Roy Race’s decision

to revert to his
favourite 4-3-3
formation had paid
immediate
dividends. Since the
switch Melchester
Rovers were
unbeaten in the
Premier League and
up to third place.
But with a paper thin
squad, the busy
Christmas period would
test his team to its very
limits. Five matches in
ten days would have
stretched even the great Melchester Rovers squads of the 70s and early 80s. The
return from injury of Dion Templeton was a relief, but with Steve Wootten still
excluded from the first-team, Race only had fifteen senior players to choose
from. Finding a way to balance the workload over Christmas was a major
challenge. Luckily the Rovers squad was extremely fit, but the build up of
stresses and strains, general tiredness and injuries over half a season could
override high fitness levels.
Melchester Rovers fans hoped the Boxing Day fixture away to city rivals
Melborough would be the highlight of their festive period. Boro’ sat fourth in the
table, one below Rovers, but were the division’s top scorers. Former Melchester
striker Craig Foster already had sixteen goals to his name and was the leading
scorer in the country.
The Sunday before Christmas, Melchester Rovers were to play Carford City at the
Rugby Ground. So Roy Race and his assistant Geoff Giles took the chance to
scout their rivals in an away match against Highborough United. Wearing his
favourite disguise of fedora, knee-length mac and dark glasses, Race was
immediately recognised by the United fans, who delighted in some light-hearted
banter. Race responded jokingly, “I’m here to sign a goalkeeper, I hear Rapper
Hardisty is for sale!”
Rapper had been a crowd favourite during his short spell with Melchester Rovers
in the early 90s. Now he was England’s number 1 and one of the very best
goalkeepers in the world. Roy was looking forward to watching him, but it was his
duel with Craig Foster that most interested the Rovers manager.

Highborough United in white shirts and dark blue shorts, lined-up in a defensive
4-5-1: Hardisty; Shedd, Gudjonsson, Barret ©, Greenwich; Taeabb, Persen,
Nelson, Poshstof, Yarde; Bowe.
Melborough in their now familiar purple and white, played a simple 4-4-1-1:
Brady; Ellson, Baxter, Overton, Mason; Driscol, Molgate, Monyithal, Thomas; Beck
©; Foster.
United, in mid-table, sat back allowing Melborough possession, clearly the aim
was to stifle the attacking threat of Beck and Foster. “Foster’s movement has
improved, he knows he’s not quick, so anticipates moves early. Look at that! See
how he runs along the line, staying onside!” Roy said as Beck drifted forward.
The United defence dropped off, “That’s what Beck wants!” Giles could see what
was about to happen. Foster was off, pointing ahead to where he wanted the
pass. His captain obliged, Foster was clear, his early run perfect. Hardisty rushed
from his goal, staying on his feet. The striker hurried his shot, Rapper blocked
and smothered the loose ball. “Brilliant goalkeeping! Roy exclaimed, “Any other
goalie in the league and Melborough are in front! Great Save!”
The battle between Hardisty and Foster that Roy predicted had begun and it
would continue through an attritional first-half. Foster shot powerfully from
twenty yards; Hardisty tipped over. From a corner, Foster flicked a header
goalwards; Rapper guided the ball around the post. Two fantastic saves, made to
look easy by the England goalkeeper. “Rapper’s cut out the flash stuff!” Giles
noted, “And he’s a better keeper for it!”
The half-time whistle went, Foster and Hardisty walked off the field smiling and
chatting, “I think I’ve found a weakness, Geoff! I’ll keep an eye on Fozzie and see
how this battle develops, but I think I’m onto something!” Giles grinned, when
Roy Race had a eureka moment, it was usually spectacular in its results.
Early in the second-half Beck, under pressure, played a short pass to Foster,
“Hospital ball!” Giles yelled. He was right, grizzly veteran centre-half Ray Barret
clattered the forward, sending him sprawling. It was a clear foul, an overaggressive challenge, but the referee played on. Foster sat, accepted the hand
up from Barret and limped away. “Do you see it yet, Geoff?” Roy asked his
assistant, who shook his head, “No, Roy, nothing!”
Barret, a former England international, was regarded as a tough but fair
defender, but even the captain of Highborough United, a team that had always
been associated with fairplay, began to niggle Craig Foster. Roy was pleased,
Barret had spotted the same potential weakness in Foster’s game.
Moments later, Melborough won a corner, Roy watched Foster closely. Barret,
waved his centre-back partner away and marked Foster himself. Gary Driscol was
placed the ball in the corner arc, but Roy’s eyes were still focused on Foster and
Barret. The defender was roughing up the number 9, stepping on his toes, giving
little knees into the back of his thigh. Foster did not retaliate, but also did not
fight back. Driscol took the kick, aimed at his striker; Barret timed his jump to
perfection and headed away, brushing Foster aside.
Melborough continued to dominate territory and won a succession of corners.
Each time Ray Barret marked Foster tightly, pulling hair and shirt, using every

