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[FM15] Raising Cain

The story of a failed young manager's attempt to resurrect his career ... and his life.
Started on 1 September 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 12 August 2016 by zappo137
Thank you, lads ... happy guy here!

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be … we’re going to Wemberley, que sera, sera!”

Kyle had gotten to sing that song twice while an active player, but it was sweeter to hear it being sung for a team he managed.

He shook hands with Flitcroft and then turned toward his bench, raising his arms overhead and waving to the crowd, applauding hands over head. The local rival had been vanquished, and there was only one match left to play.

The noise was unlike anything Kyle had heard in the stadium before. He looked up to the directors’ box and tossed a thumbs-up gesture to Eales, who returned it in kind.

The stewards kept the fans off the pitch, and that was a good thing, because Kyle gathered his team around him for a brief moment for a word.

“Shake their hands and then take a lap,” he said. “Connect with these fans, they’ve been brilliant. Congratulations on what you’ve accomplished!”

That was what happened. The team took a victory lap of its home ground and with the obvious exception of the visiting support, they were very well received.

The singing wouldn’t stop. Kyle loved to hear singing fans who wore his colors, but before the team had even left the pitch he was already thinking about the next match.

Shrewsbury had won the first leg of its semifinal tie by 2-0 over Accrington away, and now returned to Greenhous Meadow to face a desperate visiting team with at least one leg in the final.

For now, though, it was time to enjoy what had been accomplished by Kyle’s players. That was more important.

The general celebration reached the center circle after the lap had been taken and the Luton players and staff had gone to their changing room. Kyle had tried to tell his players not to rub it in against their visitors, but he couldn’t tell them to hold back the natural emotion that players exude after a big win at the end of a long season.

So Kyle had his players stand around the circle and salute the sellout crowd one final time before heading to the changing room – and before he headed to face the press.

Usually, Kyle stood in front of a backdrop that had Oxford’s sponsors on it in case any photographers took pictures during that part of the session. That night, though, it was different.

The Football League logo was there, along with its League Two incarnation, with Sky Bet everywhere. The playoffs were different and that wasn’t surprising.

Kyle looked at the backdrop a bit strangely, unused to his new surroundings, but it was a small thing in the glory of the moment.

“Always wanted to see another Wembley Walk,” he smiled, with the Oxford media giving him a polite smile of acknowledgement.

“What did you tell the squad?” Vic asked.

“What I’ve been telling them for the last month, that they had a chance to make something real for themselves if they would only believe they could do it,” he answered. “If this team didn’t believe in itself before this evening, it surely must now. That was a great effort against a good side.”

“With Callum O’Dowda out, there must have been doubts.”

“Jack, leave it to you,” Kyle said, showing that not all bygones were truly bygones. “We have a number of players who can slot in and make something happen but Callum’s season has meant that we haven’t seen all of them on that side of the park. Danny Hylton did a great job up there tonight, he made things happen, he drew fouls, he posed a danger on that flank and I was very happy with the job he did.”

“Will we see him there for the final?”

“If I decide he gives us the best chance to win, yes. But I’m not going to let anyone know that until the proper time.”

Jeremy Walsh of BBC Three Counties was there, just like in Luton, only without the same expression on his face. His man hadn’t even made Flitcroft’s eighteen, and this time the Luton manager would have to answer those questions.

He did speak, though. “A word about Luton, if you please,” he said.

“They’re a strong side,” Kyle said. “I was a bit surprised that so many of the players who gave us trouble weren’t in David’s eighteen, but he put out the team he felt would give him the best chance of a result. We had a few changes too and ours worked out better.”

“The fans,” Vic said. It wasn’t a question.

“When our fans show up, they make a huge difference,” Kyle said. “All credit to the supporters for helping the players get over the line tonight. They were wonderful, they were a twelfth man and I hope even more of them come to Wembley.”

“Any predictions?” Churchill.

“We’ll play at least ninety minutes,” Kyle said confidently. “Both the teams in the other match tomorrow are good, solid sides. We have to be ready for either, because both of them have beaten us this season, and we will be ready, with eleven days to prepare for the match. We may be in form, but we take nothing for granted.”

