What follows is a fictionalised account of one man's game of Football Manager 2011. None of what follows is true, or even nearly true. It happened on a laptop and it has no basis or relevance in real life. 

In the first episode, Bobby Manager took the reins at Upton Park when Avram Grant was forced to quit in mysterious circumstances just days after joining the club. After a thoroughly respectable ninth-place finish in his first season, Manager led the Hammers to fifth and a place in the Europa League in his second. Success has put him on the map…

There are certain things you can expect to see when you're jogging along a country lane in Essex in the August heat. Roadkill, for example. Litter. Chubby orange women in Daisy Duke shorts and sweat-saturated Ugg boots. But you would never expect to see a jet black limousine with mirrored windows and a faded Cheney/Palin bumper sticker. Not in the village of Little Nipsy and, I have to tell you, it's most disconcerting when one crawls along behind you. 

"Bobby! Bobby Manager!" said a deep Southern voice from a crack in the window. 

"Hello?" I answered, plodding to a halt.

"It's me, Tom Hicks," said the voice. "We met at Anfield last season. I tried to buy your wristwatch."

"Hi Tom," I said cautiously, as I gently pulled my sweaty pants out of my bum. "What can I do for you?"

"Gee, Bobby, we were just in the neighbourhood and we wondered if you could do with a ride home?"

"Well, I'm jogging, Tom, so a lift would probably defeat the object."

"Life's too short for jogging, Bobby. Climb in. It could be worth your while."

The Blizzard, Issue Three     

What follows is a fictionalised account of one man's game of Football Manager 2011. None of what follows is true, or even nearly true. It happened on a laptop and it has no basis or relevance in real life. 

In the first episode, Bobby Manager took the reins at Upton Park when Avram Grant was forced to quit in mysterious circumstances just days after joining the club. After a thoroughly respectable ninth-place finish in his first season, Manager led the Hammers to fifth and a place in the Europa League in his second. Success has put him on the map…

There are certain things you can expect to see when you're jogging along a country lane in Essex in the August heat. Roadkill, for example. Litter. Chubby orange women in Daisy Duke shorts and sweat-saturated Ugg boots. But you would never expect to see a jet black limousine with mirrored windows and a faded Cheney/Palin bumper sticker. Not in the village of Little Nipsy and, I have to tell you, it's most disconcerting when one crawls along behind you. 

"Bobby! Bobby Manager!" said a deep Southern voice from a crack in the window. 

"Hello?" I answered, plodding to a halt.

"It's me, Tom Hicks," said the voice. "We met at Anfield last season. I tried to buy your wristwatch."

"Hi Tom," I said cautiously, as I gently pulled my sweaty pants out of my bum. "What can I do for you?"

"Gee, Bobby, we were just in the neighbourhood and we wondered if you could do with a ride home?"

"Well, I'm jogging, Tom, so a lift would probably defeat the object."

"Life's too short for jogging, Bobby. Climb in. It could be worth your while."

"Don't oversell it, Tom!" urged a high-pitched whisperer from within. "Keep the hog on the hook!"

"Shut up, George," hissed Tom. "Just shut up, you'll ruin everything!"

"Erm…" I said.

"Come on, Bobby. Get in the car." There was a subdued clunk, some shuffling and the door swung open. George Gillett and Tom Hicks grinned at me from within, two mouthfuls of bright, white teeth. Slowly, I climbed in and the car pulled away.

"Drink, Bobby?"

"Do you have any water?"

"We have champagne?"

"It's… erm… 8am in the morning," I said.

Tom beamed. 

"Perhaps we have something to celebrate!"

"What?"

"A new manager at Liverpool?"

"What's happened to Roy?"

George went to spit on the floor, but it broke away too early and splattered on the side of his booster seat. 

"Aw, Jesus H Christ, George," groaned Tom. "Not again. Where's the cloth?"

George flushed bright red and snatched up a rag to wipe his seat down. 

"Roy's fine," sighed Tom, shaking his head at his business partner. "He's still the manager. But he doesn't have to be."

"We've been impressed with your work," said George, sniffing the rag inquisitively. "We've been impressed with what you've done at West Hampstead."

"West Ham," I said. 

"If you say so," said George. 

"You're a bright young thing," smiled Tom. "We could do with bright young things at the Anne Field."

"We've got Jay Spearing," said George.

"Crapballs, George," snorted Tom. "You only like him because you're the same height."

George's bottom lip trembled. 

"We want you, Bobby," continued Tom. "We want you to usher in a new dawn."

"That's very kind of you," I told them. "But I'm the West Ham manager. I've started something there, I've built my own team and I've taken them to Europe. I want to finish the job I started."

"Are they going to back you, Bobby? Are they going to give you the money you need to take them to the next step?" 

"Money's not the issue," I said proudly. "We're building slowly and sensibly. Karren Brady gives me a modest budget, but she's realistic and she's smart enough to know that we're already doing very well. If we're patient and we don't do anything stupid, we could make West Ham one of the most stable and, eventually, successful teams in England."

Looking back, perhaps I was a little naïve, but I said my goodbyes, I asked them to drop me off back in the village and I popped into the newsagent to pick up my paper.

"WE WANT CHAMPIONS LEAGUE — BRADY" roared the headline on the back of the Sun. "TIME FOR MANAGER TO DELIVER, SAYS BRADY," read the back of the Mirror. "NEW UPSKIRT PICS OF JORDAN," screamed the Daily Star. I was furious. 

"Ken," I said sharply to the newsagent. "Call me a cab!"

"You're a cab, Bobby!"

I stared at him venomously.

"Sorry, Bobby. I'll order it now. Where are you going?"

"Upton Park, Ken. And tell them I'm in a hurry."

I was so angry when I got to Karren's office, I didn't even bother to knock. I just marched straight into her office. She was sat at her desk with a black kitten in one hand and a hacksaw in the other. 

"Ms Brady, I… erm… what are you doing?"

There was a very long silence. 

"If you're trying to build a cat flap," I told her, "you won't get very far with a hacksaw. That is what you're trying to do, I take it?"

