Part IV: The unbeaten dozen (and the surge into mid-table)

The Kidderminster board decided to offer me a one-year contract extension, which was nice. Strange how it came after a so-called ‘must win’ match against Salford, according to the press. Twice, now, they’ve claimed I was about to get booted out of Worcestershire.

But in all that time the board’s confidence in me has been fine. It’s perhaps evidence of the game’s pre-season expectations not linking up with the current circumstances very well.

Yes, mid-table for Kidderminster Harriers in the National League North isn’t good enough when most expected us to be challenging at the top, but they were in the bottom three in October and I’ve hauled them up the league to 10th by losing just four of my 23 league games.

I’ve played 10 games since my last update, and here are the results:

Last 10 fixtures screenshot (5 wins, 4 draws, 1 defeat)

Stockport, if you remember, were the opponents for my first game in charge. You’ll also remember that they were top at the time, and that we went to Edgeley Park and won 2-0.

I wouldn’t say it was a fluke, but they probably didn’t deserve to lose that day.

They arrived at Aggborough this time round still in pole position, but by slender margins (it’s been tight at the top all season between them, Southport and Blyth).

The 5-3 scoreline flattered them. We blew them away in a first half that bordered on the unbelievable. Joseph N’Guessan scored twice, playmaker Elton Ngwatala also got in on the act from midfield and centre back Tyrone Williams scored on the stroke of half time to make it 4-0.

Charlie ‘he has the edge’ Edge made it five just after the re-start. It couldn’t have gone any better.

However, County pulled two goals back with their first two meaningful shots on target before the hour, which made me both annoyed and twitchy. When their third went in on 84 minutes, I began to wonder if I was witnessing a collapse that would even surpass the worst England batting collapses of the 1990s.

Thankfully the craziness ended and we got the three points without having to lose our fingernails.

A fairly boring match by those standards then followed at Spennymoor, when Hartlepool’s loanee Devante Rodney scored twice – once in injury time at the end of the first half, and once in injury time at the end of the second half.

Draws against Harrogate, Darlington and York were decent in isolation, but had we picked up just one or two wins from those fixtures we could’ve been a credible play-off candidate. As a result, we’re now sitting six points short with four games left to play.

We got back to winning ways at Gainsborough, but we now had Wigan’s Owen Evans in goal for us owing to the broken hand our regular keeper Brandon Hall suffered in the goalless draw at home to York.

The incident occurred in the 59th minute and we don’t tend to name a goalkeeper on our substitutes’ bench. So centre back Bondz N’Gala, on loan from Dagenham, went between the sticks – and he didn’t let the side down, making a couple of decent saves to earn us a point.

I can’t say that’s happened to me many times before, but these are the risks you take when you don’t name a keeper on the bench.

And yes, we do have a lot of players on loan at our club. Evans in goal, N’Gala at centre back, Aaron Simpson at left back, Edge on the left wing and Rodney up front. We also have Gianni Crichlow and Leslie Sackey on loan deals too – although both are just back-ups.

Twice we took the lead at fifth placed Alfreton, twice we were pegged back. It’s been an annoying feature of my tenure, conceding after scoring. I tell my players to play a tighter, more disciplined game in the minutes that follow us scoring, but it seems to have little effect.

I enjoyed the 3-0 win over Salford – who wouldn’t? Remarkably, they’re now top of the division having surged past Southport and Stockport.

Suddenly we had gone 12 games unbeaten. It was to be an unlucky 13th game as we lost a close game at Boston, but showed great spirit to bounce back immediately with a 3-0 win at home to mid-table Brackley.

It leaves us 10th in the league:

National League North league table screenshot, Kidderminster 10th

Not a bad salvage mission. They were in genuine danger of being sucked into a relegation battle, but after nine wins, ten draws and four defeats in the 23 games since I took the reins, we’ve shown top seven form to climb 21 points clear of danger and sit just six points off the play-offs.

There is no doubt, though, that I inherited a strong squad for this level. How on earth they found themselves in the mess they were in originally is anyone’s guess.

We’ve got out of it by being hard to beat and threatening up front. I’ve never considered myself to be a tactical genius on any version of Football Manager, but these tactics have served me relatively well this season. Here’s a typical line-up and formation:

Kidderminster tactics screenshot of 4-3-3 formation

It feels a very balanced side. I’m not at all convinced by my defence, but Williams is young and N’Gala has done well since joining on loan.

Ryan Croasdale in that defensive midfield role is the unsung hero, though. I reckon I’ve barely mentioned his name all season in these updates yet he’s Mr Reliable. Never gets injured, never puts in a bad performance. He brings stability and consistency to this team.

