2020/21 Uefa Champions League Final
…sometimes I get a bit too involved in Football Manager.
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I got a little bit too excited by my achievements on Football Manager 2011, and thought this would wind up a mate. With any luck, the absurd verbosity of it will wind you up too
29/5/2021 – 2020/21 UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
BAYERN MUNICH v SALISBURY CITY
What a bloody game, eh! As I took my place in the dugout for my final game in charge of Salisbury City, in the magnificent Stade Roi Baudoin in Brussells, I thought to myself that this couldn’t be further from my humble beginnings at the club, when we limped to a 1-1 draw with Eastleigh. And yet, somehow, I felt no different: this was eleven against eleven and I’d be damned if I wasn’t gonna win the fucker. At Eastleigh, the players had been clapped onto a sodden pitch by fewer than a hundred spectators. One teenage girl was on her phone, I could hear her. Nearly eleven years later, England skipper Phil Jones led my boys out and they lined up for the rousing Champions League anthem as fifty thousand screaming fans roared their approval. I squinted and saw at the other side of the pitch a massive banner exclaiming “PLEASE DON’T GO JIM” – I’d announced to a shocked media a couple of months earlier that I wouldn’t be renewing my contract when it expired at the end of June – and privately thought to myself that if things didn’t go our way here, maybe they wouldn’t be so eager to beg me to stay.
Twenty-two minutes in and my stomach was in my shoes as Moukha Babacar neatly slotted past Da Silva. We hadn’t threatened the Bayern goal once, and this didn’t look like the team that had booked their place in the final with a 5-0 hammering of CSKA Moscow. Action had to be taken.
“Forget the passing game, it’s not working! Cheikou, just keep lumping it up there!”
Cheikou Kouyaté, the thirty-one year-old holding player, back in his home country of Belgium, looked at me quizzically. When you’ve got nineteen Englishmen in your first-team squad and only a handful of foreigners, it’s sometimes easy to forget that not everybody understands footballing slang. I motioned at Jones to have a word with him, and Cheikou nodded his understanding to me. I sat back in the dugout to observe the results of the tactical change.
Soon came the breakthrough. A free kick on halfway came our way, and Cheikou lumped it right up to left-back Paul Ojapah, miles up the pitch. But, like a rabbit caught in the headlights, he was dithering.
“Paul! Mixer! Fucking mixer!”
Paul gives it to Ian Freeman on the overlap.
He puts it bang onto Louis Molyneux’s head, the Salisbury fans are going wild and we’ve equalised. In the dugout, Andy Cole’s going mental and we embrace. But there’s still work to do, and I’m already planning my half-time team talk.
In the changing rooms, the boys were buzzing. The equaliser had taken the wind out of Bayern’s sails and they were looking short of ideas, whereas we were once again playing like champions. I calmed them down, forced them to have an orange each and calmly explained that the game wasn’t won yet, and they were to keep doing what they were doing. I reminded them that Bayern had made Man Utd look like Crewe in their 4-0 drubbing of them in the semi-final second leg, and Babacar and Muller could change a game like THAT. There was a hush amongst the boys as they took to the pitch for the second half.
Three minutes in, and Ojapah put a corner on the head of Mark McGoldrick, 2-1. The Salisbury faithful in the crowd were going mad again, but oddly, there was less celebration on the bench than for the first goal. That’s because, as any gaffer worth his salt will tell you, 2-1 is a bloody terrifying scoreline.
…especially when you lose a talismanic striker like Wellington Silva, who hobbled off on the hour with a suspected broken ankle. I turned to the bench. Three choices. Was now the time to bring on a midfielder, flood the middle of the park and try and kill the game? In that case, Dave Buckingham was my man. Not a week-in, week-out starting player, but his quality was undeniable, he had a regular place in Alan Shearer’s England squad and he’d never let me down – the Nicky Butt circa 1999 of my team, if you will. Alternatively, I could swap striker for striker, try and finish Bayern off. In that case, my options were twofold: Rodrigo Lovato was an Argentinian who’d joined from a Recreativo side who couldn’t wait to get rid of such an ego and had gifted him to me for a paltry £600, 000. Not the most gifted player in the world, but a bulky, strong six-footer who was still buzzing from the hat-trick of penalties he’d scored. Next to him sat Declan Feeney, a £12.5 million pound summer signing from Arsenal who’d gotten injured in his first game, had only scored four goals all season, and was, to all intents and purposes, a flop. Toughie. I mulled things over in my head, and the seconds as Wellington Silva was helped towards a bench contained an eternity.
“Dec. Trackies off.”
And on he went, carrying with him instructions to the attacking players to put the result beyond doubt. The minutes ticked by. Molyneux hit the post after Haris Vuckic played him in with a killer through-ball, but that was one of the few clear-cut chances we got as the game became more and more bogged down in midfield. Bayern’s midfield outnumbered my narrow three-man offering, so I threw on Buckingham for Ian Freeman, leaving just two up front, and replaced Paul Ojapah with Jason Abbott in a like-for-like switch at left-back. Before Dave, a player the boys listen to, went on, I whispered in his ear:
“Kill the game. Waste all the time you can. Spread the word.”
