Firebrand Chapter 0: Interview with a Keeper
December 27, 2020
"Why now?" asked the young woman, her footsteps crunching on the snow as she tried to keep pace with the older man that was her companion.
"Why not now?" the older man replied, falling back on his question-with-a-question habit that so annoyed Sophia.
"Uh... because we're right between Christmas and New Year? The holidays?" Sophia grimaced as her Ugg-booted foot punctured a thin layer of ice, plunging the immaculate shoe into a grimy puddle.
"Now, now Sophia, deadlines rest for no holiday. Chin up, we're here!"
The older man stopped in front of a moderate-sized family home. To Sophia, it looked like any other one of the thousands of houses in Madison, Wisconsin. She and her journalism professor had made the short trip across town from the U of W to do this interview. The only inkling that she was in the right place was the name on the mailbox.
The following is part of the transcript of the article submitted by Professor James Buckner and Sophia Westgarden to FourFourTwo magazine.
Avery. If you're a USMNT fan, you'll remember him as the food poisoning keeper. If you're a diehard, you may remember his years in England. But the Dutch remember him another way. Travel the streets of Holland on an Eredivise matchday and you'll inevitably see at least one shirt, bearing the iconic graphic. This is the story of Avery O.G. 90+7'
Sophia and her professor sat a bit awkwardly on the couch, while the man they were there to interview helped his mother get coffee for them. Sophia cast her gaze around the room, eventually landing on some old photos. Never one to pass up an opportunity to show off, Mrs. Avery sidled up next to her.
"Oh yes, isn't he so cute? Look at him in his little Twente kit. Don't you know, that was the only team he ever wanted to play for? And he did! I'm Dutch by birth of course, and his father was the ambassador to the Netherlands at the time! Looked so handsome I thought, 'Well, I can't let someone else snatch him up!' So I did, and we've been married ever since. Jack came along a few years later. Ever since he could kick a ball he was out there. The Twente Academy found out he had real talent in net, though. You made your first-team debut in 2012, right dear?"
"2013, mom." Jack called from the kitchen. "Sugar, cream?"
"Black for me, lots of both for Sophia. She can't handle the strong stuff." the professor chuckled. Sophia looked a bit offended at that but didn't protest.
"That's right, you were... 17 at the time. And you did a good job, too!" Mrs. Avery laughed. "I remember your father taking shots at you in the net. He kicked for the American football before politics called."
Professer Buckner accepted a cup of coffee from Jack. Sipping it, he added "Is Mr. Avery still... with us?"
"Oh dear me, yes." Mrs. Avery replied.
"Dad's down working at the capitol, he'll be back later to fill in the details mom and I miss." Jack said, sitting down. "Now, where were we? Ah yes, 2013. Yes, Twente called me up to the senior team. Steve McClaren was coaching us then. I think we finished 6th, though I didn't play much. The next year, though. Everything changed. My birthday is June 10th, so I turned 18 right before the season."
"Right." Sophia said. She sipped her coffee. "This was the beginning of your career proper... and your controversy. My notes say you were sent off that season for... flipping off the away stand?"
Jack sighed. "Twente has a huge rivalry with Heracles. Heracles... right bastards, the lot of them. My temper boiled over when I heard the away Heracles stand making monkey noises and using words I could never repeat at my friend Shadrach Eghan. Good guy, still playing in... Iraq, I want to say? I gave them the double bird... doubtless, you've seen the photo. Ref sent me straight off and we conceded twice to draw. No regrets but lost points."
"Right... " Sophia said, at a loss, looking to her professor. He shrugged. It was her interview, after all. "You guys finished an impressive third that year. Let's talk about the next season."
"Sure." Jack said jokingly. "Ask me about any of the first 33 games. Let's not talk about matchweek 34."
Another excerpt from the January 2021 FourFourTwo article.
Matchweek 34, 2015. Twente vs Vitesse. Twente sit tenth, and will not move regardless of their result today.
Heracles sit 9th, and need to better Vitesse's result to qualify for the European playoffs.