If you love your stats, here’s a screenshot of my squad – complete with all the stats and information you’ll want to know:

Screenshot of Kidderminster squad

There are four games remaining, and next up is a tricky away tie at Blyth. We finish the season with two games against Bradford PA and North Ferriby – sides that have recently sacked their managers and look all but relegated.

If we can finish 10th or higher I’ll be a happy manager.

Work has already begun on shaping the squad for next season. Sadly it looks like it’ll be without Ngwatala who, despite earning £300 a week, has decided to go straight in and demand £2,300 a week. Those are League 1 wages. So the talks broke down – well, they didn’t really get started.

I also realised that we had an awful lot of shite just hanging around in our reserve team; players with no prospects but who have been draining our club of money (and eating into my wage budget) every week.

I’ve handed it over to our Director of Football to send them packing. I haven’t got time to invite them all into my office, one by one, to break their hopes and dreams.

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Part III: The honeymoon is over

Fackin’ Telford!

Oh, sorry – that should be fackin’ ‘AFC’ Telford, because you got mismanaged a few years back and had to start again.

Yes, well, they did us over twice during the festive season. First on Boxing Day, at their place, and then back at ours, on New Year’s Day, both by two goals to one.

Things were going alright until then.

I don’t know what happened, really. We played the same formation, with the same little tweaks here and there according to the match situation, but for reasons I’ve never fathomed we just didn’t show up for either. Maybe that’s just the sort of inconsistency you should expect when you manage at this level.

But I’m not having that as an excuse. It was Christmas, and we were playing our local rivals. The fans deserved better.

Having said all that, AFC Telford are currently sixth in the table. They’re not a bad side, but those back-to-back defeats put me on the back foot. I wasn’t so ballsy going into my next game away at Leamington, who were just below us in the table and have been flirting with relegation so outrageously that it’s made their fans feel hugely uncomfortable.

Left winger Charlie ‘he has the edge’ Edge (I’m not good at nicknames) put us in front in just the third minute, but we conceded an equaliser just a few minutes later – and apart from a late dismissal for the home side, the rest of the game was a non-event.

If I’m honest, we weren’t very good in this game either.

But if I thought I’d hit a low scraping a 1-1 draw against a spa town, I had a shock in store. Back at Aggborough we put in such a pitiful performance against FC United of Manchester it made me weep.

Now, they’re up with Telford in the play-offs, so there should be no disgrace in drawing 1-1. But they were made to play with 10 men for almost the entirety of the game, and they absolutely dominated us. Only an absolutely incredible goal by Joe Ironside, with a first-time volley into the top corner with the ball from the halfway line coming over his shoulder, with two minutes remaining rescued a draw, but in truth we didn’t deserve it.

Suddenly, this little run of two draws and two defeats – plus the 0-0 draw at home to Nuneaton before it – became a bit of a concern. Add in the two-legged defeat to Barrow in the FA Trophy and we’d suddenly gone seven games without a win.

Honeymoon period well and truly over, then. Four wins in my first seven, none in my second seven.

There were no ultimatums from the board, no revolts from the fans or anything like that – mainly because my good start had kept us clear of the drop zone by a useful margin – but it still troubled me. Why had my previously effective tactic, that did so well against Barrow from the division above over two games, suddenly become a bit shit?

Next up was a trip to Curzon Ashton. They’d won just two of their 26 league games but weren’t even bottom of the league virtue of their 13 draws. Anyway, we went there and…

Won! Edge scored twice, Hartlepool loanee Devante Rodney scored a third and that was that. Back to winning ways, albeit against a side in relegation bother.

Then the Southport game happened.

Southport, top of the league. Southport, leading scorers in the division by some margin. Southport, only lost once on their travels all season.

Right, I’ll say up front that it finished 3-3 because I imagine you’re thinking that I might be building up to something (like a heavy defeat, or an unexpected win).

We deserved to win, though. Centre back Tyrone Williams put us in front after just five minutes, they equalised after 20, then we retook the lead through Rodney and N’Guessan put us in dreamland just before half time.

Clearly, whatever I said at half time – which was nothing, because FM Touch doesn’t do team talks – didn’t work. We conceded straight from the restart, which is never ideal, and the equaliser came just after the hour. We had loads more chances to win the game, but we also could’ve lost it in the fourth and final minute of injury time.

We did ourselves proud. Central midfielder Dan Bradley had a bit of a strop in the week and said he wanted to play more games, so I gave him a chance and he repaid me with a nice assist for our third goal.

The players have proved that the tactic works. If there’s one thing I’ve tweaked in the last two games it’s to go more structured rather than flexible, but I’m sure the improvement is down to more than just that.

