannard to hit in on 9; Bell was fouled in the box for a penalty in the 31st​ minute, Stannard took for his hat trick, failed to convert yet tucked in the rebound before anyone else could reach it.

Oxlade was brought down in the area in the 44th​, Akarsu stepped up to score it. 4 – 1 at half time.

Heading off the pitch as the referee blew his whistle at the end of the 45, the whole England side were visible in their relief as they patted one another on the back, the sheer relief at having saved their skins obvious to the millions watching.

Returning, they were calm, assured and keen to save themselves now for what lay ahead. Akarsu had the only other word in the scoreline as Towler brought down for a third penalty offered the opportunity for the captain to grab a brace.

View attachment 329772

5 – 1, into the semi finals.
Quarter Final Results

Portugal 1 V 0 Croatia
Spain 3 V 0 Ukraine
England 5 V 1 Bulgaria
Belgium 0 V 1 France

View attachment 329773 Croatia went as far as they could, as did the Ukraine, unable to overcome the Portuguese and Spanish alike. France too saw off their opposition and neighbours, leaving 2 matches with 4 big hitters, all had match winners, all were capable now of going all the way.

5th​ July Spain – Semi Final – Kalmar Community Arena

Spain. The semi finals. Roll footage, that World Cup Final torture, the penalty that was never given. Before the game had even begun there were English faces displaying anguish at the memory of defeat, of a silver medal.
There was the goalless draw to take courage from since then, Spanish soil made it credible, but then a friendly didn’t have nearly the same effect on a player’s drive than a shot at the final.

View attachment 329774 The English were easily the more nervous though some didn't show it. Spain had produced result after result, and even in the spells where they hadn’t played tremendously well they had come good. England….their tournament so far had been one of nightmare starts, of brains slow to switch on to the occasion they were in, of furious words at 45 minutes to try and thunder home the message that this was when they were supposed to actually engage and produce their best football.

Mercifully the Swedish took a liking to the English, as did most of the other fans attending that weren’t Spanish; they had the crowd just as with the Buenos Aires final.
All lined up in the tunnel, the Manager stood before his troops at the entrance to their golden opportunity to right those wrongs from 2 years ago. Spanish players couldn’t help but look across at what was going on.

“Listen up!” He called as the officials were readying themselves for the FIFA anthem and their emergence. The Manager had his team's full attention “If ANY of you fails to get started immediately, you’ll be ****ing hard pushed to find a place in my team in the future you got that?! Sort your heads out or I’ll sort you out!” His face told the complete story; he really meant it, the lines across his features filled with pure rage waiting to be unleashed.

Mikel Martin the Spanish wizard who had scored the wonder goal at the World Cup against them couldn’t help but smile, an arrogant expression as he calmly shifted his weight in anticipation. Most of the red shirted Spaniards couldn’t understand the words though got their meaning to the opposition, however playing for Manchester City Mikel understood alright.

The FIFA anthem which always sounded as though it was being played by a school band or some congregation of children’s toy instruments rang out, the teams paraded out before the powerful voice of the packed to capacity stadium.

Stood with his staff in their designated area, all bodies assumed their positions for the two country's anthems. Tito Vilanova the Spanish boss did his best to sing his heart out. Vilanova, the pair had met as the bosses of Brighton and Barcelona…and Brighton won. He could beat the Spaniard's side, he knew he could.

God Save the Queen rang out next, and as the players all opened their mouths wide to truthfully sing with their hearts, their eyes couldn’t help but notice as they fought to gaze only at the back row of the stands how their Manager was staring at them still, his eyes, boring a hole into them.

((32 - Battle at the Pyramid (STARGATE THE DELUXE EDITION O.S.T.) - YouTube))

Spain kicked off, the ball smartly heading back to the centre mid as he waited and sized up his options. They decided to slow things right down from the off, keep the ball, keep the possession, wait for a chance.

England had other plans.

“PRESS!!!!” Cried the manager, fearful of them failing to start another game, but his words weren’t needed. The moment the Spanish were relaxed into their pattern than had the white shirts begun to hound them; getting higher and higher up the pitch.

The ball went back to the centre back, his eyes unassuming of any danger as he too sized up his options for the next neat pass. The cry of alarm came too late as he realised from his side came the greased lightning run of Ashley Stannard; his foot knocking it from the defender’s control, the following turning it toward the goal, the last to thrash the leatherwork beyond the panicked keeper.

2 minutes, and this time England had the lead!

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Fans went ballistic; commentators speaking English exclaimed their joy! An early lead, maybe this time they would see off the Spanish comfortably and make themselves favourites for the final?

Red shirts settled, they weren’t going to lose their heads over the blunder. It evened out quickly, for each lance forward by the Spanish England had one of their own.
Yet each time it felt like a game of Russian roulette, the odds of it being the lethal explosion increased as each battle and exchange became more exaggerated and inspired.

Boukie headed down a Spanish cross, a misjudgement of the flight of the ball meant instead of sailing up and out it hit the ground at the edge of the area. English shirts began to close in about the ball where it might end up, their eyes all for securing possession and spraying it out onto the wing as the hungry eyes of Akarsu and Oxlade set their legs in motion in anticipation.

Bell was looking to get on the end of it, his head following it as it came down from its bounce, but just as he was about to catch it on the end of his boot than a jumping Salas snatched it from his grasp. The one touch a deft one as it took the sting out of the ball, dropping sweetly to caress the grass before he took one look at the goal, and thumped the ball from the edge of the area into the top corner, nothing Armstrong could do about that.
1 all. Fingernails found their way into the vice like grip of rows of teeth. The trading of attacks resumed as England started to become the more likely to power one in, Towler actually roaring it seemed as he bashed his right leg against it from some 35 yards out to force a fine save.

Exhausted spectators breathed a sigh of relief when the first 45 minutes finished, all square.

However, for all the Manager’s wishes of usually having a breather to calm his boys down, hammer some tactics into them and engineer a few goals, the fact that they appeared to be getting the better of the chances meant he now had the job of trying to keep them fired up when all their bodies likely wanted to do was to vent the adrenaline rampaging about their veins.

When facing Bulgaria, had the score been 1 – 1 at the break he might have allowed them to build up slowly, they always had it in their locker to break down such opposition when a good move showed signs of forming. But Spain, Spain had shown for the best part of a decade how easily their possession passing gave them the edge as they worked space where opponents never dreamed it could exist.

As the door opened after the 10 minutes, the sound of a distinct pair of hands clapping together meaningfully rang out with a familiar “COME ON!!!”

The entire team roared the words right back at their boss. It was England’s ball to kick off; it went straight back to the defence, and without another second it was up the wings….Akarsu and Oxlade were the keys to this, they knew it, they’d been told it, the fans could see it. Wing play was the Manager’s forte, it was how his sides even when against insurmountable odds it seemed could find a moment of magic to send the stands into raptures.

Yalcin Akarsu received it promptly, taking it into his stride with a touch and a shoulder barge against his opponent. The figure the English were used to seeing was cut into the lenses of the cameras, his body whipping down the side with all haste, his throttle fully opened as his eyelids peeled back to reveal frenzied looking eyes.

The centre-back swept across, the imposing figure sizing up against the small frame of the winger, but had no answer to the dazzling footwork of the captain. He flung his gaze to the box, two white shirts to aim for desperately waving their hands high.

It was almost a hark back to the days of when he was learning his trade, the manner in which his boot thumped the ball, it looked panicked, as if it was the bullies of Arsenal were about to jump him again in their pursuit of ending his career early to stop the ball getting near.

Oxlade got up, somehow above his man, pressed his forehead to it, and sunk the ball toward the goal. Every set of eyes watched it, the keeper with his mouth agape at it heading toward him, his weight the wrong side….he flung out a boot, the spittle from his mouth as he cried with desperation visible on every camera. Saved. The defender collected and cleared, English hands smothered faces.

But they weren’t done. Spain had a go, but Corns was on the game of his life again. It was out to Oxlade who was off once more on his bike despite his incredible work rate being at the tender age he was.
The left back won it as the ball came down, but Adam set himself upon him, wrestling for a second before touching it clear down the line. They were both off, scrambling together as alongside their arms pressed fiercely, hoping not to give away a foul but not daring to let the play go and simulate something dishonest.

Commentators began to perch, England were getting forward as Oxlade chased it, defying his legs as he battled harder than he ever had before; the doubters of his worth to the side all converted in an instant as they viewed his outstanding determination to win this ball, win it for his nation. And he did! The defender slipping in his attempts to put Adam off balance, it was just the opportunity he needed.

No time for a touch to control, he immediately smashed it toward the box, defenders weren’t positioned right as they had all been clambering to get back, Stannard had worked some space!
Fists clenched, lungs filled with air in anticipation, voices speaking to the masses built the tension as Stannard’s name was called with the raised pitch that meant this was it, this was the moment!

His body leant, his boot lifted, coiled and ready – in the second the ball fell to just where he wanted it, he unleashed like a weapon, the England striker rocketing the volley over the line.

View attachment 329777 57 minutes, England took the lead! They were bringing everything to the table, and this time it looked as though their efforts would be rewarded. No goal keeper in the world would have saved that one; they’d heard that line before. It was goal of the tournament and one for the English history highlights, the man was on fire this tournament, top scorer by a good margin and he showed no signs of letting up.

((REDLINE OST - Exceed Limit - YouTube))

Tito Vilanova was on his feet at the edge of his area, instructions to get forward and make something happen. The Manager grinned; he knew he could get the better of Vilanova’s boys.
Turning to the bench Gerrard and Honda looked up at him ready for instruction.

“Go for it or dig in?” Asked Gerrard immediately, reading his colleague's mind.

“Dig in, we won’t risk opening up to counter from a desperate Spanish side. Get Nicholson on for Oxlade – he’s looking shattered after all the running; and give Towler a rest….Huxtable looks keen.”

The board went up, Oxlade and Towler got a standing ovation as the clock was beginning to look friendlier for a change. England reset themselves as defensive, and as play continued the Spanish immediately began to show frustration as the English harried and badgered them into mistakes they weren’t accustomed to.

70 minutes, 80 minutes. England held firm, each Spanish attack climbing to nothing as the bodies got in the way, just as the Croatians had done to them.
He looked to his bench again, it was time to get Stannard off, save him for the final and gamble they would see this one out. He eyed the replacements; Bateson wasn’t fully fit, but would be preferable with how things stood.

About to open his mouth, the referee’s whistle blew to stop play. A glance to see what was going on saw that the yellow card was out for a late challenge. Stannard.

****. **** **** ****. He’d miss the final. Ashley’s face was that of disbelief, that look in his eyes as they threatened to well up mirrored that of a man in 1990, a hero to his country for his incredible genius on the ball…he would miss the culmination of their campaign for one lapse in concentration.

The Manager met his gaze as the striker looked to his boss whilst on the verge of collapse, his emotions a wreck from the tension and power of the occasion. Just a little fist pump and a steely expression. The striker sucked in a deep breath, 10 minutes to perform his job for and do his nation proud still further; no point in subbing him now.

Mikel Martin was dropping deeper to try and ignite his teammates. They had nothing else on the bench which could change the game, so many attacking players on already all throwing themselves into every challenge, a defensive line holding almost at the half way line.

The English prayed, the Manager gripped his fists by his sides.

Come on come on come on come on!!

90 minutes. The minutes went up, 2 more. Stannard got the ball, laid it off, sprinted on. Spanish fans cried with despair as they needed the ball now more than ever, yet as Nicholson lofted it forward, Stannard held it up, drew in the defender, dinked it to the side before bursting on. He measured everything in a moment; struck it, clipped the post to roll out.

All the keeper could manage as he frantically scurried the ball back to his 6 yard box was the kick out before the final whistle blew.

England 2 – 1 Spain.

View attachment 329779 The holders were out, the World Champions beaten, revenge for that final 2 years ago. The England fans and players were alike in their passionate exclamations of delight, the arms to the heavens as they jumped about wildly. The Manager walked across to shake the hand of the depressed looking Vilanova, understandably so, by Spain’s recent standards the Semi Finals were poor.
They gathered themselves, the celebrations only went on for so long; they hadn’t won it yet.

Semi Final Results

Portugal 0 V 1e France
Spain 1 V 2 England

A goal in the 101 minute from the French talisman midfielder Tsengwa who had been lighting up the Premier League most of his career gave France the precious victory over the Portuguese. Both sides had been odds on for reaching the latter stages, both seen as almost equals for their game; but as the result played out, the Manager had honestly hoped that the Portuguese would be the ones to make it all the way to the final.

