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The Cleaner: A "Money Maker" Challenge


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July 06, 2007

Bob Faulkner, Solihull Moors’ manager, passed away suddenly at the age of 62 from natural causes. He’d spent his entire managerial career with Moor Green, serving as manager since 1985, but recently took the over the reins at Solihull as a personal favor to long-time personal friend and Chairman, Trevor Jones. Like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Faulkner made it clear that he wanted to step away from the game on his terms, preferably before the age of 65. Unfortunately, Faulkner’s legacy will remain with his efforts at Moor Green, as he was only in charge at Solihull for 5 days before his heart gave out.

Trevor Jones is fully confident that Nick Mace, Faulkner’s personal choice as his replacement manager, will be the right man to serve in the stead of the suddenly deceased veteran manager.

Nick Mace has never played professionally, but Faulkner’s letter of recommendation is enough justification for Jones to offer him the job sight unseen.

July 07, 2007

Trevor Jones and the rest of Solihull’s Board of Directors, all nine of them, tried to do their best to intimidate Nick Mace, but it didn’t work. Mace met each of their intimidating stares with a quiet confidence some would argue was foolhardy in his particular position.

Mace wasn’t an experienced footballer, but it didn’t matter to him. What mattered were Faulkner’s own words typed convincingly into his Last Will and Testament. Jones’ tears dried up suddenly when he was made privy to Faulkner’s request during the private reading among close friends and family. Jones found himself nodding agreement at his personal friend’s dying request before he’d stopped to consider the rest of the Board’s feelings on the matter.

The Board of Directors were not thrilled that their investment was now in the hands of a neophyte rookie, who was an American to boot. Though their club wasn’t worth squat, at 40K USD, and listed in 160th place on Barclay’s club value list, it was still their money and they didn’t want to lose it on whom they felt was the worst possible replacement for the beloved Bob Faulkner.

For the better part of an hour, the Board of Directors interrogated Mace with all the fear they’d kept hidden in the secret chambers of their small hearts. Mace responded with more poise than they expected and Trevor Jones laid out the truth of the Directors’ confidence in his abilities. Simply put, they felt consolidation was best for Solihull this season and they offered Mace a team payroll of 8.1K USD per week to make it happen.

Mace accepted the meager offer with equal parts humility and grace before responding with an edict of his own: “Hold on to your britches, boys! Damson Park will never be the same!”

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Thanks 10-3....trying something a bit different than before with my Copper character. Curious to see how it develops...

July 07, 2007

Nick Mace stood up from the large, polished table, leaving the sizeable contingency of strangers staring at him with their mouths wide open and stammering for control of the situation. Ignoring their exhortations, Mace asked for the captain’s name and number. Trevor Jones’ assistant was buzzed on the intercom who found it quickly for their obscure manager to begin his self-anointed revolution.

Two hours later, Lee Collins found himself in the most unusual meeting of his life. Never before in his footballing career had a manager simply called him and asked him to discuss things over a meal. Most of the gaffers he’d played under put as much distance between themselves and their players as protection for the especially dreaded aspects of management that footballing required.

Lee Collins found himself liking his new gaffer almost immediately. Not only had Mace picked up the tab for the meal, but he’d also made it clear to the veteran that he’d still remain captain. Having read the papers about Mace like everyone else on the squad, his new manager’s appointment seemed an abrupt change, but one that wasn’t totally uncustomary in the bowels of the English leagues where both teams and players languished in obscurity for broken bones, broken hearts, and broken promises only to be paid paltry sums of money for the best years of their lives.

Mace’s declarations of his management style seemed unorthodox. For starters, Collins had been promised a few things during the course of their meal together that, by the end of it seemed entirely plausible.

Mace’s first promise to Collins was that additional coaches would be brought in to train the squad. Mace had claimed to Collins his reasoning, “They’ve got nine stingy bastards on the Board, but only four staff members, including me?”

The second promise Mace offered his captain was even more unorthodox than the first. Collins was informed that Mace understood that some of the players on the team wouldn’t like him being in charge, nor would they wish to remain a member of the Moors’ squad once they found out what playing for him would be like. So, to make things a bit more fair for everyone involved, Mace was transfer-listing everyone on the squad except for the youth players.

Collins spat his beer back into the mug! “What the hell, Gaffer!”

Mace quipped right back without any malice, “Don’t like it? Then accept the first effing transfer bid that comes your way!”

Collins, still numb at the prospects both he and his teammates suddenly faced under Mace’s management, watched his new Gaffer toss a small wad of bills on the table to pay for the meal. “For the money the Board’s offering us to serve them, I hope this was meal was money well spent.”

Mace shook Collins’ hand and leaned close to utter in a low voice, “Faulkner’s nickname for me, ‘The Cleaner’, isn’t entirely unwarranted.” Collins’ mouth gaped open too, just like the Board of Directors had done earlier, but Mace offered his captain a friendly smile and wink before departing.

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July 08, 2007

The first training session following the meeting with his Gaffer, Nick Mace, Solihull Moor’s captain and starting center defender, found himself in the dressing room with the rest of his teammates staring at the wall reading the banner stretched across the top of the room.

“I am one of 25!”

Collins knew that the Moors currently had 19 on the first team roster, 4 on the reserves, and 16 on the youth squad. His teammates, many of whom were new to the squad having been recruited by Faulkner, were scoffing at the banner and gossiping amongst themselves. The captain knew that the men and lads were as skeptical of Mace’s appointment as he’d been originally, especially as none of them had ever heard of him in their somewhat small footballing circles.

The gossiping suddenly stopped after Mace entered the room, asked for quiet, but got none, and responded by bashing two trash bins together until the dressing room got the signal to be quiet.

