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Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Stan


phnompenhandy

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Hello my friends and fellow avid readers/writers of FMS's. The diligent amongst you might have noticed that I've been subtly threatening for a little while now that I'm going to post one of the most detailed, indepth stories in CM/FM history (the quality - well i leave for you to assess). I'm finally ready, having spent the last two weeks emigrating from Nepal and hunting around for a new PC in my new base in similarly land-locked Warwickshire (I do miss gazing out over the Himalayas icon_confused.gif ).

My story is certainly BIG; it will take quite a few posts before I even get to the pre-season friendlies but I'm creating a world here of Tolkeinesque dimensions (well not quite). I sent a sample of it to the Bootroom chappy but he's yet to respond so I'll begin by pasting some of what I wrote to him - my 'philosophy' if you like.

BTW: max db, English (inc. Conf of course) and Indian leagues running (you'll see why); CM03/03 4.1.5, CMSorted update.

According to orthodox scientific thinking all life (biology) reduces to chemistry (cells made up of molecules), which reduces to physics (the composition and behaviour of the atoms which comprise the molecules), which reduces to the laws of mathematics. If you think this renders the ‘Truth’ depressingly tedious I invite you to consider the premise of ‘The Matrix’,in which a convincing but artificial ‘Reality’ is created from raw mathematical data. With the appropriate injection of imagination maths can be devastatingly fascinating.

The programmers of computer games know this and use it to bring alternative realities alive. Perhaps the most obvious popular example is the Championship Manager series where raw mathematical data is crunched, analysed and interpreted by gamers to create the sensation of interacting with thousands of real personalities. Some gamers like to record stories of their CM campaigns and share them on fans’ forums. To my mind the extent of the success of these stories largely depends on how far the writer engages his imagination and writing skills in moving developing the game data. Most submissions (in other scene forums!) are frankly boring – straightforward tabulation of the statistics with a little match commentary thrown in and the odd diversion where the spotty teenaged ‘manager’ chats down the pub with his mate or gives his girlfriend one.

I’d like to offer something very different – a genre that lies somewhere between ‘CM story’ and ‘Fever Pitch’. I am ‘fleshing out’ – better, putting the soul into a campaign where I only quote statistics such as a real football reporter would, not any CM stats. Without falsifying any events in my CM game I translate them into real footballing language and create realistic scenarios to put the events CM throws up into a context.

Thus I create not so much yet another CM story but a saga – a long open-ended epic hopefully continuing for (game) years and developing the appeal of a soap opera which could be serialised in The Bootroom, perhaps sending reports in chunks of one month in game-time.

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Hello my friends and fellow avid readers/writers of FMS's. The diligent amongst you might have noticed that I've been subtly threatening for a little while now that I'm going to post one of the most detailed, indepth stories in CM/FM history (the quality - well i leave for you to assess). I'm finally ready, having spent the last two weeks emigrating from Nepal and hunting around for a new PC in my new base in similarly land-locked Warwickshire (I do miss gazing out over the Himalayas icon_confused.gif ).

My story is certainly BIG; it will take quite a few posts before I even get to the pre-season friendlies but I'm creating a world here of Tolkeinesque dimensions (well not quite). I sent a sample of it to the Bootroom chappy but he's yet to respond so I'll begin by pasting some of what I wrote to him - my 'philosophy' if you like.

BTW: max db, English (inc. Conf of course) and Indian leagues running (you'll see why); CM03/03 4.1.5, CMSorted update.

According to orthodox scientific thinking all life (biology) reduces to chemistry (cells made up of molecules), which reduces to physics (the composition and behaviour of the atoms which comprise the molecules), which reduces to the laws of mathematics. If you think this renders the ‘Truth’ depressingly tedious I invite you to consider the premise of ‘The Matrix’,in which a convincing but artificial ‘Reality’ is created from raw mathematical data. With the appropriate injection of imagination maths can be devastatingly fascinating.

The programmers of computer games know this and use it to bring alternative realities alive. Perhaps the most obvious popular example is the Championship Manager series where raw mathematical data is crunched, analysed and interpreted by gamers to create the sensation of interacting with thousands of real personalities. Some gamers like to record stories of their CM campaigns and share them on fans’ forums. To my mind the extent of the success of these stories largely depends on how far the writer engages his imagination and writing skills in moving developing the game data. Most submissions (in other scene forums!) are frankly boring – straightforward tabulation of the statistics with a little match commentary thrown in and the odd diversion where the spotty teenaged ‘manager’ chats down the pub with his mate or gives his girlfriend one.

I’d like to offer something very different – a genre that lies somewhere between ‘CM story’ and ‘Fever Pitch’. I am ‘fleshing out’ – better, putting the soul into a campaign where I only quote statistics such as a real football reporter would, not any CM stats. Without falsifying any events in my CM game I translate them into real footballing language and create realistic scenarios to put the events CM throws up into a context.

Thus I create not so much yet another CM story but a saga – a long open-ended epic hopefully continuing for (game) years and developing the appeal of a soap opera which could be serialised in The Bootroom, perhaps sending reports in chunks of one month in game-time.

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Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Stan

A CM03/04 Epic: The Accrington Stanley Story

My father was Bengali, born in India; my mother Scottish. I was raised on a cold, bleak island in the Hebrides but relocated to Calcutta – a hot, humid hell – as a teenager. I soon found myself playing football for local youth teams and in due course forged a modest semi-professional career in India for a decade. A non-football job opportunity as a travelling salesman saw me move back to the UK – to the cold damp north of England where I was able to able to continue playing at semi-professional level in the Northern Premier (now UniBond) and lower Scottish leagues. I finished my playing days as a player/coach with Accrington Stanley the season we won promotion to the Conference for the first time. Mr. Whalley, the chairman called me into his office during the close season on the morning of 12th July, the day my contract expired and I called in to collect my final pay packet. I’d said my goodbyes two months back whilst everyone was more preoccupied celebrating our most successful season and parading the trophy and it was with a heavy, lonely heart that I officially retired from the beautiful game. Or at least that is what I’d assumed; in fact the boss had a surprise in store.

“Your contribution both on and off the field were instrumental in getting us to the Conference for the first time in history lad†he told me in what I initially took to be a predictable ‘thanks for everything, now sod off while the rest of us go on to bigger and better things’ speech. But he continued in an unexpected mode; “The board feels that we don’t currently have the quality to stay there – we need to completely restructure the management, the coaching and the squad from top to bottom, but we don’t have any extra cash to invest. We know that as well as an extensive knowledge of local young talent you’ve built up a network of friendships in other pockets of the globe such as India; we believe that with your scouting skills and other latent managerial qualities you are the ideal man to rebuild the squad from the grassroots, take the club onwards and upwards, all on a shoestring – whaddaya say lad?â€

I was flabbergasted – I’d never heard so many clichés recited without drawing breath, and in fact my global network hardly ranged beyond the metropolitan limits of Calcutta, but I knew where my heart lay and it wasn’t in driving a white van across bleak moors trying to flog exotic herbs and spices until I drop dead. I realised it would mean a knife in the back of John Coleman, the gaffer who took us up and is worshipped by the fans for his achievements in bringing the club two championships and four cups in only four seasons. As player/manager and prolific goal scorer he was the true inspiration both on and off the pitch, not me, and whilst he’d decided to hang up his boots for the new season he hadn’t reckoned on finding wardrobe space for his sheepskin. It would also mean pulling the lever to open the trapdoor beneath a few of the squad who were looking forward to showcasing their talents at such a dizzying height – but hey, I was brought up on Macbeth and then India’s gangster politics; my coup would be bloodless – where’s the fire? Mind you I’d have to employ a little tact with my ruthlessness – I’d only been at the club two years and was no great personality, and I knew who the really popular heroes were – mostly deadwood in my opinion. Fans can be so shallow but you have to keep them sweet, so whilst the likes of dear Jimmy Bell, the organ-grinder’s monkey who’s loved by all as much for his gormless antics as for his legendary goal-scoring feats might have to share the next stage-coach out of town with the gaffer, replacing the bulk of the first team might put some strain on my relations with both the fans and incumbent players. My instinct was that patience would not be on my side; I’d need to hit the ground running and get some results on board.

I left Eric, the big cheese to break the news to the (old) gaffer and the press as I disappeared into my study to think through some strategies. Matters like tactics and training would have to wait until I knew which personnel would be coming, although I saw no inherent reason why a bunch of cloggers couldn’t emulate El Galacticos – Real Madrid’s tactics – I was keen to try, and I’d be looking for coaches and players to back my experiment; I was determined that if I go down, I go playing the game the beautiful way.

As I contemplated the squad I realised that the board were correct. Nobody actually expected us to get promoted – to the media it was a fluke and even within the club nobody could really believe it. The Conference is packed with half-decent ex-league clubs and the gap between them and the Third Division is minimal. Everyone sees the likes of Tamworth and us as out of our depth and tip us to go straight back down. Eric did confide in me that as far as the board are concerned if we defy the pundits and stay up they’d consider that an achievement – so long as there’s still brass in t’coffers!

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Our wafer-thin squad of 21 comprised mostly a few likely lads who’d willingly run around like blue-arsed flies all day but to no great avail at this level, and a few old war-horses who’ve played at league level but whose brains are far quicker than their tired legs now. The one player of real quality was our newest acquisition, one the board frankly broke the bank to get in thus leaving me with little cash for transfers or wages – Ged Brannan. He’s just signed a contract for five times the wage the next highest earner gets; Eric confessed to me that this was a mistake and that we’d not be able to renew his one-year contract nor come anywhere near matching it. “I’m afraid we’re stuck with him, unless you can offload him but I can’t see anyone coughing up what we have.†I took a more optimistic view – he’s got a damn good engine and a good head on his shoulders. I figured I could effectively rebuild the team around him as my dream tactic to bedazzle the Conference rested on two solid defensive midfielders.