With that, he headed back to his changing room, which was now emptying, and got out of his touchline suit. Somehow, it had avoided getting messed up after the match so that was something to file under “fun but useless information”.

He hung up his suit, changed into his casual clothes and headed out the staff entrance.

Where he ran into Allison.

“Congratulations!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around Kyle and reacting with a start when he didn’t hug her back.

“Thank you,” he said quietly. “The lads had a good night, yeah?”

“They did, and you got them there,” she beamed. “You’ve done such a marvelous job. Want to go out for a drink?”

He looked at her with a sad expression.

“No, thank you,” he said. “I think I’m just going to go home and go to bed. I didn’t sleep well last night.” He started to walk to his car and she walked alongside.

“Aren’t you feeling well?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m all right,” he said as he reached his vehicle. “But I think you were feeling pretty good last night at the public gathering, unless I’ve missed my guess.”

Allison’s jaw dropped as Kyle shut the driver’s side door, started the car and drove away.
# # #
“Every night when you go to bed, you hope the next day is going to be a better one.
Some days it is, some days it isn’t.” – Flip Saunders

They didn’t talk for a few days after that.

Kyle didn’t speak with Stacy, either. He was concentrating on the biggest match yet.

He went to Greenhous Meadow the next night and watched Shrewsbury book the other place in the final, drawing 1-1 with Accrington to win 3-1 on aggregate.

He was especially impressed with Shrewsbury defender Jermaine Grandison, a 24-year old right back who got up and down the park with ease against Stanley and posed a real threat every time he got the ball in the attacking third.

He had pace. He had staying power. He could cross a ball. And he had a mean streak that was highly pleasing to anyone who didn’t have to play against him. He was the Man of the Match and he was one to watch for.

For Kyle, the alignment had to be 4-2-3-1. It had worked so well against Luton and in a big match like a Wembley final, he had to think about defense first. Being the “Flying Circus” was important and if Oxford had to chase the game, it was necessary, but in watching the video of the FA Cup tie between the teams, it seemed that Shrewsbury matched up well against the 4-1-3-2 Oxford had used to bag so many goals.

Then there was the infamous “ten-man” loss that had nearly wrecked everything. Kyle needed to come up with something better.

However, a significant decision was nearly made for him in the first full training session after the Luton match.

It came in a six-on-six drill and it happened when Jake Wright stretched too far for a ball and wound up in a heap grabbing his lower right leg.

The captain was in significant distress and as Lord and the athletic training staff reached the player, even Kyle could see the knot in Wright’s calf. It was enormous, the size of a clenched fist, which Kyle could see because Wright’s were in that exact position on either side of his body as he cried out in pain.

It was so bad that the player’s foot pointed straight downward, as it seemed every muscle in his lower leg all tried to occupy the same space under the skin.

He was assisted to the trainers’ room and Kyle then had to think about how he could get through a playoff final without his skipper and one of the team’s talismans.

That was a kick in the teeth, especially with O’Dowda out for the season. Two such important players being gone at the same time would really hurt.

However, with the squad’s morale down due to the sudden spate of injuries, Wright raised it right back up by meeting with Kyle after the session.

“Boss, we need to talk,” he said, using crutches to walk.

“Of course, come in,” Kyle said, getting a chair for Wright to sit in. Heavily, the defender sat down and got down to business.

“I’m going to play in that final,” he said.

“Not like that you aren’t,” Kyle said. “As much as I know you want to.”

“Andy tells me I can take injections,” Wright said. “They’ll get me through once the swelling goes down. He says it will, with therapy. I can play. I want to play. And damn it, I am the captain of this club and there’s no bloody way I’m not going to play if you say the word and select me.”

Kyle looked Wright in the eye. There had been times when he hadn’t seen eye-to-eye with him, times when he had even benched the man he trusted to wear Oxford’s armband.

But this was a different Jake Wright. The man had steel in his eyes and passion in his heart. That was never in doubt. But now he was bleeding blue and yellow and that was exactly the kind of inspiration Oxford United had to have if it was going to win promotion.

One thing Kyle had always trusted was the man’s honesty. He was captain for a reason. He was seeing that reason explained right in front of his eyes. Unfortunately, the press had seen the injury and it was sure to be in the afternoon editions and all over the internet and social media before the day was over. But Jake Wright said he wanted to play.

