Ian Plenderleith is the author of a new football novel which breaks the mould of the entire genre in the modern era – it isn’t crap. Last week we spoke to Ian about the book – now we bring you an EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT.
Think of of Brian Glanville’s The Rise of Gerry Logan and Robin Jenkins’ The Thistle and the Grail. Update 50 years. Add spice, filth, cash, double-dealing, rudeness, racism and arsey humour…
At the age of 29, former England prospect Carl Meacock can only look back on a fractured career marked by too many clubs, injuries, and broken relationships. Discarded both by Crystal Palace and his agent, Gary ‘Fat’ Fee, the pro has only one offer on the table, from “Lincoln’s fourth club”, Dynamo FC, a team affiliated to a local plastics factory that plays in the Central Midlands Football League. Who would be insane enough to make such a move downwards, losing his reputation, his girlfriend and ninety per cent of his salary into the bargain?
Lured by a smart new 4000-seater stadium and the charisma of the club’s wealthy owner and chairman — inventor of the Margaret Thatcher Poop Scoop and three-times British Black Businessman of the Year, Derrell Dujon –Meacock moves anyway, intrigued by the chance to start again in a new city at a works team with big ambitions. The only snag is a strange clause in his contract forbidding him to start a relationship with Dujon’s daughter.
The player doesn’t think this will be a problem until the daughter shows up in the form of 22-year-old Olivia, the club’s new Community Liaison Officer. And he’s not the only one on the team affected by her beauty. If Olivia watches, Dynamo win spectacularly. When she’s not there, they lose. Will Meacock break his contract to try and win her attention? And who will dare to tell the over-protective chairman that his daughter holds the key to promotion?
Part One: Close Season
There was a strange clause in the contract I was about to sign to become a playing member of staff at Lincoln Dynamo Football Club. It was right down at the bottom of the page, and it only caught my eye at the last second. It said that I agreed, as long as I was playing for the club, to make no approach, “sexual or otherwise”, towards the chairman’s daughter. I couldn’t help but let out a choked laugh. I looked up into the face of the chairman, Derrell Dujon, and I said without thinking, “That’s not serious, right?”
As long as I’d had an agent, I’d never bothered reading the contracts when I signed them. That’s why I’d paid a fee to Gary Fee, and that’s why he took his fifteen per cent. I bet that parasite never read the contracts either, except for the part that said what my wages were going to be. On the day I signed for Lincoln Dynamo, though, I’d felt obliged to at least skim the one-page deal, because if something was dodgy about it, I could no longer blame Gary Fee. Only myself. Gary Fee had long since stopped returning my phone calls, because he was no longer interested in fifteen per cent of fuck all.
The last time he’d talked to me, after Crystal Palace let me go, I said to him, “So, any interest out there?” That had been back in January, during the transfer window. I hadn’t played since August, after I tore my hamstring in the second game of the season. It was the one muscle in my body I’d never had any trouble with, and then the bastard went, right after I’d finally got everything else back into shape. I’d been so determined to make that my comeback season and finally shut the hacks up going on about my “unfulfilled potential”.
In the first game of the season, we’d won three-nil at Derby, and though I hadn’t scored, I’d patrolled the midfield like I was planning a hostile takeover of Pride fucking Park, winning every ball I went for and setting up two goals with trademark long through-balls off my sweet left foot. The next game, we were 2-0 up against Wolves the following Tuesday night, and I’d scored a penalty, and I was covering every yard of the pitch. The boss, Gerry Sale, had signalled to me if I wanted a rest with about ten minutes to go, but I said no way, I’m loving this. I’ve been substituted enough in my life for ten careers. I’m not Carl “Sick List” Meacock any more. And I’m only 29, I don’t need a rest, thanks very much. And then I was chasing a ball back in defence, which our left back should have been covering but the lazy bastard got caught upfield, looking to get in the goals, and he didn’t run back, and so I tracked back to make up for it. And just as I was reaching the ball ahead of the Wolves’ forward, it went.
It was torn so badly, I couldn’t even stand up. I was stretchered off, and we’d already used our three subs. Wolves scored twice and it finished 2-2, and though he never said anything, I could tell the boss held that result against me until the day he called me into his office right after Christmas and said, “Sorry Carl, the chairman says we have to let a few players go, and you’re top of his list. There’s no one here earns more than you.”
I’d been so determined to make up for those dropped points against Wolves that I’d kept coming back too early. I’d be in training or playing for the reserves in some crap Tuesday night fixture under the floodlights at Tooting & Mitcham against Brentford stiffs in front of 150 judgmental south London pensioners, and I’d feel it twinge. I’d run around at half pace for five minutes, hoping to ‘run it off’, that eternal but non-existent cure of the brainlessly optimistic. But I knew it wasn’t going away. I just wanted to avoid that moment when I waved to the bench, and they nodded in that knowing manner that said they’d seen it all before, too many times. Carl Meacock, replaced in the 27th. minute. Limped to the dressing room and drove off before half-time. Couldn’t face the team-mates’ queries, “Are you okay?” No I’m fucking not. I’m injured, again, and I know you don’t give a fuck either.