“Gentlemen, read the banner and take it to heart! You are one of 25! The first team and the reserves will carry no more than that. I will promise you that. If you don’t want to be a member of this 25, I’ll find out about it and do my best to make sure you get what you want. If you do choose to be a member of this 25, I’ll also find out about that too because you’ll make sure I get what I want. Are we clear?”

Mace’s message was crystal clear.

The Gaffer continued on, “Good. Now that we understand each other, we can move on. Last night, while the rest of you were on forced “compassionate leave” out of respect for Mr. Faulkner’s untimely passing, your Captain, Lee Collins and I hammered out a few ground rules here at The Moors.”

All eyes went to their Captain. Collins couldn’t help but smile back at them and nod. Mace waited for the moment to pass and then added, “Therefore, one of the promises I made to Collins was more staff around here to help you with your careers.”

Mace waited for the buzz to subside. When it took too long, the bins got bashed again. All eyes snapped forward to their impatient Gaffer. “Gentlemen, in addition to the two staff you already know, John Frain and Rob Elmes, I’d like you to meet Tony Adams.”

Tony Adams stepped out of the broom closet and blinked in the bright lights of the dingy dressing room. Not exactly a traditional entrance, but the 54 year old coach knew that his phone hadn’t rung in ages and if Mace wanted him to be introduced this way as trade-off for a paycheck, who was he to argue?

Mace allowed Adams to acknowledge the squad before continuing. This time, when Mace raised his arm for quiet, Collins noticed that the room got quiet before the bins needed to be called upon. Collins had to admit to himself, Mace was a bit strange, but he’d kept his first promise way sooner than expected.

Suddenly, Collins also feared Mace would keep his second promise about transfer-listing too.

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Balthazars: Thanks for welcoming me...it's always nice to see a familiar face log on as a long-term fan. Much obliged to you for sticking around for another try with this story.

Satio and Mark Snelling: Thanks for logging in for some first time comments. I'm also happy to see new names come across the thread too! Hope you continue to enjoy this story.

July 09, 2007

Mace and his staff discussed how they’d weathered the first night of official training with as much efficiency as could be expected given the unfortunate departure of Faulkner. No one quite knew what to do on the staff side of things because Frain, Elmes, and now Adams needed to work out their new roles under Mace’s leadership. Frain’s workload had been reduced to concentrating on the keepers and teaching tactics. Elmes’ specialized in ball control. Adams, the rookie, got the rest. Mace, to his credit, coached nothing.

“My job is to manage attitudes.” Mace had explained to them at the conclusion of the training session the night before. “I think it will be better for everyone if we stick to doing what we know best. I promise you, I won’t pretend to be something that I’m not and I’ll expect the same from you. Are we clear?” All the staff nodded their heads as the players had done the night before during introductions.

Collins, unlike Mace, had his hands full. The captain was inundated with all sorts of fears, both those whispered on the training pitch and also shouted at him over the phone later the previous night. Mace had left the training pitch to the “experts” and walked back into the dressing room about halfway through their three hour session. When the players had come back in from training to head home for the night, every one of them discovered what Mace had been doing inside while they were outside.

Taped to each and every player’s spot on the bench, Mace had left a single piece of paper that claimed in black and white, “You like sitting here? If you do, you’ll get the chance to prove it. You’ve been transfer-listed!”

Collins couldn’t take any more and called Mace on the phone at nearly midnight. Collins was impressed that Mace took his call and they spoke for nearly a half hour about the nature and tone of that single note on every player’s seat. Collins thought it would upset the players too much, throw them off their game, and cause disharmony in the dressing room. Mace had thanked him for his honesty and replied that life now reflected football. “Collins, the game makes it damn clear that you never know when your time is up so you better damn well appreciate the moments while you have them. The sooner our 25 understand life, the better it will be for everyone, I promise.”

Collins, still angry from the evening’s endless stream of politicking, pointed out to his manager that the team only had 19 first team players. Mace told him that the reserve players were now part of the first team, effective immediately. Collins pressed further, “That still only makes 23.”

Tonight, sitting in the training room, Collins now understood and appreciated that Mace was not a man to be trifled with regarding promises. Mace introduced Craig Tydeman, Solihull’s first scout on the payroll. “Tydeman’s here to find us two more players to get us to 25. He’s also here to find a replacement for any of you who choose to leave. Like I promised you yesterday, we will discover if you are willing to do what it takes to belong.”

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salkster: thanks for stopping to read and also leave a comment. Delighted by your support!

July 10, 2007

In the dressing room, Mace had a vinyl ‘welcome’ sign taped to the wall underneath the previous banner declaring, “I am one of 25!” The team understood why the new banner was hung. A few of them joined Collins at Pete Denham’s physio room to welcome Craig Hughes, the new player fresh off being released from Colchester’s roster.

Hughes was only 19, but Tydeman had already scouted the striker and felt he’d be able to play in the Blue Square Premier. With only 900 USD left to spend a week under the salary cap, Mace felt that adding Hughes as 24 was money well spent at 110/wk.

During training, Mace noted in his scratch book that Hughes seemed to possess a fair amount of speed, but he was too slow in anticipating situations as well as having a poor understanding of where to move on the pitch to be most effective. He was young, so it would be up to his staff to help him improve.

July 11, 2007

Collins noted that Mace had been busy again while he’d been at home trying to relax between worried calls from his teammates. Though he hadn’t liked being transfer-listed any more than the rest of his teammates, Collins knew that Mace meant business. Some of the players seemed to take note of the increased intensity during their three hour sessions and they worked harder than they ever had under Faulkner during his only five days with the team.