Karren looked thoughtful.

"Yes, that sounds plausible. Why not?"

"You need to get a special saw, an electric jigsaw, otherwise you'll never penetrate the wood."

"Well, thank you very much, Mr Manager. You are a font of information." The kitten squirmed in her hand.

"As are you, apparently, Ms Brady. What's all this in the papers?"

"Jordan's upskirt pictures? I'm as surprised as you, Mr Manager. I thought everyone had seen everything there was to see of that woman by now."

"No!" I groaned. "All this stuff about the Champions League! What's going on?"

"I'm dusting, Mr Manager, do you remember? Never allow the dust to settle, never allow the mess to build. You need a new challenge." The kitten, sensing his chance, sprang out of her grasp and bolted for the open door. Karren reached under her desk, there was a click and the door slammed shut with a thud. 

"A new challenge?" I said, ignoring the pitiful mewing behind me. "We just qualified for Europe, surely consolidation is our aim?"

"Mr Manager, are you still working under this delusion that the Europa League is worth entering?"

"We came fifth, Ms Brady. We've earned the right to test ourselves against Europe's best."

"No, Mr Manager. We've earned the right to test ourselves against Europe's most mediocre, a motley collection of the teams who finished fifth to eighth across the continent in a never-ending series of qualifiers and group games before the entire competition is compromised by the sudden introduction of good teams who somehow contrived to screw up their heavily seeded, anti-climactic Champions League pools."

"You really don't like the Europa League, do you?"

"No."

"But the lads are so excited. They've worked hard for this, it's their reward."

"Their reward," said Karren rising to her feet, "is continued employment at a company prepared to pay them a king's ransom every week for kicking a sack of air around. They will follow instructions." 

"Can I speak to David?"

"No."

"Why not? Where is he? I popped over to the Wendy House on the way up, but it's covered in dust and cobwebs."

"David won't be joining us this season," said Karren with just a hint of a smile. "He's leaving the club in my hands while he attends to other matters."

"What other matters?"

"I believe he wants to breed with his Labrador."

"You mean, he wants to—"

"I know what I mean."

"Oh. Urgh."

"Indeed. But enough of that unpleasantness. I note with interest that you've spent the transfer budget."

"Yes, Ms Brady," I said scornfully. "All £4m of it. I wanted to talk to you about extending it."

"Out of the question. You have made your signings. You signed Benoît Tremoulinas and three 17 year olds that even their parents have barely heard of. That is enough for you to achieve your objectives, I'm sure."

I went to raise my voice and argue, but her eyes lit up with fury and I'm really not sure what happened next. I must have exhausted myself on that morning jog because the next thing I remember, I was lying on the floor of my office and I had a really sore bottom.

It wasn't a pleasant way to start the season and things didn't really improve as the year wore on. We lost Scott Parker to a long-term injury shortly afterwards. I wasn't there when it happened. I'd been abroad on a scouting mission. I drove in, turned the corner towards the training centre and stopped dead in the middle of the road. There was a six-foot hole in the side of the gymnasium, broken bricks were scattered everywhere.

I wound down the window and caught the attention of one of the youth players.

"What the hell happened here," I shouted.

"It's Scott Parker, gaffer," he shouted back. "Someone asked him to run through a brick wall. You know what he's like, he didn't even stop to think about it."

"How bad is it?"

"Fractured skull, gaffer."

I wound up the window and drove on. This was typical of our luck. We started the season in form as changeable as Joey Barton's moods. Defeats to Manchesters United and City were matched with wins over Everton and newly-promoted Sheffield United. We crashed out of the League Cup early again, this time to Portsmouth, and then we followed that up with a miserable run of two wins in 10 games. 

Europe, on the other hand, was a different matter. Karren refused to come with us on our away trips, telling me that she had "a lot of ironing" to deal with. Well, she missed out. After sailing past Malmö, we met a team that Carlton Cole called, "some godawful collection of random consonants from western Transylvania" on Twitter. That was the final straw. We couldn't go on. He'd already made Benoît cry on his first day at the club. It wasn't the initiation ceremony. That was fine, pubic hair grows back very quickly. It wasn't even the cloves of garlic or the strings of onions that the poor lad found on his peg that morning. It was Carlton's confident assertion that the French only built the Channel Tunnel so that they had a quick escape route the next time the Germans crossed the border. We couldn't condone that. That January, for just £2m and with our best wishes and wistful thoughts of what might have been, Carlton left for Millwall, where he was made to feel very welcome.

Even the group stages didn't present any kind of problem for us that year. We beat Beşiktaş home and away and smashed Aberdeen silly, which rather made up for the tanning Villarreal gave our hide. In the league, however, the inconsistency continued. Alberto Bueno pulled his hamstring and at Villa Park we were forced to play a 17 year old by the name of Joachim Hermans. That didn't go well at all. The poor sod was only five foot six, he weighed less than my weekly shopping and was thoroughly brutalised by Richard Dunne. The next day, the papers were just as ferocious. What really got my goat was the fact that they had so many quotes from a ‘high level source.' Well, with David Sullivan quite literally riding his Labrador around the countryside, that left only one suspect. 

Up I went to Karren's office again and I burst through the door like a man possessed. Karren was hunched over her desk with that tiny black kitten in both hands, trying to push it into a bucket of water. The poor little mite really didn't like it, he was sticking his paws out in all directions trying to keep himself out.

"Ms Brady!" I shouted. "That's not how you bathe a kitten!"

Karren looked up at me and raised a single eyebrow.

"In fact, you really shouldn't bathe them at all, they have natural cleaning instincts and you'll quell them."

I strode over to her and took the kitten out of her hands. The poor thing was trembling. I gave it a bit of a hug and set it down on the ground.

"What's its name?"

Karren thought for a moment.

"Lucky… evidently."

"Well, that's not how you bathe Lucky. Honestly, Ms Brady. Didn't you have a pet when you were young?"

"We had Mae Lim."

"And what was Mae Lim?"

"Vietnamese, I think."

"Karren," I said, trying to move on quickly. "What the hell is all this in the papers? Someone's been leaking confidential information, claiming that I never take advice and that I'm too consumed with the future to think about the past."