“The injections are up to you,” Kyle said. “I had injuries when I played and I didn’t like some manager telling me what I had to do with my body. But if you want to take them, I’ll make sure it happens.”

“I tell you, gaffer, there is no doubt. I’m taking the injections and I’ll worry about healing up after we get promoted.”

Wright turned and crutched his way out of the office. As he disappeared down the hallway, Kyle Cain leaned back in his office chair.

You couldn’t have wiped the smile off his face.

# # #
Disappointing to see your captain injured, but it is great to see him motivated to play in the final. It will certainly be the biggest game in Cain's managerial career to date, let's hope he can capitalise!
Hell of a big update based on one little FM notification haha
One of the things I really enjoy about FM's detail level is trying to reconstruct a scene based on one or sometimes two lines of text. For example, how does a "model professional" really behave? What would a conversation between manager and player about poor training look like at various levels of personality? And what would happen if I had to give a player an injection before a big match? I wrote this particular piece because in all the time I've played this game (15-plus years) I've never had this situation come up, where a player could get through a final with a pain-killer. And since it was the club captain, I couldn't resist.

“Pride grows on a human heart like lard on a pig.” Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn

The date loomed large. Kyle worked the team hard at first and then backed them off to keep legs as fresh as possible before the big match.

Their mood was excellent. While Town had beaten Oxford in the Cup, the Us had taken their measure in the league under Kyle’s management, so it wasn’t as though they had reason to feel overmatched. It was a team Kyle had seen personally on two occasions so there was plenty of video to study.

Kyle was optimistic. The team was supercharged and ready to put on a show under the arch, and his media workup in the days prior to the match was about going to Wembley and enjoying the moment.

He knew the players would feel pressure. So his time with the team focused on how to avoid it.

One of the key team members in that regard was MacDonald, who had played in the playoff final just the year before with Burton Albion – and been on the losing side, as Fleetwood Town earned promotion instead.

That was hard for him to bear, but obviously going back to the big stage meant a chance at redemption for the influential winger and so Kyle talked with the Scot about trying to settle down his teammates.

That led to several very strong training sessions in the days prior to the trip to London and as a result the Us were as ready as Kyle could make them for their day in the sun.

And then, he had to talk with Allison.

He felt hurt. Sucker-punched. He would have said betrayed, except she owed nothing to him. On the Thursday before the match, he was leaving the stadium for home only to find her waiting outside the office doors.

“We need to talk, Kyle,” she said.

“We do? All right,” he responded, trying not to look into her eyes. “What would you like to talk about, Allison?”

“Well, this whole business of us not talking to each other. We’re friends, right?”

“Until you say we aren’t.”

“All right, then. That means you get to have other friends and so do I, right?”

“If you say so.” There. That hadn’t been so bad.

“But you told me in the bar that I needed to wait, and that’s fine, but I get to have a life too. It’s not all about you.”

He had heard that line of reasoning before.

Kyle guessed that he had spoken too soon, even internally. When women want to talk about something, it’s never over until they say it is.

“It rarely is all about me,” Kyle shrugged. In fact, never.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“Well, let me put it this way,” Kyle said as he started to walk to his car. “I think I’ve just been told I need to shut up and listen, and that’s fine with me, so that’s what I’m doing. Right?”

“Sarcasm doesn’t really suit you, Kyle,” Allison answered, walking right alongside him.

“I’m East London born and bred,” he replied, brushing his hair out of his eyes as he reached the driver’s side door. “Sarcasm doesn’t just suit me, it is me.”

“All well and good,” she replied. “And I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, because I know I did. But I was just having a good time.”

“The guy looked like he was having a really good time,” Kyle said. “Thing of it is, Allison, that seems to happen a lot around women I care for these days.”

She looked at him sadly.

“I know you have very little control in areas where you want it,” she said. “And since you’re a football manager, control is the one thing you need to have. I get that too. But loosen up a little bit. Enjoy life. I am still waiting for you, in case you were wondering.”

“I was wondering, exactly that point,” Kyle said. “Honestly, I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, let me put it this way,” she answered. “I am waiting for you but as you once told me, I’m going to live my life. You need to do the same.”

