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The Wannabe Journeyman’s Pipe Dream

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Chapter 1 – The Dole Days

Once upon a time, there was a football manager. To be strictly accurate, there was once an unemployed man who changed his LinkedIn profile title to “football manager”. This man had no professional experience in the game as a player or coach, or any professional experience in any field for that matter. He had no shiny coaching badges or fancy sounding qualifications. He had no skills or notable attributes to speak of. He was a losing lottery ticket, an empty pint glass, an unfinished sentence. A man, so it seemed, with nothing going for him.

But what he did have was a dream. And an ill-fitting suit. And that dream was to pull himself up by the bootstraps and become the highest paid football manager in the world (of Football Manager 20). And that suit was borrowed and had to be returned in a fortnight, absolute latest, so he needed to crack on.

With just these raw materials he sat at his desk on the in-game date of 24th of June 2019 and began a quest that many called a pipe dream. Others wondered if it was evidence of a mental health crisis and perhaps something should be done. Ignoring these naysayers and medical professionals this man opened his inbox and so began the first chapter of the story of Sam Forhire – the most singularly motivated football manager the world may ever know.

UNE - entry 1 - pic 1.jpg


Behold that blank, shiny face, vanishing jawline and oddly positioned, lifeless eyes. The implausible wig only underlines the overall impression: this guy is going places. The rules of this challenge are in fact only one rule – I have to accept any job offer that pays more that the one I currently have. Other than the only goal is make as much money as possible by whatever means available.

First things first, let’s see what’s in the inbox. Pleasantly surprised to see that despite having no present or past employment, qualifications or skills, what I do have is a PA. Some other poor fantasist I’ve roped in to go along with this madness presumably. Or just one of my multiple personalities that uses a different email account. What have you got for me Tyler Durden/“Lucy Battersby”?

meet Lucy.jpg


All sounds great Luce. To be honest a lot of it is not going to be applicable in the short to long term, but let’s think of it as aspirational. First order of business is to put that creative writing course to good use and get a CV written up and sent out. Chelmsford, Hereford, Kidderminster, Chesterfield: I eagerly await your response. Looking at the touted leading candidates for these open positions is dispiriting. I’m up against Colin Calderwood for the Chesterfield job. That is mental. They’re in the Vanarama National, so I may need to aim lower, but even in the Vanarama North I’m up against Luis Boa Morte for the Kidderminster job. He may not have much of a reputation manager wise, but he is Luis Boa Morte and I am not. I can only hope these other candidates get better offers as pundits, or forget the date of their interviews. In an attempt to rattle Calderwood, I go public and announce my interest in the Chesterfield position.

chesterfield speculation.jpg


Local journalist Barry Adams takes the bait. Hopefully he is not a journalist in the same sense that I am a manager. Given that I created the speculation it only seems fair to address it. Patch him through Lucy. OK, hand me the phone then. How to answer the question though? Act the part, be the part. I respond to Barry cautiously (I still have doubts he actually works for BBC Sheffield):

It’s nice to hear your name being linked with high-profile jobs as it means someone somewhere thinks highly of you. I won’t rule anything out.

Better move fast Chesterfield, someone somewhere (me here) thinks highly of me.

Next a call comes in from Darren Naylor, who claims to work for Football365. Are you at all concerned at being a little rusty when you do land a job? I like the use of the word ‘when’ there Darren. You’re alright pal. Although you might want to brush up on your research skills, as I’m not sure ‘rusty’ applies here. That suggests I’ve not worked for a while, whereas I have never worked. I’m not a rusty tool, I’m fresh out the box. A shiny new tool. I tell him I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. Along with the tool analogy that should give him enough material to write a humorous paragraph. You’re welcome.

forhire rusty.jpg


What a stitch up. That’s the last call I accept from you Naylor.

Hereford, Chelmsford and Kidderminster all decline to offer me an interview. Lucy sends me a short message to tell me there are no suitable job vacancies for me followed by a shrugging man emoji. This might be a short-lived challenge. And it’s an unsurprising no from Chesterfield. They do offer a bit more context than the others, adding that despite my not making the shortlist, the board would like to place on record that they feel you would have been an acceptable fit for the club’s somewhat scaled back vision for the future. Ouch.

There are now literally no managerial jobs available. I am one month into the challenge.
 

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Chapter 2 – Laughable

June and July come and go with my achieving nothing more than clicking on the Continue and Job Centre buttons. Nothing doing. The suit has long since been returned and Lucy only gets in touch once a week to tell me there are still no jobs. At the end of August, a Spanish journalist contacts me (surely scraping the barrel for copy) to ask if I would be interested in the Cadiz B job. The manager there is apparently reaching the end of his rope. I respond passionately/desperately that I’m at a point where I’m ready for the challenge. Any challenge. What else have you got?

laughing Cadiz B fans.jpg


Another stitch up. I’m asked by yet another journo about the Wealdstone job. Naturally I declare my interest. Wealdstone seems more realistic.

laughing wealdstone fans.jpg


She found that article suspiciously quickly.

August bleeds into September and word has obviously got around about me in journalistic circles as a good mark to get some needling practise in, because Steve Jones from skysports.com gets in touch. You’ve been unemployed for some time now, what are your plans for the immediate future? Well Steve, I thought I might give journalism a go, there don’t seem to be any barriers to entry for that. Lucy, call him a fat cow and hang up.

I make hopeless applications to more than a dozen clubs through September and October including Crewe, Northampton and of course, Cadiz B. It takes more than open mockery from the fanbase to put me off. Through a schedule of nothing more than making job applications and fielding prank calls my coaching attributes are strangely going up. Tactical training is 4/20 now (3 at the start of the game). Keep this up for a couple of years and I might be a serious contender for some Vanarama regional jobs. I receive countless rejection letters, when suddenly…..

cadiz b interview.jpg


Laugh that off Cadiz B fans! This is it. I call my Dad and beg him for a short term loan of the suit and a hundred quid to cover the cost of the flight. This interview must go perfectly.

The chairman Manuel Vizcaino gets straight to the point. How will you overcome the fact you don’t speak Spanish? He asks, presumably in English. I tell him I’m fairly adept at learning languages. Plenty of wriggle room there. Why am I in the running for so many jobs? Hmm. “I’m just trying to forge ahead with my career by any means necessary” would be the most truthful of the available options. Honesty gets you nowhere in this game. Manuel, I’m merely considering my options I say, trying to look casual. The key implication/lie being that I have options. Can you assure us that you would have no problems securing the backing of your players, an area our previous manager struggled considerably in? Well yeah, I can assure you of it, of course. I can assure you I’m 12 feet tall and can urinate on the moon as well if you like. I commit to the strategy of telling him what he wants to hear. I can promise you that I would immediately have the backing of the players here. An outrageous fiction, but Vizcaino doesn’t terminate the interview, so maybe he’s desperate enough to have bought it. Without taking a moment to assess the clubs bank balance or coaching setup, I assure him I can manage the finance side and that I would not need any additional staff. Let’s hope he never progressed past the magical thinking stage of childhood. I enthusiastically agree to his proposed club vision without looking at the details and nod along to everything else he says. Yes Manuel, no Manuel, pleeeeease give me a job Manuel.

Cowdenbeath also get in touch to hear some sweet, sweet lies. I serve Chairman Donald Findlay almost exactly the same nonsense I peddled to Vizcaino. Speaking of which, what’s this in the inbox?

cadiz b job offer.jpg


£2.3k a week! Cadiz B are in the Spanish Second Division B4. I take a cursory glance at the Spanish league pyramid to find out where I’d be starting. 6th tier. Enormous wages for a 6th tier job surely?! I’m still waiting to hear back on 5 other applications, including Cowdenbeath, but I don’t know if I can bare to risk delaying the job offer when there’s this much cash ready to scoop. Plus, I can really get my teeth into winning over/further alienating those amused fans. What to do?
 
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Chapter 3 – Breaking News

Hired.jpg

The appointment may have “raised eyebrows” but most importantly it has raised my income astronomically. Through some iron will negotiating skills I argued Vizcaino up to £2.4k per week.

top 5 earners 2019.jpg


A mere £347,600 more per week needed to catch up with Pep.

Leafing through the background documents he sent me, I note that Cadiz B won the 4th tier title in 2018 and 2019. So presumably that’s as high as they can go, being a B team. 2500-seater stadium, “great” training facilities, “good” youth facilities. It’s frankly amazing I’ve blagged this as my first job. I can hardly suppress my hysterical giggles as I pace around the office. Vizcaino has included a reminder of the club vision I agreed to during our interview. Good job, as I have no idea.

cadix vision 2019.jpg


Fight bravely against relegation – excellent. Don’t even need to avoid relegation necessarily, just fight against it. Bravery is subjective. Sometimes the truly brave team allow themselves to be humiliated week after week with embarrassing defeats. We are currently 19th of 20 in the league with 7 points from 10 games. The bottom five (five!) clubs go down, but we’re only a few points off safety. The main expectation of my job is to develop players for the parent club Cadiz. So, all I have to do is play the youngsters and occasionally win a game. Sounds doable. A quick review of the squad reveals that not including those out on loan (none can be recalled) we have only 21 senior players. But there seems to be enough quality in there to beat the drop.

cadiz squad 19.jpg


Arguably the best player, Hicham Khaloua, is mysteriously transfer listed. The previous manager left a note saying he was listed because the “club do not currently have a role for him to play”. Odd, given he can play on either wing or up front.

