The loss against Fulham was far behind… Jon saw the players being in a much better spirit today. He always wondered how she was able to pull that kind of spanking out of nowhere, especially in this day and age… After slamming Leon at Craven Cottage, and benching him for three games, he saw the players acting in a different way. After a better game against Brighton four days afterward, a narrow 1-0 win, things got much better. Ipswich got spanked 3-1 at Portman Road and, at the Emirates the week after, the Gunners crushed Leicester 3-0 in what was one of the most one sided match of the season so far. The Foxes were just below European football at that point in the season…
«Wembley is always beautiful… isn’t it?» said Jon to Penny as the bus was entering the underground parking. She smiled.
- «Only when we win!» she answered.
- «Yeah… and Everton is beatable in the best of days so…
- Well, I hope it’s one of those… It’s been a long time since I saw that trophy up-close!»
As Penny and Jon entered the dressing room, she felt confident in today’s outcome. Outside of the preparation, it was all about moral. For some reason, probably because of her demanding behaviour, she always got a dip in performance in January. “We are two days away from March… It’s over now!” she thought.
«Be aggressive but be smart, boys… Come on! Let’s go take that trophy!» The players were clapping their hands as they were getting out the dressing room. Leon and Domingo were the last ones to get out, as usual, and both went by Penny who was standing at the door to give her a small headbutt. When they got theirs, they went out. «Who would have thought it still would be a thing after all this time, huh?» said Jon to Penny.
- «If Domingo had slapped me before our first Champions League Trophy? I’d probably still ask him to do it!» They both laughed. In 2031, when she won her first Champions League with Aston Villa, Domingo came at to her before exiting the dressing room and had butted his head gently on hers’. During the game, he stopped not one, but two penalties against Bayern! Since then, every time he would exit a dressing room for a match, he’d do it. Leon started doing it the next season. On the first game, he scored a hat-trick in the Community Shield… Since then, both players would come to her to get their headbutt.
- «He probably would have grabbed your ass instead!» Both laughed harder. At thirty, Domingo still was a bachelor and, by the number of girls that came to different events during the season, still seemed to be a ladies’ man...
- «Would probably go smoother with the press if I’d do it to him!»
Penny was in the technical area. The 3-5-2 was well integrated by her players now and every time they were playing it, she would see the players being confident. Today, she was playing her best XI minus two players. Endri was out because of a twisted ankle; she had to put Ibrahim Boka as a DLP. The other one was Guihlerme Salgado who also was in midfield. It was a young player that has been loaned out for the last four seasons, mainly in Italy, and she decided to use him to replace Takashi, instead of the two youngsters that came to the club in January because he had experience in cup games. He would never be a superstar but he got what she wanted: he was a big box-to-box midfielder who wasn’t afraid to play aggressively! The last man in midfield was Diego, as usual…
The game started rather slowly. Abel Ferrara, the Toffees manager, came in with a pretty conservative 4-4-2 and since they were on a good form run, she asked her players to observe at start. As suspected, Everton was pushing more on their left flank: they got one of the best right winger in the league! After about fifteen minutes, Penny made a sign to Bienvenu, who slowly was getting accustomed in his new position, to push harder on his side. The wingback started to make deeper runs and, on the twenty-sixth minute, he made a wonderful cross to Moreno inside the box, 1-0!
At half time, she did nothing but remind the players that there still was forty-five minutes to play… The second half was on for only five minutes when Leon created a chance, all by himself, by drawing three players at the edge of the box! Sadly, the ball ended on the post and Moreno was disgusted by it but, nonetheless, Penny was satisfied by the play and she let the players know! The next goal came in the eighty-fourth minute, on a free kick. Receiving a small pass from Ibrahim, Diego sent a missile in the top left corner of the goal from thirty yards out! It only was five minutes into stoppage time, on a corner, that Everton finally got a shot on target… the goal came way too late to make any difference. The Gunners had won their first League Cup since 1993!
«Diego dominated everything!» said Jon to Penny as they were retreating to the dressing room…
- «He was on top today! Can’t wait to see the stats… he got… what… three or four key passes, at least! And he must have a pass completion of around ninety percent!» she answered, all smile.
- «It must be in those waters… He just dominated the game today…»
As they were waiting in the middle of the dressing room for the players to be all seated, Leon came to Penny. «Boss…» he started to talk in a hushed voice. «Thanks for letting m…» She smiled and put her hand on his mouth to make sure he wouldn’t say anything else.
