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[FM15] - Malone Again, Naturally

Started on 22 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 25 January 2016 by tenthreeleader
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Silly kid, you want to score goals! Even if it hurts! Time to get some bravery for that boy.
The press in Birmingham is already talking about “The Return of Bobby Malone”. That’s a nice thing.

After a highly indifferent start to the season, my beloved Blues are up to fifteenth in the table and if they keep near that position, they’ll stay up and that was more than was predicted for them. Some had even pegged them for the drop this season, and I’m not sure how I’d handle that when all is said and done if it happens.

The thought of my family club again playing in League One is frankly horrifying to me and so it’s with a bit of trepidation that I approach the match against my boyhood club. Victory for my club will make it harder for them.

When I was called up to the Birmingham senior squad in 1994, the Blues were in their second stretch in the old Third Division. I didn’t play a whole lot that first season – but we won the league, got promoted, won the Football League Trophy as a double, and the Blues haven’t been back that far down since.

It’s the nature of the game, I suppose. They say nobody has any loyalty any more – but then in the high-pressure world of the modern game, job security is so fleeting that sometimes it’s hard to stick around long enough to build loyalty in the first place.

I had been lucky, as my father had been, to have played for a club that was willing to give us a chance and stick with us while we learned the trade.

Dad was more of a natural than I ever was. I was the kind of player who had to earn everything I got through extremely hard work. That isn’t to say that he didn’t work hard – from the movies I saw of him in action, he had as much graft as anyone – but I didn’t have his natural skill.

As a “working man’s footballer”, if you will, that made things a bit hard on me. But when I succeeded, as I eventually did, it was that much sweeter because of the relationship I developed with the supporters.

The Birmingham Mail, which covers all the area clubs including Villa, Wolves and West Brom among others, ran a very nice photo spread of both me and my dad (including a picture of the two of us together on the St. Andrews pitch taken about six weeks before he was killed).

That was very nice. And in the buildup to the match, I had the chance to work with a few players who both needed the work and were on hand to receive it. Players like Vela, Danns, Trotter and Tierney learned what they need to do to get into the eleven on a more regular basis.

And thanks to the break, I also got more time with Blake, which was wonderful. The terms of my settlement said that if I was employed by a club, breaks of more than seven days would include automatic visitation and, since we were heading to Birmingham anyway to end the break, some of that time could be spent at my place there.

Of course, Kim was a big part of that as well, and even took a couple of days off over the first break weekend so we could have four days together.

For a person as busy as I am, that was heaven-sent. I still spent my evenings with my nose buried in video of the Blues and our following opponent, Charlton, but the joy in having Blake and Kim near me was really profound.

His leg injury healed soon enough, and we were out and running around in no time after he felt better. He kept repeating how much it hurt after we drove home that day and that is the sort of thing that makes every dad worth his salt feel a bit upset.

And then there’s Kim.

I haven’t felt this secure in years, to be honest. She’s devoted, kind, wonderful, all the things I thought I had with Holly but somehow never seemed to really find.

I feel badly that in the job I’m in, too often football seems to come before her needs. I try my best but at times, I don’t feel like that’s really enough.

Yet she stays patient with me and while our relationship is new, that will probably be good enough. But as time passes, the toll the game takes on relationships may tell and that would be very, very sad.

For now, though, I’m the only one who seems to think along those lines. Call it the fatalist in me, I guess.

I’ve seen enough in this game over the years to know that what I’ve got is both very nice and something I don’t want to screw up.

She’s wonderful with Blake, who hasn’t forgotten how kind she was at the stadium on the day he got his Bolton shirt, and she has bent over backwards to be good to the lad.

The night before he returned to Holly, Blake went to sleep on the hide-a-bed in my couch while watching television, and Kim got a wonderfully happy expression on her face as she watched him sleep.

“So innocent,” she said, and I nodded in reply. Kim crossed to Blake, covered him with a comforter and moved to sit in my lap in my overstuffed easy chair.

She leaned her head against my shoulder and ran her left index finger up and down the line of my jaw. Her eyes opened slightly wider as I looked at her and I couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re perfect,” I said, hugging her to me.

“I’m glad you think so,” she cooed, nuzzling in close. “I could really get used to this.”

# # #
18 October 2014 - Birmingham City (4-2-5, 15th place) v Bolton Wanderers (8-2-1, 1st place)
Championship Match Day #12 – St. Andrew’s, Birmingham


"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." – Robert Wolfe

As the coach turned onto Cattell Road off the A45 roundabout through Bordesley, I put away a copy of a book I’ve been reading since the day I was hired.

“You Can’t Go Home Again” was compiled from Robert Wolfe’s unpublished manuscript known as “The October Fair”, which, given the time of year, also seemed fitting.

Wolfe’s doppleganger, George Webber, is given the words at the top of this entry and they were on my mind as I left the coach, to be greeted at the players’ door by a large group of blue-clad fans and manager Lee Clark, who was waiting inside.

“Welcome home, Bobby,” he said diplomatically, extending his hand. I had played against Lee when he first was with Newcastle and then with Sunderland in the Premier League, so his face wasn’t unfamiliar to me.

“Thank you,” I replied just as diplomatically, turning to give a wave to the fans assembled behind barricades placed on either side of the door. In a profound way, this was indeed ‘home’ in a footballing sense.