Hicham Khaloua.jpg


Taking him off the transfer list will be one of my first jobs, but right now I have a Spanish press conference to fumble my way through.

All of the questions come from Carlos Ruiz of the Cadiz Football Latest, which is presumably the club’s website. That’s less a press conference and more a chat, but I answer his questions passionately, hoping to at least give the impression I care about the club rather than all those delightful Euros they’re paying me. What role can the supporters play in moving the club forwards? he asks, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Oh them, the chuckle crew. We need their backing, it’s as simple as that, I answer flatly. I deftly sidestep a question about our chances in the next few games and take a question about Khaloua as a chance to try and make an ally in the squad. He’s a tremendous player and he’ll be integral to our chances of success. I just have to hope Ruiz doesn’t shaft me with the translations.

Now to meet the squad. Managerial support is described as “Very poor”, mostly because my reputation is low in relation to my players. It’s a fair cop. Time to turn on the charm and get those dead eyes dancing. I introduce myself, acknowledge that they may not have heard of me, and they are immediately enchanted.

squad meeting.jpg


This lot will be putty in my hands. However, things turn sour immediately when I tell them we can beat the drop this season, with 19 of them feeling this is “too ambitious”. These are some broken men. I only said we can, not that we will. There’s no time to dwell on that though as my first game, away to 7th placed Merida is the same day as my appointment. Surely I should be watching from the stands Vizcaino? I’m not ready!
 
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Chapter 4 – Twisted Delegator

October ‘19


The problem with the tiny squad I have inherited is the disruption even a few injuries can cause. I can’t find any sensible formations to use with the available players, so I opt for a non-sensible one, which still requires me to play a full back in central midfield and a winger as a wing back. I use pre-set tactics of Direct Counter-Attack, load up the defence and hope my quick attackers can cause some problems. My front 3 is decent, so I want to build something solid behind them and hope they can win a few games on their own.

cadiz 1st game lineup.jpg


Merida comfortably beat us 1 – 0. We fought bravely though. Manuel? I was just saying: we fought bravely in that game.

It turns out I do not have the option to take Khaloua off the transfer list, or place anyone else on it. I suppose that tracks, as I’m effectively the reserve team manager. This is not football management as I’d imagined it. Still, the cash is good. I do manage to wrestle control of the scouting assignments from the Director of Football and I take our single scout off opposition scouting and instruct him to find me some loan options.

Setting up a long-term formation is tricky. I have zero right backs at the club, so a back 4 is ruled out. One of my best players is Segio Gonzalez, a defensive midfielder. He’s out for 3 weeks, but when he’s back I must get him in the team. I need a system that accommodates a DM, a back 3 and an inside forward on the left wing. I present to you: The Trident.

thetrident.jpg


If you ignore the glaring red warning signs, I think this might just work. Now I just need to sign quite a few central midfielders. The club philosophy dictates they should be youngsters.

After some confusing time spent in the scouting section (it appears I can’t sign anyone) I do some investigation on Spanish B teams. I’m not much less confused by the end, but what has basically dawned on me is that I have very little control and am in effect a glorified coach who picks the first 11. So be it. I delegate all responsibilities to my staff (including giving scouting back to the DoF – fill your boots mate) apart from picking the team and adopt the mindset that I am just here waiting to be sacked.

I need to make the most of being at a big club while I can, so I tap up Vizcaino for a coaching badge on the pretext it will benefit the club. Given that it costs them only £600 for my National C License he decides it’s worth it to get me out of his office and indicates his agreement by throwing a rolled-up wad of notes in my general direction and motioning towards the door.

The last game of the month is at home to league leaders UCAM Murcia, who I learn are a university team. A university that employs professional footballers on wages of up to £5k a week. Feeling disoriented I prepare the team sheet and cross my fingers. I’ve changed the tactics to “Control Possession” because…why not?

murcia home defeat.jpg


A much better performance sees us dominate the game, up until around the point they have a man sent off, which wakes them up and they score soon after. But there was definite improvement – I will stick with this for the rest of the season.

We finish the month rock bottom of the league. Managerial support is still Very Poor, team cohesion is Poor, but the dressing room atmosphere is Average. So, something to build on.
 
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Chapter 5 – Good Old Chap

November ‘19


Lucy has dutifully trailed me to the south coast of Spain, and I can see why. Her job is an absolute doss.

important dates.jpg


All you’ve done there is print off the fixture list. Are you still OK doing the diary management? Not too much on your plate? Take the rest of the day off; go and see if you can find La Bella Escondida Tower. Lucy’s leisure filled days exploring this Andalusian port city make me wonder if there isn’t a way I can make my own life a bit easier. As I munch through a second plate of churros in nearby diner Casa Diego, the solution to my recruitment conundrum strikes me: Cadiz C. I have not so much as introduced myself to the Cadiz C team manager – there may not be one for all I care – but without a second thought I raid their squad to pad out my own for our first game of the month away to Sevilla B (11th). Society strikes downwards.

sevilla b result.jpg


And so do Sevilla B. The game was a lot tighter than the score-line suggests, but basically Cadiz B are rubbish. This is the main problem I’ve identified. The centre backs switch off so regularly it’s more accurate to say they occasionally flicker on, but mostly they gift chances generously throughout. We created 3 clear cut chances to their 2, but my main striker Hernan Lino fluffs his lines in a style befitting a man with 8 career goals from 89 appearances. I’ll drop him next match and give Ivan “old chap” Chapela a start up front. He’s more of a winger really, but needs must.

ivan chapela.jpg


My goalkeeping coach Raul De La Vega reports that morale is low around the squad and suggests holding a team meeting. The last one didn’t go very well, but I’m conscious that my lies to the chairman about immediately securing the players backing may come back to haunt me sooner than I’d like. Amigos – gather round. Aqui pronto! I tell them assertively that although we’ve had a bad start, they should not let their heads drop, there’s still plenty of time to turn this mess around. Only a handful of them speak any English, so I’m hoping my body language will get the message across.

body language.jpg


Probably time to buy a roomier pair of trousers. The squad seem to agree with whatever it is they think I’ve said, and I bask in the glorious green glow of approval.

team meeting.jpg


Thanks Javi. You’re stepping on my point somewhat, but that’s exactly the sort of overall reaction I was after. The morale of some of the players is now as high as “quite good”. Let’s see if it makes a difference in the next game at home to Granada B (6th). One of my star players, Sergio Gonzalez is back in training and should be able to make the bench, although “fan” Gonzalo Aznar is spreading pernicious rumours amongst the faithful.

gonzalezlookswrong.jpg


I’m sure the physio would have mentioned it if he couldn’t look right. It’s probably just a crick in his neck, he’ll be fine. I can always instruct the team to focus play down the left if it develops into something serious.

According to an article forwarded by press officer Eva Manzano we are “braced for a low turnout” with estimated ticket sales of 480 for our game against Granada B. Strangely specific estimate. The article also says, “Cadiz B have admitted that Ciudad Deportivo Bahia de Cadiz could be deserted”. Eva, find out who has been talking to the papers and ask Manuel to fire them. Do you not realise how delicate of a thread the morale of the team is dangling by? I can hear Eva rolling her eyes over the phone. I’m beginning to think this whole club is toxic. I may be drinking from a poisoned chalice. I sense we need a result in this game to avoid a death spiral.

granada B result.jpg


555 (including a solitary away supporter, hello superfan) turn up to watch us earn a well-deserved point against Granada B. Gonzalez came on for the last 20 minutes and played a good through ball down the right-hand channel (take note Aznar) to put Chapela in one on one in the closing minutes, but he has been watching and learning from Lino and shot weakly at the keeper. Still, my first point and a clean sheet – churros all round!

The fans are buzzing after that (shows how slim pickings have been) and the dressing room atmos is consolidating at average. Gonzalez starts the next game and what a difference it makes having someone in midfield with a little bit of composure on the ball. He finishes the game with an astonishing 97% pass completion rate. ‘Old Chap’ Chapela scores his first of the season to help us on our way to a comfortable 2 – 0 win. Vamos Los Cadistas!

old chap love.jpg


Me too Llucia, me too.

