Who’s the worst team you’ve ever watched? It might be Stevenage. It might be Oxford. It might even, if you’ve got this kind of view, be Barcelona. But most people prefer to call them the best. This is the story about a team who were the worst team people had watched, but liked to call themselves the best. Welcome to Champions United.
Champions United did not live up to its name. In fact, anything associated with it pretty much did not live up to anything. And they were rubbish at doing anything good. For example, staying in the league. When they were elected to the All-Star League in 1883 and given an All-Star first eleven, the newspapers hailed them as one of the finest teams in the world, apart from Barcelona. Or Real Madrid. But they weren’t the finest teams in the world then. Neither were Champions United, even though the newspapers said they were.
I would advise you not to read on. The story goes down, like Champions United.
As you may have gathered from the foreword, Champions United were the worst. I’ve told you they were not very good at staying in the league, and so it was to prove. When they were relegated from the All-Star League, everyone everywhere said they were guaranteed to go down, apart from the people who still supported them, who said it was merely a minor blip. Because they had gone down, Champions United had difficulty finding managers. Sir Alex Ferguson secretly became the manager of Champions United when they had been relegated from the All-Star League, but one hour after his first match in charge he left a letter of resignation and never spoke to the club again. Champions United went down, down, down, getting relegated from every league, and even having to play in Scotland, I’m told.
Eventually Champions United stopped being relegated, mainly because there weren’t any more leagues to get relegated to, unless you counted the Fantasy Footy league, but Champions United were not going down that road. No, they were stuck in the Minus Vauxhall Conference League, and it was there that they enjoyed their first run of form, going on a one-game winning streak. And they had a new owner. His name was Theodore Riley. But Theodore Riley found the job of being owner too much of a strain, and handed it over to his 10-year-old son, Benjamin Rawson Whitehouse Riley The Third. But to save ink, I’ll call him BRWR3.
Obviously, with BRWR3 in charge, Champions United were worse than ever. The preparations for pre-season were done slowly, with no dedication, and the pre-season matches were as bad as the preparation. They had a match against Nuneaton Town that they should have won easily. Instead, they surrendered a 3-0 lead to lose 5-3. Pre-season aside, Champions United had to brace themselves for the new season. There were so many things to be done. For a start, they needed a new coach. Every single member of staff at the club suggested a coach, but the final decision went down to BRWR3. He chose…. Ryan Giggs. Now you must be thinking, “Wow, Champions United are going to win the league, the FA Cup and the Champions’ League.” But this wasn’t that kind of Ryan Giggs.
Note from Jordi
I know this is just a single story, but you’re about to hear a story within a story, if you know what I mean.
Ryan Giggs 2 started out at Glover’s United, or rather didn’t start, because he didn’t make any appearances for the first team. He didn’t even make the subs’ bench, or the reserve subs’ bench, which they used when the old one broke down. It was clear Ryan Giggs 2 would not make any bench apart from the one in the gym. Endless training, all to improve your skills, and yet Ryan Giggs 2’s skills did not improve one bit. He didn’t belong at Glover’s United, so they had to sell him. But who to? They couldn’t send him to the under-21s squad of any team. He was too old for that. There was simply no point sending him to a DVP squad; he’d already had enough training. They made offers to other clubs but no club was willing to take him – except one. Boffy United were slipping towards the bottom of the table and they desperately needed a new signing. They couldn’t pay Glover’s United much in return as their match winnings were getting smaller and smaller. So in the end Glover’s United settled for £5m and Ryan Giggs 2 made a new start.
Of course, he was no better than he had been, but at least the bench he was at wasn’t the gym bench. They had decided just for the sake of his feelings to put him on the subs’ bench but not actually use him. He was added to the squad list in programmes and they’d had to make up a new category: USFTS (unused sub for the season). Of course, being on the subs bench did not suit Ryan Giggs 2 one bit. So he decided to retire, and became a coach.
There’s just one more thing I need to introduce. The players.
