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[FM15] - Malone Again, Naturally

Started on 22 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 25 January 2016 by tenthreeleader
This is brilliant mate, probably the best story I've ever read on here
Gentlemen, thank you so much! I appreciate your kindness. Building a following is hard and I appreciate your reading :)

July 23, 2014 – Stevenage v. Bolton Wanderers
Friendly #4 – Broadhall Way, Stevenage

It’s also known as the Lamex Stadium. All my guys knew was that it was kind of a long coach ride to get there.

By the M62 to the A1, it’s about a three-and-a-half hour door-to-door trip, but there we were, ready to get off the coach and play. The 7:45 kickoff meant we could coach straight to the ground after a team brunch in Bolton, and though it made for a bit of a long day, it was the way to play a friendly against League Two opposition.

I thought about the board’s note as the players got ready to play and wondered if really, Gartside hadn’t been right. But who would want to come to a club £150 million in debt?

The players had no such thoughts, though, as I lined them up to hopefully carry all before them:

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Lonergan, White, Mills (captain), Ream, Tierney, Medo, Danns, Pratley, Finley, C. Davies, Beckford. Subs: Bogdán, Vermijl, Wheater, Moxey, Spearing, Trotter, Vela, Chung-Yong, M. Davies, Clough, Mason.

The experimentation with the eleven continued. I didn’t field a full-strength side to face Stevenage, but sent them out looking for a result. And boy, did they provide one.

It was Danns who started the fun, cleanly beating Chris Day seventeen minutes into the match after a great little square ball from Pratley, who dominated the midfield. He’s a fellow I’d love to be able to give more time because he’s very strong physically and a fine ball-winner. I don’t know how much of that time is going to be there for him, though, since central midfield is one area where this club is certainly not lacking for players.

The veteran strike pairing of Craig Davies and Beckford was also causing problems for the home side. Clough’s performance against Mechelen put the fear into both older players, and that’s good – Zach is listed as available for loan but if he keeps performing like he has been, he’s not going anywhere because he’ll be in my first team.

So it was that Beckford looked animated and interested, and he put us two goals up six minutes from half with a calm and composed finish in the Stevenage six-yard box. In first half injury time, he did it again, splitting the ball-watching Stevenage central defenders who were waiting for halftime, and acrobatically heading home his strike partner’s cross for a 3-0 halftime lead.

Beckford was expecting strokes for his play and he got them. Having three strikers on song is a dream and at this point Davies, Beckford and Clough are all doing what they are supposed to be doing.

I made three substitutions at half, including Mills, who really didn’t look terribly interested in being out there. For a vice-captain, that borders on a capital offense for me and I made sure he knew it.

Vermijl came on as well, for the youngster Hayden White, and the second half began. Twenty minutes in, the main group of substitutions took place and it took about ten minutes for them to make Stevenage completely collapse.

Dorian Dervite, of all people, made it 4-0 eleven minutes from time, shaking loose in the area to score off a corner.

Then it was another youngster, Josh Vela, who finished neatly on a back-post header two minutes later for 5-0.

Three minutes after that, it was yet another youngster – this time the on-loan striker Mason, who banked a sharp angle shot in behind the keeper to make it 6-0.

The players showed no inclination whatsoever to slow down, so with the bit between their teeth they surged forward again. And it was Clough getting a seventh, finishing on an incisive strike from sixteen yards and turning to the bench for a cocky little shrug as the home team prepared to kick off one final time.

It was a fun ride back home, even if a bit late. We had a lot to celebrate and I have even more thinking to do.

Stevenage 0
Bolton Wanderers 7 (Danns 17, Beckford 39, 45+1, Dervite 79, Vela 81, Mason 84, Clough 89)
A – 1,353, Broadhall Way, Stevenage
Man of the Match – Jermaine Beckford, Bolton (MR 8.9)

# # #
tenthreeleader's avatar Group tenthreeleader
8 yearsEdited
The list was very interesting.

Having put out a call for a Director of Football, nine applicants turned in CVs and I realized I’d have a fair group to choose from.

The first name on the shortlist was Barry Fry, and that was a bit awkward. He was the reason I was called to the Birmingham first team in 1994, since he was the manager at that time. He gave me my debut and made me a professional. He went on to run Peterborough both at field and board level. I had nothing but good things to say about Barry but the thought of employing my old boss seemed odd to me.

Steve Perryman
, former Spurs assistant and Exeter boss who had been their Director of Football for ten years, was on it too.

Veteran Nottingham Forest scout Keith Burt was on the list too, as was John Stephenson, who has served 19 years as a Director of Football for six different clubs despite being only 46 years of age.

