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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 very much. I take a great deal of pride in my character work. Kyle Cain is an interesting fellow -- impetuous, shortsighted, sometimes wrong when he thinks he's right and sometimes right when he thinks he's wrong. In short, fun to write. Glad you are enjoying!

Some days, it almost literally didn’t pay to get out of bed.

When Kyle wasn’t working his ‘diddy job’, as he called it, some days he’d just lay in bed all day. That wasn’t good. He was entering a black phase, Winston Churchill’s “black dog” of depression, and the episodes were as sad as they were cyclical.

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. He’d feel like a failure and then sit in bed all day and worry about what a failure he was becoming. It was a vicious cycle.

On the second day of November, Kyle was having ‘one of those days’. He lay in bed watching Netflix, the only creature comfort he really could afford. The internet was necessary to look for work, but today was a day where he was feeling hopeless, so job hunting just wasn’t on.

Stacy had been in touch that day, removing more money from the bank to take care of her needs. He didn’t even know where she was from one moment to the next, and from time to time that alarmed him.

What kind of person would make an announcement like that? Then Kyle got to thinking. What kind of person wouldn’t care about an announcement like that?

A person just like him, that’s who wouldn’t care.

“Dammit,” he said aloud, “that is my child inside that woman. Why don’t you give a damn?”

As if to convince himself.

He also wondered why Stacy kept the child. That didn’t seem to make any sense to him. After all, with the two estranged, there was really no reason for them to have another child they couldn’t afford, right?


He lay there thinking about where his life had gone, and how things had come to this end. Not for the first time, tears rolled down his cheeks as he realized that he really was on the verge of losing everything.

He hated the feeling. But somehow it felt comfortable to him, as failure was the one thing he could really count on from one day to the next.

The revenge-minded Kyle had lasted a few days, until Stacy’s announcement had knocked the wheels out from under his cart. He was very upset over how she had treated him, but when it came right down to things, it was hard to surrender twenty years of living for the simple pleasure of revenge.

Surprisingly hard, in fact.

As he lay there, Jenna returned from a shift at The Coach and Horses, on High Road less than two blocks from the Matchroom Stadium and within sight of home. She could walk there and back. It saved money. When she wasn’t in school or studying, she was working. Very hard, in fact.

“Dad,” she said, sitting at the edge of the bed. “Look at yourself.”

“I can’t see my forehead,” Kyle said, attempting a joke.

“It’s not funny,” she said. “You know that I’m doing everything I can do to help you, yeah?”

“Of course, sweetie,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“And you know I love you more than anything in the world, yeah?”

He lowered his head. “Yeah.” He couldn’t look at her. He knew what she was going to say.

“You can’t go on like this,” she said. “I have to get you to believe in yourself. What is that going to take? I’m working hard but I need you active and present.”

He felt very small. He looked past the television set where a streaming version of Foyle’s War was playing, and stared at the far wall of the master bedroom.

Kyle loved the character of Chris Foyle, played so ably by actor Michael Kitchen. Calm, cool, collected, and biting when the need arose. He thought Chief Superintendent Foyle would make a fine football manager.

Better than he was, at any rate.

“I have to,” he said. “What choice do you think I have?”

“You have the choice of remembering what it was that gave you all that time with Orient, what made you a football player and what made you successful when you had success,” she said. “It hurts me to look at you like this.”

He hadn’t considered that. Frankly, there were a lot of home truths in life that Kyle Cain had never considered, and now some of them were coming home to roost all at the same time.

He reached beside his bed and grabbed a half-consumed bottle of Redchurch, brewed in East London and which, for the moment, was damn tasty. He raised the bottle to his lips.

“Laying in bed and drinking,” she said. “Honestly, Dad, who in their right minds would make you a football manager right now?”

He stopped in his tracks, the bottle still an inch short of helping slake his thirst. He looked at her, and returned the bottle to its prior spot on the side table, the ring of water at its bottom in the same spot as the corresponding ring on the table which he hadn’t bothered to cover with a coaster.

“Jenna,” he said, quietly, “nobody wants me.”

“Dad, that’s s**t,” she replied, just as quietly but with more force. “My dad never quit when he played. Look at you. You’ve quit on yourself.”