That evening I made my first move – I got on the ‘phone to a very good friend of mine, a major celebrity in Calcutta, the Sachin Tendulkar of the football world, India’s star striker Baichung Bhutia. He’d had three less-than-successful seasons at Bury when they were initially in Division One where he scored three goals in 36 appearances and was the only Indian ever to play European league soccer, but he couldn’t get up to pace with the English game and left the obscurity of Bury reserves two years back to return to iconic status in Bengal. We’d played together a few years ago and when I left to migrate to Britain we kept in close touch. At Bury he was delighted to have my company and we became best mates. He was disappointed not to have made it in the English league and I knew that at the age of only 27, having achieved everything in India he was hopeful of a second bite. I was confidant that since he’s returned to Calcutta his fitness has improved and his skills blossomed, and that at a lower level of the English game he’d shine. He was so excited – both for me and for my proposal. Of course he had a contract with East Bengal and they wouldn’t be keen to lose their star striker, but frankly the boy is bigger than the game there, and I knew he’d be persuasive. He told me he’d do a deal with the board – they’d release him for a year’s loan and he’d sign an extension to his contract. They wouldn’t refuse – he held all the cards. In fact he had one more ace down his shin pad – he recommended a young kid on his club’s books who he assured me was a major star in the making – provided he got some decent coaching and a chance to play more challenging matches than were on offer at East Bengal. He said the kid was named Shylo Malswamatalunga and everyone called him ‘Mama’. I suggested inviting the kid for a trial but Baichung pointed out that travelling so far and coping with such an unfamiliar culture would not be conducive to such an instant assessment. “Trust me Andy,†he insisted, “The kid is hot. Buy him – he’s well into the last year of his contract so you’ll get him cheap, and put him on a long contract. In my year there I’ll settle him in and then you’ll get the best of him over the next few years. You’ll get a work permit for him to – he’s only 18 but he played in the last few internationals. The gaffer has just dropped him from the World Cup qualifiers’ squad, so if you dither he won’t be eligible.†I do trust Baichung, he’s my best mate he is, although I told myself that every other signing would be guys I could vouch for personally.

The next day after I’d negotiated and signed my new contract I broke the good news to the chairman and left him to tie up the details such as applying for work permits. Later on he got back to me; “Bloody hell Andy! I’ve just been on the blower to my oppo at East Bengal – the lad’ll come cheap (but will need a couple of weeks to say goodbye to his family before showing up), but your superstar is on superstar wages and we’ll need to meet them. They’re not as huge as Ged’s but you do realise that all your subsequent signings will have to be lads ‘oo work down t’mill and ‘ose mams wash their jerseys after a game.â€

I wasn’t too worried in fact; even if it took the kid time to show anything, with Ged breaking up any enemy attacks and Baichung banging them in at the other end I was quietly confident I could assemble a squad of genuine quality for next to nothing. The secret of my confidence was the hard work I’d put in over the previous decade. Whilst all about me in the football world guys who should know better were squandering their free time having rude conversations with virtual ladies in the day and all-to-real ones in the evenings, or playing that silly computer game Championship Manager, I was driving my battered white van around the wastelands of northern England. Whilst my primary reason was to talk sales strategies or attempt to sell that authentic Tandoori sensation to a populace whose taste for the exotic amounted to battered Mars Bars, I always made a point of dropping by local football clubs and pubs frequented by their staff to discuss players I’d played against or up-and-coming talent. This is what the chairman had been alluding to when hinting that the board wasn’t going to shell out for the salaries or travel expenses of a small army of scouts, and was putting its faith in my ability to assemble a motley crew of overlooked wannabees and rejects during the pre-season and prove themselves to be better than the current squad.

In fact the next fortnight proved to be a bit of a reality check. Suddenly I wasn’t the mate to have a pint and gossip with, I was a man to talk business, and that business involved trying to persuade kids who all think they’re the next Wayne Rooney to come to Albatross Stanley. I see now that for every transfer deal you read about in the press there are hundreds of approaches that don’t come off, and when your club can’t afford either scouts or agents doing all the spadework yourself is frustrating and knackering. My first ploy was to use some of the interviews with local media on my appointment to drop the names of a few lads who’d impressed me in the last season, such as Lee Clitheroe at Lancaster, Michael Houghton at Nantwich, Steve Rimmer at Marine and Gateshead’s Gareth Powell and David Coulson. I gave them the chance to read their local rags and turn up at pre-season training all excited before calling their clubs in the afternoon. This led to mixed responses; I fixed deals and agreed terms with Clitheroe within 24 hours, and Coulson and Houghton soon followed. Rimmer and Powell detected my strong desire to acquire a decent goalie and centre-back and stubbornly priced themselves out of my very restricted wage cap. The other three had accepted between six and eight thousand per year for the privilege of representing us. I was particularly confident that Michael Houghton would make an immediate impact bombing down the left wing and paid a king’s ransom of £7000 for him; the other two came for £2000 and £4000. Then I took myself and my van down to the snooty south to do some shopping. I won’t dwell on the dozens of fruitless meetings but I was pleased with the three acquisitions I made – the pricey Simon Langley came from Chertsey for £7000 and I deigned to give a contract worth £10000 per year. The Hooray Henrys at Harrow accepted £2000 for Richard Clarke who in turn accepted a salary of £8000, and then I blew almost all my left-over budget on Steve Campbell, forking out an outrageous £16000 to bring him from Mangotsfield (although most of that was payable in instalments over the next 6 months). If he shone in the centre of the park as an attacking midfielder he’d be worth the money; it was a gamble I admit.

While I was clinching that last deal I heard an unreported rumour of a flare-up at Aldershot. It seemed that the manager had clashed with their unfeasibly fantastic young goalie, Nikki Bull. It sounded like it would all blow over by the morning, so as I was only a couple of hours away I dashed to the club and ‘innocently’ introduced myself to the chairman and gaffer, Terry Brown. The atmosphere was pretty tense; I won’t go into sordid details but suffice to say they were prepared to offload their prize asset there and then. Nikki was called in and within minutes we’d all agreed a deal – under the all-to-fresh circumstances none of them was in the mood for serious negotiation; I couldn’t believe my fortune. I’d been feeling all week that whilst our goalie Jamie Speare is regarded as one of our best players, in my estimation he’s peaked and I was looking for someone younger, more dependable and with a better future, and our back-up lad Jon Kennedy was never going to be that. My disappointment at failing to secure Gateshead’s Gareth Powell was immediately dissipated with this opportunity. You can imagine how I felt when I burst into Whalley’s office the next afternoon to bring him the exciting news. “Now listen up lad,†he retorted firmly, “You’re all spent up. We can’t spare a single brass button for at least the next month. You should have kept a little something in reserve you know. Come to think of it,â€, he added caustically, “When I weighed up your qualities before offering you the job I didn’t stop to think about your adeptness with the purse-strings. I’m learning.†I was devastated. When I called Bull’s agent to break the sad news I was told that they’d all partially patched up and his client wasn’t ready to move on just yet. I’m learning.

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You never know what’s going to happen in football next. No dosh and a gaping big hole in my onion-bag needing filling. A few months ago I’d been at a sales conference where I met a delegate from Austria. He was most conversant in the game at grassroots level on account of his son being a goalkeeper at a small semi-pro club called SC Eisenstadt. just as one door had slammed shut another one opened when he called me to say he was in London and his son was with him, looking for a new challenge, and could I help? I told him of my newfound position and invited them to turn up immediately. What I saw was astonishing. How no one had ever spotted young Peter Reiter I’ll never know but his reflexes were outstanding and he could throw himself across goal or at crosses like no one I’ve seen at this level. I had my goalie and what’s more he was free. Partly as a result of the previous confrontation the chairman gruffly acceded to the lad’s wage requirements and made this unknown the fourth highest earner in the squad. Cheap at twice the price though – trust me!

That, I thought, concluded the pre-season rebuilding of the squad – in the end just a few tweaks really. I only put three lads on the transfer list – once Reiter was in challenging Speare for the number one jersey I felt I could let young Jon Kennedy go, then I put the lad Steve McDonald, a young striker just not up to the mark on the list. I had to watch the lad cry – he’s only 20 and has been at the club since his school days. Finally I’ll listen to any offers for Steve Hollis. He’s 30 and has been with the club for aeons – the loyalist of servants, but whilst he still has enough in him to be a useful back up to the back line, the boss is on my back about cutting the wage bill. I take no pleasure from distressing such Stanleyites despite my previous hard-man bluster. Actually the pre-season squad building wasn’t quite over – there was one more to come. Three years ago a young striker by the name of Gary Williams had set a club record by scoring 24 goals in 24 games, then had a personal crisis of some indeterminate but seemingly mental nature and disappeared without a trace. Suddenly, half way through our pre-season preparations he showed up, asking to be re-signed. I put him through his paces, threw him on in the next friendly and he capped off an impressive performance by scoring. We were light up front with a partner for Bhutia; if Williams could recover his old form we would be quite something to see – but I did have reservations about his state of mind.

And then finally finally a new face arrived the day before our first fixture in the Conference. Weeks before I’d made a speculative enquiry about a prospect but put the matter out of my mind when I got no reply. Imagine my astonishment therefore when I made a call to see Eric and found I had just missed the signing of a contract. I didn’t actually mention to anyone that I’d forgotten about the boy, nor did I comment on learning that the board had put aside £5000 to purchase him which might have been used to strengthen another position. For ironically Roberto Gomez Lopez was a goalkeeper. He didn’t speak a word of English and no one here spoke Spanish, and he did look worryingly slight for the rough and tumble of the English lower leagues. I didn’t have an opportunity to trial him with the first team so I stuck him in the reserves. By the way he came from a minor Spanish club, Caudal. I don’t know what possessed me.

As well as the ten acquisitions I made for the squad I built up an abnormally large stable of backroom staff to turn these hopefuls into winners. Firstly I had a long chat with the chairman about my popular but moronic number two who is clearly out of his depth. Mr. Whalley saw my point of view and called Jimmy Bell together with his agent into the office. After extensive negotiations the board decided that they couldn’t afford Bell’s demands for severance pay and thus we all give him our full support. After that I couldn’t get on speaking terms with him for some reason however, and a fortnight later the board bit the bullet and paid him off. In the meantime a number of inexperienced coaches with fine pedigrees of playing careers behind them accepted contracts. Tony Lormor, Gary Bannister, Warren Aspinall, Darren Beckford and Steve Sedgley all came, together with the legendary Nigel Winterburn. My intention was to make up lots of individualised training programmes and I hoped they’d do the business, because the combined total of the coaches’ salaries had put the clubs finances way out of kilter and as I discovered, the tight-fisted board don’t like that.

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Hey guys, cheers.

Educated and anyone else with the same thought - how often do you want me to update? I don't want to overload you. I thought I'd put the rest of the pre-season stuff up this evening and then drip maybe a fortnight or so game/story time per (real) day. The intro is the longest part mind you. I'm a very slow and methodical player - no half a season per evening for me, more like two to four weeks. But I can stick the chapters up faster if you like.

Harpal Singh - way out of my league at Stanley I'm afraid. I have tried but he's valued at about a million with wages to match and has higher aspirations. I see he's followed Bhutia to Bury (on loan from Leeds) - Bury got a bit of a theme going there. Anyone seen him IRL?