- «I always said you would always know it all from me…» A single tear started rolling down his eye before he took her in his arms for the fourth time since the end of the match…
A beautiful moment shared between Penny and Leon. Congratulations to them both for claiming the club's first League Cup in many, many years!
On March 12th, Penny was “a bit” out of depth as she drove in her parking spot at Colney. She felt just the way she should after drinking that much wine the night before... When she got out of her car, she saw Jon coming to her from three emplacements down the line. More and more, stress and her family preoccupations, were starting to get a hold on her. The unexpected money drive she had to make in the winter window, Mark becoming dad for a second time and Britanny saying she’d get married was a bit too much for the once wife and mum and always football manager…
«Trouble sleeping I see…» said Jon as he came alongside her walking to the front door. She hated that man right now…
- «Yeah…» she said withholding everything else.
As they both arrived at the door, Jon opened it for her. For weeks now, he saw the baggies under the eyes of his boss becoming more and more prominent. Even Max noticed it last week. As they walked toward their respective offices, not a word was exchanged. When she past her door, she just threw her backpack and purse on the couch and headed toward the cafeteria. Jon played catch-up to join her for breakfast. When he tried to pry the subject of the lack of sleep, she obfuscated it by starting to talk about the Manchester United game tonight. He knew better and stopped; she was like an onion but so far, he never found a knife sharp enough to cut through and trying to peel the layers one at a time would be too much of an unpleasant moment.
The game was about to start at Old Trafford and there was electricity in the air. The Red Devils were in second place, four points behind the Gunners. They closed down the gap during the January dip in performance while going full steam ahead, being on a streak of victory that got all the media talking about it. «An irresistible force will meet an unmovable object» was an analogy that was thrown around a lot when talking about the match. Penny wasn’t looking her best but she didn’t care. The match was a gigantic stalemate that ended on a nil-nil score. Penny didn’t make a fuss of the result. Her boys played good. The thing was that the players of Wesley Sneijder played good too!
As the players were showering, Penny started her post-game routine with Jon. Going over the stats and making notes about the games, Jon saw that she seemed absent. He didn’t say a word about it but took a mental note; he’d need to circle back to this tomorrow with her. «Not a lot can be said except that they played an excellent defence, just like we did…» She acquiesced.
- «When we’ll watch the game tomorrow, I think we’ll come pretty much to that too. There were mistakes made but they never were fatal. On both sides.
- I think it’s starting to gel between Diego and André Aas. They made some good pass combinations tonight.
- I think Diego is getting the feel of the kid’s positioning. The latter have some work to do when he doesn’t have the ball on transition but I think it fits with what we saw in scouting…»
When all were ready to leave, Penny took Diego apart. «I think you’re yellow card barely six minutes in slowed you down, huh?» The man looked at here.
- «Yeah boss. I still don’t understand why I got it from what I did…» She looked at him.
- «You sure about that?» He looked at her.
- «Hmm… Maybe it was a bit much…
- You know Diego that getting bogged down in the mud so early makes the game tougher.
- I know boss. I thought André wouldn’t be in a position to catch-up to Lewis when he intercepted the pass…» She smiled at him.
- «I know you play like I ask you to play but still… Next week, I think I’ll make some extra work with you and all the midfielders. André and Francisco aren’t used to play the way we do.» He smiled at Penny.
- «I think that with Endri’s injury, they are playing a bit more than what you thought, right?
- Yes…» She passed her free arm over his shoulders. «… but I count on you to take them up to speed.
- You can always count on me boss!» he said as both started to walk toward the bus.
The drive out of Old Trafford for the train station barely begun when Penny’s phone started to ring. She was surprised at that; just like for Jon that was by her side. She rummaged through her purse to get it out fast. The phone always was on vibration except for the second number, the one to be used for emergency and whom only a handful of peoples knew the number. As she got it out, she saw it was Britanny: «Hello swee…
- Mum?» interrupted the daughter. «I just got a phone call from the police. Grand-pa is dead!» Penny became ghost white.
- He was taking a walk and he suddenly fell to the ground about an hour ago. Apparently he got a heart attack. They say he didn’t have any paper on him, only the keys to his house…» Penny couldn’t say a thing… Tears immediately started rolling down her cheeks. Jon, who was seeing this, could hear a voice asking: «Mum? Mum? You there?» while Penny was looking forward crying and in shock…
Some terrible news for an already troubled Penny.
Heartbreaking news that, adding on to Penny's number of problems. At least in terms of results she has ensured Arsenal still have their gap.
Bad news seems to be compounding on Penny! Such a sad time losing such a close member of one's family.