The manager of the Wimbledon “Crazy Gang”, 69-year old Dave Bassett, applied. He is a man who knows a thing or two about getting promoted, having guided the old Dons from the old Fourth Division to the old First Division.

Mickey Walker
, who played for Bradford in the 1960s and had spent fifteen years at Doncaster in club management, applied. Young whiz Jez George, Director of Football for Vanarama Conference and FA Trophy winners Cambridge United, threw his hat in the ring.

Then, the two best names of all.

Eric Cantona
, the king of beach football and many things Manchester United, turned in a CV. There was obvious PR value in having such a luminary on staff, even if I couldn’t get the picture of a shaved-head Cantona screaming “that’s a goaaaaaaal” in a staff meeting like he did in those old Nike Secret Tournament commercials.

For passion, he could not be beaten. I just wasn’t certain he would take the kind of direction I needed him to take. Sir Alex Ferguson knew how to handle him. I wasn’t sure I could, and I didn’t want the risk with my job on the line as well.

And finally, there was one more name that leaped at me off the list.

Steve Coppell, who was a £60,000 purchase by Manchester United from Tranmere in 1974, was interested too. After nine seasons at United, he went on to manage Crystal Palace no less than four times, where he was named manager of the club’s Centenary XI. He also did stints at Brentford, Brighton, Bristol City and for 33 days not entirely unlike Brian Clough’s in “The Damned United”, at Manchester City.

Yet it was his work at Reading that most interested me.

In 2006, Coppell’s team lost on opening day against Plymouth Argyle – and then not again in the league until February, a span of 33 matches. The Royals set the all-time English record for points with 106 and reached the Premiership for the first time in the 135-year history of the club.

He won the Championship on a budget. He was not controversial. He did it mostly with British players. And he has a degree in economics, which he earned while an active player. In short, he was the man if he really wanted the job.

Since Steve has that economics degree, he wasn’t an easy sell and my negotiation with him was, like the man himself, tough but very fair. After an afternoon on the phone and a meeting at the stadium, he put pen to paper and suddenly I felt a lot better about player acquisition.

Maybe Gartside had been right after all.

# # #
Our first meeting went exactly as I had hoped it would. I wanted a no-nonsense guy and there is no more no-nonsense guy in the English game at the moment than Steve Coppell.

I don’t think anyone’s ever seen him smile on a football pitch. If they have, they’ve kept quiet about it. That’s not to say the man’s unfriendly or dour – but it is to say that Steve is all business when it comes to his job.

I gave a list of loan players I want to see find new clubs but there are some youngsters that I plan on keeping around, and not just because Gartside wants to see them play.

Zach Clough is showing me something. Quite a bit, in fact. So is Hall. Vermijl has played brightly since his loan began and I like that too. What I wanted was Coppell’s advice on whether to give them more first team exposure – from a footballing standpoint.

He’s good at spotting young talent and evaluating it. He agreed with me, and not just because I’m his boss. He agreed with me because he saw the same things I did, and he had done it before we ever spoke.

In our first meeting, he produced notes on the team that he had made himself from watching our videos.

“I stayed up a bit late last night, Bobby,” he said, with a confident but tired expression. I tried, and failed, to hide my surprise.

He took out a Surface, hooked up a keyboard and called up his notes on all three players, handing the tablet over to me when he was done. “This is what I see in those three.”

Slowly, my face broke into a slight smile.

“I should have known you’d come prepared,” I said. “Good, then. Let’s leave Clough and Hall off the loan list for the time being. I like Clough’s nose for goal. He can finish.”

“Yes, he can,” Coppell agreed. “We have a few players who can do that but we don’t have that pure finisher when Beckford is not in.”

“Sometimes Beckford isn’t in even when he’s in,” I mused, and Coppell nodded.

“That’s the knock against him,” he agreed. “Saw that against Mechelen.”

“Mason is another one who might get a long look,” I said. “I like him paired with Clough. Lots of energy and enthusiasm.”

“And two loan players in the group,” he said. “That isn’t so good.”

I grinned at him now. “Steve, you’re the Director of Football, how about doing something about that once they’ve made the grade?”

For once, the marble man broke into a smile.

“So I am, Bobby,” he said. “So I am. And I will.”
# # #
Coming from your other story onto this one and wow.. again so much detail! You must dedicate your life to writing! Haha. Amazing work.
Thank you very much for the kind words! I enjoy researching the stories I write. :) And I do happen to be a professional writer so I guess you could say that yes, I've devoted my life to it...

26 July 2014 – Yeovil Town v Bolton Wanderers
Friendly #5 – Huish Park, Yeovil

As trips went, this one was even longer than to Stevenage.