Perhaps it was nonsense, but there was an odd feeling he couldn’t shake that the way the French had been playing would give them more trouble than they could handle. Stannard had been the English sensation, it was undoubtedly his tournament despite missing the final, and without him the Manager feared that there was a chance England might lapse back into the form they began with.

He might have shared the feeling of possible dread, but as the man in command it was his job to find the solution to overcome it. They got onto the training ground at the first possible chance. Before any play would take place, he called them all in, some words were needed.

((Valkyria Chronicles - Strategy Instructions - YouTube))

“Sit down, listen.” He opened, the players all parked themselves just as they might have when they were school kids playing for the local team, their love of the game beginning to blossom into the passion they would spend their lives pursuing.

“3 days, that’s all you’ve got before you’re going to be stood there in that Arena, the millions and millions…..” he trailed off lightly, watching to see the faces that got nervous at the prospect “And Millions!” His voice picked right back up “all sat glued to your actions, waiting, to see if it will be the English or the French go home champions of Europe.”

Neville shuffled on his feet, clearly eager to get training the defence. Gerrard looked expectantly at the Manager as he continued.

“Do you think you’ll be champions?”

The players waited, no one sure enough to take the initiative. “WELL?! You bunch of soppy wankers, ARE YOU GOING TO BE THE CHAMPIONS?!!!!”

Screaming at them, some leant back from fear of this man now bawling in their faces. Akarsu propping himself up with his hands lifted his voice, several others a fraction behind him.


“That’s more like it! You’ve beaten the French, you know how they play, so I’ll be damned if you’re going to lose this final to them!”

“Yeah! Come on!” came the calls from various mouths, their blood pumping.

“You know as well as I do that man for man, you’re better. They have players which are something else, alright, granted, but then so does this team have its world class stars. And more than that, you’re a better team!

“You work better together, you know one another better; you trust one another better. Adam knows where Aaron is going to run, Nathan and Joshua knows how fast and far Yalcin can run up that wing; Dalian knows when Dean or ole Bacon needs a hand manning the side.

“I believed; two years ago I fully believed we would walk away with the trophy, and in a sense we should have seen how much further that tie would have gone, you’d earned the right to see how far you could push the Spanish. Now you’ve beaten them, and they’ll no longer be European Champions.

“So, with the title up for grabs, let’s get to work on this. All midfielders go with Honda, you’re going to be working on the weaknesses of their talisman Tsengwa, remove him from the game by playing to his weaker foot, and use your strengths to the advantage.

“Defenders, with Neville. We want a repeat of the performance against Spain, serious commitment in the challenges, measured heads for when to dive in; Burton and Bacon and the full backs on working the overlap but having the clarity to get back before charging into the box.

“Bateson, Huxtable…with Gerrard. You’re going to get that finishing perfect, you’re going to show me that come that final; you can stamp your mark on the spectacle, and give every proud face back home the celebration they deserve. There’s one spot up front up, both show me you deserve it more!”

The players looked to get up, ready to be moving off to work on their tasks.
“Hey!” He called “Look at me” They all stopped to face the front once more. “This is it fellas, this is it. 3 days, Oxlade, this is your last chance at the cup; boys…it’s been 62 years since England has clasped their hands about a trophy. Work hard. Let’s win this.”

Every one smiling got to their feet. The coaches began shouting their calls for everyone to follow them to their pitches. The Manager stood and watched as they all peeled off, the excited faces of them all was where the nation now once again rested all its hopes. No one would be going to work; no trains would be running, no taxis in service, and no restaurant would open. God help any pessimistic or foolhardy sod who booked their wedding that day.

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9th​ July France – Final – Friends Arena

((Kick-*** Score: Nightvision / Strobe - YouTube))

50,000 in the stands, hundreds of millions watching. Bateson up front to replace Stannard; Akarsu calling with manic fury as much for himself as the team as they stood ready, the beginning to the finish of their long wait for glory.

The men with microphones for the screens back in sunny England couldn’t restrain themselves as the referee signalled it was time. “Come on England! Tonight this might be the night they finally go all the way….”

“Hold onto something folks, anything will do! Here we go! England, the European Championship Final….is now underway!”

The captain and Bateson kicked off, the fans went utterly berserk the moment the ball moved by the boot of their leader on the field, their man to rally the troops right to the end.

Oxlade called for it early, the French were wise to the runs of the wingers, everyone knew it was how the English and the Manager had his teams play. That didn’t stop them working the width, the skills of those individuals, their pace and flair to bomb down the touchline, sending the thousands in attendance into full voice as their anticipations grew with every metre.

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Hull evaded the dagger like challenge which came so soon in the game before sending it. Adam received it; a magical pass, beat his man, and was off. Too soon to make a byline run as the French were all in position, two players over to cover quickly. Turning his back Burton was in support, good lad! Doing his job perfectly from the off, they all were, the shape was there, ready to ping it right across the pitch.

Dean took it from Oxlade, looked across, to Hull, to Bell, to Bacon…up to Akarsu! He was off, to the byline, his eyes flicked across, so routine was the action. The ball crashed into the box, Bateson jumped as he might, the defender climbed higher.

Out went the ball, but the fans wouldn’t let up, England were straight out of the traps and absolutely flying at the French. The blue shirted French striker took an awkward ball from distance, got some way out from the goal before realising he had no support, deciding to blaze it high and wide in some last ditch attempt. The game had only just started and already they were flustered by the lions’ onslaught.

Towler got himself forward, the ball at his feet. Three French players closed about him, he had no space out of it save some Maradona piece of artistry to take it past them into the 6 yard box. He smashed it as hard as he could with the limited space against the man in front of him, out for a corner. The crowd’s intensity magnified, they knew the way things were heading a goal was only a matter of time!

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Bell set himself, the step back to the advertising boards as he looked to use all the space. His body poised and ready, the box was a flurry of white and blue shirts jostling, vying for that priceless position. Desperate defenders hung onto the English attackers, their arms loosely looped about the waists of them as the referee marshalled players apart until they calmed down.

Joshua heard the whistle at last, ran up, hit it beautifully, in-swinging as the bend dragged it toward the mess of players. Corns got up, his head an inch above the bulky defender, the ball kissing his hairline as his eyes shut with the impact. The net rippled as the ball found its way beyond the keeper, 22 minutes.

Faces lit up, the players all raced away together in jubilation, the centre of the mob as he ran to the stands the scorer as he held his arms open to the manic scenes, scenes which were literally insane back home, the lead in the final was theirs.

France kicked off, pressed up immediately, and no sooner had they got down the wing than Bacon had robbed the winger blind. He looked to his side, the midfield all rushing out, the lone Bateson weaving ready to bend his run as defenders checked frantically to make sure they were with him.

The Manager looked to the left back from his technical area, his arms the iconic movement as he desperately conveyed to his player the only instruction he needed. “GO!!!!” He cried; the sweeping motions all the encouragement the player needed. Adam with the ball at his feet blitzed down the side, Yalcin was with him, the pair going for it as the French realised they only had one player able to challenge the two for it.

Akarsu sprinted ahead, the defender saw the run, aware of the ball down the line he came across unable to commit to a challenge. Bacon drew his foot back, looked to the run of the captain, and feigned, moving inside. He burst forward into the space; Bateson threw out an arm, the space before him, the easy goal.

The ball squared across, Bateson stuck it in. 2 – 0, 24 minutes.

View attachment 329787 The picture was even more mental than before, the Manager grinning from ear to ear as the score line doubled for them. Everyone on the bench was hugging one another, the sense that they were nearly there now becoming very real.

Picking the ball out the back of the net, the blue shirts resumed play. Thinking the English might underestimate them, they played it back out to the same wing. The Frenchman eyed Bacon as they came in for another encounter, it looked the same as before, yet this time as he motioned to go down the outside he dinked it just beyond them both to run onto first. Both bodies came together, and the winger hit the floor.

A yellow card, he’d been looking for it all along, but then Bacon had been sold.

It looked like the French might settle things down, build some momentum, but as Bateson drove one onto the keepers palms England had another corner.

Bell stood over it, stepped up once more, and as the players all jumped one after another, Sekou Boukie met the ball with his head.
3 – 0, and his first ever goal for England! What a time to get it. 32 minutes, just over half an hour and they were three goals up. Surely this final was there, surely this tournament was theirs. The trophy, England’s. Players peeled away in celebration, no one could quite believe this might be it.
Pandemonium in the stands, before the television screens in England, on the England bench. They couldn’t believe what was unfolding, never had things just gone right for the English when they were on for some real moment of triumph.

The Clocked moved past 40, and still France had no answer, they looked as if they just wanted the half to end. Yet as Tsengwa found himself with some space at the edge of the area he unleashed a fine shot testing Armstrong to his limits. The save was only able to push the ball out to the side, both Bacon and the winger chased it down, a 50/50 for the ball.

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The Frenchman won it, and as Bacon crashed against the attacker the expressions of everyone supporting the lions showed horror.
A second yellow; and a red. Burton had picked up an injury in the proceedings and had to go off; the Manager brought on Gavin for him, now only 3 centre backs making up the defence.

It didn’t matter. Half time, what words of encouragement they must have received.

As England emerged, their faces were full of passion, full of utter drive to make this their game. 10 men they had, yet the midfield won everything, supported the defence, created the attacks. The extra man counted for nothing for the French, though England failed to fashion any chances.

70 minutes, the booked Towler off for Rowney. 80 minutes, Weatherby on for the also carded Bell. Everyone was looking exhausted, yet as each time Akarsu boomed an order, the faces picked up, the adrenaline coursing furiously as every England flag waved with such intent, the fists of the faithful striking the air as they drained every last drop of energy, pouring it into those 10 men.

90 minutes. Gerrard and Honda stood either side of the Manager, Neville, all coaches, all the subs, Stannard, everyone who had worked on or with this England team stood shoulder to shoulder, their arms about one another.

90+1. The commentators were struggling for voice.

90+2. The fans were in agony, whistles being blown from all sides, the desperate want for that moment when they really had done it.

90+3. The whistle blew.

England 3 – 0 France

((Queen - We Are The Champions (HQ) (Live At Wembley 86) - YouTube))

The Manager was first, the second the whistle blew he was onto the pitch, bounding as his arms waved like a madman’s. Gerrard, the lot of them, all cascaded onto the pitch, nothing could have stopped them. Every white shirt turned to greet their Manager, sprinting toward him with faces full of bewilderment, astonishment, zeal; unabated euphoria.

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They clustered together in one great mass, all players and staff just grabbing hold of another to hug, they didn’t care who it was, it didn’t matter, they had all done it, at last.

62 years since that game at Wembley in 1966.

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Euro 1968 – A bronze for the World Champions, the glory of Wembley beginning to fade.

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Mexico 1970 – West Germany gain revenge for the final four years ago in the Quarter Finals, a goal of Hurst’s goes unrewarded.

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Mexico 1986 – The Hand of God. “It wasn’t the hand of God, it was the hand of a rascal. God had nothing to do with it.” Sir Bobby Robson

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Italy 1990 – West Germany, and the beginning of the penalty nightmare for a generation.

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Euro 1996 – At home, a whole new generation have to suffer the torture of the Germans, and penalties.

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France 1998 – A moment of madness, and Penalties to Argentina.

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Euro 2004 – Penalties to Portugal.

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Germany 2006 – Another moment of madness, and more penalties with the Portuguese.

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Euro 2012 – All the way with Italy, before penalties.

Argentina 2026 – The penalty that was never given, the final snatched from beneath them.

So little in-between to cheer for, so many times they had fallen so short. So many men had come promising the trophy, promising it was what England deserved, that they could do it. All speculation and wishful thinking.

62 long years.

The Manager looked from beyond the throngs of his own players and staff to see the maniacs in the stands shouting and singing with all they had left. Their expressions refused to die down, not a person took their seat; no flag at home wasn’t waving frantically, the purpose at last to celebrate the winning of a trophy.

England had at long last won something again.

“Weeeeeeeeee are the champions! My Friends!” They all sang together, it was one of the only songs the English knew how to sing in unison when things just went right in the end. Tears were falling from players who never thought they would ever achieve such a height with their beloved nation; old boys in the crowd and those too exhausted to hold their emotions in check happily flooded the drops from their eyes as they wept over the sights they were witness to.

