The ball sailed silently over the goal frame, away over the back of the stands and landed with a crash amongst the dustbins in the car park.

"Alex?" I called out to my assistant. "Can you get another bag of balls, mate?" I glared at Dieter Jarosch, the guilty culprit. Again. "That's four you've lost now, Dieter!" I bellowed, holding up my fingers just in case he didn't understand. "Four! Do you think we're made of money? I'm supposed to be building a Bundesliga team here, not overseeing the delivery of a €20 football to every fucking child in the surrounding area. Keep the fucking thing down!"

Dieter Jarosch scratched his bottom and stared at the floor. I'd been told that the big 28 year old had scored goals for fun back in the amateur leagues, but for the life of me I couldn't fathom how. He was like Ian Ormondroyd, but without the former Villa striker's natural grace and poise.

I sank into my seat on the bench and, not for the first time that week, I wondered what on earth I'd let myself in for. Football management looked easy from the press box. Stand up, shout a bit, do that thing where you push an imaginary block of ice across a table. When Thomas Zacher called and offered me the chance to manage his team, I almost bit his arm off. Granted, he may very well have mistaken me with someone else, an actual football manager, but that really wasn't my problem. All I could see was a regular wage, a two-year contract and no deadlines. As far as I was concerned, it was a massive step up from football journalism. Yes, I suppose it was a bit of an issue that I had no idea who Heidenheim were, or indeed where it actually was, but I could learn. I could learn.

Alex re-emerged from the tunnel, dragging a sack of balls behind him. He hauled one out, gave it a perfunctory squeeze, and then booted it onto the pitch.

"Hey, Iain! The team is doing well, is it not?" he grinned as he sat down next to me.

"Which team?" I asked genuinely. Alex had arranged an early practice game between the seniors and the youths and it was still goalless. If it wasn't for the stubble and the beer guts on one side, the casual observer would have struggled to tell them apart. I watched helplessly as Bernd Maier, my captain and a veteran of the regional leagues, tried to play a simple pass to the Turkish striker Faruk Gul, missing him by about six yards. I groaned and began repeatedly to bounce my head off the side of the dug-out. "Ah, come on," laughed Alex. "It is not that bad. At least they are trying to pass the ball. They have never done that before. Usually they just try and kick the brand name off it. You have made them think about their game."

I looked up, just as Dieter Jarosch chased a loose ball off the pitch, slowing down too late to avoid the advertising hoardings.

"They've not exactly got to think about much, Alex," I said as Jarosch screamed and vanished into the first row of seats with a crash. "It's 4-4-2, I've told them to keep it simple, pass it short, man-to-man mark and just go out and enjoy themselves."

"Exactly," said Alex. "You know, for an English manager, you are quite forward-thinking."

"I'm not a manager though," I groaned. "I'm a journalist. I should be up in that press box eating my own body weight in sausages, stopping only to misspell someone's name. I should be unleashing ill-considered opinions that only popped into my head while I was on the loo this morning. That's my football pitch, Alex. That's where I earn my money. I can't do this! I can't do it!"

"YOU CAN!" Alex snapped and he slapped me hard in the face with the back of his hand, as if I was a puppy who had pissed in his slippers. My cheek flushed bright red and the tears came quickly. Alex turned away in disgust.

Back on the pitch, Faruk Gul slammed a snapshot past the youth goalkeeper Uwe Proll, a ginger-headed virgin with a bum-fluff moustache. Bernd Maier roared in delight, but I didn't join in. I just sat quietly, biting my lip, feeling my pulse throbbing in the side of my face.

"I am sorry," said Alex, staring at the floor angrily. "I should not have struck you. I will understand if you want to dismiss me."

"No," I shook my head. "I needed telling. I just don't know where to start with this lot. They make Southend United look the 1982 Brazilian World Cup squad. They'll pass kidney stones before they pass the ball more than five yards."

"Can I ask you a question, Iain?" Alex said, turning to face me.

"Of course."

"Did you know where to start when you wrote Football Fables?"

"You've read Football Fables?"

"Of course, I have. Everyone has. It is my son's favourite. He makes me read it to him every night."

"Seriously?"

"Yes," said Alex with a solemn nod. "He particularly likes the double chapter on Brian Clough where Tony Woodcock and Viv Anderson recount their favourite memories of the man we all knew as 'Old Big 'Ed'. Myself, I would rather read Chopper Harris's chilling recollection of the 1970 FA Cup Final, but you know how kids are. Demanding."

