While Nicolaj Bur seeks redemption for the “Nearly Men” of Europe, the world continues to turn. Join us now for the “The Ballad of Toothless Bob,” a Football Manager story which explores the broader in-game world, away from the pitch.
Because far more is at stake than the Champions League. In fact, the fate of the entire world may rest upon the shoulders of a half-mad Leeds United supporter with questionable personal hygiene. What lies beyond the twisted redstone doorway, hidden deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu? More importantly, who is on the other side…and what do they want? Read and find out.
Jesse Sorensen, recently-appointed as Assistant Manager at Panathinaikos, stands outside the door to Nicolaj Bur’s apartment in Athens.
Nicolaj has invited the entire playing and technical staff over, to break the ice, so to speak. Jesse does not know what to expect, and is not looking forward to what he is sure will be a night of awkward conversation. The people, the city, the language – it’s all too new.
The door swings open to reveal a smiling Nicolaj. At his elbow is Selene, the young press officer who seems to follow the managerial duo around like a lost puppy, hoping they don’t cause an international incident with their halting, fumbled efforts to speak Greek. Selene is creepily over-smiling, and somehow managed to match the color scheme of Nicolaj’s outfit perfectly…almost as if they’d planned it.
“Uhh…hey there, Nico,” stammers Jesse, as he enters passing a bottle of wine to Nicolaj. Jesse is a little creeped out by Selene’s overly-cheerful demeanor.
“Don’t you two look fancy,” Jesse says, winking at Nicolaj, a subtle nod to the matching outfits.
Selene giggles amiably. “I read a book on how to be the perfect party hosts. Rule number one? Dress to impress!”
Nicolaj chimes in, less enthusiastically. “Rule number two? Fine anyone who doesn’t show up.”
As Jesse looks around, he notices that the only other person present is Bozidar Bodrozic, the club’s Head of Sports Science, who appears to be thumbing through Nicolaj’s vinyl music collection, clearly having taken charge of the music for the evening.
Jesse thought he was fashionably late, but it appears that almost everyone has blown off the party…hence Nicolaj’s desire to issue a round of fines.
The door buzzer rings again. Nicolaj buzzes the visitors in, without checking to see who it is.
Moments later, the front door opens to reveal the groundskeeping crew – Merle, Magnus and Taako. A bizarre bunch, if you’ve ever met them. Jesse and Nicolaj share a knowing look, as the three newcomers make themselves at home.
Merle has a reputation for being the life of the party, and is carrying no less than four glass baking pans, demanding to know where the kitchen is. “I made lasagna,” he announces triumphantly.
Nicolaj is confused. “But…I told you I would order pizza for everyone.”
Merle is not impressed. “I spent all day in the kitchen. For you. I made four lasagnas.”
“Four lasagnas?! Four lasagnas, Merle?!”
“What can I say,” Merle responds, exasperated. “I like to party.”
“We… I… I already ordered pizza…”
“One of the lasagnas is chicken.”
“Chicken?! Chicken lasagna?!”
Merle looks like he wants to fight. “Yeah, what of it?!”
“I mean… I’ve seen it on menus, but only at those pretend pubs at the airport.”
Merle just glares at Nicolaj. Everyone else looks rather uncomfortable.
To break the tension, Selene points Merle to the kitchen and takes the other guests on a short, impromptu tour of Nicolaj’s apartment. “Let’s see…this is the bathroom, the kitchen…the bedroom…and…uhh…this, this is a scale model of the rolling boulder scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. With actual rolling boulder.”
Selene activates the diorama. A model boulder rolls down a ramp and into her hand. “Pretty cool, huh,” gushes Selene.
Jesse can hardly keep himself from laughing out loud. “Super cool. And sexy. Super sexy cool.”
Bozidar, momentarily distracted from Nicolaj’s epic music collection by mention of the word ‘sexy,’ remembers that he brought a housewarming gift. He passes Nicolaj a large bottle, wrapped in a paper bag. “Almost forgot. Is Serbian Rum. For the you. So strong is the banned in Serbia, yes?! Is banned in Serbia, Nico!!!”
Nicolaj isn’t sure what to think of this, and passes the bottle back to Bozidar. “Thank you, I guess. You…you enjoy. You go ahead and start in. I’ll have some later.”
Taako is unimpressed at the turnout and, quite frankly, at the tiny apartment. So far, this Nicolaj hasn’t lived up to his reputation. In perhaps vain hopes that things will improve, Taako asks, “so, what do we have on offer for the night, beyond pizza?”
Selene perks up and intejects, hiding something behind her back. “One word, two syllables…”
Magnus groans. “Don’t say Charades.”
Selene whips out a box from behind her back. “Yahtzee!”
Jesse immediately grabs the bottle of Serbian Rum from Bozidar’s hands and starts to open it, a look of resignation on his face.
Magnus just sighs, closing his eyes as if suffering some immense existential pain. “Is Charades off the table?”
Thirty minutes later, and little has changed. Bozidar is still browsing through Bur’s music collection.
