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Live: 2042/43 Champions League Final

“Welcome, welcome everyone to the hallowed pitch at Wembley Stadium in England! I’m your host Jamie Carragher, here with Gary Neville for an epic night of football! It’s the Black Country’s finest, Wolverhampton Wolves, the defending Champions League champions, against Nicolaj Bur’s young upstarts from Reims, playing their own unique brand of heavy-metal, champagne football! We’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we, Gary?”

[Gary stares at Jamie, a disgusted look on his face.]

“That’s not possibly, you ignorant ****wit. The match hasn’t happened yet. It’s in the future. There couldn’t have been a movie about it before, could there? The match hasn’t even been played yet, you thick ****.”

“It’s an expression, Gary. A figure of speech.”

[Gary laughs derisively, before continuing on in a mocking tone.]

“It’s a figure of speech. It’s an expression, Gary. How about this, Jamie-lad, Wolves can lick my ***. There’s an expression for you. How about that?!”

[Jamie backs up a step, before trying to salvage the situation, using his best “inside” voice, making calming gestures at Gary.]

“Hold on there, Gar-bear, I just meant that this isn’t the first time we’ve been witness to one of Bur’s sides, disrupting the natural order of things in the Champions League.”

“Witness? No, Jamie. I’m no witness. Besides, snitches get stitches. I’m just here for the free champers, asparagus-wrapped-bacon, and football. You’d be best to do the same.”

[Jamie’s exasperation is plain on his face.]

“Got it, Gary. About that football, then. What say you? Can this young Reims side knock off Wolves?”

[Gary begins nodding enthusiastically.]

“It’s like I was telling Phil last night at 5-a-side, ‘no more ****ing about, son. You do another one of those stepovers and I will ****ing do you, you prancing, little ****.'”

[Jamie is rendered momentarily speechless. The silence stretches out awkwardly, as Gary just stares blankly at him. Finally, Jamie waves Gary on. Gary continues, enthusiastically.]

“Think about it this way, Jamie-lad. You wouldn’t put a porcupine in a barn, light it on fire, and expect to make licorice! Of course you wouldn’t! That dog just don’t hunt!”

[Jamie’s confusion is only growing deeper. He decides to press on, valiantly.]

“My thoughts exactly, Gary. My thoughts exactly. A big match tonight…yes. Fire. Licorice. What-not. Valbuena with his 4 Champions League titles at Sevilla, Juventus and Wolves, against Bur’s arguably more-impressive resume, with titles at Panathinaikos, Monkergloodbuck, and Partizan. Always the young upstarts. Always taking on the establishment, and taking them down in the end. The age old story, isn’t it? Tradition versus modernity. It’s going to be an incredible night!”

[Jamie laughs in what he perceives to be a good-natured fashion. Gary turns to Jamie, staring him down. You notice that Gary’s right eye has begun to twitch rapidly.]

“That’s not what I was saying at all, Jamie. You never ****ing listen, do you, you ****.”

[Much to the producers’ relief, the Champions League anthem begins to echo around the stadium. Jamie sighs. Gary perks up, pulling a 4-foot magnum of champagne into view, taking a long drink through a straw.]

“Here we go, Jamie-lad. Champers and football…pants off for good luck…let’s ****ing do this!”

[While Gary belts his pants around his head, on the screen behind he and Jamie you can see the players beginning to walk onto the pitch, as David Moyes delivers the match ball to the officials, balanced precariously on his nose while riding a two-person unicycle piloted by Mario Balotelli.]

[Note: if you are here during the live blog, you will need to hit refresh to see new updates as the match progresses.]
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11th minute

“The early stages are all Wolves, Gary. Remarkable.”

“Don’t buy the hype, Jamie-lad! Wolves have had possession, but done **** all with it. Just you wait and see. Wolves passing the ball between their centerbacks like the cowards they aren’t, doesn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”

“True, Gary, but at some point don’t Reims need to look to impose themselves on the match?”

“Tell you what, Jamie. After this match is over, you want to go catch the new Jason Bourne movie? It’s supposed to be hilarious.”

20th minute

“Here it comes, Jamie-lad. Nicolaj Bur, up in technical area, shouting instructions. PANTS OFF FOR NICO!”

“Gary, you don’t need to shout. I might volunteer in an retirement community, but I’m not deaf yet!”

“We really don’t need to hear you banging on about that again, Jamie. Not now.”

“Gary, you know I love working with the elderly. It’s like I get to have a bunch of parents, and be their parent, too.”

“Wasn’t there a herpes outbreak at that place last month?”

“Well, yeah, Gary…but… I mean, that’s probably bad, from a medical perspective. But from another perspective, it’s a beautiful statement about what a loving facility it is.”

30th minute

“Yahiaoui with Reims’ first real look of the match…blasted a mile high. Gary, this just isn’t good enough, lad.”

[Gary doesn’t respond, he just sits dejectedly, banging his head into the table repeatedly, mumbling softly in a maniacal voice, too quiet for Jamie to hear, but loud enough for the microphone to pick up, “pants off, one-nil…those are the rules, have to play by the rules, Gary, the rules…the rules are what gives order, what gives life…but what if, what if we break the rules, Gary?! We musn’t break the rules, Neville Neville said…break the rules, Gary? Yes…break them. Break them all.” Gary sits up, a bright, happy look on his face. Jamie barely notices.]


[Both Jamie and Gary are left speechless at the uneventful end to the 1st 45 minutes. Neither side able to break through. Jamie makes a lame attempt to discuss the match, while Gary just sits back, drinking his champagne, lighting matches and flicking them at Jamie’s head, mutterly darkly in Serbian with a heavy Manchester accent. After a seemingly interminable wait, the referee’s whistle blows, interrupting a KidzBop version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” as the teams re-take the field.]