"That's a nice turn of phrase."

"I don't care how nice it is, who said it?!"

"It doesn't matter, Mr Manager. The fact is that it's true. You're always planning for the future, planning a legacy, signing up dozens of teenagers, trying to create the perfect team. We need to win games now. We're 13th in the table!"

"We're doing well in the Europa League," I said meekly. 

Karren's eyes turned a little darker and the room grew cold. 

"I'll just go shall I?" I said.

She nodded and I fled. 

The funny thing was, we actually were doing really well in the Europa League. An early brace from Mark Noble turned a tricky tie against Spartak Moscow into a gentle stroll. Réal Betis didn't cause us many problems either. But while we streaking to the last eight of what Karren called "Europe's premier cup competition for teams who haven't even nearly won the title," our league form was still infuriating the fans. We were almost wilfully inconsistent. When Bueno, who returned from injury just in time to see us crash out of the FA Cup to Charlton, scored freely, Rob Green dropped crosses. When Scott Parker, who had hit his head so hard he was no longer able to recite the alphabet, marked his return with a well struck free-kick at Goodison Park, Matthew Upson powered a header into his own net. Karren was not amused. 

Again and again, thoughts of Tom Hicks and his offer came to mind. I had so many unanswered questions running through my mind. Had I made a mistake? Was I unambitious in staying with West Ham? And why was Karren so awful at looking after kittens? 

But I couldn't dwell on the past. I had a team to manage. A fortunate late goal from Junior Stanislas, a far-post cross that screamed inside the near one, was enough to do for Braga and that put us into a semi-final with Werder Bremen. After drawing the home leg 0-0, the press said we had no chance. The bookies offered odds longer than the list of nations Carlton had offended on Twitter and Karren told me that she wasn't even coming out to watch us in Germany as there was a particularly good re-run of A Touch Of Frost on ITV4. We won 1-0, thanks to an exquisite Charlie Adam lob. Once again, Karren had missed out. 

Of course, with a place in a European final secured, the mood around the club improved markedly. Through the fog of incompetence and gross stupidity that had shrouded our season, we found a path to safety. Three wins in our last four games, and some poor performances from our rivals, saw us climb to a respectable eighth place. Well, I say ‘respectable'. Karren didn't think so. During that long, awful wait for the Europa League final in Milan, I walked into my office every morning to find photocopies of the league table with messages scrawled on them in red ink. "3/10 Could Do Better," was one. "Even Roeder came seventh," was another. One of them was just a mobile phone number with a circle round it. It turned out to be Sam Allardyce's. That was an awkward conversation. God, she could be cruel sometimes. My thoughts, once again, turned to Anfield.

And then there was the flight to Milan and the final. The San Siro. Atlético Madrid. And Herita bloody Ilunga. I probably don't need to remind you of what happened. Doubtless, you've seen it a hundred times on YouTube. All that work, all that preparation, all that desire and the stupid bastard plants a headbutt on Diego Forlán after just four minutes. He was only in the team because Benoît had tweaked his calf. I thought he looked nervous before the kick-off, so I told him to go out there and write his name in the history books. Perhaps I should have been more specific. I shifted Matty Upson to left-back, I brought Charlie Adam off for James Tomkins, I did everything I could to maintain our shape. Atlético won 3-0. 

After the game we were crestfallen. I've never known a dressing room like it and there was nothing I could say because I was broken as well. No-one would speak to Herita. He was slumped on the floor, still in his kit, with his head in his hands. With eleven men, we had a chance. With ten, we had nothing. Karren, though, was amazing. She came into the dressing room and gave a little speech, telling the players she was proud of them, that the fans were proud of them and that there was no shame in losing if everyone had given their all. Then she went to Herita, lifted him to his feet and told him to accompany her for a walk along the canals. Milan, she said, was so beautiful that he would want to stay there forever. Pausing only to pick up a length of rope and one of the heavier kitbags, she led him to the door. She must have shown him some wonderful things because he didn't make it to the airport for the return flight. I guess he just needed to be on his own. 

It was tough for all of us, but my mum always used to say that every raincloud just brings you closer to a rainbow and she was right. When I switched my phone back on at Stansted Airport, I had 17 messages. 16 of them were from journalists, one was from Tom Hicks. They were all asking me if I was taking the Liverpool job. Poor Roy, it turned out, had finally been sacked. That was all I needed to know. I got into my car and drove north. Well, north-west, if you want to be strictly accurate. 

I met Hicks and Gillett late that night in a 24-hour McDonalds in a service station on the fringes of Cheshire. It was their idea.

"Bobby!" bellowed Tom as I walked into the restaurant. 

"Mr Hicks," I smiled. "Good to see you again. Where's George?"

"He's up at the counter. Go and tell him what you want. You can have a burger and chips OR a drink. Not both."

I looked at him blankly.

"I'm fucking with you, Bobby! I'm yanking your chain! You can have anything you want. George? Get him anything he wants. Get him an apple pie if he wants it, yeah?"

George glanced back from the counter.

"What can I get you, Bobby?" 

"Just a coffee please, Mr Gillett."

"Come on, Bobby," grinned Tom, "come and sit down. We've reserved the good seats." He led me towards the back of the restaurant, discreetly slipped a £50 note into the hand of a skinny youth with a mop and pointed to a big blue plastic car with a table set in the middle of the chassis. "Who's driving, Bobby? You? I bet you are! You should sit there then, huh? In the driver's seat! God, I love this place."

George sidled over with a tray full of food and drinks. 

"Here's your coffee, Bobby. Tom, there's your Big Mac Meal with a large coke and the Happy Meal with the chocolate shake is mine."

"Give me the toy, George," said Tom with a broad grin.

"But… but… it's mine," said George plaintively.

"Give me the toy, George," repeated Tom, without the grin.

"You've got a Big Mac meal though," George whined. "If you wanted a toy, you should have bought a Happy Meal."

"Give me the toy, George."

