A Fifty Year Holiday Pt. 17

In to November we go, and all seven of our scouts are still hard at work. One of them finds this chap on loan at Lancaster, but I ignore him. No one with that surname has ever amounted to much. You really need an “E” or an “S” on the end to be worth my time.

(This picture didn’t show up when I first published, so had to do a screen cap from afterwards!)

Purfleet face Southend at The Rock to begin November. We’re short Dickson as he’s serving his one-match red card ban for this one.

We go behind early, but our class shows in the long run. James earns his second MotM award of the season with a bunch of key tackles and an assist. Another three points towards the title.

League Cup 3rd Round time as we head to Watford. We’re back to full strength with Dickson’s suspension over, so I’m hoping for the best against the team that’s only seven places above us.

Another win after an inauspicious start to the match. Freshly back from a suspension for a red card, Dickson two-foots a chap and sees red again (with an accompanying four match ban) seconds in to the match. Fortunately for us, Watford answer with a red of their own — and a bonus PK —less then twenty minutes later. Beck dispatches the penalty and Marsh adds to our lead shortly afterwards. Watford score on their only shot taken and it’s a stalemate for the final hour. We’ll be off to play Wolves in the next round.

We also find out our next Europa competition. We host Hearts later this month. They look good. Should be exciting!

We’re still exhausted as we line up to face Port Vale in Stoke-on-Trent. We rotate a bunch of players and even grab Winkler back from the reserves for this one.

We have the lead for 82 minutes but can’t hang on to the win as they score with the literal last kick of the match.

Oh look, another competition for us to play in. I will be fielding fringe players only…maybe even Nijhuis… and will not care if we crash out. This is the lowest of our priorities by a country mile.

I apply for a few more international vacancies after WC qualifying finishes. Japan, South Korea and Greece all receive my glittering C.V. The two Asian teams both qualified for the WC and STILL fired their managers, while Greece crashed out behind Denmark and England in their group.

We’re facing 4th place Conference side Ashton United in the 1st Round of the FA Cup. They’re only lost once so far this season, but they’re no better than the Ashton team we beat 3–0 and 4–0 two seasons ago. We’re much, MUCH better than we were then.

As expected, Ashton don’t but up too much of a fight and waltz through to the next round where we’ll host either Woking or Everton. This match was a nice little leg stretch/tune-up for our next match, when we’ll welcome Hearts to The Rock in the Europa 3rd Rd.

Gallagher bruises a rib in training and will miss out on our first leg vs. Hearts. Remind me to buy a bunch of these for key players to train in:

Hearts have a few lads on £20k+/week and a total of fifteen players on more money per week than our top earner. Fourteen of them are considered 5* recommendations by my scout. And we’re facing them without Gallagher (aforementioned injury) or Walsh (signed too late to make the European squad). This could be dicey.

When a pair of stars are out, another pair step up. The only goal of the match being a Dickson to Beck cross and finish. Advantage Purfleet. Not a bad performance at home (in front of far too few fans), but the Scotland leg promises to be an even more tense affair.

We add another keeper to our ranks with a Scandinavian Bosman signing. The sooner I can get someone else in the European squad to replace Nijhuis, the better.

Lancaster started the season strong but have faded to 10th place of late. We knocked them out of the Vans Trophy the last time we faced each other (3–2 in February) but now we’re playing on their turf. And their turf happens to have a glorious name: Giant Axe. The football pitch is the centrepiece of a sports facility that’s shape resembles an axe head.

Sorbo is straight on to the bench and we welcome Gallagher and Marsh back to the XI with open arms.

We’re well and truly outplayed for the first time this season (I think) and we’re extremely fortunate to escape with a draw. Timo scoring a late first half leveller to keep our undefeated season intact.

Beck is completely drained after his exertions lately and has certainly earned himself a break. Sadly, this break comes at we’re heading to the Midlands to face Prem side Wolves in the League Cup 4th Round. Just the eighteen 5* players on their team. Hopefully they send out some kids to stretch their legs.

Sadly, only one youngster makes their XI. And it’s not looking good at half-time as we’re down 2–1. They make it 3–1 in the 53rd and I switch to an ultra-attacking 2–2–3–3 formation. Half an hour of nothing before an 83rd minute goal from Ross (his first for the club) gives us some extra motivation for the final minutes. Our pressure pays off as super-sub Griffiths nets at the death and we head to extra time.

I make my last change to revert to our regular 2–3–3–2 (though Marsh is out of position slightly as an AMC). Extra time settles nothing and it’s kicks from the penalty mark to determine this one.

Wolves score their first three, while Gallagher misses our third to give them the lead. Callebaut promptly saves Wolves’ final two attempts and we score our final pair, sending our completely zonked group through. Celebrations are subdued as we barely have enough energy to raise our arms or voices.

Our next two Cup opponents are announced after the match as we’ve got Everton at home in the FA Cup 2nd Round and a daunting trip to Old Trafford for the League Cup QFs. In a six day span we’ll have three Cup matches, as we’ve got Hearts away on the 4th of December prior to these two.

