I don’t want to get out of bed today. Don’t make me get out of bed. If I get out of bed I’ll have taken another step towards getting relegated in my first ever managerial role. No, I’ll just stay in bed where everything is warm and safe. Fuck you alarm clock. Fuck you sunlight. Fuck you Swedish First Division South. I keep having a recurring dream where Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are taking turns punching me in the face and laughing about how little I know about Swedish Football. Then they throw me into the deep dark pit: a swirling vortex of nothingness where nothing exists and nothing escapes.
Now, I’m a realist. I’m aware that I have to get out of bed. I’m aware that while the world would keep turning if I were to simply shut out the sunlight, pull the covers over my head and hibernate until the people of Vellinge had forgotten my name, there is a slight possibility that FC Höllviken would stand even less of a chance without me. And our fates are intertwined: I need to save them in order to save myself, specifically with regards to my career. They didn’t have to be my problem. I could have stayed in England and never known the names of Niklas Hammer, Joakim Nilsson Ingves or Alexander Lundgren. But I made them my problem. I made them my children, they are all my responsibility. There’s no backing down from this.
Dragging myself out of bed, I decide to go down to Höllvikens IP early so that I can use the whole morning to think of how we need to approach this match tactically. I grab a coffee, walk into my office, sit down at my desk with paper and pen in hand, and begin to strategise. We’re up against FC Trollhättan, who are in 12th place, 2 places and 6 points above us in the league. This is our biggest match so far in that if we are to make any sort of push for survival, it needs to start today. After this match we play 3rd place Norrby IF, which is essentially a write-off, and then we finish the season by hosting 13th place Prespa Birlik and finally travelling to 11th place Husqvarna FF. We have been given a tremendous opportunity to push by being scheduled to play all 3 of our fellow relegation candidates in our final 4 matches, but a loss today will be crippling for our survival hopes. A loss today could signal the end.
Looking up from my desk I see Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic striding into my office, both smiling darkly. I cower and sink lower into my chair. They’re here to punch me in the face again, they’re going to throw me down the deep dark pit. I’ll never get out of the deep dark pit. They move towards me menacingly, both moving around different sides of the desk to cut off my escape, and then suddenly a third figure enters the room. A figure I recognise and greet with relief: Ms Alexandersson marches into my office and begins hitting the 2 legendary Scandinavian strikers over the head with a cartoonishly oversized mallet, emblazoned with the red and black FC Höllviken crest. They run sobbing from the room and I beam at the old woman and thank her for her assistance. “Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” I ask enthusiastically. She smiles widely.
“Don’t overthink it” she winks.
I jolt awake at my desk. Checking my clock I realise that I won’t be alone for much longer. The players and staff will be arriving soon. But it doesn’t matter. I know how we’re going to set up.
“4-1-4-1”, I tell the players. “We play on the counter attack, we stay disciplined, we exploit the left. Is that clear?” My question is greeted by murmurs and nods. I note with interest that this will be the first match in which I play something that resembles a first team. We are playing 10 senior players today, which is probably a club record. Cyrile starts in goal in case The Hammer needs to be an emergency striker, and Vilas Nilsson, Henningsson, the fit again Grannum and Malm start across the back. Burrnie will hold his place in front of the back 4, and Sekiraca, Joakim, Hoffman (Our only non-senior player today, but he’s been solid so far) and Wihlborg form the midfield 4. Andreas Persson returns from injury for his first start under my stewardship after returning to full training earlier this week. He’ll be a poacher.
For 40 minutes Trollhättan’s 4-4-1-1 cancels out our 4-1-4-1, resulting in one of the cagiest halfs of football we’ve seen all season, and then Joakim swings in a free kick from close to the corner flag on the right hand side. It’s headed straight back to him by a defender and he tries again, looping a cross towards to the far post. And something incredible happens: Simon Henningsson is shoved by Trollhättan’s Mehovic and the referee points to the spot. A penalty! The only thing we’ve been any good at all season! Joakim steps up and rifles it into the bottom corner. We’ve taken the lead for the first time this season and it feels excellent.
When the team comes in for half time I put on a calm face. Inside I’m nervous, excited, and sceptical of our ability to hold on, but there’s no reason for them to know any of that. I tell them not to get complacent and send them back out.
Within 2 minutes of the restart, Berntsson receives the ball from a throw in and is tripped inside the area by Burrnie. The calm face mask falls to the floor. Yohan Lundgren scores the penalty. I want to go back to bed. I put my head in my hands and wonder if anyone would notice if I just slept through the rest of the game. And then a 2nd incredible thing happens: We respond almost instantly. A Joakim corner is swung towards the 6 yard box, glanced on by Sekiraca, and Burrnie is on hand to stab the ball past the keeper. I don’t think I’ve ever been this proud. I’m pretty confident that if I spawned 500 children who each did something amazing like solve world hunger, or cure a deadly disease, or 498 other incredible things, I would not be as proud of them as I am of my team right now.
We stay as we are. Having never been in this situation before I’m not quite sure what the best course of action is, but doing nothing seems to work. The game dies down until the 75th minute, when Sekiraca plays a brilliant killer pass behind the defence and into the path of Persson, who slots the ball under the keeper. Dumfounded, I tell the team to completely fall back. To just defend. I even feel confident enough to bring off the tiring Wihlborg and replace him with young Axelsson.
The match ends 3-1 and our survival push has finally started. Larsson and Ibrahimovic won’t haunt me tonight. I’ll sleep soundly, dreaming only of the soft rippling noise of the ball hitting the back of the net, and the roar of our literally tens of supporters at Höllviken IP.
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