"No," I admitted. "I don't suppose I did know where to start. When you set out to produce an amusing and accessible collection of anecdotes from some of football's most enduring characters, it can be daunting. I felt like Columbus aboard the Santa Maria, heading out across the Atlantic, not knowing whether I would ever see land again."

"Of course you did," smiled Alex. "But you did see land again. You wrote those fabulous fables, you brought those characters together and you told their stories. You gave my son, and so many people's sons, a priceless gift. And you can do this."

"Can I? Can I really?"

"Yes," smiled Alex. "Of course you can. And I will be here to help you."

The big German extended his hand. I took it in my own.

"We can do it, Alex. We've got three friendlies to kick them into shape and then the season starts. It's a big ask, but if we work together, there's nothing we can't achieve

There was a dull thump and a collective groan from the pitch.

"DIETER! That's five now, you gormless erection. No more new balls! You can fucking well climb over the stand and get that one back. No I'm not fucking joking! No! No, don't shake your head at me, you lumbering fanny. Get out!"

Alex smiled. "See?" he said. "This is why we wanted an English manager."


Das Football Boots

Aired 20 July 2009 — 1830:00 CET THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANCHOR — …and was eventually apprehended in the ladies lavatory of a restaurant in Gross-Rohrheim. More on the Bundesliga later, but first let's take a trip to the backwaters of the Third Division to catch up with newly promoted Heidenheim. Lothar Gerber travelled to Bavaria to find out more about the curious case of an English writer turned German football manager.

VT — Anonymous looking footballers in white shirts pass the ball to each other in front of a sparse crowd in a small stadium.

VOICEOVER — Heidenheim are in the Third Division at last. But for how long?

VT — A skinny man in a grey suit shakes hands with a wizened old man as a handful of flash bulbs go off in front of them. He leans over a desk and puts pen to paper.

VOICEOVER — This is Iain Macintosh. You know him as the author of Football Fables, the book that Jürgen Klinsmann once claimed was, "as important as Crime and Punishment". Well, now he's the manager of Heidenheim. He has no experience, no command of the German language and, if you believe the papers, no chance of keeping his team in the Third Division.

IAIN MACINTOSH (sat in a restaurant, a glass of red wine on table) — Bobbins. We've got every chance of staying up.

LOTHAR GERBER — You're a long way from the Stamford Bridge press-box though; surely this is going to be quite a challenge?

IM — Of course it will be a challenge, but I'm ready for it. And I tell you, the Stamford Bridge press-box is no walk in the park. It's a bloody minefield. Garth Crooks asked me where the toilet was once. All told, it took him 20 minutes to get the words out. I nearly missed the last tube.

LG — But how can a writer with no coaching credentials hope to succeed as a manager?

IM — My philosophy is simple. Pass the ball, cherish it. Keep it guarded and don't let anyone else have it. Start from that point and you'll be fine.

LG — But what about tactics, set-pieces, that kind of thing?

IM — Yes.

LG — Yes what?

IM — Yes, we do them too.

LG — How do you do them?

Silence

LG — Iain?

IM — I haven't decided yet.

LG — Well, what have you been doing in the friendlies?

IM — I…erm…Well, I..erm… left it to the lads. Keep it simple, know what I mean?

LG — You forgot, didn't you?

IM — Yes. Yes, I did.

LG — Let's move on. Transfers. You've signed a lot of players in a short space of time. Why all the reinforcements?

IM — I had to, Lothar. I'll be honest, half the players there are worse than you, and you're a fat lad. I've transfer listed 11 of them, but I can't find anyone daft enough to take them off my hands. Alexander Raaf, my assistant, arranged a few loans though, so we'll be alright.

LG — I see. So, were you pleased with the friendlies?

IM — Very pleased. We did very well. Very impressive.

LG — You didn't win any, did you?

IM — No. Not as such.

LG — Apart from a game behind closed doors. Against a team of 14 year olds. You won that by a single goal. Late on.

IM — You can only beat what's in front of you, Lothar.

LG — Iain, can I be frank?

IM — Of course.

LG — Is this just a publicity stunt?

IM — Absolutely not. This is real. This is my new life now. I promise you that when we take to the field against Unterhaching this weekend, we'll be the most prepared team in all of Germany.

LG — You're not playing Unterhaching this weekend.

IM — I beg your pardon?