A little over a month after the death of her father, Penny was in the coach with the players, riding toward Stamford Bridge. When her father died, she didn’t show up at work for ten days. She did was back at Colney five days later, the very day after her dad was buried alongside his wife, but she never was able to “entirely” be there… The players all came to the funeral to pay respect. Even the big brass at Arsenal did it. It was surreal for Penny, to see a sea of “Gunners’ red” shirts all over the place… Not to mention that there also was a significant amount of people from Aston Villa who came too, including the owner and a lot from staffs… Bruce, her brother, made a comment about the fact that dad would have loved to see this… Even Mark paid respect to her father by coming alone with Britanny…
Two week after the funeral, on April 2nd, Arsenal went to the Ron Saunders Stadium to play the second game against Villa. Penny was tempted to not even show up at the game but she couldn’t not go… Jon had taken over for the Sheffield Wednesday game a week after the Manchester United match but she couldn’t do the same for this one… The meeting with Cynthia O’Flaherty was… bizarre. Villa did things with a lot of class: flowers, minute of silence before the game, etc… It was nothing compared to the welcoming the fans offered her though… At some point, she was ashamed since she felt it was even louder than when O’Flaherty stepped on the grass but what could she do? The game was a 2-2 draw and Penny was ok with that result but didn’t really care…
It’s just that everything was so hard to keep in focus, everything felt meaningless… She, who always was able to drown her problems or concerns by working at the club, whichever club she was with, never was able to do it since her father passed away… This meant that as soon as she was alone in her flat, bottles of wine would be opened and drank… Each morning was getting harder to manage though. She knew that she was suffering from hangovers but the alcohol made her go through the small amount of time she was stuck alone with her thoughts…
Last night though, she didn’t have the chance to drink since Jon came to her flat. He knew something wasn’t right. Since the stakes were getting higher and higher, to the point that a win tonight could also mean winning the Premiere League Trophy, he felt that it was important to try and get her back on track…
When the players started getting out of the coach, Leon and Diego came to her: «Boss, I think you need some sleep…» said the first one.
- «I agree, you look like… well, I’ve never seen you looking like that…» said the other. She looked at the two men. She gave a tepid smile.
- «Missing my dad…» she just said. Both men gave her a hug.
- «We got your back boss…» whispered Leon in hear. She needed to break the hug quickly because she felt she was on the verge of crying.
Jon saw the scene and smiled inside. He went to the trio and took her backpack. All four started to walk toward the Visitors’ dressing room. About thirty minutes later, in the pre-game meeting with the officials, he saw Diego Simeone, the Chelsea manager, with whom Penny had a great relationship, come to her directly with a small bouquet of white lilies…
When the first half ended, the score was nil-nil. It was a great stalemate between two teams that preferred to play counter attacking football. Most of all, both teams were playing very well defensively, each other limiting the opponent to only four shots. Jon and Penny were conferring about changes to make for the second half when Ruben, the captain, got up in the dressing and started to pump the players up for the second half. The speech was so good that both she and Jon decided not to say a single thing other than the changes.
On the fifty-eighth minutes, Ivan Ramirez, Chelseas’ right winger was moving the ball up the pitch on the right side, hugging the line. Francisco came from behind and tackled him with both feet. It was an immediate red card! Penny saw the kid not even looking at the referee after the whistle. Instead, he started to walk toward the dressing room right away; he knew… Penny decided to make no changes on the pitch. Francisco was the third central midfielder and she knew Endri and Diego could do the job. She just asked Leon and Moreno to press more. On the sixty-second minute, from a play that started with a long kick from Domingo to Bienvenu on the right flank, Leon was able to break the deadlock with a superb header from the wingback’s cross in the box! 1-0! Automatically, Leon started to run toward Penny and Jon who were in the technical area. With joy and energy, the player took Penny in his arm and lifted her up while giving her a bear hug: «I told you I got you’re back boss! I told you!!!» he screamed at her! Six minute later, Leon and Moreno passed the ball back and forth as they were going up the pitch. Once inside the box, with three players around him, the former made a final pass to the latter who got all the time in the world to send the ball in the back of the net! 2-0! Two minutes into stoppage time, Mario Domizi was able to erase Arsenal’s clean sheet with a precise volley but, it was too little too late. When the referee called the game off, it was 2-1 and the Gunners had won their first Premiere League title in nineteen years!
All the players celebrated and Leon, most of all, never let his boss be more than inches away. When Jon finally had the chance to take her in his arm to celebrate and congratulate her, all he got was a tearful Penny…
Despite Penny's battles off the pitch, she has accomplished something incredible. Congratulations to Arsenal, the players and most importantly, Penny. Her father would be very, very proud of his daughter!
