Danny Vincent ‘didn’t really follow sports’ and most importantly ‘wasn’t a football fan’. That’s what he told us during the coffee break on his first day. I’d waited a few hours to ask him, giving him time to settle in. There was an audible sigh, and then a weary resignation in his voice. He looked down at his feet like the boy who knows he’s done wrong. Maybe this was why he was starting his third job in two years.
It was a crying shame because I’d been eyeing him up for weeks. Few men enter the world of publishing these days, and those that do tend not to be of the athletic build. Take Jake, for example, our other new recruit. In his spare time, you’ll find him sedentary, eyes glued to a split-screen, fingers tapping away at a bit of plastic, an empty pizza box at his feet. So when Helen told me that Danny was ‘quite tall, pretty skinny’, he became The Great Hope, the focal point of team sheets scribbled on the back of Tesco receipts.
It was asking too much, I know, but The Big Game was fast approaching. Editorial vs Sales. The rules were strict – no Finance, no Production, no Marketing, no interns. We billed it as Wenger’s Arsenal circa 2010 versus Mourinho’s Chelsea circa 2005. Visionary creators against efficient doers; flair against money. Much office pride was at stake, and wages blindly gambled away.
Sales were confident, as you’d expect those silver-tongued devils to be. They were also well-drilled, thanks to lunchtime runs and gym sessions. I heard rumours of a practice match in the build-up, although their captain Malcolm would never admit it (‘You wish!’ was his cryptic response). Sales did everything together, a real band of snake-hipped brothers. They had youth on their side, too.
To stand any kind of chance, we would have to play to our strength, which wasn’t, it quickly became apparent, footballing skill. We made Djourou and Eboue look like Iniesta and Messi. No, instead our strength was size, size at the expense of agility. Solidity. Our inspiration was Scotland circa 2010 – the 4-6-0 formation. In other words, we set about building The Wall.
‘We do need an outlet, though,’ our keeper Tim argued at one team meeting. Oddly enough, the man blocking our goal would probably have topped our lithe charts. He’d been a decent winger in his day but sadly keyhole surgery was now keeping him between the sticks, resplendent in a tie-dye shirt and old-school roller-blading kneepads. ‘We win the ball and then what?’
It was a simple enough question but we were stumped. In the absence of a Pirlo-esque regista, we hadn’t really thought about ball retention. ‘Possession is nine-tenths of a whore,’ big old Ted once wittily quipped. And yet on a six-a-side pitch, the ball came back at you faster than a boomerang. How could we hold off the siege?
‘Ok, ok, ok,’ I said, quieting everyone down. Colleagues were waiting outside, wanting to get on with work-related things. On the screen, I drew a forward arrow next to the player in the middle of the five-man wall. The 4-1 formation was born.
‘Wait a minute; I’m not playing up top!’ Niall shouted from his kitchen in Harrow. The conference call software made his protest sound even angrier. He was right, though; a 55 year-old ‘talker’ wasn’t really striker material. Gary Mabbutt had scored 27 goals in 477 games for Spurs. We only had one game and 0.06 goals wouldn’t get us very far. ‘I can’t conduct the orchestra from the programme stall.’ Niall loved an arts-based analogy.
‘Well, I’m not either!’
We had a problem; The Wall had become so strong that no-one would budge. That was my positive spin on it, anyway. Perhaps Sales were getting in our heads. We experimented with Jake as our target man but we never did work out which was his stronger foot. Gary looked like a very tubby Peter Beardsley but had none of his movement. Me, you ask? No-one even suggested it. It would be like asking David Seaman to dance on ice.
We had exhausted all options. That was why Danny Vincent was meant to be the ‘1’.