The players of Champions United were waiting for their first meeting of the season with the manager. They waited. And waited. And waited. Until finally, in walked the manager, Dennis X-ray. As far as Dennis X-Ray was concerned, Champions United would win the European Cup. That’s as far as he was concerned. As far as the players were concerned, however, the only trophy Champions United would win would be some sort of first prize for being relegated.
“All right, boys,” said Dennis X-Ray cheerily, clapping his hands together. “Are you ready for our winning season?”
There was a mumble of, “Maybe.”
“I thought so,” said Dennis X-Ray. “Right, you’ve got a meeting with Ryan Giggs first.”
“I still think we should have hired a different coach,” said Kevin Cuckoo, club goalie.
“I agree,” said Thomas Taco, club captain.
“What have we got next?” piped up Daniel Dozy.
“Then you’ve got a meeting with BRWR3.”
Several of the players fainted dead away.
“I can’t stand him!” screamed Thomas.
“You can’t argue,” replied Dennis, which was true enough.
Ryan Giggs’s first session did not get off to a good start. Because he had had no starts, he had no idea where to begin. So unfortunately, his miserable career was bred into his coaching.
“Right,” he said in his best coach manner. “Today we’re going to learn how to miss penalties.”
There were small grunts of protest from the players, but everyone got the message.
“So,” instructed Ryan Giggs. “First you place the ball on the penalty spot.”
Everyone copied him.
“Then you take a few steps back,” he went on.
The players did as instructed.
“And then what?” asked Daniel Dozy.
“You decide,” replied Ryan Giggs.
It was the most mental training session ever. There were players kicking the ball metres wide of the goal. There were players literally kicking the ball out of the Champions Stadium (Champions United’s stadium),and one player accidentally kicked the ball into orbit faster than the speed of sound, causing a sonic boom as the ball fell back to earth. It was all over in 20 agonising minutes. Then Ryan Giggs told them how to miss free kicks, how to deliberately kick the ball into your own net, and to round it off, he showed them how not to score from six yards out. Then the team trooped off to the meeting with BRWR3.
Benjamin Rawson Whitehouse Riley the Third was not a happy child, and should not have been owning a football club. While other owners generously donated money to their clubs, he sat in his office playing with a model of Superman and sucking on a peppermint.
“Come in,” he called lazily, as Thomas Taco knocked on the door and approached the desk rather nervously.
“So here’s the bunch of eleven chipmunks,” scolded BR WR3. “I’m very annoyed that I have to waste my time talking to you idiots but as it’s club law -”
He stopped for a second, sucked on his peppermint for a little bit, and then began.
“So you think you’re going to be European champions,” he scoffed. “Well I’m here to flush that dream down the toilet. And if you pipsqueaks ever do manage to make it to the final, I have one piece of advice. Don’t win.”
He flapped his hand. “Well, I’d like to sit here a little longer but I can’t wait all day. So go home to your cage, you bunch of hamster has-beens.”
He gave a little wave and slammed the door.
There was no more preparation. The season started. The team had no morale. BRWR3 might have given them their tactics for the European final, but it looked like they wouldn’t even be playing in the European first round. To qualify for Europe involved a lot of effort and Champions United could simply not do it. The season was going badly. They were walloped by Wee United.
They were massacred by Mabel City. They were annihilated by Adder Town.
One afternoon Dennis X-ray called the players into the changing room to give them two bits of news.
“The first thing is,” Dennis X-ray said triumphantly, “is that BRWR3 bought us a new player!”
The players gasped.
“Allow me to introduce… £188m signing Jamie Ronaldo!”
Jamie Ronaldo stepped into view.
He was a spotty 9 year old.
“Never mind”, said Thomas Taco hastily, ignoring the club’s new signing. “Tell us the next bit of news.”
“The second bit of news,” continued Dennis, “is that we’re playing in the European Cup.”
Several more players fainted, and Thomas Taco started doing somersaults.