George looked at me, then back at Tom and then at the floor. Without looking up, he reluctantly pushed the toy across the table. It was a figurine of Ariel from The Little Mermaid

"Look at this, Bobby, " said Tom, turning it over in his hand. "Cheap plastic shit. Cheap parts, cheap labour. Just like West Hampstead."

"West Ham," I said quietly. 

"Whatever. Fact is, it's worth nothing." He tossed the figurine behind him and it skittered along the floor and away. George cried out in horror and ran after it. 

"Bobby," drawled Tom. "You did great things there. You should have won a cup, you were unlucky. It's time to move on. We want you to manage Liverpool and we don't want you to do it on the cheap. We want to give you sacks of money and we want you to spend it on whoever you like. We don't care. You're the expert, we're happy to leave you to your own devices."

George scampered back, blowing the dust off his Ariel. "We would kinda prefer it if they were good players," said George. "You know, players who can make yardage."

"Bobby knows that, don't you, Bobby?" laughed Tom. "You'll have money, Bobby. More money than you ever had at West Hampstead."

"West Ham," I said.

"Whatever you say, Bobby."

"How much money will I have?" I asked. 

George and Tom looked at each other. "You've got £70m," said Tom. 

I spat coffee everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

"That's alright, Bobby," said Tom, reaching for a napkin. "I knew you'd be angry." He leaned over and mopped George's head. "What did I say, George?"

"You said it, Tom. You said he'd be angry."

"You can have £85m, Bobby. How's that?"

"You want to give me £85m? Where on earth did you get all of that money?!" I said, my voice quavering with excitement.

George started to giggle. 

"The bank!"

"But won't they want you to pay it back?" I asked him. That made both of them giggle. 

"Bobby, Bobby, Bobby," snickered Tom. "Why don't you let us worry about paying it back, you just worry about spending it."

"But, what's the collateral? How have you convinced the bank to hand it over?"

"Aw, gee, Bobby," groaned George. "Don't be such a Boy Scout. There was a big pile of paperwork, we signed it, that's all you need to know."

"What was in the paperwork though?"

"Bobby," said Tom, reaching out and putting his huge palm on my hand. "Let me tell you a story. Years ago, I worked on my Grandpappy's hamster ranch."

"Hamst-"

"Don't interrupt, Bobby. It's rude. Yeah, I used to work on that ranch every day of the summer vacation, bolt-gunning hamsters and skinning them to make hamster soda."

"Is there actually such a thing as hamst-"

"Be quiet, Bobby, I won't tell you again. Anyways, we had this guy, Hector. He was up on his paperwork. He was the ‘health and safety' man. He loved paperwork. He would always be wandering the ranch, telling us whatnot from wherefore and warning us not to blow our own hands up in the fusebox and, gee Bobby, that got really tiresome, so one day one of the big-eared Jackson boys pushed him down the stairs and he died."

"And your point is?" I asked.

"Paperwork is for losers, Bobby. Gee, do I really have to explain that story?"

"I understood it, Tom," said George. 

"Well, shucks, George, I know you understand it. Hector was your brother, you should understand it."

 "OK," I said. "I just need to know that you haven't done anything silly like load all of the debt on to the football club itself, limiting your own exposure but leaving a globally respected 120-year-old institution perilously exposed to the vagaries of the international financial market."

"Of course I haven't, Bobby."

"Well, that's good to kn— erm… why are your fingers crossed?"

"My fingers are always crossed, Bobby," said Tom, manually uncrossing them. "I blew them up in a fusebox when I was a young man."

"So what do you say, Bobby?" asked George excitedly, his mouth full of chips. "Will you be the next Liverpool manager?"

I didn't have to think very long. 

"Gentlemen," I said proudly. "It would be my great honour!"

But I wasn't free yet. I still had to tell Karren that I was leaving and I knew that it wouldn't be an easy conversation. I thought the best way would be to start with a compliment. I walked in to her office and took a deep breath. She was sat behind her desk trying on a pair of black fur gloves.

"That's a very nice pair of gloves, Ms Brady," I said, smiling.

"Thank you, Mr Manager. I've just had them made." She looked at me with a sly smile. "They're still warm."

"That's lovely. Ms Brady, we need to talk."

"Do we?"

"Yes," I said and I swallowed hard. "I'm… erm… I'm here to give you my resignation. I've been offered the Liverpool job and I'd like to take it."

Karren took the black fur gloves off and laid them down on her desk.

"I see."

"Yes, I think it's time to move on. I'm very grateful to you for giving me this opportunity."

"David gave you the opportunity," she said coldly. "I didn't."

"Well," I said. "That's true. But I'd like to thank you for all of your support."

"Are you mocking me?"

"No, no!" I said. "It's been good, it's been great. I needed the motivation that you gave me, honest."

Karren stared at me for a long time. So long that I felt awkward, like a bug being examined under a microscope. I could feel my back sweating.

"Don't go," she said softly. 

"I beg your pardon?"

"Don't go."

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there to see it, but there were tears forming in her eyes. Suddenly there was a vulnerability there that I'd never seen before. For so long, I'd only seen her as my boss. Now I saw a young woman with all the troubles of the world on her shoulders.

"I have to leave, Ms Brady. It's a tremendous opportunity for me. It's Liverpool. They're one of the biggest names in world football. They haven't won a trophy since 2006, they haven't finished in the top six for two seasons, they're perfect. I can rebuild them, bring the glory days back to Anfield. This is a chance I can't turn my back on."

"But we've come so far," she said. "We're a team, you and I. We've taken this football club from the brink of relegation to three consecutive top-ten finishes and a run to the Europa League Final."

"I thought you hated the Europa League?"

"I didn't mind so much when you got to the final. And you were ever so unlucky. I know we've had our differences, but… I don't know… I always felt there was something between us. A connection."

"I can't stay, Ms Brady. I've given my word to Liverpool. This is just something I have to do." 

Karren looked down for a moment and then back up again, her face a mask of sadness. 

"I understand," she said, blinking back the tears. "I can see how much this means to you. If Liverpool will agree to pay the appropriate compensation. I will let you leave."