LG — You're playing Erfurt.

IM — Yes, that's what I said.

LG — No, it wasn't.

IM — Yes it was, check your tape. Erpurt. That's who we've got.

LG — Erfurt.

IM — Yes.

LG — Back to you in the studio, Rutger.

FADEOUT


"Iain? Iain, are you in here?" Alex walked along the line of toilet cubicles, slapping his palms against every door until he found the one that was locked. My one. "Iain?"

"I'm not coming out." I whispered. "I don't want to."

"Come on, Iain. The press are becoming restless. You must speak to them. They have eaten all of the biscuits, soon they will anger."

"You speak to them."

"Come on, things are never as bad as they seem."

"Not as bad as they seem?! We lost 5-0! Erfurt took us out on to the pitch, pulled our trousers and pants down and spanked us in front of everyone!"

"We dominated possession," said Alex thoughfully. "That was one of your aims."

"Yes, but the other aim was not to ship five fucking goals."

"There is a bright side for you to look at. We enjoyed the better of the second half."

"For 25 minutes!"

"That's the better of the second half."

"Not when they score three goals in the other 20!"

"Calm yourself. The season is long. We have time to regroup. Come out and do the press conference."

I slid the lock across and allowed the door to swing open. Alex peered into the gloom and then swiftly recoiled.

"You have… erm… you have vomit on your shirt," he said.

"Yes, I know."

"And your trousers."

"Yes, I know."

"And… how did you get it in your shoes?"

"I don't know, Alex."

He stepped into the cubicle and hauled me off the seat like a child.

"Come on, Gaffer. That is what they say in England, is it not? Gaffer? Clean yourself." He dragged me to the sink and turned on the taps. I stooped down and threw cold water over myself before trying to shake the heavier chunks of sick off my collar. They landed on the floor with a series of dull, wet slaps.

"Tell me, is Dieter Jarosh actually a footballer? Is he? Or is he just a bloke who sneaked in one morning and has been here for so long that everyone's got used to him?"

"He used to score many goals," Alex said.

"Well, he's not scoring them now. He's out. And Patrick Mayer too, the blundering tit-bag."

"What are you going to do?" asked Alex.

"I don't know," I said, drying myself down with toilet roll. "But I've got to do something. Where are the players?"

"They went home. They do not like to be shouted at. Andreas Spann actually cried when you called him those names. Tell me, what exactly is a 'thundering turd-burger'?"

"I'm not entirely sure. I guess I lost the plot a bit."

"Lost the plot," said Alex thoughtfully, turning the phrase over in his mind. "Yes. Yes, I think you did. You lost the plot, the narrative and the character development. You were halfway through telling Dieter Jarosh that he was a Toblerone-booted spaz-bot sent from the future royally to fuck our lives up the nipsy and then boom! All that sick came out of your nose. I was most surprised."

"You and me both. Where are these journalists?"

Alex pointed to the door.

"Out of the changing room, down the corridor and through the second door on the left. They're waiting for you. Here, take these." He handed me a pack of Garibaldi biscuits. "Sometimes it's the only thing that soothes them."

"Well," I announced looking myself up and down in the mirror. "Let's give them something to write about."

"Be careful, Gaffer," said Alex. "Remember that it's a long season."

"It won't be for me, Alex," I said, reaching for the door. "If I don't start winning games soon, it'll be a very short season indeed."


I finish my drink. I finish my fag. I get up. I walk to the window. Heidenheim. Heidenheim at night. Much the same as Heidenheim at day. But darker. Darker.

Unterhaching. Dirty dirty Unterhaching. Hateful place. Hateful, spiteful place. Dirty. Dirty, dirty Unterhaching.

I reflect upon another defeat. This time by a single goal. A single, lucky goal. Marcus Steegman. He'll never score another one like that again. Not as long as he lives. Lives. Dies. Dark. Night. One win from three. Underwhelming.

Ralph Hasenhüttl. Manager of Unterhaching. Legend of Rapid Vienna. You see him in reception and you stride over to him, hand outstretched, smile on face. But he doesn't see you. He walks straight past you. Ralph heads for his dressing room to give his team-talk to his players. His special team-talk with all of his special German words. Unterhaching. Dirty, dirty Unterhaching.