At 90 minutes, the score sits Twente 0 - 0 Vitesse, and 1-1 Heracles. Jack has played a great game and kept 6 quality shots from the back of the net. Suddenly, a buzz goes up from the crowd, and not a happy one. The diehards are upset to see that Heracles has scored one at the death, and suddenly are leapfrogging Vitesse for the playoffs. Not that they love Vitesse very much, but to see any semblance of success for Heracles is too much to bear. The Twente players pass among themselves, entering the 5th and final minute of extra time. Suddenly, a Vitesse player steals the ball, making a spectacular run. A bit of interplay now, as Vitesse try and steal their shot at Europe back. But Twente's back four are as solid as they have been all day. They snag it back, and one heads it back toward Avery. Jack refused to comment on what happened next.
You can find the clip on Youtube still. In it, you can clearly see him scoop up the ball, glance at the clock (96:02), glance at the ref who has his whistle to his lips, once more at the live table... then roll the ball casually into his own net.
The Vitesse fans go wild. Alfred Schreuder is irate post-match. Avery's teammates immediately confront him. But the final table says it all. Vitesse 8th, and qualify for the Europa League playoffs (they would go on to qualify). Heracles 9th. Nothing. I doubt Mr. Avery ever had to buy a beer in Enschede ever again.
Training Center Twente, 2015
Jack sat at the desk in the manager's office. Though Schreuder liked him, one did not simply get away with scoring an intentional own goal and throwing away a point, regardless of the point Jack tried to make that it simply didn't matter, standings-wise. The KNVB had gone over and over betting and phone records, but couldn't find any evidence of corruption. They settled on a 40,000 euro fine, 2/3 of Jack's yearly wage, but no playing ban.
After the hairdryer treatment Jack had been getting for the past few weeks, he had been called in for a meeting. The manager had sent him in, but was on the phone in the other room. His phone buzzed again. The landlord.
John, (The landlord refused to call him Jack.) more packages.
Just put them in the hall, I'll grab them when I get home. he replied. Gifts had been pouring in from the more... dedicated... Twente fans. Food, restaurant gift certificates, an admittedly warm pair of mittens, and his personal favorite, a t-shirt emblazoned with "Avery O.G. 90+7' ". He had actually seen quite a few of these around, though he tucked his into a box.
The door opened behind him.
"Jack?" Alfred Schreuder asked.
"Hey gaffer." Jack said a bit meekly.
"I think we've found a solution for you. You've seen it, the club is in great financial trouble."
Jack nodded. The paychecks had been a bit late lately, and the seams of the club had started to show.
"We've come to an arrangement. The board won't have you here anymore. The KNVB have decided to allow a special waiver. The fined portion of your wages will simply not be paid. The remainder... will be paid by your new club."
Jack jumped up. "I'm being sold? My contract lasts another 4 years, I just re-signed!"
"You're being loaned, Jack. Don't worry, you won't even have to move. Starting tomorrow, you're a member of Go Ahead Eagles."
"That year on loan with Go Ahead Eagles went quite well." Jack continued. "We finished fifth, but got promoted through the playoffs."
"After the loan expired, what happened then?" Sophie asked, enrapt.
Mr. Avery (Jack's dad) spoke up. He had arrived home a while ago. "Well, Twente's financials hadn't gotten any better since Jack left. Quite the opposite. So when a 1.2 million dollar bid arrived, they snapped it right up."
"Wish I had been able to suit up for them one last time. But that's life for you." Jack said a bit wistfully, gazing at a framed Memphis Depay jersey he had swapped for once upon a time. "That's how I ended up at Bolton."
Taken from Lion of Vienna Suite, a Bolton Wanderers blog, circa May 2017.
Jack Avery, one year on.
A year ago, Bolton management announced the 875 thousand pound signing of American goalkeeper Jack Avery from Eredivise side FC Twente. Most famous for intentionally scoring an own-goal to deny rivals Heracles a European slot, we here at LVS were understandably a bit skeptical on the club spending over a third of the Rob Holding windfall on him.
Jack quickly became the #1 keeper at the club, making a total of 45 appearances across all comps, with 23 clean sheets. Finishing 4 points clear of the playoffs, we look forward to next season, our immediate return to the Championship.
"That Championship year was... something." Jack said. "We survived. Barely. Like.... 90th minute penalty save to stay up on goal differential alone, something. Unfortunately, the club was broke. Again."
"Didn't you get a red card again that year?" Sophia asked.