BTW if you look at the database of Indian players you'll see that half of them are named Singh (at least they are IRL; the really committed Sikhs have huge beards and big topknots - groovy).

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overloading is a major problem, no matter the quality people are liable to "switch off" if they see masses to get through, such is the nature of the internet. My suggestion is to trust your own judgement on this.

Best of luck.

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My rule of thumb would be no more than 1 big post per day. You can get away with several posts if they are smallish but judging by your excellent start that won't be the case in this story. Us FMSers have a notoriously short attention span icon_wink.gif

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Us FMSers have a notoriously short attention span icon_wink.gif<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Too right! I blame the weed... icon_biggrin.gif

Quality beats quantity every time, though people like Faramir and BobBev seem to manage both. Looks like you have the time and the ability to do so as well, so all the best, whatever you decide...

Ahhh the joys of bhang, the syncopated banter of duelling tablas, the demented grin of the Monkey God... [sigh]

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by OMDave:

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Us FMSers have a notoriously short attention span icon_wink.gif<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Too right! I blame the weed... icon_biggrin.gif

Quality beats quantity every time, though people like Faramir and BobBev seem to manage both. Looks like you have the time and the ability to do so as well, so all the best, whatever you decide...

Ahhh the joys of _bhang_, the syncopated banter of duelling _tablas_, the demented grin of the Monkey God... [sigh]<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

'Bhang?'

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Bhang, tablas, Hanumanji - you been followin' me around India? icon_razz.gif

Thanks for the Harpal link Karanfett - I read his stuff - seems a bit of an airhead to me but I wish him every success.

Regarding the story - I only uploaded a big chunk of the beginning to get readers involved with the 'world' - I won't be posting so much regularly. I'll give you the rest of the intro/pre-season tonight and put about a fortnight's worth of game time every day - sounds like that should be a decent balance.

BTW my game's status tells me that I've played over 6 days' game time - and I'm only into October of the second season! Am I the slowest CMer ever??? Mind you I speed up as I go along.

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Let’s have a closer look at the squad of 32 then:

GK Peter Reiter is definitely the number one, with either Roberto or Jamie Speare on the bench. Jon Kennedy is superfluous to requirements.

DC My new tactic is to employ three centre-backs, thus dispensing with regular fullbacks or wingbacks. Pre-season form suggests I can perm any three from six – Steve Halford, Jonathan Smith and Paul Howarth brought us up to the Conference and can hopefully still do a job this season; new boys Coulson and Clarke might be in contention although maybe not at the beginning. I’m undecided as to whether to sell Peter Cavanagh or keep him as back-up, but Robbie Williams and Steve Hollis won’t get in the first team unless we have a crisis, and neither will Sedgley who needs to stick to coaching these days – he’s announced his retirement from playing a year too late in my view.

DMC This is the novelty – two DMCs, just like Beckham and Guti at Real. Brannan, solid as a rock, capable of delivering a killer pass and our only dead-ball specialist, is inked in, but who to put alongside him? Gordon Armstrong might be the most capable but at 36 how long can he last? John Durnin is even older. It might be a little early for Steve Flitcroft but he’ll have to be a contender.

AML New boy Michael Houghton has made an immediate impression – he has the berth for now. Behind him are Rory Prendergast and the aged Paul Cook. Andy Proctor I fear will not get a look in. Perhaps I should try to sell him.

AMC New boys Campbell and Langley are both contenders. Campbell tends to surge forward, suiting my style but perhaps Langley and also Andy Gouck might be better employed away from home against strong opposition.

AML This is Mama’s berth when he’s sufficiently settled at the club. Otherwise Dean Calcutt and Lee Clitheroe can perform.

SC Baichung Bhutia has to start; he’s the target man, the central striker. Alongside him in a deeper supportive role on the right could be Lutel James or Gary Williams, and Paul Mullin will press for contention. Lee Madin has some work to do in the reserves and Steve McDonald is listed.

Captain: The star man is Mr. Charisma himself and so hungry to prove himself – step forward Capt. Bollywood Bhutia.

Age distribution: In the end I wasn’t able to invest in youth; Mama is 18 and Coulson 19, otherwise all my new buys are in their early 20s, which is the age of the majority of the squad.

Nationalities: Apart from the two Indians and an Austrian, Lutel James is the only non-Englishman in the squad.

Internationals: Bhutia has 50 caps for India (scoring 29 goals), Mama has also appeared.

Wages: Brannan is on £130K per year; Bhutia is on £80K. Five more are on £20K+, and 20 are on £8K or less.

Value: Mama is rated the most valuable member at £18K. Three others are worth over £10K.

Pre-season

The pre-season period was very stressful – I mentioned how I was rushing around the country trying to sign players, but at the same time I was doing my best to bring the squad and new players together, get the boys fit through training regimes and suss them out in a series of friendlies. I couldn’t leave anything important to Jimmy the Ass Man but there was just too much for one person. It became easier as new coaches began reporting in and developing a good rapport with the lads; Darren Beckford immediately demonstrated enough all-round quality to effectively leave him in charge on the training ground in my absence and as the new season got underway he was offered and accepted a new position as Assistant Manager. I was sure he was the right man when we had a useful discussion about training – he tactfully suggested that I was overloading the lads with my demands and that this might lead to injuries and problems with morale. Trouble is I have so many new ideas to try out and I’m impatient. It’s all a learning curve and I’ll start with my ideas but scale back if he turns out to be right. I soon discovered that his being a local lad, a Lancastrian through and through, softened the blow, as the fans were quick to accept him.

I arranged a game a week into my new career, on 20th July against Bamber Bridge. The lads got off to a great start with a 3-0 win. The first 45 minutes were dull beyond belief as everyone was so sluggish but we picked up the pace much more than the opposition in the second half. Our new goalie Reiter had an excellent game, as did Coulson in defence. The man of the match was a third new acquisition, Michael Houghton who laid on two of the goals after being granted so much time and space to charge down the left wing. Bhutia scored the first goal, Andy Gouck got the second from the AMC position from a neat pass from Paul Mullin who also scored the third. He’d replaced a very lazy Lutel James to give me something to think about.

Four days later we had a match against Bacup Borough. Reiter only had one shot to deal with the entire match and let in a very sloppy goal to worry me. We won 3-1 however, with Mama putting in an impressive debut performance. It was the two DMCs who controlled the game though, with Armstrong pipping Brannan to the man of the match award. For the first goal Armstrong fed Campbell who came charging in deep from midfield and slammed the ball away. The second was a superb free kick from Brannan – he should get a few winners with a sweet dead-ball skill like that. For the third goal Brannan fed Houghton who put a lovely volley past the ‘keeper.

If the first two friendlies produced encouraging results the third was sensational. I’d arranged a game against league opposition, with Macclesfield visiting the Crown Ground on 29th July. In terms of shots, passes, tackles and possession the game was even, but the difference was our finishing – and the result: 4-0. It gave the lads a real boost. this time Reiter was kept occupied and dealt with everything thrown at him. Armstrong had another impressive performance and Campbell took the man of the match award. This was the game where the enigmatic Williams had just turned up and scored. When he was replaced by James, Lutel responded to the pressure on him by outshining his strike partner Mullin. For the first goal a long pass from Campbell had Williams chasing half the length of the pitch, leaving his marker in his wake before powering his shot past the ‘keeper. The second goal resulted from another surging run down the left by Houghton - he dribbled through a pack of defenders before firing a deadly ball across the six-yard box where it was turned in by a hapless defender. Then Clitheroe put an excellent cross in from the right for Campbell to convert a free header, and finally Smith lumped up a long high free kick into the box, which James somehow managed to get a toe to in the midst of an inert goalie and sleeping defence.

Our last friendly was four days later on 3rd August at home to another Third Division side, Boston United. We maintained our 100% record with a 2-0 score-line; the difference between the two sides was evident for all to see – India. Whilst Gary Williams endorsed my concerns about his attitude by having an unfeasibly dreadful first 45 minutes before I kept him out, Bhutia crowned an excellent performance with both goals and Mama confounded my expectation that he’d need time to settle with an unbelievable display that will get him noticed by a wide audience if he duplicates it in competitive matches. The hacks that reported on the game were unanimous in awarding him a 10 out of 10 rating. He bedazzled down the right wing throughout the game and both goals came from his ownership of that strip of the pitch. For the first he skipped his way through opponents, got to the by-line and laid on an easy tap-in for Bhutia. For the second it was more of the same to lay on a gift for Lutel James. He fluffed his chance but the ‘keeper palmed the shot up and it fell between Bhutia and his marker. Bhutia used his strength and finesse to get a toe to the ball and redirect it into the net.

So how do I rate our chances of staying up? The bookies are giving 40/1 for the title, which is tantamount to predicting the drop, but I really don’t think this is likely. Our pre-season preparations have given us the confidence to think about competing at the right end of the table although our chances are heavily dependent on one or two areas. My good friend Baichung oozes class and could almost get us up into the league on his own – pity he won’t be around to enjoy the fruits should we succeed, but if he sustains a serious injury we don’t have quality reliable cover. And I don’t yet know when and for how long the captain of the national team will be called away by his international obligations – I can only hope India fall at the first hurdle as they always do! I believe that the triangular triumvirate of Bhutia, Mama and Houghton could thrive in higher company right now and in the Conference opponents will be torn apart down our wings, but again we have no cover for Mama and Houghton. In defensive midfield if Brannan is injured or Armstrong begins to feel his age we’ll have a problem. I think that the central defenders who got us up will cope at this level and I brought in a couple of worthy back-ups, and we have no problem with goalkeepers providing Reiter doesn’t compare Saddleworth Moor to the Austrian Alps or Roberto with the Massif Central. But beyond the first two lines of defence whilst with our first eleven I could be confident of taking on anyone in this league, injuries and suspensions will leave me worryingly short of options. There is one other concern – the board’s pressure on me to get the wages under control. I could see Whalley’s argument - they had allocated me £250 grand for salaries for the year and suddenly they were faced with a bill of over half a million. This could be solved at a stroke – simply send Bhutia back to Bengal and offer Brannan to any takers for free (although would anyone be prepared to match his demands like we have?), but such an option would be a disaster for me. They’ll both be leaving us at the end of the season but so long as I feel there’s a chance of them getting us back into the glorious English Football League I’ll be resisting such pressure to sacrifice our two most important players as far as I can.

Okay, let the games commence!

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Hey guys,

Well Educated, I know the answer to that but you'll have to follow the saga! The specific answer regarding Brannan turns out to be very interesting ..... icon_rolleyes.gif

Karanfett - I was originally due to be at the game in Calcutta. I made good friends with SI's head researcher in India (he lives in Calcutta) and he's mates with the Indian coach (who is actually an Englishman, Stephen Constantine) so I was due to be rubbing shoulders with all the right people. Damn that crazy woman! Mind you, having been stuffed 1-5 by Oman in the last game there isn't much optimism around now.