It’s worth remembering, though, that it’s still just one win in 10 in all competitions. It’s not like we’re flying.

The league table shows that we’re in 16th place, which is where we’ve been for a good while now, and we’re 11 points clear of relegation with just 14 games to go.

Oh – we’ve signed left winger Gianni Crichlow on loan from Macclesfield, and centre back Leslie Sackey on loan from Scunthorpe – more as back up than anything else. I got a shock when my centre back Fraser Horsfall suddenly went back to Huddersfield at the start of January when I hadn’t even realised he was a loan player.

And the takeover went through. Some local businessman has invested some money in us, but not enough to take our wage budget any higher than its existing £11,000 a week level. But we do still have £10,000 to spend in the transfer market.

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Part II: Kiddy mix

Right, I’m now 10 games into my Kidderminster career and things are going okay. It feels like they’re going a bit better than that, actually, but such is my cautious approach – and my irrational fear of jinxing just about anything that can be jinxed – I’d rather keep a level head for now.

Plus, although I may have only lost two of my first 10 games in charge, I’m aware we’ve still only moved up the league table by two places.

However, what is good is that we’ve put a bit of distance between us and the relegation zone, which is… what’s the phrase? Over to Louis Balfour for that one.

You can see that although things aren’t as rosy as a Sir Alex Ferguson’s nose, they’re better than being 18th and just two points off the drop zone with the whole squad out of form and in a filthy mood after losing 3-0 at home to Spennymoor:

National League North league table screenshot (Kidderminster 16th)

That goal difference doesn’t look very clever. I’ve improved it by one goal since I took charge – and bearing in mind we lost 5-2 at York, that’s not bad going.

Anyway, here’s a summary of what’s happened since last time.

We avenged that Bootham Crescent mauling by travelling to Leek Town in an FA Trophy 3rd qualifying round match and beating them 4-1. My left winger Charlie Edge, who doesn’t really like playing as a left winger, scored two goals. They might have been weak opposition but any away game at this level is far from a foregone conclusion.

It reminds me of the time my good friend Stuart lost an FA Cup tie 2-1 at Colwyn Bay when he was in charge of Cambridge in League 1.

Then we put in what I can only describe as a ‘bitty’ performance at home to Gainsborough. They were shit, and we really should’ve beaten them, but we still enjoyed more possession and created more chances than them – and it was also the match when N’Guessan, my highest-paid player, finally turned in a decent performance on the right wing.

On the other side of the pitch, the Edge got injured, so he wasn’t fine. Adam Clayton is fine, though. I went out into the loan market and brought the experienced Chris Zebroski to the club for a month, from Eastleigh. And he duly scored both goals on his debut in our excellent 2-1 win at Chroley.

That victory was sweet for two reasons – firstly, they were 7th and so it was a good result on that fact alone, but also, secondly, it felt like revenge for the shit they gave me on FM17, even though that’s irrelevant on so many levels.

Then came our FA Trophy 1st round match at Barrow, who are in the National League play-offs. The media had us down as outsiders, as you’d expect, but we went there and gave them a real game. My midfield maestro, Ngwatala, grabbed a deserved opener but we conceded early in the second half and the game finished 1-1.

I actually fancied our chances back at our place. Games at Aggborough had been rare under my tenure (just two of my first eight games were at home). Once again the match finished 1-1 (thanks to a late equaliser from N’Guessan) and then we took the lead in the second minute of extra time!

Sadly, we conceded immediately – which appears to be a habit of ours at the moment. Maybe I should tell them to concentrate more just after scoring a goal.

We were by far the better team, creating more chances and working their goalkeeper, but the sucker-punch came in the 119th minute when they scored the winner. I won’t say we hammered them, but when you consider they’re 30-odd places higher in the league ladder than us, it was a decent effort by our lads.

Annoyingly, the board expected us to get to the 2nd round of the competition, so we’ve fallen short of expectations without any regard for the quality of opposition or the fact that we created far more chances than they did over the two legs.

One other thing that annoyed me was the match report at full time. More possession and more chances usually brings a tale of bad luck, or that the winning side got lucky, but not this time. Our bad finishing cost us dearly, it reckoned. Funny, that, because when it’s been the other way round (and we’ve won undeservedly) it will usually say we didn’t deserve it.

Side whinge.

Anyway, as a consequence of playing 120 minutes in a week when no other bugger from our division had to play, we were then totally knackered for our home game against mid-table Nuneaton and it finished 0-0. It was the first time I’d failed to score in a game since picking up the reins.

Next up is the festive double-header against AFC Telford, who are just a point outside the play-offs. Away game first.