Dieter Jarosch laughed at me today. He didn't think I heard him, but I did. I hear things. He laughed when Marcus Steegman scored. Steegman scored. In. Off. The. Post. Alex leaned over and slapped him upside the head. Faithful Alex. Alexander Raaf. My friend here in Heidenheim. My only friend. My confidante. My partner. But not like that. Straight.

Ralph Hasenhüttl. Staring at you. As if he's never seen a man wearing trainers with a suit before. He's obviously never been to court in Edinburgh. He peers out of his dug-out and examines you. You feel his eyes climbing up you, like ivy up a castle wall. You don't like it. You get scared. You hide behind Alex. Some wee comes out. Dirty trousers. Dirty, dirty trousers.

I pour another drink. I light another fag. It's not fair. Not fair that I sit in this standard Novotel room in the business district of Heidenheim, with its single bed, its strip lighting, its TV without the naughty channels. Not fair that I have to be here alone. I need Ron. I could have done this with Ron. He always had an eye for a player. If I was the front of the shop, he was the front of, well, a much bigger shop. A much, much bigger shop, actually. I pick up the phone.

"Ron?"

"Who the bloody hell is this?" he curses. "Do you know what time it is?"

"Ron, I need you. I can't do this alone. I'm not big enough. But you are."

"Who is this? How did you get this number?"

"They've got it in for me, Ron. Just like Doug Ellis had it in for you. They all have. Dieter. Erol. Clement. Florian. I need you with me. You can make them laugh. You can turn this around. Come on, Ron. It'll be like old times."

"Hang on a minute…I recognise that voice. Is that you, Macintosh? I thought I'd got rid of you."

"They hate flair round here, Ron. Hate it and fucking loathe it. Drag it out into the streets and kick it in its guts, kill it and hang it from the lampposts for all to mock and see, from the motorways, from the factories, from the Heidenheim Museum of Clocks."

"Are you drunk? I told you never to phone me again. Don't get me wrong, I liked Football Fables as much as the next man, but the chapter on me feels a little rushed and it focuses too much on things I may or may not have said off-air and not enough on my two FA Cups with Manchester United, or my short but exciting period with Atlético Madrid. Now fuck off."

He hangs up. I sit for a moment, cradling the handset to the nape of my neck. Clutching it, as if it were his arm. His great big arm.

Cassio, the Brazilian left-back, is injured. Andreas Spann, the easily offended midfielder from Ulm, he's injured too. Kicked off the park by dirty, dirty Unterhaching. You've used all your substitutes. Frustration. You want to play yourself, but that would be stupid. You're rubbish. Even worse than Dieter. That's why you took up writing about football. Because you couldn't play it. Couldn't. Shouldn't. Wouldn't — if it was raining. So you sit in your dug-out and you watch. And you lose.

I finish my drink. I finish my fag. I go to the window. The sun peers over the horizon, glum and lethargic like the only remaining headlight of an Austin Allegro. I have no more fags. I have no more drink. I do, however, have a large bottle of Listerine and that might just do the trick. I only want to sleep.


"I met him in a cell in New Orleans, la-la…. so down and out. He looked to me to be the eyes of age….hmm-hmm spoke right out. He talked of life, yes he talked of life. He la-la-la-la-la-la stepped…"

Maggie knew she couldn't really sing that well, but she didn't mind. The boys were out in the garden and even if they could hear her off-key falsetto as it drifted out of the open windows, she knew they wouldn't do anything more than give her a gentle ribbing. She didn't mind that either. Banter made the world go round, that's what Ron always said. But where was he this time?

"Mister Bojangles, Mister Bojangles, Mister Bojangles, Dance!"

She continued to buff away at the 1991 Worthington Cup replica they kept on the mantelpiece. Ron used to joke that if he couldn't comb his hair over in its reflection, then it just wasn't shiny enough. And then he'd pinch her bottom. Oh, he could make her feel as giddy as a schoolgirl some mornings.

She heard the key in the door and breathed a sigh of relief. There he was!

"Good morning, my sweetness and light!" he called from the hallway.

"Ron!" she answered back, trying to be stern. "Where have you been? I wasn't in the wide-awake club this morning. I didn't even hear you leave."

"It wouldn't have mattered if you were in the wide-awake club or not, my princess," said Ron, striding into the living room like a general. "I'd have only given you the eyebrows and slipped out, left lollypop."

"I'll earn that spotter's badge one day," Maggie giggled. "You see if I don't! Now, where have you been?"

"I nipped out to the newsagent early doors, but I found Ken in an awful state."