My next update (below) only covers one match and about three days of gametime as it was so significant. I guess my posts will vary in terms of gametime - my main rule will be to keep the length reasonable. Enjoy!

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I like the story, but I don't think many will appreciate your comment in your first post about other people's stories. Everyone has their own style of writing, people may find yours tedious and boring also.

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Unchartered Waters

Pre-season friendlies have their uses but they are little guide as to how your opponents will fight in the competitive real world, so it was with some trepidation that I approached our first fixture, away to Halifax. I knew my choice for match day squad and tactics; now to put it all to the test. I had to also consider the coming seven days; the next two fixtures would be against teams also expected to struggle this season; Leigh RMI and Forest Green, games I’d really have to win if I was transfer the confidence I was feeling to the supporters and get the board off my back for a while.

Saturday 9th August: Halifax 5 – 1 Stanley

I had no injury concerns other than Clitheroe who’s done his groin for a couple of months, but he wasn’t in contention for a first choice line-up anyway. Reiter looks after the onion-bag whilst I put the mysterious Roberto on the bench, partly to get to know him and assess his reactions. For my central defenders I opted for the old guard of Howarth, Halford, and Smith, joined by Coulson on the bench owing to his pre-season form. We can call on him if our defence is outgunned in the air. The unlucky Clarke would miss out on this fixture but I expect him to contribute well in coming matches. Brannan and Armstrong would control the middle of the park with Durnin shouting the odds from the touchline, ready to deputise should the need arise. Mama and Houghton would of course be responsible for creating our chances and I gave them licence to roam, switching wings to bamboozle the fullbacks. I was left with a dilemma in the centre of midfield – I decided to start with Campbell whose attacking qualities impressed me in the friendlies rather than the more cautious Langley even though we are away to a strong opponent. Simon would be on the bench should we need to consolidate or I decided my judgement was misplaced. Up front partnering Bhutia I’d be taking a major risk with the dubious Gary Williams – he has something to prove. James would be ready to come on should Wacko Williams go weird again.

I’d worked so hard to prepare for this moment – the training and tactics were fine tuned, and now with kick-off approaching my stomach was turning liquid. It’s a strange new experience when you first realise that what happens is your responsibility but that you can’t run onto the pitch to sort problems out yourself – and boy did we have problems. You feel helpless once that whistle blows; to cover my nerves I stood on the touchline and shouted myself hoarse to no good purpose. Together with Darren and John Durnin we drowned out the away crowd throughout of the match, bringing wry smiles to the faces of the Halifax bench and the poor fourth official. “Newbies!†they all jeered, sagely.

The referee blew the whistle and we were away. And you know, for a golden literal minute there it all looked so good. Straight from the kick-off the ball was fed to Mama and he went tearing down the wing, striking terror into the startled Halifax defenders who had no idea who this kid was. He slammed the ball into the six-yard box but our front two were a little slow to read him. The defence half cleared the ball which found its way back to Mama; he fired at goal but their goalie was up to it. He did the same again two minutes later – life was looking so good.

Halifax quickly rallied and within a couple of minutes they’d launched their first attack, rattling the woodwork twice in rapid succession. The first ten minutes had seen an end-to-end thriller with six decent chances and entertainment such as you wouldn’t get at the Bernebau. Then disaster struck; Michael Houghton took a nasty knock and had to hobble off. I didn’t have any cover for his position so I had to stick Langley on even though he can’t dribble or cross. As a result we completely lost our rhythm and lost our way.

On 16 minutes we conceded our first goal when one of their forwards was left in acres of space in the penalty box – Smith had gone AWOL. Slowly we got back into the game and on 33 minutes equalised. Inevitably it was Mama weaving his magic and crossing so sublimely that even the woeful Williams couldn’t miss a tap in. At half time we went in level despite a disappointing performance. All to play for, but some rude words would be required in the dressing room. I told the lads to pull their fingers out of their arses, especially at the back, and threw in the suggestion that they send the ball down the right at every opportunity – Mama was our only player to worry the opposition and we had to exploit that.

Halifax came out for the second half with a different, 4-3-3 formation - clearly my oppo Chris Wilder had kept a calmer head and thought through his tactics more effectively than I had; he’d reasoned that our defenders could buckle under a serious onslaught. He turned out to be right - look, I’m new to this side of the touchline, okay? When I saw what was happening I screamed out instructions to tighten up at the back and was still trying to tell Brannan, Armstrong and Langley to drop back and support the central defence when they went ahead with a carbon-copy of our goal after Langley failed to track back. “Ignore what I’m trying to tell you!†I bellowed, drowned out by the home crowd, “Attack! Attack!†I could feel the blood pumping in my forehead. The rest of the second half mostly involved being out-thought and out-played as we endeavoured to soak up the pressure. Our few moments of respite all came courtesy of Mama’s mazy runs but no one could capitalise on his crosses. Over 90 minutes he put in almost a dozen dazzling runs but unfortunately he wasn’t just more than the opposition could cope with – he proved too damn good for our pack of mules.

Eventually I replaced Howarth and the inexplicably poor Armstrong with Coulson and Durnin but no sooner had I done so than they scored again, directly from a corner, followed five minutes later by a goal from a direct free kick. As if the torture wasn’t deemed enough, they slotted one more in on the final whistle to make the result a humiliating 1-5.

Forty-five minutes of utter stress and misery left me profoundly depressed and really at a loss as to understand what happened. One game in and my job was on the line – as I saw it. The chairman wasn’t speaking to me, the press gave me a roasting and the view from the terraces was, ‘We expect to go down, but not to tamely lie down and surrender.’ They were right – with the exceptions of the two Indians no one displayed a modicum of fighting spirit after the opening ten minutes – why? This was such an historic fixture. It’s not as if Houghton died or anything. The most visibly woeful individual performance was from our new Austrian goalkeeper Reiter who performed more like Julie Andrews in ‘The Sound of Music’, so he’d have to pay the price. I figured I’d put Speare between the sticks for the next fixture even though he’d bad-mouthed me in the local rag on Friday and we’re discussing a bid I’d received for him from Hendon.

Incidentally our physio Scott Clarke reckoned that Houghton needed a week to recover from his twisted knee, thus missing what were now two crucial matches, at home to Forest Green and away to Leigh RMI, both of whom worryingly won comfortably (Forest Green 3-0). Prendergast would have to deputise, and he’d have to be part of a team that delivered both results and performances, particularly in our first ever Conference fixture at the Crown Ground.

Watching the fiasco unfold with our management team was another of yesterday’s semi-legends in the lower reaches of the English league and good friend of a number of our coaching staff, Ally Pickering. He was moving on from a less-than-successful spell in the twilight of his playing career with Mossley and he’d accepted my invitation the week before to pop round for a chat. This was at a time when we still had a few pennies left in the kitty and I’d forgotten to call him to cancel. I really wasn’t in the mood after the match but he was the only person willing to talk pleasantly to me anyway. I apologised for wasting his time, but he was far more positive than me and offered some very useful constructive criticism concerning our defensive inadequacies. He’d been intending to retire but after our conversation he announced that he’d like to give himself one last playing challenge – one last season on the pitch to organise our defence and share in the coming glory; he saw the potential that I’d believed in until some point after 4 p.m. that afternoon. In addition, he said he’d help out with coaching, particularly in helping with my goalkeeping situation – he’d gently pointed out the problem that I’d created in importing two new ‘keepers who didn’t understand a word of English between them and unsettling the two decent English incumbents. He’d persuaded me of his value to our cause but I felt I had to bring him back down to planet Earth by pointing out the financial plight I’d brought about.

The next morning at 9 he called on the chairman and offered to sign for us on a three-year contract with a reasonable salary of £20000, and with Whalley having his own concerns about the mood around the club was moved by Ally’s generosity. He did have a degree of self-interest in the arrangement; he realised that from his stint as player/manager at his home club Mossley that he needed to gain more coaching experience before returning to management and he wanted to work with us while collecting his badges and suchlike. Fair enough – an honest symbiotic relationship in the making. An hour later as the squad turned up for the extra training session on defending set pieces I’d imposed Ally was there to greet them. I almost broke into a smile – what a guy!

On Monday morning I got a call from Nikki Bull’s agent informing me that after much reflection he’d definitely like to come to us. Jeez what a saga; now that I’m nervous about whether my two foreign ‘keepers will settle I realise that I should have stuck with my rule of only bringing in players I know and can vouch for personally. Now we’re definitely out of cash. Damn! But then an hour later we got a call from the Hendon chairman offering £12000 for Jamie Speare. A dilemma, but then Jamie had lost all faith in me and Nikki appeared to be keen on me so I decided Speare could go. He was a firm favourite with the fans however and I was risking further alienating them at a time I could ill afford to do so. I wasn’t sure I really liked this job after all. I’d also have to revise my plans for Tuesday and leave him out after all.

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You're quite right SoS. I should have stressed more clearly that I find the contributions in this forum to be very readable and entertaining, but there are some other fansites on the Scene where the nature of the stories is quite different. But even there I'm sure many people do enjoy those and would be immediately turned off mine. Reading tastes are always subjective.

Anyway I hope people will make honest comments on this story, whether they be positive or negative. But of course I hope you do enjoy it!

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Thanks fo rthe tip Karanfett.

I'm half Scottish/half Bengali. Bangladesh aren't in the game but when my father was born it was all India.

In my savegame I actually started out with an alter-ego managing Mohammedan FC which is an all-Muslim club in Calcutta but I went on permanent holiday to focus on Accrington.

So the intro to my story is perhaps 10% autobiographical.

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It's true - Mohammedan have the biggest potential fanbase in India. it's their first season in the top flight and it's touch and go as we approach the end of the season whether they'll stay up.

Of course managing them in CM (and I'm sure it'll be no different in FM) is nigh-on impossible without personal knowledge since there's no indication in the database to tell you the religion of players.

The db does let you know who's Basque (an ethnic criterion) for managers of Athletc Bilbao which is always a great challenge but I do accept that me aside there's no great commercial pressure to make that sort of effort for Mohammedan. It would be the ultimate LLM challenge though!

So keeping winking HD; in the meantime here comes my next installment .....