Fudge the fudging fudgers.

I don’t think I can say “No” to £10M. He’s already unhappy with me, but before I begrudgingly accept the offer, I look around as we’re certainly going to need a replacement.

Swindon Town has a young guy that’s good (obviously not Gallagher-level) and available. I pitch £250k at them to see what they think.

Barcelona B has a player as good as Gallagher who’s actually interested, but he costs a LOT more than I’m able to offer. Listed for £4.2M but I can only offer £1.2M. I asked the Board for more, but no dice. I offer £1.2M up front, £1.2M after ten appearances (which he’ll easily get) and £1.2M after ten internationals (which he definitely won’t) and a 10% sell on fee.

Barca come back and ask for £2.6M, a price I’m very willing to pay but not able to. That deal is dead in the water.

My scout finds an Spargentinean D/DMC that I can’t afford NOT to bid for. It doesn’t help me with my Gallagher situation, but I want him. He’d be our best DMC and we’ve got some quite good ones.

Add in the fact that Everton have made a £400k bid for our super sub Griffiths (which I ask to bump up to £1M as we play them twice in the next two weeks) and it’s a very busy few days in the office.

We’re still a bit worn out, so it’s nice to not have a scary-sounding match up next. Halesowen are in town and they’re a very average Div 2 side. Famous last words, I know. Gallagher starts at 91% and is captained in perhaps his final appearance for us.

We have very little time to celebrate Gallagher’s goal that made it 3–1 as we’re pegged back immediately, but a goal just before the half-time whistle gets us back in good spirits. I pull Gallagher off (the pitch) with five minutes left to allow the less than four thousand fans to give him as good a send off as less than four thousand fans can. A solid victory for the good guys and we remain comfortably top of the pops.

It’s a very sad day for Purfleet as we bid a fond farewell to arguably the best player we’d ever had (along with Marsh). In eight months we turned the £275k Leicester cast-off into £10M. A 7.85 average over 34 matches with 15 goals, 13 assists, 7 MotM awards, a PotM, a Vans Trophy win and a Charity Shield. Not a bad haul. You’ll be missed, Craig!

Gallagher’s “replacement” arrives the very next day. At 2.5% of the cost of him, but probably 85% of the player. And younger, with time to improve. Not too shabby.

Purfleet is shout out of the monthly awards for the first time since some time early last season. Wycombe’s boss and star striker rightfully earning awards after going 4–0–0 with Pickering scoring six times and earning a pair of MotM awards in the process.

Volendam accept my £800k bid for that Spargentinean DMC I wanted and minutes later I’m told that Everton agree to my £1M request for Griffiths.

My scout also finds a presently unemployed striker that I bid for to replace Griffiths. He’s a 25yo former Swedish U21 who’s asking too much in wages but compares very favourably.

Griffiths agrees to Everton’s terms and departs. He was very useful but that type of money when we’ve got ready-made replacements can’t be turned down. O’Rourke has played very well so far this year, and Gardner (£35k from Man U late last season) is very talented and has barely had a sniff. And if the Swede agrees to join us, we’ll have lots of competition…for the third striker spot behind Marsh and Beck!

While I’m still waiting on two offers, we’re up to Edinburgh to play Hearts. We’re clinging to a 1–0 aggregate lead after the first leg and having Gallagher leave hurts our chances. At least new boy Robinson is eligible to play for some reason, so in he steps to the left side of our AMCs.

Captain-for-the-day Knudsen scores in the first half, grabbing a vital away goal. Hearts need three unanswered strikes to knock us out now.

We allow a solitary shot on target the whole match and end up winning by the same margin as the first leg. We’re through to the next round!

And our opponents will be Groningen. I have no idea if that’s a good or bad thing, but I’m glad we avoided the other English teams. I care nothing about our UEFA coefficient, just our own survival. Those three are currently sitting 1st (Middlesbrough) and 5th (Chelsea) and 6th (Portsmouth) with matches in hand in the Prem.

Two days later, we’re back in Purfleet to face Everton and their new star striker/our old 4th choice striker. It’s a shame I didn’t Cup tie him in our First Round FA Cup match so we’d be spared facing him here.

Whelp. There it is. Our first loss of the year and we’re knocked out of the FA Cup in very disappointing fashion. Griffiths’ replacement scoring the game-winner with less than ten minutes to go…on his debut too, of course.

I lost out on all of the international positions I applied for earlier this season, but I’m not discouraged. The Australia position becomes available and I let them know I’d be interested. Maybe one day someone will take a chance on a fella that took a Div 3 side to an FA and League Cup double?

A trip to Old Trafford is next. They’re good. And they’ve got some players I might like to poach. I make an offer and a loan offer and cross my fingers. But they’re currently having a very rough go of things.

Here’s our Spargentinean! I’m thrilled he’s considered EU but I have no idea how he got it. Maybe a grandparent? He’s only played for Boca and then Volendam (with a loan spell at Den Bosch). That work rate could certainly be better, but he’s got lots ratings elsewhere.