I had played here as a visitor only once, in a League Cup match in my second and final season with Watford. By then I was a squad player, a veteran who couldn’t give ninety minutes each week any more but who could put some life into an attack for the last half hour if need be. I came on as a substitute in a 2-1 loss and I didn’t score against my old team, which was probably for the best.

My reception had been very warm that night and I expected it would be again in a few hours as I put my things in the visiting manager’s office. But I knew full well that once the match started I’d be just the ‘other boss’ and therefore subject to the same scorn as anyone else facing the Blues on their own patch.

There was a slight difference this time, though. For the first and only time this season, I didn’t spend the night prior to the match with the team. I spent it at home, with Blake and Kim.

I returned the boy to Holly and Darin that morning before leaving for the team hotel, and, in the midst of barely-concealed hostility between Darin and Kim, did just that.

They headed to the ground. Darin and Holly were bringing Blake to the match at my request – but they were guests of the Birmingham board since Blake was with his mother. That little detail was worked out by Kim, in communication with the Blues’ front office. And if she was angry about it, as she probably was, she didn’t say so to me.

They were sat in the club’s 1875 Suite, while my girlfriend traveled with the Bolton official party. Blake had wanted to wear his Bolton shirt but that would hardly have done in Birmingham’s hospitality area, so my son sat at a window seat with a chocolate drink and a Birmingham blue shirt on instead.

There was an air of familiarity about the pre-match preparation but in the end, my pre-match team talk made no mention whatever of anything personal from me. I concentrated on the match at hand and told the players to go from strength to strength.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Bogdán: McNaughton, Wheater (captain), Mills, Vermijl, Trotter, Hall, Vela, Moxey, C. Davies, Beckford. Subs: Lonergan, Dervite, Feeney, Danns, M. Davies, Iliev, Clough.

With that, the players lined up and I stood at the back of the line, to follow my team onto the pitch where I had played for so many years. The lines began to move forward and when I finally reached the pitch, the fans gave me quite a warm reception indeed.

It was a shame the grand old place was only half full, but I still stood briefly on the touchline and applauded the fans on all sides, first turning to my right to face the Railway Stand, where the visiting supporters were housed, and then turning in a slow circle to my right to the Main Stand, the Tilton Road end and finally the Kop Stand across from the players benches.

Once the match started, though, it was all business and that’s the way it ought to be. From that moment, I was no longer a Blue and it hurt for a few moments but once we made the first big mistake of the match, the past was forgotten.

It was Vela, who has been bugging me for playing time, who made it, and it took him less than ten minutes.

On Birmingham’s first serious foray forward, Vela upended David Cotterill just inside the area. I thought Cotterill made a meal of it, as he fell heavily to minimal contact, but there was just enough in it to give them a spot kick six minutes into the match.

All I had to do was look at the twenty-year old midfielder to let him know that if he wants more playing time, there are better ways for him to earn it. There had been contact, and Vela had made the referee make a decision. That’s all an attacking player wants to do in the box anyway, and the referee’s decision was to put them twelve yards from goal.

Cotterill took the ball, placed it on the spot like it was made of crystal, and then took one of the worst penalties I’ve ever seen. He smashed it straight down the middle, thinking Bogdán would dive to either side.

The problem was that Cotterill kept his eyes right on the target throughout, and my keeper earned the easiest penalty save of his life simply by staying rooted to the spot.

He beat the ball straight down into the ground and leapt up to control the rebound, ending that threat almost literally as soon as it began. The home crowd howled with disappointment and Bogdán resumed play with a quick throw to Vermijl on his left.

The penalty miss gave us – and especially Vela – a big lift and it didn’t take us long to take advantage.

So much of our attacking play seems to be going through Moxey at the moment, and when he’s in midfield as opposed to left back we are a much better team.

So it should not have been a surprise to anyone that our fightback would come through him.

He and Vermijl worked a very nice little overlap a few minutes after the penalty miss, with the full back dropping the ball to the midfielder at the corner of the penalty area. His cross found Hall slashing in from the back post and he turned the ball home with no difficulty to give us the lead in fifteen minutes.

You could have heard a pin drop outside the Railway Stand, where the away fans allotment was filled and screaming behind the mesh covering used there to segregate from the home support.

We had gotten the first two big breaks of the match and also got the third three minutes later, when McNaughton’s run down the right went unchecked by the Blues defence. His cross to the left was inch-perfect – and found Moxey, who deserved a goal after setting up our first.

Just like that we were two to the good, Birmingham’s confidence was shattered and we looked great value just eighteen minutes into the match.

We were playing efficiently and well – and with the team having bailed out Vela, the young midfielder now had an element of confidence to his game. I was impressed with how he had bounced back from giving up the penalty and my shouted words of encouragement from the touchline were finding a receptive ear.

We dropped back a bit to consolidate our lead, and that strategy worked beautifully right up until a goal against the run of play got them right back into the match three minutes before halftime.

The recipient was David Davis, one of the few players to move between West Midlands clubs and make an impact. The former Wolves trainee shook loose in the centre of our defence to bundle home the rebound of a shot from the luckless Cotterill to get them a goal their play hardly deserved.

We still controlled the match, but obviously our margin for error was gone. At halftime, I reminded the team that we were playing well and, in essence, that accidents do happen.

