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Exiled to Chimney Corner: The Rob Johnson Story

Started on 20 December 2013 by rampage57
Latest Reply on 21 December 2013 by rampage57
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rampage57's avatar Group rampage57
9 yearsEdited
It started as just another quiet day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I had just arrived at the facilities of the Harrisburg City Islanders, as small United Soccer League club with whom I was employed as an assistant coach. From the outset I knew that it wasn't going to be an especially happy day. The team was mired in a 10 game winless skid. The fanbase, tiny though it was, was getting restless and had threatened to boycott the games. George Howard, the manager and my boss, was firmly on the hot seat. Thus, I wasn't expecting things to be all sunshine and kittens when I arrived on the Island, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to happen.

It was typical for me to meet with George the day after a game, and I knew that he would likely be his normal irate self on this morning. The team had just returned last night from a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Wilmington Hammerheads. As I strolled to the office, I immediately noticed that most of the training staff refused to look me in the eye, let alone say good-morning. There was more going on than post loss withdraw. As I arrived in George's office he immediately motioned for me to take a seat at his desk. As I sat, I, in a vain attempt to break the silence said, "Rough one last night, eh George?"

"Indeed it was a rough one Rob, and we can't let this continue," George said forcefully, cutting me off. "I'm under authorization from the general manager to make any changes that I feel to be necessary for the well-being of this club."

"Well Georgie," I said "let's get at it then, where do you think we should begin?"

"The primary problem is our lack of funding, we can't bring in any good players to be competitive in this league without money, and the board has already committed all that they were willing to commit." George explained firmly.

"Well, I don't really see how we can work around that, unless we start scouting and bringing in some cheaper players." I responded in an effort to be helpful.

George, who must have expected this response, continued unblinkingly: "The decision as to our next step has already been made, and it involves you."

"Me!?" I practically spat, "I can't fathom how I can be of any use in this situation George. Do you want to explain?"

"It's quite simple Rob, we received an offer from a club to buy out your contract, they want to hire you on as their manager, Congratulations!"

As I heard this, I practically jumped with joy, me, a manager! I was curious as to who the team was though, thinking it was likely a USL Development team like Ocean City, but that didn't really matter. I was going to have my own team!

"Wow George, Thanks!" I said, trying to cover my emotion as much as possible and ultimately failing. "Which club is it?"

George got this wry grin on his face, and my heart immediately fell. "This must be a joke, it has to be," I thought internally.

"Chimney Corner, a Northern Irish League 2 team, they have been in a pretty sorry run over the last few seasons, and nobody on the planet seems to be willing to take the job." George was practically laughing at this point, which led me to continue to believe that this was still a very elaborate joke.

"Come on George, you're not serious, are you?" I asked, rather exasperated, as I'd been through pretty much every emotion possible in the last 45 seconds. "Why would a club from Northern Ireland want an American assistant coach from some rank team in a run down city?"

"I am serious, and the answer is quite simple." George was now in some weird mix of being amused and being matter-of-fact, it was quite bewildering to watch. "As I said, Chimney Corner has struggled mightily over the last few seasons, and it's been really hard for them to find a manager who wants to rebuild the mess, which is why they've offered us good money for the rights to you."

"How bad are we talking?" I asked, reaching for a glass of water.

"They have a combined record of 7-13-68 over the last three seasons."

The water that I had been drinking was now all over George's desk, "George, are you serious? That's 34 points in 88 games! They literally average .38 points per game! You can't expect me to go there, it's career suicide."
(They really are quite bad)

"I'm afraid you don't have much choice." George suddenly looked extremely grim. "The fans are demanding a change here, and we need the funds." "I can't make you accept the job at Chimney Corner, but if you don't take it, I'm afraid i'm going to have to fire you in order to pacify the fans."

My bewilderment and shock now turned to venom. "I understand now George, you're going to make me the scapegoat for this ten-game skid, you're untouchable because of how much ownership spent to bring you here, but me, I'm just a lowly assistant, so of course no one cares if I'm out." "Ultimately though, people will realize that it's been your rank coaching that has drug us this far down! A five-year old wouldn't have managed to drop a game to Wilmington 4-0."

George looked calm, but his eyes now blazed with some form of hatred I'd yet to see in his normally muted face."Fine, Rob, you can think what you want, you are done here either way, but I need to know if you are going to take the Chimney Corner post or not."