It was a four-hour trip from the northwest to Somerset, nearly 250 miles one-way. As such, it was a long away day for my team, but we were still expected to win and win well.

Coppell made the trip with us and sat in the Directors Box directly behind the benches. Huish Park isn’t the biggest in England – it holds just over 9,500 and of that number, just 5,212 are actually seated. So Coppell was in select company.

At least this pitch wasn’t sloped, unlike its famous predecessor, the Huish Athletic Ground, which featured an eight-foot side-to-side slope before it was demolished to make way for a Tesco in 1990.

It wasn’t a terrific surprise that the Glovers were relegated from the Championship last season after earning promotion from League One through the playoffs in 2013. They were one of the smaller clubs in the division, but the club has a longstanding habit of punching above its weight, especially in Cup competitions.

Since the club finally made it into the Football League in 2003, the giant-killing hasn’t been quiet as frequent, but they were still going to be a good test.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Lonergan, Vermijl, Mills, Wheater, McNaughton, Spearing (captain), Chung-Yong, Trotter, Hall, C. Davies, Clough. Subs: Bogdán, Ream, Tierney, Dervite, White, Moxey, Medo, Vela, Feeney, Danns, Mason, Beckford.

The first half was a shooting gallery, and the Yeovil faithful could have been excused for thinking the slope of the old Huish had been reinstalled at the new, only running downhill from our goal to theirs. We were exceptional. We did everything but score.

That wasn’t so exceptional, but I was trying a new strike pairing, with the veteran Craig Davies harassing the back line for the benefit of Clough up front. They were bright, sharp and dominated the offensive third but everyone in our third strip was highly wasteful in front of goal.

For a manager who is so concerned about defence, finding the range and taking chances is even more important to me, so my halftime team talk centered around simply finding the breakthrough. Being scoreless against a relegated side was not the worst thing in the world, but we needed to be better.

Four minutes into the second half, we were, as Davies found some space in the home team’s penalty area only to be brought to ground by Jakob Sokolik. Official Bobby Madley rightly pointed to the spot and Dean Moxey found the top left corner of the goal to get us started.

Three minutes later we were celebrating again, as 20-year old defender Ben Nugent’s first touch was a simply horrific back pass to keeper Artur Krysiak. Clough was closer to the ball, stole it, and had the simplest of finishes for 2-0 in 52 minutes.

But Yeovil came back, with winter A.J. Leitch-Smith put clean through on goal due to slipshod defending. His effort was stopped by Lonergan but Tierney couldn’t get our lines cleared and Kieffer Moore was there to make us pay for it. Ten minutes into the second half and there were already three goals on the board.

We kept up the pressure though, and finally our offensive superiority began to tell. Tierney, Chung-Yong and Davies worked a perfect three-way passing play at the left side of the Yeovil 18, with Davies finishing to make it 3-1 in 64 minutes – but I was steaming mad again fourteen minutes later when for some reason we left Leitch-Smith absolutely unmarked in front of Lonergan, who was helpless as the striker rammed in a free header from Moore to make it 3-2.

That was enough for me. I stood and walked to the touchline, loudly asking my defenders if henceforth they wouldn’t mind playing with their heads in a location where it was possible for them to see.

It also brought about a formation change, to a flat 4-4-2 to see if we could kill the game and counter Yeovil out of it. This we did five minutes from time, with Beckford leading a counter and finding Mason on a fine little run from the left channel to put away the game.

Offensively, we’re very fluid, having netted 22 times in five matches. But we’ve conceded nine against lesser opposition and that’s just too many. We’ll have to work on the defensive side of the game because the Championship will demand it.

Yeovil Town 2 (Kieffer Moore 52, A.J. Leitch-Smith 78)
Bolton Wanderers 4 (Dean Moxey 49 pen, Zach Clough 52, Craig Davies 64, Joe Mason 85)
A – 1,503, Huish Park, Yeovil
Man of the Match – Lee Chung-Yong, Bolton (MR 7.9)

# # #
We looked pretty good, all things considered. But I want more work done on defensive positioning so that’s how the squad is now going to be trained until I’m happier with what I see.

Simply put, some of the Championship opposition we will face is going to abuse us if we don’t get it right at the back. Too, right now we’re so good going forward, sometimes we’ll leave gaps which will leave us open to disorganization and counterattack.

We can dominate lesser clubs and the more I see of 4-1-3-2 the more I like it, but in all honesty there are some holes to patch up.

And I am starting to think I need to do something about Mills. In each of the last three friendlies, he’s looked like he’s mailing it in. And as he’s vice-captain, I can’t abide that from him.

