Wednesday, December 27, 2006

IT SHOULDN'T HAPPEN TO A MANAGER

Any individual who has been foolish enough to allow him/herself to be cajoled into football management is to be pitied. At the highest level the pressure is, to understate hugely, immense. But the lower one reaches, and I'm talking junior and schoolboy here, the greater it is.

I speak with oft envied expertise on this topic, as I cut my managerial arse at the raw age of fifteen. Most of the crack Under 13 side which I fielded in the Dublin & District Schoolboy League will have binned their shinpads by now, certainly the bangers will have.

Cue Abe Simpson voice - and I can tell you it was a tougher job in those days than it is now. Those pamperd p****s at Home Farm were the envy of every schoolboy manager, with all the concerned parents turning out each week to support Tristan, Jeremy and the like. They were never short of support or transport- goody two shoes parents tripping over each other to wash the gear 'because they have a drier'. Cue Jim Royle voice- drier my arse! Their matching socks and shorts, tracksuits for the subs, it makes me sick!

Our cautionary tale took place on one of those impossibly sunny early season mornings. The previous managerial team had suddenly resigned- these things were usually the result of a drunken disagreement in the clubhouse [ for clubhouse read pub, as we didn't even have dressing rooms]. Youth was given it's fling, and myself and my 16 year old narcissistic assistant, enthusiastically brought everything we'd learnt from Match of the Day to bear on our charges.

Our first appointment meant a trip across Dublin city, transport would have to be arranged. Maturely, we consulted the secretary of the schoolboy section and were satisfied that all would be well come Saturday. We skipped off hand in hand, to a street corner where the light was still working and flicked through the SHOOT magazine one more time.

Training went well, a good attendance. Everyone was a centre forward and nobody was a goalkeeper. We explained that we had no 'odds', that there would be training every week, we didn't have girlfriends and responded to innumerable other queries in a tough Q&A session. On the way home from training we decided to check on the transport situation.

Gullible lambs that we were, we had no idea of what was soon to unfold. Saturday came. A bowl of Rice Krispies and off to collect the gear. Final reminders from the Hon Sec. - 'Make sure you get all the subs, and don't let them bring the gear home to wash it.' A piece of p**s. Transport! 'Eh, couldn't get anyone to go out with yiz lads, but John O'B will drive yiz out in my truck.' AAAAGHHH - A FUCKIN SAM SPUDZ TRUCK. [FYI- Sam Spudz were Ireland's first thicker crinkled crisp, mmm].

'And don't let the little f*****s near the crisps; anything happens to them and it comes out of my pocket.'

'Yer leavin' them in there?'

'I've nowhere to put them, they'll have to stay there.'

The cargo compartment of the truck was metal, no windows, and it was hot. As soon as the kids set eyes on the prize they were overcome with an insatiable hunger. The managerial duo set ourselves up as a barrier between the starving thirteen-ish year olds and box upon box of cheese and onion flavoured utopia. It was pitch dark, but you could make out the shapes of ratlike urchins crawling towards their prey. We fought them off, teenagerfully, using every weapon in our armoury as the truck lurched towards it's destination.

Never a good traveller at the best of times, I was struggling to keep the Rice Krispies from ending their brief relationship with my digestive juices. And then this happened...

I don't know exactly why, but our experienced profesional driver had to impart maximum pressure on the brake pedal. CrispyCarnage. The boxes flew at us and past us. There was no way to protect every box in the darkness. The sound of savages rending cardboard asunder filled the metal box. All but the put upon mentors were experiencing a crispy high. We flailed blindly through the container, casting rabid bodies aside in a frantic effort to rescue the delicate potato slices. Most were saved, but not all. Our chauffeur continued on his way, unaware of the pre match meals being enjoyed only a few feet away from him.

Eventually, we arrived at our destination. The rear doors opened to let the Lord's sunlight rain in on the sight of Saturday's newest sin. There were crisps everywhere. Stuck to the walls, the floor, to clothes and hair. The smell was rank. Every kid was turned upside down and inside out to extract whatever he hadn't eaten from his person. Dunnes Stores plastic bags were bulging with boots and booty.

I don't recall much about the match, I was dreading the return journey too much. In we filed, the boxes neatly stacked at our backs. The driver wagged his finger and barked at the kids as they climbed aboard, ignoring him. His driving style was quite a bit smoother on the way back across the Liffey. The kids had sucked and bitten Sam and they were in the mood for more. The standoff continued, this time we reigned supreme, a testament to our managerial nous and strategic thinking. Our debut day ended with brush and shovel in hand as we swept up the plastic relics of our misfortune, all the while removing sodden crisps from our footwear.

'Training on Wednesday lads, if you're not there you won't be playing on Saturday.' We stuck it out for the rest of the season, steering our students to a creditable third spot in the table. 'If that was a real league we'd have qualified for Europe!' I was plenty happy to wash my hands of management after that success.

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