At this point I took a moment and thought, would an assistant who got fired from a low-level American team really have another chance of getting a job of their own. Chimney Corner might be a horrifying post, but at least it would be a post of my own.

"George, I can't approve of what you have done here, but you can call them and tell them that I'll take the job." Then, in an effort to throw in another pot shot I said "I hope you enjoy the money, because you wouldn't be able to put together a quality football team with entire budget of the US Military."

I could tell that George wanted to respond in kind, but he simply said, "I'll let them know, they'll likely be in contact with you tomorrow. Now please, you know where the door is."

As I left George's office, it hit me, and I could only think to myself, "what the heck have I gotten myself into?"
2. En Route to Chimney Corner

Yesterday’s rather rude revelation has left me in a state of disarray, arranging a move to another country is one thing, mentally preparing oneself to coach football there is another. This morning I fielded a call from Roy Jackson, the President of Chimney corner. We discussed terms and the state of the club. He offered to pay for my move over there and offered me a one year deal worth $25,500, which means I’m going to be living on a steady diet of Ramen during my coaching tenure there. Roy also informed me that the team is extremely small budget, offering to spend only $17,700 per year, with all of it already tied up. I can already see why nobody else wanted to take this job. I’m about to be thrown into a culture of losing without the resources to change it. Fortunately, Jackson informed me that “expectations aren’t that high, and the board is simply expecting me to save the team from relegation.” To be honest, I’d probably have a better chance of swimming across the Atlantic than saving this club from relegation, but hey, at least I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I coached overseas for a year.
(My contract is approaching double what the club spends on players....this could be a problem)

I don’t wholly know what I’m going to find when I get to Chimney Corner, but my flight out leaves tomorrow. I have assurances from Jackson that my stuff will be taken care of and shipped to me over there, but judging from the state of his football club, I better be prepared to buy some furniture upon arrival. Hopefully things will not be as bad as they seem from this side of the Atlantic.
rampage57's avatar Group rampage57
9 yearsEdited
3. State of Affairs

I've been in Antrim for less than a week, but I can already see that my time here has the potential to be extremely tumultuous. I arrived at the team facility by way of taxi, the day was gray, and my mindset was grim. First, I had no idea what to expect from the team facilities, and I was loaded with questions. Was I truly up for this? Would the players be able to respect an American coach who had never managed before? Would the pitch be covered in cowpies? My meeting with Roy Jackson helped allay some of my fears.

Roy is a short man, large is stature with a ruddy red face and dirty blonde hair. As I opened my taxi door he essentially reached his hand in and pulled me to my feet. "A pleasure to have you!" He essentially yelled in a booming voice. After taking a couple seconds to regain my hearing I responded, "Thanks, I'm glad to be here." Then the diatribe began.

"I was afraid that you would back out at the last second, lot's of coaches have, you know, I'm not quite sure what it is. We have the players, we have the ground, we have the support, we just can't win. Some of the officer workers think we are cursed, but I don't buy into all that stuff, granted, we have had a bit of a problem with local farmers letting their cows wander onto the pitch, but overall I think the operation is as professional as you will find in the whole of Europe."

I waited for a couple seconds to make sure he had finished and wasn't going to pass out from lack of oxygen, whatever Roy lacked in stature he also made up in vitality. I wasn't sure how he was comparing a team whose pitch was indeed littered with cowpies to the rest of Europe, but I wasn't going to correct my new boss, and so I answered with as much assurance as possible. "Surely you aren't cursed, and I'm going to work as hard as possible to make this club a winner."

"I know you are, my boy!" Roy howled, "Now go inside and get to work, everything you need is at your desk, and you have a meeting with your assistant coach at 4:00, cheers!"

After recovering from the typhoon of my owner's energy, I made for my office and began to look over the dossiers for each of my players. Two in particular caught my eye, both forwards. Aidan Swann and Jack Kelly both were highly praised by my coaching staff, and after watching them score a combined 4 goals in the intra-squad scrimmage, I completely understood where they were coming from.

Based on the offensive talents of my players, I have decided to start off the year using an aggressively aligned 4-4-1-2 formation, but I have also began to train them in a standard 4-4-2 counter formation in case we get in over our heads, which may happen with this squad.