I’ve gone to the touchline to encourage him, challenge him, you name it. Nothing seems to work. He’s coasting at a time no one at the club can afford to coast.

Spooner has his issues with Mills too, which makes me wonder if a change is needed. He’s popular with his teammates, though, and I need the dressing room under control especially in the early portion of my tenure.

Ah, the decisions I have to make.

With eight days separating the Yeovil match from our final friendly against Hamilton Accies, one of those decisions, alas, was not whether to attend the club’s annual sponsors’ dinner. It’s very much a requirement, especially for the rookie manager.

Attending the event meant trying to understand some Italian, as the club’s new sponsor is an Italian-based company. It was held in the complex’s Platinum Suite, part of the Bolton Whites Hotel attached to the stadium.

Macron Sportswear is making modest inroads into the English football market, as the supplier for Crystal Palace and Aston Villa in the Premiership as well as, of course, ourselves in the Championship. They also outfit about three dozen other smaller clubs in England as well as Motherwell in Scotland, a few Serie A clubs, most premier clubs in Wales and the Republic of Ireland, and Mallorca and Betis in Spain among others.

With the season about to start, the company higher-ups were in attendance, making a more or less whirlwind tour of the clubs they handle. Since Bolton is the only English club where the company has naming rights, our party at the Macron Stadium was really their show.

Company president Francesco Bormioli and CEO Gianluca Pavanello were Gartside’s special guests, and why not? They were giving the club a fair sum in exchange for naming rights as well as the chance to put their logo on our shirts for two seasons.

When we met, Bormioli’s first question was how often I was going to be able to get his logo on television. I think he was joking. To a point.

Obviously, he wants us to be successful and after having missed out on the playoffs last season by a single point, he’s banking on us getting promoted so we can give him more exposure in the Premier League. We must be a good bet to some people.

“As often as we can, Mr. Bormioli,” I finally answered, before taking my leave to schmooze other sponsors.

I’m not what you’d call a social butterfly. Holly would tell you that. She’d tell you some other things, too, some of which are true and others of which are bull patties.

Still, I did my part for the club, shaking hands, listening to stories about past Sunday league glories, of how their neighbour’s kid was a trainee at Bury, that sort of thing. At events like these, where optimism is high, everyone wants to find something in common with the manager.

But in December, when the club has gone six without a win and the topic of conversation is shifted from finding something in common to “you’re getting sacked in the morning”, managers tend to remember days like these with a little disdain.

But, the sponsors pay some of the bills, so I owed them a bit of my time. That’s what they got – a bit – until I headed off to a quiet corner to listen to music and greet people as they approached me.

While I was at it, I took out my phone and started to make some notes on players. I guess I just can’t help myself.

As I wrote, Gartside approached and sat a couple of seats over at my table. I looked up and we began to speak. I turned to my right and looked at Pickering, who wore a rather attractive outfit.

Keep your eyes high,” I reminded myself, and then realized that wasn’t such a great idea either, because she was standing and I was seated.

Maybe lower,” I thought, but that would have been worse yet.

It seemed odd, but Gartside was the better option.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

“Just getting off my feet for awhile,” the chairman said. “Hope you don’t mind.”

“Just taking some notes. No trouble at all.”

Pickering spoke.

“What do you do with them once you’re done?” she asked,

“Well, I e-mail the important ones to Dell, my PA, and she is kind enough to keep electronic and paper files for me. I’ll refer to them as I need to.”

She nodded her head. Her blonde hair bobbled just so as she did, and I had to make some mental reminders to myself.

I myself never had that hair problem. I always wore it short, and when, like my dad, I started to lose it at an early age, I cut it shorter. I’ve been told it looks good cropped, and I wear it like the actor Neal McDonough. Only he’s much better looking.

Kim, on the other hand, well, she looked like she stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad. That was starting to cause problems for me.

“Well, it sounds like a good system,” she said. She smiled, and I found it very difficult not to smile back.

Actually, it’s not a very good system at all, so perhaps she was just being polite. Gartside got up to resume his circuits of the suite and I followed his lead. No sense sitting around when the boss was working.

# # #
Blake giggled like a little boy. Since he was one, that was a good thing.

He was getting his first look at Dad’s new work place and he liked it a lot. It was after training so the players were on their way home, and the two of us were walking the Macron Stadium pitch.

He had a football at his feet. It looks like Blake’s a natural, and that shouldn’t be surprising giving his paternal lineage. We held hands while he dribbled up and down the touchline.

It was a scheduled visit. Behind us, Holly and her new husband, Darin Wagner, walked a little more slowly.