Akarsu stood over the trophy; the French had their medals and were gone. There it rest, his team behind him, the Manager, everyone who had built him up to this point. England watched, this was it, his hands took hold of those silver handles, and in one solid movement, the white ribbons hanging from its sides, the European Championship trophy was raised by English hands for the first time in history.

The cheers rang across the North Sea, back to all the corners of England, in every city, in every town. Children not quite sure what was going on were made to watch so they would remember, youngsters delighted at being allowed to stay up late for this fireworks show they hadn’t a clue about.

The Stockholm sky blazed all kinds of colours, the thud of each firework eliciting fresh grins as everyone turned their eyes to the sky if they weren’t within distance of the trophy.

The players took their turns, shaking the silverware above their heads before it finally came to the Manager.

View attachment 329812 He clutched the piece, looking it over, remembering the people who had held it before him, the years he had watched as famous footballers had wowed the continent to earn the right; managers who had masterminded squads into producing football the world was proud of.

Throwing it up, all his players and staff cheered once again, grabbing hold of him to lift the poor man above their heads. Held atop the faces of those who had scored the goals, made the saves, rescued the team from the brink, he smiled wider than ever. It was as with Ghana, they trusted him implicitly, he really had managed to get them all the way.

The photos taken they let him down. He passed the trophy to Ashley Stannard, the striker banned from the final took off his training jacket to reveal the kit he had dominated in the whole tournament. Turning for the photographers, they snapped their moment of him with the prize.

Boukie and Corns were hailed for their near perfect performances for the team in the final; Stannard was named best player of the tournament, top scorer with 10 goals, many of the players named in the dream team.
As the press waited for the celebrations to die down they streamed over the awards and accolades afforded to the English.

Eventually, the Manager stepped into the tunnel.

Q. “Congratulations! How do you feel?!”

A. “Over the moon! This feeling is incredible, I can’t stop smiling!”

Q. “Haha, I don’t think any of us can! Really, well done all of you, it’s been a long time coming.”

A. “Oh yes, we’ve all lost that common bond now though haven’t we? England has finally won something, so now we’ll have to share in the success for a change.”

Q. “I think we can get used to that. So first thoughts, is this the end of your England reign or do you think you’ll continue to the World Cup?”

A. “Oh I can tell you now that whilst this success is wonderful, absolutely wonderful, I want the World Cup, in English hands. Being champions of Europe is great, dethroning the Spanish a joy, but they are still the world champions, and until we take off them…I won’t be satisfied.”

The studios were still in the throws of victory, playing the reaction moment of goals and victory from the pundits and presenter alike. Lineker could only roar “We’ve done it!!” before calming down to his usual smooth self. Those waiting to do the analysis as always were caught off guard, unprepared for the feeling of the win. It became a series of compliments, tripping off the tongue without end over each player, each move.

This time it would seem the English didn’t mind looking back on the Euros in Sweden. No dodgy tracksuits or big letdowns. The squad had gone, done their jobs albeit it after a sluggish start; and at last come away with their hands about the trophy.

Next up, Italy, the Confederations Cup before the real deal.
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I really appreciate the comments and encouragement guys :D Having a good time writing this anyway, but the fact that people are still following it gives me a grin each time I see it. Going to be a decent gap before the next part as I'm into the final months of my degree, in the meantime I'll just have to settle for enjoying some of the good tales everyone else is spinning currently.
2028-29: A Sanguine Carouse

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((Wonderwall (jazz version) - YouTube))

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Summed up very briefly, the atmosphere in the nation called England: A relaxed satisfaction. It was the easiest homecoming any Three Lions side had ever undergone; great swathes of cheering faces waving like lunatics there to greet them as they shuffled off the plane, some of the players looked almost unsure of how to receive the densely packed crowds singing their praises.

Not all however; Stannard, Bateson and a good chunk of the contingent were all grinning with a confidence which demonstrated how self assured these young men were. The swagger in the strut down the steps onto the tarmac indicative of their personalities certainly; but then they were vastly overpaid young men, a problem which had been with footballers for years now.

What could be said however was that no one cared if a number these idols were a little on the greedy side, had ego’s which were writing all sorts of cheques, or had morals which sometimes were a little lacking, for the time being they could do no wrong as they had finally come through for their country.

View attachment 335980 “Well it was about time” Spoke crusty old people when faced with television cameras seeking reactions; some didn’t even watch football, they had just grown up in the culture of eternal hope and crushed dreams of their friends and family, and quite frankly were sick of it.
Over on an official visit, the French president offered to sell the English the champagne they would be toasting their success with at a ‘special price’ as the mainland neighbours consoled one another from the final defeat. Had the game been a contest then no doubt they would have issued some sort of challenge for the next time they inevitably would meet; but to lose 3 nil to a 10 man side on such an important occasion, it hurt them.

A parade in London, a ceremonial occasion at Wembley as the trophy was added to England’s cabinet…doubling it in size.
It didn’t take long for things to settle down for the manager as the moment the wild celebrations for the public were over he retreated to his solitude of house and home for the time he had until their next meeting. Whilst the nation continued its revelry he removed himself from the spotlight completely, the players could enjoy that whilst they performed their preparations for the next season.

It wasn’t the picture perfect return however. His family understood that his job and previous role at Brighton demanded attention, but for once it wasn’t constraints on his time which was placing any kind of strain on life; things were becoming less than comfortable as his time as England Manager drew on.

Almost anticipated, the bullying of his child had been meagre to begin and manageable, then the news that things had reversed and they were now the most popular in school a welcome turnaround as the fortunes of England were revived; yet now things were worse than ever.
A reporter had been approaching his child at their school. Old enough to know it was best to ignore, that hadn’t deterred the efforts of the errant journalist. Spotted hiding out near their home, the news as the Manager arrived home was his wife had caught the man going through their bins.

It wasn’t proper journalism, the man would have likely broken another’s leg in order to make a story and advance his career if he felt he could get away with it. It was also totally unacceptable in their lives. A call to the FA was brief; they would deal with it, get onto the police and see that his family was shielded from such attention.
At least attendance at Kyriakos Papadopoulos’ testimonial match offered some happier respite from the immediate home problems. The Greek centre-back had been incredible at the back of his Brighton side, and a fantastic captain to the years when they lifted every trophy going, many times. The fact that he had retired from playing was a sign that the team he sculpted might at last be winding to a close.

Still, the core of the team consisted of the players he had bought, trained and taught, but they were getting on themselves. Caprari was told his contract wouldn’t be renewed, yet he wasn’t ready to stop playing just yet. Liverpool offered him a deal feeling he could still do the business, but it was clear that it was his last year. They weren’t quite there yet, but nostalgia was almost the feeling when thinking on his Brighton days and the faces that had performed those miracles.

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It was worth mentioning that with a heavy heart Phil Jones also decided to retire, a melancholic interview with him revealing how upset he was to miss England’s winning Euros campaign. The Manager would find some way to rebuild the bridge.

Dinner with Antonio Conte’s family following the fond fixture, the pair’s working friendship was growing as memories of Brighton – Juventus’ Champions League final were firmly buried. The Italian was doing a tremendous job with the Seagulls, as long as he remained at the helm they would continue to win silverware without too much problem.

It was just under a month then at his home, now with higher walls and bigger gates; before he knew it the time had flown and it time to reignite the flames for his England side, it was time for them to begin their acceleration toward the ultimate prize. Just a little one on the way would tell how they ready they were.

More eager than ever to reach the competition proper, his focus whilst on the job was always half on the potential glory ahead, the months would fly by.

((Led Zeppelin- Whole Lotta Love - YouTube))

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9th​ August – Slovenia – Friendly – Pod Dubnom, Zilna

Towler 39, Stannard 54. 2 – 0.

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1st​ September – Greece – World Cup Qualifying Group 7 – Wembley

Huxtable 2, Boukie 13, Akarsu pen.39, Bertrand 72. 3 – 1.

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5th​ September – Hungary – WCQ – Puskas Ferenc Stadion, Budapest

Towler 4, Stannard 41, 52, Kollo 62. 3 – 1.

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6th​ October – Andorra – WCQ – Estadi Comunal, Andorra la Vella

Towler 7, Oxlade 26, Stannard 44, 78, Gibirilu 86. 5 – 0.

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10th​ October – Israel – WCQ - Wembley

Oxlade 41, Corns 45+1, Oxlade 62, Towler 77. 4 – 0.

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8th​ November – Japan – Friendly – Sakai Stadium, Osaka

To round off the year the Manager had arranged an eastern trip, one of a three which would be coming along one at a time rather than a tour.

Many questioned these arrangements, stating that a side of England’s quality and standing shouldn’t be using their available games to play such weaker oppositions. They didn’t think about things in the same manner as him clearly, the friendlies being subject to instructions restricting his stars from playing whole games.

So younger players, fringe players, and those who were more used to the bench than others got a chance to show their worth to their country, and Japan ranked 42nd​ in the world represented a good manner in which to test them. The squad’s quality and depth was the problem for the Japanese, three or four positions lacking a player of international quality though they could perform most of their tasks competently.

The strength of the oriental side was in its forwards. Ryosuke Taki of Roma was easily one of the best finishers on the planet, a complete forward with pace, flair, technical ability and a striker’s brain. His partner upfront was Wataru Narita of Chelsea, an entirely unselfish striker, something incredibly rare in a front man. His own abilities were up there, but lining up alongside his lethal teammate, the pair represented one of the world’s most underrated attacks.

There was also another element to the scheduling of such games; he planned a charm offensive. Showcasing their talent in competitive friendly games against the Asian tigers was similar to the globalisation model many giant clubs adopted to spread their brand. The manager felt it was an easy opportunity to try out the Beckham lure, and should the oriental sides either fail to qualify or exit the coming world cup, maybe their supporters would happily make the swap to supporting the lions.
A spirited contest, England’s defence were given a stiff test, the youngsters gained some magical game time and a few first fresh caps. The desired result was achieved perfectly as not a card in sight the European champions won over the Japanese crowds.

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Hull 5, Huxtable 21, Narita 32, Stannard 35, Narita 86. 3 – 2.

Club managers were rinsing national bosses in the press following the international break however. The England manager kept himself clean of attack thankfully, but the fury of so many men in charge was evidence enough that as the season was progressing the fitness of their players weighed heavily upon their minds.

Finding himself interviewed at a Brighton match he attended, he could only support the Brighton boss’ sentiments, it was a bitter pill to swallow when your priceless individual had been injured playing a friendly in a match which ultimately counted for nothing; potentially jeopardising your entire season. It was country before club, but there had to be a level of respect, and luckily he seemed to have that with all the clubs he had to stay on good terms with.

Before the year was out there were just a few more things to be dealt with. Wayne Rooney decided that the West Ham job freed up mid November was a step in the right direction for his management career.

View attachment 335993 Former captain and recently retired Phil Jones was the perfect replacement for the Under 21’s manager job, the pair greeting one another with smiles and handshakes as they forgot the past, eager to work with one another in leading England to success. He didn’t display the most astounding ability to manage a side, however with Marco Di Vaio as his assistant who had a wealth of experience Phil could learn on the job, his influence as former captain would also help no doubt.

Ryan Bertrand also now retired was hired to fill the under 19’s assistant role as Jack Rodwell who had been coping just fine requested the spot to be filled.

Administrative duties aside, the draw for the Confederations Cup was made, and the year was over. What a year it had been for the English.

Group A – Italy, Spain, Mexico, Tunisia.
Group B – England, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands.


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30th​ January – China – Friendly – Xinhua Road Stadium, Wuhan

The second of their charm offensive, blood the emerging faces fixtures, China was like a worse off version of Japan when it came to their team, the general quality low. They also had only one world class striker instead of the two, but what a striker he was. Zhangjing Wei of Schalke, he had all the necessary attributes for a great forward.

Unfortunately without the support to back him up, his international duties must have seemed like an eternal uphill struggle with the billion plus all expectant of him to deliver victories.

Bacon 81, Huxtable 89. 2 – 0.
Ghana then managed to win themselves the African Cup of Nations sending the West African nation into kaleidoscope displays of rapture once again. The manager had watched the games with some enjoyment from his screen, cheering with the crowds from his living room as some of the familiar faces such as Ibrahim Opoku led them on and on.

What brought the biggest smiles from the achievement however wasn’t the victory itself, but rather the reports which came out as the tournament progressed, until the final admission from manager George Owu, hired by the Manger during his stint in charge, the two had remained good friends.