My second day with the team included a "press conference" with only one journalist (who had the bearing of that guy from the horror movie who says "You're all doomed!"), and my third day included an intra-squad friendly with the top unit winning 5-2. I'm not afraid to say that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, but things look like they are starting to come together. We have friendlies with Drumaness Mill, Dergview, and Balleymena United and they will give us a better idea of where we stand as a club. This is still likely to end in something resembling a plane crash, but, as I've already learned from Roy Jackson, hope springs eternal.
rampage57's avatar Group rampage57
9 yearsEdited
4. A Friendly State of Affairs

Chimney Corner's friendly with Ballymena United ended with a sharp whistle from the ref, and I was left with the task of attempting to boost the fragile mindset of my playing squad, which had just been soundly routed 3-0 by the top flight squad. As I entered the room I said "Look, nobody enjoys being routed in the fashion we were tonight, but we stood with them for much of the match, and we need to embrace that and carry it forward." None of the players reacted much, but I could tell they were frustrated, the culture of losing was seeping back in to the side.

Over the previous two weeks I had done all I could to begin changing the culture, and it seemed to be working following a 3-0 rout of Amateur side Drumaness Mills and a had fought 1-2 loss to First Division Dergview. Unfortunately, the loss to Ballymena had taken the wind out of those sails right before the season opener against Sport & Leisure FC.

Additionally, there was another problem that I had not anticipated upon arrival. It turned out that the previous manager had essentially offered everyone in the club a small $425 per year contract, which was the cause of the current budget crisis. Amateur contracts were few and far between, and now, everyone wanted a raise. As I sat in my office following the victory over Drumaness Mills, one player walked into my office asking for a raise, followed by another, and then another. In total six players asked me for a raise that evening, and three more have asked since. I stalled them by asking them to prove themselves on the pitch first, but eventually we are going to have to either pay up, or risk inciting a riot. I went to Roy Jackson the next day to inquire about what could be done.

As I approached Roy's office I heard an odd clicking sound, and upon reaching the threshold, I found him toggling the light switch on and off. Thinking this just a touch bizzare I asked, "Sir, if I may inquire, why are you switching the lights on and off?"

Roy smiled, while continuing to toggle the lights, and said "Just a little something I've picked up over the years, the last time we were promoted to Division Two, I came into the office and toggled the light switch up and down fifty times before the deciding match, now I do it every day."

"I thought you didn't believe in curses." I said mystified.

"I don't, but this is a superstition, and that is a completely different animal my boy." He shot back.

Realizing that I should probably get to business, I explained the financial situation to him. Roy was sympathetic, but unhelpful, stating: "Gee, I wish there was something I could do, but I simply can't throw more money into this team. I'm losing out as it is, and that won't change unless we start winning. Sorry my boy."

Thus I was forced to leave his office without a resolution, and the knowledge that I was sitting on a timebomb.

Friendly Review

Match #1: Chimney Corner 3 Drumaness Mills 0

This was a match that I expected us to win, but ultimately we were more dominant than I expected, badly out-chancing Drumaness Mills. Aidan Swann and Jack Kelly both added goals, which makes me feel good about my sides offensive punch.

Match #2: Chimney Corner 1 Dergview 2

Ultimately, I feel like this was a successful match. Dergview is a Division One team, and we were clearly overmatched in terms of talent, but we were able to hold our own, going on to actually outchance Dergview. I am a touch concerned by our finishing, but Aidan Swann was able to add another goal to keep his streak alive.

Match #3: Chimney Corner 0 Ballymena United 3

Not as bad as it looks, as we actually out-possessed Ballymena and were even in shots, but finishing and defensive play were both lacking for us. Eventually more people than Aidan Swann are going to be needed to carry the load, but with a potential morale timebomb sitting in the form of the player salary issue, there is little time to find help.


Following Trial Day, which I was not able to attend on account that my car had not yet arrived from America, my scouts raved about one Ross O'Doherty, a sixteen year old left defender of small stature, but big skill. In an effort to shore up my back line, I brought him on side for $2,000 per year. It will put me over-budget, but if the kid is as good as everyone says, I think we will be able to make it back. However, this is likely only going to lessen my ability to pay those who want raises.

As I sit here in my apartment, eating my standard dinner of Ramen Noodles with Orange Tea,I am excited for the new season, our opening match with Sport & Leisure is closing fast. However, I know that the pressure for points will be on early, because once the players realize that I won't be able to offer them pay raises, morale is going to tank, as may the season. I can see why nobody wanted this job, and I sure as heck hope that the previous manager is out of a job so that no other football club can be left in such a state of disarray. Hopefully we can get this season off right with a strong August.

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