Mace had called Collins too, during his time off. Mace had asked him to come early to Damson Park once more to greet another new transfer to Solihull. Tydeman had found another player whom they hoped would pass Denham’s medical and sign the paperwork to be eligible for training this evening.

Collins arrived on time and met James O’Brien, another teenaged striker. Collins had discovered that O’Brien had just turned 18 and had been released from Chesterfield. James was a likeable enough fellow, but Collins couldn’t help but wonder why Mace had chosen to balance out the final 25 with two teenaged strikers.

Collins got the chance to challenge them both during training. He’d welcomed both of them in the ways of the Blue Square North. Neither of them complained after being knocked to the ground on more than one occasion. For Collins, the collisions felt good, especially after all the stress he’d been under since Mace’s sudden arrival and unorthodox policy changes.

Mace and his staff looked on their new strikers during training with a different perspective. Mace knew that O’Brien, like Hughes the night before, possessed a fair amount of speed, but he too didn’t know how to use it on the pitch worth a damn. However, at 95/wk, Mace could afford to take a chance on Frain and company being able to teach them the subtleties of the game.

O’Brien picked himself off the pitch after colliding with Collins yet again and smiled. Bring it on!

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Spav: Thanks for weighing in...I have no idea what is in store for Nick Mace as of yet. Still trying to stay publishing regularly, but we'll see how it all pans out. Glad you are liking it so far.

July 14, 2007

The first friendly of the season weighed heavily upon the hearts and minds of the 25 who were Solihull’s player representatives in the foray out of obscurity. All of the players still struggled with Mace’s management style. Every night at training, the players wondered what new and horrible note they would find upon returning to the dressing room.

Mace had successfully made every player feel like their spot on the roster was temporary at best. Even the veteran players felt the stresses he’d heaped upon them like a gravedigger shoveling the last spade of soil on their final resting places.

The staff had tried to convince Mace that his style was a bit too unnerving, but all he said in reply to their attempted persuasions was that football, like life, didn’t always work out and make us feel welcomed. Mace shared a story with them from his childhood back in the United States that made all of them cringe.

Mace had been born into a loving family with a mother and father and living in the suburbs. However, all that changed when both parents became addicted to drugs. At first, it was prescriptions, but when their legal sources dried up, they turned to illegal ones. In turn, the quality decreased in terms of their drugs purity and also their friends. Each of them had parents who subscribed to the tough-love philosophies popular in their circles and the Mace’s parents eventually found themselves losing their home and, eventually, Nick.

Moving from one foster family to the others, Mace discovered many things about humanity. Most of the lessons were harsh ones because the families into whose homes he’d been placed had a whole host of issues going on similar to those of his biological parents. Love wasn’t something offered freely in foster care. If possible, love was something Nick hoped he’d earned, but he’d learned that it wasn’t something he’d ever received. Instead, what he’d earned for his troubles was many moments of getting his ears boxed and forced to watch his foster families take their government’s subsidy he’d provided by his presence in their homes and blow it on everything but his care.

This pattern of neglect and abject emotional suffering formed Mace’s foundation for survival in the foster care system. When Mace had become old enough, he’d started reporting his foster parents to social services and they’d investigate. The investigations resulted in many beatings, but the end result was always the same, Social Services would remove him from one home and place him in another. And the wheel kept on turning.

Mace had a reason to hate. Yet, as John Frain noted in Mace’s dealings with Solihull’s team captain, the Head Gaffer had a heart of gold. The assistant manager noted that although it was tough love Mace offered, and oftentimes in ways unorthodox to conventional thinking, Mace really did have the players’ best interests at heart.

Aberystwyth Town crossed the border from Wales and laid down a beating on The Moors many of them wouldn’t soon forget. 1-6 was the final result. Mace’s punishment in the dressing room was legendary.

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ScottleeSV: Delighted that you are enjoying the funny and tragic tensions within the story so far. Nick Mace is a tough sounding name that is short. Typing long names is annoying to me, especially if they are a major character (you might remember Winterbourne, from "A Spartan Existence?") so I try to keep them short and succinct. Plus, within the game, I like to pick names that are unique so when the random name generator throws in a "mace" I know it's my "son"... Mace's personality (like the medieval weapon) is reflective of the type of personality he seems to be exhibiting at the moment. You'll have to keep reading to see if it holds true...

sherm: delighted to know that you're feeling so strongly about this story. The feedback that you, as well as the others have offered me, is especially gratifying whenever I'm writing a story. I write and post as the material gets finished. So, the feedback is important for me to stay inspired to keep writing.

July 14, 2007 (con’t)

Mace handed out official warnings to eight of the first eleven starters. Two others were fined a week’s salary for their poor performances. However, in a message that was crystal clear to everyone on the squad, including the staff, Lee Collins was fined two weeks wages for his horrid pitch performance.

After Collins was dressed down in front of his peers after receiving the heaviest punishment of all, he’d had nothing but respect for Mace’s decision. He already admitted to himself that he’d played horribly and Mace had made no bones about having high expectations for the home side. He’d called upon Jose Mourinho’s penchant for creating a hostile playing environment so intimidating that the other teams conceded victory before showing up to play because they’d felt it nearly impossible to come away with all three points against his teams.

Mace’s illustration after the match that he’d felt similar to a sheep in a horny shepherd’s flock was not the kind of image Collins’ had wanted conjured at that moment, but it was still locked in and he couldn’t argue about it. What made it worse for Collins personally was that one of the newest recruits on the squad, Craig Hughes, had gathered up a loose ball and made it his personal mission to score on his own just five minutes into his debut for The Moors. A teenager had outshone the veteran captain and it hurt.