Oh yeah, and one other interesting thing that’s happened, which I’ve totally forgot to mention, is that we’re now under a transfer embargo because some dick head is interested in buying the club. I wish they’d hurry up and get the deal done because I’m about to lose two decent loan signings in the January transfer window and I won’t be able to replace them as things stand. I don’t think I’ve been in charge of a club that’s been taken over by a consortium before. I have no idea whether that’s good or bad.

Kidderminster fixture list screenshot

So that’s my story so far. Steady if unspectacular. It’s 16 goals scored and 13 goals conceded in 10 games, which is far, far better than at any stage of my stints at Chorley and Queen’s Park on FM17.

I doubt the play-offs are possible, even though we’re only four points short. The sheer volume of clubs between us and that dotted line is so heavy that we’d really have to show championship form to get in there. I’d like to think we’re not in any real danger of getting relegated though.

Mid-table beckons!

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Part I: You must be Kidding me!

Well hello there ladies and gentlemen, it’s time once again to dive balls deep into another Football Manager adventure that’s bound to end in misery, or at Queen’s Park.

Last time out I survived just 16 games in charge of Chorley and then got Queen’s Park relegated to the bottom tier of Scottish football while averaging less than a goal a game across both tenures.

Let’s just say I didn’t sparkle at FM17.

Well, FM18 is here. I’ve got a new laptop, there’s nothing interesting on TV, it’s late on Saturday night, I’ve just downed a can of Relentless – let’s go!

Starting unemployed failed spectacularly last time, so obviously I’ve decided to start out unemployed again. Who knew that not managing a football club for a few months could be such an interesting part of a football management game?

It’s the not knowing that hooks me in. Why manage Man City when you can take charge of Chorley? Oh no, not them again I hear you cry. Well, no. Don’t panic. But I’m in the same division again, though.

Rich, meet Kidderminster Harriers. Kidderminster Harriers, meet Rich.

They were expected to make the National League North play-offs but instead, after 13 games, they found themselves second bottom. They could’ve almost been managed by me from my FM17 days. Anyway, they sacked the doofus in charge and decided to give me a go (once their caretaker manager had won one and lost one to lift them above the relegation zone).

So, with 14 points from 15 games and hovering dangerously in 18th place, I studied my squad, gave them all a good talking to and told them 12th place was within our reach. Don’t tell me I can’t deliver inspiring team talks.

I’d been bold because I hadn’t even looked at my first fixture in charge (Stockport, top of the league, away) or even noticed that I didn’t have an assistant manager stood next to me.

I rectified that by bringing in someone called Kyle Duff, who appears to have never worked in football before. No career history, no coaching history, nothing. But he has a two-and-a-half star rating for the assistant manager role, and that’s probably the best I can hope for.

My highest paid player is Joseph N’Guessan, who’s on £875 a week. Everyone else is broadly between £300 and £800, so my weekly wage budget of just over £10,000 must be one of the best at this level. Those are National League wages, really.

But there was no time for any pleasantries – we had to head straight up to Stockport and take on a team that had only lost once all season. Don’t ask me how – because I really don’t know – but we won 2-0. Both goals were scored by centre back Tyrone Williams. I won’t pretend we played well, though. County had more of the chances and dominated possession, even though we played a structured 4-1-4-1 formation.

We were a little more convincing in our next game, away at Harrogate – even though we fell behind early. A tactical tweak here and there seemed to do the trick, and as the game wore on it only looked a matter of time before we got a deserved equaliser (through substitute Devante Rodney, on loan from Hartlepool). That goal felt very satisfying.

We were certainly the better team at home against Darlington and deserved the three points but, my god, it was a boring game. It seemed fitting that the winning goal from striker Joe Ironside – who seems a bit of a whinger already – was a scrappy, deflected rebound from a keeper mistake.

Three games, two wins, one draw and a couple of clean sheets thrown in there to boot! Not bad. But then it all came apart at mid-table York.

We endured a horrible end to the first half, conceding two quick goals that killed the match. We got worse in the second half, conceding two more before the hour mark, although one of them was so far offside it almost occurred off my computer screen.

Suddenly I saw how hopeless we could be in defence. A fifth got me pretty angry, before we went up the other end and scored two consolation goals.

There’s definitely something to work with here at Kidderminster because, despite that 5-2 defeat, we edged possession and created more chances than York. If we keep doing that, we’ll certainly be good for that 12th place finish.


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Part IX: Down in the dumps (aka League 2)

It happened. We got relegated.

News screen that says Queen's Park got relegated

Sacked and relegated: what a CV I’m carving out for myself in this FM17 career.

The players showed the sheer lack of respect you’d expect them to show for a manager who only ever played Sunday League drivel.