“Mind your responsibilities on the defensive side,” I reminded them. “We have a lot of work to do yet but we’re the better side today and I think there’s better in you.”

As I left the room, Spooner stepped forward.

“The gaffer has a stake in this one, lads,” he said softly as I closed the door behind me to pace the hallway. “Let’s be sure to give him the three points today.”

Beckford had struggled throughout the first half and I brought on Clough for him at the interval to see if his youthful legs and enthusiasm could get us a goal through pace. Iliev sat quietly, wondering if he was going to get his senior debut, but I had already determined that wouldn’t happen except as a last resort.

The second half started much like the first, with Birmingham on the front foot. The difference was that they didn’t wind up on the penalty spot, which certainly helped from my point of view.

We absorbed their best shot in the first ten minutes of the half, and finally our high pressure on the ball began to tell as their midfield really tired through having to chase the game. Vela was especially good in this role, with a lot of help from Trotter in the holding role. Spearing got the match off to prepare for Charlton so Trotter was the guy today.

And how. He worked smoothly and well with Vela and it wasn’t hard to notice. But finally he began to tire and twelve minutes from time I lifted him in favour of Mark Davies.

Birmingham pushed forward but never seriously threatened and as Davies came on, I shifted our alignment to 4-2-3-1 with a counter instruction to try to kill off the match.

The counter worked better than the high-pressure style to kill off the game. Deep into injury time, we worked the ball forward on the break with Mark and Craig Davies working a great little one-two combination in front of goal, with the ball sliding in front to an unmarked Clough.

The 19-year old striker walked the ball into the goal for his first goal since the opening match, which will do wonders for his confidence and which helped us sew up the points.

The full-time whistle blew and to polite applause from the hometown faithful, I saluted the fans one more time – as a winning manager.

Match Summary (4-1-3-2): Bodgán: McNaughton, Wheater (captain), Mills (Dervite 87), Vermijl, Trotter (M. Davies 78), Hall, Vela, Moxey, C. Davies, Beckford (Clough 45). Unused subs: Lonergan, Feeney, Danns, Iliev.

Birmingham City 1 (David Davis 42, David Cotterill m/p 6)
Bolton Wanderers 3 (Hall 15, Moxey 18, Clough 90+3)
H/T: 1-2
A: 15,146, St. Andrew’s, Birmingham
Man of the Match: Dean Moxey, Bolton (MR 8.9)

# # #
This time, I made a few headlines during the post-match interviews. I did them while holding Blake, and that was very nice.

Perhaps under a bit of duress, Darin and Holly had brought him downstairs and Kim immediately made sure he had his Bolton shirt to wear when he was ushered over to me under the floodlights.

He ran to me and I scooped him up in a bear hug, which looked great for the cameras even though that distinction meant next to nothing to me.

Bridget Tyler was on the beat for Sky and she shoved a microphone under my face, which Blake immediately tried to grab.

She laughed gaily and began to question me, while King slipped in his microphone out of shot but with a similar grin.

“The younger Malone is a media ham,” she said. “So how does it feel to come home to St. Andrew’s and win?”

“Hard to describe,” I replied. “This was a solid win for our club, not just for me, and I’d prefer to concentrate on that. It keeps us top and that’s what matters the most.”

“Dean Moxey continues to make things happen.”

“Without him, I don’t know where we’d be,” I admitted. “Dean has been spectacular wherever I’ve asked him to play but it appears he’s better in midfield and on his game, I don’t think there’s anyone in our league that’s any better.”

“What was the key to the match for you? Was it the penalty?”

“I think it was scoring right after the penalty,” I said. “Adam saved a penalty and that’s always a special moment but I think if you asked him hand on heart, he’d tell you he didn’t have to work very hard for it. That’s no aspersion on him, but I think Cotterill wouldn’t mind having that penalty back. But us going down and getting the goal shortly after put us in the driving seat and gave us the momentum we needed.”

I looked over at that moment and caught Darin and Holly standing out of shot out of the corner of my eye. She stood to his left, with Kim stood on the opposite side of the camera watching them both like a hawk. Something was amiss.

“You turn right around and go to London in three days’ time to play Charlton,” she reminded me. “How much do you think your squad will change for that match?”

“Impossible to say,” I said. “We’ll need to see how the players come through this post-match but with only 72 hours or a bit less between matches, we’re probably going to have to rotate a few players.”

Tyler smiled again and looked at Blake, finally putting the microphone under his chin.

“And what about you, young man?” she asked. “Did you enjoy the match today?”

As many children do when they get put on the spot, he clammed up. He blushed furiously, and buried his head in my shoulder as the assembled media enjoyed the spectacle.

It finally ended, and I put Blake down to shake hands with Clark, ready to show the way to a place I already knew – the home manager’s office – for a glass of port. My old club was rolling out the blue carpet and I appreciated it.

Blake ran back to Holly and hugged her by her left hip, the top of his head reaching just to her waist. She looked at me with a strange expression, while Darin just glowered. I can’t figure him out.

They all stood side by side, and watched me pass with Clark.

“Bye, Daddy,” Blake called, and I turned to face him. He had a tear running down his cheek, so I went back to him for a last hug.

“It’ll be okay, mate,” I said, mussing his hair. “I’ll see you in a few days, yeah?”