Mace had made it clear to everyone that Hughes’ performance was the kind required to stay a member of the 25. Collins should have been leading by example and he hadn’t. Therefore, Mace was justified in docking him two week’s wages. Like his manager had illustrated so clearly for everyone, Collins felt responsible for his performance because, indeed, attitude reflects leadership.

July 15, 2007

Dale Anderson and Danny Davidson, both veteran strikers, couldn’t believe that Mace had punished them for their performance in last night’s friendly. In their minds, it was a friggin’ friendly. No points were at stake and the only thing that mattered to them was putting in the minutes required to get them into better shape.

The strikers had joked with one another the previous night following the match over some beers at Anderson’s place and made no bones of their dislike for Mace’s hardcore approach to semi-professional footballing. As far as the two of them were concerned, Mace’s panties were in a twist and he’d needed nothing more than a good roll in the sack with one of the more established local lasses to dial down his expectations to more tolerable levels.

Mace had other plans. “You two are veteran strikers who’ve been playing a few years at this level. What’s it like to fall down the leagues? Fun is it? Does it feel good watching what potential you once had erode so slowly you finally gave up without even realizing it? Between both you a**holes, you didn’t even create a shot. And you’re bitching about getting warnings? What about the supporters who paid good money to see you flounce around like some young lasses at a rock concert hoping to get backstage to the VIP’s? You should feel ashamed. 1 of 25, my a**!” And Mace dismissed them.

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mark wilson: thanks for taking the time to read my stuff, especially as you've got like five stories going right now...I'm glad you're liking it.

July 16, 2007

Mace didn’t like what he’d had to do so soon after taking over the reins at Damson Park. When he’d spoken with the Board of Directors, he’d made assumptions about the squad’s attitudes, especially with a new season making things seem full of promise. Now that he’d been with the club and seen the attitudes, he could understand the players’ apathetic attitudes.

Solihull was an obscure club like many others in the Blue Square North. However, Mace had studied Barclay’s Club Value List and realized that Harrogate, the club in 159th place was worth 100K. That valuation estimated their value to be 250% more valuable than The Moors. Quite frankly, Mace realized that Solihull was a club where players either came to die or live their lives in quiet desperation until injuries or age slowly erased them from the annals of football.

Obscurity was an equivalent to anonymity and Mace had lived a life like this for far too long. It was working as a dishwasher at a local dive when Bob Faulkner had “discovered” him. Faulkner wasn’t much of a man himself, but he’d been loyal to Moor Green since 1985. He was aging and the game was passing him by. He knew it. He could sense the apathy in the players and he found he couldn’t be as patient with them when it was required. He’d struck up a friendship with Mace over many a late night snack in the deserted dive after leaving his most recent training session at Moor Green.

It was over the course of many discussions that Faulkner had convinced Mace to enroll in something academic. Mace hadn’t given a damn for conventional educational practices, having spent far too many hours listening to Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall” until he’d dropped out back in the States before picking up a GED degree as a 20 year old, non-traditional student. On his 21st birthday, Mace left the States to come to England. He’d wanted something more with his life, but mostly, he was sick of being stuck in a rut that routine and convention made so easy to accept. He’d become numb and wanted to feel again.

In England, Mace fell in love with football. It wasn’t so much the beauty of the game that made his heart stir. It was the passionate brute force of the supporters in the stands. The men, women, and children who left their miserable lives of reality behind them for a few hours to join a common cause much larger and more fantastic than they could imagine. The Premier League was full of passionate fans, but so were the stadiums found in the rest of the nation.

Mace had never found a single stadium that didn’t have at least a core group of supporters whose lives and happiness ran parallel to those of the club whose colors they chose to wear. It was among these fanatical supporters that Mace had finally eradicated the numbness he’d endured for far too long in his life.

Faulkner convinced Mace to enroll in getting his badges and, after Mace finally admitted he couldn’t afford the costs of it, provided the seed money required for helping this anonymous dishwasher in a shabby, no-name dive begin to bloom.

Mace recalled all these passionate feelings between phone calls as he’d tried unloading both his veteran strikers to all other clubs in the Blue Square North and South.

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Marmoset Junior: Thanks for weighing in on this story. Thrilled that you are enjoying it and will be checking on this story in the future.

July 17, 2007

Mace winced at the Setanta Shield First Round Draw. Solihull had drawn the Blyth Spartans for a match to be played in early October at Damson Park. The Spartans were a tough club and had a couple of strikers who knew how to put the ball in the back of the net. The Moors’ starting two strikers couldn’t generate a single shot in the previous friendly.

Today, those same ungrateful strikers would get the chance to show more life for the friendly against the Blue Square South Club, Braintree. The small time club had agreed to come to Damson Park as part of their season preparations. Mace wondered if their players were as decimated physically as his were at the moment.

Mace and his staff had been forced to make five changes to the starting lineup because those players were still too far out of shape to make their debuts. It messed things up for Mace, who believed it best when players got the chance to prove themselves after mucking things up as badly as they had after facing Aberystwyth Town.

The reality is that Mace wanted the rope required to be wrapped fully around the necks of the incompetents before the floors fell out of the bottom of their gallows. Only repeated feats of disgrace made this easier for everyone to take.

Today, when the match ended, no one earned fines, but Mace was still angry. The supporters had started whistling by the end of the match because the home side had only generated a single shot the entire game. Mace enlightened the players inside the dressing room. “24 of you had the chance to play in today’s match. Some of you played longer than others, but when the final whistle sounded, all of you were equals in one common way. All of you finished the match as losers!”