The nailbiting minutes ticked by as Salisbury frustrated Bayern, knocking it around the defence, holding it up at the corner flag, and going down to challenges that normally wouldn’t have fazed my sturdy Englishmen. As Molyneux held it up at the corner flag in the fourth minute of stoppage time, frustrated Tobias Yilmaz knocked it out for a Salisbury corner. I could hear the volume go up as the Salisbury crowd sensed that this was the last play of the game, and Abbott swung in a corner for McGoldrick…wide. But who gives a fuck! The final whistle blew, Salisbury City had won their fifth consecutive Champions League, and I was leaving a champion. Me and my backroom staff raced onto the pitch and, I’m not ashamed to say it, I gave the first of my boys I could get hold of, Louis Molyneux, one big smacker on the lips.
Let’s not forget the losers though, and Bayern gave it their all. I shook hands with my opposite number, Dello Rossi, and did the same to any one of their players I could reach. The stewards were struggling to hold the Salisbury fans back, but soon after there was a lull in the cheering as the fans conserved their energy for the moment when, for the fifth year running, and for the last time as manager of Salisbury City Football Club, I’d lift that big bastard trophy. I followed the boys up the stairs into the crowd (I preferred it when the winners got given the trophy on the pitch) and was almost deafened as I allowed each of them in turn to lift that trophy – but it was nothing to the reception as Declan Feeney passed the trophy to me, and thousands upon thousands of Salisbury fans sounded their appreciation for the decade in which I’d taken a club from a grubby little 200-seater stadium and the obscurity of the Blue Square South to being the champions of England, Europe and the world.
A few minutes later, while the boys did a lap of honour around the Stade Roi Baudois’ running track, I had to talk to the press. As if things couldn’t get any better, I got to talk to Gabby Logan, who could barely contain her gushing admiration for me.
“He misses so many fu- sorry, blummin’ headers when the ball gets put right on his head that we’ve started calling him Mark McGoal kick,” I replied when she asked about McGoldrick’s winner, “but that was a hell of a moment. The boy’s got a great future ahead of him.”
“You’ve got thousands of people chanting ‘please don’t go,’ you’ve become one of the most successful managers of all time, with dozens of trophies to your name, and you’re only thirty years old. Where does Jim Derry go from here?” Gabby asked.
“Pastures new, Gabby, pastures new. I’ve taken Salisbury as far as I can, now, like I said when I announced I was leaving, it’s time to ply my trade elsewhere. Where? I couldn’t tell you yet. Maybe I’ll just lie on a beach for a few years. What d’you reckon, Barbados national team?”
Gabby was literally wetting herself with laughter!
“I’ll miss our little post-match chats, Gabby. Don’t worry, and you too!” I added, as I caught sight of Guy Mowbray casting jealous glances at the pair of us.
“But tonight’s not about me, Gabby. It’s about those lads out there who’ve given it their all, every single player I’ve worked with over the last decade who gave nothing less than one hundred percent to transform this club into what it’s become. Look at Wellington Silva, he refused to go to hospital until he lifted that big ol’ trophy. What a guy. It’s commitment like that that’s taken Salisbury City Football Club to where it is today.”
Later, as we finally returned to the changing rooms with our big shiny trophy (you get to keep it once you’ve won it five times don’tcha know), I announced to the boys that we were getting on it – my first and last night getting well and properly on it with my players in the fine old town of Brussells. As we kicked back on the team bus on the way back to the hotel to kick off the night in the bar, I sat, not at the front like the gaffer ought to, but in the back seat with the cool kids. I told Louis Molyneux, Jamie Clark, Phil Jones and Declan Feeney (whose performances this season, in my opinion, hadn’t earned him a spot with the cool kids at the back) that back in the day, me, Bilbo, Sergio and Nafe had hit up Bruges, but bars were a bit sparse – fortunately we were in a decent hostel, but it wasn’t as mad as Prague or Amsterdam. But with the Salisbury barmy army in town, Brussells could match up to any city in the world tonight. So into our gladrags we changed, and we joined the legions of fans sporting the black, white and green partying in the streets. I tell you, they were absolutely bloody starstruck. To actually have their heroes mingling with them in such establishments as Brussells’ A La Mort Subite was a dream come true for all of them that night. And what a night it was. A bunch of lads carried me around the streets until Cheikou Kouyaté hid me down an alley – it’s handy having a Belgian international in the side when you’re lost in Brussells! Wellington Silva entered the bar on crutches, having come straight there from the hospital, to an absolutely roaring ovation. I signed autographs, bonded with the fans, and chatted about my decision to move on. They were all sad to see me go, but you know the nicest thing? Not one of them had a go at me for leaving, and not one of them tried to change my mind. They all respected my decision. What a bunch of fans, and what a decade in charge of Salisbury.