“Yeah, Daddy,” he said, returning his face to Holly’s hip. “In a few days.”

# # #
Whats going on this time???
You never know with kids, do you?
___

I can’t get that little face out of my mind. It’s sad.

I’m a pretty emotional fellow, or so I’ve been told, but as I met Kim to head home from the Macron after the coach ride, she could tell how down I was.

“Bobby, talk to me,” she said, holding my hand as we walked from the car park to my apartment.

“I’m not ready,” I said. “And I’m not being defensive. I just am having a hard time dealing with all this today.”

“Of course,” she said. “You went back to St. Andrew’s, it was an emotional day, you won the match and Blake went with Holly and Darin. That’s a lot.”

“It’s not even all that,” I said. “Yes, going to St. Andrew’s was great and I’ve looked forward to it for awhile now. But that part of it is business. I don’t like the look on Blake’s face. It haunts me.”

“He loves his dad,” she said softly, as I unlocked the front door and let us in. She passed by me, tossing her purse into a chair in the sitting room.

“Bobby,” she said, “I think you miss your dad, right?”

“Of course.”

“Well, maybe you’re reading into this a bit too much. He misses his dad too. Are you scared you might lose him?”

I thought it through. “I don’t think that’s the case,” I finally said. “I just sense that something is odd. He wants to be with me and he can’t be with me. That frustrates me.”

She crossed the room to me, coming to my arms in the middle of the sitting room floor.

“Blake loves his daddy,” she repeated, kissing me softly. “And, so do I.”

That got my attention.

“You do?”

“Of course, silly, isn’t it obvious?”

“Let’s just say I haven’t heard that phrase a lot over the last few years.”

She leaned her head against my chest.

“Well, I would like to change that, Mr. Bobby Malone, Football Manager,” she teased. She looked up at me, her huge blue eyes widened against a backdrop of curly blonde hair.

The reader will know by now that I’m not often at a loss for words, but I was then.

“I’m sort of laying it all on the line here,” she teased. “It’s your turn to say something. But you don’t have to face all this alone.”

“Shouldn’t we be at some restaurant when we say things like this?” I asked, but her expression then turned into a frown.

“Okay, if you won’t say it, fine,” she said, showing just a tinge of the ice she had thrust in my direction when I was seeing Amanda Caldwell.

“That wasn’t what I meant, and you know it,” I said. “And that’s the sort of reaction I always used to get from Holly.”

That got her attention.

“Kim, it would be very easy to love you,” I said. “You’re a wonderful woman, you care about my son, and clearly you love me because you’ve told me so and I believe you. It’s hard for me and I know that you know that too.”

“So?” she asked. “What is your answer?” Her face fell.

I lifted her chin with an index finger and kissed her softly.

“I love you too, Kim,” I said. “But please, I’m begging you, be patient with me.”

# # #
Wow.. Just wow
1
Thank you, Smithy! Greatly appreciated :)
___

We now prepare for a trip to Southeast London to face Charlton Athletic, and it’s an important match for a number of reasons.

First, we’re going to have to rotate the squad heavily. Chung-Yong didn’t play against Birmingham, and that was a calculated risk. He’ll be in the side against the Addicks and so will Spearing, who is going to be asked for ninety minutes for the first time since his injury.

And, youth will get another chance. Iliev is going to make his debut in support of Zach Clough.

That’s what Gartside wants, and given Beckford’s poor play against Birmingham, I want the youngsters to start the match with either Beckford or Craig Davies on hand to bail us out if we need it.

Zach finally found the net again and I’m hoping that his youthful enthusiasm can be harnessed into some good form while we wait for Mason to get healthy. He’s still two or three weeks away from being ready to start training again, so I’m getting a bit impatient to have my leading scorer back in the fold.

That means Iliev, who got pretty fired up when I told him he’s getting a starting assignment in London.

For me, it’s a risk worth taking. We’re still top of the table, we’re playing a team that we ought to be able to handle if we’re on our game, and the boy is in line to play. And the match comes at a time when we need everyone to pull their weight.

Fulham, with their slightly larger squad from the Premier League a season ago, doesn’t have it so difficult – but they need to bounce straight back up to keep those players. I’ve got a glut in central midfield that I can’t seem to solve unless players get sold, but other than that squad rotation can be a real challenge.

They have the same issues I do, but they’re still in the League Cup as well so they have another front to worry about. It would be nice to have the extra games to give to my midfielders but right now I just don’t have them.

The mood of the squad appears to have recovered from our last visit to London, which didn’t go especially well for us. But we now have maximum points from our last two games so I think we’re ready to move forward.

And speaking of moving, Kim did that too – in, with me.

We talked about it the night before we left for London, and she started doing the deed the next day.

Suddenly, where there were three pairs of my shoes in the bedroom closet, there were now a dozen including hers. Where my half-dozen suits hung in my closet, there was now a bewildering array of dresses, skirts, blouses and accoutrements in Kim’s most pleasing size and shape added to the mix.

I returned home from training to find the bedroom transformed into a place for two. It really looked great.

She greeted me wearing yoga pants and one of my Bolton training sweatshirts with my initials on the right front. Her hair hung haphazardly around her pretty face, tied in a loose pony tail behind her head.

“There’s my man,” she said happily, opening her arms as I entered the room.