“European Cup?” repeated Kevin Cuckoo. “How?”
“One of the teams has got a nasty bout of flu,” replied the manager. “No other team wanted to take the vacant spot.”
“Ah,” said Geraint Box, one of the club midfielders.
“Well, no time for chit-chat,” said Dennis. “Your training begins right now.”
“Oh dear,” murmured Thomas Taco. “Here we go again.”
However, the session was anything but “here we go again”. Ryan Giggs seemed to have been given instructions because his second training session was very different from the first. He taught them how to beat defenders, how to score penalty kicks, how to score the vital goal (no reference) and how to bend in a free kick from eighteen yards out. The players felt refreshed and happy. There was just one problem. Jamie Ronaldo. When he was asked to take a penalty the most bizarre scene happened, as follows:
“Right lad,” said Ryan Giggs. “I want you to score this penalty kick.”
Jamie looked blankly at the ball.
“Why are you asking me when you can take it?”
“Listen,” replied Ryan Giggs sharply. “I am not going to run onto the field and take the penalty for you in a match.”
“I have to play matches?” said Jamie. “All the contract said was that I’d get a hundred grand a week.”
“Everyone has to play matches,” said Ryan Giggs severely.
“Well why aren’t you then?” retorted Jamie. “And I don’t see the manager and the owner playing either.”
“Everyone has to play except me, the manager and the owner,” said Ryan Giggs, now looking a bit put out.
I won’t describe the rest of this conversation because it goes on too long. All that I will say is Jamie finally agreed to make contact with the ball. Ryan Giggs watched on eagerly. Jamie took out his phone and began tapping out a text.
“What are you doing that for?” shouted Ryan Giggs. “I told you to make contact with the ball.”
“I am,” replied Jamie, “through my phone.”
“Kick it,” said Ryan Giggs.
“I’m reporting you to the police,” said Jamie, deleting the text and beginning to dial a number instead. But he only got as far as the first nine, so he called his mother instead.
Mrs Ronaldo was very fast. She hired a limousine and arrived outside the ground in ten minutes flat. Then she marched onto the training ground. But instead of hitting Ryan Giggs with her trusty boxing glove, she hit Jamie instead. Then she walked straight off.
“Well that was an epic failure,” said Ryan Giggs, after Jamie had left the pitch as well.
Epic failure or not, Champions United still had to practise, and practise they did. Even Jamie Ronaldo put in a bit of effort, though he wasn’t likely to make the starting eleven for their first European game.
The day before they were due to play, Dennis X-Ray called the team in.
“Right,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Have you done training sessions regularly?”
“Yes,” said Thomas Taco wearily. “Twenty-two times.”
“Good. I don’t want us to come up shorthanded against Barcabesta.”
“Barcabesta?” repeated Kevin. “You never told us we’d have to play Barcabesta.”
“I didn’t,” said the manager, “because Ryan Giggs was supposed to have told you.”
“He didn’t tell us either,” mumbled Daniel Dozy.
“We don’t stand a chance,” moaned Geraint.
“Why not?” asked Jamie.
It was the first time he’d spoken during the pep talk. Thomas took Jamie to one side.
“Listen,” he said. “Where did you play before?”
“Party Primary under-tens,” replied Jamie.
“Then you should know,” said Thomas.
“Know what?” said Jamie.
Thomas slapped a hand to his forehead.
“No-one told you about the Three Triumphant Seasons of Barcabesta? They won the European Cup three times in a row.”
Now it was Jamie’s turn to gulp.
“We’ll never win the game,” wailed Thomas, “unless you can find some way to win it for us.”
“Hmm,” said Jamie. “Let me see what I can do.”