He wasn’t hurting for money, and between that and the child support I was paying for Blake, he really lacked for nothing. That was good for me to know – no decent dad likes to see his child wanting anything.

But what I think Blake really wanted was time with me. He just looked happy, and whenever he’s near I’m happy too.

He had my blonde hair, probably in more ways than one given what I’ve lost, and he wore it longer. But he just looked like he was having fun.

“Look, Daddy,” he cried, taking off and kicking the ball far ahead, chasing it in a jumble of blonde hair, flying arms and flapping legs. It was just plain cute. “I’m you!”

“Go, Blake, go!” I yelled, laughing as he flailed after the ball. It was heartwarming. I stopped to watch him, while Holly and Darin couldn’t help but catch up.

“He’s having a good time,” I observed, as Blake took off toward the nearest goal.

“He deserves that,” Darin said.

I have a hard time reading Darin. Tall and strong, he has the same kind of blonde hair I used to have, but the guy was pretty well put together and didn’t mind showing it. He wore a tight fitting golf shirt that showed off biceps which could probably bend steel, and given the way my ex-wife was looking at him, I’m sure that pleased her to no end.

I wondered if that helped him sell any cars, decided the thought wasn’t worth pursing, and turned back to Blake.

“Tell me you aren’t going to take him on any away trips,” Holly finally said. That redirected my attention.

“Now, why on earth would I do that?” I’m working on those trips and they aren’t for children.”

“There was that trial day in Birmingham last year,” she said. “I almost strung you up for that.”

I frowned. “It was a fun day at the ground,” I said. “And that’s a little dramatic. I never left his side.”

“The judge disagreed,” Darin said, sticking his nose, which I’m sure was also muscular, in a place it really didn’t belong.

I shot him a sharp look, but that didn’t really frighten him. He held all the cards and he knew it.

If I said anything, they’d haul me back into court. I really didn’t want that.

“I’m not going to argue with you,” I finally said.

“That’s right,” Holly said. “You aren’t.”

“I do so love these little visits,” I mused, looking back at the reason for that visit now having fun dribbling in the six-yard box on his way to goal. I’m willing to put up with a lot of crap to make sure those visits continue.
# # #
definitely the best written story on here, great read mate

a few images and this would be perfect
Thank you for the kind words ... greatly appreciated!

As my profile page notes, I'm the FMS mod on the SEGA company boards, and since day one there that forum has had a house rule against images. That goes back to the days of dialup and I've always written without them as a result. I'll include a few if they add to the story. Thanks for the feedback, it is always welcome :)


Mills can’t stay out of his own way. Or, for that matter, out of Tierney’s.

Prior to the last friendly against Hamilton, Mills took his eye off his teammate during a training drill and wound up stepping on Tierney’s left foot, with the team’s best fullback limping out of the training ground at Euxton Lane and straight into treatment.

It was another black mark for Mills, who is starting to accumulate them. But there was better news between friendlies as well.

Coppell was already starting to pay dividends in his new position, finding a season-long loan spot at League One Bristol City for £600,000-rated striker Sanmi Odelusi and as importantly, getting the Robins to pay his £110,000 annual salary in full.

Hungarian keeper Erik Bukrán left for a season-long loan at Conference National club Chester the next day, freeing up a bit more space on the books and giving another promising young talent the chance to play first-team football.

That led to the second piece of good news – the resulting ease on the payroll budget allowed Gartside to text me that my request to begin study for the UEFA Pro License had been granted and the club would not only enroll me but would also foot the £6,000 bill.

That license will allow me to manage in the Premiership if I get Bolton there, or some other club if that day ever arrives. You also have to have the Pro license to manage in either the Champions League or the Europa League, but both of those ideas are a bit far off yet.

It’s going to be a lot of work. The course generally takes twelve months to complete, and Gartside was also kind enough to tell me that he had arranged for a dispensation for me since the mandatory ten-day residency training that starts the course took place before I was hired.

Much of the work is actually going to be done at the club, for obvious reasons, since I’m employed here. All I need to do is keep my job and I can start and finish the training right in my office.

It’s very involved. There are sixteen modules covering every topic from improving player performance to big match preparation to technology and media.

There’s also a trip to the Continent in store for me someplace, though UEFA will decide exactly where that trip will take me. The idea is to see how other license holders approach their fixtures and get an idea of how larger clubs are laid out from a technical standpoint. It will be, in a word, fascinating.

The course ends with a study week at the University of Warwick near Coventry, and then everything is done. Along the way, I’ll hear from luminaries in the profession, former England managers (though lately, that doesn’t necessarily mean a hell of a lot in terms of how to win things) and experts in physiology, sports psychology and business.