"Yes, he's always had a bit of a temper but that year... during the League Cup against West Ham, he and his friend Mark roughed up a pitch invader, something about the West Ham board." his mother said disapprovingly.
"Pitch invaders are a danger to the players, Mark and I did nothing wrong." said Jack in a tired tone. Sophia and the professor got the distinct impression this argument had gone in circles before and gotten nowhere.
"Right!" Sophie said to cut the argument off at the head. "That was the year you first were capped, right?"
"Correct. Bruce Arena needed a fourth-choice keeper, so I was called up for World Cup qualifiers. I didn't expect to play."
Mrs. Avery presented Sophia with a newspaper clipping.
US Men's Soccer downs St. Vincent and Grenadines 6-0 as Avery makes debut.
"The food poisoning game." Jack said with mock seriousness. "See, Tim Howard needed a rest, so they of course intended to name Brad Guzan, with me on the bench. I never expected to get in the game but... both Brad and Bill Hamid had tried a seafood dish the night before. I... got a steak. With Brad and Bill both vomiting profusely, Brad in front of a camera... I got the start, Tim on the bench. Well, I kept a clean sheet and ended up getting 18 caps total. Once Bruce was gone and Zach Steffen started to emerge... well, kid's a lot better than I ever was anyway. And I had enough to worry about, with my checks starting to bounce."
"So when Bolton couldn't afford your wages anymore, what happened?"
"Loan again, naturally. A club offered to pay my wages, plus a nice fee. Bolton were in trouble, and had to pay. I must admit I was hoping it would be in America, would be nice to play closer to home! I couldn't stay mad too long, though, when I found out where I was headed. You see, I was headed to the A-League, for Perth Glory! Perth was a fantastic time. First off, I won my first ever trophy, as the Premiers of the A-League! And second... and more personally, I played Chelsea in a preseason friendly, and after the match I was able to trade shirts with Cesc Fabergas, one of my heroes." Jack pointed out a signed blue shirt, framed on the wall. "Though I love him for his exploits with the red side of London."
"But that season... didn't end well for you." The professor spoke for the first time in a while.
"No." Jack said quietly. "It didn't. I suffered a bad concussion diving for a save in the Grand Final. I was subbed off and we lost in the shootout. I couldn't even say goodbye to a lot of the guys, and it was back to England and Bolton. In my absence, they had been relegated back to League One. It was like a funeral. Administration loomed. Those were dark days. And... when Portsmouth came with 250 grand for my services... I was off again."
"Now, the year at Portsmouth was lovely." said his mother.
"Yeah." Jack said, his eyes clouding a bit. "For a while."
January 4th, 2020. Highbury Stadium
"Alright lads! Barnsley at home, next round! But for now, 2-1 is a great result! Celebrate, you've earned it!" Kenny Jackett yelled to the raucous celebrating Pompey players.
He walked over to Joe Gallen. "Hey, have you seen Avery? I wanted to ask about that last minute goal. While it didn't change the result, it's unprofessional to lose concentration like that."
"Yeah." Gallen said. "Looked he was yelling at the opposition manager."
"Ha, classic Avery." Jackett smirked. "We knew what we were signing up for."
"But no, haven't seen him in the locker room yet." Gallen replied.
"Huh. Maybe he's on the pitch. He deserves part of this celebration, he was nearly unbeatable today. I'll go find him."
Jackett left the locker room, headed back through the tunnels. Although about 2000 had attended the FA Cup tie, it was a miserable night for weather and the tunnel was deserted. As he rounded the corner, looking for his keeper, he found Jack. On the ground. Head covered in blood.
Jack sat silently on the couch for a long moment.
"And that was it. According to the medical staff, I must have slipped and bashed my head on the concrete wall. The neurologists were unanimous. Any further trauma could have killed me. It was time for me to retire. I was 24."
Sophia sat silently, not sure how to respond. She hadn't expected her senior project to go quite like this.
"A lot of guys reached out. Fans, everyone. But there were two people that kept me from a really dark place. First, Kenny Jackett. He was forced to retire at 28, so he really, truly, got it. He called me every single week. Including yesterday. Oh, and my childhood friend, Nick Gallows. He's been with me every step of the way, making highlight videos, planning press & PR, and basically being my right-hand man. And he's my best damn friend."