"They will," I said. "Tom Hicks is waiting to speak to you as soon as possible."

"Well," she sighed. "That's that then."

"It is," I said. 

"Before you go, Mr Manager, how about a hug?"

"A hug, Ms Brady?"

"For old times sake, eh? Something to remember you by." She stood up and walked around the desk, her head cocked to one side, her eyes wide like a young doe blinking in the evening mist. 

"I… erm…" I stammered.

"Don't talk," she said quietly. "Don't talk. Let's not ruin the moment." She stepped towards me, I caught the scent of her sweet perfume and I realised, perhaps for the first time in three years, just how striking a woman she really was. How elegant and beautiful. Our hands touched lightly and there was a tingle in my fingertips. She leaned in and turned her head towards mine, her lips so full and red. She closed her eyes, her lashes fluttered slightly and I could feel my heart beating so hard it felt like it was going to smash its way out of my ribs. I felt something in her hand as she reached between my legs. Something that crackled with electricity. 

"Shitting Christ, Karren," I yelled, jumping backwards just in time. "Is that a fucking Taser?"

Karren's eyes flashed with anger and she howled in rage, throwing the stun gun at my head, missing me by inches. 

"You're crazy!" I cried, running for the door. "I'm getting out of here!"

"You'll be back!" she snarled after me. "You'll come crawling back with your tail between your legs! You're nothing, Manager! Nothing!"

Say what you like about Hicks and Gillett, but they never tried to run 50,000 volts through my testicles.

To Be Continued...

"Don't oversell it, Tom!" urged a high-pitched whisperer from within. "Keep the hog on the hook!"

"Shut up, George," hissed Tom. "Just shut up, you'll ruin everything!"

"Erm…" I said.

"Come on, Bobby. Get in the car." There was a subdued clunk, some shuffling and the door swung open. George Gillett and Tom Hicks grinned at me from within, two mouthfuls of bright, white teeth. Slowly, I climbed in and the car pulled away.

"Drink, Bobby?"

"Do you have any water?"

"We have champagne?"

"It's… erm… 8am in the morning," I said.

Tom beamed. 

"Perhaps we have something to celebrate!"

"What?"

"A new manager at Liverpool?"

"What's happened to Roy?"

George went to spit on the floor, but it broke away too early and splattered on the side of his booster seat. 

"Aw, Jesus H Christ, George," groaned Tom. "Not again. Where's the cloth?"

George flushed bright red and snatched up a rag to wipe his seat down. 

"Roy's fine," sighed Tom, shaking his head at his business partner. "He's still the manager. But he doesn't have to be."

"We've been impressed with your work," said George, sniffing the rag inquisitively. "We've been impressed with what you've done at West Hampstead."

"West Ham," I said. 

"If you say so," said George. 

"You're a bright young thing," smiled Tom. "We could do with bright young things at the Anne Field."

"We've got Jay Spearing," said George.

"Crapballs, George," snorted Tom. "You only like him because you're the same height."

George's bottom lip trembled. 

"We want you, Bobby," continued Tom. "We want you to usher in a new dawn."

"That's very kind of you," I told them. "But I'm the West Ham manager. I've started something there, I've built my own team and I've taken them to Europe. I want to finish the job I started."

"Are they going to back you, Bobby? Are they going to give you the money you need to take them to the next step?" 

"Money's not the issue," I said proudly. "We're building slowly and sensibly. Karren Brady gives me a modest budget, but she's realistic and she's smart enough to know that we're already doing very well. If we're patient and we don't do anything stupid, we could make West Ham one of the most stable and, eventually, successful teams in England."

Looking back, perhaps I was a little naïve, but I said my goodbyes, I asked them to drop me off back in the village and I popped into the newsagent to pick up my paper.

"WE WANT CHAMPIONS LEAGUE — BRADY" roared the headline on the back of the Sun. "TIME FOR MANAGER TO DELIVER, SAYS BRADY," read the back of the Mirror. "NEW UPSKIRT PICS OF JORDAN," screamed the Daily Star. I was furious. 

"Ken," I said sharply to the newsagent. "Call me a cab!"

"You're a cab, Bobby!"

I stared at him venomously.

"Sorry, Bobby. I'll order it now. Where are you going?"

"Upton Park, Ken. And tell them I'm in a hurry."

I was so angry when I got to Karren's office, I didn't even bother to knock. I just marched straight into her office. She was sat at her desk with a black kitten in one hand and a hacksaw in the other. 

"Ms Brady, I… erm… what are you doing?"

There was a very long silence. 

"If you're trying to build a cat flap," I told her, "you won't get very far with a hacksaw. That is what you're trying to do, I take it?"

Karren looked thoughtful.

"Yes, that sounds plausible. Why not?"

"You need to get a special saw, an electric jigsaw, otherwise you'll never penetrate the wood."

"Well, thank you very much, Mr Manager. You are a font of information." The kitten squirmed in her hand.

"As are you, apparently, Ms Brady. What's all this in the papers?"

"Jordan's upskirt pictures? I'm as surprised as you, Mr Manager. I thought everyone had seen everything there was to see of that woman by now."

"No!" I groaned. "All this stuff about the Champions League! What's going on?"

"I'm dusting, Mr Manager, do you remember? Never allow the dust to settle, never allow the mess to build. You need a new challenge." The kitten, sensing his chance, sprang out of her grasp and bolted for the open door. Karren reached under her desk, there was a click and the door slammed shut with a thud. 

"A new challenge?" I said, ignoring the pitiful mewing behind me. "We just qualified for Europe, surely consolidation is our aim?"

"Mr Manager, are you still working under this delusion that the Europa League is worth entering?"

"We came fifth, Ms Brady. We've earned the right to test ourselves against Europe's best."

"No, Mr Manager. We've earned the right to test ourselves against Europe's most mediocre, a motley collection of the teams who finished fifth to eighth across the continent in a never-ending series of qualifiers and group games before the entire competition is compromised by the sudden introduction of good teams who somehow contrived to screw up their heavily seeded, anti-climactic Champions League pools."

"You really don't like the Europa League, do you?"

"No."

