THE CHAIRMAN DIARIES

DAVID HARTRICK >

EPISODE ONE Day One – Welcome to Hell What a shit hole. Alright, so I might have told the accountant I wanted to buy a football club, but this? I'm not sure if the car park's even fit for dogging. It’s no wonder that prick's not answering his mobile – I'm going to stick it up his arse when I see him and he knows it. Why didn't I at least Wiki this lot before I signed the paperwork? I built an Internet Empire without having Illustration: GANT POWELL >

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to resort to pornography, yet got too excited at the prospect of owning a football club to do the homework. Jesus, leaping in with both feet like that – I’m Nigel de Jong. I might not have Premier League or even Championship money but I thought the budget stretched further than this – bloody Vauxhall Conference football. Saying that, I may as well try to get into the spirit of things for as long as it takes for me to work out an exit strategy – bloody Blue Square Bet Premier football. I've at least heard of this lot but that's mainly down to an FA Cup third round appearance in the ‘80s. Memo to self: research business de-

cisions beyond the 1984 Grandstand vidiprinter in future. I thought an established club at nonLeague level wouldn't be this run down – and this is just staring through the 50% tint on the car window. Looking up I can see a painted name on a once-famous sign, now reduced to a faded shadow. Looking down, the word 'pothole' barely seems adequate for the innumerable hippo's yawns littering the car park. This isn't even disappointing – this is frightening. I had visions of at least being able to park my car in a neatly white-lined space marked 'Chairman'. As it stands I’ve been forced to abandon the Range Rover in something resembling the 26th minute of Slum-

dog Millionaire. Thank God I didn't bring the Aston. As I open the car door I notice the air is thick with fried onions and burgers, apparently made of roughly half meat, half carpet. Prada shoes meet B&Q gravel as I step out to gaze upon my new empire. To repeat: what a shit hole. To the left of the car park a steady stream of bobble-hats are parting with their hard earned fivers to enter a structure rather hopefully entitled the 'Grand Stand'. A Range Rover with private plates is being viewed as something akin to witchcraft by a queue of people with whom I have nothing in common. I've seen the odd eyebrow cocked in

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my direction so I assume word's got around the new chairman's in town. To my right I see a door marked 'Staff Only' which I guess is my entrance. With a deep breath of icy air I make my way towards it, lighting a Benson for comfort as I go. The smoky filter just beyond my nose does nothing to improve the view as the Rice Krispies snap, crackle and pop beneath my feet. As I reach the door a man appears, opening it wide as if expecting me. He looks about early 30s. The suit that hangs about his body would disgrace a charity shop sale rail. If I combine his attire with his body language, general demeanour and what looks suspiciously like a wig, I’m guessing whoever he is, he’s yet to marry.

“You the new Chairman?” I nod a response and flick the barelysmoked cigarette away to my right. He thrusts out a hand covered in a mixture of dirt and white paint to clasp mine and introduces himself as Richard, Club Secretary. He turns and leads me into a corridor that runs beneath the small stand; I follow without a clue where we're going, observing a discomfiting lack of windows. It feels like the journey to the centre of the earth. A door appears from the midst of the cave with a sign marked 'Manager' on it. Shit. I've just realised I don't even know who the manager is. Richard half trips as he opens the door and I'm thankful the wig stays

in place. As he crosses the threshold I catch him mouthing the words ‘He's here’. Entering the small office I find two middle-aged men, one slumped in a tracksuit behind a dusty, paper-strewn desk, another standing over him with a face like he's been chewing pine cones. “Thank you, Richard. Now take that awful wig of yours and fuck off.” Richard complies with standing angry man’s order and shuffles out somewhere behind me. Even though I now own this little corner of Mordor, I get the feeling I'm being told who really has the power. “You've met Richard then. I've no doubt he told you he had some fucking job here but he's just a fan we

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use for the shit I can't be bothered with. I'm Bryan Ramsden-Smith, club director for life due to the fact my family founded this place, and no doubt the person putting out the fires once you've pissed off back to your ivory tower.” What the…? “This is Terry Maclean, he's your manager and resident club alcoholic – you'll be pleased to know if we paid him more he'd have a raging drug problem, as well. Now you're here he’s your problem.” I look at the tracksuited man. His outfit is stained with that I really hope is beer, and as he melts further into his lopsided chair I realise he's not just drunk, he's wasted.