He felt his hackles rising, which was extremely rare with his only child. He loved her more than his own life at times … and right now, this seemed to be one of those times. But he was angry.

“Tell one of these clubs that they want me,” he said. “Go on, Jenna. Do it.”

“It’s no wonder they don’t,” she said. “I say it again, Dad. You need to fix you before someone else can help.”

They were profound words for a sixteen-year old, but then Jenna saw people in different situations every day now when she worked.

Ah, work. What a concept.

Kyle leaned back against his pillow and considered his daughter’s words. If there was one person in the world who could get away with speaking to Kyle Cain like that, it was Jenna Cain.

He thought back to his playing days, when, as the Yanks say, he ‘took no s**t from nobody’.” That person seemed to be dead and buried. Now, he took s**t from everybody, sometimes in sandwich form, and he hated it.

# # #
Common Kyle man pick yourself up! Go out there and get a job!! Another great update man :D
I think Jenna may of found the answer, by telling the way it is! Great update.
Thanks, gentlemen. It's a rough go Kyle is having at the moment!

“You turned down an interview?”

Jenna and Stacy sat across a table from Kyle at The Coach and Horses and looked at him, gobsmacked.

“Yes,” he said quietly, “I did.”

Stacy’s eyes were cold on him.

“Why on earth did you do that.” It wasn’t a question. It was a declaration, a sentence as complete as the one her look suggested she’d give him in prison.

“Because it wasn’t the right position for me,” he said.

“Any position is the right position for you,” Stacy said.

“Says you,” Kyle replied.

“Yes, says me,” she answered. “What’s next, ‘I’m gonna tell the bloody teacher’?”

“Tell you what,” he answered. “File the papers and you can have things your own way.”

She looked at him, wide-eyed and angry.

“What did you say?” she asked.

“You heard me,” Kyle answered.

Jenna’s facial expression hadn’t changed a whit since the conversation began.

She was angry with both of them, and had suggested a meeting at the restaurant to try to get her parents back together. So far, her well-intentioned efforts had been a disaster, and it looked like there was still some room beyond that definition to reach. Like, say, ‘nuclear holocaust’.

“Where was this interview that you turned down?”

“Morton,” he said. “You didn’t want to live in the West Midlands. Why the hell would I think you’d want to live in Scotland?”

She looked at him with a level expression.

“They asked you, you clot,” she said. “And you turned them down.”

Greenock Morton had sagged to eighth place in Scotland’s League One by virtue of a winless month and only two wins from the last nine. It had perhaps been a bit of a quick hook by chairman for Douglas Rae to let Jim Duffy go, but the potential of life in League Two appealed to him even less than the idea of keeping his manager.

And Kyle Cain, the man nobody wanted, had turned down a request for an interview.

Stacy could hardly believe her ears.

“I don’t understand you,” she finally said. “If you are going to support this family …”

“… if I’m going to support this family, this family is going to be together,” he shot back. “God only knows where the hell you are, taking money whenever you need it so Jenna and I have to scrape …”

Now the young lady spoke.

“Stop it, both of you,” she finally said. “Mum, Dad’s right. You’re trying to run his life and my life without being around. And Dad, Mum’s right. If you want to be a manager, you need to interview. But I’ll tell you something right now, if there’s any more talk of filing papers I’m getting out. I’ll find a flatmate and I’ll get out. Are we clear on that?”

Kyle and Stacy looked at each other. Jenna had just personally defined the word détente for both of them.

“I’m not the one who left,” Kyle said.

“I’m not the one who talked about filing papers,” Stacy answered.

They were getting nowhere.

# # #
Stacy Cain spent a lot of time on her own these days.

She had found a job – very quietly, so that nobody would know, especially Kyle – working at an East London Branch Library. It provided the money she needed to scrape out a living.

She had found a small flat a few blocks from the library. It was an efficiency flat, with two rooms – a sitting room/kitchen and a master bedroom with a small attached bath. While money was extremely tight, she could eat and she could take care of herself.

