New year, same consultancy business. Due to a quirk of the calendar, I was back at work on the 2nd of December. Obviously, this was ludicrous, the rest of the ruddy world was still asleep. A week off is by no means a long enough break. I barely had time to turn my brain off and relax. For half of that time, I was fretting about the whereabouts of the still missing Clive Mendonca.
With no traffic on the road, it took me no time at all to get to the Bet365 stadium, where I had been hired for the day. Strangely, I hadn’t been hired by the manager, but by the board. I had been given strict instructions to not tell anyone why I was at the ground in case Mark Hughes found out. The squad and I would be alone. Mark had been ‘made busty’ by the chairman Peter Coates. I’m assuming that he meant ‘busy’ and his old man hands can’t type. Hopefully that is the case, otherwise, Mark is going through some serious things.
I pulled into the car park and got out of the car, making sure to walk past the new part of the ground on the way to the conference room. I love the look of football grounds, with all the steel, wood and concrete melding together to create a behemoth that brings both joy and despair to thousands. Sometimes, I like to imagine that they will rise up and transform into a giant robot and fight each other, a bit like that film when the robots transform and fight… Pacific Rim, that one.
The new part of the ground did look good. If it had been sunny, I’m sure it would have been gleaming, but this was Stoke and it was grey. When I looked at the new section of the stadium, one thought came to mind: whoever monitored the cost and change procedures on that project was damn good at their job. Sometimes, you can just tell.
I crept into the reception area and headed towards the desk. I leant on it, lowered my head towards the receptionist and quickly checked the coast was clear. Peter had given me a code word to alert the receptionist that it was me. If I said the word, she would escort me through to the conference room without alerting anyone.
‘Masturbating,’ I whispered.
Her eyes widened.
‘Do you mean… meditating?’ she asked, one hand holding the edge of the desk, no doubt ready to press the panic button.
Damn you and you’re inability to type a text, Coates.
She took me upstairs and into the conference room where the Stoke players were gathered. As soon as you walked in you could feel sadness and despair hanging in the air. This was not a good sign. I hadn’t felt a room this low since I attended Tim Sherwood’s Just Dance competition and he couldn’t get over two stars (I got full marks on Skrillex’s Rock N Roll (Will Take You To The Mountain), my tune of choice).
I stood at the front of the room and explained to the squad why I was attending. In simple terms, Peter was concerned that their performances hadn’t been good enough.
‘I thought we were doing okay?’ squeaked Erik Pieters.
‘You lost 3-0 to West Ham. WEST HAM!’
The room went silent. How could they not realise how bad things were getting? They’ve been pumped by the worst club in the world! I was pacing now, describing how bad a team they are. Some of the language I used was unforgivable, I said some deeply terrible things about Joe Allen and chickens that made the poor Welshman weep.
Suddenly, the door was kicked off its hinges. Mark Hughes was stood in the doorway, wearing a full Stoke kit. His shoulders raised and fell as he breathed. He was clenching his fists and there was a faint whistling sound as his breath slipped out between his bared teeth.
‘Oh, hi Mark,’ I said.
‘I knew that there’s no World Volley Championship,’ he hissed. I made a mental note to never work with Peter Coates again. He’s clearly a fool.
‘No, Mark, I was simply having a discussion with the lads,’ I turned as I said this, realising that we were now alone. The ‘lads’ had fled. The cowards! I hope they do go down.
Hughes darted towards me. I tried to drop a shoulder and leave the room but he volleyed me in the stomach, forcing me to drop to my knees. The air had left my lungs and the world was starting to go black. I looked up, all I could see was the furious Welshman staring back at me. He grabbed my hair and leant in to whisper something to me. But I didn’t hear those words before I passed out.
I came round in Hughes’ office. I tried to get up, only to notice I was tied to the chair opposite his desk. Hughes was sat on the edge of it, still in his full Stoke kit. Thankfully, he looked a lot calmer than he had looked earlier in the day.
‘Nice of you to join me, Alan,’ he growled. ‘I was worried I would be drinking this coffee alone.’
He held out a cup of coffee for me to drink. I looked at the cup, then my trapped arms then back at him. He simply nodded at the cup. I leaned forward to slurp the coffee up. As soon as I touched it, Hughes dropped the cup, coffee splashing all over me.
‘It’s…it’s not hot, Mark. Was it meant to be hot?’
‘Er, yes. It took you awhile to come round,’ he said, mopping the coffee up with some tissues from his desk.
‘What is this about, Mark?’ I asked. ‘I was only trying to improve the morale of a depressed squad. No part of me wants your job.’
‘You see, Alan… You’re one of the many people who are trying to undermine me. I don’t like being undermined…’ He walked round to the other side of his desk, opened the top drawer and pulled out a book, holding it up so I could see the cover.
‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth?’
‘It’s Gandhi’s autobiography,’ he said, placing it back in the drawer. He walked back around the desk and crouched down, so his eyes were at the same level as mine.
‘Gandhi was a big believer in non-violence. ‘Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.’ That’s what he said.’
Hughes started smirking as he climbed to his feet.
‘Unfortunately for you, Alan, I don’t agree with Gandhi.’
Will the manager survive? Did Mark Hughes actually read Gandhi’s autobiography or does he keep it in his desk drawer just to set up a sinister line? Where is Clive Mendonca? Find out next week!