With the tournament taking place in Tunisia again, the nation the Manager’s Ghana side had managed to win it; Owu had shown himself to be a superstitious man. The squad stayed in the same hotels, the same rooms, underwent the same training regimes, all in a bid to recapture the success of the last time they had visited. Well, mad as it seemed, it had apparently worked.

It was just as well they weren’t going to be returning to Qatar for the World Cup, for England to lose to Ghana again and when they were on such an incredible march to the top would destroy the plans they were slowly carrying out. Part of him wished though that they might meet on the big stage, that he might test his current team out against his old one.

With the Cup of Nations trophy, Ghana moved up to 3rd​ in the FIFA rankings, England held onto their number 1 spot.

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20th​ March – Greece – WCQ – Georgios Karaiskakis, Piraeus

Stannard 7, Akarsu 40, Corns 69, Edgerley 78. 4 – 0.

Just the one game to break up the months of next to nothing, it wouldn’t be until the summer England would resume their duties; player’s minds in the meantime focused on domestic and continental club pursuits.

As the time ticked closer, the headache of squad selection reared itself. England had never been to a Confederations Cup before in their history, it was a new spectacle to them, and whilst a minor trophy it was still a piece of silverware he was eager to take home.

Players who had been staples of the side had been finding fitness difficult as injuries wracked them. Others were frequent strangers to the national side yet in the form of their lives despite not being the technically gifted players. The Media began to stir things up as they so loved to do, waiting for that announcement with the names that would be going to Italy for the World Cup’s precursor, waiting so they could start to savage whoever seemed like the weak links to sell some papers.

There was only one phone conversation the Manager needed to have before finalising who would go. One individual who had been with England for so long now that his name had been a given for years. Yet now he was 35, and nearing the end of his journey as a player.

It didn’t take much encouragement to alter his plans.

Gks: Jimmy Armstrong, Nazeer Burton, Nicky Wiseman.
Defs: Dean Burton, Adam Bacon, Dalian Corns, Sekou Boukie, Tunji Gibirilu, Tony Bowman, Ishmel Gavin, Les Nicholls.
Mids: Aaron Towler, Yalcin Akarsu, Nathan Hull, Joshua Bell, Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dave Nicholson, Kieran Rowney, Lucas Weatherby.
Atks: Ashley Stannard, Danny Edgerley, Martin Bateson, James Huxtable.

Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain, his inclusion drew some surprise. Still the Juventus captain, he was appearing for an hour at the most for his club, a presence in the dressing room as much as an anchored director in the midfield, his legs now starting to completely go.

Feeling the squad had enough depth, the Manager made the call that the Confederations Cup was small enough that a spot was there for the man to act as his testimonial to round off such a glittering career. Adam announced he would retire at the end of the season, the moment the tournament was over. The English and Italian media were quick to start rolling out the praise for the man, loved in both for his talent with a ball; though the English questioned how serious the Manager was about the cup with his inclusion.

Just two games until they made the trip.

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1st​ June – Lithuania – WCQ – S.Darius and S.Girenas Stadium, Kaunas

Towler 25, Corns 34, 49, 76, Akarsu 88. 5 – 0.

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5th​ June – South Korea – Friendly – Seoul World Cup Stadium, Seoul

The last of the Asian outings for England, the Korean’s thrilled at the fixture, drawing the crowds with ease.

Hull 27. 1 – 0.

Legs rested, the end of the football league meaning both games players were subjected to the bench for at least one of the two, informed they were going to be needed for the games ahead. All qualifiers and friendlies between them and another competition out of the way, it was straight to south east Italy and the city of Bari.
The English flooded the skies, white red and blue football shirts from all eras of the three lions battling poured into the boot of Europe, excited at the prospect of this seemingly brand new trophy they would be competing for; nervous that they were once more going to be playing some high-risk opposition should things go well. With no nation considered a threat all year, it had been one long party for the supporters, a year long drinking session to accompany the steps toward the World Cup.

Perhaps it would be five more matches to continue the march of the lions.
2029 Confederations Cup

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Italy, a nation which held such an enormous pedigree in the game of football, such a history to marry with the iconic stars they had produced.

As those with the means to do so arrived in the sunny Mediterranean holiday destination, everyone watching was reminded of the last time England had journeyed to Italy with a view to winning a trophy; early, but the broadcasters just couldn’t sit on the footage for another year.


The surroundings, the weather, even the people at this time of year. Everything was so beautiful. Smiles aplenty, the manager found himself having to give his players a short sharp bark to snap them back to the task at hand as they lined up at the training camp; cooing ladies giggling at the fences waving to the stars who may well play away from home should they get the chance.

“Get your heads focused! This may only be a little tournament, but get this right and you’ll be walking into that World Cup creating fear in your opponents…teams unsure of themselves will question their chances long before you’ve even kicked off.”

“Joshua!!!!” Cried Gerrard, the player jolting as he leapt out of his skin, his attention still galvanised by the tanned skin on show.

The Manager sighed “50 press-ups now, all of you”

A unanimous groan sounded out “Joshua you Bell-end…”

“What? Can’t you see? She’s got nothing on underneath that little dress I swear it.”

Faces started leaning to have a look beyond one another as they all began to prepare for their punishment.

“100 Press-ups.”

“AWWWwwww!!” Rang out

“Want to make it more?!” They shut up and began counting through the motions in their heads. “All that lady has for you is an std and a penchant to sell the story to the press and ruin your lovely though likely weak marriages.”

“Yes Boss” Many of them said as they pressed their noses to the grass time and again. Gerrard leant across, his voice lowered.

“Errrm….You know what, I really don’t think she’s wearing anything underneath that little dress.”

“Oh my. Well you know what they say about Italian woman?”

“What’s that?”

“You just have to worry about what they’re doing the other 364 days of the year.”

“Isn’t that Greek women?”

The pair grinned to one another, feeling they had insulted the integrity of Mediterranean women enough for one sordid chat. Looking back to the players, all they saw were the faces of every one of them staring up with a schoolboy grin plastered upon their features.

“Ok up everyone! Laps!”

View attachment 336247 Training was to the point, determined and meaningful as arrangements kept them clear of further distractions. Before long the matches were upon them, and their chance to make an impression at England’s first outing to this exclusive cup.

((Backdraft soundtrack - Show me your firetruck - YouTube))

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18th​ June – Chile – Group B – San Nicola, Bari
The biggest challenge in the group, they didn’t particularly fear the South American’s despite their good form which had won them the continental trophy over the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

With little opposition in the group, the games would likely be good opportunities to warm up the players further, top up match fitness, and prepare for the real challenge that may lay beyond.

Towler 48, Corns 64. 2 – 0.

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21st​ June – Saudi Arabia – Group B – San Nicola, Bari
Boukie 5, Akarsu 19, Towler 23, S Al-Shemmari sent off 79, Boukie 80, S Al-Murjan 90+1. 4 – 1.

Despite going to sleep as the game came to its conclusion, there wasn’t too much to grumble about, the main thing was to avoid injuries. Mindful of the closeness of the fixtures, the Solomon Islands would see just the fringe players turning out to save legs.

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24th​ June – Solomon Islands – Group B – San Nicola, Bari
Joseph Anita 4, Bateson 8, Rowney 17, Bateson 24, Weatherby 56. 4 – 1

An early wake up call; one look from the manager to the players out there was all they needed to sort themselves out. If they needed any further encouragement to pull their fingers out they only had to look to the bench and the players who were usually ahead of them in any team selection.

3 wins, it was always going to be an easy group, Group A had contained all the real dangers to England meaning what was to follow would be the stern test they had been gearing up for once more.


Saudi Arabia102-43
Solomon Islands003-110

Tunisia would play Chile, England would play Spain...
To the north of Italy and Milan then; and a stadium the Manager knew well enough. **** the Spanish, the world champions, it just had to be them again. England had beaten them the last time they met, but that only meant they would be out for revenge. Silently he cursed having to play the red shirted maestros yet again, they were starting to become what Manchester City were to Brighton in his early days.

Spain the favourites, it seemed that England’s ranking of 1st​ in the world didn’t count for much still with the predictions.

The Manager called the squad to one side the night before the game. The expressions were mixed as they gathered in the hotel meeting room afforded them, the 5 star establishment just happy to have the European Champions staying with them.

Silent faces watched on as the Manager paced back and forth, apparently choosing his words carefully. Gerrard, Honda, they all watched on wondering what was going on, what he was going to say. The minutes passed, still he walked about calmly, pondering; no one dared to break the silence and whatever the man was thinking on.

He turned to them, no words still, just made eye contact with the various faces. Aaron Towler and the rest of his Brighton boys; Nathan Hull, Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Each time he looked to another player they stared back, waiting with a tinge of nerves, each mind trying to work out what was going on.

His lips parted, he paused.

“Get some rest.” And waved his hands, everyone was dismissed. Perplexed individuals muttered to one another as they filed out, his own staff wondering what was his plan yet kept their misgivings or thoughts to themselves.

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28th​ June – Spain – Semi Final – San Siro, Milan
Match day, and still the players were unsure what their man in charge was playing at. Emerging from the dressing room a few minutes early, the players bounced up and down, waggled their legs as they felt the tension of what was to come seeping in.

He viewed them, still saying nothing yet, watching their eyes as they poured over the prospect of what the Spanish may produce on that pitch, what their stars may conjure to make their lives difficult.

Hearing noises emanating from the Spanish dressing room, they would be arriving alongside presently. Lifting a hand, Manager beckoned the line of English players forward to gather about him.

Worried looks shot to one another at the back as they trotted up, eager to hear what he might say at last. Their ears pricked, ready for the words which would tell them how to deal with the perennial threat they were about to face.

“Kill them”

The Spanish came roaring out of their room; English mouths were silent, their eyes brimming with barbarous intent and greed over the 90 minutes that lay before them.

Spain; had no idea how to cope. It was a slaughter.

Corns 10, Towler 24, Stannard 59, Towler 61, Stannard 85.

England 5 – 0 Spain

No cards for England, every player put in a performance that had the analysts gleaming with pride; in every department England had outshone them hands down.

Believing their goal was achieved, the press interviews afterwards were a cinch.

Q. “After such a victory against a woeful Spanish side, do you think the World Cup England will be the favourites now?”

The Manager deferred to Gerrard. A. “Errrrrm, I think it’s a little unfair on the Spanish to say they were that bad….errrr, we were just, errr, better. Maybe we’ll be the favourites but it’s a tournament so, errrrm, it’ll depend on the form of every team going in.”

Q. “You’ve Chile to play in the final, do you think a similar result will be on the cards given the difference between the two teams?”

Gerrard left it for the Manager in turn A. “Which sides? England and Chile or Spain and Chile?”

Q. “Spain and Chile”

A. “I’m not sure you can compare the two easily; we had prepared especially for the Spanish so things will be different. We can’t simply roll out the same eleven players and expect to repeat that performance, Chile will operate in a different style after our first meeting here in Italy for this cup. I would like to think we will walk out winners though.”

Semi Final Results

Tunisia 1 - 2 Chile
England 5 - 0 Spain

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1st​ July – Chile – Final – San Siro, Milan

The two neat lines walked out onto the pitch, white and red, the stadium a menagerie of colours as all nations invited to the tournament joined with the Italian masses packing out the seats. English flags made themselves known from all over as the Chile contingent seemed to emanate from just the one end of the ground.

Both anthems boomed out, proud men and women wearing the white shirt stood alongside as they witnessed yet another final for their country, the pleasure at the occasion obvious to all.

((Super [OST] - The Second Prayer - YouTube))

The coin toss; and as the formalities were carried out the Manager called Adam Oxlade-Chamberlain over, not far for the winger to jog.
His hands on his shoulders, he looked the man in the eyes.

“One last match Adam, this is your testimonial. Probably the best testimonial game a player could have if you ask me!”

“Haha, yeah probably, cheers boss”

“Go out there, and just enjoy yourself. I know you’ll do your job to the high standard you always have, but just know that all your nation are back home watching, looking at you after all these years you’ve worked tirelessly for them, groaned and cheered with each upset and success in your England career. They love you, so go show them just why.”

Adam nodded to the Manager, he let go of his shoulders and the winger ran back to his position, looking around to the nearby stand as stood waiting for the whistle and Chile kick off. There he saw held up the hands of four fans a giant board.

‘187 caps - 36 goals - Legend.’

Grinning sheepishly he sent them a wave, one they caught with no trouble at all. The stands built in noise, the whistle blew, and Chile got things underway.