And she could take care of the baby, which she knew was the key to everything,

She felt like she had fallen out of love with Kyle about ten years before, when his indiscretion at the Leyton Orient team Christmas party had revealed a relationship with a supporter. Everyone who knew about the relationship had somehow managed to keep it quiet, but when his inebriated paramour had walked up and kissed him in front of God and everybody – and Stacy – it was rather impossible to hide it further.

It had nearly cost them everything. Jenna was six at the time, and could hardly understand why the father she had loved so much had done such a thing to her mother.

Kyle had been very plain, which was both good and bad. He had said he felt keenly underappreciated at home, like that was an excuse. But when he was gone all the time, what was a wife to do? Sit there and wait for him?

He had been penitent. Nauseatingly so, in fact, but he had been penitent, and she had taken him back. She needed him.

For his part, Kyle took stick from home and away fans alike for the next few years, until the whole issue faded into painful memory. Her name had been Charlotte, and her web had well and truly caught him, along with other womanly attributes that even Stacy had to admit presented special challenges for a weak-willed man like her husband.

It had been a very long journey for Kyle to repair his relationship with Jenna, but, once done, the two were closer than ever. Stacy ... well, that was another matter.

They had never returned to their former closeness. Her outburst of sudden affection after her first return home – which had led to her pregnancy – had surprised them both. It surprised Kyle with its power, and it surprised Stacy because it happened at all.

And now, they had come to this. She felt badly that she was pregnant, and that was not a good situation for a mother to find herself in. Yet, there she was.

Upon further reflection, though, it occurred to Stacy that it wasn’t the pregnancy that bothered her so much as the baby’s father.

His challenge for her to file divorce papers had stung her – not so much because of the thought, which she frankly didn’t mind in the slightest, but because for the time being she still needed him.

The lout. The loser. The failure.

She didn’t like that feeling, either. She considered herself kind at heart, and as such she didn’t like to mistreat anyone, even someone who deserved it like her husband.

She was anxious to get off her feet after a hard day’s work, and as such sitting in a secondhand chair and turning on the telly was a good way to unwind.

She had some issues with morning sickness that she didn’t care for, but she was also concerned about being forty years old and having a second child. There were plenty of things that could go wrong for both mother and child at that age.

After a few minutes, she again got up to pop a frozen dinner into her microwave. The kitchen space in the flat was pathetically small but that was all right since she wasn’t much good in the kitchen. Perhaps a bit oddly, it was Kyle that was the talent in that area. Footballers aren’t generally known as foodies, but he had been. When there was money, and when he had time, they ate well.

The microwave beeped and Stacy took a tray containing assortment of mixed vegetables, chicken and cheese sauce out of the oven, removing the plastic cover to let it cool.

As she did, a knock came at her door.

Smiling to herself, she headed over to open it. Her expression brightened still further when a man stepped inside.

“Hello, love,” he said, his voice low. His accent was North London, which to some in her part of the city seemed like a foreign language.

“Boyd,” she smiled, moving aside to allow him entrance. “I was just sitting down to eat.”

“Sorry to interrupt you,” he said, “but I thought I’d stop to see how you’re getting on.”

“Better now,” she said.

“That’s my girl,” he replied. Boyd Stokes was Stacy’s library supervisor, a bookish-looking man of forty-five years who looked as much at home wearing a bow tie as he did wearing a traditional suit. He could make clothes look good.

He wore his short, prematurely gray hair parted over his left eye, swept over the top in a stylish but thick mass. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and his impeccable suit always – always – contained a pocket square. He looked like a dandy to those who didn’t know him, but Boyd had money and he liked to look the part.

“It’s kind of you to come,” she said. “Won’t you sit down?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t,” he said. “Library board meeting this evening and I have to give a report. I just wanted to check in on you and see how you’re getting on.”

“Well, I’m glad you did,” Stacy answered. “You’ve certainly brightened this place up a bit.”

“It’s sad you have to live like this, if you don’t mind my saying,” Stokes answered.

“That’s life when you’re separated and your husband isn’t trying too hard to find work.”

“I see,” he said turning to leave. “Well, perhaps things will change for you at least one front. Good night, Stacy. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He left, closing the door behind him. Stacy turned back to her dinner and picked up the plastic tray, its heat stinging her fingers until she could put the contents on a plate.

“Maybe things will change,” she said. “Perhaps in a different order than is traditional.”