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Tuesday 12th August: Stanley 3 - 1 Forest Green Rovers

I refrained from making wholesale changes and simply pleaded the lads to put on a show for the fans who’d backed them for so long. I put Roberto in goal with Reiter on the bench – and crossed my fingers very tightly. Pickering was straight in with Smith dropping to the bench, Prendergast was in for the injured Houghton and I started with Lutel James up front and Williams on the bench. I sent them onto the pitch with a silent prayer.

In the first minute, straight from the kick-off we started with our characteristic opening pressure although this time it merely resulted in a booking after ten seconds for James. throughout the first half we had the bulk of possession and did put them under some pressure, creating a few half-chances without setting the stadium alight. Satisfyingly however, we controlled the midfield and kept their forwards well away from our young Spaniard. In the 38th minute we made out dominance count after Armstrong found Bhutia in space with a good long pass. Bhutia charged into the box and although the defender with him got in a fair tackle as Bhutia was about to pull the trigger the ball rolled invitingly to the feet of his confidence-lacking striking partner who was following up. Thus the quiet first half drew to a close with James’ goal bringing a relaxed ambience to the dressing room analysis, in contrast the that at Halifax three days before, and the 2000-odd Reds who’d turned up to see their first Conference game were content.

Soon into the second half the game came to life when Armstrong, determined to make up for his dismal last performance lofted a ball into the penalty box which Mama connected with, only to see the ball cleared off the line. Then we started to show some real class with lovely passing moves most of which involved the experienced heads of Armstrong and Pickering along with the vision of young Steve Campbell which drew warm appreciation. On 67 minutes Armstrong broke up a Rovers move and quickly fed the ball through to Bhutia who broke the offside trap. The ‘keeper parried his shot but the ball fell kindly to Prendergast who gratefully converted the chance.

With the game sewn up I took off the tiring Armstrong and James and brought on Durnin and Williams. Within seconds in their first attack in the match Rovers scored with a simple route one manoeuvre aided by an unnecessary back-header by Howarth. the poor Spanish kid hadn’t had a shot to save throughout his debut and there he was picking the ball out of the castanet.

Before I even had a chance to panic we were straight up the other end peppering their goal with chance after chance, and within five minutes we’d restored out two-goal cushion through a fine goal by Campbell. A free kick on the halfway line by Brannan found Prendergast who won an aerial challenge to nod the ball towards the penalty spot for the onrushing young attacking midfielder to steal in Scholes-like and finish with a sweet half volley.

With ten minutes to go Smith came on to relieve the 36-year old Pickering. With his departure Rovers promptly created an opening in the very space he’d owned and forced Roberto into his first competitive Stanley save. Other than that they never seriously troubled us and our victory was a comfortable one – I could breathe, I could sleep; life wasn’t so bad after all. It wasn’t a great performance other than in patches but for the time being we were more than content. Prendergast had filled in well down the left, Campbell in front of the two defensive midfielders had controlled the middle of the park, and Mama earned the man-of-the-match award despite being relatively subdued. Already the wags on the terraces were encouraging him by breaking out into a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody whenever he was on the ball.

We had some pleasant training sessions in the latter part of the week, and then on the Saturday morning as the rest of us boarded the team bus for Leigh Jamie Speare set off for the Home Counties and a new start at Hendon. I elected to retain the same line-up that played so well on Tuesday with the exception of starting with Paul Mullen rather than risking the unpredictable Williams again. I decided against tinkering too much with the tactics for fear of confusing the simple souls. We weren’t going away to repeat a Halifax – on that point we were unanimous.

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Saturday 16th August: Leigh RMI 1 - 5 Stanley

We got off to a tidy start, playing with confidence, stroking the ball around without any apparent hang-ups from our last away performance a week ago. We opened the scoring after only five minutes with Campbell getting onto a through-ball from Prendergast out on the left wing. Although Leigh started to come into the game after that we always looked threatening on the break. On twelve minutes Bhutia hammered the ball against the upright which they matched ten minutes later from a free kick. Then a poor Leigh free kick gave the ball straight to Pickering who lugged his aged legs from one penalty box to the other to lay on a pass to Mullen. The goalie blocked his shot but Mama followed up to score.

The Leigh forwards were breeching our back line too easily too often and at one point Roberto made a fine save to maintain a clean sheet. However we were matching every Leigh attack with a counter and on the half-hour mark it was Prendergast’s turn to hit the post. On the stroke of half time we sewed up the result when the glorious Mama did his stuff and laid the ball into the feet of his compatriot in the six-yard box who applied the finish despite the close attention of two defenders.

The break in the dressing room had almost a party atmosphere, but I insisted that we needed to fully avenge our thrashing of seven days ago; “No let up, no mercy†I urged. Sure enough straight from the kick-off Mama danced down the middle of the park leaving half the Leigh side dumbfounded as the rounded the goalie to make it four. It was so easy; it was poetry. Leigh did pull one back with an excellent free kick on the D and followed up with two hot chances including rattling the woodwork within the next two minutes. We rode the pressure although Mama picked up a booking for a reckless shove and I had to replace the elderly Armstrong and Pickering along with Prendergast; Smith, Durnin and Cook came on for the last half-hour. I’m realising that if the old boys are never going to last the 90 minutes it gives me problems should we have injuries on the pitch or if I need to make tactical changes.

Then Smith nodded home straight from a Brannan corner and it was 5-1, a reverse of a week ago – vengeance was mine. It was a thoroughly entertaining performance and a terrific result (we’ve now seen a remarkable 16 goals in our first three games – not all in the right end of course!). Admittedly our opponents again made it somewhat easy for us – but then Halifax might say the same of us; but the last two games showed that we have enough quality to stay well away from the drop zone. the whole team played well and as a unit, other than Halford who continues to look uncertain in the role at the heart of central defence and Mullin, who was willing enough but looked a little short of quality. Behind Bhutia our attacking midfield personnel were looking very exciting. The pundits generously if deservedly granted both Indians a perfect ten out of ten for their performances and again Mama took the man-of-the-match award. How many awards, how many tens would he accrue? ‘Mama, life had just begun….’

A Multi-national Force

On Monday, after discussions with the chairman I used £2000 of the £12000 we got for the sale of Jamie Speare to bring Nikki Ball to the club. Looking at them in training Ally, Darren and I felt that there was little to separate our three imported goalkeepers in terms of ability so we tried to assess their temperaments. Reiter seemed to be having trouble settling and was clearly subdued but Roberto had been assured so far. Nikki I knew to be up for it.

I followed that transfer up with another coup – a pair of internationals, no less. I’d invited two Trinidadians I’d met on holiday three winters back for a close look. Stokely Mason was a 27-year old striker with ten caps from the improbably named club ‘Joe Public’ who was still as sharp as I’d remembered him and was potentially that missing foil for Bhutia. If we could get a work permit the chairman was willing to release £3000 to secure him. I kept him on trial and got him to work on forging a striking relationship with Baichung while waiting for the documentation to arrive. His colleague from ‘Defence Force’ was appropriately a right-sided central defender with 17 caps by the name of Anton Pierre. I was very hopeful that he could plug that last gap in my formation in the middle of the

defence. in the meantime I accepted a bid of a grand from Kidsgrove to shift Steve McDonald off our wage bill as he’d never figure in my first team plans.

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Saturday 23rd August: Stanley 3 - 0 Hereford

The following Saturday was our second home match, against Hereford. They’d got off to a dreadful start to the season, losing their opening three fixtures and not scoring a single goal. It was potentially time for a backlash but our boys ran onto the pitch full of confidence and well fired up. Houghton was fit again and he started although it was a difficult decision to drop the impressive Prendergast to the bench. Up front I switched yet again; Williams starting and Mullin on the bench. I couldn’t make my mind up over the least poor back three but I started with Smith and put Halford on his arse (You could see why I was keeping the two Caribbean guests close to me). Roberto would retain his place between the sticks with Bull waiting vulture-like for him to make a slip.

We got off to our customary lively start – you don’t want to arrive five minutes late to our games – and after a few opportunities we scored after only eleven minutes. Campbell and Bhutia had been playing nice one-twos to take out numerous opponents down the left flank before Bhutia crossed into the box. Mama got onto the end of it but the ‘keeper parried the ball to the feet of Williams. He couldn’t find space to shoot amidst the forest of legs between him and the goal line two yards away so he flicked the ball up onto the forehead of Campbell who duly completed the move he’d begun. Already Hereford looked despondent and were playing like a team defeated, none more so than Ryan Green who couldn’t handle more than half an hour of being out-classed so construed to get himself sent off. The opponent’s apathy was all the more evident when Brannan fired in a corner and the diminutive Bhutia was allowed to score with a free header. At the restart one of their psychos clattered Houghton who had to leave the pitch for the second time in his two starts. Prendergast stripped off his tracksuit to join the fray; the assault upset our lads and they set about putting Hereford to the sword. with the red mist obscuring their vision the finishing was mostly awful but straight after the second half restart Armstrong fed Campbell who slammed the ball in from near the penalty spot in a move that’s fast becoming a Stanley trademark.

With the match in the bag on the hour mark I decided to break in Nikki Bull – he’d have nothing to do but he could shout a lot and feel involved. I also brought on Durnin to give Brannan a rest and see how the two grand dads combined at DMC. In the end everyone had a good game although I don’t want to fool myself by failing to recognise when opponents make it easy to showboat. Stattoes would note that we had 18 strikes on goal to their one and that Mama stood out yet again. They’d also show that in four games we’d gone from bottom of the table to second and was the division’s top scorers with 12.

Mama’s performances are worrying me – even Baichung admitted that he’d never seen the boy so fired up; he was exceeding the expectations of my wildest fantasies. But every silver lining has a cloud and I was concerned about the implications of such awe-inspiring performances. Apart from the certainty that he’d be called up into the Indian squad (Bhutia would see to that) it wouldn’t be long before scouts from major clubs came sniffing round. Already, whilst semi-pro clubs like ours generally don’t have the resources to do much research, I’d noticed a growing swarm of scouts and even assistant managers from our Conference rivals turning up at our games as word spread. Would they work out a tactic to nullify him or assign some thug to put him out of action for months? Problems, problems – ‘Always look on the dark side of life..’.

In the subsequent week before a difficult away match at Exeter we received news from the illogical Department of Employment that we’d get a conditional work permit for Pierre but Mason’s was refused. We appealed. £2000 went to an offshore bank in the Caribbean as Pierre signed a three-year contract with a modest salary of £5000 per anum. As he got out of the taxi to report for training McDonald jumped in and departed for good. We only got £1000 for him but I congratulated myself on my decision to collect £12000 for Speare.