“Now do you want some boots and a ball so you can piss around on the pitch like a dancing fucking bear before kick-off? Show the fans how much of a football man you are?” When I answer it'll be the first words out of my mouth since leaving an extremely abusive message on the accountant's phone. He’s going to get another in about five minutes. I stumble and fumble out the words “No, I'm not Michael Knighton.” “Michael Knighton? Why you *hic* talking… talking 'bout Knight Rider?” With that comment Maclean finally slips all the way from the chair that had been clutching desperately to his last shreds of dignity. As a body disappears under the desk in front

of me Bryan Ramsden-Smith bumps past and leaves me one last outpouring of bile. “Welcome to the club Mr Chairman.” Sarcasm drips from the words ‘Mr Chairman’ like a dew drop hanging from a snotty kid’s nose. “We're bottom of the league, the grounds fucked, your manager's a disgrace – and they're all your problems now.” I can’t say it enough. What a shit hole.

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Day Three – Gym Weeks & Happy Endings Terry sits in front of me with bloodshot eyes that tell me all I need to know about his ‘quiet night in’. As an ex-pro his name still carries weight in certain pubs and clubs in town, something I hear he’s become very adept at exploiting. If the eyes hadn’t given it away, the abundance of some shit aftershave he’s lathered over the smell of stale beer would have. “So, Terry, losing 5-1 at home is probably not where we want this club to be, is it?” When I see ‘we’ I now have to mean it. After finally tracking the accountant down to a 24-hour casino not far

from his office, he explained that the deal’s already been completed. I now own this place, lock, stock and two subsiding changing rooms. Any room I had to wriggle away from this heap has gone – and believe me, I’ve checked every bastard angle. Selling this place as quickly as possible now depends on my finding someone as stupid as me, or turning things around and making it a viable proposition for a buyer. Having thought long and hard about it yesterday, I came to the conclusion that I just can’t rely on finding as big a prick as me out there. I’m going to have to do this the hard way. “Thing is, Chairman, had my hands tied haven’t I? No money you see, work with shit you get brown hands eventually.”

I don’t really understand the metaphor but I’ve decided not to shake Maclean’s hand again. He’s talking in bullet points – a classic sign of a hungover mind struggling to fill in the crossword clues that make up a full conversation. “Regardless of that, Terry, what concerns me more is that your ‘illness’ meant your assistant had to take charge of team affairs on Saturday.” A moment’s silence draws its awkward fingers down a chalkboard as Terry considers the statement. “Have I got an assistant?” “No.” Almost unbelievably the question

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was asked without a hint of shame. Taking up a position in the home dugout come 3pm on Saturday afternoon were me (perfect excuse not to have to mix with RamsdenSmith or the bobble-hats), Richard (in a tracksuit top that I dug out of the team’s kit bag that, judging by the smell, had been there a long time) and our physio, who couldn’t move as he’d pulled his hamstring putting up the massage table (and whose name I didn’t find out, nor care to, either). I fill Terry in and he feigns astonishment. “Richard? He’s thick as pig shit.” Hardly the point, but he’s bang on the money.

“I know, Terry. I discovered that when one of the lads went down with an ankle knock in the first minute and he ran on and rubbed Lucozade into it.” Time to up the ante a little. Maclean needs to understand that he’s only got three choices left at this club: lead, follow, or get the fuck out the way. “Terry, when are the lads training this week?” “Gym week, Chairman, told them all to go and work on their stamina, at the gym and that.” “What did they do last week?” “Err… gym week.”

“When was the last time there wasn’t a gym week, Terry?” “Ah, well, see what you’re getting at, but as an ex-professional, I’ve identified a lack of err, conditioning, as one of our biggest problems.” I compose myself, even though the room is now thick with bullshit as well as Brut. I want to drag ‘ex-professional footballer Terry Maclean’ over this desk and backhand him. Professionalism dictates we do this through discussion first though, and I’ve got a couple of lines of attack planned. “You may believe conditioning is partly to blame for the team’s current league position but I have my own theories. Do you want to hear one?”