# # #
We need to keep a count on how many interview chances Kyle blows :P
This time, he looked different.

Kyle had combed his hair just so, even if its sandy blonde color and rather pronounced wave didn’t make it look like it was especially well-kept.

It was that wavy blonde hair which had made him popular with the ladies – that and scoring twenty goals a season for Orient. That hadn’t hurt, either.

The hair went with the interview suit, a beige outfit which came with a vest Kyle wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. It had been his best touchline suit at Torquay, and he figured that after the way things had ended there, all the bad luck had been drained out of it.

He looked pretty good, all things considered – five-foot-ten with that hair Jenna had just fixed again for him, and a physical strength which belied his comparatively slight, lean build. He had taken care of himself when he played and he was still quite fit for having been out of the game for two years.

For herself, Jenna’s ire had died down a bit after the latest argument between her parents, and before long was more or less her cheery self around her dad – provided, of course, that he didn’t laze around the flat. He had learned to watch Netflix in the sitting room.

Now, though, he was dressed to the nines for a job he wanted. The competition was stiff and it didn’t look good. As usual.

Michael Appleton had got the sack at Oxford United, a League Two club which should have been doing better than it was. Winless in the league since September, the U’s let their manager go after sinking to 22nd in the table. It was getting ugly, the support was irate, and the thought of another return to non-League football wasn’t pleasant for chairman Daryl Eales.

Oxford trailed 21st placed Southend by four points in the race for safety, and led 23rd placed Dag and Red by three points and tail-end Cheltenham by only four with the halfway point distressingly close. The latter two clubs held the relegation places.

The Oxford job had attracted some real interest from within the business, including former Norwich and Blackpool boss Nigel Worthington, former Cheltenham manager Mark Yates – whose old job Kyle had applied, naturally unsuccessfully, to take – and veteran coach John McMahon.

Yet this was the position Kyle wanted more than Greenock Morton, and so he was a bit surprised when he was called west for an interview. Usually, things Kyle wanted were things he couldn’t have.

Jenna had been a bit more proud of her father, especially since she happened to be on hand at the flat to watch him leave.

That’s my dad,” she had said, making sure his lapels were straight and his tie knotted correctly before shooing him off to the car. She had hugged him tight and that meant a lot. There really was nothing Kyle wouldn’t do for his daughter and as he drove, he reflected on how much she really had grown up over the last few months.

She had stood in the gap. He loved her all the more for it.

“If only I can pull my weight for a change,” he muttered to himself as he reached the outskirts of the beautiful old city. The Kassam Stadium is located south of the ring of roads which encircles the city center, and as Kyle pulled into the car park he wondered why he was really there.

For his part, Eales was pleasant enough. But the club, which had had significant financial difficulties like so many in the lower parts of the league structure, had some special issues, and they came up in the interview.

Kyle expected to hear the usual items about transfer budgets and the wage budget being maxed. Fine. But Eales also asked if he wouldn’t mind retaining all the existing staff – and, if hired, if he was willing to commit to staying.

There were reasons for that, of course. Given the club’s precarious recent financial history, buying out staff and hiring new staff wasn’t feasible. And even in the case of the new manager, hiring them by the handful wasn’t good for the bottom line.

Oxford had had four managers in the preceding eleven months. Chris Wilder, a favorite of management but not necessarily of the fans after narrowly missing the playoffs due to a late-season collapse, had left for Northampton in January after six years in charge.

He was replaced by caretaker Mickey Lewis and then by Gary Waddock, who lost seven of eight matches before being himself sacked in July. That led to Appleton, who had steered the club to the Second Round of the FA Cup but also to a 2-5-10 league record.

Their morale, like Kyle’s, was abysmal. He wasn’t sure if he had handled things right.

Given his recent history, he was sure he hadn’t.
# # #
Monday, November 17, 2014

Oxford Raise Cain

Press Association

"League Two strugglers Oxford United have hired former Torquay United boss Kyle Cain on a two-year deal.

Cain, who was unable to save Torquay from relegation to the Vanarama Conference last season, enters his second foray into management on Saturday as the Us meet AFC Wimbledon at the Kassam Stadium in a battle of tail-enders.