"But the lads are so excited. They've worked hard for this, it's their reward."

"Their reward," said Karren rising to her feet, "is continued employment at a company prepared to pay them a king's ransom every week for kicking a sack of air around. They will follow instructions." 

"Can I speak to David?"

"No."

"Why not? Where is he? I popped over to the Wendy House on the way up, but it's covered in dust and cobwebs."

"David won't be joining us this season," said Karren with just a hint of a smile. "He's leaving the club in my hands while he attends to other matters."

"What other matters?"

"I believe he wants to breed with his Labrador."

"You mean, he wants to—"

"I know what I mean."

"Oh. Urgh."

"Indeed. But enough of that unpleasantness. I note with interest that you've spent the transfer budget."

"Yes, Ms Brady," I said scornfully. "All £4m of it. I wanted to talk to you about extending it."

"Out of the question. You have made your signings. You signed Benoît Tremoulinas and three 17 year olds that even their parents have barely heard of. That is enough for you to achieve your objectives, I'm sure."

I went to raise my voice and argue, but her eyes lit up with fury and I'm really not sure what happened next. I must have exhausted myself on that morning jog because the next thing I remember, I was lying on the floor of my office and I had a really sore bottom.

It wasn't a pleasant way to start the season and things didn't really improve as the year wore on. We lost Scott Parker to a long-term injury shortly afterwards. I wasn't there when it happened. I'd been abroad on a scouting mission. I drove in, turned the corner towards the training centre and stopped dead in the middle of the road. There was a six-foot hole in the side of the gymnasium, broken bricks were scattered everywhere.

I wound down the window and caught the attention of one of the youth players.

"What the hell happened here," I shouted.

"It's Scott Parker, gaffer," he shouted back. "Someone asked him to run through a brick wall. You know what he's like, he didn't even stop to think about it."

"How bad is it?"

"Fractured skull, gaffer."

I wound up the window and drove on. This was typical of our luck. We started the season in form as changeable as Joey Barton's moods. Defeats to Manchesters United and City were matched with wins over Everton and newly-promoted Sheffield United. We crashed out of the League Cup early again, this time to Portsmouth, and then we followed that up with a miserable run of two wins in 10 games. 

Europe, on the other hand, was a different matter. Karren refused to come with us on our away trips, telling me that she had "a lot of ironing" to deal with. Well, she missed out. After sailing past Malmö, we met a team that Carlton Cole called, "some godawful collection of random consonants from western Transylvania" on Twitter. That was the final straw. We couldn't go on. He'd already made Benoît cry on his first day at the club. It wasn't the initiation ceremony. That was fine, pubic hair grows back very quickly. It wasn't even the cloves of garlic or the strings of onions that the poor lad found on his peg that morning. It was Carlton's confident assertion that the French only built the Channel Tunnel so that they had a quick escape route the next time the Germans crossed the border. We couldn't condone that. That January, for just £2m and with our best wishes and wistful thoughts of what might have been, Carlton left for Millwall, where he was made to feel very welcome.

Even the group stages didn't present any kind of problem for us that year. We beat Beşiktaş home and away and smashed Aberdeen silly, which rather made up for the tanning Villarreal gave our hide. In the league, however, the inconsistency continued. Alberto Bueno pulled his hamstring and at Villa Park we were forced to play a 17 year old by the name of Joachim Hermans. That didn't go well at all. The poor sod was only five foot six, he weighed less than my weekly shopping and was thoroughly brutalised by Richard Dunne. The next day, the papers were just as ferocious. What really got my goat was the fact that they had so many quotes from a ‘high level source.' Well, with David Sullivan quite literally riding his Labrador around the countryside, that left only one suspect. 

Up I went to Karren's office again and I burst through the door like a man possessed. Karren was hunched over her desk with that tiny black kitten in both hands, trying to push it into a bucket of water. The poor little mite really didn't like it, he was sticking his paws out in all directions trying to keep himself out.

"Ms Brady!" I shouted. "That's not how you bathe a kitten!"

Karren looked up at me and raised a single eyebrow.

"In fact, you really shouldn't bathe them at all, they have natural cleaning instincts and you'll quell them."

I strode over to her and took the kitten out of her hands. The poor thing was trembling. I gave it a bit of a hug and set it down on the ground.

"What's its name?"

Karren thought for a moment.

"Lucky… evidently."

"Well, that's not how you bathe Lucky. Honestly, Ms Brady. Didn't you have a pet when you were young?"

"We had Mae Lim."

"And what was Mae Lim?"

"Vietnamese, I think."

"Karren," I said, trying to move on quickly. "What the hell is all this in the papers? Someone's been leaking confidential information, claiming that I never take advice and that I'm too consumed with the future to think about the past."

"That's a nice turn of phrase."

"I don't care how nice it is, who said it?!"

"It doesn't matter, Mr Manager. The fact is that it's true. You're always planning for the future, planning a legacy, signing up dozens of teenagers, trying to create the perfect team. We need to win games now. We're 13th in the table!"

"We're doing well in the Europa League," I said meekly. 

Karren's eyes turned a little darker and the room grew cold. 

"I'll just go shall I?" I said.

She nodded and I fled. 

The funny thing was, we actually were doing really well in the Europa League. An early brace from Mark Noble turned a tricky tie against Spartak Moscow into a gentle stroll. Réal Betis didn't cause us many problems either. But while we streaking to the last eight of what Karren called "Europe's premier cup competition for teams who haven't even nearly won the title," our league form was still infuriating the fans. We were almost wilfully inconsistent. When Bueno, who returned from injury just in time to see us crash out of the FA Cup to Charlton, scored freely, Rob Green dropped crosses. When Scott Parker, who had hit his head so hard he was no longer able to recite the alphabet, marked his return with a well struck free-kick at Goodison Park, Matthew Upson powered a header into his own net. Karren was not amused. 

Again and again, thoughts of Tom Hicks and his offer came to mind. I had so many unanswered questions running through my mind. Had I made a mistake? Was I unambitious in staying with West Ham? And why was Karren so awful at looking after kittens? 