dirty trick in the book. But Craig Foster did not complain and he did not go down,
but while his restraint was admirable, he did not get another chance to score.
The match ended nil-nil.
Roy drove Geoff home, it was only thirty miles from Highborough to Melchester,
but the two were engrossed in football conversation. “Foster’s soft, Geoff! He’s
too nice! Barret was all over him today and bullied him out of the game. It’s not a
nice tactic, but something we have to consider.” Geoff agreed, “I can’t believe
we haven’t noticed before. But are you sure it will work? In the blood and
thunder of a River Mel derby, he always scores.” Roy nodded, “He does, and he
takes plenty of heavy tackles too. But he was never singled out for the roughstuff, that’s what upset him. He took Barret’s foulplay personally, like Ray bullied
him because he didn’t like him. Look at how Craig was chatting with Rapper at
half-time, he wants to be pally with everyone!”
As the car pulled into Geoff’s driveway, Roy spoke, “I don’t like the idea of
kicking a former Melchester Rovers player off the park. But perhaps we can
exploit this weakness without having to go that far. I’ve an idea!”
***
The Daily Gazette carried the threatening headlines, “Fozzie’s Festive Fight Club!
– Roy Race promises to knock Craig Foster out of the Derby!” The first part of Roy
Race’s plan had worked; the tabloid newspapers all carried similar stories and
such dramatic headlines. Craig Foster and his team-mates could not fail to notice
Roy’s proposed tactics. Roy was sure that Foster would be worried and that alone
would be enough to put him off his game. The Melchester Evening News usually
so pro-Rovers went as far as to suggest Race should be charged with bringing
the game into disrepute, citing his interview after the 2-1 win over Carford City.
“Race’s comments not only encourage violence on the field, but also act to
inflame an already tense rivalry in the stands. Race’s words could potentially
start a riot. He must face an F.A. charge.”
What Roy actually said was nowhere near as controversial, “I want my players to
play a hard game against Melborough. Craig Foster is their dangerman and I
want my players to stop him.” The Orbital Sports interviewer probed, “Stop him
how?” Roy answered with a grin, “With good old-fashioned defending!”
So, at midday in a hostile Melborough Stadium, Melchester Rovers lined-up
against a Boro’ team unchanged from the draw at Highborough (4-3-3): Cooper;
Marcello, Kerrigan, Nash, Lawrence; Enqvist, Gates, Durham ©; McKaffree,
Templeton, Race.
In the tunnel, Keith Durham did his best to stir up his players and intimidate
Craig Foster. He shouted, he banged the walls and stamped his feet, before being
warned by the referee. Dion Templeton took over the noise making and Dino
Marcello gave Foster an evil stare, not relenting until the striker shyly shifted his
gaze to his boots.
At the toss, Peter Beck, the Melborough captain was keen to let Keith Durham
know he was not impressed, “Any of your boys go near Fozzie and you’ll be
dealing with me!” Durham laughed off Beck’s threats, “He doesn’t need a
bodyguard, or do you think he does, Beck?” Again the referee stepped in to calm