Michael Appleton was sacked after Oxford’s 3-0 loss at York last Saturday. Appleton had led Oxford to a 3-0 FA Cup win at home to Harrowgate Town just nine days ago, but the club has been winless in League Two since a 2-0 win at Southend on the 6th September, a span of over nine weeks.

The club also have not won a league match at home since 30th August, a span of six matches, and have taken just one of the last eighteen points on offer on their home ground. "

# # #
I have waited a long time for this day - good luck!
:D Kyle has a job!!! Took a long time but i'm positive he will be great for Oxford :D
“I knew you could do it!”

Jenna hugged her father joyously, as he finally – finally – had some good news to relate.

But then it hit her.

She would have to move.

“I’m not staying with Mum, that’s for sure,” she said, as Kyle sat in his chair. He was making a list of things he wanted to bring to his new place in Oxford, which was being paid for by the club for the first sixty days of his tenure, until he was on his feet financially again. He was going to start packing immediately.

“Are you going to tell her?” Jenna asked.

Kyle smiled thinly.

“She hasn’t told me where she’s gone, so I thought I wouldn’t,” he answered. “But then, what I did made the papers so she’ll probably see it on her own.”

“Dad, that’s cruel.” Jenna frowned, crossing past her father to sit in what used to be her mother’s favorite chair.

“So is leaving,” he replied. “She needs to understand that she can’t behave like that and expect there to be no consequences.”

“So that’s it, is it?” she asked. “This is a game for you?”

“Didn’t you just say you weren’t staying with her?” Kyle asked. “What does it matter?”

“I may not agree with her but she is still my mother,” Jenna answered. She smoothed a long lock of dishwater blonde hair out of her eyes as she spoke. The color was a mixture of Kyle’s blonde hair and Stacy’s brunette color.

“And she is still my wife,” Kyle answered. “There’s really no reason for her to be gone. And now that I’m employed again I suppose she can come back whenever she’s ready.”

“Do you think that’s all you are to her, a paycheck?” she asked. Her eyes grew wide as she spoke.

Kyle laughed, a sarcastic snort which was louder than he perhaps intended for it to be. But still, when you’re loud, its better to be right, and Kyle definitely felt he was in the right.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s exactly what I am to her. After twenty years, too. That hurts more than I can describe to you.”

And with that, they packed to leave for Oxford in silence.

# # #
Kyle met Daryl Eales in the lobby of the club offices the next morning.

He and Jenna had risen early to make the drive, their things in a small rented trailer a club employee had driven behind them from East London.

Most of the staff was on hand – some were preparing for training later that morning – and Kyle thought it was a nice touch.

“Welcome,” the chairman said by way of greeting, extending his hand as he approached. “I’m glad to see you here early and ready to go.”

“I have something to prove,” Kyle said simply, shaking Eales offered hand and offering not a smile in return.

He introduced his daughter to the general delight of the assembled and headed to his new office, which had been picked nearly to the bone by staff to remove Appleton’s things from it.

The place, as a result, was furnished in a rather Spartan way, with blue, white and gold décor. Kyle entered for the first time and now he couldn’t help but smile. He was employed again after five long months and he was over the moon.

Handing in his notice in London had been a real pleasure as well – and this time he was determined not to waste the opportunity he had been given by insisting on a two-year contract. He wanted some security for a change. And, while this hadn’t quite fit the bill completely, it was a great start.

He sat behind a hardwood desk which was directly opposite the door, which occupied the middle of the far wall as he looked at it. To his left, along the wall, rested a couch. Two chairs and a small table occupied the right side of the room, below a good-sized television set suspended from the ceiling. Behind him, planning boards were attached to the wall with a bookcase and drinks cooler to his left along the back wall. Carpeting containing the club crest adorned the floor.

It suited him just fine. Jenna flopped down on the couch and immediately started looking for the television remote. That suited Kyle just fine too – he had to figure out her school arrangement that afternoon too, and until he did, she was stuck with him.

And he had training to run as well. It was going to be a busy day.

As he collected his thoughts, an older gentleman knocked at the door and allowed himself to enter. Kyle recognized him immediately as Derek Fazackerley, the assistant manager who had spent nineteen years as an active player, the overwhelming majority of them with Blackburn in their pre-Premiership days.

