The Woodlands Chronicles Pt V
What happens when one man takes a game of Football Manager 2011 too seriously? This happens, I’m afraid.
Happiness, for Sree Kumar, was a well organised storeroom. There was nothing he loved more than setting up his stepladder and facing up his shelves, bringing the little pots of vitamins and mineral supplements to the edge, painstakingly turning them round so that all the labels were lined up. Then, as a special treat, he’d move to the bandages, plumping them up in their baskets to make them look as inviting as Egyptian cotton pillow cases. Match day was the perfect time for him. People were messy. They ruined things. They prevented order. But with all the players in the dressing room and with little chance of any of them admitting to any knocks or twinges, he had time to himself and his tinkering. What more could a physiotherapist ask for?
It was for this reason that Sree was so surprised, not to mention disappointed, when the door opened and his manager, Iain Macintosh peered in.
“Oh,” said Iain. “Sorry to disturb you.”
“That’s ok,” said Sree, peering over his glasses. “What is it that you’re looking for?”
“Nothing really,” he sighed, walking into the room. “I’d just never opened this door. I wondered what was in here.”
“Shouldn’t you, erm, be with the team? There’s only 15 minutes until kick-off.”
“Nah,” said Iain absently, picking up a packet of zinc pills and half-reading the label. “They’re alright. Hasrin’s got them doing some kind of team-building exercise.”
“Oh really? What is it?”
“Pin The Tail On The Hatta.”
“Is that safe?” asked Sree.
“I shouldn’t think so,” said Iain, putting the zinc pills down on a different shelf. “They’re using a nail gun.”
Sree pulled out a little stool and invited Iain to sit down. Then he scurried around behind him and replaced the pills.
“How long have you been at Woodlands, Sree?”
“Goodness me, there’s a question!” Sree chuckled, as he brought the stack of pills to the edge of the shelf. “Let’s see, I started in 1996 and it’s 2014 now, so that’s…18 years, I believe. Well…that is a long time, isn’t it?”
“Longer than I’ve ever lasted.”
“What’s the problem, Iain? You seem a little low.”
“I am, Sree. I am. It’s not going well. I knew the team was in trouble, but I didn’t realise how much trouble. I don’t know what it is with me. I always seem to find myself with the worst football team in the world at my disposal.”
“It’s not that bad, surely?” said Sree.
“We haven’t won since I’ve arrived. I‘ve had four games and lost three of them. We’ve only scored two goals and one of those was almost certainly an accident. It’s as bad as it could be.”
“What do you think the problem is?”
Iain threw his hands up in the air, knocking over a carefully assembled stack of sticking plasters. Sree winced as if he’d been stabbed.
“What do I think the problem is? If I knew that, do you think I’d be wandering the corridors, poking around in cupboards?”
“I think I know what the problem is,” Sree said, looking at his boss intently. “I think you’re scared.”
“You what?” growled Iain.
“You’re scared. You’re scared of losing. Scared of going through whatever you went through in Germany all over again.”
“How do you-”
“Oh come on, there is such a thing as the internet, you know. You might be able to fool Mr Wee into thinking that you’re an international football manager, but I saw the documentary they did. I know what happened at Heidenheim.”
Iain went very pale.
“It’s ok,” said Sree. “I’m not going to say a word. Why would I? As far as I’m concerned, you’re a nice man doing your best and you deserve another chance. But you have to stop being so scared.”
“I just don’t want to lose anymore,” whimpered Iain.
“Then try to win! Stop sending those boys out there in two banks of four, kicking it long and hoping that someone will run on to a loose ball. Put out a team that wants to win a game, put out a team that wants to play football. Confidence breeds confidence, you need to, how do you English put it, let your shackles off?”
“I can’t let the shackles off!“ shouted Iain. “They’re the only things stopping us from getting a kicking! We’d get hammered if we didn’t sit deep and block up.”
“You’re getting hammered anyway!” cried Sree, jumping to his feet. “Sure, you’re only losing by the odd goal, but you don’t get any more points for that. Why not go out and fight? Why not take life by the throat and squeeze?”
“You’re right!” yelled Iain. “You’re absolutely right!” He stood up and hugged Sree violently, his elbow taking out a whole row of support bandages and setting off a domino effect across the fourth shelf. Bottles and boxes crashed to the floor around them.
“You’ve cracked it, Sree! You’ve actually cracked it! I’m going to march back into that dressing room and rip up the pre-match plans. We’re going to play 4-2-3-1 with the little Columbian lad in a poacher’s role. Behind him, I’ll have the three best players at the club, all with a licence to attack! My full-backs will charge up as auxiliary wingers, I’ll get the midfield to bomb forward in support. We’ll take the game to those bastards from Geylang and, as God is my witness, we’ll get three points.”
He pulled Sree close and planted a wet kiss on his balding head.
“Thank you, Sree. Thank you!”
Iain flung the door wide and marched into the corridor. A loud, blood curdling scream echoed down the hall. He turned back to the physio.
“You might want to get some dressings ready, Sree. It sounds like someone successfully pinned the tail on Hatta.”
And with that, he was gone.
Sree smiled to himself. It felt good to be useful. That wasn’t always the case with some managers. To some of the bosses who had sat in the Woodlands dug-out, he was little more than a nanny, doomed to run around tidying up players, cleaning up their little knocks and scrapes. Whistling, he packed up a little bag of gauze and disinfectant and trotted up to the dressing room to see if he could fill the new hole in Hatta Ali’s bottom. Yes, siree, life was good.
Two hours later, the door to the stockroom opened up again.
“Sree?” said Iain.
“Yes, boss?” said Sree smiling, looking up from his shelves.
“We lost 1-4 and Hatta’s arse has gone septic. Talk tactics with me again and I‘ll have you sealed in a barrel and dumped in the river.”
The door slammed shut again.
Oh well, thought Sree. It was nice while it lasted.