the situation, issuing a stern warning that he would be quick to show cards of
both colours if this behaviour continued. Durham was still laughing as Rovers
kicked off.
Gary Driscol was first into the referee’s book, the winger going in over the top of
the ball on his old rival Rocky Race. Rocky made a meal of the challenge,
writhing on the ground until the yellow card was produced. He did not like
Driscol, the two had been rivals since youth team days and their relationship did
not improve during Rocky’s spell on the opposite side of the River Mel.
Little quality football was played in the first-half, half-chances fell to Templeton
who headed wide and Declan McKaffree whose shot was well saved. Durham was
booked for a late tackle in Beck, and Beck was cautioned for a bad foul on Per
Enqvist. But Roy Race was pleased as both teams headed off for the break, Craig
Foster had not contributed to any Melborough attacks, in fact he had spent a lot
of time wide on the right as far away from Dino Marcello as possible. Whether
this was down to Foster or a tactical change from the manager was unclear, but
the outcome was the same; Craig Foster posed no threat to the Melchester goal
on the right-wing.
Roy’s message was clear, more of the same and a winner would come. Just one
minor change, “Rocky, I want you to drop into a central position, much deeper.
Dec you go narrow and play off Dion. Play the ball to Rocky’s feet, use him as the
link man! OK, lads, off you go!”
Melborough made no changes, Foster was still hugging the right touchline, with
Beck supporting Driscol in attack. The scrappy football continued, only abetting
with the occasional flash of skill from Rocky in his attacking midfield role. But his
good work went to waste, Templeton’s control was off, he had recently returned
from injury and lacked the fitness of the others. The busy schedule also took its
toll on his big frame, he groaned, as another Race pass ricocheted away after a
poor touch. Rocky ran to the touchline, “Dad, get Bishop on, Dion’s wasting
everything! We need the ball to stick!”
It was a bright idea, but Roy was reluctant to expose his young striker to the
pressures of the Derby. Not yet, Roy thought, ten minutes and perhaps I’ll give
him a go.
Both sets of players were tiring, as a result passes went astray and neither
goalkeeper had been seriously tested. Frustrated by the absence of Bishop,
Rocky was shown the yellow card for a late lunge on Melborough’s big centreback Baxter. Baxter too was cautioned for hi aggressive reaction. The crowd were
loving the contest, despite the lack of chances and quality football. The
atmosphere crackled, as more niggly fouls followed.
Then came the key moment, and the most important foul of the afternoon; Dino
Marcello took a quick throw to Enqvist, Peter Beck sensing danger stormed in
from behind raking his studs on the back of the Swede’s calf, Enqvist squealed in
agony. Marcello reacted blasting the bobbling ball into the body of the floored
Beck, a melee followed as all twenty-two players pushed and shoved and
grappled. The result was obvious, Beck and Marcello both sent-off.

Race responded bringing Anton Gronvold on for Templeton. The Norwegian went
to right-back and Craig Foster immediately switched back to his normal position
at centre-forward.
Just ten minutes remained, nil-nil at this stage seemed a good result for both
sides. Melborough had not troubled Jeff Cooper and Rovers’ second-half attacks
had fizzled out without a decent attempt. To sure up the midfield, Roy brought on
Paul Evans for Enqvist who was still hobbling and moved Rocky onto the left of a
four. But Melborough were now enjoying their best spell of the match.
Mason fed Thomas down the left, the winger took on a rusty Gronvold and
whipped in an early cross. Foster had darted between Kerrigan and Nash, who
left him for each other, it was all the space the striker needed; a first-time left
foot shot sent the ball screaming into the top corner of Cooper’s goal. Craig
Foster had done it again, there was just no way to stop him scoring against his
old club. It was the only goal of the game and the Daily Gazette headline the
next day made unpleasant reading for Roy Race; “Festive Fozzie! Craig Foster
KOs former team-mates!”
NEXT – Will the Vinter Brothers put an end to the money worries of
Melchester Rovers?