“Kyle, good to see you,” Fazackerley said, with the self-assuredness of a man who knows he is staying in his job. Kyle had never really had that sense of security at Torquay.

“Derek, it’s nice to be here,” Kyle said, rising to shake hands with his new number two. As assistants at League Two level go, it was hard to find better than Derek, and so Kyle said nothing about the easy way with which he had been greeted. Anyhow, it wouldn’t have done any good.

The two exchanged pleasantries and before long the rest of the senior coaching staff – goalkeeping coach Wayne Brown, fitness coach Alasdair Lane, first team coach Mickey Lewis, head physio Andy Lord and chief scout Craig Dean – were all assembled.

Kyle gave a short talk.

“Gentlemen, my brief on the one hand is obvious, to get this team out of relegation trouble,” he said. “But on the other, my brief is to get Oxford United mid-table or better by the end of the season. Now, if you look at the table you’ll see twelfth place is twelve points ahead of us. That means we’ve got a long, hard slog ahead of us. But my primary goal is to see that this club starts playing the right way again. I want good decisions, smart decisions made by people who are strong on the ball and strong off the ball. If we do those things, the rest will come. I’ve learned a lot since the end of last season and with your help, we’ll get this job done right.”

He looked at his watch, which showed 9:30 a.m.

“Right then, to your duties, gentlemen. I’ll meet you on the training pitch in half an hour.”

He motioned for Fazackerley to stay behind.

“Derek, I’ll want you to take the first training session but I’ll be on the touchline,” he said. “I want to talk with the senior squad members, individually if possible, as soon as it can be arranged. I’ve got a few days to look at the players and make a few early judgments and being at home this weekend helps.”

Kyle’s deputy gave that ready smile once again and looked at Kyle with a pensive expression. Kyle motioned for him to speak freely.

“Kyle, these players need some belief,” he said. “I tried to tell Michael that but I think he was feeling the pressure too much at the end, and he was hard on some of the lads. I’m sure you’ll hear about it, but if you want my advice – and maybe you don’t – I’d say go easy on them but remember that most of what these players are complaining about happened for a reason.”

That was a surprising thing to hear. Fazackerley, as a member of the prior regime, could be expected to defend his former boss, but here he was both defending Appleton and burying him with faint praise at the same time.

Kyle frowned, but then his face returned to a more serene expression.

“All right, Derek, that’s fine. I’ll take that under advisement when I meet with the players. Now, let’s get ready for training.”

# # #
Kyle stood on the touchline and watched as Fazackerley put his players through their paces. There weren’t many of them, but from what he was seeing, there were strengths even in a squad of that size.

There would be a battle for the number one shirt. Jamie Ashdown, 33, who had played for Portsmouth in their Premiership days but had spent the last two seasons not playing a minute of senior football for Leeds before being picked up on a free, had seen the most time. He was challenged by 32-year old Ryan Clarke, an ever-present for the team last season and a veteran of six years in a United shirt. From the looks of things, he wasn’t handling Ashdown’s challenge very well.

The defense had numbers, anyway, and looked fairly versatile. From right to left, 21-year Matt Bevans, a former Watford trainee, had seen most of the playing time, with help from 21-year old Cheyenne Dunkley, acquired from Kidderminster in the close season just past. 29-year old Johnny Mullins, in his second full season with the club, was also in the mix and could also play the center of defense.

In the middle, 30-year old Andy Whing was in his fourth season with the club but was also in contention as a holding midfielder. 28-year old Jake Wright, the club captain, was in his fifth year with the Us after washing out at Brighton in 2009.

On the left side, 25-year old Joe Skarz was the club’s highest valued player at £425,000 after Rotherham rather inexplicably let him go on a free. He and 22-year old Jonathan Meades were the only options there but Skarz was the clear choice.

Midfield was the club’s strongest area numerically, and from what Kyle had read, this was a good thing since a lot of them could play multiple positions.

