Decision day imagined
Ben stood on the pavement. Blinked. Looked up at the plaque adorning the building in front of him. Smiled. Shook his head in disbelief.
Work experience was meant to involve stacking shelves, packing boxes or tracking orders. Jamie would be arriving at Sainsbury’s about now, with a whole week of slave labour in prospect. And Pete, poor old Pete, stuck in a stuffy office with his Dad for five long days, learning about spreadsheets. Ben felt sorry for them. Sighed. Looked at the plaque again.
‘THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION’
Rang the buzzer.
The huge black door swung open, revealing a tall, smiling man. Ben had seen men like this before, but only in films. This man stood over six feet tall and looked barely six stone to boot. He wore a black pinstripe waistcoast, with a monocle peeking out from the breast pocket. His hair was slicked back, his face dominated by a delicately twirled moustache, his smile warm and his hand extended in greeting.
“You must be Ben”, he said. “Welcome to the Football Association, old bean. My name is Henry Cholmondley-Smythe, but you may call me Mr Cholmondley-Smythe. It is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Hi”, said Ben.
Mr Cholmondley-Smythe led Ben through the stately reception area, nodding acknowledgements as a hive of activity buzzed around them. Ben couldn’t help but notice that everyone was dressed in an old-fashioned way. There also didn’t seem to be any women around at all, except for the receptionist.
“Now then, Ben” said Mr Cholmondley-Smythe as they ascended a marble staircase at the back of the building. “Today is a very important day here at the Football Association and we would like you to invite you to partake in proceedings, if you so wish.”
After struggling to unravel the sentence laid before him, Ben gave a confused nod.
“Spiffing, what ho!”
Mr Cholmondley-Smythe stopped abruptly at one of numerous doors along an oak-panelled corridor. It was indistinguishable from any of the others and Ben wondered how anyone could have told that this was the room they wanted to enter. The door opened and they stepped inside.
It was a long, narrow room with a long, narrow table that stretched the length of the floor space. At the table sat lots of long, narrow men and there were also two long, narrow windows looking out onto the leafy square beneath. In short, it was all very long and narrow.
On the wall opposite the long, narrow windows, there was a dartboard which displayed minus numbers around the outside. Next to the dartboard, a single black blindfold hung from a hook. There was also what appeared to be a pterodactyl, which had been stuffed awkwardly into a smoking jacket, slouched in a chair in the corner of the room.
“Oh, him”, said Mr Cholmondley-Smythe dismissively. “He’s useless. You know, everyone thinks they could do better than the Football Association when it comes to governing the game in this country. He’s the evidence that they’re all bally fools and we’d be better off not listening to them in the slightest.”
Ben frowned in puzzlement, so Mr Cholmondley-Smythe continued by way of an explanation.
“We read things. We know how people feel. We see what they write about us. So we thought we would do something about it. After all, they are always talking about how many dinosaurs there are at the FA. Well… we’d never considered employing a dinosaur before, but everyone seemed certain that this was happening. Naturally, we assumed we were behind the times so we got hold of Prentice here. What a waste of time that was. Completely useless. Although, to be fair, he did interview well for the England job when we ended up giving it to that McClaren chap.”
Ben still looked puzzled. Isn’t this a great institution? The founding fathers of the beautiful game? The keepers and protectors of our noble sport?
Mr Cholmondley-Smythe took a seat at the head of the table and beckoned for Ben to join him.
“As you know, we are gathered here today to discuss the case of Queen’s Park Rangers.”
Ben inhaled sharply. What on earth was going on? Didn’t they realise he was only on work experience? This was the most impenetrable room in the entire universe and he’d just strolled into it off the street. The biggest and best football writers in the world didn’t have a clue what was happening in this room. Who could possibly guess the thoughts of these men? Or the pterodactyl.
“We have charged QPR with seven counts of… wrongness”, said Mr Cholmondley-Smythe. “I fail to recall the exact details, but I am sure we can come to some arrangement nevertheless.”
“THIRTY POINTS!” yelled a voice in a Welsh accent.
“Yes, we know your thoughts on the matter Llewellyn”, Mr Cholmondley-Smythe sighed. “We have to be seen to be impartial though”, he continued while playing absent-mindedly with his cufflinks. Which, it had to be said, bore an uncanny resemblance to the faces of Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh replicated in circular metal, one inch in diameter.
Mr Cholmondley-Smythe caught Ben’s gaze and hastily folded his arms to conceal the evidence. To his relief, the room quickly filled with another voice.
“We cannot be seen to be indecisive on this issue! We must act!”
Ben turned to face the source of this latest outburst – a chubby man with an oddly blue face. He spoke again.
“It is quite unacceptable that we have twiddled out thumbs over this issue for eight months now. I’ve been saying this for so long now that it’s literally made me… well, you can see what’s happened to me.”
“Yes, we can all see what has happened to you, Baldwin” said Mr Cholmondley-Smythe with a roll of his eyes. “Has anyone got any new evidence to bring to the table?”
Ben had never seen actual, real-life tumbleweed before, but it may as well have drifted across the table for all the response. Or lack of it.
“So, to summarise…” continued Mr Cholmondley-Smythe. “Arguments for a points deduction – QPR are English scum who deserve to be punished for their nation’s long list of crimes against the Welsh. Thank you for that, Llewellyn. Arguments against a points deduction – they have nice, hooped shirts… and their name includes the word ‘Queen’. Much obliged to you for that, Charles.” A very familiar-looking man with rather large ears nodded approvingly.
“I make that 2-1 in favour of a small slap on the wrists and a good old jamboree in the bally White City, what what?”
The men cheered. Apart from Llewellyn, who took the daffodil from his lapel and hurled it furiously onto the table where it came to rest atop his leek sandwich.
Ben blinked. Was this really how justice was done? Was every major decision made in this bizarre fashion? Did that dart stuck in the board on the wall really have a Luton Town badge on it?
As the room began to empty, Mr Cholmondley-Smythe shuffled his papers officiously and led Ben out into the corridor.
“Thanks, old bean” he said cheerily. “You played a vital role in proceedings. We had been chatting away like fishwives til you came along and stirred things up. Now, let me show you where the canteen is. After lunch, we’ve got another issue to resolve. You see, there’s this old Italian chap…”
Please don’t sue me. This isn’t real (apart from the pterodactyl).