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Saturday 30th August: Exeter 1 - 4 Stanley

Exeter were hotly tipped to make an immediate return to the Third Division and they’d made a good start to their conference campaign. Only five league games previously the gulf between us was far more than two theoretical divisions. After three easy victories this would be huge challenge, and it would show me what lessons we’d really learnt from the Halifax debacle. With such a successful run morale was high so I wanted to keep any changes to a minimum; inevitably I tinkered with the front line, bringing in James for Mullin, and of course there were changes at the back with Pierre going straight in with Pickering to his right and Howarth would come back to fill the last spot. That morning as we drove down the M6 the rain came teeming down and never let up. Mama was less than enthused and indeed I suspected that our attractive brand of dribbling and passing would be severely compromised. “Try to play our natural game†I advised, “But if the conditions require you to hoof the ball into the clouds do so – and try to keep your footing at the back!â€

And indeed the conditions did make a mockery of the game. For the first twenty minutes the ball was mostly in their half and their defenders struggled to cope with a few mistimed tackles going in. Mama was lively enough although he couldn’t dribble through the duck ponds and we failed to cut out any decent chances as their defenders were able to make crucial interventions when it really counted. Then Exeter put on a period of pressure, bringing out two fine saves from Roberto before Armstrong was very harshly deemed to have brought down one of their forwards. He got a yellow card, they got a goal although Roberto got his hands to the spot kick but couldn’t keep it out. At half time I told them that they were doing their best – in the main, although with the exception of the Indians the foreign contingent weren’t enjoying themselves. Pierre lacked match fitness but I told him to carry on; Roberto had done okay but I decided to put Bully on and also change front line – why is it that the supporting man to Bhutia always has a dreadful game? James out, Mullin on.

Bull’s first contribution was a bad error, coming out to the edge of the area to collect a ball he had no change of beating the forward to – luckily the lob found the side netting. On 56 minutes the referee gave another penalty, this time for us after Mullin was tripped trying to connect with a killer pass from Bhutia. The captain of Accrington and India took the spot-kick; the ‘keeper saved it but Bhutia followed up and poked it in the empty net as the goalie lay on the deck. Two minutes later the unfortunate Gordon Armstrong mistimed a second tackle and found himself sent off. In fact with ten cards flashed the referee had a poor game – he must have been the only person not to notice the rain lashing down and legs sliding all over the park. I elected to sacrifice Houghton who was ineffectual down the left flank and have Durnin fill the defensive midfield hole. that left Campbell and Mama outnumbered but responsible for creating chances for our front two. The lads responded immediately – a free kick from Pierre dropped from the sky onto the head of Bhutia whose nod found his partner Mullin, who kept a clear head, controlled the ball and slipped it past the ‘keeper.

On 75 minutes they had a player sent off for dissent and five minutes we wrapped up the game when Mullin converted a Brannan near-post corner. Then in the 89th minute a high pass from Mama found Mullin who aimed a fast low cross towards the six-yard box. Their ‘keeper should really have got to it first but Bhutia proved poacher supreme and made it four.

Singing In The Rain

Everyone connected with the club was jubilant after the game and this time everyone wanted to praise me. To be fair, Exeter played the more competent football on the day but what stood out for me was our fighting spirit – especially the last half hour after we were reduced to ten men, a quality that had been so conspicuously lacking in our first match. With our rather more prosaic approach we carved out 16 chances with a superb 13 on target. Mama and Campbell adapted their games supremely well under the conditions but the real difference was the front two of Bhutia and Mullin who scored a brace each. Mullin only played the second 45 minutes but the pundits accorded him that elusive perfect 10 and the man-of-the-match didn’t go to Mama for once; I was more than happy to revise my earlier assessment of him. Bull’s second half performance also inclined me to put his name on the next line-up and Pierre grew stronger as the game progressed. Against quality opposition it was a brilliant result – the stress and depression of only three weeks before seemed like another lifetime. Such is football. The month ended with Mama learning he’d won the August Young Conference Player of the month, which was nice.

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Tuesday 2nd September: Stanley 3 - 1 Burton Albion

With ten men tearing about in the mud the team was exhausted after that last effort, but we had to pick ourselves up for a home fixture the following Tuesday. Burton Albion had got off to an even better start than us and were tipped as dark horses to stay the distance. Like us they were proving to be prolific scorers although they were more successful at keeping the ball away from the other end. I could see that the boys were physically tired but what were they like mentally? I had some changes to make; this time Bull and Mullin would start, and in the enforced change young Steve Flitcroft would get his first exposure to the Conference while Armstrong missed out. Durnin didn’t have the legs to start but he’d come off the bench if necessary. In another alteration I replaced Houghton with Prendergast as the former was losing his edge and the latter seemed sharper mentally Finally I brought novice David Coulson in for his first start at the expense of Howarth; Albion are particularly deadly in the air and are especially lethal from corners, and Coulson is about two metres taller than Howarth – at least it seems so the way he springs of the turf.

We always start games so fired up – on eight minutes debutant Flitcroft squared the ball to Brannan who unleashed a shot from 25 yards. Their ‘keeper couldn’t hold it but that poacher Bhutia was on it like a van Nistelrooy; 1-0. Then on 26 minutes Bhutia put in a cross from by the corner flag for Mullin to use his head to convert at the near post. Were we going to end the afternoon at the Crown Ground the crown of the Conference? There was a setback just before half time when Prendergast had to go off with a knock, which gave Houghton his chance to stake a claim for his starting place. At half time we were well in control and thanks to my preparations they hadn’t had so much as a sniff at goal.

Within a couple of minutes of the restart Bhutia had collected a ball from Houghton and powered his way through two defenders before unleashing a drive across the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net. With twenty minutes left I took off Brannan who’d been booked and was looking a bit wild; Durnin came on. He did well enough but we conceded a goal when Pierre was outsmarted by their striker. We were unruffled and played out the last twelve minutes comfortably. With Telford finally ending their unbeaten start we were indeed top of the league that evening (at the other end Hereford were still pointless and goalless, and in trouble with the authorities already for their atrocious discipline; 21 yellows and 4 reds in six games). More pleasing to me however was the fact that Bhutia felt really comfortable with Mullin as his foil and that despite the error that led to their consolation goal the back line was starting to cohere. I believed that I had a starting eleven which could maintain our position as top dogs – I was starting to dream of league football already. Of course we still had no adequate cover for virtually every position but so long as no one ever got injured, suspended or called up we’d be fine.

A Silver Cloud With A Gray Lining

On that last point, on Thursday we heard that our appeal for a work permit for Stokely Mason had been successful; ironically the board then promptly informed me that they couldn’t release the £3000 necessary to bring him unless one of our squad was purchased within the next week. I was less disappointed than I might have been had Mullin not found such devastating form, but we did need that third performing striker. And then it happened – in training that afternoon Baichung tore his groin and the physios promptly and gravely informed me that he’d be out for a good two months – the same length of time it would take Prendergast’s torn calf muscle to heal. I did tell you about silver linings. I don’t know if it was panic, but I told Darren Beckworth to get straight on the ‘phone to every agent and club he could think of to offer to flog almost any of our reserve squad – we needed those miniscule funds for Mason urgently. If it was a move that bore the seeds of desperation it was a move that bore no fruit.

There were two tiny crumbs of comfort to be had; firstly there was a barren week looming due to England taking on mighty Liechtenstein and other European championship qualifiers which gave us time to reorganise matters on the training ground, and secondly our next three fixtures were against strugglers, hopefully giving us a chance to put our new sans-Bhutia tactics time to bed in without dropping too many points. Assuming I’d be working without any addition to the current squad I felt I had to rely on the striking partnership that largely got us the UniBond championship but which I deemed inadequate this season – Paul Mullin and Lutel James. Could Mullin play without Bhutia? Could James play?

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Saturday 13th September: Scarborough 4 - 2 Stanley

We’d arrived at the seaside by noon and in a pig-in-the-middle knock-about on the sands Ged took a tumble and hurt his shoulder; young Steve Flitcroft found himself drafted in to the starting line-up. Otherwise it was Mullin and James up front, a settled line-up behind and Armstrong taking responsibility for leadership on the pitch.

I suppose my sombre mood in training sessions over the previous days had rubbed off on the team and they played with little conviction. The first half was the dullest I’d ever seen – we bumbled about at the back and lacked any sense of penetration up front. Even Mama was failing to put in any runs or crosses and our only salvation was that our opponents were no better. The first shot of any description in the entire match came in the 44th minute from a direct free kick twenty yards out. They scored. The second chance in the game came a minute later with Pierre having gone AWOL. Two minutes into stoppage time Pickering conceded a crass penalty but the taker shot straight at Bull. We were fortunate to go in at half time 2 – 0 down. It was clear that we weren’t just missing Bhutia’s footballing qualities, but his charisma and leadership too. The entire performance was so inept that it was impossible to know where to begin to address the problems, but I singled out the senior members - the stand-in captain for the lack of commitment and replaced him with John Durnin who’d been reading the game with me on the touchline, and Pickering who I replaced with the versatile Howarth. “We didn’t create a bloody half-chance the entire half†I bemoaned, “Look, forget about our shape, forget caution – just go out there are get some shots on goal. If we go down 8 –0 so be it but don’t do a Hereford and lie down and die.â€

Winston Churchill or Henry V couldn’t have put it better – right from the kick-off Mama put in his first surging run down the right, got to the by-line and send in a wicked cross which was met by Mullin who slammed the ball high into the net. Now we were playing with zest but by following my instructions they left themselves thin at the back and ten minutes later we found ourselves two goals behind again. Pierre had pushed up too far and left his man space to get behind and finish a decent move. Two minutes later after Mama had dummied two opponents and put a ball into the box the long clearance found all our boys bar the goalie so far up the pitch that Quayle could stroll into the penalty area and cut the ball across Bull into the far corner for his hat-trick. Five minutes from time James, who’d spent the previous 85 minutes trying to avoid the ball found it at his feet in the penalty area with no one near him after a through ball from Cook, who’d come on for an exhausted Flitcroft. He poked it at the ‘keeper but the goalie pushed it straight back to him whereupon he stabbed it in the net. A ‘consolation’ goal? I was not consoled.

Other than the ten minutes after the break our performance was even worse than at Halifax. Of those that I kept on the pitch for the 90 minutes only Mama, Mullin and a busy ‘keeper showed any verve; of the rest Campbell was inexplicably inept and Pierre suggested he hadn’t signed a contract with us to play football. I didn’t feel the same sense of blackness as I had after our previous defeat but I was equally lost as to how we could rectify the situation. We needed one of those positive thinking gurus to sort their heads out but we had no cash. I left it to Darren.