((Casino Royale - Chris Cornell - You Know My Name - YouTube))

They looked keener, more competent and together as they moved the ball about their midfield, making sure to keep it well away from any Englishman applying the early pressure they had planned to put on them.

Spanish calls were frequent from the mouths of the Chileans, their arms motioning to one another as each player gave support, backed them up and sent the ball on; it wasn’t what the Manager had been expecting, the play was infinitely better than the previous encounter.

Not with their heads in the game just yet, the English defence seemed almost surprised when a ball down the line had Bacon called into action already.

“Come on man!” Cried the manager. Honda stepped up

“He’s asleep.”

“I know” He never took his eyes off the pitch, his eyes displaying annoyance as the centre back was also beaten with no trouble at all.

“He needs a kick…”

“I know….Oh….Oh ****** ****!” Screamed the Manager. 3 minutes in, Chile had the lead.

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Red shirts clustered together as they hugged emphatically, delighted at their well worked early lead. Boukie and Bacon were looking as though they had just woken up in some foreign land, unsure if even the ground they trod on was safe to do so.

He cupped his hands “Sort your lives out or I’ll sort them out for you!!!” The moment they looked his way one point to the bench told them all they needed to know. ****** the early goals, England conceded too many of them.

The ball on the centre spot, they resumed, kept it, and looked better following their scare. All the way from defence to attack, a corner, England’s first and a chance to create some danger.

Eyes on his job instead of the Italian beauties, Bell stood over the corner, checking the likely targets. He raced up, put his foot through it and ran on. Too close to the keeper, but as Corns went to challenge the man between the sticks he put him off, the gloves of the last line only able to push it outward away from the mob.

Aaron Towler measured, picked his spot, and on the half-volley smashed it. Top corner, equalised.

The English cheered, 13 minutes, it hadn’t taken long to get themselves back into it, perhaps now they would assert themselves and put the game to bed.

Chile picked things up, lost it; Akarsu gauged his options, Stannard had two men on him, Towler would have to take a touch, Oxlade was back post but it needed to be perfect.

Nathan Hull dropped back from his marker, a hand thrust to the ground before him as his body set itself, imploring the pass to set him up. The easy ball was sent his way, the red shirts seeing the danger began to bound across, legs outstretching already as they lunged to try and force the block.

Hull side footed it, the gap beneath them all as they flew in like a tunnel hidden to all but the keenest of eyes. 15 minutes, England had a lead.
Weary to the threat the English attack were posing once again, Chile sat back. Akarsu, Oxlade, both got down their line as the play was fed out, but each ball in was bundled clear as nine men were at all times back to try and beat the play up field.

Half time, and strolling in they felt good for the win, just a little further to go and they would have it.

A quick sub to ensure a knock didn’t become a solid injury for Hull and they were underway, all the possession and opportunity England’s.

They charged the wings, but again, nine men all back, ten when it got back. Chile weren’t going to get anything but they were stopping England killing the game off. The hour mark approached. Turning to the bench Gerrard looked up at him.


“Not yet, give them another 15, but lets press even more. Ideas where is weak?”

The coaches all huddled about their pads as they planned instructions, but eyes looked up at the play as England got another corner. Bell swung it in, Corns got up. England 3 – 1 to the good. It was theirs now almost certainly. Smiles and hugs went around the players and bench.

Chile looked a beaten side, they seemed to fear the English attack before it had even materialised. A counter-attack and corner in the 71st​ minute led to a goal back as their towering centre-back rose high to get it in, but the little moment of confidence and belief ebbed away in record time as England regained the momentum.

75 minutes, the board went up. Oxlade-Chamberlain looking completely dead on his feet turned to see the number, fully expecting as wiped out as he was to get his little walk off the pitch and goodbye to the fans.

Yalcin Akarsu and Dean Burton. Both were tired, though not nearly as much as the aged winger.
Confused, he lifted his arms in question to the Manager.

“What’s the matter?!” He called across the pitch “Can’t manage 90 minutes anymore old man?!”

They each grinned to one another as the England players still out there smiled over the exchange. A fist and deep breath was Adam’s response, and for those last 15 minutes, he played his heart out. Every ball that arrived at his feet was blessed with a perfect pass on, or in stoppage time one last lung buster run, a cut inside, a little space worked, and the keeper palming it clear with a fine save.

He didn’t have his goal, but he had a trophy to end his illustrious career.
England 3 – 2 Chile

Exhausted, he slapped his hands to his knees upon the final whistle as the England players began to jump and tear about in celebration.

A much better contest, the Chile players didn’t feel quite so hard done by, smiles as they exchanged shirts and shook hands before heading to their man in charge. Those that asked Oxlade if he wanted to swap were met with disappointment; his last shirt was for him.

Walking to the stands, he held his arms out to the English fans as they met his final triumph with song and applause. The Italians didn’t feel left out, sharing their sentiments for the Serie A legend.

((Battle of Britain(1969)-Battle of Britain Theme - YouTube))
England gathered, Yalcin invited Adam over, and together the pair lifted the cup above their heads as streamers and fireworks boomed out as per the usual fanfare.
Dancing about their new golden idol, it made for an increasingly wonderful scene to behold, England with a prize in their hands, not a face without sheer joy written upon it.
The Manager was quicker in approaching the cameras, the occasion not the biggest in their calander.

Q. “Congratulations! The scoreline was a little closer than I think people were expecting but you’ve done it again.”

A. “I think credit to Chile who did a magnificent job of advancing their team throughout the tournament, I’m glad we got the chance to play them again. But yes, we got the result at the end of the 90.”

Q. “And what wonderful scenes with Adam, as shattered as he looks. Is there anything you want to say to the cameras on the 35 year old?

A. “My sentiments mirror that of every other England supporter I believe; thank you to him for all his years. Every player that pulls on that shirt tries their hardest, but to do it for so many years is so indicative of the talent he has displayed all his career. He’ll be missed in the game.”

Q. “So celebrations into the night? A bit of champagne to toast another trophy?”

A. “Maybe one or two, but this cup whilst wonderful to win is just a stepping stone. Its all about one years time, that’s the real prize, I almost can’t wait to get back here with the lads to see what we can do when every team is playing like they live for nothing else.”

Q. “And England can win?”

He grinned, threw a wink to the camera as he turned away with a little wave and marched back over to his team, all jumping about like lunatics. He gave a raised clap to the stands as they refused to let up their own celebrations.

The break in the monotony of qualifiers welcome, they would go home to cheering faces again, to a nation which just a month ago had suddenly started to care about the Confederations Cup. Now it seemed like it was up there with the Euros and big competition since they won it.

That feeling would die down as the nerves for the golden trophy to covert above all others began to appear on the horizon. But one thing was for certain; beating Spain so thunderously sent the clearest message out to their opponents.

It was England’s time.
I don't think I've ever read a more well-written story in my life.
When England won the Euros, I was in actual floods of tears.
I salute you sir. :)
2029-30: Race to the Zenith

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The summer continued to be a full one for English football; the new member for the war chest of course partnered with the loss of Adam (Oxlade-Chamberlain) who had signalled in advance that his part was done.

View attachment 336880 The future looked good for England as Jack Rodwell successfully led the Under 19’s team to win their European Championships, beating Italy in the semis on penalities before gaining a 1 – 0 victory over the Spanish. He was looking a good manager already, and the youth of this small island nation were showcasing admirably their intentions for the future of their national game.

Chelsea unveiled their new stadium: the Lampard Arena, an almost 59,000 seater. Perhaps it would revive the ailing fortunes of the London club, still yet to recapture their glories of the early millennium.

Unfortunately, the distractions of football and the lighter entertainment on offer following the Confederations Cup weren’t enough to gloss over the homecoming problems which faced the Manager.
She had spoken to him on the phone when it had begun happening, but the evidence had been on show for him to see whenever his PA placed a magazine before him.

The celebrity gossip magazines had apparently found a new person to tear into. As the wife of the national team’s manager she wasn’t a pop star or soap actress for the people who clearly hadn’t enough going on in their lives to get the tongues wagging over, but she was a target all the same, and couldn’t stand for it.

He spoke with her at length, told her how they couldn’t really do anything about it. They lived behind their walls in their expensive house, a decent area, their child was doing well. But they couldn’t stop photographers sneaking photos of her to his knowledge.

It turned into an argument, the end result: They couldn’t live like that for much longer. He wouldn’t commit to an answer, but he wouldn’t allow his family to be subjected to such negative treatment, something had to change.

Managing to turn the sour mood around, the time off was good, a chance to unwind and relax before the final charge to the glorious tournament; the one they had been denied at just 3 years ago.

The media, the players, everyone; It was a unanimous feeling:

Here we go.

((James Bond - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - YouTube))

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15th​ August – Ireland – Friendly – Wembley

Stannard 4, Towler 12, Bateson 15, Towler 67. 4 – 0.

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7th​ September – Hungary – WCQ – Wembley

Hull 23, Bateson 82. 2 – 0. Captain Yalcin Akaru’s 150th​ cap.

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11th​ September – Andorra – WCQ – Wembley

Gavin 2, Corns 16, Bateson 33, Corns 75, Bateson 90+2. 5 – 0.

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12th​ October – Israel – WCQ – Ramat-Gan, Ramat-Gan.

Stannard 2, Eyal Kaufman 89. 1 – 1.

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16th​ October – Lithuania – WCQ – Wembley
Corns 8, Bateson 22, Corns 43, Bateson 54. 4 – 0.

Group 7WDLGDPts

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20th​ November – Poland – Friendly – Wembley

Towler 2, Corns 15, Kanik o.g. 31, Stannard 44, 47, Edgerley 55, Styzej 75. 6 – 1.

All games finished for 2029 the staff attended the group draw ceremony in Florence, Italy.
They’d done it before; they’d been to these things many a time to discover the fate of their initial games, those early hurdles they would be faced with.

He pretended he wasn’t nervous this time, he was an old hand at these affairs aged only 43, they were nothing anymore. But beneath the surface, he was terrified. They wouldn’t be entering this time as some outside shot at the trophy; a chancer who might happen to surprise many so called ‘experts’. They were one of the favourites for sure, no-one could deny that England were insatiable.

Group F: England, Switzerland, Algeria, Qatar.

Only the Swiss presented a real challenge there. The Schweizer Nati knew how to dig in and shut up shop when they wanted to. Nick a goal and they might be able to resist all onslaughts. It was time to prepare.

The office staff got on the phone to the Italian clubs relevant to where England would be playing. Napoli were happy for the European Champions to use their facilities. That would do nicely.
As the year closed out, just one more piece of fantastic news came the Manager’s way. Aaron Towler won himself both the Ballon D’or and World Player of the Year awards; the first Englishman to do it for a while. In attendance at the award, it was a surreal sight to see the man at his table getting up to accept the prestigious golden ball to the sound of applause from the world of football’s finest.

Going to the World Cup in half a years time with a Ballon D’or winner. He had to pinch himself. Had he ever had it so good for a tournament? One thing was for certain; it was about as far removed a team on paper as you could get from the one of Ghana and its leaky defence he had taken in 2022. How he had agonised over the problems that team faced.


((BBC News 24 Countdown (Club Mix 07) - YouTube))

Just over 5 months and they would be there, stood in that stadium ready to embark, to start what he truly believed would be their most glorious of achievements. It was agonising still, he just couldn't wait, the days couldn't come fast enough.

The Premier League management revolving door turned come the New Year, and Jack Rodwell having won his Under 19’s title decided that a foray into managing a top flight side suited him well as an opportunity. He left to take charge of Stoke City. Sean Scanell arrived a few days later to take the open position and work continued.

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5th​ March – USA – Friendly – Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

0 – 0.

It wasn’t the most inspired of matches, but England were trying something a little new. What could be taken from the game was that The States weren’t such a bad side themselves; one to watch in a few months time.

It wouldn’t be until May that any International football would be played out by England, but as with the entire year minor injuries demanded the Manager’s attention, assessments of the players and their fitness to see who would be the lucky few who travelled with the team to Italy.

A series of small setbacks for Dalian Corns had the fans worried, but at each time the incident of his injury would rear itself the Manager calmed nerves, frayed as they were already over the spectacle to come. Unfortunately their options were slightly limited early on however as Nazeer Burton picked up a hip injury, ruling him out.

He was only the second choice goalkeeper, so provided Armstrong didn’t damage himself they would be just fine.

Come April, he announced the squad.

Gks: Jimmy Armstrong (28), Dave Hirst (29), Nicky Wiseman (24).