And here’s another ex-Man U-er. In for a measly £250k (plus my customary £250 after ten internationals) and has instantly become my first choice central AMC.

And then Severin, the unemployed Swede is in! This is turning in to quite a little transfer window.

Our loan Man U-er looked so nice, I bought him for £40k to stash in the youth team…though he’s not far behind in the pecking order.

We’ve ballooned to 47 players in size now, so I do a quick re-depth of everyone to see if there’s anyone we can/should offload.

After no interest at all — even for free — Cowie, Kerr, Contreras and Masi are all released for a combined £16k just to keep things a little more organised. Kerr and Contreras were useful back in our Conference days but were never seeing the pitch ever again…while Cowie and Masi never had.

I apologise to the four of them if an Old Trafford trip was on their bucket list. They’re all gone the day before our League Cup QF. We’ve just got one Cup-tied player and Hutchings’ position is manned by new boy Alderete today anyway. Nygaard wears his new jersey as he faces his teammates of a few days ago. I’d prefer not to be knocked out of both Cups in a 96 hour period, so I give the lads a rousing pre-match speech about pride and stuff. It’s mostly plagiarised from turn-of-the-century sports movies, but no one seems to notice.

Man U are fielding a strong team of first-teamers, though many are unhappy at the moment with their standing as the worst Premier League side at the moment.

At the break, I’m ruing how good Man U are at levelling seven minutes after they’ve gone behind. We’re in the ascendancy, but don’t have anything to show for it. They’ve also hurt Nygaard quite badly, so on comes Knudsen.

We nullify any Manchester threat in the second half allowing no shots at all, while Beck gives us the lead just over five minutes after the re-start. In front of 67k+ we knock them out of the League Cup to compound their current state of misery.

We then draw whatever straw was the best one to draw as we’ll engage in a two-legged affair with Walsall in the semi-final. They’re barely above the relegation zone in the First Division (19th) so definitely the best outcome.

We’re out for revenge against Everton in our next league match. After undeservedly knocking us out of the FA Cup, we want to re-establish our dominance at this level.

We run them all over the park. They’re fortunate to net a late consolation goal and ruin Sorbo’s clean sheet. They know who the better team is.

Derby are after Walters. DC is a position we have a glut of players with very similar ability and he’s one of our worse performers (6.80 in 13 starts). The bid is half a million and I request double. They counter with £900k, thinking they’re getting a deal. I confirm it, as he only cost us £65k and I’ll be fine seeing him go.

We’ve got Braintree in town for the Vans 1st Round match and we send out a team of fringe players, not risking any key starters. We’ve been the beneficiaries of some clubs doing that so us in the past but the difference is that our bench is still quite capable. I’m not just sending out untested youths to get them some experience.

It’s nice of 515 people to brave the sub-zero Wednesday evening temperatures for this one. It’s a lop-sided match and allowing zero shots of any kind make it difficult (though not impossible) to lose. Severin with a first Purfleet goal just before half and Potter adds a second, despite some nutter with a turban uttering incantations at him from the stands.

Leyton Orient (our next league opponents) will visit us in the next round of the Vans. They’re one of the tougher teams left in the competition, currently sitting five places behind us in the Second Division.

Walters departs to not a lot of fanfare. Even our bank balance (currently at £36M) doesn’t seem too excited about it. At this point, interest payments are covering about a third of our wages…but I’d much rather be able to spend it on something.

Our Leyton Orient scouting doesn’t reveal anything too scary as they arrive for our league match. We’re back to full strength with our Beck-Marsh strike force that are currently the top two performers in the division.

Despite being the better team all over the park (except shot-stopping), we trail 3–1 with 25 minutes to go. I shift to a super-attacking formation and Dickson and substitute Knudsen spare our blushes.

We welcome Rochdale to The Rock with open arms. There’s nothing like facing the last place team at home to help wash the taste of an underwhelming result out of your mouth. Plus it’s Christmas Eve, so the easiest match possible (on paper) is a welcome gift.

A Dickson brace and a late Knudsen goal account for our goals for a second consecutive match as we meander through the Div 2 sandwich match (us on the top, them on the bottom).

Our 27th of December match marks our halfway point of the season. We’re at Brentford, a team Scout Andrew has warned me about…though I’m not entirely sure why.

The first half tells me why. It’s nil-nil but we’ve been second best all over the place. I replace the potentially injured Hutchings and the lacklustre Murphy (on a 5) and the second period is a different story. They score, we equalise. We score, they equalise. It looks like we’re going to share the spoils until an eagle-eyed assistant referee insists we should be awarded a penalty, despite Lee Renet waving it away. Beck steps up and dispatches the penalty and Brentford along with it.

The result obviously keeps us undefeated and at the midway point we’re twelve points clear. Our Magic Numbers are 58 (win the league), 56 (earn promotion) and 49 (make the playoffs). We’re well over 50% of the way to the Second Division records of 106 points and 101 goals scored. We’ve been a little less clinical since parting ways with Gallagher, but we’re certainly making do.