A Fifty Year Holiday Pt. 16

It turns out that I’m a liar. The Charity Shield does not begin the English season. I should have realised, as we had a match re-scheduled, but it’s only the Prem and Conference that aren’t underway already. Swansea have stormed to an early league lead with a 4–1 dismantling of Everton.

With over £27M sitting in the bank, I rue the fact that more quality players aren’t interested in joining the Purfleet revolution. All that money would cover the cost of all but two players that have moved anywhere in the last decade. Even the teams around us have splashed some cash — Rochdale, W.B.A. and Wycombe all spending ~£1M on a single player this summer — with two of them bringing in established internationals.

I’m surprised to see that the highest fee ever paid is only £42M and the city of Milan is responsible for both instances: Inter purchasing a Brazilian back in 2016–17 from Juve who promptly won FIFA PotY; and AC Milan grabbing a Lazio player fifteen years later who made the Italian Team of the Year thrice (not a great ROI).

Inflation seems to not exist in this universe.

Anyway, we open our league campaign with a home match vs. Gillingham. Knudsen slides in to the middle of our AMCs having played well in the second half of that Charity Shield (he’s an FR by trade).

We win by the narrowest of margins, thanks to a first half strike from Gallagher. The stats tell a different story of how competitive (or not) this match was. I’m very happy despite our attendance (or lack thereof) at our first every home match in the Second Division.

Clark was replaced at half-time with a potential injury and after the match I discover he’ll be missing for a couple of weeks. That’s a big DMC hole to fill. Fortunately, our scouts are scouring the globe and found this gem who joins us for £500k from Wolfsburg.

He steps in to the XI for our next match, away at Leyton Orient who are currently occupying top spot in the league. Potter steps back in as Knudsen picked up a knock in mid-week training.

It’s a tight-fought match and we climb back from a one-goal deficit on two occasions before taking the lead for good early in the second half. We’re helped along by an early red card but Gallagher decides that it’s a bit unfair and shoves an Orient player to even things up at ten men each. Idiot. We’re lucky it’s only a one-match ban.

Matchday Three is a home fixture with Brentford…whose keeper earns about triple what our entire first team earns: 85k vs 28.9k. With the match being 48 hours after our last one, we’re a bit tired. We’ve got a longer break next, so I roll with most of them anyway.

The Brentford goalie earns his wages (along with an undeserved point), while our keeper allows a pair of goals from three shots on target for the second match in a row. Still, I’m not complaining about the performance.

The Europa draw is mid-week and we avoid the likes of unseeded Juve, Napoli, Chelsea and instead, we’re heading off to tropical Haverfordwest to play the Welsh Cup winners on September 11th.

In our last August action, we’re off to to play in dry, 27° weather. That’s right, we’re at Stoke. Winless in their four matches, they’re hovering just above the cellar on goal difference. My scout says they’re strong, but looking at the individual player report, I’m not blown away.

Another day, another walloping. Callebaut allows only the one goal from three shots on target today, while we net four of our fourteen. Roberts, on as a sub after I forgot to put him back in the XI, nets his first Purfleet goal, as does Knudsen to go along with Beck’s 25th and 26th in his 40-ish appearances.

The lop-sided win vaults us to the top of the heap along with Lancaster, whose non-league-to-Premier-League story we’re looking to emulate. They were promoted to the Conference in 2015 and to the Premier League 30 years later, so I hope our ascent is rather more swift.

Forget everything I said about not being able to sign anyone. Nottingham Forest are kind enough to part with Peter Marsh for a cool £1.1M. Obviously he’s got slightly below-average reflexes (and by average, I mean his “1” is just lower than our entire squad average of exactly “2”), but he’s better than Beck…on paper at least.

Orient’s gaffer pips me for the MotM award (despite us winning the away fixture between our two clubs already) but Beck and James sweep the PotM and the yPotM awards.

We’ve got our re-scheduled opening match next as we’ll be facing W.B.A. in the Midlands. They’re just out of the play-offs, but only three points behind us.

More than 20k show up for this Div 2 match to watch us walk all over the home side. Marsh makes his presence felt straight away with a brace on the road in another fantastic performance.