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Saturday 20th September: Stanley 2 - 1 Farnborough

Despite our debacle the previous week I declined the temptation to make wholesale changes, largely because we had no resources to call upon and I was hopeful Beckworth would have done some psychological magic with them. I did switch Howarth and Pierre to see if the new recruit would cope better to the right of central defence, and I gave the captain’s armband to John Durnin with Armstrong replacing him in the dugout. If we stuffed up this time I was going into hibernation until Bhutia was back.

The quality of football was woeful on both sides but I was hopeful we would get a result until Coulson dithered and allowed a forward to break free and lob Bull from twenty yards in the 19th minute. Six minutes later the kid partly made amends by finding Brannan with a pass on the left of the penalty area and his drive from a narrow angle was precise, beating the ‘keeper at the far post. After a further ten minutes Houghton was clumsily tripped in the box. Without our regular penalty-taker the stand-in captain took responsibility and made no mistake. We were in the lead, undeserved though it was. Our forwards had shown nothing and I lost patience with James at half time, replacing him with Williams despite Mullin carrying a knock. The second half was dull beyond belief but by full time we’d had three shots and taken three points. I felt bad for the four thousand fans who’d paid to watch this fare but the boys by and large felt better about themselves. The defence hadn’t disgraced itself, Durnin had done a captain’s job and Mama had somehow by default acquired another man-of-the-dreadful-match award. Despite that it was clear to all that without his mentor on the pitch he just wasn’t the same player. The biggest concern however was that the front pairing was a disaster. I’d have to get tinkering again. Flukily, the permutation of other results left us back on top of the table; I wasn’t cheered.

Wheeling and Dealing

On Sunday I received two interesting calls on my mobile as I drove down to London to watch a reserve game at QPR. One was from the chairman of Droylsden offering a grand for Peter Cavanagh. He’s worth more but I needed the dosh and he wasn’t in my first team plans, so I accepted. I wondered if Mason would still be interested after we messed him around. Then I got a call from the agent of Richie Partridge telling me Liverpool were happy for him to come to us on loan. “Great, but does Richie want to come?†I enquired, recalling that I’d made such an approach in the pre-season only to get a condescending brush-off. The reply was somewhat evasive so I put it out of my mind.

The following Tuesday was a busy day – in the morning I was contacted by a coach at Rangers I’d chatted to informing me that my request to bring in a young central defender named Marien Ifura had been welcomed. Then I concluded the deal to take Cavanagh to Droylsden although he wouldn’t leave until the transfer window opened on January 1st. This was followed by a call from the manager of Enfield; I’d learnt at the weekend that Courtney Naylor, a hardworking striker I vaguely knew had fallen out with the gaffer and I’d put in a bid for £1000 – it had been accepted and Naylor was on his way to discuss terms. No sooner had I concluded that discussion than there was a knock on my office door – it was an exciting young Jamaican international striker by the name of Omar Daley along with his agent. He was on loan down the road at Preston and was attracting rave reviews for his consistently excellent performances. Preston couldn’t offer him a permanent contract so he’d responded to my enquiry. He would definitely be the ideal signing for that second striker berth but it was immediately obvious that his wage demand would not be met by our board. Nevertheless he would watch the match that evening along with Naylor and we’d talk after. Hopeful signs, but my immediate concern was to prepare for that Tamworth tie.

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Tuesday 23rd September: Stanley 0 - 0 Tamworth

A second game at the Crown Ground in three days against modest opposition, but the lads were feeling physical fatigued to compound their psychological lack of confidence. Nevertheless I elected to keep mostly the same line-up as Saturday with the exception of James; Williams would start and Durnin who just didn’t have the legs - Flitcroft at nearly half his age would come in. Then I had the problem of who to give the armband; without Bhutia, Armstrong and Durnin on the pitch there were no viable candidates so I brought in Jonathan Smith for Coulson at the heart of defence and gave him the task.

The first half was dull dull horlicks. Bull came for a cross in Tamworth’s one and only attack and Houghton slashed wildly from long range in our single attempt. Other than that Williams took a knock; he was so anonymous I didn’t even notice until he bleated in the dressing room. Our physio gave him a rub down while I told James to warm up – we’d give Gazza ten minutes to see if he could run it off. We finally carved out a decent chance on 52 minutes when Mama put in his first good ball to Williams who tested their goalie. After that we began to warm up and Houghton had another chance from long range with the same result, closely followed by Mullin bringing a good save from the ‘keeper. Williams had run off his knock but was still ineffectual so I brought on James, and replaced the tired Campbell with Langley who had seen very little action since his close season signing. In the end we took a point from a match that we dominated without ever looking slightly threatening. Tamworth’s assistant manager had been presented with the man-of-the-match accolade for marshalling his troops from midfield in a way that both Armstrong and Durnin had failed to do. It was quite simply a very poor quality game of non-league football. I was left with the sense that the lads were treading water awaiting the return of the king, but at this rate by that time our season would be all but over. Would any new signings bring a sense of purpose?

Ins and Outs

Darren didn’t put much faith in Naylor so I agreed his modest terms but delayed the deal for a week on the off chance that Daley might lower his demands. On Wednesday I read in the press that as I’d suspected Partridge had his sights set higher and was off to Rotherham on loan, then I got a call from Dagenham & Redbridge – they were interested in taking Andy Proctor for my asking price of £2000. Burton and Shrewsbury also came in with bids which didn’t actually involve any immediate transfer of cash – I politely invited them to think again. On Thursday Ifura agreed to join us on loan so I asked him to come straight up and report to training on Friday with a view to putting him the match-day squad for Saturday. He made a good impression on the lads at the training ground, being a young but confident boy; I’d start him as a substitute and hope to throw him into the fray at some point at Telford. On Friday Burton and Shrewsbury informed me that they weren’t following up their interest in Proctor, but the Daggers confirmed their bid and we sealed the deal; this one was cash straight into my transfer kitty – I could only hope Andy didn’t return to haunt us when we entertained Dagenham three weeks hence. Daley unsurprisingly insisted on holding out for higher wages. I rashly offered him an annual salary of £40 grand with loads of frills, knowing that the board would not sanction more than £35K basic.

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Saturday 27th September: Telford 5 - 4 Stanley

Telford like us had been early season table toppers but were similarly losing their way and were currently two points behind us. However their home form was strong and I felt a point would be a reasonable ambition for this trip. I didn’t change the woeful permutation up front, knowing that I’d have more options by the next game but I made a couple of changes in midfield – I gave Langley a more extensive run out as he was getting down at his lack of opportunities and Campbell wasn’t shining anymore, and I dropped Flitcroft as he was struggling with his fitness, defying his seemingly strong constitution and Armstrong returned, also getting a second chance to captain the side after agreeing with me that the Tamworth chief had been a model worth emulating.

We don’t start matches sharply anymore but after soaking up an opening period of moderate pressure we scored against the run of play with our first attack on 15 minutes. Howarth had punted the ball long from deep inside our half and the Telford goalie came charging miles out of his area to head it. Mullin got there at the same time and as the ball broke it rolled into the penalty box; Mullin kept his feet to chase it and tap it into the goal. All gifts gratefully received. They hit back from the restart, bring out a superb double save from Nikki Bull. Five minutes later however he disgraced himself by allowing a soft shot from 35 yards to squirm under his body and across the line – the Christmas spirit was evident in Shropshire that afternoon. The rest of the first half was one-way traffic - an unrelenting barrage on our goal with us surviving numerous goalmouth scrambles and Bull multiply atoning for his earlier error. At half time I took the plunge and put Ifura on for Howarth, and instructed the lads to get the ball down the channels. Earlier in the season we’d been striking terror into oppositions with our killer wing-play but since Houghton’s injury his crossing has been woeful and since Bhutia’s injury Mama’s crossing has been non-existent along with his ability to take men on and get past them, but I urged the both of them to believe in themselves and go for it.

The change of tactic made for a thrilling second half. In the first minute of the restart the ball was fed to Houghton who sped down the left wing, took a shot form just inside the area and scored. They got one back four minutes later and in a further three minutes had taken the lead – my new-look defence was proving a shambles. The entire 45 minutes was end-to-end stuff; on 70 minutes Williams had an excellent shot saved and the follow up was scrambled clear – then they went up the other end, won a corner and scored a goal from a near-post header after Brannan had abandoned his position. The move of the match came on 78 minutes when mama burst through two defenders simultaneously trying to bring him down, played a one-two with Langley, a one-two with Williams and set Williams up to complete the job: just like Real Madrid. We were only one goal behind and on fire up front so I sent on Campbell to add extra firepower and threw everyone forward. We promptly paid the price when a neat lob over Bull made it 5 – 3 but it wasn’t over; in the 89th minute another lovely Williams-Mama combination left Mama to finish with a well-placed drive and into stoppage time their ‘keeper saved a diving header from Williams at point blank range. We were denied an equaliser by the referee who blew up after Houghton was free and bearing down on the ’keeper; he’d beaten off a foul but the referee wanted to flash a card. A shame but to be fair we were outplayed over the 90 minutes, but at least we entertained at long last.

So, in the end a nine-goal thriller – not what anyone would have predicted, especially at half time. Our defence was atrocious – it wasn’t Ifura at fault so much as the rest of them with poor marking and positioning – Brannan being particularly culpable. But in the second half my tactic to get the ball to Houghton and Mama proved inspired as both played like they haven’t since the golden days. Mama was accorded the man-of-the-match despite being on the losing side for his second half performance, and Williams looked sharp and combined very nicely with Mama. So, some solutions to old problems and some new problems.

A Caribbean Coup

On Tuesday I was thrilled to learn that Daley had agreed terms with us; the board was okay with the salary since he would be replacing Bhutia next season on half his pay. We had to wait two weeks for a work permit but he got one for Preston and with six caps has played in Jamaica’s recent fixtures, so that should be a formality. I decided that at one grand apiece I could bring in Daley and Naylor for the two grand I got for Proctor. Naylor arrived on Friday and I figured he could make a substitute appearance in the next game. In my mind Lutel James’ days were numbered; he had been a firm favourite with the fans due to his exploits the previous season but his form this campaign had been so woeful I was confident no tears would be shed.

One step forward, three steps back: on Thursday morning Ged Brannan tore his groin in training – at least that’s when it happened according to his account. I’m not so sure – I’ve told my players not to put in too many heavy extra training sessions in the bedroom but boys will be boys. So that was our two biggest assets without a decent groin between them, and two months to get some results with a mediocre squad whilst our bank balance got redder and redder. Jeez, sometimes I hate this game. You know, if the creators of that popular waste of time our boys all play between training sessions knew anything about the real life job they’d have called their game ‘Crisis Manager’.