24-year old Scotsman Alex MacDonald, a onetime Burnley trainee, had seen about a dozen games’ time on the right side of midfield. Twenty-year old Frenchman Jérémy Balmy was his main competition for playing time. On the left side, nineteen-year old whiz kid Callum O’Dowda, a home-grown talent, was the best on offer. Danny Rose, a 26-year old former Manchester United trainee who had never earned a contract higher than Conference level prior to joining the Us, was on the fringe of the first team as was twenty-one-year old Josh Ruffels, a free transfer from Coventry in his second year with the Us.

In the middle, there were some decent players. Unfortunately, the best of them, eighteen-year old James Maddison, was on loan from Coventry and only in his second professional season. From everything Kyle had been told, though, he made Oxford go.

Eighteen-year old prospect Josh Ashby was in from the city’s “other” team, Oxford City, and had made one appearance for the senior team. He had good talent, but was still a ways away from the first team. Twenty-eight-year old Irishman Michael Collins was also in the mix for playing time, but was presently recovering from a partially torn hamstring which would see him shelved for 3-6 more weeks.

There were also a few attacking midfielders who could double as strikers, and that was good because two of the team’s five hitmen were on the shelf with injury. Twenty-eight-year old Will Hoskins, one of two Us with Premership experience through nine matches with Watford in 2006, was out for a month with a sprained ankle and 26-year old Josh Campbell, who had torn up the Northern League with West Auckland and Jarrow, was out for three weeks with the same injury.

That left three men: seventeen-year old youth striker George Jeacock, 25-year old Danny Hylton, who was a free transfer from AFC Wimbledon, and 23-year old free transfer Patrick Hoban, fresh from Dundalk of the Irish Premier, as the strike options. The Irishman was the club’s leading goalscorer, with five, which was better than none but not by much.

The club had only scored fifteen goals in seventeen matches, which placed them third bottom in the league – but had made up for it by conceding 33 goals, which was also third bottom in the league.

Not surprisingly, their position was also third bottom in the league. The symmetry seemed appropriate.

# # #
Kyle found a school for Jenna the next day, and then set to work devouring videos of his new club.

Stacy, for her part, didn’t communicate with him. He wondered where she was in East London, but couldn’t be bothered to suss it out. He was too busy with his job, and he figured that if he knew his wife right, she’d be along shortly.

Only it wasn’t that easy.

Stacy was doing relatively well from her new job, and once she figured out that there was more money in the bank account, her occasional withdrawals had gotten bigger as well.

She knew what was happening. Kyle didn’t need to tell her.

But things were getting better from the first day between father and daughter.

Jenna was enrolled in school the day after Kyle took over the team, and the next two days she spent trying to adjust to her new surroundings. She missed her East London friends, and Kyle promised to try to get her back home as often as he could.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “But this came up and I had to try.”

“I know,” she replied. “And I read what you told the press.”

His introductory news conference, such as it was, had gone as well as could be expected. For him, the highlight came when the reporter from the Oxford Mail had asked why he was coming back into the League Two management game.

“I’m here because I have the chance to get it right, with a club that has been in the Premiership. I have lost sleep at night over what happened at Torquay and I’ve been desperate for a chance to get another shot at it. I interviewed at a lot of clubs who didn’t think I was the right person to do that but this club did. I am determined to repay the faith that Mr. Eales and the board have shown in me. I won’t rest until we succeed.”

The second highlight came when he was asked whether he felt a failure for what happened last season.

“The record might say so but I have to prove it to myself. I learned a lot from what happened at Torquay and I am grateful for the chance they gave me. We all worked hard but results didn’t go our way. So if you want to call that failure, then the record would bear you out. But I am driven, and I do mean driven, to make sure I never have that feeling again.”

It sounded good. Turning words into reality would be much more difficult.

# # #
Kyle’s meetings with individual players revealed some of the rot that had set in.

No fewer than five players came to Kyle with complains about their training that first day. Reserve player Sam Long was joined by Balmy, Ashby, O’Dowda and Maddison to complain about how Appleton had treated them in training. They weren’t happy and Kyle understood that it translated into how they were playing.

Kyle understood. He felt how players who were upset weren’t happy within their very souls. They wanted to play and they didn’t feel they were getting the right instruction.

Well, he was the manager and he knew that feeling perfectly well. He knew what it was like to feel like things weren’t right, like a man felt who was being short-shrifted.