“Well, look at you,” I marveled. I walked to her and enveloped her in my arms. “You’ve been busy.”

“Mr. Gartside was nice enough to give me the day off,” she said. “So I thought I’d take advantage of it.”

I pointed to the closet and then tugged playfully at the sweatshirt she wore. “All these clothes, and you have to wear mine,” I teased, and she playfully slapped me on the arm.

“What to wear, what to wear?” she said, wrapping her arms around my waist and looking up into my eyes.

“How about nothing?” I suggested.
# # #
Cheeky ;) Good luck for the Charlton game! Hopefully lliev can do a job for you!
1
Thank you, sir! And yes, Bobby can be quite cheeky when the mood strikes him!
___

21 October 2014 - Charlton Athletic (3-2-7, 20th place) v Bolton Wanderers (9-2-1, 1st place)
Championship Match Day #13 – The Valley, London


“I think there’s a difference between a gamble and a calculated risk.” – Edmund North

Rolling down Floyd Road to The Valley in my seat at the front of the team coach, I was left to remark about the rotation policy which has so far defined so much of our season.

It would be nice to be able to play the same winning eleven each week but demands of the modern player, the 46-match grind of the Championship and allowances on the injury front have made that difficult for me to this point.

These were all notes for UEFA in my licencing class, but for the time being, putting together eleven men who could get a result in Southeast London was more important still.

At one time, The Valley was the largest league ground by capacity in Europe thanks to the massive East Stand, but years of disrepair and the Taylor Report made substantial renovation necessary, and the new facility is a beautiful, modern and much smaller ground.

But for now, the Addicks are concerned with their league standing. They entered play one point out of the drop zone, in a three-way tie with Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City.

Their Belgian manager, Bob Peeters, was there with a perfunctory handshake. I’m told he doesn’t much care for Bobby Malone, and that’s all well and good. He can try to beat my team if he wants to take his pound of flesh.

The eleven was a calculated risk indeed:

Bolton Wanderers (4-3-1-2): Bogdán: McNaughton, Dervite, Ream, Tierney, Spearing (captain), Chung-Yong, M. Davies, Moxey, Iliev, Clough. Subs: Lonergan, Vermijl, Wheater, Medo, Danns, Vela, Beckford.

The fun part for me was inserting the former Addick, Dervite, into the starting eleven. It came at Mills’ expense, after a turned ankle in training ruled him out for a couple of days. Dorian jumped at the chance to play and by the time we finished warm-ups, he looked ready to shoot a sweet pea through a brick wall.

Thus Dervite. However, a smallish but boisterous Charlton crowd looked like they were for it from the moment we kicked off, attacking toward the “Covered End”, or the North Stand. That houses the loudest of the home support and was the end away from their former player, which was a good thing for him.

Clough got our first good chance just three minutes into the match, but his rising drive was pushed to safety by Stephen Henderson in the Charlton goal. Zach has no trouble generating good chances, but once he takes a few of them, he’s going to be something to watch.

Defender Ayo Obileye got himself booked a few minutes later for welcoming Iliev to the Championship with a tackle that could charitably be described as crude. Uncharitably, I called it a “lucky you’re still out there, son” scything, and quietly informed the fourth official of that opinion at my earliest convenience. Peeters looked at me with disdain and I tried my best not to let him know I was onto his game.

Mark Davies, to his credit, stood up for his teammate. He forced George Tucudean to the touchline for treatment with a thundering, but thankfully clean, tackle two minutes later, hoping to put an end to the rough stuff.

Davies then bookended another opportunity by Clough with a pair of headers that forced Henderson into saves, but the keeper had no answer for Moxey in seventeen minutes. McNaughton started it with a lung-busting run down the right flank to the byline, where his cutback into the box sailed a bit long for Clough – but not for Moxey, who sidefooted home a wonderful first-time volley for the lead our play clearly deserved.

On the road, we’ve been very, very good with the exception of the Fulham match, and this time we were rewarded for it with a defensive performance that was practically antiseptic by comparison to some of our others.

Seven minutes later, Clough succeeded, slipping past Tal Ben-Haim to beat Henderson with a cracking drive to his left post after an incisive ball from Spearing – but was flagged for offside. He was, but that didn’t make it hurt the young man any less.

We got to halftime still ahead 1-0 and the home team still nowhere near a good look at goal. It was a very pleasing halftime talk as a result, and we turned to attack the Jimmy Seed Stand housing our away support in the second half, we felt pretty good about our chances.

Charlton looked punchless. Dervite and Ream, the improvised central defence pairing, were working well together and that meant much. As the second half began, our flair and attacking verve started to put more pressure on the Addicks at the back and I could sense another goal coming.

Twelve minutes after the restart, it came. Spearing, playing on a yellow card since just before the half, was again the fulcrum, finding Davies on a neat little lead ball to the right just past the halfway line. He sprayed the ball to the left for Moxey, and the red-hot winger put it usefully into the box.

There it was found by the debutant, Iliev, who drilled it past Henderson to the right for the two-goal lead that looked to take a lot of the remaining life out of the Addicks.

The boy reacted well – like Clough, he had scored on his Bolton debut – and Moxey ran to him to be sure he was the first to offer congratulations. Meanwhile, I stood on the touchline, arms crossed, thinking that sometimes calculated risks aren’t bad at all.