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Instantly I see Terry prickle at the direction he thinks this is going to take. “Listen, Chairman, I run the team, I decide what’s right, and what’s going wrong. If you’re coming here to get involved with on field matters, then…” “…Terry, Terry, Terry. Let me speak. I agree the lads’ conditioning isn’t great, but I think there are one or two other problems to consider. For example, due to your various absences with ‘illness’, our captain, Paul, has come to the fore and is picking the team, deciding on the formation, telling the bench when to substitute players and doing all this while trying to do a job as a striker himself.”

I pause and wait for any sign of recognition. “Now Paul’s a fine player and an excellent captain, but maybe not the best centre-forward in the world. Any idea why, Terry?” He’s beginning to realise there are only two ways this can end: shape up or piss off. He shakes his head in mock bewilderment. “I think he’s struggling up front as he spent the first 21 years of his career as a fucking goalkeeper, Terry.” With no visible response I take the opportunity to continue. “Since you’ve been here you’ve managed to personally see off an assistant manager, a fitness coach, and

an entire reserve team. Your antiMidas touch has managed to make every area of the club worse for your involvement. The team are dogshit, the crowd knows it, the club’s fucked, and you’re an addict.” I’ve got his back up now. He’s beaten but I know he’s not going to go quietly. “Now listen here, Mr Chairman, I handle team affairs, I’m the ex-pro – this club’s lucky to have me. If you’re saying we can’t work together, you better start thinking about a pay-off, I won’t resign.” “I thought you’d say that Terry, that’s why I’ve decided to give you a chance. If you make a commitment to knuckle down and manage the

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team properly, use your contacts to bring in some decent players, hit some performance targets that I set, stop drinking, and cease using what is now my office as a place to hide your cocaine, we might be able to work together.” He turns his shoulder like a petulant child. Taking a few seconds to think about it he composes a predictable, laboured response. “I can’t work with these, baseless accusations, so I’m afraid you’ll have to offer me, a suitable severance package.” I smile. It doesn’t feel great to do this but he’s left me no choice. “Well I tell you what we’ll do, Terry.

We’ll part ways and as a severance package I’m offering you the chance to stop me ringing your wife. You see, I think she might be able to explain something in the club accounts that’s come to my attention.” There’s an uneasy sense of recognition creeping across his face. “It started with a phone call that led me to an outstanding bill from ‘Delilah’s Massage & Sauna Centre’. They rang us this morning chasing their money, claiming you told them to charge the club for ‘two girls, a full service and a happy ending’. They know it was you because you were so pissed and coked-up you’d managed to leave, among other things, your club jacket with your name and fucking initials embroi-

dered in it, you dickhead.” Five minutes later I’m all alone in the office and looking for a new manager. I’ll ring the local paper and give the sports guy an exclusive. I’ll have to tell them we’ve parted for football reasons but I don’t care, he’s someone else’s problem now. Better ring Delilah’s and ask them to return that jacket too.

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Day Seven – Mascots & Misunderstandings “Do you think we need a mascot, Richard?” My second match day and it strikes just how grim this place really is. The ground’s got more in common with Colditz than Old Trafford. Now it’s raining I honestly can’t think of anywhere I’d want to be less. Adding to the picture perfect view is the fact the team are still playing some absolutely dogshit. After Saturday’s 5-1 mauling any hope of a rousing midweek response was put to bed by a 6-0 away defeat which, mercifully, I had to miss due to a ‘prior commitment’. That commitment was actually half a bottle of

scotch, Come Dine With Me repeats and attempting (unsuccessfully) to have a little roll around with the wife – but they don’t need to know that. Dragged here again kicking and screaming by the fact I now own this white elephant, getting rid of Terry has done nothing to make it feel less like a chore. With no manager and the chairman, the village idiot and an injured physio in the dugout again, any distraction from the steady abuse coming from behind us is welcomed. I turn to the oblivious Richard and ask him the mascot question a little louder. “How do you mean, Chairman?” “A character. A man in a big foam

costume.” “How do you mean, Chairman?” “A man doing a bit of a dance and celebrating if we score, geeing the crowd up, getting the kids involved a bit, try and get a few more people down here.” “How do you mean, Chairman?” For fuck’s sake. “What I mean, Richard, is a bloke in a big silly outfit promoting and selling the club on match day, and at the local schools, trying to return us to the community if you will, making this place look a little less like Chernobyl and more like somewhere you’d actually want to spend your