“So if I had had someone draped all over me at the public gathering you’d have been just fine with that?” Kyle asked, opening the door and getting inside his car. “Because if you were, then I’d need to do some serious thinking.”

# # #
You need to get a job writing for a soap opera!
Just you wait ... it gets better. Just not for our man in Oxford.

This wasn’t just inconvenient. It was catastrophic.

It wasn’t Wright laying on the training ground writhing in pain. It was James Maddison, and that was a game-changer.

He was clutching his right knee and rolling from side to side after shifting awkwardly during a simple dynamic stretching routine.

Dynamic stretching is a slow-to-fast form of warmup stretch that allows players to prepare for training gradually but in motions that are of the type they will generally make while playing. It’s considered safer.

At least, before today.

Lord was to him almost immediately, since the athletic training staff handled those drills, and as a result he was able to make an almost instant diagnosis.

“Nothing is obviously dislocated, or torn as near as I can tell,” he told Kyle on the way to the training room. “He’ll get a scan and I think I know what it’s likely to tell me.”

“Which is?” Kyle’s heart was in his throat.

“It’s a strain, probably of the MCL,” Lord said. “Don’t even think about the final. He’s going to be on crutches for at least two weeks and probably not able to run for another two after that.”

Kyle’s heart sank. James Maddison was on the short list for League Two Player of the Year and it was a devastating blow to have him lost to a training injury.

The team finished training but with heavy hearts, and Kyle headed to the training room to talk to his teenage midfielder.

Not surprisingly, he found the lad very upset. Kyle understood the feeling.

“It was an accident, James,” Kyle told him. “Nothing to be done about it.”

Maddison bowed his head, his blonde hair falling into his eyes.

“I wish it hadn’t happened, gaffer,” he said, sighing heavily. “I wish it had happened in a match or something. To do your knee in a stretching exercise, that’s just awful.”

Kyle couldn’t disagree. He also could do next to nothing about it, which hurt more than he could describe. He had put Maddison out there when Appleby wouldn’t, and the lad had responded magnificently.

Now, he was gone. Or as good as gone, anyway. It was devastating.

Or at least potentially so.

Oxford United was a lock to put three midfielders in the League Two Team of the Year. Two of the three – O’Dowda and Maddison – would be unavailable for the final.

So it was that Kyle called young Josh Ashby into his office after the training session that day.

The nineteen-year old had spent much of the season in the reserves developing his considerable talent but he had scored twice for the senior team – perhaps a bit oddly, once more than Maddison – in a handful of appearances.

Now he was about to step onto one of world football’s biggest stages – Wembley – in a crucial role for the senior team.

It wasn’t the World Cup finals or anything like that. But for Oxford United, it was the next closest thing and in calling Ashby to his office, Kyle knew he was bypassing players like Mullins, veterans who could do a job.

But he knew one other thing; at least to start the match, he didn’t want to play with two strikers. Shrewsbury had abused Oxford in the midfield and the final third when the Us had played 4-1-3-2 and it was time for a change.

4-2-3-1 had choked the life out of Luton and Kyle was certain that, properly played, it would do the same to Town. But the tactic needed a shadow striker, and Ashby was that.

He could have played a senior striker in that position – Hoban for one would have been a decent choice – but Ashby took to the spot like a duck to water in training and young legs in that role would be important.

So, the conversation between manager and former Oxford City man was held and once the boy got over his shock, he agreed that he was the right man at the right time.

Odd how a bit of news such as that can make someone grow up, Kyle thought, as Ashby left the room.

Once the manager’s office door was closed, however, Kyle leaned back in his chair and sighed heavily. This was, in reality, the worst possible news he could have received.

# # #
She wasn’t sleeping very well these days.

Stacy’s thoughts were not with Boyd, who had noticed more than once that his paramour wasn’t paying much attention to him these days. Sure, they were great when the lights were out – they had always been good at that – but while the physical portion of their relationship was worth five stars, the emotional portion was not – at least not to Stacy, at least not right at that moment.

It wasn’t that she loved Kyle. That was pretty well established. It was just that she was wondering about whether she was really doing the right thing.

Her pregnancy was very well advanced – she was due around the first of June – and the more she felt the baby wiggling and kicking inside her, the more she thought that maybe she had been a bit too hasty.

