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Football Manager Challenge: Episode Two

Here at A Team of John O’Sheas, we pride ourselves on answering the questions that no one is asking. It is now over a year since the Team attempted to answer their first question: How good would a team of John O’Sheas actually be? To celebrate our first anniversary, Jon Mackenzie will attempt to settle the old question once and for all. His job is a simple one: try take a team of John O’Sheas as far up the English football league structures as possible on Football Manager.

Previous Episodes: Pilot Episode, Episode One

Episode Two – A Team of John… O’Shit…

Aylesbury away had finally arrived.

Given the enormity of the game, the Guardian saw fit to offer its online readership a pre-match analysis from a chap named Jamie Collins. We’ll assume, for his sake, that he is on one of those unpaid internships that the Guardian likes to pontificate about in the pages of its publication but seems surprisingly indifferent to when it comes to their own commercial operations.

Being young and perhaps overly keen to impress his capitalist overlords, the report that Jamie produced was overwritten in places. Naturally, the main thread of his analysis took up the ‘surprising’ issue of the goalkeeping selection. ‘I would,’ the enthusiastic Jamie wrote, ‘have opted for A Team of John O’Sheas win but with their manager opting [surely use a different verb here Jamie? Ed] to put John O’Shea 1 in goal, anything could happen.’ So far, so correct. End it there, Jamie, for all our sakes. He does, however, go on. ‘I’m stunned and I know the fans will be when they see the line-ups.’

2.1

Stunned?! Speak for yourself Jamie Collins of the Guardian. But do not speak for the good people of Gloucester. Maybe… just maybe… it had escaped your notice when you wrote it out in the immediately previous line. But surely the aggregated fan base of Gloucester City have clocked the new name that their football team were sporting. And, suspending our disbelief just for the moment, if they had clocked it, it might not be entirely beyond the bounds of reasons that their goalkeeper might be a guy named John O’Shea? Ridiculous it may be as a general concept. But presumably in the time it took those supporters to travel the 68.9 miles to Aylesbury, they would have had made the leap in logic in their heads.

Aylesbury United play in the Evo-Stik Southern Division 1 Central league. What with the Isthmian Football League being sponsored by Rymans, there can hardly be any teams outside of the English Football Leagues that finds themselves short on stationary. Ah yes. Stationary. Which brings me back to John O’Shea 1 – the Team of John O’Sheas goalkeeper. The small county town of Aylesbury is famous for its unique breed of ducks. The central-defender-cum-goalkeeper, John O’Shea, it transpires, is not. Having written close to 2,000 words in the last episode setting out my very real concerns about the ability of our protagonist to keep a clean sheet, you might have thought I was prepared for every eventuality. How wrong you would have been.

The game had begun innocuously enough. In many respects, I was surprised at the brand of football that a team comprised entirely of John O’Sheas had resolved to play. I’d told them to sit deep, to press hard and to counter fast. Instead, no doubt because of their unique harmony of mind, they had decided to adopt a style that I would describe as tiki-taka meets Walking Football. Imagine the Brazil team from ’98 playing a charity match now. So a little bit like watching Brazil. But also a little bit like watching Alan Brazil.

Then the twenty-sixth minute struck. And any aforementioned harmony of mind was shown to be mere fancy in the minds of those watching. Another piece of slick approach play by the Team of John O’Sheas resulted in the ball being thumped clear by the opposition keeper. It bounced harmlessly towards John O’Shea 1 in goal and John O’Shea 4 was careful to track the ball to prevent the fast-approaching Moles’ striker, Kyle Omar, from causing any problems. But then, inexplicably, both players decided they should take a touch simultaneously. The ball pinballed between them momentarily, before falling perfectly at the feet of the on-rushing Omar. He passed it into an open net.

Karl Marx once remarked that history is destined to repeat itself ‘first as tragedy, then as farce’. Little did he know it but in this succinct bon mot Marx had given an accurate report of the first half. (On the basis of this alone, I would have recommended Karl Marx ahead of Jamie Collins for the next Guardian Sports graduate scheme.) Five minutes later, tragedy turned to farce. Aylesbury’s Gerry Clarke, a man who sounds more like a member of the Northern Irish Assembly, picked up the ball at the right-hand corner of the box, was given a good few seconds to set himself, and then passed the ball towards the goal. Time slowed down. As did John O’Shea 1. The ball Lee Trundled into the net. We were two nil down inside the first 30 minutes.

You know those terrible sports films (the ones that usually come out of Disney). You know, the ones where the clearly incompetent team end up winning by means of greater quotients of Desire and Belief against the Bad Guys who have none? Well if we were in one of those movies, I would say that this was the nadir scene: the scene where the truly bad member of the team gets pissed off at the really good member of the team for wanting to win so much that they lost anyway and at a great moral cost (or whatever). The only difference was that our whole team was truly bad. And there was no good player to get annoyed at. And there was no moral high ground. Just a player in goal who wasn’t even a keeper.

But would you believe it, just like those shit sports films, we went on to win. I mean, it was so disingenuous as to be as cringeworthy as those films. It left you thinking to yourself, ‘This time they’ve gone too far. There has to be at least some level of believability to it…’ But it was truly incredible. You think Barcelona’s comeback was good. This was something else. John O’Shea 11, our more advanced forward and a footballer with only the rudiments of what might be labelled attacking footballing qualities, fashioned a chance for John O’Shea 6 from out wide. The ball swung in and, as man and ball made sweet, sweet union in the air, it was as if reality had slowed down like in those truly bad films. I almost expected the Chariots of Fire theme song to begin playing. It didn’t though. There was just the canned cheer of Football Manager and me jumping around the room.

John O’Shea 11 went on to score a hat-trick, one of the goals of which was the best goal I’ve ever seen John O’Shea score, real or fictional: slicing through the Aylesbury defence via a neat one-two with John O’Shea 10 before tonking the ball home into the top right corner past a flummoxed goalkeeper. The match ended 2-5 in our favour. We had scored five goals without reply in response to those two early goals.

2.2

You know those terrible sports films (the ones that come out of Disney). You know, the ones where the clearly incompetent team end up winning by means of greater quotients of Desire and Belief against the Bad Guys who have none? Well I suppose this was like the opposite of that. Because we were a team of Premier League footballers playing against a non-league side the majority of whom were amateur. And instead of losing, we won. We basically pissed on the parade of the footballing equivalent of Mighty Ducks. I am not proud of myself. But I am happy. Because if A Team of John O’Sheas is just going to fold over against the next level above Sunday league, then we’re in for a long season…

The final word, however, must go to Jamie Collins of the Guardian. ‘No surprises at all. We said before the match that A Team of John O’Sheas should win comfortably and they’ve proved that here today with a winning margin of three goals.’ Well done, Jamie. Going to leave it at that? What? No? Oh ok. Go on then. ‘I’m still struggling to believe that the manager really meant to play John O’Shea 1 in goal’. Karl Marx once said that history is doomed to repeat itself ‘first as tragedy, then as farce’. But little did he reckon on the magnitude that history would reach in Jamie Collins of the Guardian…

2.3

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