I’m sitting in the Tribune Leclerc stand in Stade Abbé-Deschamps. Right at the back of the balcony against the back wall. I’ve spent the past 2 months coming here every night while I sleep and do you know what the worst part of this place is? The silence. When I first came up here in a dream the silence was calm and peaceful. Now it’s a lonely, claustrophobic silence that makes me very aware of the lack of any noise around me. I’m also well aware at the minute that I may have overreacted in the wake of our defeat to AC Ajaccio earlier today. I don’t know what it was, just a bit of red mist I suppose. I’m still reeling a bit from the events of the last couple of months off the field. I miss Meatloaf and I miss Burnie. I miss the shit out of them.
They were the yin and yang, the polar opposites that inspired me when I needed inspiration the most. Burnie, who inspired a good few counter attacking strategies thanks to his ability to absorb all the shit his brother gave him, waiting for his moment before striking back. And Meatloaf, who despite his arseholeishness against his brother inspired me to be the aggressor. To dominate. They both inspired me to scrap and to fight back in different ways and they were my muses.
A footstep cuts through the silence. Comparatively the noise is as intrusive as the ringing of a bell tower just a few feet to my left. The silence is broken just for a moment but then absorbs the noise back into itself. I look down the aisle for the source of the noise and what I see makes my jaw drop. Standing beside me in a homemade black and red knitted jumper is a sweet looking old lady with long grey/blonde hair, smiling kindly and watching me through the thickest pair of glasses I’ve ever seen. Standing beside me is Ms Alexandersson.
“Hello dear”, she says quietly, taking the adjacent seat where Meatloaf used to sit. As she does, she produces a pair of knitting needles and a couple of balls of different coloured wool and begins to knit. The click-clack of the needles breaks the silence once more.
“Hello…” I try to keep talking but I can’t think of a single thing to say. She nods slowly as if she understands.
“You shouldn’t come here any more, dear. You know that.”
“I…” …Still can’t think of anything to say. After another pause I manage: “Meatloaf… Burnie…”
“Are both gone.” She cuts me off, abruptly but with no sense of malice in her voice. “You know that too.” We sit through another long pause, punctuated only by the click-clack of her knitting needles before she continues. “Look where we are. Look at this stadium.”
I look around feeling quite foolish, scanning the ground for anything that she might be referring to. “I… I don’t…”
“Stade Abbé-Deschamps”, she recites in a grand voice, as if she was introducing a world class boxer. “When I met you I wouldn’t have trusted you to manage a direct debit, never mind a team that plays in a place like this.” I chuckle and Ms Alexandersson continues to smile sweetly back at me. It’s a fair point. “It was never going to be plain sailing all the way to the top though, you’ve always known that.” She continues, “Whether it’s relegation from the Swedish First Division South, Losing 0-4 in the South African Knockout Cup Final, that horrible winless streak in the Lotto Ekstraklasa that went on and on…”
“Did you have a point?” I laugh weerily. She smiles again.
“Or losing Meatloaf and Burnie.” She concludes softly. “It’s just another obstacle on a long, long journey.” She pauses again. Click-clack, click-clack. “Somehow you’ve fumbled your way up to Ligue 2, but there’s still a long way to go.”
I chuckle again. “There is.” I agree.
“So don’t come back here again dear. Please.” She says. I look up at her to see that her smile has faded for the first time. Instead she looks genuinely concerned. The click-clack of her needles has stopped. I allow my smile to fade too.
“Good.” She smiles once again. “Onwards and upwards.” She takes my hand and pushes something into it. Something woollen. And the next thing I know, she’s gone. The seat that she had occupied slams shut due to her sudden absence. I open my hand up to reveal what Ms Alexandersson’s given me: A yellow dog, flecked with brown with large dark eyes and a pink tongue sticking out of his mouth. It’s clearly meant to be a big dog, like a labrador or a golden retriever.
I place the knitted dog in my left trouser pocket and stand, surveying the darkened stadium. This isn’t supposed to be a dark, lonely place. This is the home of Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise. This is supposed to be the stage for my greatest success to date. It’s time to wake up and make it happen.