I’m sitting in the Tribune Leclerc stand in Stade Abbé-Deschamps. Right at the back of the balcony against the back wall. I can see the entire pitch from up here without even turning my head. Why is it that Managers don’t sit up here? Why don’t we direct the match from on high where it’s easier to see the shape of the teams? I stroke Burnie, who’s curled up asleep on the seat to my right. Not sure where Meatloaf’s got to though, somebody let him out before.
“I wouldn’t worry about me”, says Meatloaf. Or… Is that Meatloaf? I turn my head to the left to see that it is indeed him strolling on his hind legs up the row of seats towards me: A 6 foot cat in full victorian English garb, top hat and all. “May I?” He asks as he reaches me, gesturing to the adjoining seat. I pull it down for him and watch him sit. I’ve always liked the markings on Meatloaf’s fur. He’s mostly light brown but with dark stripes all over his face and body, including two v-shaped lines above his eyes that resemble eyebrows. And then there’s the white trail from his chin down to his big white belly and the trademark white hourglass shape above his nose.
“Do you want to know your problem, Franjo?” He asks casually. I say nothing. “You’re too reactionary, my friend. Your emotions too often rule your decisions.” I look at him quizzically, but not wanting to piss off what is by definition a “Big Cat”, I wait patiently for him to continue. He takes off his hat and holds it on his lap as he looks into my eyes sympathetically. “Take this afternoon for example: You lost a football match and questioned your own philosophy on the game as a result. Stick by your convictions, for crying out loud. If you want battling footballers, you’ve got to accept the rough with the smooth. You’re going to pick up more points from losing positions than you would with other less…” He clears his throat as he searches for the word and a fur ball the size of a tennis ball plops out, bounces off the top of his hat and splats onto the ground. “…Combative players,” He continues as if nothing had happened, “But they’re also going to bloody battle, aren’t they?”
“But I don’t want to be a Manager that sends his side out to break legs and pick up 10 cards a game, that’s not how I want to win.”
“Have you explicitly told one of your sides to do that?” Asks Meatloaf, raising his ‘eyebrows’.
“Well, no… Well, maybe… A couple of times at most, but no. No, not usually.”
“Then there’s a world of difference, isn’t there. You aren’t creating the new Crazy Gang, you just surround yourself with players who want to win and aren’t afraid to put their bodies on the line to do it.” He puts a paw on my shoulder. “Don’t overthink this one, old friend.” He winks and gives me a broad smile. I smile back at my over-sized moggie.
After a moment, I ask “How do you know about the Crazy Gang? You were born in… 2012-ish?” Meatloaf looks taken aback.
“Wikipedia mainly”, he replies curtly, drumming his claws absent-mindedly on the top of his hat. I nod slowly and we sit in silence for a moment. If anything his answer raises more questions. I turn back to him, ready to ask another, when without warning he leans over and licks me right on the bridge of my nose. His breath smells of fish and his tongue is unpleasantly coarse.
“What the fuck are you…”
“MOW?” he squeaks, his eyes suddenly wide and glazed over. “MOW!” he cries again, almost impatiently. As he leans over and licks my nose a second time my eyes open to see Meatloaf, the real Meatloaf, looking down at me curiously.
Seeing me wake, he jumps softly down from my chest onto the floor and starts padding away to his empty food bowl, where he turns and waits patiently for me to follow. I swing my legs out of bed and check the clock on my phone. 1am. Pretty much spot on. I can’t have been asleep very long. I stand up and shuffle over to fill the food bowl and Meatloaf digs in delightedly. I give him a scratch behind the ear and smile. He doesn’t know it, but he’s spot on.