Yet fourteen minutes later, I was watching Iliev being stretchered off holding his leg, thinking that sometimes calculated risks can be very bad.

He had stretched for a lead ball from Moxey and stretched too far, grabbing his hamstring from the moment he hit the turf. The replacement for the injured support striker was now also injured, and I was heading down the bench, grabbing Beckford gently by the shirt collar and telling him to lead the line supported by Clough as soon as he was ready to go in.

And then almost as soon as he went in, we were fishing the ball out of our goal. We gave them a corner and captain Johnnie Jackson took it, a flubbed effort that actually bounced twice on its way to a spot deep in our box.

There Obileye found it, and the yellow-carded defender lashed home from fifteen yards through a mob of players and past an unsighted Bogdán.

A goal in front of the Covered End was just what the doctor ordered from the home team’s point of view, and we prepared to park the bus for the final ten minutes. Dervite had given all he had to give, so off he came ten minutes from time in favour of Wheater, but the best thing I saw in the whole match came from our second substitute, Danns.

He came on for Mark Davies in 69 minutes and almost immediately suffered a dead leg after Charlton’s goal. Yet he wouldn’t come off, waving away treatment and playing through what had to be a highly annoying injury – even taking part in our final forward foray of the match.

There’s a young man who wants to play. Good for him.

Match Summary: Bogdán: McNaughton, Dervite (Wheater 80), Ream, Tierney, Spearing (captain), Chung-Yong, M. Davies (Danns 69), Moxey, Iliev (Beckford 71), Clough. Unused subs: Lonergan, Vermijl, Medo, Vela.

Charlton Athletic 1 (Ayo Obileye 73)
Bolton Wanderers 2 (Moxey 17, Iliev 57)
H/T: 0-1
A – 14,161, The Valley, London
Man of the Match: Dean Moxey, Bolton (MR 8.3)

# # #
The news wasn’t good. When it comes to injuries, it never is.

Head Physio Mark Leather gave me the report on Iliev shortly after the match.

“I think it’s a tear, Bobby,” he said. “We’ll know for sure after a scan but he shows all the signs. The muscle is balled up in the area of the injury and there’s already discolouration. We’re looking at a lengthy spell, I’m afraid. And I’ll answer before you ask; we’re talking ten to twelve weeks.”

I said a spectacularly rude word in a low breath, thanked Leather for his time, and asked him to keep me posted. Iliev couldn’t walk without crutches, so on the way to the coach he was able to celebrate his goal while walking with assistance.

To make matters worse, reserve striker Max Clayton pulled his hammy in the next day’s training session. That’s three strikers on the shelf leaving me with Beckford, Clough and Craig Davies as the only healthy senior players able to play the position.

Our tactic depends on playing with two up front, so I’m scrambling for options. Right now, I don’t really like what I see.

But there is this to consider: our next match is at home to Brentford, the club that knocked us out of the League Cup. We should never have lost to them, and after they defeated us by scoring twice after we went down to ten men through injury, my lads are ready to give them what for.

We took a fair bit of stick from our supporters and the press for losing that match, but it wasn’t just us they beat. In the Third Round they went on the road and beat Premiership side Swansea City 2-1, and as a result right after they play us they will host Liverpool in a Fourth Round tie which will also be televised.

That will generate money that Gartside would have rather seen me make for him, and I can’t say as I blame him. So I do wonder how strong a side we’ll see for the rematch. I really don’t care, though – I just want to beat them.

And as the coach pulled into the Macron Stadium lot to end the trip, I received an e-mail from UEFA regarding my licencing course.

They’re happy with my progress. I’ve passed the modules on specialist training, business management and planning, which includes rest and recovery. They seem pleased at my rotation policy, which I have noted as meticulously as I can do.

But now, they’re ready to take the next step, as I begin the module on club structure.

During the next weekend we have off, they’re sending me and my cohort group to Madrid, to meet Carlo Ancelotti and see how Real Madrid is structured.

Of course, nobody outside of the board room really knows how Real Madrid is structured, and that’s one of the great scandals of the world game to me.

Michel Platini, in introducing Financial Fair Play regulations, tried to stop the kind of bankrolling that allows clubs like Real Madrid to bid £85 million for Gareth Bale. But Real simply uses the rule which allows clubs to amortize their transfer fees over the life of a player’s contract to stuff more space under the caps.

Bale is signed for six years, which means his transfer fee is amortized to “only” £14.16 million per season. It’s the salary which worries clubs like Real Madrid now, and since Bale is paid a reported £15.6 million per season – or in round terms, £300,000 per week – the ‘real’ hit to Real’s FFP figures amounts to about £29.7 million a year.

They owe over half a billion euros in debt according to the Guardian, yet nobody talks about their financial crisis. Of course, a good part of that is due to their worldwide earning power, which places them in the class of Manchester United in terms of worldwide marketing.

Meanwhile, it seems like I have to ask Gartside if I can spend £1,000 for a new drinks dispenser in the players’ lounge. Same rules. Different clubs. Different worlds, but then we don’t have the turnover they do. Not even close.

Anyhow, I’ll be heading to Madrid soon to see how the biggest of the big boys do things. That will be interesting. I’ve never seen the Bernabéu so that will be great, and I may even get to breathe the same air as Cristiano Ronaldo, which I’m sure will cause me to swoon. Or, perhaps not.