"Nick's dad worked with me at the embassy." Mr. Avery explained. "Though he never had the technical skill to make it as a player, Nick has an incredible mind for the game."
"So now what?" Sophia asked. "I love your passion for the game, and it seems like you're not satisfied with what's happened so far."
"Well." Jack said. "Here's an exclusive scoop for you, Mrs. Sophia. I intend to go into management. I actually... had a gig lined up in July. FC Lviv in Ukraine offered me the manager role."
"Ms." Sophia offered.
"I'm not married. Anyhow, what happened?"
"I had a setback with my brain. Started vomiting a lot, and needed to take it easy. Post-concussive syndrome, they call it. I wish Lviv the best though, though they currently reside in the bottom of the FavBet Liha."
"Well, I think that about wraps it up." Sophia said, setting her mug down on the coaster with a clink. "Thank you all so much for your hospitality, and Jack?"
"Thank you for your time, and I will certainly be following your career with great interest. One last question. Do you think clubs will be lining up to sign you, and why should they?"
"Ms. Sophia, that is two questions." Jack said with a twinkle in his eye. "But yes. Right now, there is room for a youth revolution. Pep, Klopp, Zidane. They aren't getting younger. And why should they? I'm approaching this like nobody ever has done before. Plus, I hear a wonderful article is coming out on me soon." He winked at her.
Sophia blushed in spite of herself. "Right, well. Goodbye, Averys. Thank you for everything."
On the way back out to the car, the professor couldn't help but rib his prized student. "So, Ms. Sophia, what do you think?"
"Shut up, James. Mr. Avery is... controversial for a reason."
"I sense a 'but' coming..."
"But... he's gonna make it. I can feel it."
"Perhaps you're right, Sophia. I think you may be. Now come on, this article needs to get out. FourFourTwo won't wait forever."
End Chapter 0
It would've been very interesting to see you start off your management career in Ukraine, but my guess would be that Mr Avery starts off a bit closer to home. A turbulent career, it must be said, but he clearly has the hunger to still be in the game, which is probably fueled by his premature retirement.
Best of luck
What a way for your career to end. Sobering. However, let's hope that Avery's career in management is a long-standing one and he can go on to achieve plenty.
Good luck replacing Zizou, Klopp and Pep (Pep is a scam anyway)
The envelope had been slid under his door early the night before. Best he could tell, at least. He had been staring at it for hours now. How? How? How did they know where he was staying? The little hotel in Exeter had been a last-minute decision. Paid in cash. There was no way they should have known...
He stared at the paper again. Four words. Four words and the past was brought into light. Four little words and his gut churned every day. He angrily folded the paper up and put in back in the envelope. Couldn't leave it lying around. He pushed it deep in the suitcase, under a pair of slacks.
But the words, violently scrawled in red ink were emblazoned into his brain too.
We know about Avery
Firebrand Chapter 1: All's Farense in Love, War, and Football.
Jack Avery, the American goalkeeper forced into retirement early in 2020, has made his shock debut into management with Portuguese side Farense. Sitting 16th in Liga NOS, they sacked their previous coach, having only 3 wins from the opening 14 games. It's hard to see what else the board expected, with the team only rated at rank outsiders by betting companies. With a barebones staff, Avery is expected to announce his coaching staff soon. In a riotous first press conference, Avery promised to make a splash with the upcoming announcements. Avery has already been busy, with the loan signing of Sikou Niakate from Lyon to cover a hole at left-back announced today, preceding his press conference.
J_ames: Ukraine would have been cool, but I realized that I had already set the story beyond that date, so I hit simulate.
ScottT: I actually drew from some of my own experiences with concussions for Jack. Nasty, nasty business. I think the kid will be just fine though...
Tango: Jack has hair, so he can't be a bald fraud!
Thank you all for reading so far, and apologies for the massive blocks of text. I should note this story takes place in a world without the coronavirus outbreak. Again, all your support has meant so much. I had no idea what it took to write one of these... a lot of work!
Farense is a big club to kick off your career at, and at 25-years old: they've taken a HUGE gamble on you too. Will be interesting to see the backroom staff that you build, and how the players react to someone that will be younger than most of them telling them what to do.
A great opportunity to kick off your managerial career, best of luck in Portugal.
Farense has a passionate fanbase, so don't screw this one up