The final game of the month is away to high flying Cordoba (3rd). Cordoba sound familiar and I check out their club info. 21,000-seater stadium, recent history in La Liga, big player contracts. I assume the club went into administration or something, but it turns out not. Revealing the full extent of my blasé attitude to the club, the league, the sport, I decide to properly check the league structure in Spain more than a month into my employment here. It turns out we are not 6th tier, but in fact there are 4 sub leagues that all sit beneath the 2nd division. Teams qualifying from these 4 leagues go into a cross league play-off system to try and get into Div 2. In theory I am only two promotions off La Liga. The plot thickens. I think in fact Spain might have been an accidentally excellent choice for rapid career progression. I’d better start taking this seriously.

And we’ll start by producing an upset at Cordoba. I stride along the corridors before the game full of purpose, trousers bursting at the seams as I lunge into the dressing room. I stare hard at the assembled squad. “Most of the players look far from interested in listening to you despite the fair atmosphere overall”. You hear that? A fair atmosphere – things are looking up. Let’s go and show everyone what we can do!

cordoba result.jpg


I don’t want to talk about it.

Overall this month has been OK. We’ve picked up 4 points, moved off the bottom of the table and the team is starting to come together.

november results 19.jpg


november 19 league table.jpg


I am further cheered up by the fact Colin Calderwood has finally deigned to take a job at League 2 Exeter, where he pockets a measly £150 per week after tax. Not sure that even meets the minimum wage requirements. Still, Exeter. That must be nice?

weather.jpg
 
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Chapter 6 – Broken Trident

December ‘19


The opening game of the month is at home to fellow strugglers Villarobledo (19th). A relegation 6 pointer. It is a truly awful game of football. The most nil of nil-nil draws. We wait until the 88th minute to take our first shot, Old Chap Chapela running clear from a Khaloua through ball but shooting straight at the keeper. I un-delegate the personal training for him and set him to train as a forward with additional shooting practise. My assistant manager Raul Lopez delivers his fortnightly training report the very next day. It has one recommendation: take Chapela off shooting practise. Reason: it is no longer a weakness. Quick check of the coaching assignments, yep thought so, Lopez leads shooting training. You have quite a high opinion of yourself don’t you Raul? We’ll keep him on it a little bit longer I think.

Before our next game away to Badajoz (17th) 4 players come to me with concerns about their agreed playing time being changed. Presumably the work of my DoF. Can I not also delegate these conversations to him? Aware of how little the players think of me I just assure them all we can go back to the previously agreed playing time. Whatever it was. Don’t bother me with details, just beat Badajoz. Lino is back in the starting 11, not that it makes a scrap of difference.

bad badajoz.jpg


Badajoz do what everyone else does against us and keep switching play to our unguarded flanks. That was always the obvious problem with the Trident, but I hoped the opposition at this level would not have the skill to move the ball quick enough from one side to another. In a huff I rip up our tactics and start again. Centre back Moises can just about function as a right back, so I’m moving to the back 4 I had previously considered impossible. We move to a 4-1-4-1 of sorts and I fiddle around with the tactical style until all familiarity has been lost. I’ve reduced the emphasis on short passing and told them to counter at speed, running at opponents. In theory we have some quick, talented dribblers – let’s see what they can do.

tactical rejig.jpg


My best centre backs, Mbaye and Erimuya have struck up a bad partnership. Tough, get on with it. This is it now, I’m not changing tactics again. They’ll keep doing this until they get the hang of it, or I get sacked. Our next game is a winnable home fixture against 14th placed Sanluqueno. I put my ear to the boardroom during a meeting I am not invited to prior to the game. From what I can make out they are very disappointed with my leadership of the team. The phrase “Muy mal” seems to come up a lot. Oh dear, I may have been rumbled. Feeling the pressure, I assertively tell the team I expect to see much better performances.

sanluqueno result.jpg


A simple robbery. Sanluqueno exhibit some Cadiz B style finishing to let us off the hook and we nick a winner from a free kick swung in from the right for an unmarked Alonso to toe poke home. So far, it’s a 100% win record for the new tactical setup. The performance was mostly unconvincing, but our defence looks slightly less like an open door.

We repeat the trick in the next game away at Algeciras (7th). Alonso has forced his way into the team after I decided to abandon my plan to force the mismatched Mbaye and Erimuya to keep playing together. My fickle nature has been rewarded with 2 winning goals in two games.

Algeciras result.jpg


Khaloua suffered a broken ankle which might be a season ending injury, but he hasn’t lived up to my early hopes and there are a few other players I can use on the wing. On the back of the first consecutive wins the club has this season, I take a peek at my manager performance rating.

manager performance.jpg


To be fair boss, your disappointment reflects on your own judgment as much as it does my performance. I’ll give you a D- for chairmanship. We finish the month with 7 points from a possible 12. What more can they ask for?

december 19 results.jpg


december 19 table.jpg
 
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Chapter 7 – Deeply saddened

January ‘20


The team report back from a week long winter break with a slightly worse level of managerial support than when they left. Absence makes the heart grow harder in Cadiz. The only change during that time was a report that the UK will not be leaving the European Union. Maybe the players were hoping Brexit would make my employment untenable. Unlucky chummmmmmmps! Vizcaino can smell the insubordination in the air and slams a performance review down on my desk, making a slitting throat gesture when I stare up helplessly.

deep sadness.jpg


Manuel does not look deeply saddened. There’s a definite bounce in his step as he saunters out of my office. An ‘E’ – that’s very harsh. Do consecutive 1 – 0 smash and grab wins count for nothing? I’ll start keeping an eye on the Job Centre board. Would it look worse to leave a job after 3 months, or to be sacked after 3 months? If I can somehow keep this winning streak going, I might be able to boost my reputation enough to get a job as a proper manager. With that in mind, we prepare for a visit from 8th placed Talavera.

talavera result.jpg


I have a feeling January may be my last month in Cadiz. I should make time to visit Castillo de Santa Catalina while I can. We outran, out-shot and out-passed Talavera, but failed to create high quality chances and, in the end, it felt like a fair result. The fans and the board are displeased with the turgid style of football on display, the squad still regard me as the charlatan I am, the only Spanish I’ve picked up is “mas churros, por favor” and relegation seems highly likely. Smirking Eva Manzano sends me a high priority email, which reads, “see below 😊”.

forhire dangles by a thread.jpg


Lucy, I want you to start filling your handbag with stationery and non-perishable supplies from the canteen each day – drop off what you’ve collected at my hotel on your way home.

The second of 3 January fixtures is another relegation 6 pointer away against Murcia (15th). Murcia show less mercy than their name implies and rob us with a 1 – 0 victory in a game we at least deserved a point from. Whichever combination of attacking players I use produces the same, blunt end results. A particularly poor game for Old Chap Chapela leaves me non-plussed. I browse listlessly through my assistants review of our strengths and weaknesses.

pros and cons.jpg


We’re creating chances, but we can’t score. And our players are rubbish. We have “3 good choices” at left back and one bad choice at right back. This club is a puzzle I can’t solve. Sergio Gonzalez, who I still think is our best player, despite being in mediocre form (who isn’t?) is suspended for the last game of the month at home to San Fernando (13th). Moises reports a tight thigh 2 days before the game, which makes him unlikely to start. Kill me now. I suspect one more loss might seal my fate. Can you hear the drums, San Fernando?

sack looms.jpg


Thought as much. Thanks Eva, I shall miss you. Why did we never hook up? And why do you wear a brown swimming cap to work? I send Raul to handle the pre match press conference (it’s just as well he gets some practise in) and I return to the hotel to pack as many miniature soaps into my bag as I can.

As I enter the dressing room before the game, likely for the last time, the squad can see the writing on the wall. There is a subdued atmosphere and most of the players are completely uninterested in what you have to say. They don’t even have the common courtesy to pretend to be interested in the last words of a condemned man. I lean slowly towards them and abruptly shout at the top of my lungs that I fully expect them to end our poor form and win the game. I turn and walk out, my hands shaking and take a seat in the dugout, arms crossed, staring fixedly at the pitch. Come on then, do your worst.

san fernando loss.jpg


After the game I wait for the players to sit down and shut up, then I walk wordlessly out of the dressing room, straight out of the stadium and wander down to the port to stare at the anchored boats in the darkness.

january results.jpg


january table.jpg
 
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Chapter 8 – The Noose Tightens

February ‘20


The board have apparently delayed my sacking until at least after our return fixture away to Sanluqueno (14th). One of only 4 teams Cadiz B have beaten this season. Can lightning strike twice and reanimate the walking corpse that is my career? Sergio Gonzalez is back from suspension but has been called up to warm the bench with the senior team, so I’m without his services again. Luismi Quezada is a new name in the squad and I assume has been moved down from Cadiz ‘A’. He looks good and might be the Khaloua that Khaloua never was.

quezada.jpg


Come on Luismi, save my job!