"What's wrong with him? Have the paperboys been bullying him again?"

"There's your spotter's badge, you sweet, sweet cherry! That's exactly what they've been doing. They've been showing up late, pilfering fags while he's on the bog. One of 'em has even been posting bongo mags through old ladies' doors. Horror show. No team spirit."

"What did you do?"

"The only thing I could, my reason-to-live. I called 'em all into the backroom and put a reducer on the biggest one, just to let him know who the gaffer was. I slapped the second biggest one for laughing and then I laid the law down. Big Ron's big speech. Then, when I was finished and they were still snivelling about Child Line, I called a minicab and took us all, Ken included, out for a golf day. Get some smiles on some faces. Left 'em to it. Worked a treat. Ken'll be just fine now."

"Oh, you are clever, love."

"It's what I do. Are the lads here?"

"They certainly are, they're out in the back garden."

"How are they doing? How's Carlton coping with the guttering?"

Maggie pursed her lips. "Well, he's a bit awkward, isn't he? He had some problems with the ladder at first, fell off it twice, but he's really putting a shift in. I couldn't ask any more of the lad. He's not got much in his locker, skill-wise, but he's not short of heart, my angel. I took him a Vimto about 20 minutes ago. He seemed well pleased."

"And Dalian? How's he doing with that lawn?"

"Not as good, love. He started well, a beguiling combination of pace and power that made me think he could achieve anything he wanted to in that garden, but to be honest, it's all gone to pot now. Just take a look out the window."

Ron peered through the net curtains. "What's he doing?"

"I think he's making daisy chains, bless him." "Alright, I'll have a word."

"Just before you do, love… we got another one of those messages."

"Oh, Christ. How bad?"

"It's not a good one. It came while I was taking a cup of tea for Deano, fixing up the tree-house, by the way. He's not… he's not right, Ron."

"Deano?"

"No, love. Deano's never been right. I meant this Macintosh person. He's not well."

"Let's have a listen, shall we?"

Maggie shuddered. "Do you mind if I don't, love? It gives me the collywobbles."

Ron nodded and walked out into the hallway. The red light on the answer-machine blinked accusingly. He took a deep breath and pressed the button.

"Are you there, Ron? It's me. Iain. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, Ron. I've improved the squad, I've laid down the law, I've even put the reducer on Dieter Jarolsch. It's not happening. Offenbach. 0-1. We've lost three on the bounce now and I can't see where the next goal is coming from, let alone the next win. What is it, Ron? What's the secret? How did you do it with West Brom? How did you build that confidence…? I tried it with Faruk Gul. I gave him a cuddle. In front of everyone, I gave him a cuddle and told him that he was a world beater. Now he just thinks I'm a bit weird and the lads all cover themselves when I walk into the dressing room. I took Florian Krebs out for a drink, but I got a bit squiffy and did some sick on his shoes. I can't seem to do anything right. I give biscuits to the press, I treat the staff with respect, but I never get anything back. Apart from Alex. He's great but… Oh, Ron, what do I do? What do I… wha… wh…"

"It goes quiet here for a while and then he just cries for five minutes," said Maggie, appearing behind Ron and putting a hand on his shoulder. "Like I said, he's not well."

"We've all felt that pain, Margaret." said Ron with a strange, distant look in his eyes.

Maggie slipped back into the kitchen. He hadn't called her by her actual name for a long time. A long, long time.

"Margaret?" he called out.

"Yes, love?"

"Ask Deano if he's got any plans for the next week, will you?"

"Of course, love."

"And tell Carlton to fire up the Ron-mobile."

"Yes, love."

"And Margaret?"

"Yes, love?"

"Probably best just to leave Dalian to his daisy chains, eh? If he asks, tell him we've gone to the shops and, if he's good, we'll bring him back a sherbert dip."


I opened the door of the boot room and walked headfirst into a wave of sweat and laughter, raw jubilation crashing through the air. I grinned, I closed my eyes and I just let it wash over me like a hot shower after a long, long run.

When I opened them, Ron was right up in my face, roaring at me.

"I told you! Didn't I tell you? I TOLD YOU! I told you that you could do it! What did I tell him, Carlton?"

"You told him, gaffer," smiled Carlton and he stuck out one of his enormous arms and ruffled the back of my hair.

"Do you want some bubbles, Macca?" squealed Dean Saunders in delight. He thrust a cold bottle of champagne into my hand.