Taako shakes the dice cup. “Come on…”
He lifts up the cup to look at the dice, a look of confusion across his face as he pulls out the instructions for the fifth turn in a row.
The door buzzer sounds. Selene leaps up to buzz the new visitors in, visions in her mind of playing the perfect host at the party.
Nicolaj sighs. “It’s just the pizza.”
Magnus leaps to his feet in celebration and begins to dance awkwardly, chanting in time with his movements. “Pizza pizza go in my tummy, me so hun-gee, me so hun-gee!!!”
Merle stares daggers at Magnus, thinking of all the time he spent in the kitchen making lasagna, only to be publicly betrayed in such humiliating fashion.
Jesse points out the obvious. “We can’t buzz the pizza guy up. Someone has to go down.”
Everyone stops. No one moves. And then, quick as a flash, they each touch the side of their noses.
It’s a seven-way tie.
The buzzer sounds again.
Nicolaj picks up the die. “Ok, staring on my left with one. Your number comes up, you go down.”
Everyone nods agreement. Nicolaj shakes the die in his hand.
Taako interrupts. “Just so you know, Boss, you are now creating six different timelines.”
Nicolaj scoffs sarcastically. “Of course I am, Taako.”
As Bozidar finally finds an album he approves of, Nicolaj rolls the die. As the die falls from his hand, a rooster crows in the distance. Everyone’s vision goes blurry, a ringing echoing in their ears.
As the die tumbles across the table, the rooster crows a second time. Time itself seems to slow momentarily, before lurching back to normal speed.
The die finally comes to a rest, with two pips showing.
Merle chuckles awkwardly. Nicolaj shakes his head, confused, before counting off, starting to his left. “One…two… That’s you, Selene.”
Selene exits, cheerfully heading down to pick up the pizza. The air in the room feels different somehow, but no one is willing to acknowledge it.
To help break the tension, Bozidar gently places the needle on the vinyl. The Police’s “Roxanne” begins to play.
Merle stomps off into the kitchen to serve himself some chicken lasagna, just as Sting sings the opening lyric.
Bozidar, now dancing slowly by himself in the center of the room, leans back and belts it out, “ROXXXXX—”
But Jesse cuts him off with a firm, “no,” turning off the music.
A thousand yard stare in his eyes, Taako softly whispers to no one in particular, “I wonder what’s happening in all those other timelines.”
Overhearing him, Nicolaj again scoffs. “Taako, there are no other timelines.”
More than a thousand miles away, the last sunlight of the evening percolates through the broken window of an abandoned warehouse, nestled deep within a rundown industrial estate in Leeds.
Children of varying ages are strewn around the large interior, napping, waiting for night to come. Because night is when they take to the streets.
A middle-aged, balding man sits reclined in a tattered easy chair, wearing a full Leeds United kit, sweat-stained almost beyond recognition. The chair appears to be next to a makeshift altar of some sort, placed up against the wall.
The unmistakable sound of a roster crowing wakes the man from his slumber. Confusion reigns as his vision goes blurry, a ringing echoing in his ears.
Immediately, the rooster crows a second time. Time itself seems to slow momentarily, before lurching back to normal speed.
Disoriented, the man rises, shaking his head slowly from side to side. As he stretches, you notice that his replica jersey has even more stains than you’d previously thought possible. The man’s ill-fitting, Billy-Bremner-match-worn shorts leave little to the imagination. The man yawns… Revealing that he is missing nearly all of his top front teeth.
Banging a shoe against the floor, the man shouts a war cry at the children, “get a’gate yer lazy berks, we’re off t’work soonish, yeah!?”
At his call, dozens of haggard children rise, a dangerous glint shining within their eyes. Yet, those same eyes hold nothing but love for the man they know as “Father Bob,” their garrista. A man known to the West Yorkshire Police by a different name, “Toothless Bob.”
As one, the children line up at the makeshift altar, lighting candles as they pray. The extra light brings into focus a golden statue of Sergio Ramos atop the altar. The boys are paying homage. The light of the candles casts a heavenly glow upon an oil painting resting above the altar, a painting that appears to depict The Last Supper, with Don Revie at center of the table surrounded by Bremner, Giles and his various acolytes. Brian Clough lurks in the shadows, ready to strike, a sickly pallor across his face. A half-starved dog lurking beneath the table appears to bear the visage of Pep Guardiola, as a naked babe with the face of a smirking Jose Mourinho taunts the Pep-dog with a side of beef.
One by one, the children lay their offerings on the altar, gold and silver catching the light from the candles. With each offering, the children mimick Ramos’ tug on Salah in ritualistic honor of the Crooked Warden, the God of Thieves. Their God.
The children turn their attentions to the man known as Toothless Bob, who now stands on a raised platform in the middle of the cavernous room, waiting his instructions.
“Lads, lads, lads,” Toothless Bob purrs, his voice like an iron rasp wrapped in velvet. “We’re home t’the Millwall in sixty days, yeah, the poor little kittlins that they be. There’s a war coming. Time to battle up.”
What Toothless Bob did not know is that a war is, in fact, coming… It just isn’t the war he expects.