But I couldn't dwell on the past. I had a team to manage. A fortunate late goal from Junior Stanislas, a far-post cross that screamed inside the near one, was enough to do for Braga and that put us into a semi-final with Werder Bremen. After drawing the home leg 0-0, the press said we had no chance. The bookies offered odds longer than the list of nations Carlton had offended on Twitter and Karren told me that she wasn't even coming out to watch us in Germany as there was a particularly good re-run of A Touch Of Frost on ITV4. We won 1-0, thanks to an exquisite Charlie Adam lob. Once again, Karren had missed out. 

Of course, with a place in a European final secured, the mood around the club improved markedly. Through the fog of incompetence and gross stupidity that had shrouded our season, we found a path to safety. Three wins in our last four games, and some poor performances from our rivals, saw us climb to a respectable eighth place. Well, I say ‘respectable'. Karren didn't think so. During that long, awful wait for the Europa League final in Milan, I walked into my office every morning to find photocopies of the league table with messages scrawled on them in red ink. "3/10 Could Do Better," was one. "Even Roeder came seventh," was another. One of them was just a mobile phone number with a circle round it. It turned out to be Sam Allardyce's. That was an awkward conversation. God, she could be cruel sometimes. My thoughts, once again, turned to Anfield.

And then there was the flight to Milan and the final. The San Siro. Atlético Madrid. And Herita bloody Ilunga. I probably don't need to remind you of what happened. Doubtless, you've seen it a hundred times on YouTube. All that work, all that preparation, all that desire and the stupid bastard plants a headbutt on Diego Forlán after just four minutes. He was only in the team because Benoît had tweaked his calf. I thought he looked nervous before the kick-off, so I told him to go out there and write his name in the history books. Perhaps I should have been more specific. I shifted Matty Upson to left-back, I brought Charlie Adam off for James Tomkins, I did everything I could to maintain our shape. Atlético won 3-0. 

After the game we were crestfallen. I've never known a dressing room like it and there was nothing I could say because I was broken as well. No-one would speak to Herita. He was slumped on the floor, still in his kit, with his head in his hands. With eleven men, we had a chance. With ten, we had nothing. Karren, though, was amazing. She came into the dressing room and gave a little speech, telling the players she was proud of them, that the fans were proud of them and that there was no shame in losing if everyone had given their all. Then she went to Herita, lifted him to his feet and told him to accompany her for a walk along the canals. Milan, she said, was so beautiful that he would want to stay there forever. Pausing only to pick up a length of rope and one of the heavier kitbags, she led him to the door. She must have shown him some wonderful things because he didn't make it to the airport for the return flight. I guess he just needed to be on his own. 

It was tough for all of us, but my mum always used to say that every raincloud just brings you closer to a rainbow and she was right. When I switched my phone back on at Stansted Airport, I had 17 messages. 16 of them were from journalists, one was from Tom Hicks. They were all asking me if I was taking the Liverpool job. Poor Roy, it turned out, had finally been sacked. That was all I needed to know. I got into my car and drove north. Well, north-west, if you want to be strictly accurate. 

I met Hicks and Gillett late that night in a 24-hour McDonalds in a service station on the fringes of Cheshire. It was their idea.

"Bobby!" bellowed Tom as I walked into the restaurant. 

"Mr Hicks," I smiled. "Good to see you again. Where's George?"

"He's up at the counter. Go and tell him what you want. You can have a burger and chips OR a drink. Not both."

I looked at him blankly.

"I'm fucking with you, Bobby! I'm yanking your chain! You can have anything you want. George? Get him anything he wants. Get him an apple pie if he wants it, yeah?"

George glanced back from the counter.

"What can I get you, Bobby?" 

"Just a coffee please, Mr Gillett."

"Come on, Bobby," grinned Tom, "come and sit down. We've reserved the good seats." He led me towards the back of the restaurant, discreetly slipped a £50 note into the hand of a skinny youth with a mop and pointed to a big blue plastic car with a table set in the middle of the chassis. "Who's driving, Bobby? You? I bet you are! You should sit there then, huh? In the driver's seat! God, I love this place."

George sidled over with a tray full of food and drinks. 

"Here's your coffee, Bobby. Tom, there's your Big Mac Meal with a large coke and the Happy Meal with the chocolate shake is mine."

"Give me the toy, George," said Tom with a broad grin.

"But… but… it's mine," said George plaintively.

"Give me the toy, George," repeated Tom, without the grin.

"You've got a Big Mac meal though," George whined. "If you wanted a toy, you should have bought a Happy Meal."

"Give me the toy, George."

George looked at me, then back at Tom and then at the floor. Without looking up, he reluctantly pushed the toy across the table. It was a figurine of Ariel from The Little Mermaid

"Look at this, Bobby, " said Tom, turning it over in his hand. "Cheap plastic shit. Cheap parts, cheap labour. Just like West Hampstead."

"West Ham," I said quietly. 

"Whatever. Fact is, it's worth nothing." He tossed the figurine behind him and it skittered along the floor and away. George cried out in horror and ran after it. 

"Bobby," drawled Tom. "You did great things there. You should have won a cup, you were unlucky. It's time to move on. We want you to manage Liverpool and we don't want you to do it on the cheap. We want to give you sacks of money and we want you to spend it on whoever you like. We don't care. You're the expert, we're happy to leave you to your own devices."

George scampered back, blowing the dust off his Ariel. "We would kinda prefer it if they were good players," said George. "You know, players who can make yardage."

"Bobby knows that, don't you, Bobby?" laughed Tom. "You'll have money, Bobby. More money than you ever had at West Hampstead."

"West Ham," I said.

"Whatever you say, Bobby."

"How much money will I have?" I asked. 

George and Tom looked at each other. "You've got £70m," said Tom. 

I spat coffee everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

"That's alright, Bobby," said Tom, reaching for a napkin. "I knew you'd be angry." He leaned over and mopped George's head. "What did I say, George?"

"You said it, Tom. You said he'd be angry."

"You can have £85m, Bobby. How's that?"