It was hard. In a position of authority, he was able to help individual situations while helping the club. He did the best he could, while checking with Fazackerley about how to best help the players in question. If there was anything Kyle Cain understood, it was the need to help someone who was hurting.

They had complaints about the heavy level of their training. As it looked, Appleby had used training as a measure of punishment rather than as a measure of instruction for some players. Kyle couldn’t prove it, but from the reaction of the players, it appeared to be accurate.

Perhaps it was sour grapes. But too many of the players were grousing pretty loudly about being worked too hard, and if that many players were upset there was probably something to it.

The problem was that Kyle needed to show he was in charge, and granting a blanket amnesty on training offenses might not be the best way to show that the inmates really weren’t running the asylum.

Yet, to preserve squad morale, Kyle decided to bend. However, he told each player that however onerous their prior training restrictions had been, he reserved the right to reinstate them – and perhaps more – if they abused his good faith.

Or, as he put it, “I’ll put you all on the rack if you cross me on this.”

That seemed to get his message across pretty well. He had to get this right, and he was determined to get it right.

That said, Kyle was prepared to give the players a fairly long leash, especially Maddison, who he really needed to perform at his peak. The young man appeared to make Oxford go from everything he had seen.

The other key item in those first days in charge was to take care of some business. He also had to answer to the Mail, who said, in essence, “thanks for your generosity, but we’ve never been in the Premiership.”

That was a faux pas, and some fans saw it as the words of someone unfamiliar with the club’s, or the game’s, traditions. For a man who needed the fans to be onside right away, it was a silly, silly mistake and he kicked himself for it all the next day.

Kyle didn’t take well to failure, perceived or otherwise. He wanted to try to put things right and he knew that wins – and a little closer attention to detail – were the fastest way to get to that point.

All that said, Kyle saw that a thin squad with only one loanee was susceptible in ways it ought not to be. That wasn’t immediately fixable due to the loan transfer window being nearly closed and most of the worthwhile loan talent already long gone to other clubs. A parent club was the answer.

For his part, Eales had done the math before Kyle met with the club’s board to make the request, but the shocking thing was that someone hadn’t already thought of it.

It was no wonder Oxford United, in the First Division (not the Premiership, thank you) as recently as 1988 and the Second Division as recently as 1999, was in the shape it was in. At least, it seemed obvious to Kyle, even if he didn’t get the nomenclature quite right.

The club didn’t own its ground, instead leasing the Kassam Stadium. Eales, a businessman who had taken over the chairmanship in July, wanted a freehold ground as a matter of club policy, but the money just wasn’t there. It would have to come from somewhere, and that ‘somewhere’ was finding success.

Or in finding someone who could help them find success. That seemed to be a shortcut.

That should have been an obvious fact to Eales, who had made his money during eleven years as Chief Executive Officer of LDC, the private equity part of Lloyds Banking Group, and who had an eye for how to make a quid.

Kyle sized up the board the day after he was hired. At the head of the table sat the boss, Eales, his close-dropped hair freshly cut short and roughly, if unevenly, swept over from a part over his left eye. His characteristic wide-bowed glasses framed a face that was at once wide at the cheeks but healthy, with an easy smile when he was happy and a rather menacing frown when he was not.

It was Kyle’s job to make sure on-pitch results made him smile.

Eales’ Chief Executive Officer, Mark Ashton, sat to his right. Both men wore their characteristic yellow ties with blue pin stripes over dress shirts. They were all business.

Ashton’s narrow-set eyes and close brows made him look formidable when he wasn’t happy and his squarish face and strong jaw both showed an intensity of character which meant Kyle would need to be on his toes when talking with him. So he made his pitch as clearly and succinctly as he could, his East London accent sounding a bit out of place in Oxfordshire.

Yet the board’s answer, as Kyle knew it would be, was positive. Filling the coffers and finding a pipeline for loan players accomplished two goals at the same time.

But more important tests were ahead in the short term. The first was a home match against the phoenix club AFC Wimbledon on the 22nd November.

After meeting with the board and the players, he had three days to prepare for it. And with his known fear and dislike of failure, getting off on the right foot wasn’t just a good idea.

It was essential.

# # #

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