sanluqueno loss.jpg


dross.jpg


It wasn’t as bad as Mariano makes out, but it was quite bad. Quezada picked up a booking within a few minutes of kick off and didn’t do much else. There were some good performances in there and the late second goal when we were chasing an equalizer made the result seem worse than it was. Still no sign of whatever the Spanish equivalent of a P45 is, but someone (I assume Vizcaino) has hung a huge new painting in my office.

damocles.jpg


Not very subtle, but that’s Manuel for you. There’s Eva in the far left, getting ready to forward Damocles an article about how the sword looms over him, with a visit from 3rd placed Huelva up next. I wonder how Calderwood is getting on at Exeter. 9th in League 2, with 4 wins from the last 5 games. Lucy, find out if Exeter need a reserve team manager.

huelva result.jpg


Lino was put through one on one 7 minutes in and naturally scuffed the chance wide. Gonzalez is back from Cadiz Proper and had a goal ruled out for offside. Huelva didn’t register a single shot in the first half and that may have been the best performance we’ve put in all season.

huelva inbox.jpg


My kingdom for a striker! For larks I ask Vizcaino for a contract extension. It takes him a moment to realise I’m being serious. Your job performance thus far hasn’t deserved an early extension, he finally replies, picking his words carefully. Ideally, I will stay in post at least long enough to complete my National C License and start on the B License. We have 13 games left and are currently 18th, 7 points off safety. If we go down, I am sacked automatically as we will be in the nether world of leagues not playable within the game. We will probably need 40 points to be safe, which means we need another 21. 7 wins from 13. Impossible.

A divisive and needless poll has split the Cadiz B fans down the middle. I think the result is too tight to base policy on.

divisive poll.jpg


Failure to get a result in our next fixture away to bottom of the table Villarrubia would probably tip that poll significantly. No team has conceded more goals than them, and I note with interest, no team has scored fewer than us. What happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object? Sticking with the same line-up as last match I jump onto the team bus and head off to find out.

villarrubia loss.jpg


At least we scored. I wait with every click of Continue for news of my sacking. My goal-keeping coach De La Vega pops up again to suggest another team meeting to help morale. Mine or theirs? I can’t face it and mumbling, “rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb”, I brush past him and head to Casa Diego. Scrolling through my social feed while silently weeping and eating churros whole, I can see the fans are on at me for a reluctance to try different tactics. Oh, is that what you want? So be it, Laughing Los Cadistas. I give you: The Noose (if you picture it upside down it can just about pass for a noose shape).

thenoose.jpg


I will go out scoring or die trying. The hangman’s first victim and last game of the month will be Badajoz (14th). Dare you step onto the gallows, Badajoz? I lose Gonzalez again to the real Cadiz and that really undermines the whole system. But I’ve changed tactics once this month, I’m not doing it again. I reconfigure it slightly to accommodate the change of personnel, to something even more off balance and prepare myself for death or glory.

badajo loss.jpg


Lino scores a goal!!! Stop the press! Buy a lottery ticket! Tiempo de fiesta! But, bigger picture: I suppose it’s to be death, rather than glory. For 30 minutes Badajoz didn’t know what to do and we were recording 70% possession and building some nice moves down the wings. Then they realised what to do was hit long balls into the channel, pull our centre backs out of position and steadily suffocate the life out of us. And with that, the Noose goes onto the scrapheap of poor ideas, badly executed.

We end the month bottom of the league, having gained 1 point from a possible 12 for February.
 
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Chapter 9 – Mediocrity Like This

March ‘20


The media are routinely reporting that every fixture may be my last at Cadiz, but I’ve long since stopped caring. Which I think takes the fun out of it for Eva. I take a quick look at the Job Security board to see how I’m faring there.

precarious.jpg


Top of the league! My latest final game in charge is to be away at Villarrobledo, who have somehow replaced us at the foot of the table. But before that my certificate comes through to confirm I am now officially the holder of a National C License. Manuel, a quick word?

B License if you please.jpg


Sucker! I may have said that a bit too loud because the next day Vizcaino presents me with another Performance Review. The board are bitterly disappointed with your management of the team. He gives me an F. I’m not sure we need these school marking style grades each month. Seems a bit…degrading. The board would also like to have a meeting to discuss the performances of Alejandro Viedma, who they want me to drop. Failure to attend the meeting will mean instant sacking says Manuel, pointedly. Alright chill out, I was gonna go anyway!

I tell the board Viedma needs more time to find his form. Mostly because there is no option to say, “I would love to drop him, but I don’t have any viable alternatives due to the club policy of loaning out most of our good players”. Manuel won’t let it go and archly announces that, We still agree with the fans that the player should be dropped, we just can’t accept mediocrity like this at our club. Well you hired me, didn’t you? Against my better judgment I dig my heels in and tell him to stay out of team selection, that’s my job. It’s really my only job around here. We finance this club, and as such, if we want to express an opinion on team selection then we have every right to do so. Do you want to be the manager Vizcaino? Do you? Is that what you want? Because I don’t recommend it. I’m not changing my mind and won’t be dropping Viedma unless I think he deserves to be. In truth I couldn’t care less, but as is often the case, the argument is not really about that anymore. Vizcaino stares at me for an uncomfortably long time. Eventually he concludes by saying something along the lines of, he hopes the next meeting goes better than this. Wuss.

To my surprise, Player Liaison Officer (is that a job?) Juan Miguel Moreno pops unbidden into my office later that day to report that I now have ‘Average’ managerial support. Apparently, I have a strong influence over a number of the players, and even more baffling, “strong relationships with a number of the players”. Maybe they will put their phones away during the team talks now. Or maybe Juan is just winding me up. Perhaps he’s one of Eva’s cousins she’s snuck into the club to gaslight me. Let’s find out as we head to Villarrobledo. I stick with The Noose formation, mostly because I don’t think anything I do will make much difference. It worked for a bit in the last game, so my plan is to use this first half, then switch it up second half to the old 4-1-4-1. I have a new striker on the bench, Kensly, available for the first time after recovering from injury. Lino and Old Chap beware.

villarobledo draw.jpg


For the love of God, why? We were two nil up thanks to a couple of goals their keeper would not want to watch back on Match of the Day. The first was a 30-yard free kick he treated like a penalty, leaping to his right before waiting to see which way the ball was going (it was going more or less down the middle). The second, an edge of the box volley from sub Kensly, was fired directly at him. The ball slipped into, then out and up from his hands and into the roof of the net. But of course, we threw away these gifts like spoilt children, Alonso giving away a needless penalty at the end of stoppage time. At least we’re scoring.

No wins in 8 games and a visit from league leaders Cordoba next up. This time Goal website are reporting that, “The sack looms” over me this game. We are comfortably beaten 0 – 1, but that’s a big improvement on the reverse fixture against Cordoba. I think the Noose may be effective with better players. Something to keep in mind. My job security has strangely improved to, “Insecure”. I assume the board can’t be bothered to interview for another manager before the end of the season.

The next game is away to Yelcano (17th) and if it had come earlier in the campaign may have met the definition of relegation 6 pointer, but at this point we must be odds on to go down. 12 points off safety with 9 games to play. We’ve averaged about 0.6 points per game this season, so we would need to become twice as good for the remainder of the season to stand any chance. So it goes. We’re playing for pride now lads.

yeclano win.jpg


That’s more like it! The Noose is still very vulnerable on the flanks, but the sheer number of advanced players means that when we do pick up loose balls, or very occasionally win a tackle in the middle of the field, we have options to attack with. Kensly wasn’t fit enough to play the full game but got 60 minutes and looks sharper/less broken than my other strikers.

Sticking with the Noose, we are unfortunate to lose the next game 1 – 2 to Sevilla B, leading until the 87th minute and conceding the second goal with the last kick of the game. We are finally starting to see some consistency and control in games, but it’s too little too late.