And while I’m there, I might even dream a bit.

# # #
I’ve been better pleased with a tabloid headline, that’s for sure. And Kim, freshly moved in with me, is having her patience tested.

Amanda Caldwell is back. The young lady has implied on her highly-viewed Twitter feed that I was rather more indiscreet than I actually was on the couple of occasions I saw her at the beginning of the season.

I think that when Kim and I started dating and she told Amanda I was taken, she didn’t handle it well even though she was not communicating with me. And, just maybe, since Aston Villa has never mixed especially well with Birmingham, it went even less well.

“That Bobby Malone is a hunk of man,”
she tweeted to someone who asked her who she liked within the game, “as he kept trying to show me.”

I don’t Tweet. I prefer that my players not Tweet, though of course I’m powerless to stop them. But if they do, and they Tweet on a game day, they get fined because that’s club time. I don’t want things like social media interfering with the concentration of players who are getting paid quite well to get this club back into the Premier League.

This type of thing is just one reason why. If I were on Twitter I’d probably be in a flame war right now, and so perhaps it’s better that I not be.

I wasn’t bothered by it, but Kim, who as we have seen has a temper that sometimes needs to be seen to be truly experienced, was bothered plenty.

“You told me I didn’t make a mistake, and now my things are moved in with you,” she said. “So I’m going to ask you one more time, did I make a mistake?”

“Of course not,” I said, “and frankly I’m not happy that Amanda has seen fit to say such things. She’s trying to titillate.”

“If you’ll pardon the expression,” Kim snapped.

“Look, love, you personally ended anything that might have happened between me and Amanda while you and I were on the outs. So, what’s the problem now? You know exactly where I’ve been ever since we started seeing each other, and you’re in contact with me most of the time when I’m on the road. That’s your right. So isn’t it obvious that there isn’t anything currently going on?”

“That isn’t the point,” she said. “I’m very protective of you, Bobby. I think you can see that.”

“So how far back do I have to go?” I asked softly. “Are you jealous of Holly too?”

“In a way, yes,” she shot back. That took me completely by surprise.

She noticed.

“You caught that, did you?” she asked. “Well, it’s true. I don’t want to come off as some sort of crazy woman, but I don’t like anything that gets between us that isn’t related to your job.”

For a substantial part of my marriage to Holly, I thought privately that there were entirely too few women who weren’t crazy. That wasn’t nice, certainly, but given how I had been treated I thought it wasn’t entirely inaccurate.

“Well, I can’t control what she does or says,” I finally said. “Unless you want me to hire a solicitor, I’m going to have to sit here and take it. And if I don’t respond, these things do tend to go away after the person loses interest in trying to pick a fight that isn’t there. My heart is here, with you, and I hope you understand that.”

“It needs to be,” she said. “Bobby, I haven’t told you everything about my life before I met you, and it’s time you knew. I had a bad relationship before I met you and it ended with charges being filed.”

“You don’t mean …”

Her eyes grew misty and a single tear raced down her cheek. She waited for a full minute before she spoke and I could guess what was coming.

“Yes, Bobby. I was raped. It has been a long, long road back to the point where I could trust a man again. I chose you to be that man, and now that we’re intimate, I’m telling you I absolutely expect your best.”

# # #
Woah! Bobby wasn't expecting that was he! Another top update good job man!
Injuries, scandal, romance! Real life. This story is full of real life. Double gut punch in the last two posts.
Thanks, fellows. I try very hard to make these stories lifelike and readable and I appreciate the kind words.
___

25 October 2014 – Bolton Wanderers (10-2-1, 2nd place) v Brentford (5-5-3, 9th place)
Championship Match Day # 14 – Macron Stadium, Bolton

As well as we’ve been playing since the Fulham debacle, it was a bit disappointing to enter our rematch against Brentford in second place.

Thanks in no small measure to getting curb-stomped at Craven Cottage, we watched as the Cottagers beat Charlton 3-2 at home on the Friday, putting them top by a point. The pressure was on us to respond with our match in hand against Brentford, which has punched well above its weight so far this season.

Kim and I woke up to a gray, drizzly day which didn’t bode well for artistic football, but which might have been better from our point of view. I wanted us playing directly anyway against Brentford, which is what we were doing for most of the match in the Cup and then stopped doing the moment we went to ten men.

“They can’t handle your pace,” I told the players at our breakfast meeting. “They couldn’t handle your pace last time until there was one more of them than there were of you. Make it sting this time. You can do this and you can put up a big number today.”

Up front, I was going with the veterans. Craig Davies and Beckford were the two and since they seemed to work well together I was hoping that they would do the trick.

Leather had started the day in a way he usually doesn’t – by giving me good news. Mason is healing nicely and will be ready to start training some time within the next ten days. After that, it will be a question of putting him through a u-21 match to get his fitness back and see if he can play without a breakdown before returning him to the eleven.

We miss his nose for goal, and even though others have filled in, he’s the guy I want in the position I want him to be playing. So if we can keep things going through the next few matches, getting him back will be even more of a bonus.

I’m starting to like this group quite a bit. There are players who have had issues with cards (Mills), intemperate opinions (Chung-Yong) and focus (Beckford), but these things aren’t uncommon in the game. How you handle them – or how teammates help you handle them – determine how far you go.