A huge sigh of relief for Arsenal fans who have gone on a long title drought. At the same time, a big moment for Penny who has gone through so much and can celebrate in a time of recent agony for her.
Penny deserves a lot of plaudits for this. Battling on after suffering a tragic loss in the family and taking Arsenal to such great heights is a magnificent achievement!
“Stiles: Alcohol is the main factor in the crash.
James Bowater, Sky Sports News.
May 17, 2039
In a press conference this morning, the London Police have announced that the car accident that took the life of Arsenal’s manager, Penny Stiles, on the morning of the 16 of May, was most probably caused by alcohol.
At 07h15 two days ago, Penny Stiles crashed her car into a parked truck and lost her life. At the time of death, the autopsy revealed that she was under the influence of alcohol, with 1.8mg of it in her blood. There always were a lot of speculations about the reason the accident occurred. The absence of brake marks suggested that she never slowed down. If some suggested defects in the automatic driving system, some others suggested a human error. Today, we now know that Stiles never engaged the automatic driving system on her car and was intoxicated at the moment of the impact.
The team didn’t make any comment as of the time of writing but a press conference has been called for late this afternoon. The players still are under shock after the news.
Later the day of the accident, the team met Liverpool at Anfield on the last day of the season. Jon Stead, Arsenal’s Assistant Manager, took over for the match. The 1-2 loss was the last game of the season in the Premiere League. Anfield, usually a very lively place, was in a very subdued atmosphere. When the crowd started to chant the ritualized “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before the match, instead of holding Liverpool scarves, all were holding both the Reds and the Gunners scarves high in the air. A three minutes video was then presented, summarizing Penny Stiles’ career and a minute of silence was observed. The Arsenal players used special shirts for the game, with Stiles name in front and the number 86, which was the one she was using with the Arsenal Ladies.
The Arsenal season is one that’s been most successful for a team that struggled in the past years. Other than winning the League Cup Trophy, they were crowned champions with four games to spare. Moreno Brambilla and Leon Smith finished first and second for goals scored, with 27 and 26 respectively. The latter shattering the Premiere League record of assists, with 23 and also being named Man of the Match 11 times.
A ceremony in honour of the first woman manager in a top flight league will be held at Colney next Saturday. Representatives from the English Football Association, the Three Lions, Aston Villa FC and Hereford FC, where she got her first job as a professional manager, will also attend the ceremony.”
Jon dropped his tablet on his desk and grabbed a tissue… He was alone in his office and still was shocked by the events that took place in the last two days. As he was drying his eyes, knocks on his door were heard. «Come in!» he said while turning toward the door. When it opened, he Saw Kim Franssen and Randy Ooms, the General Managers of the club enter his office.
- «Sorry to disturb you Jon, but we wanted to know if we could have a word with you…» said Kim.
- «Sure ma’am, sure…» he said while directing them toward his meeting table, in the corner, as he got up to go sit with them.
- «I guess you know by now that she was drunk when…» started to say Randy when Jon interrupted him.
- «Yes, sir. I know.
- Have you noticed any of this before?» asked Kim. Jon took some time before speaking.
- «I know that she took the death of her father very badly…» He started looking at his hands that were fidgeting around on the table. «… and I think something happened in her personal life too… but no, I didn’t know it was to the point of being drunk at six in the morning on match day…
- According to the autopsy report, the last drink was at least five hours before the time of death…» said Kim. «This means that when she started to sleep, she was… well… you know…»
The silence that lasted after she spoke was deafening. It finally was Randy who broke it. «We will talk about the ceremony later but we, the club’s management, are thinking of offering you to take her place as Manager of the team…» Jon looked at him. Randy continued. «We saw that the results this year were the doing of you both. We also heard the comment she said, about continuity. We think that it would be her wish for you take her place. Kim and I will have some convincing to do at the head office since you never was a manager on your own but…» Jon looked at the General Managers. He didn’t speak for a very long time…
Thanks to all of you who read the story.
It was, by far, the most successful save I ever had:5 PL championships in total, 3 FA Cups, 3 Carabao Cups, 2 Champions League + 1 runner-up, 1 Nations Leagues with the Three Lions… I hope you enjoyed the story, stories, of this limping woman…
Wow. A sad way to see a women who achieved so much lose her life so young. I hope Jon can continue Penny's legacy strongly!
A great read, hopefully we see you back soon!
I hope to see you return to writing again soon! Excellent read.
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