Instead of the Pro License, Coppell has a diploma from the FA for being a manager of long standing before the license became a requirement, and when he heard, I got a nice note of congratulations on being allowed to take part.

I also heard from Kim Pickering again, through an addendum on her forward of Gartside’s e-mail outlining the course I was to take.

“Congratulations, Bobby,”
she wrote. “You’re going to be great.”

# # #
Working on a season programme is something a manager does because it’s part of his job. For me, though, it’s a part of my license course so I’m approaching it in a slightly different way.

Documentation is the key. After a conference call catch-up session to get me more or less in line with the current cohort of students working for the Pro License, the documentation of the season plan is the thing in the eyes of UEFA.

Since I don’t have time right at the moment to see how UEFA wants me to do it, I’m working with Coppell on putting down on paper the things I instinctively know have to be done.

Training schedules. Finding areas of strength and weakness. Putting players on individualized plans to improve skills and confidence. Those are all things UEFA are looking for and I’ll have to provide proof of them.

As I wrote, the word defence kept popping into my head and then onto my word processor for far too many players.

All the scheming is making for a few late nights of added work for me as we prepare for the last friendly at Hamilton.

Accies are now an established member of the Scottish Premier League and should give us one difficult last test before we prepare to start our own 46-match grind in the Championship against Watford. I have an eleven in mind for that match, and those who play at Hamilton will probably be the ones I start the season with.

Hall is in it. For now, so is Clough. I want one more look at the kid before turning him loose on the Championship.

It’s hard to separate the four strikers since they’re all playing well now. I like Clough with Mason, but Davies and Beckford give me some steel and veteran presence. I haven’t made up my mind about the first choice pairing yet but for reasons I’ve already described, I don’t see us playing with a lone man up front.

Spearing and Mark Davies make up the center of the midfield with Hall and Chung-Yong on the wings. Vela and Medo are right on the fringes and so is Ream, who needs time to play too.

Mills, as much as he annoys me at times, is in the centre of defence along with Wheater or Dervite, with Vermijl and Moxey at the full backs backed up by McNaughton. And Bogdán is in goal, though on a short leash. I’ve not been best pleased with his play when I’ve seen him and noted that Lonergan has been better at times.

One thing I do have, though, is competition for places, especially in midfield. The squad is at a very nice size for what we have to do, I’ve only had to bring in one player so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing what these players can do when the matches start to count.

The first one will be a literal homecoming for me. We start the season at Watford, so I’ll return to Vicarage Road for the lid-lifter on the season. That will be nice – the Hornets treated me well after purchasing my contract from Birmingham – but obviously there will be no love lost after kickoff.

I’m also looking forward to going back to Birmingham on the 18th October. It will be a great trip for me – most people I know don’t mind returning to their spiritual footballing homes – but to go back as a boss will be especially nice.

I haven’t been to St. Andrews since the day I was released and since I don’t harbor a lingering animus toward the club, I would hope it would go well. It hurt to be let go, of course, but there’s a part of me that really wants to go there and win.

We also finish the season against them on 2 May at home. That will also be great, especially if we’re playing for something on that date. My boyhood club may have a lot to say in the outcome of our season.
# # #
4 August 2014 – Hamilton Academical v Bolton Wanderers
Friendly #6 – New Douglas Park, Hamilton, Scotland

This was a curtain-raiser for what I hope will be my first team.

And I did it. I removed Mills from his vice-captaincy role because I don’t care for how he approaches the game. His complacency showed through again today and when the game was over I announced that David Wheater will be Spearing’s deputy instead.

And this on a day when we played well.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Bogdán, Vermijl, Mills, Ream, McNaughton, Spearing (captain), Chung-Yong, M. Davies, Hall, Mason, Clough. Subs: Lonergan, Wheater, Dervite, White, Moxey, Medo, Trotter, Feeney, Danns, Pratley, Davies, Beckford.

We started brilliantly, in fact. Our first two good chances both found the back of Blair Currie’s goal.

The first came only four minutes into the match, when Chung-Yong stole the ball at midfield and dropped it back to Mark Davies ten yards back. Looking up, the playmaker chipped a glorious ball just over the straining leap of defender Jesus Garcia Tena and onto the run of Mason, conveniently played onside by Accies defender Stephen Hendrie. Mason finished strongly for 1-nil.

Eight minutes later, we had it in their net again as Chung-Yong again provided for Mason, with the support man being forced to the byline at the left edge of the eighteen. But the loanee surprised me again, chipping to his left to find the end of a great diagonal run across the box by Hall, who knocked the cross home to get us two to the good.