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So that's 200K pounds that you're paying guys to sit for a total of six months...the irony. At lest Bhutia earned his share. ...

There are four things that can happen when you give a guy a huge contract, 1. He earns the pay. 2. He becomes, fat, lazy and insolent. 3. He chokes under the pressure of earning so much cash or 4. He gets injured for a portion of the year.

I hope Omar picks up the slack.

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Hi huys,

having completed the first season i do know how these events transpire, but you'll have to wait and see icon_razz.gif

Karanfett - I've been trying to get away from a 'stats' story and go for a more reportage feel. I do frequently explain the placings at the top of the table as the tension rises nearer the end of the season, in narrative form.

Ready for the next installment? Here it comes ...

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Saturday 4th October: Barnet 1 - 3 Stanley

On Saturday we took our problems and new faces to Barnet, a solid mid-table team with a good home record. Flitcroft would have to deputise for Brannan of course, and Ifura started at the expense of Smith but otherwise I avoided making changes apart from putting newbie Naylor on the bench, having given up on the indifferent James (I told Darren to put the word out). I’d had a good few sessions during the week with the overpaid defensive coaches (Sedgley, Pickering, Winterburn) and defensive midfield coaches (Durnin, Lormor and Winterburn) to try to sort out our frailties, but if nothing changed there were options such as Clarke or Robbie Williams waiting for their chance.

Throughout the first half we were so poor – hesitant at the back, poor in midfield and blunt up front. It was only a matter of time before Barnet scored, which despite their modest quality up front, they duly did on 32 minutes after the first moment of quality in the game, reminiscent of a Mama-Williams combination if only they’d get in the mood. “Use the flanks! Use the f***ing flanks!†I bellowed as our boys trotted back solemnly - to no effect given that they couldn’t get hold of the ball. At half time Williams was bleating again – that boy does bruise easily, but this time I mollycoddled him as it gave me the opportunity to introduce Courtney Naylor, and to give him some minor chance of getting any service I replaced the subdued Langley with the more attack-minded Campbell.

We came out for the second half looking a different side. Our midfielders starting winning the ball and using it down the wings. On 53 minutes in a carbon copy of their goal Mama used his old magic outside the right of the penalty box and threaded the ball through a crowded six-yard area on for Houghton to tuck away. Within two minutes Mullin had his tail up and slammed the ball in from eight yards after the keeper gave him a second bite.

On 74 minutes, after Mama had started enjoying skinning his opposing full-back Houghton joined in the fun and put the ball on a plate for Campbell surging from deep – just like the old days. Even the defence started getting some tackles and key interventions in – quite why they started to do their job at this moment I couldn’t fathom. For the final ten minutes we allowed Barnet to get out of their half and even gave them a few half-chances, but really, on the basis of our second half display we were worth the three points (we were now fifth, but only a point off the leaders) and more importantly we’d finally put in (half) a performance to be proud of. Now if we could only take some confidence away and maintain this form. Mama took his sixth man-of-the-match award in eleven games although there were a good few equally impressive individual performances. Ifura and Naylor had shown enough to warrant starting berths; only Pierre was continuing to worry me – he’d have to drop down the pecking order.

After the team coach had returned and the players departed Darren Beckford informed me that a few clubs had expressed interest in taking Lutel James if we dropped the price. We’d taken James along for the ride to Barnet even though he wasn’t in the match squad and I could read his reaction to Naylor’s competent debut. If he was going to spread misery and unsettle the squad just as we were turning a corner he’d have to go, and even if we didn’t get much for him cancelling his inflated wages would please the board. “Get back to them – tell them we’ll accept only three grand†I instructed my number two. On Tuesday we heard that the conditional work permit for Omar Daley would be granted; however we wouldn’t be able to get hold of him until July when his loan deal with Preston expired. I’d keep a keen eye on his form and progress and hope that he might be a cheap replacement for our Bollywood idol when his loan deal expired.

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Tuesday 14th October: Stanley 3 - 1 Dagenham & Redbridge

I was hoping to keep Saturday’s second half momentum going so I largely selected the eleven that we finished with – Naylor and Campbell starting, Williams and Langley substitutes. The only substantial change was to put Pierre in the stands and bring coach Ally Pickering back to the starting line-up. The Daggers were one of those teams which was winning all of its home fixtures but losing all the game son the road – I was hoping the formbook would not be upset just yet. I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or not when I saw that Andy Proctor wasn’t on the team sheet – I flogged him because he wasn’t good enough for us but then he knew some of our players inside out.

The first half didn’t quite pick up the tempo from Barnet but at least we were tight enough at the back. In our first chance Mullin sent the ball into orbit but a few minutes later Naylor collected a ball from Houghton and marked his full debut with a beautiful strike from the edge of the area. A minute later Naylor was bearing down on goal again but this time didn’t quite beat the ‘keeper. Both forwards saw Bhutia back in light training that morning – what was going through their minds?

When we’re singing we do like to come out of the blocks in full throttle after half time. Within a minute Naylor’s deft little flick on the half way line sent Campbell free to charge unhindered towards the penalty box and do a little shimmy before slipping the ball under the keeper. They got a goal back when their striker got the better of Ifura and lobbed Bull but I needn’t have been worried – three minutes later a 45 yard clearance by Flitcroft found Naylor on the half way line in space and he set off for the goal; the crowd went ecstatic when they witnessed the quality of his finishing, and I nudged Darren, reminding him how he tried to convince me the boy was a waste of money. With twenty minutes left I made my usual substitutions; Pickering and Armstrong were tired, and Mullin very quiet as the other forwards shone around him. We had some great chances after that but in the end we were delighted with the three goals we’d bagged against decent opposition. I was disappointed not to keep a clean sheet but Nikki acknowledge his role in the goal we conceded and apart from that the defence were very solid. for once the fans and hacks hardly even noticed that Mama had bee n on the pitch for ninety minutes – they had a new hero. Man-of-the-match Courtney Naylor. All the talk was about Bhutia’s impending return and how they’d link. I was looking forward to the next training sessions.

Only interest in James was from Wealdstone – would he deign to go? I called him in on Friday morning and he leapt at the chance. He was disappointed to be dropping down a level but just wanted to get away and play. He’d have to wait for the transfer window on January 1st though.

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Saturday 18th October: Woking 4 - 1 Stanley

Away to Woking – top of table (only one point more than us), 100% home record, only conceded three goals so far in the campaign (compared to our 21). Our scout reported that they were a defensive but lovely passing side. Bhutia still needed a couple of days so I used the same match squad that played so well on Tuesday but made two changes – firstly I put Roberto between the sticks; he’d been waiting patiently for a chance and Bull had been a little inconsistent over the previous two fixtures. Secondly I decided to start with Williams rather than Mullin – our scout had reported that Woking’s central defenders were unmatchable in the air but there were both slow, so I judged that we should avoid lobbing in high balls and that a pair of nippy little buggers could be their Achilles’ heel. In addition I instructed Ifura to mark their main striker out of the match and Armstrong to do the same to the main provider of their chances. If all went to plan I was hoping we could nick a 1-0 and go back to the top of the table.

The game began as I’d expected – a very tight contest between two evenly matched sides. The first chance fell to Williams on 16 minutes but he shot straight at the goalkeeper, and they reciprocated ten minutes later. Overall they were clearly out-passing us but without creating much. Roberto did well with a snapshot which he saw late before Williams rushed another good chance. Otherwise the ball largely stayed in the middle of the park. Just before half time however the deadlock was broken; Ifura lost concentration and his task for a moment and not one but two strikers broke through: 0 – 1. A minute later it was déjà vu – they’d discovered our Achilles’ heel. Ifura’s attempts to stick with one striker was proving a disaster once this opponent had realised he could pull Ifura out of position and leave a gaping hole. I shouted at Ifura to abandon that idea and also told Flitcroft to drop back and support the back three. On the stroke of half time Woking had a corner. Campbell was marking the young basketball player who happened to be their manager’s son and was easily out-jumped; with three goals in three minutes it was game over and a sullen dressing room atmosphere. I took the blame; I thought I’d done my homework but I’d been out-thought by Glenn Cockerill. ‘Fair play’ I thought, ‘But what to do now?’ Williams may be fast but he didn’t have his finishing boots on that day so I sent Mullin on, and Flitcroft was demonstrating yet again that he doesn’t yet have the quality to play at this level so his coach Durnin came on yet again to show him how to do the job.

We came out fighting and our first opportunity came on 58 minutes. Howarth played a long ball down the middle and Campbell found himself in space. He charged in on the goalie and attempted to fire a shot between his legs. The ‘keeper got something on it to soften the pace and some 4800 watched in fascinated slo-mo as the ball trickled the final ten yards and just crept over the line – the goal was later deemed the runner-up in the October Conference goal of the month. But otherwise we were out-classed; our forwards got no change out of their back line and in the 94th minute Ifura gave away a penalty, which our best player Roberto saved but could do nothing about the follow-up. Tight, low scoring match? Sometimes I think this game follows no known laws of logic. ‘Baichung! Are you fit??’

Tactical Rethink

Bhutia was fit, but not match fit – nevertheless he was inked in to start, and despite the new flavour of the month having a very poor last game I wanted to try a partnership with Naylor. However I had to radically rethink the defence. As my coaches pointed out, without Brannan we had two aged warhorses in Armstrong and Durnin and an unfit and disappointing Flitcroft to select for the two DMC positions and they couldn’t provide enough protection for the back three. So we had to totally re-organise; I elected to go to an orthodox back four with one DMC. This meant a call up for Robbie Williams at left back. It was risky and the team would need time to gel – probably Brannan would be back before we’d sorted ourselves out anyway, but two months in I just couldn’t find a working formula with this 3-2-3-2 tactic so I switched to a 4-1-3-2. I asked Williams and Pickering to play as wingbacks but otherwise I tried to keep further tweaks to a minimum – there’s only so much their tiny minds can absorb.

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A counter-opinion - I think that the detail is what makes the story interesting. This is the great thing about CMS (sorry FMS). There are all sorts of different styles, each appealing to different readers. They key thing is that the author should write as he sees fit. As readers, no one forces us to follow any particular story and if one is not to our particular taste then we always have a choice. Having said that, a tad more formatting can always help readability but Andy has already said that he is after a narrative style and that is his choice to make. Anyway, I'm reading along and enjoying the content even if the presentation is less than optimal.

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Definitely no need to cut down on detail. My favourite stories are those which attempt something different, and display a real attempt at narrative fiction rather than the 'tables & results' approach. But as BobBev says above, that's just down to subjective preferences, and it's the variety of the styles that makes CMS/FMS such an interesting and lively forum... icon_smile.gif

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