Our final game of the month is away to Granada B (7th).

granada B win.jpg


A nice move for the first goal as Gonzalez picks out a run from Perez into the box, he out-muscles the defender and shoots low into the bottom corner. The equaliser from Granada B was straight out of the “How to beat Cadiz B” manual, with a long ball to the wing followed by a cross to an unmarked forward. Quezada has been summoned to the Dominican Republic on international duty, but fellow under-whelmer Khaloua is back earlier than expected from injury and came on as sub here, slipping Kensly in for a later winner. Kensly has now managed 2 goals in 4 appearances, making him a good shout to finish as our top scorer ahead of Lino (3 goals from 27). Surely an unlikely, but dramatically pleasing relegation escape is not on the cards here?

march results.jpg


march table.jpg
 
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Chapter 10 – Costa del Sol

April ‘20


Cadiz is a nice place to be in April. Idling in the Plaza de San Juan de Dios with an ice coffee I reflect on the improved mood within the club. I think it’s purely down to my sheer persistence of turning up every day, but it feels like I’m being treated less like the fraud I am. The players have finally accepted the fact that, despite the audacious implausibility of the fact, I am indeed their manager and the decent results in March have improved the atmosphere no end.

april 20 atmos.jpg


Without ever mentioning it, Vizcaino has removed the painting of Damocles from my office and the monthly performance review is much more positive.

april 20 performance review.jpg


The team are playing with purpose and enthusiasm, and we’ve outplayed teams much higher than us in the league. This place is finally starting to feel like home. A shame that we’re definitely going to get relegated and then I will be sacked. Ho-hum, what’s next? A home game to Merida (5th). We fear no one!

merida draw.jpg


An excellent performance is undone by non-existent defending from a corner and the fact most of our chances fell to Lino. His reliability to miss the target is quite astonishing, you would think more would go in just on the law of averages, even if he was trying to miss. Quezada’s goal was a beautiful thunderbolt from a pinpoint Gonzalez pass. A shot that rendered their keeper senseless the moment it was struck. He could only stare mindlessly ahead as the ball whizzed past his head into the net.

keeper switches off.jpg


Despite the pleasing performance, it is 2 dropped points that we can’t afford. We are 19th in the league, 9 points from safety with 5 games to play. And our next fixture is a daunting away trip to University Murcia (4th).

But before that Javi Perez comes to tell me that Sergio Gonzalez is unhappy that he’s not getting enough football. He’s the first name on my team sheet, so he must be talking about the senior team. I don’t have the option to talk to Gonzalez, so there’s literally nothing I can do about that. I ask Perez to have a word. The next day it seems that someone with more clout than me (the kitman perhaps) has acted, because from what I can tell Gonzalez has been moved definitively to the parent team and Raul Lopez informs me I need to pick a new captain. Good for you Sergio, but this is a bitter pill to swallow, just as our form had picked up. Gonzalez is irreplaceable and this tactical system really depends on him relentlessly passing the ball out from the back – I have nobody else who can do that. This is rubbish.

u murcia loss.jpg


Kensly bagged a goal to briefly keep us in the game and put himself level as top scorer for the season, but Gonzalez was a big miss. Viedma came into the team to replace him (forgot to mention he was dropped in the end – my decision) and did well, but he can’t split defences in the same way. Lino has also been dropped and will never play for me again. So long Lino and thanks for all the misses. I gave Khaloua a go up front and he did OK, setting up the chance that eventually led to Kensly’s goal. My most reliable wide player Manuel Nieto picks up a season ending injury. I doubt it will make much difference.

We need to win every remaining game to stand any mathematical chance of survival. Will Linense (14th) put us out of our misery early?

hammered linense.jpg


Hammered! A glorious victory only sullied by madman right winger Sergio Perez getting himself sent off for a criminal act poorly disguised as a tackle in the 62nd minute. One less right winger to choose from for the remaining few games. A Khaloua hat trick and a Kensly poacher’s finish puts them both on 4 goals from the season. It’s a shame that it’s all come together too late.

The final game of the month is away to favoured holiday destination Marbella (11th).

Marbella loss.jpg


An unlikely, but dramatically pleasing relegation escape is not on the cards. That defeat is enough to officially seal our relegation from the league.

april results.jpg


april table.jpg
 
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Chapter 11 – News Article For Your Attention

May ‘20


It seems like the board will do me the decency of letting me stay in the post until the end of the season and our remaining 2 dead rubber games. Manuel has shown himself to be a man of principle in the end. Once I eventually won over the players (months after I had promised I would) he really softened. He just wants everyone to get along! What a nice man.

I am not a nice man. I’m here for the cash. Knowing I’m going to be back on the dole in a month or two, I can’t afford to wait. Job Board here I come. I apply to Carpi, in Serie C/B (similar structure to Spain – effectively third tier) and Wycombe, in League One. Woking in the Vanarama National is more realistic, but that is a nailed on pay cut and is a last resort move.

sacked.jpg


I take it back, Manuel is a filthy dog. Didn’t even have the decency to sack me man to man, had Eva send me a press release about it. That is low. Not so much as an adios from Eva. Goodbye Cadiz B, I wish you nothing but misery.

Lucy has absolutely decimated the stationery cupboard and I have about 200 packets of chorizo from the Cadiz canteen stashed at the hotel. Along with all the mini soaps I’ve pilfered it’s far too much to pack, so I just tip it all into the hotel bath and check out. In my time here I’ve acquired a National C License, almost completed the B License, picked up some basic Spanish and pocketed £67k in career earnings. Back to Blighty to lick my wounds and wait for some other sap to offer me an interview.

On the runway at Stansted I make slap-dash applications to Crewe and Swindon. Did I mention I have a win record of 23%? That’s almost 1 in 4 games, guaranteed!

My old pal, the journalist Carlos Ruiz (our relationship is apparently ‘friendly’) gives me a call to ask for my immediate thoughts following my sacking. I pick the option that sounds the most Alan Partridge:
I’m actually quite relieved in some ways, believe it or not. Sometimes it takes a dramatic act like this to lift a significant weight from your shoulders, you know what I mean?
He doesn’t know what I mean. I don’t know what I mean.
You’ve always retained a strong bond with the supporters; have you got any words for them right now?
I can think of a few words for them. I’ll get to that in due course I mutter bitterly.
Ruiz pushes the point, claiming the public want to hear a proper answer from you. That’s quite enough of that; I ‘no comment’ him to end the interview.

He calls me again a few days later with the opening gambit This is the first time in your career that you’ve been sacked. How are you handling things? Might be considered a nice gesture if I didn’t know he’s just trying to fill column inches – mining my misfortune for his fortune. With friends like these hey? I hang up the phone and apply for the Notts County job. That’s how I’m handling things mate.

The rest of the month passes in similar fashion: job applications and ignoring calls from Ruiz – the man’s become a menace.
 
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Chapter 12 – Gis A Job

June ‘20


Not much to report as I file endless job applications with little hope. Do you want to have a look at my profile?

profile jun 20.jpg


Reputation: 5%. Not sure what reputation means as a percentage, but I get the general idea low numbers means bad/non-existent.

Stirling are the first to take pity on me and invite me in out of the cold. But to make sure we’re all on the same page they let me know, Despite offering you an interview, the board do have serious reservations about your suitability to deliver the club’s ambitious future for the club. Tell me more! What do you want to do: win the Champion’s League, become a FTSE 100 company, invade Denmark? Chairman Stuart Brown asks me to explain why I don’t have much managerial experience. Neither did Guardiola, Stu. I tell him I’m at the start of my career (duh). Why have you found it so hard to control your club’s finances? Come on, that’s hardly fair! I blame it on the board and wait for the next question. This interview is a car crash. I go through the motions for the rest of it, but Brown seems like a chump and my heart is not in it.

Crewe, Carpi and Wycombe: failed to make the shortlist. Stirling opt for Jim Weir (no, me neither) and this is all starting to feel very familiar. Annan Athletic (again, me neither) from Ladbrokes League 2 offer me an interview. After acing it, I realise they are in the 4th tier of Scottish football. The 4th tier. Of Scottish football. Surely it’s not going to come to this. I can speak basic Spanish! I’ve nearly got a B License!

ruiz the pest.jpg


Oh, give it a rest Carlos. More rejection letters pile in and my options are looking very limited. Limited to this specifically:

annan job offer.jpg


If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor. Cadiz B have ruined me in more ways than one. I delay the offer, hoping for a miracle from 2 outstanding applications I have with Spanish clubs at the same level as Cadiz B: Leonesa and Atletico Baleares.

The week comes and goes quickly with a no from Baleares and a no response from Leonesa.

annan hire forhire.jpg


Thank you. I am delighted to be here.
 
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Chapter 13 – Lucky Dip

Pre-season ‘20


I couldn’t squeeze another penny out of chairman Philip Jones, so I find myself down £1725 a week on my Cadiz wages to a contract of £675 a week. £500 a week after tax. I can get a fairly run down 1 bed flat a 2-minute walk from the ground for £400 quid a month. The ground is a 2,500 capacity (500 seated) and is a long way from the Ciudad Deportiva Bahía de Cádiz.

welcome to galabank.jpg


No sooner am I through the gate than Jones is upon me, swooping out of the of club bar like a creature of the night to remind me of the expectations for the upcoming season.

annan expectations.jpg


Ladbrokes League 2 is a 10-team league, with only the 10th placed team going into the relegation playoffs. Who they play then I don’t know – a team from the division below, I guess? Anyway, the point is, Jones expectation is that I finish bottom of the league. I can do that standing on my head. Nae bother pal!