But you could argue that Queen’s Park don’t play at a much higher level – and I could make a genuinely strong case to say I actually earned more money playing Sunday League football in Grimsby than managing this confused bunch of shysters.

As the home of the Scottish national team, Hampden is used to seeing some inept performances. But none stooped so low that they reached the gutter and slipped away into the sewerage system under Glasgow.

The strike force of every team in League 1 went through us like piss through snow. It was embarrassing to watch, let alone manage.

Queen's Park results

After conceding five at Ayr, the players wanted to make doubly sure that I didn’t like that sort of thing by conceding another five at Dundee Utd in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.

I let them know, in no uncertain terms, that it repulsed me. So they stopped conceding five and simply lost the next seven games by smaller margins instead.

That made it 11 defeats in 12 (or 10 in 11 in the league). We hit rock bottom.

Perversely, during this run, St Mirren came in for Ryan Porteous, a distinctly average 19-year old centre back I picked up on a free in the summer after he’d been released by Hibs.

Then East Fife stole a centre back that hadn’t even made his debut for us. John Tennent – an ex-Morton player – couldn’t turn down £80 a week in the charming town of Leven.

A 1-0 win at home to Ayr kept us in touch with Albion, who had jumped above us into the relegation play-off spot, but three draws and two defeats in our last five games sent us down.

We won two of our last 26 games. That we went into the last game, at home to Montrose, with a chance of surviving remains one of life’s biggest mysteries.

But old habits die hard. We couldn’t score. One goal would have given us three points – and a stay of execution – as Albion were losing at home to Peterhead. In fact, a 0-0 draw would’ve been good enough for us if Albion lost by three goals.

They were two down at one point, but pulled a goal back – and it ended 2-1, so the final table looked like this:

League 1 end of season table - Queen's Park bottom

24 goals scored in 36 matches. It was an abomination of a season for us.

For those who are interested, Albion beat Brechin in the play-off semi-final but lost to Cowdenbeath in the two-legged final, so they’ll join us in League 2 next season.

And I say ‘us’ because, incredibly, I haven’t been sacked. I’m not sure how I’ve dodged the bullet… but the atmosphere is sour. The board aren’t angry with my mismanagement of the team; they’re just disappointed.

Well, I’m beyond disappointed with this shower of shite – just look at the goals column:

Queen's Park's squad statistics for the 2017/18 season

That’s right. My top scorers ended up with seven goals each. Connor Murray, who went off the boil in January, didn’t score in his final 10 appearances, while Carlo Monti isn’t even a striker. I think four of his seven were direct free kicks.

But the two players who really boiled my piss are Andy O’Connell and John Carter. Here’s Mr O’Connell’s incredible statistics for the season (and please bear in mind he’s a striker):

Andy O'Connell's in-game statistics (no goals all season)

I hope you’ve got a thing for high numbers because John Carter’s ‘goals scored’ column is an absolute whopper:

John Carter's statistics (no goals)

So, as you can see, I was always going to have a bitch of a season if two of my strikers couldn’t manage to score ONE measly goal between them.

Both complained, at various points of the season, about not being given a chance in the first team. I gave them chances, alright. I started O’Connell 14 times with a strike partner in Murray. Did he repay me?

“Andy O’Connell says his lack of goals is concerning him,” reads the headline. Then he comes knocking on my door asking to start more games.

You can imagine my response.

Right now the players are all on holiday. Well I hope they booked a really expensive trip to the Maldives that fell through – and they can’t claim the money back because it wasn’t ATOL protected.

That would be sweet justice.

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Part VIII: The toys have left the pram

Oh my god, we’re actually awful. I mean, we’re falling to pieces.

That sliding sound is our season going down the pan. You know that really rubbish run of results that got me sacked at Chorley? Well, the same’s happening here.

One win in nine. Six points from a possible 27. And my defence, which knew how to keep the occasional clean sheet to get my strikers off the hook, has dissolved. It’s crumbled. Something has officially ‘gone wrong’.

Queen's Park results - 1 win in 9

We’re now 8th and looking nervously over our shoulders at Stranraer and Albion, who are slowly closing in on us.

Technically, because I’m not getting paid to manage Queen’s Park, it’s not my full time profession – therefore it’s technically not possible to be ‘unprofessional’.

Which is handy, because I’m now going to a) blame my players, and then b) blame the game.

Yes, I’m lashing out.

Right, firstly I think it’s worth pointing out that we scored in our last six consecutive games. Sadly, five of them were defeats, and a four were heavy. We conceded three at home to East Fife, four against Dumbarton and Airdrie, and a magnificent five against Ayr.