The difference between this match and the last few was that we held our shape defensively and when Accies tried to get back in the match, we closed them down hard. Bogdán only had to make one difficult save in the first half.

Then I looked at Mills.

He jogged. He trotted. He looked like he was there for exercise rather than to play football. He wasn’t paying attention. A pointed directive to grab his ears and pull so his head would pop out of the place it was hiding didn’t help. Halftime came, and we were still ahead 2-0.

I grabbed Spooner by the arm as we headed to the dressing room for halftime.

“Talk with Mills,” I said. “If I do it, he’s not coming out for the second half.”

He nodded. He had seen the same things I had.

In the second half, Mills was equally lethargic and 66 minutes into the match I did something I have never seen done at any level before. I changed out not just Mills, but my entire team except for my goalkeeper.

With that, the new Bolton went out and asserted itself. In 78 minutes, Feeney had the ball on the left and lofted an absolutely delicious, raking fifty-yard ball onto the run of Jermaine Beckford who entered the area, cut around the hapless defenders trying to close him, and scored along the floor to make it 3-0 to us.

At that point it was a matter of closing out the match. I wanted a clean sheet very badly and it was pretty obvious from the way I paced the touchline.

The players gave it to me. I think we’re ready for the season.

Hamilton Accies 0
Bolton Wanderers 3 (Mason 5, Hall 12, Beckford 78)
A – 1,268, New Douglas Park, Hamilton
Man of the Match – Mark Davies, Bolton (MR 7.8)

# # #
“You know, there are laws against that sort of thing.”

Spooner was grinning as he spoke. Before him sat a team sheet. I wanted my deputy to fill one out to see if it matched mine.

“Bite your tongue,” I replied.

“Better if she does it,” he laughed. “She’s…well…she’s pretty fit.”

We were talking about Kim, but I wasn’t quite as comfortable doing so while on Bolton FC property. There are, after all, laws against that sort of thing.

“Pretty fit doesn’t describe her,” I mused. Over a pint at the pub, this would be a much more comfortable conversation.

Instead, we sat in my office at the Macron Stadium and we were down the hall from the workout areas, which are open to staff use when the players aren’t present. With the season opener just 72 hours away, it was one of the rare moments of ‘down time’ before the rigors of the Championship would begin to consume us.

We were in a good mood after the Hamilton match. The team had performed well and ‘run the table’, winning all six of its friendlies and scoring 25 goals in the process. We felt good about our chances.

We had walked down the hall to my office and seen Kim walking in the other direction, having just completed her workout. Spooner stared as she passed, while I chuckled and grabbed my assistant by the arm to keep him moving.

I looked above the door to the workout room, where I had directed that a sign be installed with one of my mottos:

“There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”

I wanted my players to read it, but as we left my office I saw Kim reading the sign too. She had taken the stairs. I had seen all I needed to see. So to speak.

She wore a white halter top that fit quite snugly indeed, black compression shorts and ankle socks that fit nicely inside a pair of brand-new Nike cross-trainers. She wore her long, curly blonde hair in a pony tail and had smiled at me (I imagined) with the same type of enthusiasm I had seen in my office and outside the board room.

While I had seen the young lady before, Spooner evidently hadn’t. That was to be expected given our respective roles. For me, though, our increasingly frequent path-crossing was starting to get a little uncomfortable.

She looked, in a word, fantastic. She made me want to lose the ten pounds or so I had gained since I retired. And she clearly fancied me.

“You know you aren’t supposed to dip your pen in the company inkwell,” Spooner joked again. It was starting to get a little annoying.

“I’m well aware of that, gooseberry,” I replied, as I looked across my desk at him. It was my turn to smile. “Now, are you going to fill out that sheet or not?”

As he complied, I thought about Kim Pickering again. Because, if workplace relationships aren’t handled correctly, there really are laws against that sort of thing.

# # #
I was having a hard time believing what I was reading, as our coach chugged down the M5 past Castle Bromwich near my old Birmingham stomping grounds.

Six friendlies. Twenty-five goals. A fluency in attractive, attacking football I couldn’t have dreamed was possible after only three weeks in charge. These players were performing admirably – and the manager was getting slagged off in print by the fans’ rep.

Spooner, ever helpful, had called my attention to an online article in the Bolton News by chief football writer Brandon King, which sized up our chances for the season.

The press fancies us for seventh place. That would not be quite good enough for me, as it’s one place out of the playoff places, but given what the board expects of me, it would probably be good enough for them.

I’m expected to have a respectable finish, according to them. But according to King, the fans think we’re boring. Frankly, that’s amazing to me.