Defs: Dalian Corns (29), Sekou Boukie (27), Dean Burton (33), Adam Bacon (29), Tunji Gibirilu (23), Allan Vincent (23), Paul Wittingham (28), Ishmel Gavin (25).

Mids: Yalcin Akarsu (33), Aaron Towler (33), Nathan Hull (29), Dave Nicholson (30), Joshua Bell (28), Kieran Rowney (30), Lucas Weatherby (32), Daniel Yates (21).

Atks: Ashley Stannard (29), Martin Bateson (28), Danny Edgerley (29), Kurt Heeroo (20).

It was an old squad, one which had played together for many years now; they knew one another and what they had to do. The press began speculating about the substitutes and fringe players of the 23 man squad; Wittingham had never even gained a cap, Heeroo was incredibly young….it was all irrelevant. Every player listed deserved to be going.

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27th​ May – Uruguay – Friendly – Wembley

0 – 0.

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31st​ May – Germany – Friendly – Wembley

Having not made it to the tournament, Germany were an easy test for the English. An eagerness about the side to put them down once and for all as the German history of perennial threatening to each and every cup disappeared. They had good individuals, but as a team they were nothing.

Stannard 10, Axel Mohr 28, Akarsu 30, Stannard 34, Towler 53. 4 – 1.

The odds for the tournament were announced:
Spain 6-4, Brazil 6-4, France 2-1, Argentina 2-1, England 2-1, Italy 5-2.

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5th​ May – Cameroon – Friendly – Wembley

Stannard 77, Weatherby 90+1. 2 – 0.

The home friendlies completed, they travelled to Italy for their final friendly before England had what quite possibly was their best ever shot at the World Cup since 1966.

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10th​ May – Italy – Friendly – Juventus Stadium, Turin

Akarsu 29, Bateson 39, Corns 45+1, Pizzi 76. 3 – 1.

Optimism and belief, every soul wearing the three lions believed that this time…nevermind that final four years ago; this time, they would do it.
The World Cup 2030

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((The Karate Kid 2010 (OST Soundtrack) - 15 From Master To Student To Master - YouTube))

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It was a short flight from Turin back down to their camp and venue for the first fixture in Napoli. The plane was buzzing, an electric atmosphere of supreme confidence and a feeling that these were the best moments of these young men’s lives, together in the heat of the Mediterranean sun.

Happy to watch them, the Manager wasn’t joking and smiling.

Brazil, Spain, Argentina, France, Italy, Holland. Surely they would play at least one of them, and when they did their opposition would throw everything they had in order to destroy their hopes.

England could beat them, but it was never a certain thing. He knew the fallacies of his players, their weak points, and each time he placed his head to the pillow at night all he saw was the shirts of their greatest foes exploiting each and every one of them. England were to drag themselves home early, the crowds would drag his name through the mud, make him into a scapegoat and sully the good work of every success up until now, he'd eternally be known for falling short with England when it mattered most.

But then his eyes would open, and he would see his boys training hard, working together as a unit, friends within the team, rivals eager to outdo one another before the new domestic season; and all the fears would wash away.He stood with Gerrard and Honda, watching as the team jogged its way around the Centro Sportivo Castel Volturno training ground in the early morning sun, the ground still wet and glinting from the dew as they had been so determined to rise at the first sight of the sun. It was no use training at the peak of the suns arc in the sky.

Turning to them each, he gave them a small personal announcement. They each began to look shocked and understanding together, hands motioned to emphasise points. The conversation likely would have gone on, but as the team approached the Manager’s secretary rushed over to the three men stood together, her run the semi-graceful one ladies wearing knee length skirts could manage as she covered the ground as fast as possible.

Some short words were all it took to turn the faces of all three to stony horror. The Manager called out to the team “That’s enough everyone! Go with Keisuke and Steven.”

They followed orders promptly, still letting the banter ping back and forth between their pack. “Aaron” he continued. Faces all looked over “I need a word”
There was curiosity over the singling out, but no one paid too close attention as they moved off. His star player in tow, they soon sat down in his temporary office.

The face of the young man was clueless to what was going on, but as the Manager laid it all out for him it quickly plunged into despair. As he broke the news, the rest of the team found themselves before a TV screen, their eyes glazed over as they felt the empathy for their friend and teammate.

View attachment 336936 “~ the accident it is believed happened due to a lorry driver who lost control of his vehicle. The reasons for just why are unclear at the moment however police are working to clear the accident and ascertain the cause for the crash.”

View attachment 336937 Edwards: “Alright thank-you Peter. Once again, an accident on the M4 to Heathrow has resulted in the deaths of 4 persons, one of whom has been identified as Linda Towler, mother to England footballer Aaron Towler…”

The Manager sat silently, looking to his friend and player as the man desperately sought to understand why in his head. The two of them sat there for some time, Aaron’s tears falling as his rage climbed and fell away in waves. He wanted to give him a hug, but he knew him too well; 33 years old, he was his own man, and a strong one at that. He didn’t easily embrace another man and never wished for it.

Eventually he had to speak up again. “Words can’t do justice to what has happened Aaron.”

He looked up at his boss again, his features a contorted mixture of emotions. “She raised me alone, just us…she can’t have gone.”

Again he said nothing, as there was no immediate response to that. He remembered when the two of them had turned up in Brighton to meet him, this 19 year old young man with his whole career ahead of him just thrilled to be signing for the European Champions! His mother was so keen to meet the man who would be guiding her son through his years, to see the place he would work and grow.

When he was ready, the grieving man spoke up once more “What do I do?”

“No choice is easy Aaron, nothing at this time is, it’s often the test of a person’s strength whatever path they take at times like this, and there is no right or wrong.”

Taking his time, he let that settle in. “Ok”

“You’re here in Italy, with us. You can stay here with us, train when you can, and if you’re coping and feel you’re up to it and want to you can still play. You helped us qualify and you’re a part of the team, you’ve earned the right.

“Or you can go home, be with your family members who will all gather and see if you can’t put everything as right as they can be. But you can’t have any regrets either way. You’re wife and two girls are already here, first things first you should go to them, think this over with them.”

“Ok.” He got up from his seat, obviously struggling. A step to the door and he stopped, turning to see the Manager. “I want to play.” The Manager nodded in response as he got up, put an arm around the man as he walked him to the door. Yalcin was waiting to see him outside, the Manager motioning to the captain to look after his friend as he escorted him away.

Two days later he was back training with the squad.

View attachment 336938 Lineker: “Hello again everyone, welcome to the start of England's campaign for this World Cup and the astoundingly beautiful weather and football it will surely hold.

“With me are the usual faces you’ve come to know, but first as England gear up for their first fixture here let us say from everyone at the BBC that we offer are sincerest condolences to Aaron and his family over the tragic accident which befell his mother.”

Hansen: “Here here.”

Lineker: “Ummm…gentleman, as sad as it is, there is a footballing aspect to this awful event that England will no doubt be without its Ballon D’or midfielder.”

Shearer: “Well, he’s been training with the team who have all been rallying about him to try and support him, but he’ll not be in any kind of fit state of mind to play in a match; what must be going through his head right now.”

Hansen: “The poor lad couldn’t have had it come at a worse time, and it’s evident that he still wants to play, but someone has to take charge and force the issue I believe so that it doesn’t damage the team any further. Morale is already bound to be low, but to have a grieving man out there won’t help matters at all.”

Lineker: “It’s certainly a blow for England’s chances, and difficult to look beyond, but we have some bright talent available here with us. Kurt Heeroo looks a good player at the age he is, and Daniel Yates too…”

View attachment 336939
18th​ June – Switzerland – Group F – San Paolo, Naples
Despite what they all thought best, when England stepped out onto that pitch, Aaron Towler was with them, stood in the rows singing the anthem to the stands. His eyes had no emotion, just a hard cold expression, sinister almost in its fierce exterior.

Some of the Swiss players took just a little longer as they shook hands, most just moved on eager to get into the game. They had offered fond messages in the tunnel beforehand; he didn’t want to know. The man was shutting out the world.

Blowing the whistle to start proceedings England kicked off, and looked dazzling still as their teamplay linked beautifully. Up the ball slowly worked whilst Switzerland got a measure of themselves, trying to man mark players, attempting to apply pressure and force a mistake.

Akarsu collected a neat pass and sped off down his wing. He looked up to size up his options. A touch inside, he looked again; just one face gave a decent choice. Laying it off in a perfectly weighted pass, Aaron struck it sumptuously first time, right into the top corner beyond all watching eyes.

View attachment 336943 The England support broke into cheers and song, 8 minutes and England had their opening goal to the tournament. His teammates rushed over to hug and congratulate him; but Aaron with a look of thunder written upon his features shrugged again and again, his arms violent in their flicks as he rejected them all.

Looks of annoyance muddled with sympathy peeled away as they jogged back to their positions, the Swiss observers unsure what to make of the man’s fury.
Commentators voiced their concerns, their own sympathies for the star individual. The Manager stood at the edge of his area, arms folded across his chest as he watched carefully, judging everything he saw. It would take time.
The second half Aaron set up Yalcin to make it two; a mistake in defence let the Swiss back into the game as their striker pounced on a bad pass, before Ashley and Danny put the game to bed.

Towler 8, Akarsu 58, Benjamin Vincent 66, Stannard 76, Edgerley 86. 4 – 1.

View attachment 336944
23rd​ June – Algeria – Group F – Artemio Franchi, Florence

They relocated toward the north and the historical picturesque city of Florence. The Algerians had thumped Qatar as it was to be expected, but it could be seen from the game that if England slipped up at all that they were a good enough side to punish them and make it count.

Again Towler started. The voices of doubt rang out; pundits and commentators questioned the Manager, questioned whether he should let this unstable man play when every game meant so much to the millions at home and to them all.
Dave Nicholson grabbed an early lead after 7 minutes, but an Algerian free kick in the 41st​ given away by Towler saw them level.

When they re-emerged; rather than calm down, his tackling became more rash. He was sent off on the hour.

A ten man England gave as good as they got. It ended 1 – 1. The Algerians were in dreamland.
Called to speak to the press, the Manager sat before the microphones, nervous that he knew what was going to come at him. Leaning forward in anticipation he looked to the first journalist.

Q. “Are you going to rectify the situation with Aaron Towler and send him home?”

A. “There is nothing to be rectified, he is his own man and if he decides that he cannot be here then he is free to leave, but otherwise then he has earned the right to be here with this England team.”

Q. “Surely you can see that he is a liability to England’s campaign?”

A. “No, he isn’t. The man is coming to terms with a terrible loss, but he is still training well and the team who all know and get on with him understand perfectly the situation we are in. If he chooses to and trains well then he will play for us, they know and respect this.”

View attachment 336947
27th​ June – Qatar – Group F – Della Vittoria, Bari
Suspended, Towler was banned for just the one game. He sat on the bench, stewing it over. Simple opposition to round off the group stages, England went out and did their jobs.

Edgerley 3, Stannard 24, 33, 37, Corns 56, Sadiq Ghaloom 59, Akarsu 79. 6 – 1.




Ivory Coast11104




Unfortunately for the tournament Italy failed to emerge from their group even, struggling to find their rhythm and inflame the nation’s passion. So too was it strange to see Mexico who had been a rising star for years fail at the first time of asking, and Ghana who had triumphed in their continental trophy against the odds to recapture some of their past success.

Primed for the second round, the top level football continued, and suspension over, the conflicted England star was thrown back out there.

View attachment 336950
1st​ July – Croatia – 2nd​ Round – Juventus Stadium, Turin
Corns 1, Stannard 24, Towler 28, Akarsu 69. 4 – 0.

Second Round Results
France 2 V 2p Argentina
Paraguay 1 V 0 USA
Honduras p0 V 0 Cameroon
Brazil 0 V 3 Spain
Holland 3 V 1 Algeria
England 4 V 0 Croatia
Portugal 1 V 2 Russia
Ukraine 0 V 1 Japan

View attachment 336997

There was no question that Towler was playing well, his skills were not dulled nor his footballing brain absent. But his inability to display the brilliant smile with his colleagues was persistently troubling. The Manager had sat him down before the game, told him how it was. Calm down, contain the anger and hatred, it had no place out there and if it did then he didn’t.

They talked, for some time. He felt like going home, this foreign land with all eyes upon him was the most excruciating ordeal when his mother was lying in his homeland, waiting for him.