In three of those four heavy defeats, their star striker scored a hat-trick, and each of those defeats followed a similar pattern:

No matter what formation, personnel or mentality I start with, the opposition scores from their first attack – normally the player I told centre back Adam Cummins to mark, and normally within the first 10 minutes.

If there’s a danger man highlighted by my scout before the game, he has a worldy. There’s no stopping him.

We miss all the chances we create – which aren’t many, to be truthful. Strikers are missing sitters and the keeper’s having ‘one of those games’.

They’re having ‘four of those games’ in my case.

It’s normally 2-0 before half time when one of their unstoppable wingers (who puts in 430 unstoppable crosses) has a ‘he certainly didn’t mean that!’ moment.

Goals three, four (and sometimes) five follow. With the game well out of sight and, ironically, my tactics all over the place because I was chasing the game, this is when we usually get our goal.

Every goal comes from a cross. I’ve tried marking the wingers, I’ve tried standing off them. I’ve tried closing them down, staying on my feet… nothing works. I am powerless to stop crosses – and my two centre backs, who are decent in the air if nothing else, lose every header.

And those six goals I’ve scored? They’ve all come in the last 10 minutes (81, 83, 85, 87 and two on 89, to be precise).

My latest defeat – 3-1 to East Fife – included everything I’ve just covered. The concession of an early goal; two down by half time; a hat-trick for their star striker who I tried to mark out of the game; all goals from crosses.

We had 17 shots. They had 17 shots. We had 52% possession, and clear cut chances were two apiece.

I’ve played 50 games now, as boss of Chorley and Queen’s Park, and I’ve scored a magnificent total of 41. My win percentage is a rather pathetic 24.

I knew it wouldn’t be long, given that record, before I resorted to a massive, childish whinge. And when I work out how to get my tactics right in the future, I’ll read this article back and probably feel a teensy weensy bit silly.

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Part VII: Cow’s arse, banjo – that old chestnut

I’ve scored 10 goals in 14 league games and yet we’re SEVENTH.

This is incredible. Apologies for the rather excitable caps lock, but I’m actually at a loss to explain how we’ve done this – especially when you consider that one of my summer signings, striker Andy O’Connell, has scored precisely no goals in 11 starts, and one of the surviving members of last season’s squad, fellow striker John Carter, has also scored no goals.

I’ve never worked with such a goal-shy squad as this. The mere thought of shooting seems to fill them with dread.

Things did not get off to a good start in the league after we won one and lost four of our first five games. This kept us off the bottom thanks to the general ineptness of Albion Rovers, who kindly offered us that solitary win.

Six weeks later we would lose to them through an injury-time goal.

But sandwiched between those head-in-hands moments we found some form after I had this novel idea of applying some tactical consistency. We, ladies and gentlemen, embarked on a FIVE-MATCH unbeaten run, which included three wins and two draws.

Since we can’t score, you won’t be surprised to learn that both draws were 0-0, with one of them being away at leaders Airdrie.

I cannot confirm nor deny that we played well in any of those wins (so we were rubbish, then) – conceding more shots and more possession to our opponents on each occasion – but who’s counting shots and passes when you’re actually scoring goals for once?

Then we came back down to earth with a bump, with a heavy defeat to Forfar and that ball-shrivelling injury-time moment against Albion.

But something incredible happened at East Fife. With just 20 minutes to go, and 2-0 down, we scored TWO GOALS to snatch a point! I know!

“Would you believe it!” shouted Jeff Stelling on Soccer Saturday. In a moment of rare unprofessionalism, he forgot where we was, ripped off his microphone and climbed onto the desk in front of him, jumping up and down like an ape to announce: “The team that can’t score goals… have scored two… to DRAW AT EAST FIFE!”

Yes, I’m making good use of the caps lock on this post. I’m aware of that.

I then absolutely battered Ayr at home and lost 2-0. Now that was a kick in the nads. For the first time this season (and possibly for the first time since I’ve been managing Queen’s Park) we comfortably outplayed another team, but once again my so-called strikers gave an impeccable demonstration of how to get dropped for the next match.

Chance after chance after chance went begging. You have it. No, you have it. No, I don’t want it.

Oh, for god’s sake, one of you just STICK IT IN THE SODDING NET.

“That was a sitter,” says the commentary. “He’ll kick himself for missing that.”

No – I’ll kick him for missing that.

The next game proved that my back-up strikers are no better. Given a chance at home against inferior opposition in the Scottish Cup, they were somehow worse and we ground to a goalless halt against Selkirk.

Thankfully we won the replay 2-0, but even now I’m struggling to work out why, as a team that broadly plays 4-4-2, we can’t score more goals.