"Easy now, Deano," said Ron. "Let the poor lad get his breath back. Let him take a seat. It's not every day you beat the league leaders." He pulled me down on to the physio's bench with him and put his arm round my shoulders. His great big arm.

"But I want him to have it noooooow!" wailed Deano, stamping his feet.

"Come on then, Deano," I announced, giving Ron a quick grin. "Give us a go on those bubbles."

"Wheeeee!" Deano screamed. "You're gonna love it! You're gonna love it!"

I pressed the cold neck of the bottle to my lips, a relief in this tiny room, dense and dank with the fug of man-sweat. I threw my head back. The champagne flowed into my aching, shouted-out throat and burned like acid, its over-powering aftertaste rising up through my nostrils like the bell on a Test Your Strength machine.

"Christ, Deano. That's rancid!" I howled, swallowing hard, desperately hoping that the taste would disappear as quickly as it had arrived.

"Do you wanna know why?" giggled Deano, his eyes so wide that they could have fallen out of his head at any moment. Beside me, Ron's head dropped and I heard Carlton sigh.

"Is it from Portugal?"

"No!" laughed Deano like a horse. "It's 'cos I pissed in it! I pissed in it!"

"For fuck's sake, Deano," groaned Carlton. "Why are you always pissing in the champagne?"

Deano sank to his knees in hysterics, beating the tiled floor with his fists.

"I'm sorry, Macca, I really am," said Ron. "He's a fucking animal."

"I don't care," I laughed. "I don't care that I've just drunk Dean Saunders's piss. Those three points are more than enough to take the taste away. I never would have believed that we'd beat Eintract Braunschweig, not ever. I mean, they've got Carsten Jancker!"

"That's your problem, son," said Ron. "You don't believe. Take Carlton here. He didn't believe that he could play for England. But he could. I always knew he could. Only 10 per cent of success is out there on the pitch. The other 90 per cent, that's between your ears. If you're mentally strong…."

"You'll not go far wrong," echoed Carlton.

"Exactly," said Ron. "Now pass me the ice bucket. I put one of my good magnums in there and it's still sealed. There's no chance Deano could have got to it."

"Thanks, Ron," I said. I picked up the ice-bucket and handed it to him. "You were right about Florian Krebs. Getting him to man-to-man mark Jancker was a master-stroke."

Ron opened the champagne with a resounding pop, plonked it back in the ice bucket and handed it back to me.

"That's just experience. There's always an angle, always a way to make the difference. In the League Cup Final of 1994, we put Dalian on the wing, banking on Deano's intelligence to find space."

We looked down at Deano. He'd gone foetal with the giggles, squirming on the floor, tears streaming down his face, a damp patch spreading steadily across the lap of his tracksuit.

"It was a long time ago," said Ron quickly. "Try the champagne."

The door opened and Alex poked his head round.

"Alex!" I shouted. "We've just opened a bottle! Come and join us!"

"We?" said Alex with a strange look on his face. "Us?" I looked around. The room was empty. Dirty boots lined the walls, stud-clumps of dirt lay on the floor. It was cold and there was the smell of damp.

Alex stared at me. "Why are you holding the mop bucket?"

I looked down. A filthy mop bucket full of ice looked back at me. In the middle, a jumbo-sized bottle of Listerine bobbed between the cubes. The seal was broken. It was only half-full. An eternity passed by in my mind like a dust-storm.

"Iain?" said Alex.

"I was going to clean the boot-room, Alex. It helps me think."

"Ok, fair enough. I thought I heard voices?"

"Just me," I said. "I like to vocalise my thoughts after a win."

"A win!" laughed Alex. "It's been a while since we had one of those!"

"What?"

"We lost, gaffer. 0-2. Eintract Braunschweig. Jancker got them both. Are you sure you're alright?"

I looked around the cold, empty boot-room.

"No, Alex." I said quietly. "I'm not entirely sure that I am."


Das Football Boots

Aired 19 September 2014 — 1830:00 CET THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANCHOR — …but the squirrels did not consent, announced the judge, and for that reason, a custodial sentence was necessary. More from the Bundesliga later, but now to the backwaters of German football and the strange story of a journalist who waded way out of his depth. It's five years since the mysterious disappearance of Heidenheim manager Iain Macintosh. The Englishman, who arrived at the struggling German club amidst a blaze of publicity, lost nine of his ten games in charge of the team before walking out of the training ground, never to return. Lothar Gerber speaks to the men who knew him best.

