Kimber watched his screen nervously, the “clack-clack” of the mouse repeatedly refreshing the airline tracking page.
He gasped, the clicking stopping dead in its tracks. “Flight BA057 to Boston has taken off”, the screen read. A solitary tear ran down his face which had broken into a smile, as this only meant one thing – captain Will would not be playing this weekend, as OTFC took on basement boys Old Strand Academicals… the league’s new boys without a win since joining the giddy heights of the AFC Intermediate South.
Would there be a better chance than this?
Kimber’s previous flirtations with the armband hadn’t been a happy hunting ground, with a patchy, low-yield set of results under his stewardship. As recently as October a complete tactical malfunction had led to a distressing-throwing-away of a 2-1 lead in the 93rd minute that led to The Brave Boys in Purple’s early dumping out of the cup.
But this time, it felt different. No rain = no chance of a cancellation, and after a ropey start in terms of availability, he had a squad of 11 to choose from; with the fresh legs of new boy Ollie B, and the wizened experience of veteran Tommo to bring them up to a solid 13.
Heck, the early train to Grists had as many as 6 (six!) players on it… the omens were good, and the pre-game purple machine was purring.
After what can only be described as an “interesting” warm up led by Keiran, and a nervously mumbled pre-game team talk, the match kicked off.
0-0 a half-time. The less said about that opening 45 minutes the better. Several regular stalwarts described it as “maybe the worst half of football we’ve ever played”. Murmurings of mutiny and poor leadership hung perilously in the air. When the stand-in captain needed it to go right, it was all going wrong.
Kimber took a deep breath, composing himself. He’d prepared himself for this moment the night before. A step to one side and his arm rummaged into his bag for his holy grail.
Alone, and shielding it with his body from the rest of the team, he pulled out a tattered-looking book, blowing off the dust that had gathered on it with a quick puff.
“The Tim Sherwood Tactical Pamphlet, by Tim Sherwood”. A signed copy no less. He breathed out slowly, focussing his mind on the task at hand.
After flicking past the 25-page foreword made up mostly of images of gilets, and 20,000 words on the tactical importance of Rudy Gestede, Kimber finally landed on what he was looking for.
Casting the book down into the bottom of his bag, he gathered the team. Arms on shoulders. Together. Focussed. Clarity and calmness washed over him like he’d never experienced before, with the squad and canine compatriot hanging on his every word.
“Right. Erm. So reckon we’ll put Tommo up front. Play off his knock downs. Let’s test the keeper with some shots from distance. Into ’em lads, big 2nd half!”
After an auspicious start with a misplaced pass almost directly from kickoff leading to a conceded corner, the Purps gradually began to impose their stranglehold on the game.
Control. Composure. Simplicity.
After some good chances and interplay in midfield, a highly questionable Birse tackle in midfield and some omnipresent Seb shrieking from the back sparked the game into life. The 49-year-old Tommo was holding the ball up like a prime Emile Heskey, bringing the Tiffs’ dangerous midfield into the game.
The 75th minute came and went, with the Brave Boys in Purple finally taking the lead. Gledhill cleverly directed a through-ball directly to Old Strand’s visibly weaker centre-half… with the Strand player completely missing the ball, the grey-haired Grimandi was clean through, and the game froze in time.
In slow motion, all those years of experience paid off, as Tommo casually rounded the ‘keeper, before nudging the ball home into an empty net.
Jubilation. Tiffs were ahead.
Kimber looked around, calming hand gestures. Rambled shoutings of “composure” and “body language” hung in the air. The memories of the cup game began to creep in. The hosts were finally in the groove, but how long would it last?
After some steady set piece-defending, some penalty-box wrestling from Keiran and the weekly-fumbled-routine-catch from Seb in the bag, the clock finally hit the red.
After some neat interplay in midfield more at home in the sun-kissed fields of La Masia than in the bogs of Elmbridge, the battling Gledhill was once again released in midfield.
A swift look up and a sumptuous defence-splitting pass, and the middle-aged Messi was in again.
A sense of deja-vu arose, as Tommo once again coolly rounded the keeper before smashing home into an empty net. 2-0, and the Tiffs were home and dry – the fish had returned to the oceans, and nature was healing.
8 hours later, Kimber was found face-down, armband-on, surrounded by empty bottles of Moet and Grey Goose after finally ending the captaincy curse.
Carefully laid under his right hand was the book which changed it all – “The Tim Sherwood Tactical Pamphlet, by Tim Sherwood”. His hand holding the book open on the inside cover page.
In messy, child-like writing lay the following message:
Put the pensioner up top.
MOTM – Tommo
Close & disappointed 2nd – Gledhill