Hilariously, Carter – who, it turns out, hasn’t scored since March 3 (before I took over) – is wanted by Forfar. Let me just remind you that Forfar beat us 3-0. They don’t need a striker who can’t score.

My news feed is essentially ‘Carter vows to end goal drought’ and ‘O’Connell hasn’t scored in 16 hours of football’ and ‘Connor Murray says he won’t let his lack of goals affect him’. To be fair to Murray, he’s scored five in 14 starts, so I don’t have beef with him.

But if there’s one player that infuriates me more than any of my strikers, it’s 32-year old left back Iain Campbell.

As one of the million players I signed in the summer, his stats suggest he could be pretty decent. Only a lack of competition prevents me from dumping him in the reserves or selling him to Stenhousemuir, because he has absolutely nailed the ability to get an average rating of 6.20 every single game – but twice, from absolutely nowhere, he gets 7.80 and wins the man of the match award.

These are my results since the last update:

Queen's Park results

And here’s how the table is looking after 14 games:

League 1 table, Queen's Park 7th

I believe we have Dundee Utd away in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup, where we’ll no doubt get battered and not score.

Strangely, five of my next six games are at home – where we’ve been marginally better at scoring – so I’m hoping we can get a few more wins under our belt ahead of the obligatory bad run that will see us slip closer to 9th now that Albion appear to be getting their shit together.

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Part VI: Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits

Raised on a diet of broken biscuits.

You know, I was actually naive enough to believe, just for a moment, that some of my half decent players would turn deals down elsewhere to stay at a club that didn’t pay them a penny to play each week.

In the end, 15 of my players went to other clubs (including Montrose, Queen of the South, Clyde, Forfar, East Fife, Dumbarton and Dunfermline. Ayr United nicked three of the buggers).

It was a chastening moment.

Faced with a bunch of friendlies that started before June was out, I had five players – my worst five players from last season. I think two of them made the bench at one point, but to be honest I couldn’t tell much difference in quality between them and the greyed out ‘filler’ players in my reserve squad.

The departures included my world-beating right back Ross Millen, who is clearly destined to win international caps now that he’s signed for East Fife. Mate, I thought you’d find a better club than that.

The strangest transfer was my reserve goalkeeper, Andrew Murphy, signing for Rotherham on a two-year, £1,000 p/w deal. He must be a cat, because he’s definitely fallen on his feet.

Anyway, to cut a very long (and very boring) story short, I spent hours sifting through the players that were released by other clubs to see if I could assemble some sort of team ahead of our first friendly against Kelty Hearts.

This I did, but I was like one of those shoppers on Black Friday who bursts into Asda as soon as the store opens and buys a big TV just because it’s there – without considering whether the telly’s actually any good.

So I blindly bagged myself a load of bang average players from the bargain bin.

Now, I had been doubting my ability as a tactician given how rare victories have been for me on FM17, but I’m glad to say that even with a bunch of barely-human misfits I was able to assemble them in some sort of formation and instruct them to beat a fellow amateur side 4-2. It was actually a half-decent performance.

We weren’t convincing in our 1-1 draw at Clyde, and the 2-1 win at Darlington 1883 was, if I’m honest, lucky.

Then followed a couple of catastrophes. We were very lucky to lose by only two goals at Partick Thistle, and then we got an official dicking at Oldham. They could’ve scored ten but settled for just the six.

For those of you who know a bit about Scottish football, you’ll know their season starts with four group games in the Betfred Cup. We won just once – on penalties – so the less said about that, the better.

By this time I’d signed enough players to fill the bench on match days. I don’t recognise any of the names in real life, but a couple of them – Carlo Monti and David Turnbull – look like they might actually be quite good.

This is Monti:

Carlo Monti stats

And here he is, scoring a superb goal against Albion Rovers:

But it’s Groundhog Day. After three games we’re in a familiar position:

League 1 table - Queen's Park 8th

Here are my results so far – slightly worried about the amount of red on this list:

Queen's Park's list of results

The board isn’t overly concerned at this point, given that we weren’t expected to progress in the cup and that the media expect us to finish 9th. However, the players are still playing like the bunch of strangers they really are, and my tactical inconsistency probably isn’t helping.

I think I should be awarded Manager of the Year already on the sole basis that I managed to get around 14 players to sign ‘contracts’ at Queen’s Park that are literally worth nothing.

Oh, and the 16-year old promoted from my youth set-up who was described as the best thing since sliced bread?

Pinched by Dunfermline within two weeks.

With no ability to tie even half-decent 16-year olds down (a sentence that will attract the attention of the internet police, no doubt) there’s no hope for building a bright future.