Collins watched his manager to determine if he’d be handing out warnings and fines tonight. From his perspective, his teammates had put in a better performance on the scoreboard, losing by a single goal, but his Gaffer was correct, only a single shot had been generated in 90 minutes by 24 different players.

“Moore!” Mace called out, interrupting Collins’ thoughts. The 24 year old striker looked a bit startled by the manager’s bark.

“Yes, Sir?” Moore called out in automatic reply.

“Thanks for doing your job! Too bad your other teammates left you to do all the work in trying to win.”

Rob Elmes, Solihull Moors’ 37 year old player/coach, couldn’t believe that Mace had built up one player at the expense of 23 others. From his perspective, Mace’s methods of expressing his frustrations were too unorthodox for players to create the loyalty he believed so crucial to a team’s success.

Elmes confronted his fellow staff member when all of the players had left. Mace listened to everything he’d said before providing his curt reply, “Elmes, what do you think of our attacking play?” Elmes’ eyes dropped for only a moment and Mace pounced, “Then that will change as soon as possible. That is all.”

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July 19, 2007

Mace ended the interview with Andy Scaife, a 32 year old coach whom had a reputation similar to Solihull’s new manager, once he determined that Scaife was the potentially right man for the job. The Moors needed some more offense and, after talking for twenty minutes about teams much higher up on the table, Mace figured he’d take another chance and sign him to a contract.

Elmes was impressed with the news, but it wasn’t out of personal satisfaction. Hiring Scaife proved a couple of things; Mace meant what he said and kept his promises and also his new Gaffer didn’t know the first thing about how football worked in England. Elmes had never heard of Scaife and a few more quick checks with his own footballing buddies revealed Scaife to be an enigma of sorts as he wasn’t a former player of note.

July 20, 2007

Collins stared at yet another new face brought in by Mace to help Solihull rise up out of its namesake and into the upper echelons of Blue Square North respectability. From where the captain sat, Scaife wasn’t going to fit in at all. For starters, he was the only person of color on the squad. To Collins, the color of his skin meant nothing, but it was all about the reputation that preceded Scaife’s arrival.

In fact, as a veteran player, Collins was used to players and staff coming and going as if they’d traveled through a revolving door. But, at least the folks brought in had some experience. Mace was handed the reins without any experience and now three new staff were brought in suddenly with little to no formal experience in quick succession. Frankly, all the sudden changes were beginning to wear on the starter and he pondered how best to communicate his frustrations with this coach whom he liked and disliked simultaneously.

Collins dealt out some more punishment in front of the 57 home supporters who came to the friendly against Halesowen, another obscure club in an even lower league than the Blue Square North. Since his efforts were still pro bono to the club for the next week, Collins had nothing to lose. He played much better, but his teammates still found a way to lose the non-competitive match 0-3.

Mace had been livid again inside the dressing room and pointed out to the team that their dreadful home performances had succeeded in cutting the attendances in half during the course of the three match home stand. He’d also made sure the players knew that their lack of offense was offensive to him as well as the paying public, many of whom left the grounds dissatisfied.

Frain tried to put a nice spin on the match, saying that they’d generated a few chances at goal during the match. Mace dressed down his assistant manager in front of everyone by pointing out that the home supporters paid to see the team win, not play without pride, especially from the strikers who’d managed among all of them to fail to produce a single shot at goal to test Halesowen’s keeper.

Mace spun on his heel and left after telling both the staff and team to expect to stay an hour later at training tomorrow, no exceptions.

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Mark and Makonnen: your comments made me laugh...thanks.

July 21, 2007

Collins called the Gaffer following the match the night before, but he’d waited until he’d polished off a few beers. Confronting his boss wasn’t something that Collins cherished, but he knew it was something that needed to be done, even if it meant offending him. He was the captain, dammit, and it was time to go down with the ship, even if it was a metaphor.

Four beers later and Collins’ had enough courage to make the call. Mace took the call per usual, but made it clear that he’d a limited amount of time as he was with Scaife outlining tomorrow’s attacking training.

Collins decided to plunge forward with the truth and spewed, “Gaffer, I’m telling you that the problems with the team aren’t because of the training, it’s because of the transfer-list. The boys don’t like feeling that they could be out at any moment. Some of them have just got here and have upended their lives to get the chance to wear the shirt.”

Mace listened to all Collins had to say. Then he let the phone connection remain silent for nearly a minute. Finally, after Collins inquired as to his presence, Mace asked, “So, Collins, you believe that if I remove them from the transfer-list, then they’ll pick up their play and perform better?”

Excited by the potential prospects of success, Collins blurted, “I can practically guarantee it, Gaffer.”

“Fine. I’ll give you this chance to stand up for your boys. You’re the captain, and if you think that it will help them play like they have some pride, I’m willing to give your plan a chance to work. However, if they play like they have for the past three matches and continue to be an embarrassment to themselves and our tiny following of supporters, there will be hell to pay and you’ll be the first one in line to pay your debt. Do I make myself clear?”

Collins hastily agreed with Mace and then proceeded to finish off the rest of his beverages in celebration of his successful meeting with his boss.

July 22, 2007

Mace addressed the squad at training and the message he’d conveyed to the squad was far different from the one Collins thought would be conveyed. Mace informed the squad they would all be removed from the transfer-list, but that was only because they’d played so dreadfully in their first three matches, not a single club in the entire English leagues had even expressed any interest in them.

Collins heard his manager continue, “To make matters worse, not even the home support wants to watch you either. Only 45 season tickets have been purchased so far. Most of whom, are probably your loved ones like your Mums and WAG’s.” Then his manager walked out.