It was supposed to be “for better or worse”, not just for the good times, and though Kyle was an immensely difficult man to live with and one even worse to try to trust, her life just didn’t feel right.

Jenna’s texts were arriving more regularly now and the contact with her daughter was most welcome. She felt like they had been estranged when she had moved with Kyle to Oxford and she had stayed behind in London. That part of her was feeling more whole these days and that was quite welcome as well.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to be doing what she was doing, just as Kyle had eventually come to the same realization. Her desire for revenge had been realized – and like so many people had said in literature, once it had arrived it wasn’t as satisfying as the thoughts of it had been.

Now, what was there?

The baby moved again – it often did at mid-morning, for some unknown reason – and Stacy smiled, patting her belly softly as she turned to her work.

Behind her, Boyd sat with his nose practically glued to his computer monitor. He often did that when sorting lists or doing administrative tasks of some kind or other. His concentration was total, he liked to say, and sometimes that annoyed his co-workers who wanted his attention.

But now he got up to do some work at the main counter and Stacy got to her feet to use the restroom – something expecting women seem to do more and more frequently as their date approaches – and as she passed his desk, she noticed that Boyd had new wallpaper on his machine.

She recognized it immediately, and reacted with a start. It was a picture of a flower, but not just any flower.

It was a round-leaved sundew – not the prettiest of flowers to the purist, and an odd choice for a man who wore a flower in his lapel every day.

But Stacy had done plenty of research in her job and she knew exactly why her boyfriend had chosen that particular bloom. It happened to be the official flower of Shropshire, whose county town was Shrewsbury.

That seemed petty to Stacy. She shared a home and a bed with him now, and it seemed odd to her that he should behave in such a fashion.

But then, as she returned from the ladies’ room, she wondered the same about herself.

Spite. Pettiness. Anger. Resentment. All the things she had noticed in Boyd were also present in her own attitude.

She sat back in her chair and returned to her work. Her hair fell over her shoulders in a way she didn’t like, and she swept it off to the right.

At that moment, Boyd appeared behind her, delivering a discreet kiss to the left side of her neck which she had just unknowingly cleared for him.

“You startled me,” she said, turning to face him. She liked it when he was romantic, and he knew that. He was trying to re-light Stacy’s fire.

“Sorry, love, didn’t mean to,” he said. “Just thinking I might surprise you with something nice.”

She reached over her shoulder and touched his hand which rested gently near her neck. “You do that every day, silly,” she said. It felt nice to feel close to him.

Nice. Not necessarily right, but nice.
# # #
That was easily the best update so far, very well written!
But what of Alison..? Loving the post, can't wait for the next episode!
Jenna sighed, and threw her head back on the couch. It had been a bad week.

All the time he had spent with Miles in recent days meant that her school was suffering. A meeting with her school headmaster that had taken Kyle away from his club at a vital time had left her father in a sour mood, for a variety of reasons.

He had somehow convinced her that the reason he was angry wasn’t because he was leaving his team but because she didn’t seem to be applying herself in the classroom.

“I tell my players that I’ll never be angry with them as long as they’re doing their best,” Kyle said, knowing full well that in his time, he had been angry with players for any number of reasons.

She had reacted like you’d expect a teenager to react – first with petulance, and then with more petulance, but eventually she calmed down when Kyle made her toe the mark.

“If I have to review your work at home, that’s what I will do,” he warned her. “I have a lot to do but really, I’ll find other people to do my work if you aren’t doing yours.”

“You wouldn’t like that,” Jenna said, which was the entire point.

“You know, I’ve been pretty patient with you,” Kyle said. “I appreciate that we’re close and I appreciate your loyalty, but I’ve let you get away with some things that a lot of single dads wouldn’t do.”

Of course, to many a teenager those were fighting words, and she shot back as you might have expected a teenager to do.

“Such as?” she asked.

“Such as tolerating you bringing your boyfriend into my house when you should have been in school. We can start with that.”

Her reaction had been one of angry denial, which simply meant that teenagers aren’t always able to act with common sense. He had been right, she knew, and she couldn’t really argue.

It was that conversation she was most upset about, given the reason for her present distress. Her marks had been poor, very unlike her, and her school officials were arranging tutoring for maths among other things.