“Well, Gary. That KidzBop, love it. All the beats none of the filth, yeah?]

[Gary doesn’t acknowledge Jamie directly, other than flicking another lit match at his head.]

“Fair enough, Gary. 45 minutes. All to play for.”

46th minute

“Early doors here, Gar-bear, but it looks like Reims have changed things up a bit. Yahiaoui sitting deeper in midfield.”

[Gary looks up at Jamie for the first time in a long while, a crazed looks in his eyes, while continuing to mumble to himself.]

“The night is dark and full of filthy Wolveseses, Jamie…but fire burns them all away…”

60th minute

“Look, Gary…all I was saying to Stevie is that climate change wasn’t an issue back when we were sacrificing virgins to the Sun God on a regular basis, ok?! And he says I’m the crazy one?!”

[Gary isn’t listening. He has begun shoving his pants down the neck of the champagne magnum, however. A sense of purpose in his eyes.]

70th minute

“The best chance of the match, and it falls to Contreras! Denied by Sembolo! That’s what we’ve been here to see, Gary!”

[Gary’s pants are now fully within the magnum of champagne, other than one cuff sticking out, which Gary is now trying to light with a match.]

75th minute

“Gary, your Reims have been back looking more purposeful, aggressive, as of late, with Yahiaoui taking a position up front alongside Gerc again… Corner…”

[Gary just grunts, focusing on the last match in his possession, willing it to light his pants on fire.]

“Poor corner, that…doesn’t beat the first man. Falls to Ngwenya…who shapes up…WHAT A THUNDERBASTARD FROM THE SOUTH AFRICAN! FROM NOTHING, REIMS HAVE TAKEN THE LEAD!!!”

[Gary whoops in delight, as his pants do, indeed, catch fire, creating the largest Molotov cocktail Gary has seen since an ill-advised trip to the away end at Elland Road last year. Gary knows that breaking the rules is what it took. That karmic balances has been restored. Down on the touchline, Bur is shouting instructions to his squad.]

77th minute

“Reims truly have the bit between their teeth now, as Wolves continue to possess the ball, to no effect whatsoever! Dobias with the interception, looks for Alonso, and off they go! He finds Gerc…who lays it off to Gross…CARTER TIPS IT OFF THE BAR! SO CLOSE FROM REIMS! INCISIVE, BRILLIANT FOOTBALL ON DISPLAY HERE, THIS IS WHAT WE CAME TO SEE, GARY!”

[Gary only now is realizing that the windows looking out over the pitch are sealed, unbreakable, as a safety precaution. He looks nervously at the giant molotov cocktail burning at his feet, and shoves it out into the hallway, much to the horrified looks on the assembled production assistants outside. Gary closes the door, and rejoins Jamie at the microphone.]

80th minute

“It’s all Reims now, Gary! Long throw, cleared for a corner… Can they bury this match?! Curled in…loose ball… GERC! TIPPED OFF THE POST BY CARTER, AND CLEARED!!! WOLVES ARE ON THE BRINK, HERE, GARY!”

[Gary screams, a gutteral cry masking the panicked sounds coming from the hallway.]

86th minute

“Tick tock, Gar-bear…your Reims are holding firm. Like a good solid mattress at a retirement home, yeah?”

90th minute

“There will be three minutes of time-added on, Gary. Every time Wolves push forward, Reims look good value to score on the counter! Reims have the Black Country Boys right where they want them!”

[Gary looks over at Jamie, very confused, before returning his focus to the field, mumbling softly to himself, “break the rules, Gar-bear, break them, break them all, the cleansing fire will bring the Void, bring the Void, and break the rules, the rules, must break the rules, yes, Gary.”]

91st minute

“Carter, denying Alonso with a brilliant save! If it wasn’t for Sir Simon Carter, with his 149 caps for England, this would be a different match entirely right now, Gary! Seemingly from nothing, Reims have taken this match by the scruff of the neck! All the danger, all the menace, is coming from the boys from Reims! They are the ones who knock, Gary!”

[Gary’s eyes roll into the back of his head, as he continues to mumble, barely aware of his surroundings. Screams are heard outside, as a loud “whump” sound is heard in the hallway. Sirens wail in the distance.]

Full Time

The final whistle blows. Mayhem ensues on the pitch, as the Reims supporters storm the pitch.

In the broadcast booth, a team of firefighters kick down the door, accompanied by a wave of fire-retardant spray, to find Jamie trying to describe the scenes in front of him, as Gary sits in the fetal position, sucking his thumb and mumbling to himself, assured in the knowledge that his intervention, his decision to break “the rules,” is what turned the tables tonight. Overcome with joy at the triumph of his beloved Nicolaj Bur, a part of Gary also recoils in horror at the dark forces he has recognized and unleashed. For having stared into the dark abyss of his soul. For recognizing the abyss staring back at him, and embracing the abyss as one would embrace a long-lost lover.

Final Thoughts

What a ridiculous match. We nullified Wolves at every turn, but were utterly garbage going forward for the first 60 minutes. Truly awful stuff.

I don’t mind the low possession — the more aggressive tactic we’ve been playing (PM Haaienhamer, which will be detailed in a later post) doesn’t require possession. But it does demand some semblance of “not being shit in the final third.” We could easily have been undone by that, tonight. Of course, that’s part of the risk when you have such a young squad.

Bottom line, though, Reims is done. Dusted. Complete. We need to move on to new pastures.

I’ll prepare the usual season review post as soon as I have the time, and we’ll push on from there.

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry.  The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here.  Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.

And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?

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