I’d made the first team subs’ bench again by Boxing Day, but I didn’t get on the pitch. The team was doing okay, lying about eighth just off the playoff positions, and that day they’d beaten Luton 4-1. I thought I’d done a good job of going through the motions and jumping off the bench with everyone else when we scored, but maybe not. The next day Gerry Sale called me into his office. Even then, you still hope. I actually thought he might be going to make me club captain – that he too wanted to believe that I could take the team up to the Premier League and make a late run for the England squad that would be playing in the European Championship that summer. Instead he’d put me on the transfer list to save cash.
My name had been on that list many times before, but this time it seemed that nobody wanted me. New Year’s came and went, and I found myself without a club for the first time in my career. I was on a one-year contract, so Palace still had to pay my wages until I found somewhere else, but they didn’t want me around when I wasn’t part of their plans. They weren’t asking for transfer money, they just wanted me off the payroll. But the shop window was crowded – mainly with younger, fitter players on lower wages. In the end, after someone kindly sent me a Palace fanzine with a piece about how much various players had earned at the club per minute played (headline – Money For Nothing: Lives of the Rich and Idle at Selhurst Park), I wrote to the club and cancelled my contract, effective from the end of January. I didn’t expect gratitude, but they didn’t thank me anyway. Just an official acknowledgment by registered post.
And so then I sat back and contemplated the reality that after twelve years as a pro, spanning nine clubs and God knows how many injuries, no one was interested. That included Gary ‘Fat’ Fee, who wouldn’t answer his phone no matter what time of the day or night I called him.
Eventually I got hold of him, clearly when he’d been expecting someone else to call him back. He was taken by surprise for a second, but then gave it the usual bullshit about how great it was to hear from me, Happy New Year (it’s the fucking 14th. of January, I thought, how new is that?), and he’d been meaning to call me, and tried to get hold of me but his phone card with all the numbers on it had got wiped. I cut him off and said, “So, any interest out there?”
He sighed. “Well, not much,” he said.
“What do you mean by that?” I said.
“Well, I had an enquiry from Lincoln,” he said.
“Fucking hell, fourth division,” I said.
“League 2 it’s called now, Carl,” he said.
“Yeah, fourth division,” I said.
“Well, it wasn’t actually that Lincoln,” he said.
“What do you mean? How many Lincolns are there?”
“It wasn’t Lincoln City.”
I thought about it for a second. “You mean it was Lincoln United? That’s North East Counties League or something, isn’t it?” No wonder he hadn’t bothered calling me. “Are they taking the piss?”
“They might have been if it had actually been Lincoln United,” he said. “But it was Lincoln Dynamo.”
“Is this a wind-up? Who the fuck are Lincoln Dynamo?”
“Exactly,” said Gary. “I told them where to go.”
“That’s just fucking great. I’m getting enquiries from teams I’ve never even heard of.”
“Sorry I didn’t tell you about it,” said Gary. “Didn’t think you’d be interested. And frankly it’d be a waste of my time negotiating a contract like that. If you are interested…”
“Fuck off, Gary,” I said.
“I’m just saying, if you are interested in something like that, say a team like Lincoln City did actually call me, then I’ll pass it on and you can go straight to the club. No fee from Mr. Fee.”
“That’s very generous of you,” I said, but he chose to ignore my sarcasm.
“I realise that,” he replied. “You probably couldn’t afford to lose fifteen per cent of a signing-on fee if you went to a team like that. Assuming there’d even be a signing-on fee. Plus, it don’t look good, to be honest, for an agent with my roster of talent to be seen negotiating with some non-league no-names from the Joe’s Groceries Combination League.”
“Or League 2,” I said.
“Or League 2.” He paused. “If you’re lucky.”
I didn’t say anything to that. Gary was waiting for me to end the call, I could tell. Eventually I said, “I mean this is just stupid, Gary. I’m actually 100 per cent fit right now.” Gary said nothing to this, but his silence broadcast his scepticism. “Has there been nothing from abroad?” I’d always had a vague ambition to play ‘abroad’.
“The Scandinavian leagues are on winter break,” he said, and I thought, you snide bastard. Then he added, “Oh yeah, I meant to ask, what’s this I read about you cancelling your Palace contract? You must be fucking nuts, Carl. Still, it’s alright for some if they’ve earned so much from the game they can afford to throw it away.”
“You’ve not done so badly,” I said. “Considering you’ve never kicked a fucking ball in your life.”