As one of the voices on the venerable white horse of internet football broadcasting that is the Twohundredpercent Podcast, I have had to do some unusual things. A while ago, when we were thinking of ideas for our subscriber special podcast, we wondered about doing some football fan fiction. That would be a stupid idea, we thought. Well, it most certainly was: so stupid, in fact, that we hastily abandoned the concept and retired to our den to smoke our pipes and suck a thoughtful tooth.
But with today being the day of Gareth Southgate's first game since he was officially installed as the England team's full-time manager - and with that very eventuality being the subject of the fan fiction that I had written - I rashly promised that I would put the piece up on my website. Here it is.
The team coach crackled its way up the hotel's circular gravel driveway, dodging peacocks and Polish gardeners. This was not the usual salubrious countryside retreat where the England team would convene before a Wembley fixture, but the more modest confines of the Hertford Ramada Jarvis. It was the choice of the squad's new permanent manager, Gareth Southgate, keen to stamp his own identity on proceedings. "What's this place, gaffer?", asked a concerned Theo Walcott. "Is this where we're staying? Do they have archery?". "Yes, do they have archery?" chimed Daniel Sturridge, nervously fingering the carbon fibre carry case of his bow.
"There's no archery, there's no pool table, there isn't even a golf course," came Southgate's terse reply. "But they do have excellent conference facilities and there's a love tester machine in the corner of the bar". "Can we use the love tester machine, boss?", Joe Hart asked. "No you may not. No you may not." came Southgate's reply.
Southgate had been both the most outstanding and indeed only candidate for the position of England manager after the hurried dismissal of Sam Allardyce, whose downfall had been so swift that there remained a slice of gala pie and a jar of pickled onions the drawer of the desk in the manager's office at Lancaster Gate. Southgate had established his credentials with his even-handed and successful stewardship of the England Under-21 team, as well as with his willingness to do his own typing. No England manager had ever been so thoroughly proficient with Microsoft Office.
"We're beginning a new era, so we're in a new place," explained Southgate as the team gathered in the hotel lobby. "We're here to concentrate, to work and deliver for the country and I want you to bear in mind that all of my decisions have been taken towards that end". The players shuffled about nervously, some even going as far to remove their headphones so that they could better listen to their new manager. Southgate reached into his briefcase and pulled out a single sheet of immaculately typed A4 paper, which he placed on the table.
"Here are your new room assignments. Many of you will find that you have been given a new international roommate but do not be alarmed. In time, I want you to get to know one another as closely as you do your clubmates, this is my hope and my expectation". The players lurched forward as one, curious to examine the list and pair off into their new units. Many of the players were now grouped by their position, an attempt to help foster a greater understanding both on and off the field."Right, you have your rooms. You've got an hour of free time before hot yoga, so get yourselves settled in," Southgate announced. "And no sloping off to Kyle Walker's room. We all know what goes on in there". Kyle Walker put down the joint he was skinning and made a face.
The team's captain, Wayne Rooney, stepped forward. "I'm not on the list, gaffer. Where do I go?". "I was wondering when you'd ask that, Wayne. You'll be with me", said Southgate. The receptionist, who had been carefully pretending not to listen to any of this, suddenly let out a loud fart with shock.
Three hours later, the players were all back in their rooms. Gareth helped Wayne to peel back his sweaty leotard. "Blimey", said Rooney, "if I'd known that yoga was going to be quite that strenuous I wouldn't have eaten that third Turducken!". The two men chuckled good-naturedly until Gareth Southgate's face froze. "Wait, you've eaten three Turduckens? Today?". "Only a joke, gaffer, only a joke," said Wayne reassuringly, hurriedly kicking a wishbone underneath the Welsh dresser. The two men were now in their white hotel bathrobes and a lengthy silence developed. A minute or two passed before Wayne was the first to speak. "Why did you want me to room with you, gaffer? I've been in football a long time and I've never heard of a player being roommates with the manager". "Wayne, I needed to try and get inside of you," Southgate explained. "Get inside your mind, try and understand what makes you tick. You're still a young man with a lot to offer this team. I need to try and understand why it isn't happening for you on the pitch at the moment. Are you happy at home?"
Wayne Rooney exhaled deeply. "It's been tough, gaffer. My wife has got nipples like walnuts. The actual kernels of walnuts. The nut meats. Its hard to put it out of my mind. Increasingly, I find that during the course of games my mind has started to wander. All I can see are table after tressle table of coffee cakes at a Women's Institute summer fair". Southgate put an arm around Rooney's now bare shoulder. "Wayne, I'm going to tell you something that I have never told anyone outside of my family before. In the autumn of 1996, my marriage nearly ended. My wife couldn't get past the fact that it turns out my cumface is exactly the same as the face I pulled when I missed that penalty in the shootout at Euro 96."
Both men were now in tears. "Football exposes the rawest of emotions, Wayne. It is the root of its success as a sport, but it is also why it puts such a strain on the people who play it. Do you know that Denis Law is only 35 years old?" "That explains why he's got so many Ocean Colour Scene albums in his CD rack," sniffed Rooney. "I had wondered".
"Ultimately Wayne, you can't get through this crazy life inside professional football without the outlet of family. So if your wife has got walnut tits and you make three hundred grand a week, there's an obvious solution. But you need to communicate". Southgate now, too, was completely naked.
Rooney studied the pattern on the carpet intently for a minute or more before he looked up again. "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Shell suits spontaneously combusting in the skips outside Deepdale. I watched shadow stripes glitter in the floodlights at Ashton Gate. I've done a shit in the dressing room toilet at Goodison Park that they still can't get to go down. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. It's time to play."
"I've cum on the floor", said Southgate, pulling the exact face he made when he missed that penalty in the shootout at Euro 96.
Don't @ me.