"You want to give me £85m? Where on earth did you get all of that money?!" I said, my voice quavering with excitement.

George started to giggle. 

"The bank!"

"But won't they want you to pay it back?" I asked him. That made both of them giggle. 

"Bobby, Bobby, Bobby," snickered Tom. "Why don't you let us worry about paying it back, you just worry about spending it."

"But, what's the collateral? How have you convinced the bank to hand it over?"

"Aw, gee, Bobby," groaned George. "Don't be such a Boy Scout. There was a big pile of paperwork, we signed it, that's all you need to know."

"What was in the paperwork though?"

"Bobby," said Tom, reaching out and putting his huge palm on my hand. "Let me tell you a story. Years ago, I worked on my Grandpappy's hamster ranch."

"Hamst-"

"Don't interrupt, Bobby. It's rude. Yeah, I used to work on that ranch every day of the summer vacation, bolt-gunning hamsters and skinning them to make hamster soda."

"Is there actually such a thing as hamst-"

"Be quiet, Bobby, I won't tell you again. Anyways, we had this guy, Hector. He was up on his paperwork. He was the ‘health and safety' man. He loved paperwork. He would always be wandering the ranch, telling us whatnot from wherefore and warning us not to blow our own hands up in the fusebox and, gee Bobby, that got really tiresome, so one day one of the big-eared Jackson boys pushed him down the stairs and he died."

"And your point is?" I asked.

"Paperwork is for losers, Bobby. Gee, do I really have to explain that story?"

"I understood it, Tom," said George. 

"Well, shucks, George, I know you understand it. Hector was your brother, you should understand it."

 "OK," I said. "I just need to know that you haven't done anything silly like load all of the debt on to the football club itself, limiting your own exposure but leaving a globally respected 120-year-old institution perilously exposed to the vagaries of the international financial market."

"Of course I haven't, Bobby."

"Well, that's good to kn— erm… why are your fingers crossed?"

"My fingers are always crossed, Bobby," said Tom, manually uncrossing them. "I blew them up in a fusebox when I was a young man."

"So what do you say, Bobby?" asked George excitedly, his mouth full of chips. "Will you be the next Liverpool manager?"

I didn't have to think very long. 

"Gentlemen," I said proudly. "It would be my great honour!"

But I wasn't free yet. I still had to tell Karren that I was leaving and I knew that it wouldn't be an easy conversation. I thought the best way would be to start with a compliment. I walked in to her office and took a deep breath. She was sat behind her desk trying on a pair of black fur gloves.

"That's a very nice pair of gloves, Ms Brady," I said, smiling.

"Thank you, Mr Manager. I've just had them made." She looked at me with a sly smile. "They're still warm."

"That's lovely. Ms Brady, we need to talk."

"Do we?"

"Yes," I said and I swallowed hard. "I'm… erm… I'm here to give you my resignation. I've been offered the Liverpool job and I'd like to take it."

Karren took the black fur gloves off and laid them down on her desk.

"I see."

"Yes, I think it's time to move on. I'm very grateful to you for giving me this opportunity."

"David gave you the opportunity," she said coldly. "I didn't."

"Well," I said. "That's true. But I'd like to thank you for all of your support."

"Are you mocking me?"

"No, no!" I said. "It's been good, it's been great. I needed the motivation that you gave me, honest."

Karren stared at me for a long time. So long that I felt awkward, like a bug being examined under a microscope. I could feel my back sweating.

"Don't go," she said softly. 

"I beg your pardon?"

"Don't go."

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there to see it, but there were tears forming in her eyes. Suddenly there was a vulnerability there that I'd never seen before. For so long, I'd only seen her as my boss. Now I saw a young woman with all the troubles of the world on her shoulders.

"I have to leave, Ms Brady. It's a tremendous opportunity for me. It's Liverpool. They're one of the biggest names in world football. They haven't won a trophy since 2006, they haven't finished in the top six for two seasons, they're perfect. I can rebuild them, bring the glory days back to Anfield. This is a chance I can't turn my back on."

"But we've come so far," she said. "We're a team, you and I. We've taken this football club from the brink of relegation to three consecutive top-ten finishes and a run to the Europa League Final."

"I thought you hated the Europa League?"

"I didn't mind so much when you got to the final. And you were ever so unlucky. I know we've had our differences, but… I don't know… I always felt there was something between us. A connection."

"I can't stay, Ms Brady. I've given my word to Liverpool. This is just something I have to do." 

Karren looked down for a moment and then back up again, her face a mask of sadness. 

"I understand," she said, blinking back the tears. "I can see how much this means to you. If Liverpool will agree to pay the appropriate compensation. I will let you leave."

"They will," I said. "Tom Hicks is waiting to speak to you as soon as possible."

"Well," she sighed. "That's that then."

"It is," I said. 

"Before you go, Mr Manager, how about a hug?"

"A hug, Ms Brady?"

"For old times sake, eh? Something to remember you by." She stood up and walked around the desk, her head cocked to one side, her eyes wide like a young doe blinking in the evening mist. 

"I… erm…" I stammered.

"Don't talk," she said quietly. "Don't talk. Let's not ruin the moment." She stepped towards me, I caught the scent of her sweet perfume and I realised, perhaps for the first time in three years, just how striking a woman she really was. How elegant and beautiful. Our hands touched lightly and there was a tingle in my fingertips. She leaned in and turned her head towards mine, her lips so full and red. She closed her eyes, her lashes fluttered slightly and I could feel my heart beating so hard it felt like it was going to smash its way out of my ribs. I felt something in her hand as she reached between my legs. Something that crackled with electricity. 

"Shitting Christ, Karren," I yelled, jumping backwards just in time. "Is that a fucking Taser?"

Karren's eyes flashed with anger and she howled in rage, throwing the stun gun at my head, missing me by inches. 

"You're crazy!" I cried, running for the door. "I'm getting out of here!"

"You'll be back!" she snarled after me. "You'll come crawling back with your tail between your legs! You're nothing, Manager! Nothing!"

Say what you like about Hicks and Gillett, but they never tried to run 50,000 volts through my testicles.

To Be Continued...