Alexey Avdokhin
"Scout or Welcome to South Bermondsey"
excerpt from a book
The Cameroonian was unbelievably good, incredibly quick, and tough as nails, and on the pitch a truly malevolent force against the opposition. In the first half alone, he wreaked havoc from the right flank, as their left defence failed miserably to keep up with him over and over again. The young bloke was playing his very first match for our team but played so tightly with his teammates that it truly seemed he had spent more than even one season on the team, twice he dangerously hammered the ball into the penalty area and carried out a couple of brilliant passes putting the ball right in the strike zone of the goal, all of which he did while at the same time working from behind and helping Iron Mike with defence! Then at the twenty-sixth minute he carried out such an amazing demonstration of dribbling that our manager Harris was overheard muttering to himself something like "oh, what a prick", which Old Man Harris considered to be the highest praise possible for a player.

His name was Fabrice, Fabrice Zua, and according to his passport he was only nineteen years old. However, that is not a die-hard fact, as we all know how things really are with these blokes from Cameroon, Ghana, or the Ivory Coast. Although in this case, Francis Collins, who tipped me off about the brilliant find and got his five percent cut on the deal, swore by all the gods above and even on the health of his poor elderly mother, that the bloke was in fact really and truly only nineteen.

"Bloody hell, Robbie, are you blind?!" Old Man Harris screamed as he jumped up and ran far beyond the boundaries of the technical zone. "Can't you see him for Christ's sake?! The bloke is standing there like a lemon!!! Pass him the sodding ball, you imbecile!!!"

Davey Roberts was our main CDM and his main task was tearing the legs off of their attacking midfielders, but sometimes he also managed to make a mint pass. And Davey went too far and the pass was so perfect that even Toni Kroos would probably have envied it. Then the Cameroonian burst into the zone.

It was a pleasure watching their left fieldsman, a red-haired Scotsman, with a ponytail and beard like Alexi Lalas, trying to catch up with our Cameroonian. What a sight! The bloke flew around like a meteor. He took control of the ball and went to the right. Their midfielder tried to catch him the player in the centre left shifted their focus too, you could see their line-up bursting at the seams, and Fabrice did everything right. He didn't overdo moving around the ball and didn't give it away ahead of time, but then passed it a little diagonally, as if on a silver platter. And Alan Parker, our main striker, arrived just in time. Then it was just a matter of technique. A kick — and goal!

I automatically checked the stopwatch. It was the forty-second minute and the score was one zero. Way to go! That's our team!

"Alex, bloody hell! Where did you find this bloody cannibal?" Johnny Martin, the assistant coach almost strangled me with his huge paws.

"Come on blokes!!! Don't let up!!! Get it together!!!" Old Harris's mug didn't move a muscle, but he looked rather pleased.

"Come on! Let's go! Come on!!!"

There was almost no time left until the break.

We were escorted to the locker room like heroes. The "Den" roared like we were winning against the Spurs or Chelsea, not some bloody Reading. However it was still nice.

We went out for the second half in a good mood and even the first-half thrashing of young Fleming by old man Harris for his error didn't serve to dampen anyone's spirits.

"No one likes us!"

"No one likes us!"

"No one likes us! We don't care!" roared the stands.

"Come on, lads!!! Old Harris was clapping his hands like he was cracking nuts. "Be careful with the defence! Pass the ball faster! And put them under more pressure! Pressure!! Pressure!!!"

You couldn't say that the boys from Reading were playing that bad today. They honestly tried to turn the game around and from the very beginning of the second half they drove forward like madmen, but in the end that's what killed them.

In the first counterattack, young Fleming found Parker's pass and their defender had no choice but to foul and for him it was already his second yellow card. After that, they continued to attempt to pull something off but their efforts were no longer serious.

The Cameroonian was still running around like a bloody cheetah, and even the fact that the manager of the Reading team replaced the Scot, who was completely exhausted, for a fresh defender, it didn't help them much.

In the seventy-third minute, our "Novichok" moved to the centre and suddenly shot from the left. If the rascal Collins had seen the bloke kick with his left, even though all the documents said that he was right-footed, he would have asked not for five but probably for ten percent. Their goalkeeper jumped into the corner as if he was remembering his time playing for the Gunners but even that didn't save him.