It was his decision, if his heart said leave, then do it, but if he wanted to show her what he could do, if he didn’t want to let his last chance to win the World Cup pass him by then it was time to knuckle down and fight through it.

View attachment 336953
6th​ July – Russia – Quarter Finals – San Nicola, Bari

Corns 23, Stannard 29, 36, 46, Corns 58, Towler 82. 6 – 0.
Quarter Final Results

Argentina 1 V 0 Spain
Paraguay 1 V 2aet Honduras
Holland 3 V 1 Japan
England 6 V 0 Russia

View attachment 336998

Akarsu was rallying them all, and he was doing it so well that England were even with their damaged star lighting up the world stage superbly. The days they would focus on their training; the evenings Yalcin would check on his friend, see him with his family, then do it all over again.

The voices of the doubters over keeping Aaron with them became more silent with each game, the cameras seeing on each outing as the man’s rigid wall of defence shielding him from the gaze of the world was slowly wearing away; the frown lifting, the eyes softening, the shoulders dropping.

Just as all those who had questioned his presence were accepting it; the Manager was beginning to doubt his involvement.

View attachment 336955
9th​ July – Argentina – Semi Finals – Olimpico, Rome
Now wasn’t the time to be questioning his inclusion in the squad, especially as they would need him more than ever.
The old rivals, Argentina. They had successfully knocked out the Spanish with a solid win, and with a few of the best players in the world in their line-up much like the English the two looked evenly matched.

The anthems played, and as the camera moved across, Aaron looked as if he might break down.

“Not now….” Muttered the Manager; imploring him as he trained his gaze. The short song ended, Yalcin gave a little pat on his shoulder as the team all called to one another, assuming their positions. Aaron’s body was slumped; he didn’t want to be there anymore.

Argentina started, and by God they looked hungry for it. Within the first few minutes they had crashed an almighty shot against the bar from distance, the crowds reacting as if the whole stadium had suffered a tremor such was the wake up call.

Before the first 10 minutes were over they had hit the post too. England weren’t in control at all, and the weak link was obvious.

Going in on Aaron, a bruising challenge from his counterpart had him letting go of a yelp of pain before slowly standing to favour his other leg. It was just a little knock, but it was an opportunity to salvage the situation without hurting anyone.
The substitutes board went up, off Aaron came, he stopped to give a defeated look to the Manager before heading straight down the tunnel.

****. On went Heeroo, and with all his eagerness and desire the game changed in their favour.

Dalian Corns got up for a corner to head the first in on 15; they motivated and pumped up at the break, went back out, and finished off the South American side in the 66th​, Hull capping an exquisite team goal to really prove the pedigree of this England side.

England 2 – 0 Argentina

View attachment 336990 View attachment 336989

Semi Final Results

Argentina 0 – 2 England
Honduras 0 – 2 Holland

View attachment 336994 The nation jangled on their nerve endings once more, delighted and terrified over another World Cup final. The footage of 4 years ago ran again and again, painful reminders of why the referee isn’t infallible.

Training was full of purpose, so single minded in its drive towards their finish and revenge for those years past. They had won everything since then, taken so many scalps along the way…and now it was just the one last game to go; one last game to see them champions….of the world.

The knock at his door was unexpected, a soft rapping as whoever it was clearly had second thoughts the moment they had sunk their knuckle to the wood.

“Come in”

Aaron walked in through the door, distressed looking, clearly wrangling over the obvious. The two looked at one another for a moment, the Manager and his player, right at the end of his brilliant career and on the cusp of the ultimate prize.

“I can’t play sir.”

“Go on, tell me why.”

“I….umm….” He struggled, not anticipating such a question given how blatant the reason was.

“Explain to me why you can’t play in the Final.”

“It wouldn’t be fair, to everyone else. I’ve not been coping at all well which the world has seen; I wasn’t from the very start, and I'm at my limit. It’s just….”

The man broke down. Weeks after it had happened, yet for all the shutting it away, blocking it from his mind as he stared down the lenses to the world, forcing his eyes not to recognise the papers or hear the news…it was just his loss circling endlessly about in his head.

It didn’t do to screw it up inside, it twisted an individual, turned them into someone they aren’t comfortable with, someone they’re not.

“Aaron.” He looked up, the embarrassment of crying again before his friend and boss disappearing quickly as he composed himself. “I’m not going to pretend I’ve ever gone through anything like you are now; but every person has lost someone important to them.”

He dove a hand into his pocket, sitting up awkwardly in his chair to dig out his wallet. Opening it a picture was carefully picked out, the edges dog eared and frayed, a few cracks striking the white of the paper across the picture from the years it had been with him.

Handing it across he explained “This is me, with my Grandfather when I was a young boy.” Aaron looked over the picture, the two figures stood side by side at a football game in the stands, smiling to the camera as his Grandfather had one broad arm looped about the boy’s shoulders.

“He was one of the most important figures in my life, so commanding and big, but he was such a gentle man with great wisdom, tact and not a hint of violence. Every trait I saw in him I wanted to make my own.”

The pair of men’s eyes met as he looked up from the photo. The Manager continued.
“When he passed away, I was devastated. I thought he would live forever despite him already having lived to a grand old age. But I learned that it doesn’t go how we want, no matter how realistic or unrealistic the desire; whatever plan there is, it doesn’t fit with our own.

“It took a little time for me to come to terms with this, but when I did, I resolved myself to show that man who meant so much to me that I could make him proud. I’m not a religious or particularly spiritual person, I never really have been, but when I do what I do, and when I have achieved the things I have….I know that he’s watching me, wherever he might be now.”

Aaron looked back at the photo, at the broad face of the old man stood alongside his Grandson.

“I understand.” He sat for a moment, looking perhaps blankly at the photograph in his hand. Handing it back, he rose to his feet. “You’ve in a way been like the father figure absent from my life, though you’re not that much older…I respect you, and all you’ve done for me.”

“I sense a but…”

“But.” He sighed “I don’t think I’m ready.”

The Manager got up, walking around his desk to guide him toward the door. As it opened he left him only with a parting shot. “I’ll be the judge of that now.”

View attachment 336995
14th​ July – Holland – Final – San Siro, Milan
A dry crisp evening, the streets of Milan were flooded all day with the scores of football shirted individuals roaming in their clusters expressing their versions of what would unfold. Flags danced down roads or gathered in city squares.

80,000 desperate and nervy faces packed into the seats of the arena, early to the spectacle as they pictured everything that might happen on that pitch down below, the white of England singing one end, the Orange of Holland the other.

((The Grey: final scene soundtrack - YouTube))

Everyone in attendance in the dressing room, the camera was invited inside; such was the moment they were in.
He paced, as he had done before, back and forth before the restless faces.

“What are you doing this for?”

No one answered, it wasn’t meant to have a reply.

“For money? ....You all have enough of that; you’re all rich and live in mansions.”

He walked back across them again.

“For fame? You have that too, almost everyone with access to a paper or a screen knows all your names, knows who you are and what you do.

“You all have beautiful women waiting to welcome you home, many of you children who idolise you. Fans; influence, you’ll never have to buy a drink for yourself again if you don’t want to.

“You men, already have it all. So why does this matter?”

Yalcin spoke up “We want to win, for us, as men, and for our country.”

The Manager nodded to him “Yes. Win. Claim the ultimate prize of your lives. But surely there will be other opportunities? You’ve all been building up to this night, but is that to say there will be no more?”

They pondered it, Yalcin raised his voice again. “For me, this is it.”

A few more voices added themselves “And for me” “And me”

“Yes. This is it.”

He took a breath from the bottom of his lungs as his chest pushed outward.

“I’ve said those words before, to different faces, and to some of your own. This is it. Some of you are now too old, this final match represents the culmination of your entire career; it embodies the greatest moment your whole life will ever experience……or the worst.”

He filled his lungs again; knees were beginning to sell out feelings of unease among the listeners.

“And…for me, this also is it.”

The faces of the players still in their twenties exchanged looks of surprise and bafflement.

“Once this game is over, my time as England manager, as your manager, will be at an end.”

The staff gave knowing small smiles, warm as they both respected the decision yet hated it. He was still a young man, but it was clear in his time as England manager what the stress of the job had done to him, the lines on his face beginning to take hold, his hair losing that full colour.

“Let me say before the media hear of it and all the chatter that will fly around that my time with you all these past few years has been the most enjoyable and fulfilling of my life.

“It has been the highest honour to lead my country and you boys out there at each time of asking, and asked if I would do it all over again…the idiots making my life difficult; the early goals conceded, the press and their infuriating stirring…. the heartbreak of Buenos Aires.

“I think you all know the answer to that.” He gave them his sincerest smile.

“Boss” Spoke up Armstrong. He held out a hand to halt him.

“Save it, we’re not done yet. I want to hold that trophy one more time, and I want you all to share with me that moment where we stand before the billions on this planet and show them that we are the best!! That we deserve this, and no-one will take it away from us!”

“YEAH!” The team cried together.

“We’re going to show everyone; that just as Brazil had their time, Germany, Argentina, Italy and Spain… it is ours!”

With a motion to do so, everyone was up on their feet, cheering together, the blood pumping and the adrenaline pelting through their veins. They filed out the door, Gerrard, Neville and Honda all patting them on the backs as they clattered the studs against the tiles beneath them.

The Manager stopped Aaron with a hand on his shoulder as the man went to take up his position at the back.

They nodded to one another, no words needed. The man joined up with his comrades.

The Dutch were ready and waiting, their side all looking confident of their chances. They had been moving from strength to strength all the way to this final, they had the players to create the magic, the teamwork to craft wondrous plays, and the pressure off as England went in firm favourites.

But the English finally looked their old selves. Yalcin called to them after the coin toss, smiling men greeted his efforts to give them one last rally before the biggest game of their lives began. Corns had been impeccable both at the back and attacking set pieces; Armstrong who had saved many fine shots which threatened to damage all of England’s fine work; Burton and Hull, both getting on themselves were giving it everything.

Even Aaron smiled as the Dutch stood over the kick off.

((Skyfall Soundtrack (26) - She's Mine - YouTube))

The whistle blew, and all notions beyond the sheer ******-minded focus on what was at hand went. Holland passed it back to their defence, and on they came.

Boukie was quick to pick up the striker, his years of having to mark the best men in the world gathering to this point where he wouldn’t be beaten so easily anymore. Dispossessing Arezu as he collected a simple pass, it was England’s turn to attack. Out to Burton, on to Hull on the wing, the man held up the play as he looked to where his teammates were.

Yalcin dropped inside offering an option. He squared it, and turning to face the goal, Towler read the mind of his friend.
He broke the line of defence just as Akarsu sent the ball over the top. One touch to control, another to send it into the back of the net.

View attachment 337002 13 minutes, a fantastic start.

Holland gathered themselves, but on the half hour England pressed and pressed. A mistake was made! Towler wrested it from his club teammate Bosschaart and laid off a tap in to Akarsu. 2 – 0.

England hugged and jogged back to their own half together, beaming smiles written on all of them. Holland weren’t going to let them have it all that easily. They restarted, dropped it back one, and three players bombed on all of a sudden. Marking was non-existent, no one knew who to pick up who, the ball came in from on high…Wittingham lost his man, one touch to control, one to send it across the box, one to tuck it home.

View attachment 337004 An instant reply from Holland and Iwan de Haan. 2 – 1.

45 minutes disappeared, England had the advantage, but Holland looked more dangerous. Fans agonised, analysts picked holes and offered support to those failing wills watching on.

It continued, and before England had got themselves going Holland had another, Arezu slipped clear of the last line to beat Armstrong like he was playing in his local park. All square. “Pick this up boys! Not good enough!!!” The Manager cried. They knew it already; they just had to make it happen. Aaron looked to him, his eyes glazing over as an hour had passed before they knew it.

Oh no….Come on lad…keep it together…

Staring back he just willed him with his eyes, a look that said all he needed to. Last chance, it was both of their last chances to make this theirs, to show those most important to them that they could do it, to prove it to themselves.

It worked, he breathed deeply, Yalcin spoke to him and he let go of a smile. The friends reached out to their teammates. The whole team lifted.

Possession theirs and space to exploit, Hull attacked the wing, delivered a brilliant cross to the feet of Towler. He was set upon in an instant, the Dutch defence closing in so tightly as they wanted either to rake the ball from his grasp else take a chunk out of him.