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Saturday afternoons.” Richard pauses and I can almost hear cogs turn. “I do want to spend my Saturday afternoons here.” Before I can go any further we’ve conceded, and with twenty-five minutes of the first half gone I know the game’s over. “Oi! Chairman!” I’ve quickly realised that although the dugout lets me hide from certain situations, there’s no escaping the dissenting voices behind me. Every. Single. One. “Chairman!”

The voice is deep and definitely comes from one of the older bobble-hats. I don’t want to stick my head out and glance back but it keeps calling me out. Tentatively I step forward and turn my head over the dugout’s plastic roof to look at the terrace behind me. While one side of the ground boasts the ‘Grand’ Stand, this side has a long, raised paved area with a wooden roof that leaks like a tramp’s shoes. Even through the drumming of the rain I can instantly pick out the source of the shout. Standing about twelve feet behind us are two men who were stood in exactly the same place last week. I get the feeling they’ve stood in that same space for a long time. On the left is the one I’ve nicknamed Jimmy

Saville, solely on the strength that the two times I’ve seen him, he’s had the same shitty Adidas shell suit top on. The one on the right I call FA Cup because he has the biggest pair of ears I’ve ever seen on the side of a human head. “Fucking Alex Ferguson couldn’t lift this shower of shit so you best get Jesus on the phone - we need a miracle.” I nod and roll my eyes mockingly. Sir Jimmy made the comment, and it appears now he has the Chairman’s attention he isn’t willing to let it go just like that. “Have you got someone lined up?” No. Since sacking Maclean I’ve had

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the sum total of zero phone calls enquiring after the job. It may have only been four days but I thought someone would have at least sent in a shitty CV. “Few irons in the fire, you know how it is.” Please don’t ask who, please don’t ask who, please don’t ask who, please don… “Who?” Saville won’t leave it. avoid or lie? Avoid. Embrace,

A tactful lie on which to lower myself back into the dugout. “It’s just that I spoke to Richard and he says he overheard you on the phone saying it’d be easier to get someone to throw themselves off a bridge than find a manager for this shit hole.” I look across at Richard and he smiles at me. “That’s my Uncle Tommy, Mr Chairman, he’s been coming here years.” For fuck’s sake. Need to keep that office door shut from now on. I smile the smile of a man caught naked, climbing out his neighbour’s bedroom window by an irate husband, and slink back into my plastic

seat with a squeak. From behind my shelter I can still hear the muffled tones of Uncle Tommy. “Richard also said you’d told them that you just wanted to get this place stable enough to flog on for as little a loss as possible...” Running true to form, Richard is grinning at me without a care in the world. “…which in our eyes makes you a full-weight prick.” And on cue it begins. The inevitable, pre-planned song. “The Chairman is a wanker, the Chairman is a wanker…”

“Couldn’t possibly say at this point, it’s very early to be giving you names.”

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Two voices become ten within the first line, ten become thirty by the second. I reckon all told we have about 500 in today and within seconds the fifty odd who chose to stand behind the dugouts are in unison. I’ve only been here a week. The place is a shit hole and the crowd already hate me. I fish around in my pocket for my Blackberry and cigarettes. Time to leave my fucking accountant yet another abusive message. To be continued... ■

David Hartrick Guest writer IN BED WITH MARADONA > @Hartch > Soon to be published author, IBWM Editor, occasionally blogs at I Know Who Cyrille Makanaky Was.  and has numerous other articles strewn wantonly across the Internet like torn-up betting slips.

This is an extract from Issue One of Man and Ball magazine: Let Sleeping Gods Lie. This issue introduces Nigel and features stories on German football since reunification, African Arsenal fans, an unsung Dutch legend, and seven other intriguing articles. It can be downloaded in its entirety HERE >

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