Then there was also a pass from the corner to our centre-back Evans who headed it into the crossbar. After that in added time, our prize player again ran along the edge and shot one off right at Parker's head. The result was a goal and a total of three to zero which was now on the scoreboard.

"Man-eating cannibal! Cameroonian cannibal!" Yes, you can't deny that our fans have a sense of humour. That was probably the most innocuous and least racist thing that they had shouted all evening.

The bloke was all right, job well done. He simply smiled and walked up to the stand behind the goal and thanked everyone! Many newcomers have to be told that thanking the fans is also part of the game. He thanked them and they clapped. It was all very grown-up.

I didn't go into the locker room. It's not the job of a scout or an agent to shout out victory songs with the blokes and appear in collective photos. However listening to what journalists are going to say in the mixed-zone and then at the press-conference are things that are always important for an agent to know so that they know in advance what the newspapers will write about in the morning. This is especially important when your ward played his first match for a new club.

"Hey, Alex!" the Daily Mail sports columnist Sean O'Grady was the first to intercept me in the mixed-zone, "Tell me about this new bloke!"

"Hey, Sean."

"Hi, there."

"So, what do you want to know?"

"Me?" he laughed. "Don't spin things around! What do you want me to write about him?"

Oh, these journalists. They understand everything. I smiled.

"Write that he's nineteen years old. That he is very fond of children and his mother. That he has a brother in Montpellier, and then of course add that he's the new Gareth Bale."

"A little dark for a Welshman. No? Where did you get him from?"

"He was in Ajax, on the second team. However it's true, he spent last year on loan in Belgium, in Mouscron."

"Does he even speak English?"

"Well, he can say a few words. But for a full-fledged interview, it would be better to get a French translator."

"He's as far away from a full-fledged interview, as you are from the Premier League."

These journalists are really able to besiege one of course, nothing to say there. They know their own worth.

"Okay Sean," I shook his hand, "if you write a few decent lines about my ward you know what's coming from me."

"Noted!" He said and sauntered into the press-conference room.

During the press-conference itself, as usual the questions were about tactics, plans for the end of the season, refereeing, and so on. Only one of the reporters, a simple-looking bloke from some small newspaper, finally asked the old man what he thought about the new winger.

"It's too early to draw conclusions. He wasn't bad today. We'll be watching him during the next few games," which was all you could expect from old man Harris.

I did not get home right away that night. In the parking lot, as I sat down to warm up my old Range Rover, Johnny Martin came up to the car.

"Hey, Alex! Want to go missing for a little while?"

"Why aren't you with our people?" I was surprised, because usually Johnny would not miss an occasion to celebrate our success with the blokes, especially since this season we didn't have enough special successes, only once or twice.

"Balls to them!" Johnny laughed. "We have a cup match this Tuesday, you know. That means that the victory will be celebrated in old non-alcoholic beer style. I'm a little old for that, you know. I want to get pissed."

"I am not promising that you will get plastered, but maybe a little tipsy. We're just too close to home."

"I'll leave my car here, then. We'll take yours."

"Hop in then."

We then took off and then left my car at my place.

"Hell, Alex, I've always envied you," Johnny admitted. "If the old folks had left me a house like this," he gestured respectfully at the front of my house on Court-Road, "I'd be fucking sitting in our club."

"Johnny, do me a favour and don't give me a bunch of bollocks," I said, picking up on his joking tone, "even if you'd inherited the palace at Eltham, you'd still have been pounding the doors of our base and begging to be allowed into the locker room with our incompetent players."

"I guess you're probably right." he answered with a strange look on his mug, a mixture of pride mixed with resignation.

"There's a great pub around the corner. It's cheap and the food is tasty and they have a serious selection of ales, whiskeys and everything that you love to pour down your gullet. There's one problem though, on Fridays and Saturdays there's always a bunch of wankers from the Royal Blackheath Club who hang out there, you know, with golf clubs and caps, all of whom think they're at minimum Tiger Woods, but they drink whiskey like Vinnie Jones."

"Good company," Johnny laughed, "Definitely better than our gym students."

"Then let's go before my wife catches me or we'll have to sit and have tea and biscuits instead of whiskey."

Since it was Saturday night the pub was full of people. Some students were downing drinks at the bar and there were a few local pensioners sipping ale with great decorum at tables near the windows. I therefore had to say hello a couple of times.