But are the players up to such a tall order? The first eleven looks pretty strong, but the squad size makes Cadiz B look decadent.

annan squad '20.jpg


Matty Douglas at right back has an enormous long-throw and striker Russell Currie has a ‘physical’ style and is 6’ 4”. A plan is beginning to form. Kyle Wilkie is my best player by some distance and the obvious option would be to build a team around him.

wilkie.jpg


The problem is I don’t have a lot of raw material to build around him with. The defence in particular is badly in need of reinforcements. The season kicks off in 35 days and I need to get some bodies through the door sharpish. We have a wage budget of around £2k p/w to play with and a transfer budget of just under £10k.

That can wait for now, as I go to introduce myself to the players. All 13 of them. My managerial support is almost as low as it can be – ‘Abysmal’. Terrific. I sheepishly admit that they may not have heard of me, but here I am now, so let’s try to make the most of it. They seem happy enough with that and striker Connor Higgins pipes up that he looks forward to working with a lesser-known manager who can bring new ideas into the side. Yeah, cheers Connor. I look forward to working with a lesser-known footballer who can…well, let’s find out.

In order to accommodate the strongest players in the squad I’m thinking we will go with a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 and with that in mind I have quite a long shopping list of required players to sign. We need a left back, a centre back and a central midfielder just in order to fill out a starting line-up. The club has one scout and I have no time to wait for him to flog around Scotland asking around to find out if players will fit into the core social group or not. I start handing out trials left, right and centre as well as offering a couple of contracts blindly to players I hope will not be totally useless. I submit loan offers for players whose skills I am unaware of, but who play for big clubs. It’s recruitment lucky dip!

A sudden wave of futility washes over me and I slip out of the club to go home and lie down with the lights off. But as I’m skulking away, Press Officer Alan Wilson shouts at me across the car park that I’m required for the ‘press conference’. It is similar to my first unveiling, in that it is attended by a total of 1 journalists. Cameron Allan of The Annan Football Latest wants to know if I’ll be recruiting any of my old staff from Cadiz B. Are you alright mate? I tell him the staff here are more than adequate and that may very well be true. I say the league is my main focus and that yes, obviously we need to sign some more players.

In personal development news –

B license.jpg


A lasting souvenir from Cadiz. Worryingly though it appears I have sent myself a note to inform myself that I have completed the B License. Myself. And I've begun referring to myself in the third person. Feeling my sanity slipping through my fingers I hotfoot it over to the Solway Café (hunger and insanity feel very similar to me) and order something from the vegetarian menu: Whole Deep-Fried Pizza. It costs £6.30 and that includes chips. You can’t go wrong.

Unlike in Recruitment Lucky Dip where I do go wrong immediately. 17 year old central midfielder Brandon Hunter joins on a season long loan from Hibs. The fans are apparently better informed than my head scout and immediately give me an E for the signing as he doesn’t look ready for first team football yet.

brandon hunter.jpg


5’7” and Strength: 1. He’s going to get battered! To be fair, the fans are spot on. But that’s part of the charm of the Lucky Dip system. The next prize to be plucked out of the bin is out of contract veteran midfielder Paul Watson.

paul watson.jpg


Not great, but not a disaster. He can put a tackle in, so he can do the dirty work for Kyle Wilkie ‘Wonka’ in the middle. He has good leadership stats, which could be useful for a team with no leaders according to the Dynamics tab. I note I promised Watson during contract negotiation that the squad would be strengthened. Hmm. Paul, I’d like you to meet Brandon Hunter. Yes, he does have quite a weak handshake, but don’t let that fool you.

We have a few staff vacancies that I make hires for with minimal fuss, largely so that I can ask the incoming colleagues to recommend a signing. A pre-built excuse for any that turn out bad. Next through the door is centre back Chris ‘Lightning’ McQueen on loan from Celtic. A good player, but another tiny, Strength: 1 weakling. Chairman Philip Jones is going to have to fork out for some dumbbells.

chris mcqueen.jpg


Kelsey Mooney has recently been released from Hereford and is signed on the recommendation of one of my new scouts. That scout has more than earned his £70 p/w already. I toy with the idea of sacking him and hiring a new one, just to get a fresh recommendation, but I doubt the finances are in place for such a scheme.

kelsey mooney.jpg


Even more pleasing is free signing Creag Little ‘And Large’. Standing at 6’5” and described as a “no nonsense centre back” he is exactly what I want for this team. Find me 5 more Littles please scouting team.

creag little.jpg


Jamie Mills at left back looks like a probable miss for the lucky dipper, but he’s tall and quick and that may well be enough.

jamie mills.jpg


I need a left sided midfielder, another left back, a right back and then I will have two players in every position for a no frills 4-4-2 formation. I may take a punt on another central midfielder and tell little Brandon Hunter to run all the way home.

We have one friendly against Everton U23s (a respectable 3 – 0 loss) and then Pre-season is effectively cut short by the commencement of the group stage of the Betfred Cup. The Cup is a minimum (and looking at the teams in our group, a maximum) of 4 fixtures. I’m feeling good about the recruitment so far. The team has many weaknesses, but it doesn’t look like a bottom of the league club. Famous last words?
 
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Chapter 14 – A Friend With Weed’s A Friend Indeed

July ‘20


The recruitment drive at Annan Athletic is relentless – this train does not stop. A wage budget of £3500 p/w goes a long way when your top earner is on about £200 a week. I’ve been handing out trials with merry abandon and one of them comes up trumps landing me another free signing, left back Sean ‘Third Degree’ Burns. Solid all-round stats and he had a good year in this division last season with Stenhousemuir, contributing 9 assists. For reasons unknown they let him go. Thanks very much.

sean burns.jpg


Only a right back and a left winger to go and then this group of strangers can begin transforming into a team. Before that we have our first fixture in the Betfred Cup, which is the Scottish League Cup. Hamilton are a Championship team and likely to be one of our toughest games in the competition.

stenhouse loss.jpg


I’m not too concerned with the result, or the number of shots they had (mostly long range) but our tally of 0 shots is a potential worry and something to keep an eye on. Hopefully it’s a lack of match fitness, but star man Kyle Wilkie ‘Wonka’ showed on more than one occasion that his reach was exceeding his grasp, as he attempted cross field passes that did not come close to crossing the field.

Lucy passes on a message from the groundsman (why doesn’t he ask me himself?) to ask about the pitch dimensions. I opt for a wide pitch, to enable my intended style of lots of crosses aimed towards giant Russell Currie. Just when it’s too late I realise this will work to the detriment of my long throw specialist. That may have been a season defining error. Whoops.

A 1 – 0 defeat to Stenhousemuir and a 2 – 0 loss to Queen of the South put us out of the Betfred Cup before the group stage is over. But against Queen of the South we put in a better performance and created a good number of chances against what is a Championship team. I’m not disheartened and especially as in between those games we managed to secure the signature of recently released Rangers central midfielder, lanky Krystof Hampl, beating off competition from a number of Championship teams with the promise to make him a star player.

Hampl.jpg


Which will spell the end of Brandon Hunter’s time at the club, just as soon as I can terminate his loan. Thanks for your efforts Brandon.

I realise before the Queen of the South game that I have made quite a big oversight. My left winger Conner Duthie has been suspended for every game, even for the friendly and I suddenly thought ‘that’s a bit odd’ and decided to check the details of his suspension.

duthie ban.jpg


Banned for almost the entire season for a positive cannabis test. Words fail me. The whole principle of the team has been around wingers putting in crosses for my giant and now I realise I have a total of two not very good right wingers. And a gapingly wide pitch. I need to, really very quickly, sign some more wingers. I start approaching strangers in the street offering trials, I put an advert on Gumtree, I pray to all the Gods, I ask Lucy if she knows anyone that can run at above average speed and kick a football. And fate delivers unto me, Paul Brindle ‘Fly’.

brindlefly.jpg


What he lacks in…everything else, he makes up for in determination. He’s one of those annoying wingers who is a natural in the AML position, but can’t play at all slightly further back the pitch at ML. He will have to learn. I have an almost religious fear of playing with advanced wingers in this league.

We have the final dead rubber game to play against League 1 team Partick Thistle and I’m just hoping for a similar performance to the last game – no humiliation please.

partick thistle win.jpg


1 – 2 flattered them. Mooney could easily have had a hat trick. We created 5 clear chances to their 2 and knocked the ball about nicely at times. The structure is starting to look better and the long ball counters were causing all kinds of trouble. Just as well because 4 consecutive defeats had battered morale. Exactly the opposite of what you want from pre-season.