Before the match, I asked Wheater if he wouldn’t mind speaking to Neil Danns, who had come to me about a lack of playing time.

“He’s a bit hard to talk to at the moment,” Wheater said, before promising to give it a go.

“Neil is going to get his chance pretty soon, but I need him to be flexible,” I answered. “I’ve already told him that but perhaps he’d take it better coming from the vice-captain.”

“I’ll do my best,” he said. “We need him.”

“We do,” I replied. “Just not in the place he thinks we need him.”

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


There was an air of anticipation as we took the pitch. Even the warmup music was eclectic, as someone in the media relations department went all the way back to Change’s 1981’s club tune “Paradise” to get people clapping and up for the match.

One of them was me, I had to admit. I stood on the touchline watching warm-ups as I do before every match and I couldn’t help tapping my toes a bit.

Which is where Bees boss Mark Warburton caught me. He’s a decent bloke and I heard him laugh as he approached from my right.

“Clubbing comes after the match, Bobby,” he said, extending his hand. Blushing, I shook it, and wondered if I might not have made the next edition of “Men in Blazers” in the States, which specializes in finding odd videos from televised matches, which this one was.

“Well, I’m just in a good mood,” I smiled. “Good luck today.”

As I headed back down the tunnel for last-minute instructions, my next thought was “You’ll need it.”

The boys didn’t need much prompting. As we had when the teams first met, we hammered them back into a defensive shell from the opening kickoff.

And I could see early on that Beckford had come to play, which was a great bonus. Fifteen minutes into the match, Chung-Yong shook loose and roared off down the right as it began to rain, beating the defence to the byline before cutting back into the six-yard box. There was Beckford, towering over Bees skipper Kevin O’Connor to head past a helpless David Butler fifteen minutes into the match.

Moxey played full back instead of midfield today, as I wanted to have both Hall and Chung-Yong out there at the same time to exploit our advantage in pace, but even there he still found a way to make things happen. Six minutes later he handled a muffed Brentford clearance with ease and found Spearing’s run into the middle of the Brentford defence. The captain took a shot from about twenty yards that glanced off the despairing Butler’s outstretched hands and home to make it two-nil.

It was his first goal of the season, and since he doesn’t get many, it was cause for special celebration. We were really on song, and the players kept their foot to the gas. They wanted retribution and were determined to find it.

Ten minutes later, referee Mike Dean had us on the penalty spot as Jake Bidwell, who was having a torrid time with Chung-Yong, pulled the South Korean back sharply inside the area for as clear a penalty as you’ll ever see. Perhaps surprisingly, Dean opted not to card the defender, but it hardly mattered as Beckford slammed home the penalty to put us 3-0 up in 31 minutes.

I wanted to get to halftime with the clean sheet intact since we haven’t kept a clean sheet in almost six weeks, but that was not to be as the 6’4” German striker Nick Proschwitz headed home a cross right as the first half dipped into injury time to cut the arrears to 3-1 at the break.

“Don’t you dare let up on them,” I said as the players sat down for their halftime refreshments. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, we have to be mindful at the end of the half and at the end of the match. You should be out of sight now and you aren’t, because we didn’t concentrate to the halftime whistle. I’m watching closely in the second half. We’ve got competition for places and if you can’t pull together as a unit to close out a match, my job is to find a unit that can. That said, you’re playing brilliantly on the ball and I’m proud of that. Let’s keep it up.”

Mills had switched off completely, though, and as he didn’t seem to react to anything I was telling him, I put on Ream for him at half. Then, I let Spooner take individual talks while I sat in my office. I don’t think they expected that sort of reaction from me, which was a good thing.

Mills had also picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in the first half, earning himself a suspension. So he wasn’t exactly in my good books in any event.

The second half began – and their goal-scorer, Proschwitz, soon went off after seeing his knee bend in an odd direction after landing from an aerial challenge. It didn’t look good, and the delay of about five minutes was enough to let us catch our breath again.

Bidwell continued to struggle, and gave away a second penalty just after the hour after bundling Beckford to the ground well inside the area. Dean had little option and Beckford completed his hat trick by sending Butler the wrong way to make it 4-1.

At that point, more of the guys simply switched off. That was not what I wanted to see at all, so I made a point by hauling Craig Davies off and replacing him with Neil Danns in the slot striker position.

He looked at me with some surprise as I told him what I wanted him to do.

“Show me you can do this, Neil,” I said. “I’m confident that you can.”

And he nearly did. He didn’t score, but he came close once and sent Beckford through with five minutes to go and even though my striker missed his chance at a fourth goal on the day, we were well satisfied.

Revenge was ours, and in the freezing rain, it was indeed a dish best served cold.

Match Results: Bogdán: McNaughton, Mills (Ream 45), Wheater, Moxey, Spearing, Chung-Yong, M. Davies (Medo 74), Hall, C. Davies (Danns 74), Beckford. Unused subs: Lonergan, Vermijl, Vela, Clough.

Bolton Wanderers 4 (Beckford 15, pen 31, pen 69; Spearing 21)
Brentford 1 (Nick Proschwitz 45)
H/T: 3-1
A – 19,385, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match – Jermaine Beckford, Bolton (MR 9.3)

# # #

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