Johnny and I took an empty table in the corner and he ordered four pints straight off.

"Well, down the hatch!" he downed half a pint like a vacuum cleaner sucking air.

"So, what happened?" I stared at him in surprise.

"What do you mean?"

I put my glass down on the table and said, "I know you pretty well. If you start out like that, it's for a reason."

"Hmmm… this is boring…" he said and finished his ale.

"Come on, what's up? For once we won and were already five points clear of the relegation zone. But you don't seem yourself."

"Five points!" Johnny said and started to down the second pint.

It wouldn't last long at this rate, I thought.

"Look, Alex," he said, suddenly looking at me very seriously and as if with regret, "do you remember when we played the Cup match last year against Fulham?"

"Well yeah, I remember. How could I not remember? We left the Cup playoffs like a champagne cork, with a whoosh, and so what?"

"Do you remember the conversation we had after that?"

"With the Big Boss? Yeah I remember."

"Do you know what happened after that?"

"Well, apparently the old man was hanging by a thread ...."

"Exactly, by a thread! And our wankers found out and then they all got together and gave away the series."

"And so what?" I watched Johnny pick up a mug again. "Hey, that's my ale!"

"So what?" he waved it off. "Just a minute. Hey barman!" He waved his big hand at the bartender. "Be a friend and give us some service!"

"So what Johnny did you come here because you want to get pissed or tell me something?"

"Tell you, tell you. And so, after that conversation, I was pulled into the inner sanctum..."

I didn't want to help him or support him in any way, so once he started, I just let him talk.

"So then what did the Big Boss offer me? … Or rather, not really offer but you could say he even consulted with me …." He hesitated, and I sat and waited. "Well, anyway, he suggested to me, because we were stuck in such a tight spot and there was no opening in sight, that we think about replacing our Harris and that I become the general manager... Something like that."

"And well? So what did you say?"

"Me?" He didn't seem to have expected the question. "I didn't know what to say at the time. And then that episode happened and everything seemed to get better ... and then about two weeks ago I was asked again what I thought about the fact that … well, about whether I might need to take the old man's place before the end of the season."

"Fucking wankers!" I knocked over my glass and asked him, "Did you talk to the old man?"

"Bloody hell no Alex! No! I didn't tell him!"

"I hope you didn't tell the boys!"

"What are you nuts? Who do you think I am?!"

"All right, all right!" The bartender's assistant, a young bloke with spider web tattoos on both elbows, brought us more of the same drinks and I ordered a whiskey.

"So what do you think about all of it Johnny? By the way, what did you say to the offer?"

"What could I say to them? You know what a mess our old man got me out of ...."

"What about them?" I asked.

"What about them? They said think carefully, Mr. Martin. Such offers are not often given."

"Not often ...."

"That's just it ...."

We sat in silence for a while. The whiskey was nice, so I ordered more.

"Come on, Johnny. If you want my advice," I put down my glass and looked at him, "if I were you, I'd go talk to the Big Boss again. Explain to him that you have to tell Harris everything otherwise you'll feel like an wanker. I'm sure the Big Boss will understand everything."

"I guess you're right ..." he finished his drink, clearly relieved. "So, how was your cannibal today?" Johnny laughed. "He probably ate their red headed Scotsman and made a mess of everything."

"Yes well, the main thing was that he was not praised too much ...."

'Well, you wouldn't expect that from the old man." Johnny said.

"That's for sure. So what? One for the road? I have to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow."

"Okay, let's do it. By the way, how are you going to get to Sheffield on Tuesday?" If you want, I'll get a spot for you."

"No, thanks. I'll get there on my own, I need to stop by Doncaster on the way."

"Someone interesting at Rovers?"

"There's one kid who's an attacking midfielder but he's not very stable yet. We need to check him out in a serious situation."

"And who did they get for the Cup?"


"Well, if he can do anything against those bone crushers, then the bloke really has talent."

"Yeah, we'll see. Shall we get out of here?"

"Yeah, come on."

As he got into the taxi, he gave my hand a firm squeeze.

"Alex, don't tell anyone what you just heard from me," Johnny said, giving me a conspiratorial nod. "You're a good mate. Thank you!"

"Yeah right," I laughed. "Cheers, take care of yourself mate!"

End of introductory fragment
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