One more league match before we begin our European adventure. We’re home to Dagenham and Redbridge. Early days still, but with the performances we’ve had and being undefeated in (and top of) the Second Division, it’s been going well so far. Gallagher serving his one-match ban during this one.

A dominant first half is all we needed to put this one to bed. D&R go much harder in the second half as we pop on cruise control, but the damage is done.

I throw my hat in the ring for a few international jobs with Spain, Argentina and Norway. Spain hire some other chump immediately. Morons. Wouldn’t mind either of the other two jobs though. My reputation in England is getting good (literally) but world-wide I’m somehow still a nobody.

Our first European excursion takes us from the east coast to the west. While it’s only across to Wales, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam are still technically closer than Haverfordwest.

My scout isn’t too impressed with them and neither am I. I’m hoping for an solid win to make the home leg a stroll. Super-striker Marsh didn’t join before the squad-naming deadline, so he gets a rest for this one.

It’s a come-from-behinder (that’s what she said) as Haverfordwest score on their first attempt and we’re made to fight back. We leave it a bit late, but Griffiths replaces Beck and scores the winner against his countrymen. Still, a victorious first foray into Europe only gives me a taste for more.

I don’t get any of the international jobs I’d applied for, and Norway make a bad choice. The chap has a decent reputation, but they’re playing it safe by choosing the Rosenborg boss. On the other hand, I can’t argue with Argentina’s choice. He looks class.

The scouting report for Huddersfield is very complimentary, but they’re sitting in the relegation zone right now. Hopefully our winning run to start the season will drag some more fans in to The Rock.

The Terriers manage to keep us at bay until early in the second half when the floodgates open. Marsh continues his blistering start to life in Div 2 and though the gate receipts are less than ideal, the result and performance is great.

This poor chap’s physiotherapist hasn’t heard of the Hippocratic Oath. He must have skipped the whole “do not harm” class.

Everyone (that’s playing) is 100% for our trip to Cambridge. We lost Knudsen for a month to a strained calf, so Steadman steps back in to the middle of the park.

Another day, another walloping. I like this whole not-being-scored-on-because-we-give-up-no-shots-on-target thing. Especially as Callebaut is crocked for a few weeks now… I have the utmost confidence in you, Nijhuis! I actually don’t, but don’t tell him that.

League Cup holders (us) are granted the perk of not entering the competition until the Third Round, and we draw Watford at Vicarage Road. Thank goodness, because Round Two was a crapshoot and saw a few Prem sides crash out while another pair scraped through in extra time or penalties.

The Rock is ready to host it’s first (but certainly not last) European match today and I’m regretting my mistake of not including a third keeper in my squad. Nijhuis starts, but an injury or red card could be catastrophic.

It’s more a debacle than a catastrophe, as Nijhuis allows the first three shots on target to get past him and for a couple of minutes, we were headed out on away goals. Order is restored quickly and we advance 7–4 on aggregate. Despite Beck getting injured (but only for ten days) and a lousy turn out of fans, today could certainly have gone worse.

Things go from lousy to brilliant the very next day as we’re drawn against Floriana (of Malta) in the next round. Probably the worst of the teams that are left in the competition. I can’t believe our luck!

We attempt to complete our 100% month at The Rock as we host Leigh RMI (Railway Mechanics Institute, apparently). They’re mid-table at the moment and with no players I’d be interested in poaching, I hope to keep them there.

We play extremely well again, but give up a penalty in the second half that levels the score. A loud cheer-turned-groan erupts from our largest crowd of the season as a 90th minute strike from Dickson crashes against the bar. We settle for a draw that is certainly two points dropped rather than one point gained.

We sign this young CB for a quarter of a mil from Killie and the fee will double after ten international appearances. I’m not terribly concerned about that happening, but players keep asking for release clauses. I usually switch them to non-promotion clauses, but I’m hoping to not have that option available to me in a couple of seasons.