There was no disgrace in that – her father had made an entire career out of simply counting upwards by one and maths weren’t his speciality – but it was lack of application, lack of effort and lack of diligence in assigned work that distressed her teachers the most.

She was undisciplined. That was something that could never have been said about her before. In Torquay she had been an excellent student – attentive, kind, and willing to learn and improve. In East London, she had been the same way.

Only in Oxfordshire had she fallen away, and that was a real cause for concern.

She sat back on the couch, thinking about how her latest test had gone. That was what frustrated her now.

The meeting had been humiliating enough. Being told she had to raise her game by both her teachers and her father was humiliating. She was used to doing good by doing well, as the old phrase went.

But now, she wondered what she was going to do. A tear raced down her cheek – not one of sadness, but one of fear. She needed her father.

But instead, she picked up her phone, and sent a text message to Miles.

“The test was positive.”

# # #
WHOA! .... bruuuuttallllllll..... my god ha never saw it coming!
23 May 2015 – Shrewsbury Town (25-9-14, 4th place) v Oxford United (23-11-14, 5th place)
Sky Bet League Two Playoff Final – Wembley Stadium, London
Referee: Peter Bankes

“Enjoy the moment. Savor the moment. You may never get here again.”

Kyle’s words to the team as they gathered in the changing room at Wembley had been short and to the point. There was no sense in sugar-coating or lying about it - there was immense pressure on his players and he wanted to try to relieve a bit of it.

Of course, it wasn’t exactly a healthy Oxford United team that got off the coach. Wright was ready to play and had been selected though he wasn’t exactly comfortable. Maddison and O’Dowda were of course out of contention, though both made the trip and would watch the match from the plush seats behind the visiting bench.

The fans did the Wembley Walk and that was a thrill for everyone who had come down from Oxfordshire – and it appeared to be about half the population of the town from the look of the stands when the teams came out for warm-ups.

The national stadium was going to be over half-full for the contest and that meant an extremely large payout was awaiting Oxford United, win or lose. The first possibility was wonderful. The second didn’t bear thinking about.

He let the players do their thing while he sat in the manager’s office, making sure the team sheet was filled out perfectly. He might rather have had a few other names on it, but there are things you can’t control in this game and he knew that full well.

As for the left side of midfield, Kyle had another answer – Meades, who seemed to have been the forgotten man after his injury spate, was being restored to the XI and judging by the way the man warmed up, you’d have thought he’d be completely shattered before the match ever kicked off.

It was a different-looking eleven that Kyle put on the large board in front of the room:

Oxford United (4-2-3-1)
GK – Ashdown
DR – Potts
DC – Dunkley
DC – Wright (captain)
DL – Skarz
DM – Ssewankambo
DM – Whing
AMR – MacDonald
AMC – Ashby
AML – Meades
ST – Hoban
Subs – Clarke, Grimshaw, Mullins, Bevans, Rose, Hoskins, Hylton

That felt odd, but Kyle wanted the flexibility of having two strikers on the bench in case dire need arose. This match, for a change in his tenure, was going to be played from the goal outward, and as such that called for a different look. He was sure Town wouldn’t expect such a lineup and he had decided that faith in the players would get this job done.

Finally, though, it was time. He stepped to the front of the room.

“This is why you play,” he said simply. “You men were near the bottom of the league when I came here and since then, every one of you has showed me you have what it takes to play in the next league up. There’s a club in the other room down the hall who you have beaten this season. Remember that, and remember that you have the ability to get this job done.

“Get a body on James Collins, get a body on Mason Bennett, defend like wild men and hit them for pace. And when we’re done, we’ll celebrate. Hands in and let’s go.”

The teams lined up, Kyle shook hands with referee Peter Bankes and Salops manager Micky Mellon, and noted the silence that accompanied both teams as they prepared to take the pitch. That in itself wasn’t unusual. The noise around them, however, made it almost surreal.

The lines began to move. The tunnel gradually gave way to one of the biggest stages in world football, and noise like Kyle hadn’t heard in some time.

Oxford United was coming out of dreamland. Now was the time.

# # #
Good luck, be interesting to see what Shrews team is waiting for you. Fingers crossed.

As always, great update.

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