Collins’ spent the most of the rest of training fielding complaints from 8 of the 25 now with the squad, some regretting ever showing up to play for The Moors. It was one hell of a long night.

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July 24, 2007

Collins was weary heading into the night’s training session. In fact, a number of players were suffering from the intensity. Collins could see it in his teammates’ demeanors when they waited for their turns during training. Their shoulders sagged and they shuffled around on the pitch with sore muscles and aching bones from the punishment they’d offered to each other as they fought for their starting spots among the 25.

Mace had made it very clear to his staff that he didn’t give a damn about what a player had done in the past, what mattered to the new Gaffer was what the players were going to do for the team right now. Mace didn’t have the patience to tolerate players looking for a free handout week in and week out. 25 first team players only!

Frain hadn’t fully believed that Mace’s methods and mental stresses were going to make a difference with the squad, especially as they’d had another friendly scheduled this afternoon against Lincoln City, a team in the Coca-Cola League Two. Frain knew they were going to get spanked on the pitch today, that was a given. However, what he feared for his players was what kind of punishment Mace would mete out if they’d repeated their performances against Aberystwyth Town.

Sure enough, Lincoln City put it to The Moors at Damson Park. Mace went into the dressing room livid as the team allowed an injury time goal in the first half. Then, Frain noted that Mace really lost his mind on the bench when the team failed to respond to his verbal castrations in the dressing and allowed a second goal four minutes into the second half.

A new batch of subs later upped the tempos for many of the players and the new boys held the League Two side scoreless until 7 minutes from time. Frain drew the brunt of Mace’s harsh words on the way back into the dressing room, “Bloody lack of fitness from this sorry lot! How can they only manage a single shot with nearly 500 supporters in the stands urging them on? This is the third match in a row our strikers haven’t generated a single shot at goal! For the love of Christ, what do I need to do to get them to play with passion?”

Mace laid into the players again, handing out another official warning to the teenaged right back, Chris Duggan, who’d been picked up on a free by Faulkner in the closed season from Worcester. Duggan had played his youth ball at Coventry, in the Championship, but it was obvious to Mace that Worcester had been smart to unload the young man.

Collins was iced up and hoping the throbbing in his knees would subside soon. He watched Duggan get chewed up, but he also saw five others on the squad get praised for playing with some passion in front of the home side. Mace had done the unthinkable and praised some of his teammates for a job well done! Maybe there was some heart in his Gaffer afterall. Inside, Collins beamed, but on the outside, the captain still left on his game face because the new manager hadn’t praised him and he wanted it.

No, Collins needed it. He needed Mace to recognize something in his play and he was willing to make it happen, even if it meant more ice bags after training.

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Spav, thanks....

July 27, 2007

Mace awoke at his desk, face down on the blotter which had soaked up the drool which had fallen freely from his filthy mouth. The manager had spent a lot of time working out possible player positions and reviewing potential training activities for the upcoming training sessions. It was clear that the team wasn’t generating as much offense as he’d needed to satisfy his own insatiable needs for progress.

What bothered Mace most of all as he’d analyzed the previous match performances in all four friendlies was the lack of offensive shots created by his strikers. He couldn’t believe that his veterans, Anderson and Davidson, still had yet to make an attempt at goal.

Unless the Number One could find a way to get more offensive promise out of his squad, he knew he was on a short tether at best. Nine directors were far too many for the young man’s liking. It was just a matter of time before one of the cooks didn’t like what was being served and then he’d be out of the kitchen before he knew it and back to his anonymous life once more. If that meant Mace needed to stay at the clubhouse every night to find a solution, the sacrifice was worth it. Why wasn’t it worth it to the rest of the damn squad?

Trevor Stevens, Chairman of Solihull Moors, sat as his breakfast table, the hot coffee accompanying his dry toast and other assorted foods prepared by the kitchen staff. He was not happy at the headlines of the footballing pages. His club, the one he’d convinced Bob Faulkner to manage this season, was no longer favored to finish the season mid-table like Faulkner had thought quite possible. Instead, the odds makers had given the final statistics on the season. 5000-1 was the odds they’d given his beloved Moors! It was unconscionable! However, when his team had only scored a single goal and allowed 13 others in four matches, how could he argue with their logic?

Stevens had watched the matches, just like the rest of the Board of Directors. With the exception of the Lincoln City friendly, the players seemed to be having an especially hard time acclimating to Mace’s methods. Frain, Faulkner’s manager had met with him privately, but only suggested that Mace was a bit rough around the edges. Frain had convinced Stevens that Mace would soften and make the transition, but these new odds would do nothing for the club’s coffers. They’d sold not a single season ticket this week.

The Board of Directors was also watching Mace with interest. At their weekly meeting, many of them had begun the whispers every manager fears. However, they knew they needed to give the new manager a chance to prove himself. With two friendlies left, and both of them against comparable sides, the team would be given the chance to prove themselves and allow Mace the privilege of a few more days with the club.

Collins had heard some whisperings too. They were from the players. Some of them sensed a change in the air, but that seemed to come from the young ones, the players whose muscles responded to the pressure-filled training sessions much easier than his. However, he knew it was a long season and the mental toughness they’d need to make it through with their hope still intact would be tough, especially with the hard-ass he’d realized he’d grown quite loyal to was pushing them mentally harder than ever.

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July 29, 2007

Anderson tied his boots and swore under his breath. The new Gaffer didn’t need to put him on the bench. He was coming around. He just needed to get his legs a bit underneath him. Friendlies didn’t matter because it was the matches that counted the most. For the love of football, Mace needed to lighten up. Once the matches got started Anderson knew he’d get on track and knock a few in the back of the old onion bag. Then Mace could stuff it up his arse.