He’d seen all the tapes all his childhood of the greatest players ever to play the game. In just one move the defence was humbled. Just one incredible flick of his boot with an injection of speed and they were left for dead. The crowd marvelled, the commentators told everyone its name of the flip flap in raised joyous voices, the Brazilian genius named Rivellino years ago perfecting the move to make it his own.
Aaron Towler was the man again at last who had won a Ballon D’or.
Just the keeper before him, he slotted it home, England had their lead once more, 14 minutes to go.

The subs board went up, fresh faces came on, The Manager wanted this game locked down and the title theirs. Was he losing his nerve? England’s best form of defence was attack; their strength lay in hounding the opposition.

Gerrard questioned him lightly, but the decision was made, and so Holland came on.

80 minutes. They pushed. Armstrong kept out a sensational effort, the Dutch weren’t deterred.

85 minutes. Corns slid in to save with a last second block, the ball bouncing out for a corner as all bodies were beginning to exhaust.

90 minutes. The staff all gathered at the edge of the area. Their hearts in their mouths as they watched. Still on went the Dutch, unrelenting in their attacks to level it.

90+3 minutes. The whistle had to have been to the referee’s lips, his eyes on his watch as England cleared it. The ball was sent route one straight back. It fell kindly, to the striker. In one dazzling piece of skill he dragged it away from the oncoming Boukie, sunk his head low as he pulled his leg back, and rifled the killer blow high into the net.
England 3 – 3 Holland​

The English exclaimed in unison, the neutrals both cheered and offered their sympathies to the lions as their great moment was stolen from them at the death. But now the torture would continue.

Staff tended to tired legs, gave words to exhausted brains. But 22 players out on that pitch were shattered; unable to give their fullest to chase the winning goal.

When 30 tense extra minutes were up, every English man and woman whether they loved or hated the game of football was sat before a screen, silence and murmurs as they braced for the absolute horror of the entire nation.


Those charged with their microphones did their best to steel the nerves of millions. The ranks of players all stood looking to their managers, looking for those absolute last commands which would either see them to victory…or tumbling into despair.

“Hey….Hey!” He called, the chatter all gone from his staff as his players already just hung on whatever words he was about to speak.

“You each know you need to be ready for this; we’ve practiced, we know what to do….we’re going to go with the planned order.”

No-one questioned him, no-one offered a counter suggestion; a player who might have felt they could do it but wasn’t picked for one of those all important five.
Summoned by the referee, all players strode out onto that halfway line, together they stood arm in arm…staring down the gauntlet.

“Go on Jimmy!” Voices called as their boy made his way. Holland to take first.

No nerves as he made the journey, Tamim Arezu stepped up; the whistle went, right into the top corner.

England 0 – 1 Holland.

((V For Vendetta Soundtrack - 08 - Evey Reborn - Dario Marianelli - YouTube))

Captain Akarsu holding himself confidently stepped up. English Captain against the Dutch leader in the goal, both sporting their armbands. Hard and low to the left.

England 1 – 1 Holland.

Jan de Jong next. Hard and low to the left as he mimicked Akarsu, Armstrong guessing the wrong way.

England 1 – 2 Holland.

Ashley Stannard didn’t look right; he didn’t look his usual cool self when faced with the goal and just the keeper to beat. He took his steps back, the referee signalled, he sprinted up. Low to the right.

England 2 – 2 Holland.

The striker pumped his fist as he walked back to his England teammates, the congratulatory pats and messages as he arrived everything he desired. Rob Bosschaart took his turn. Bottom left corner again, Armstrong wasn’t having any luck getting across to the inch perfect strikes.

England 2 - 3 Holland.

Danny Edgerley made his way. Quick about it, struck it well into the roof.

England 3 – 3 Holland.

The Manager looked over his players as the staff all stood together, a scene looking as if the players were the last wall their countries had to defend against the mass despair. Weatherby looked awful, the fear was rife on him; Burton was terrified, the aged fullback never in the right mind to take one.
Aaron glanced at his Manager, perhaps hoping that he would issue some command to get him off the hook, pleading silently to tell him he didn’t have to.

They watched one another as Jeroen Wijngaarde walked it. High and right.

England 3 – 4 Holland.

You have to…you know you can do it… He both thought and mouthed as best he was able. Staring back at him, the man’s eyes watered, his teammates holding onto him was perhaps the only thing keeping him together as the torture unfolded; his impending moment where he might become a hero or a villain almost at hand.

Nathan Hull parted from the line, strong strides as he covered the distance. He took the ball assuredly, placed it twiced…to be sure. Smashed it high and right copying Jeroen. Both his fists immediately pumped as he span on his heels.

England 4 – 4 Holland.

Roel Dijk’s turn. The Dutch all called their messages. Aaron looked to the Manager again. ‘Don’t make me do this…’

The Manager clenched his hand into a fist, tensed his arm and gave it that little push. Come on!

Dijk stepped up, struck it hard. Armstrong guessed right!!! His hand trailing as he leapt across it pushed it onto the bar!

England 4 – 4 Holland.

View attachment 337010 England were suddenly full of voice! The fans no longer a nervous chorus of vowels, they threw themselves into celebrations. Great cries of encouragement came from all sides now as just one man had to step up, and make himself their legend forever. Gerrard echoed out his excitement as he turned to the stands, reminiscent of his playing days as his arms thrust up signalling all to unleash all their passion now!
The Manager cupped his hands to his mouth, he couldn’t restrain himself anymore. As the lone figure of their panicked and gutted star began his march, he called out to reach his friend in his final moment of need.

“Go on Aaron!!" He cried as he began to imagine what was going through the man's head; the thoughts of his dead mother he had last seen leaving for this country for such a moment as this, how he had refused to throw in the towel to return and see her face that one last time before they would commit her to the ground. One month it had been since that savage day which had ripped his world apart for lack of sense or reason.

The entire world was now watching, feeling their own versions of his pain and suffering, of his fraught battle now with each step to place that ball and finish it.

The team began to roar their encouragement “COME ON AARON!” every lion, echoing their voice after their teammate, watching as the number and name made its way to that white spot, his head stooped as he dared not look at the masses all about him, booming their hopes and wishes. The stands, the pubs and homes in England, the neutrals the world over, everyone was shouting and screaming their words of encouragement; his wife, crying herself, and their young children in the stands wondering what the deafening thunderous howl from all sides was in aid of.

Looking up, the white globe in his hands, Aaron was in tears, his arms trembling as the leather touched the paint. As the few drops slowly descended down his face, his quivering lips pressed together with everything he could muster, his jaw and cheeks shaking lightly under the strain his heart and head were crumbling beneath. The referee lifted a hand, worry for the man’s state.

He dismissed the concern, just one last thing to do. Stepping back, the goalkeeper set himself, arms wide as he assumed the position, petrified over what was about to come. 80,000 faces sealed their lungs tight, hands clasped together, wrapped about mouths or pressed to shoulders as their eyes watched imploringly. Cameras were poised as flashes sat ready to scorch the scene before them.

One deep breath.

The whistle blew.

He sprinted to the ball, smashed it straight up the middle with everything he could possibly have had. The keeper leapt to his side, eyes and arms following the spinning orb as it rocketed away from him like a meteor, every ounce of power Aaron had squeezed into that last strike of it, the spittle still flying from his mouth as he screamed all the pain and agony into the last kick of his boot.
The net warped beneath the impact.

England 5 – 4 Holland.

((Dragonheart theme - YouTube))

All England cried out in exhilaration! The players drove forwards as their mouths hung open bellowing furious triumph. Steven, Keisuke, Gary, they all threw themselves towards their team, soaring it seemed as their eyes peeled wide betrayed their overwhelming joy long before their mouths caught up.

The Manager stood, almost paralysed and gleaming as he witnessed the scenes from the edge of his area. Men came across one after another; embracing him as they offered their congratulations and heartfelt sentiments. He waited as they all turned to one another moving on.

Emerging from the mob, Aaron looked to his bench, and to the man who had seen him through. He didn’t run, but it was hardly a walk as he felt such eagerness to get to him.

Stood before one another; their arms belted into each other’s back, their bodies shaking under the impact of the hug. Stood together as the partying rang around the thousands before them, Aaron’s eyes continued to let the drops fall, the Manager could feel his welling up as he ignored all the cameras capturing the moment.

He could hear just one thing.

“Thank you……Thank you so much.”

A flag given to him, the England hero walked to the stands, wiping his eyes as his mouth grinned as wide as it possibly could. His eyes so frequently gazing away from the people all around him to look above at the night’s sky, peering beyond the roof into this stadium they stood.

The two Managers shook hands, Holland distraught at their loss, yet somehow still congratulatory…perhaps for the emotions of the man they had just seen.

Called together, England watched as the losers collected their medals. One after another they filed by, a little applause from each to the English as they passed. Such gracious losers, it was admirable.

((The Beatles-Hey Jude - YouTube))

And then, their time came. It wasn’t the same one, but 64 years on, there it stood before them.

Like the two wings of a bird the players and staff clustered in about the centrepiece that was Akarsu. He motioned to his friend as the small golden world lay ready. Towler stepped up, hands reached out to him as they all approved.

The two great friends, together since their teens, they had spent their entire careers for club and country alongside one another. Their hands grasped the angels lifting up the whole world, and they threw it to the heavens.

Men and women screamed their happiness, friends hugged, couples shared an embrace. The sky was broken with the claps of thunder as colour rained down upon them all, silver shards blasted high above drifted to their heads, carpeting the scene in its shimmering glory.

It would be some time before the Manager was ready to appear before the cameras to speak to the nation. All congratulatory of what they had done, he would wait a week or so once they were home to announce his resignation; let the celebrations not hold any meaning other than the incredible victory itself. He didn’t want to take anything away from this special moment.

They would accept his decision. 6 years. 6 years and 3 trophies. He would be leaving the nation’s football in a better state than he found it, and that was the goal all along. Whoever took up the mantle of English football would have a lot to look forward to; the Euros were England’s to host, a potential final at Wembley, the streets of London to dance and sing.

That was all for another man. As the trophy was passed over to him by Gerrard as the staff all had their turns he looked down at it, admiring every line of it, every detail of the golden work of art. His head filled with all the times he had watched others press their lips to its surface, all those who had been thrown above with it gripped in their hands. How he had made it with Ghana, how he had nearly made it with England.

“We meet again.” He said, smiling down at the greatest prize on Earth.

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Both he and England had done it; they had achieved immortality.
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I'll get in quick with this!!!

Whoa........whoa......this was meant to be a football story?! Light hearted and fun?!

I looked at my England team as we were going into this last World Cup, and frankly, I saw a team which I never felt could lose unless I royally made a balls up of it. Going into the World Cup with a Ballon D'or holder (And Akarsu won it in 2030 so the following year from Towler)....thats quite an advantage.

So, to try and keep the story interesting beyond the 'England have at finally won the World Cup again' aspect, I added in the berevement of the star player. Dark and very cruel stuff I know, but it was also good practice for my writing skills which I am always trying to further, even with wishy washy football stories such as this which has thus far provided me with enormous childish fun :D

So, apologies if anyone hated the inclusion of an emotional player and such focus on it, should the reaction be wholly negative (possibly even outrage, my goodness) then I may alter it to one which is a little more friendly and bubbly.

That aside, the England chapter is of course now complete in the Manager's story. Thank you hugely to anyone who has read it, or indeed the whole story so far, I still greatly appriciate anyone who is reading along and hopefully enjoying it.

I have plans for what might come next, but frankly it's going to be impossible to top that; really the top job for your country should come last, it just didn't fall that way unfortunately. Whatever comes next however, it will 100% be frivilious and go with a much more laid back flow.

Cheers again people!
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Thanks MojoDex, I'm still enjoying seeing where you take your story so don't stop that one please.

Yes, I am completely done with International management as I think after Ghana and then England thats quite enough. I don't think it'd be in-keeping either if a manager who took their own country to win the World Cup then decided to take another nation there, possibly against his own at some stage. Have to be a pretty unpatriotic individual.

If/when I pick things back up and move onto what I plan to be the next chapter it will be a club outside of Europe to while away some years. Hopefully somewhere where there is a beautiful stash of relevent pictures I can use! I think England had to end now for the lack of usable pictures as much as the trophy finale.
For all my searches, there just wern't that many more half-decent pictures with England fans cheering and celebrating in the stands :p Most searches turned up with crying sobbing faces even with words like 'win' 'celebrate' 'cheer'...
fantastic as always Slimchap...had read this story from the beginning as well but didnt comment till now.....
Great Level of Depth and ya i loved that Towler part of the final update.....
can u pls post some screenshots?
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