We make what I think will be the final signing of the season with a loan move for 17-year-old Hearts winger Ryan Schiavone. He’s technically the best winger I have at the club now. He is ideally played as an AMR, when what I really need is an ML, but that will have to do. Then, against my better judgment I complete another loan agreement, for another Celtic youngster Scott Cusick. The risk is it unbalances the squad, but I couldn’t resist. Look at him!

cusick.jpg


That really is it now though. The wage budget is almost shot anyway. But the squad is unrecognisable. A staff meeting sees concerns raised about what the high turnover of players and randomly contrasting personalities of those players means for the dressing room atmosphere. I waft them away – the atmosphere is currently ‘average’ and I have no reason, other than the ones just pointed out, to believe that will change. Managerial support is up to ‘Poor’ and I feel positive about the season ahead. We play one more friendly and the first round of the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup (really?) and we’re into the season proper. Come on you Galabankies!

annanjuly20results.jpg


annan summer 20 transfers.jpg
 
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Chapter 15 – Bookies Favourites

August ‘20


It’s straight to business as we start the league season on 1 July with a home fixture facing Cowdenbeath. Last season they finished one place below us in 8th so this should be a good test. I’ve settled on a cautious 4-4-2 direct counter attacking style. Get the ball wide quick, get high crosses into the box quick. One tall striker, one slightly less tall striker. Are you ready for that Cowdenbeath?

cowdenbeath win.jpg


After a tight first half, two subs combine to put us ahead as McLean cuts in off the left wing to float a cross to the far post and Wilkie, minutes after taking to the field slots it in calmly. His second was an unstoppable ripping drive from 30 yards. The boy’s come good! The longer the game went on the more in control we seemed, with space opening up on the flanks, almost as if my plans were bearing fruit. Little is a monster in central defence and is going to be vital this season.

cowdenbeath reaction.jpg


Maybe lay off the Famous Grouse at half time Sshhhteve.

I’m surprised to see the bookies have installed us as favourites for the title this year. Strange for a club that finished 7th and whose own chairman hopes that at best will finish dead last. Must be my free signing rampage. Well, I hope they’re right.

Buoyed by an opening day win and the implied confidence of Scottish bookmakers, I tap Jones on the shoulder in the club bar and tell him I think it would be beneficial for the club to allow me to take a coaching course to further my skills. He grins and puts an arm around my shoulder. I don’t understand much of what he says next, but the people gathered around the bar cheer, so I smile and nod and take my leave. The man’s good to his word (whatever the word may have been exactly) and I receive confirmation I am studying for my A License. This could be the start of something beautiful, Annan Athletic. Next up, a trip to the Reigart Stadium to face Albion Rovers, who finished 10th (of 10) last season, but survived the relegation playoff. 3 points in the bag.

albion rovers draw.jpg


A game low on quality, but high on action. Abundant low-quality action. Although to be fair, their own goal was nicely taken – he lobbed the keeper with a header from inside the box. No mean feat. I tried putting Hampl and Wilkie ‘Wonka’ together in central midfield, but they’re both a bit too attack minded to play in tandem. I suspect either will be better complimented playing next to the plodding violence of Watson. Which means one of them is likely to get quite annoyed at a lack of playing time as the season progresses.

We see out a routine win against non-league Spartans before an away game at bottom club Forfar.

forfar loss.jpg


A scrappy game as Forfar deploy the age old tactic of, if you’re not kicking the ball, kick a man. But fair/foul play to them – it worked. We never really got going and a half time switch of formation to 4-5-1 did little to change the flow of the game. On the plus side my managerial support within the team is up to Average already. Must be all the chips I’m providing from the Solway café. Our next game is away to Stranraer (5th) and as many as a few of the players are interested in what I have to say prior to kick-off. Let’s show everyone what we’re capable of!

stanraer win.jpg


That’s what we’re capable of! I’ve been making sure we spend at least one session a week practising attacking from set pieces, and it pays off as we bag two goals from two indirect free kicks. That is exactly what I’m looking for. Good performances all over the park, although in truth Stranraer had good chances and the game might have gone their way but for some sloppy finishing. But we’ll take it. The midfielder I took on loan from Celtic, Scott Cusick, can pass as a winger and had a reasonable game, so that may help with the now overabundance of central midfielders I have collected.

Our final game of the month is at home to Elgin City (3rd). We go into the match 2nd in the league, and it would be a real boost for confidence (mine) to end it on top.

elgin win.jpg


Just as it looked like we’d let the game slip away, summer signing Kelsey Mooney rises at the back post to nod in a corner from Sean ‘third degree’ Burns. Lovely stuff. Another good showing and we’re off to a great start. Not enough to take top spot unfortunately, but the strategy of allowing the players almost no creative freedom and trying to score from set pieces is proving to be an absolute winner.

As the month draws to a close, there is just time for East Fife to submit a deadline day bid of £0 for Russell Currie. Are they having a laugh? He’s worth at least - quick check of what he’s valued at - £275!? Currie briskly informs me that if he’s not allowed to speak to East Fife he may become unsettled. I have a chat with him and offer a compromise that I’ll accept the ‘bid’ if they allow a loan back for the rest of the season. He’s not interested in that. OK, I say, I will accept a reasonable bid of £1000. He thinks £0 is a more realistic and reasonable number. Have a bit of self-respect man! I offer £500 as the only option I have lower than £1k and higher than 0.

This is getting daft now, make me a fair offer or we’re going to have to leave it.

Leave it we shall then Currie! I tell East Fife I want £10k in cash delivered to me personally and they abruptly end the negotiation. I’m sure this will pan out fine.

august 20 results.jpg


august 20 league table.jpg
 

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Chapter 16 – Lashing out

September ‘20


First game of the month is an away tie in the Tunnock’s Caramel Cup to Championship side, Queen of the South Age and their manager Allan Johnston has been giving it the big ‘un. He tells the press he’s pleased to be facing what is considered a weaker team. Oh really, Alan with two Ls?

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Please don’t humiliate me lads.

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No press conference afterwards, which is a shame because I was looking forward to some questions about Alan Two Ls. I decided to drop the sulking Currie for 35-year-old Christian Nade for this one. He can’t run anymore, but he can still tap the ball into an unguarded net. We draw East Fife in the next round. Currie - look what could have been!

The following game is at home to Stenhousemuir (6th) and I suspect some of the lads struggle to focus after the glamour of the Caramel Cup, as we put in a lacklustre performance and record our first 0 – 0 draw of the season. Nade missed our only decent chance, poking wide from 10 yards, but Bradley and Little put in solid displays in the centre of defence and we never looked troubled. It’s enough to take us top of the league though. I don’t think we’ll need to do much to achieve a high finish in this division.

stenhousemuir draw.jpg


A few days later Lucy burst into my office looking flustered. Quickly closing my laptop, I look up, equally flustered. “Yes Lucy?”

“Neil Lennon is on the phone for you”.

“Neil Lennon?”

“Neil Lennon.”

I scan my memory for anyone named Neil Lennon that I’ve met in Annan, when it dawns on me: she means, The Neil Lennon. I grab the phone from Lucy, take a moment to compose myself, then in a randomly high-pitched voice say, “Hi Neil Lennon!” Without pausing for an introduction, his hoarse Northern Irish tones bark down the line at me:

“Chris McQueen was loaned to you with an agreement he would be a first team regular, yet he doesn’t appear to be playing as much as I had expected”

Feeling completely starstruck I buckle immediately and trying to sound calm and professional I agree that he should have been used more regularly and that I’ll play him more often from now on, I promise. Lennon makes a gruff noise of acknowledgment.

And Neil, can I just say what a privilege it was to watch you play in Martin O’Neill’s Leicester team in the late nineties? Neil? Ah, he’s already gone.

I won’t be playing McQueen more regularly unless something catastrophic happens to Bradley or Little, but with Celtic top of the Scottish Premiership with 5 straight wins, hopefully Lennon will forget all about it.

The final game of the month is a top of the table clash away at second placed Edinburgh City. I dedicate more training time to attacking corners and work on some near post routines. Currie is forgiven, even though he’s still moping, and I make him my main target at corners.

edinburgh loss.jpg


Their first goal came from one of our corners, so in a sense the training worked. Currie was beaten to a header, the ball came out to Watson with his back to goal, but the man has the turning circle of a bus, he was easily robbed, and ex-Annan player Blair Henderson is put through for a cool finish. The game was more even than the score-line suggests, but they have better players all over the pitch. My players keep trying to play football, passing in untidy little triangles that go nowhere, despite my repeated instructions to launch it into the box. Wilkie ‘Wonka’ is the main culprit, but as he’s one of my only players who can pick a pass when the occasion arises, I’m reluctant to drop him. Not to mention, as the only Highly Influential player in a team with no Leaders, I can’t afford to alienate him. I just need to break his spirit somehow.
 
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Chapter 17 – Unbelievable Temerity Jeff

October ‘20


The weather in Annan is turning far quicker than Paul Watson on the ball and a brisk Saturday afternoon kick-off sees us start the month with what should be a nice easy game, at home to Stirling Albion (9th).

Stirling win.jpg


Currie heads home from a Wilkie ‘Wonka’ corner, Mooney heads home from a lofted Alexandre cross. Just what the Doctor ordered. The Doctor in this case being me. Despite their appealing club badge Stirling Albion are rubbish. There but for the grace of unlimited summer signings go I.