No, just exist. Turn up, play matches of football, entertain the sparsely populated national stadium as best you can, and go home.

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Part V: Queen Victorious

The Queen lives! Long live the Queen (in Scottish League 1).

Yes we survived, but in the most unconvincing fashion possible. Things were going swimmingly in our penultimate match at home to Alloa, 1-0 up with 10 minutes to go… and then we threw it away.

Hilariously, having lost the game 2-1, it actually assured us of our safety despite being just two points clear of the relegation play-off place because a) there are actually three other teams worse than us, and b) two of them had to play each other on the last day, so we couldn’t slip any lower than 8th.

We won our last game at home to Livingston, who had just been crowned champions. We took the form book, yeah, and wiped our royal arse with it.

It means that I won one, drew one and lost two of my four games in charge, scoring four and conceding five. Both those defeats came at home. You know, something tells me we’ll never make our stadium (literally one hundred times bigger than is necessary) a fortress.

I’ve had little time to get to know the players, so I’ve got to be pleased that they did the business.

And allowed myself a good, hearty chuckle at Chorley getting relegated on goal difference.

I have no idea what the summer will bring. As I’ve mentioned before, every single one of my players is on an amateur contract so the half decent ones will walk.

We don’t do such things as transfer and wage budgets at Queen’s Park. You can forget any of that stuff.

“Do you fancy playing for us? Yes, I know you can get paid more playing for Gala Fairydean in the Ferrari Packaging Lowland League – but do they play their home games at the home of Scottish football? I think not. No, we literally cannot give you a £1 goal bonus. Sorry.”

Here’s the final league table:

Scottish League 1 final table, Queen's Park 8th

And this is Josh Watt scoring what turned out to be our goal of the season. Foot like a traction engine, and all that (nice forward roll-and-punch celebration:


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Part IV: The reign of Queen Dick

When you’ve been sacked by Chorley, and you’re staring at the bottom of your pint glass in the corner of a pub frequented by just one regular who suffers from phlegm and catarrh, where else can you go?

Who’ll take a manager who lost 50% of his matches and couldn’t even motivate his side to score an average of one goal a game?

Queen’s Park. That’s where.

Yes, I’m now in the third tier of Scottish football, where all my players are on amateur contracts. I’m on an amateur contract. None of us are being paid a penny to turn up and play (or manage) games of football.

The fact that we’re in the third tier, and not fourth, is remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is that we play out home games at Hampden Park – a 52,000-seat stadium for 500 fans. If I know my fractions like I think I do (and I’ve always said betting is a good way to learn maths) that’s just under 1% of its capacity.

I’ve gone from being chucked by Chorley (who, hilariously, play their home games at Victory Park) to spending my Saturday afternoons in Scotland’s best stadium.

The fact that any of my players could walk out of the club at any time is a small price to pay to find a chairman that’s willing to give me a second – and possibly final – chance.

The situation is this: with four games to go, Queens Park are three points clear of the relegation play-off spot. My remit is to keep them clear. In fact, everything about this job is startlingly similar to the situation I was in at Chorley. Except no one gets paid.

I’m doing it for the love of the game. It’s work experience. It’s better than being at Sports Direct on a zero hours contract where they pay you peanuts and sack you for daring to take a long shit break.

I barely had a day to assess my squad before we took on second placed Airdrie at home – a team still with a chance of claiming the title – so I left things in the capable hands of my assistant, Chris Hillcoat.

We lost 1-0.

Same old story, really. We had plenty more chances – I was actually impressed by the way we played – but we conceded in the first minute and never looked like recovering, despite having more of the play.

Next up was a trip to Brechin, who occupied the relegation play-off spot. A defeat would see us swap places.

And if the game had finished in the 87th minute, that’s exactly where we’d be. But striker Anton Brady broke his barren spell to equalise in the 88th and we nicked a point. I say ‘nicked’ – again, we played fairly well, had more of the ball and created more chances.

That’s where things stand right now. With two games to go, Stenhousemuir (or Stenhouse Manure, as a few of us like to call them) are relegated – they’re long gone – and Brechin stay 9th on 34 points. Peterhead are in 8th on 35 and we’re in 7th on 36 (so the point actually moved us up a position.

There’s no time to look for reinforcements, so I’ll have to do this with the players at my disposal. I seem to have inherited a world-beating right back, who has four goals, four assists and an average rating of 7.25. His name is Ross Millen.

My two remaining fixtures are, unusually, both at home. We’ve got Alloa (in the play-offs but nothing to play for) and Livingston (top of the league with a four-point advantage over Airdie).

Also, my chief scout, Bobby Dickson, is amazing. No wonder we’re in the third tier if he’s in charge of recruitment.

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