Eastleigh showed up and between both squads, you’d have thought it was a UN Inspection. Between the Eastleigh’s eight Directors and Solihull’s nine, there was no room left in the parking lot and the handicapped folks lost their spaces as the directors’ claimed them as “reserved.”

The match started and the 76 home supporters were treated to another siesta during the first 45 minutes. Mace’s marching on the sidelines generated nary a passionate play from the home side, but in the second half, once the starters were replaced by more ground fodder, the pace of the match picked up and Eastleigh’s early goal looked to be erased.

Guy Sanders took the brunt of it at during the half. The center back had allowed Eastleigh’s striker to remain unmarked in front of the goal and the ball was easily slotted home to give the visitors the lead. Mace’s fury was unbridled and he made it crystal clear that this lack of ambition would result in a coalition of physical pain and emotional misery at the match’s conclusion unless things could be rectified.

The play wasn’t much improved, but four shots are better than no shots, as was the Moors’ take from the first half. Passing was atrocious and it seemed that every other pass resulted in a turnover. Mace kept looking to Frain for ideas, but the assistant manager could only offer a shrug of the shoulders as the sum of his understanding.

Mace debated whether or not to swap out his strikers. Anderson and Davidson both remained on the bench and felt the weight of their Gaffer’s stare rest heavily upon them. Mace was searching for something, anything really, which would give him an indication as to which of the incompetents was the lesser evil on this day.

Anderson’s chip still resided on his shoulder and Mace detected the jut of his striker’s jaw. The cold stare matched the Gaffer’s own and it was then that the Manager decided to call Anderson. At least he showed some resolve. Maybe that hatred could be channeled onto the pitch in a constructive way.

Anderson warmed up and entered the match. A few minutes later, Elmes joined him up front. The veterans, one in his early 30’s found a way to work out his differences with the other striker in his late 30’s. Both men knew a positive result was required if their tired legs were to have any chance of rest.

Anderson knew time was running out. Thirty minutes of huffing and puffing had netted him a single shot on goal. Three minutes of injury time were called out and he chased down yet another loose ball by tracking back to the center of the pitch. Three passes later, he scrapped inside the box to toe poke in the match tying score! Take that, effing Gaffer!

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  • 1 month later...

Brixton and others...this story will resume after the awards ceremony, tentatively scheduled to be held on Halloween, 2010. Apologies for the substantial delay, but considering Brixton's addictions...lol...the reality is that I've been spinning other plates instead of this one.

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  • 2 weeks later...

August 1, 2007

Nick Mace cleaned up the drill cones following training wondering what it was going to take to get his team firing on all cylinders. His team had been outplayed by the Eastleigh Spitfires quite handily. The Moors’ hadn’t deserved the draw, but the points came their way regardless, due to Anderson’s injury-time heroics.

Mace had seen his goalscorer’s look, the one that was a mix of joy and challenge sent his way while the small crowd cheered the veteran striker for doing what he was paid to do; score goals. For Mace, Anderson’s late equalizer confirmed what he’d known the man capable of doing, if he could only get the chip off his shoulder.

Anderson was like the rest of the players he’d watched since his arrival in England. He’s paid his dues and is content with what happens after the match more than what leads up to the match. As far as the Gaffer was concerned, Anderson was an average player whom he was stuck tolerating until one of the youngsters could be trained up in his way; a way that consisted of two parts passion and one part persistence.

Mace aimed to train up the kinds of player who knew that there was something more to their careers than the lower leagues of England. The only way he knew how to do it was the way of the master, Arsene Wenger. Wenger had been doing this for years in London, at the center of the football as far as the vast majority of footballers were concerned. Sure, one could argue that the red sides of Manchester and Liverpool, along with the Geordies in the Northeast lived and died for their teams, but you can’t argue that one city has so many clubs with so much to offer in such a small space in all of the United Kingdom.

With all that pressure, both from the media as well as other teams, Wenger’s young guns had been holding their own for years and hadn’t lost a beat, even under the strict financial restrictions the new Stadium would cost the Gunners. 500M was a huge cost to assume, especially when it came to fielding a competitive team like Wenger’s. Mace couldn’t even fathom the kind of pressure that man was under with all the Sugar Daddy’s entering the mix and demanding the instant success that follows the money trail.

Mace was content to wallow in the bowels of the English leagues for the time being, but make no mistake, that would change if Mace was going to make money at this game. If titles and trophies came his way, fine. But the prime objective was to get money into the coffers to buy the players and provide the kinds of carrots required to motivate young, hungry players to perform to their fullest potentials.

Anderson was not the future. He represented an antiquated past that soldiered on without purpose or firm resolution. It was not the future Mace sought after. It was the past he so desired to put behind him.

Mace would inform the Board of Directors that their recommendations for 130K for a team bonus for winning the league was sufficient, however, increasing the bonus for winning a cup to 50K was needed.

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August 2, 2007

Collins found himself sitting in front of his Gaffer with a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Earlier in the day, Solihull had lost to Guiseley 2-4 in their last friendly of the season. Not only had he performed dreadfully again, but the team had too. Mace wasn’t one to mess around and he’d warned all the players that changes were afoot.

Elmes had scored a consolation goal late in the match to make it seem like a more respectable scoreline, but to have the 37 year old veteran striker knocking them in the back of the net while the two other veterans Faulkner had brought to the club could barely muster a shot between them was embarrassing to the captain because of what he’d begun to believe about Mace.