September awards are bestowed upon myself (MotM, my first Div 2) and Marsh (PotM, his first achievement of any type, unless he counts a Charity Shield runners-up medal for a match he didn’t play in) and I’d like to think my average rating is somewhere in the same region as his…

We add another disgruntled former Premier League player, this time from Leeds. Since joining them from Hendon three years ago, he’s made six Leeds appearances and sixty non-Leeds appearances while out on loan to three different clubs. He’s an upgrade to former England international Steadman in the middle of the park (on paper) and arrives for 400k…plus the customary 250k for international appearances he won’t get and a non-promotion release cluase.

Otto steps in to the fray in our very next match and I hope he can steer us to victory and be the driving force behind a very busy attack.

We’re off to the Valley Parade in Bradford as we begin a three-league-matches-in-five days stretch to make up for lost time during our Welsh European jaunt.

It’s an absolutely ridiculous match. Cruising three-nil at half, we add a fourth goal shortly after the re-start. We pop cruise control on (not due to any changes by me) and Bradford proceed to score FIVE unanswered goals, including a “that surely has won the match” goal in the 88th minute. Fortunately, we decide to play again for one final minute and score an equaliser before Griffiths dispatches a penalty shot winner with the second last kick of the match. It’s our new highest scoring match in Purfleet history and one in which both keepers end on 4s…the dismal goalkeeping allowing eleven of the sixteen on-target shots to count.

We’re back at it a few days later with an identical XI, save Nijhuis. A 4 in the last match ruins any credit he built up with the 9 he had the match before. Consistency: negative 357.

Charlton are in town and my scout tells me they’re one of those “their position belies the skill and ability they have available to them” lines. They do have a few really good midfielders, so hopefully our DMC trio can shut them down.

Beck nets for us twice in the first half and, having faced a solitary shot off-target by the hour mark, I throw in a few substitutes. Charlton seem to have been playing possum and decide to start playing in the final 15 minutes and it’s a tense closing to the match after they claw a goal back. We hang on for the three points to solidify our place atop the table.

Beck’s brace also jumps him back up to the top of the scoring charts having given that lead away last match to four-goal scorer Beeton.

We’re almost a quarter of the way through the season now and our title and promotion Magic Numbers are identical: 100

We’re bringing in this chap for 250k (and another million after ten international appearances) so we list Schulte. He’s been a valuable asset, averaging 7.48 over 80 appearances in the last couple of years. He’s outclassed by our new arrivals but immediately receives three 250k bids, cancelling out the fee we’ll be paying for Hutchings.

We wrap up our quick-fire trio of matches with a trip to Nottingham to face Notts County. They’re just inside the promotion places in 6th, but as the league table above shows, it’s bunched up. Driessen keeps his place in the side as I’d rather never use Nijhuis again…though I do believe I’ve said that before.

Forgot to screen shot the line-up pre-match. Ignore the fitness levels. :)

The match is just about over after half of a half. In the 23rd minute we’re only up 2–1, but they’re a man down (their keeper) and have to contort their lineup into a weird formation with the subs they have available. We pile on the pressure and — despite both former Purfleet man Sascha Rahn making an appearance and Dickson taking an early bath — we add four more goals to win comfortably. The lop-sided defeat also drops Notts Co. out of the top six with the change in goal difference as we were the only match of the day.

We’re off to Malta to face Floriana. I’ve always had a soft spot for Malta. My Mum spent a few years there as a wee one as my granddad was stationed there shortly after WW2 and the wife and I bought some lovely blown glass bowls while on our honeymoon. But today, I hope we absolutely crush them in our Europa 2nd Round clash. Callebaut is back (thank goodness) but due to injuries we only send five of the seven allotted subs.

Crush them we do. We’re barely out of second gear all match and will be able to rest anyone we want in the home leg. Potter coming on at halftime and scoring his first ever Purfleet strike.

Leicester (4th in the Prem) have decided to be idiots. Having purchased Gallagher for £275k from them approximately five months ago, they decide to unsettle him by attempting to recapture him for £1.1M. Sunderland (5th in the Prem) follow suit. Now Gallagher is unhappy I’m not letting him move.

I bump up all my valuations of key players and find that Beck still has four suitors at £2.5M.