While it was noted that yes, the Trotters were scoring goals by the bagful, Fans Representative Matt Mullins had said his group of supporters were not best pleased with how we were coming up with our goals and was concerned for the season as a result.

When we have attacked more directly, at times we have been devastating. But to some that smacks of Route One long ball, even though it’s not. I want my players to be able to spot the opportunity for a killer ball and then be able to place such a ball when the time comes. It’s that simple.

“Divvy,” I sighed, resting my phone on the arm of my coach seat. “Maybe we should have put double figures on Stevenage. That’d make everyone happy, yeah?”

Brandon’s a decent bloke,” Spooner said of the reporter. “The rest of the article was fair.”

“That’s as may be, but why do people like him always have to find someone who isn’t happy?” I asked. “Honestly, it’s enough to make you scream.”

“Don’t be so sensitive,” he replied from across the aisle. My seat was on the left in the front row and his was on the right behind the driver.

Our coach contained the twenty players on the travel roster – the eighteen plus two spares in case of pestilence – and four coaches. A second coach traveling behind contained the physio staff, traveling board members and other club support personnel. In total, just over forty people were making the trek south.

I could expect to see our Tower FM broadcasters Paul Higgs and Gary Henshaw and Jack Dearden of the BBC’s Manchester Sports Team when we got to the hotel. They would both do a pre-match interview for use on their respective shows.

Dearden is an older gentleman who loves Super League when he’s not covering us, and three years ago famously was invited to the Bolton board room for drinks after we stayed in the Premiership on the last day of the season. A board member said, ‘we should never go through a season like that again’, and Jack’s answer was ‘why not’?

Honestly. He said it was about the thrill of staying up. That’s a little more drama than most managers and money men can endure.

Still stewing a bit from the article, I stepped off the coach at our hotel in northwest London, from which we will coach to Vicarage Road tomorrow.

I’d like to put on a show. But I’d settle for a win.

# # #
9 August 2014 – Watford v Bolton Wanderers
Championship Game Day #1 – Vicarage Road, Watford

There’s nothing like the first match of the season to get the blood pumping. Especially here, for me.

I awoke after a surprisingly sound sleep staring at the ceiling of my hotel room and officially anxious to get the day started.

Unfortunately, we were going to have to lie around the hotel for the morning, since we had a late kickoff. That’s the kind of thing that will drive some managers nuts.

There’s a lot to be said for a noon kickoff when you’re away. There’s very little down time. You’re up early, you’re on the coach early, you’re to the ground early and you are ready for business by ten o’clock sharp.

With a late kickoff, it’s not so easy. The team breakfast is the team breakfast no matter what, but after that some players go back to their rooms, others congregate in little groups in the lobby or wherever to watch the morning preview shows, and others just sit with their music on and listen to whatever catches their fancy in the interests of killing time.

Unless the match is very close to home, you don’t want to deaden the players by making them take a long coach ride on the day of the match either. You want them as fresh as possible, and since it’s a three-plus hour drive down from Bolton, that’s really not an option. So, you wait and then make the best of it.

Too, I don’t like to get to the ground too early on those days – it just transfers the sense of inertia to a place you don’t want to feel like you’re spinning your wheels. Give me the early kickoff any day. We arrive two hours before the match and I plan out our activities right up until kickoff.

I wrote down my routine for the folks at UEFA grading my coaching course, and knew it would be fine because it’s how every team I’m aware of does business.

But when we finally did get to the ground it was much better. I liked the professional attitude of the players and my first team talk in a meaningful game stared me in the face just before we lined up to take the pitch.

It was a homecoming of sorts as I’ve already mentioned – I was well acquainted with the ground so getting settled in was no problem. Especially on a day like today where nerves rule until the first ball is kicked, feeling comfortable is important.

Addressing the squad, I got everything under way.

“I’m pleased with what I have seen so far, but you’ve played games where the only consequence is that the next week you forget who you played last week,” I said. “Now, things change and you all know it. There is a lot of talent in this room. I think there’s enough talent here to finish in the top six. You’ve shown you can beat some pretty decent clubs and you can do the business against teams you are supposed to beat. Well, today is a winnable game. You aren’t fancied to win but that’s all right, because when you play like you can play, you’ll surprise the league. Stay in the system, remember your roles and remember your individual assignments.”

I moved to the center of the room with an arm extended to the middle. The players took that as their cue and rose to make a hands-in circle.

“Do the fans proud today, lads,” I said. “Have a good season and be sure you get off on the right foot. Let’s go.”

They gave a quick cheer and filed past me on the way out the door. It was about to begin.

# # #

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