Collins knew that Mace was a man who kept promises. If the manager said changes were afoot, then they would happen sooner rather than later. It was this fear—check that thought--this certainty which had Collins nervous.

Mace rushed into the room, greeted Collins abruptly and nodded at the ice packs wrapping his player’s knees. “A bit worried about how they are holding up?”

Collin’s nodded affirmatively.

Mace replied, “Not me. I know they aren’t holding up. That’s why I’m calling you in here.”

Collins took a hard swallow, expecting the axe to fall and put him out of his misery. The only problem with that was that he didn’t want to be put out of his misery. He wanted the chance to prove himself to his unconventional manager. He wanted the chance to keep playing this game that he had found a renewed vigor to keep trying. Mace’s crazy notes had made an impact on him. He wanted to be a part of this 25, not just any team. It was Mace’s squad which mattered to him more than any of the others.

Mace studied Collins’ blanched appearance and chose his words carefully. “Lee, you’ve got the worst performance rating on the team. You are our captain. We need more out of you and we haven’t gotten it, yet.”

The final word hung in the air. “Yet.” The word meant so much to Collins, it was the faintest ray of hope for what might come next. It meant to the veteran that he wasn’t finished, yet. He still had a chance.

Collins didn’t risk saying a word. He remained silent, hoping that he wouldn’t say the wrong thing and change Mace’s mind. He needed to hear some good news.

“Collins, You’re captaincy is stripped, effective immediately. I’m giving our keeper, Adam Rachel, the band. Yes, he played horribly too tonight, and he’ll get an official warning for it, along with Theo Streete. You might earn the chance to get it back, but for now, I’m going with our other central defender, Guy Sanders, to be vice-captain.”

Mace’s words gouged Collins’ flesh like his namesake suggested. However, Collins knew he was still on the team. That chance, that hope of proving himself to Mace, was what mattered most to the veteran.

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August 12, 2007

“In the name of all that is holy, why am I paying you a wage?” Mace lit into his veteran striker with enough fury to make his forehead vein rise to full popping capacity. Spittle threatened to vault itself from the manager’s mouth and land on Anderson’s face.

The veteran striker kept removing the tape from his ankles and refused to look at the man who was fully apoplectic in front of him. He felt he hadn’t played that badly. For crying out loud, Southport was 1-6 favorites and everyone knew that Solihull didn’t stand a chance on the road in the league debut. He believed Mace should sip a cold one and simmer down.

“Faulkner brought you to this club to score goals. The only way you are going to do that is to take some shots.”

Anderson had heard this lecture before, and not just from Mace. Hell, he knew when to conserve his energy in a lost cause and when to expend it when it mattered most. Southport didn’t matter. The team was favored to win the league and return to the Blue Square Premier at season’s end. As near as Anderson could tell, Mace wouldn’t last until the transfer window in January. As far as he was concerned, the newbie manager didn’t know the first thing about proper football how to manage men.

Mace saw the apathy and knew he was fighting a battle he couldn’t win. He also knew that when he tried dumping the dead weight early on in the season, no one was willing to take a chance on him. In this equation, the only one who didn’t realize he was worthless was Anderson himself. Mace knew that Faulkner had brought him to the club, but he couldn’t fathom why. Sure, he’d scored the injury time winner two matches ago, but he’d done nothing about his field work ever since.

Mace looked again at his match stat sheet. Another 30 minutes tonight and Anderson had accumulated zero shots at goal. What made tonight’s performance so noteworthy was that this moot appearance occurred immediately after Southport were reduced to 10 men following a straight red. Add this to the previous 45 minutes without a shot in the loss to Guiseley and Mace wondered why his wage was even being paid.

Downing had managed shots in his match time at central midfield. The rookie striker, Chris Hughes, had even managed two attempts though neither one was on target. The only one with a hankering at putting the ball on frame was the veteran, Darren Middleton. He’d taken 4 shots at goal and put three on frame.

Collins had handled himself fully professionally since he’d been stripped of his captaincy and, aside from the early yellow card he’d earned by tripping the opponent who’d spun him before heading up the pitch, he’d done a fairly good job of anchoring the defense. Of course, Mace knew that he’d lost one header that couldn’t be forgiven, the one in which he’d been beaten on the corner and Holness had powerfully headed it into the back of the net 17 minutes into the match. However, Collins wasn't the problem at this moment.

Mace knew he wanted Anderson gone and he’d be a damn fool not to put his plan into action.

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Just a quick note of apology. I won't be finishing this story. Nor do I think I'll be resuming it at any point in the future. I've spent many an hour writing stories on this forum. It's been a great thing to invest that kind of time filling the empty spots of my life since I wasn't coaching. Unfortunately, that time is now being spent taking it from other places which are now full and even more satisfying then writing about the computer game. Writing keeps getting in the way of my life and the stuff I choose to write now, conflicts with the storylines offered within the game. Therefore, I'll be writing still, but it won't be here.

I do appreciate all the support you've provided me while on the forum and I'll peek in and read some of the stories which catch my eye. However, I'd rather spend my time in my life doing other things right now. Previously, I've resigned from coaching in real life for family obligations, thus creating the character of Copper with a healthy dose of my exaggerated life included. Now, I'm resigning from writing on this forum for personal reasons and feel pretty peaceful about it, though I do realize that it might disappoint some folks, especially those who really enjoy my writing. For you folks, I am humbled and touched by your positive support. Without it, I may never have pushed myself to develop my writing skills to the point where they are now. For that, I'm eternally grateful. Thank you.

On the business side of things: Any of the mods can either lock this thread, remove it, or whatever fits with the required protocols.

If you wish to shoot me a message in my inbox, I'll be reading them.



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