The next game is the big yin for the month, as I prepare to gorge on the sugary magic of the Caramel Cup with our home tie against League 1 side, and Currie enthusiasts, East Fife. The board are already ‘very pleased’ (Chairman Jones gives me a beery two thumbs up as I walk towards the dressing room) with my progress in this competition. Let’s see if we can slay another, slightly shorter, giant.

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It wasn’t to be, but as I told the lads, they can hold their heads high after that effort. 2 – 0 down at half time, the team responded well to my calmly delivered criticism and Mooney scored 2 poachers finishes to take it to penalties. He missed the decisive penalty in the shootout, but no matter, he’s coming along nicely.

Again, there’s a bit of a hangover from the Caramel Cup as we put in a weak showing against non-league Gala Fairydean Rovers, who we so comfortably defeated in a pre-season friendly. In our defence the goal they scored was impossibly good, Niall Kelly booting it into the top corner from a standing start 25 yards from goal.

fairydean draw.jpg


Currie scored a customary header to level, looping the ball over the keeper and into the far corner of the net. But he’s starting to get exhausted in games around the 60-minute mark. Looking to cash in on my A- manager performance score, I ask the board for more coaches, so I can hire a fitness coach (without one I can’t put in focus on his stamina). I catch Jones in a good mood. He nods and says, “Whatever you need laddie”. He’s a good egg.

The first three unemployed fitness coaches I approach are unwilling to discuss the job because they categorically will not move to Annan. It’s got a museum AND a park! What more do you want? I can only find one suitable Scotland based candidate, Karen Robertson, but it turns out she worked at Annan last year and her contract was not renewed. Karen knows how to hold a grudge and she’s not willing to take my calls. I get Lucy to place a job advert, but I’m not holding my breath.

Full back Jamie Mills has hardly played since signing, on the basis that my other left back Sean ‘Third Degree’ Burns is much better. He lets himself into my office (really must get a lock on that door) to say he’s unhappy about his playing time. I don’t want to have to go back into the transfer market and the never-ending trials that entails, so I tell him I’ll play him in the cup games. I can’t believe you’d have the temerity to suggest such a thing. ‘Temerity’? Didn’t know Jamie had that kind of vocabulary available to him. Impressed, I perform a complete U-turn and tell him I’ll give him a run of games. First chance to shine – the replay against the Fairies. I put a number of other fringe players in the starting line-up, with an eye on the league game against Cowdenbeath in 3 days time. I calmly explain to the players that I expect a win. Show me what you’ve got fringe men!

fairydean win.jpg


Good enough. It was two regulars who got the goals, but winger Schiavone, who has not managed to get Alexandre out of the first team, put in a notably good performance as well, setting up the second with a handy cross. McQueen did his best to justify his lack of playing time, turning a routine pass back to the keeper into a frantic dash by Farrell to claw the ball off the line and avoid a ridiculous own goal. Are you watching, Neil Lennon?

The penultimate game of the month is away to Cowdenbeath (7th) and I’m hoping my decision to rest some key players in the cup will pay off here.

cowdenbeath loss.jpg


If that was the best viewing, then the worst must have been literally impossible to watch. A terrible showing where we were second to every ball and misplaced simple passes all over the pitch, never seriously troubling their defence. I have no explanation.

Our final game of what has been a mixed month is away to Brechin (7th). Before the match Connor Higgins comes to see me as the latest player unhappy with his playing time. Stretching the truth somewhat I explain that Kelsey Mooney is in the form of his life. An insult to the intelligence of Higgins and the achievements of Mooney. He isn’t buying it:

“I’ve not seen anything from Kelsey that I can’t offer as well”.

I don’t have the option to point out that Mooney is a clear 4 inches taller and thus better fits in with my playing ‘philosophy’, so I tell him it would be better if he was prepared to accept being used as a squad player from now on. He’s obviously been talking to Mills, because he comes out with the same ‘temerity’ line. I’ve had enough of this and tell him if that’s how he feels, we can sell him as soon as possible. He’s not happy with that suggestion, or how the chat has gone and he skulks off back to the training pitch. This is how mutiny starts. Not on my watch.

higgins for sale.jpg


Let’s see if my show of force inspires the players for the Brechin game.

brechin loss.jpg


It does not. Another insipid performance and a quarter through the season it’s all starting to feel a bit Cadiz B. A poor month in the league sees us drop down to 4th place.

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Chapter 18 – Three Point Seven Percent

November ‘20


To my surprise we’ve had ten applicants for the Fitness Coach job. Admittedly most of them aren’t very good at fitness coaching, and some I suspect are just chancers - but I admire the chutzpah. I hire the most determined of the bunch and put him to work chasing Russell Currie around the park. As it turns out I think I was just looking in the wrong place for endurance training and I didn’t need a dedicated coach for this. Still, it can’t hurt.

After a poor October I’m pleased to see we kick off November with a home game to bottom club Albion Rovers. Lose this and we might be in real trouble.

Albion rovers win.jpg


That’s more like it. Currie once again makes the breakthrough, nodding in a Wilkie ‘Wonka’ corner. Classic Annan Athletic. After that Rovers collapse like a soggy bag of chips and we could easily have bagged 5 goals. It’s a good confidence booster ahead of what is likely to be the hardest game of the month at home to current league leaders Forfar.

Forfar win.jpg


Our wide pitch is reaping dividends, as our wingers keep finding space to drop high crosses and this match has two such examples. Even if we don’t win the header, the general chaos they often cause leads to a steady stream of half chances. Not very pretty, but effective. I note after the game that we have the best home record in the league, but a very weak away record. So, I should stick to the 4-4-2 Bludgeon tactic at home, but re-jig it for away games.

As I much stoically through a Home-Made Haggis & Potato Pattie (£4.50) in the Solway Café, I tinker around with a more compact, narrower 4-5-1 and decide to test drive it in our following two games, which are both away to Elgin City (8th), which gives me the perfect controlled experiment. First up I’ll go with the 4-5-1 for the league game. Mooney, now our top scorer, picked up a knock in the Forfar game, so it pans out nicely to use a one striker formation for this game.

Elgin draw again.jpg


Inconclusive. The formation in the first half would be more accurately described as 4-4-1-1, with Wilkie ‘Wonka’ playing behind Russell ‘Red Hot’ Currie. Currie was very isolated with nobody getting close enough to benefit from his many flick-ons and knock downs and Wilkie didn’t get enough of the ball to do much damage. Second half I dropped Wilkie back into the centre and pushed the wingers up for a 4-3-2-1. We looked more dangerous but conceded a soft goal with Elgin exploiting the space on the wings. Elgin probably edged the game, but the draw was close to fair.

Now we try again, this time with the 4-4-2 Bludgeon to face Elgin again, this time in the Scottish Cup 3rd Round.

elgin win again.jpg


We were fortunate to win – it took two sublime free kicks from left-back ‘Third Degree’ Burns (did you see them sail in Mills?) to win us the game and Elgin had more and better chances over the 90 minutes. But given how close the games were to each other I had to rotate the squad, so it wasn’t quite the perfect controlled experiment I imagined. I’m none the wiser and my head hurts. The last fixture of the month is thankfully a home game against Stranraer (5th).

stranraer win again.jpg


Oh, I do love the Galabank. Currie & Mooney are one of a few “fairly decent” partnerships that have developed in the starting 11 and the way they physically intimidate (and often harm) opposition defenders is a joy to behold. Our regular first team has a solid spine, with good partnerships running through the middle. My wingers and full backs are still somewhat patchy, but wars are won through the centre. Probably.

There’s some admin to take care of before the month ends, as I attempt to tie some of our better players to contracts covering next season. I’m hoping if I do manage to storm the league or scrape through the play-offs, a more lucrative job opportunity will present itself, but on the (highly probable) chance that I’m still with Annan I want to make sure I’m not building from scratch next year. So new contracts (starting when the current ones expire) are offered to Wilkie Wonka, Red Hot Currie, Goal Machine Mooney, Kyle ‘No Nickname’ Bradley and goalkeeper, Daniel ‘The Cat’ Farrell. Giant centre back Creag Little wants more money than I can offer so it’s a standoff with him.

Chairman Philip Jones is thinking along similar lines to myself:

annan new contract offer.jpg


Come on Phil, you can do better than that. I negotiate Jones to the brink of the talks collapsing (he keeps looking at the clock and I know the club bar is about to open) and manage to secure….a £25 a week pay increase. That is a 3.7% pay rise. Pathetic.

top paid managers nov 20.jpg


It is a part time contract, although the number of hours I’m supposed to work has never been agreed – Jones isn’t always particularly focused on the details. However, as I have told Lucy a dozen times, I am not prepared to inflate my income by taking a second job at Aldi, even if it is “just a ten-minute walk from the ground”.

Football wise this was a much better month and sees us reclaim top spot, just.

November results.jpg

november 20 table.jpg
 
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