The very next day Gallagher has a £2.5M bid from Carlisle and an improved £2M (+£900k on appearances) from Sunderland. He’s been incredible for us and I do NOT want to see him leave — especially as I have him locked up for 2.5 more years at £1.3k/week — so I ask for £10M...though I’m still not sure I’d sell for that price.

We’re off to High Wycombe (screw you, Low Wycombe) to play the Wanderers next. One of their better players is Purfleet alumni Rafael Castano. They’re the latest team to be sitting in sixth on goal difference. Let’s ruin that, shall we?

It’s not the relaxing, laid-back win we were hoping for, but it’s another three points to continue our unbeaten start to the season. Some dicey moments, especially during the closing minutes as they piled the pressure on.

Even that one goal loss knocked Wycombe down a peg though, so mission accomplished…but not like that George Bush Jr. banner that was flown about eight years before the end of the Iraq War.

The FA Cup 1st Round draw takes place and at this stage there are no Div 1 or Prem clubs in the draw. However, we’re not only highest placed team in teh draw, we’re also the defending champions and that makes us the team that everyone is hoping to avoid. Everyone but Ashton United is successful. Sorry lads. We host them on the 15th of November.

Another quick turnaround as we host Colchester on the following Monday. My scout brings back word that they’re quite talented, which is probably expected as they’re currently the best of the rest in this league. I even make a bid in an interesting looking attacker of theirs.

Knudsen is back from injury, so he takes Otto’s spot and off we go.

A Gallagher brace (he can’t be THAT unhappy, right???) 86 minutes apart are our goals and I’d really have preferred that goal #2 came earlier. I really am quite happy that my nit-picking is down to which minutes of the match we score our goals in.

Colchester reject my offer for their unused AMLR as they don’t want to sell to a rival club. Please. As if anyone in Div 2 is rivalling us right now. Plus, his contract is up in June, so I’ll just try to poach him for free in a couple of months’ time.

Next match sends us back to Wales to face the Swans. They actually agree to my offer for one of their players, but he wants a 500% wage increase from £1.5k/week up to £8.9k/week. We can still only offer just over £3.0k, so I feel it’s a lost cause.

Otto is back in for Knudsen as he performed better in his 30 minutes than Knudsen did in his hour last match.

Griffiths is making a habit of coming to Wales, entering the match as a substitute and scoring match-winners. It’s a bit of a niche skill to have, but he’s batting 1.000 (baseball-talk for “perfect) in those situations. Probably the tightest battle we’ve had this season and my players are knackered by the end of it.

Now, I know I said I never wanted to play Nijhuis again, but with a four-goal cushion going in to our home leg vs Floriana, I’ve basically stocked this XI with all of our rarely used players. First appearances for Rasmussen, Seeger and Seynhaeve. First start for Ploeger and Winkler. And Nijhuis in goal. We should still have more than enough to progress.

We manage to make it through. We even manage to win the match, just not in the manner in which I was hoping. Rasmussen, unhappy I don’t consider him a starter anymore, professionally fouls Saliba in the 5th minute resulting in the dreaded red/PK combo. I replace striker O’Rourke with defender Murphy and proceed with Griffiths up top alone. He levels the score mid-way through the half but just before the break, picks up a knock (out for two weeks). On comes Beck. And at half-time, I see that Ploeger is potentially injured and knackered. On comes Potter and our subs are used up with 45 to go. Knudsen gives us the lead with ten-ish to go and then Potter gets crocked (for ten days) so we play the last couple of minutes with nine men. Good times.

After the match, we’re informed that the League Cup draw has taken place and if we manage to get by Watford in the 3rd Round, we’ll face Wolves (away) in the 4th.

It’s the end of the month, so time for the monthly awards. Beck and I both earn our second monthly awards of the season and our striking partnership has swept the first three PotMs between them.

As we head in to November, we’re still alive in all three Cups (I’ll take credit for that even though the FA hasn’t started yet), we’re undefeated and comfortably top of Div 2 (Magic Numbers: 79 and 78), financially secure (£25M in the bank) and have a Charity Shield to our names. A very bright start.