VT — Footage of Iain Macintosh in a suit, signing terms with the club. Smiling.

Iain Macintosh (2009)

Of course it will be a challenge! But I'm ready for it!

Lothar Gerber (sat on the bench at a deserted Albstadion) — Millions of us play Football Manager every day. On our computers. On our phones. The fantasy of taking control of our favourite football team is overpowering. We all like to think that we know best. We all wish for a chance to find out for real.

(Looks hard at the camera)

Sometimes, you should be careful what you wish for.

Alex Raaf (Heidenheim 2002 — 2010)

Yeah, it was a surprise to us. We knew that the old man was bringing in a manager from left-field, but we didn't ever think it would be that left-field. He wasn't a player, he wasn't a coach. He was a writer. And granted, Football Fables — the true stories of triumph and despair from football's mavericks — was a great book. I'm just not sure that it was enough to prepare him for the rigours of football management.

Dieter Jarosch (Heidenheim 2007 — Present)

Oh God, he was weird from the start. He called me a 'gormless erection' and a 'lumbering fanny' in the same sentence. I mean, can't you see how weird that is? That's a man-part and a lady-part. How can I be both? I loathed him.

Florian Krebs (Heidenheim 2009 — 2010)

He tried his best, I guess. He once took me out for a drink to explain the concept of a clearance. First he tried to do it with words, but that didn't help. Then he tried diagrams, but I was still none the wiser. He went down the road, bought a guitar and tried to teach me through the medium of music, but still nothing. I just couldn't see why I shouldn'tfanny about in possession on the edge of my own penalty area, oblivious to the threat of oncoming strikers. Anyway, we were there so long that we both got completely ratted and he chucked up all over my winkle-pickers. Poor man.

VT — Footage of Iain Macintosh rocking backwards and forwards in the dug-out. Subtitles appear. He tells Alex Raaf to sit down. Raaf obeys. Macintosh seems calm. Then he erupts. "What are you sitting down for?" he bellows. "Get up!" And he pushes Raaf off the bench.

Lothar Gerber (sat on the bench at a deserted Albstadion) — The pressure began to tell. Heidenheim were thrashed 0-5 by Erfurt. Then they beat Aue 3-2 in a dramatic afternoon in Bavaria. But Macintosh never won another point. Defeats followed with crippling inevitability. Unterhaching (0-1), Sandhausen (0-4), Offenbach (0-1), Eintract Braunschweig (0-2), Dresden (0-2), Jena (1-3), Wuppertal (0-3) and finally, on September 19, to Bayern Munich II (0-6).

Alex Raaf (Heidenheim 2002 — 2010)

I walked into the dressing room the morning after and the smell was unbearable. There were empty bottles of Listerine all over the floor and the words, "WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME, RON?" were scrawled on the walls in excrement. I mean, I'd seen him vomit and I'd seen him cry, but that was the first time I thought he might be a bit mental.

Dieter Jarosch (Heidenheim 2007 — Present)

It was all so pointless. We were relegated at the end of the season anyway. I don't think anyone could have kept us up. The important thing, and I think the thing that Macintosh always missed, was that we were a team. We share our success and we share our failure. I mean, look at me. I'm 33 and I'm still part of Heidenheim. Obviously I'm semi-professional again now. What do I do as a proper job? Oh, I work in a dairy. It's my job to massage the milk out of the cows by swinging a flat-bottomed instrument against their rear-end. I prefer to use a banjo, personally. Mind you, I'm not very good. I always seem to miss.

Florian Krebs (Heidenheim 2009 — 2010)

I'll miss him. Underneath that snivelling, swearing, sick-splattered wreck of a man, with his lack of understanding of defensive practice, his unabashed amateurism, his violent tantrums and his cruel barbed… I'm sorry, I've forgotten my original point.

Lothar Gerber (sat on the bench at a deserted Albstadion) — Macintosh left few clues behind. His hotel room was immaculate, save for a discarded copy of 'Championship Manager 2001-02. On the front of the box was the message.

"I was good at this one. Honest. Once I took Southend United into the Uefa Cup."

Some say that he vanished to Asia, others think he now resides in a hippy commune in India. Perhaps the mystery will never be solved. Perhaps we have seen the last of this ill-mannered English fop and his volcanic temper tantrums.

Back to you in the studio, Rutger.