Benjamin Bicycle overheard Jamie. Benjamin Bicycle was a retired Champions United player who had been the first ever signing of the club. He’d also seen them relegated and like Ryan Giggs, had decided to retire. He took Jamie to one side during training the next day and offered to become his mentor. Jamie said yes, as long as it would help them win the game. So Jamie had to find a solution in the next eight hours. The task looked impossible. There was only one thing to do. Jamie would have to find a player who had played against Barcabesta and won. He got out Yellow Pages and started looking down the list. There wasn’t actually a category called Football Players Who Had Played Against Barcabesta And Won. There was, however, a category called Famous Football Players, and with nothing better to do, he decided to look it up.
Conveniently, the list was in alphabetical order. He went to the houses of all the players that Yellow Pages listed, asking if they’d played against Barcabesta and won. The answer was no. Quite a few of the players had won the Champions League and at least seven of them had won the World Cup, but none of them had won against Barcabesta.
“What am I going to do?” said Jamie to Benjamin Bicycle. “I’ll never be able to help them win the game.”
“You could go to Barcabesta’s stadium and see all their players,” suggested Benjamin.
Jamie shook his head. “Too far. It’s all the way in Spain.”
“Well then I’m out of ideas.”
Jamie sighed. “Well then the best thing I can do is turn up and give it everything I’ve got. Not that I’m likely to play.”
“You might,” said Benjamin earnestly. “A lot of good goals have been from substitutes.”
Jamie smiled. “Thanks Benjamin.” He checked his watch. “Holy stinky socks! I’d better get going. The game starts in half an hour.”
“Goodbye Jamie,” said Benjamin. “If you win, give me a call.”
“I will,” Jamie called back. Then he raced off.
The players of Champions United met up in the dressing room with the manager, who addressed them with a slightly relieved look on his face.
“Change of plan, boys,” he said. “We’re moving stadium. The match is being postponed.”
“Moving stadium,” repeated Jamie. “Why?”
“There aren’t enough seats. BRWR3 has already called the demolition men.”
“How many seats were there?” asked Thomas.
“Four,” replied Dennis.
“Four?” said Thomas incredulously. “How many in the new stadium?”
“We’re demolishing a stadium with four seats, and moving to a stadium with five?”
“How will we get many fans now?”
“Ah yes, I just remembered,” said Dennis. “The stadium has five for now. We’re having another 99,995 seats installed. That leaves us with 100,000 seats.”
“What’s the stadium called?” asked Daniel eagerly.
Dennis scratched his head. “Do you really want to know?”
“Yes!” all the team cried simultaneously.
“Captain America Stadium.”
“Captain America Stadium?” said Jamie. “Who thought of that?”
“BRWR3,” replied Dennis, a look of embarrassment on his face.
“BRWR3!” exclaimed Jamie. “Why did you let him decide?”
“He’s the owner,” replied Dennis, meekly. “We have to do what he says.”
“Well, not playing Barcabesta today is good enough for me.”
The players filed out on their way to training.
Jamie watched the team during training. They were doing brilliantly. Even he himself was making his best effort, but it wasn’t enough to beat Barcabesta. Jamie had watched videos of Barcabesta playing and he had seen how coolly they took on defences. The Barcabesta team was built up into three parts: the rock; the hoover; and the pinball. The rock was Barcabesta’s defence, the hoover was Barcabesta’s super-efficient offside trap and the pinball was the strikers, bouncing the ball back and forth until you became dizzy just looking at them. There was one more aspect of Barcabesta I haven’t told you about and it was probably the worst of them all. Referees were scared stiff of them. There had been reports that when Barcabesta’s players took off their shirts, referees didn’t book them. There were also reports of referees giving penalties to Barcabesta when the foul hadn’t even taken place in the opposition box. That’s how scared referees were of Barcabesta. But Jamie had sighed with relief when he heard who the referee was. He was probably the toughest person in the game. His name was Nathan No-nonsense. When Barcabesta played with Nathan No-nonsense as referee, it was an entirely different game altogether. Nathan No-nonsense had refereed the latest game that Barcabesta had lost, three years ago.
All of a sudden, Jamie had a thought. Champions United couldn’t beat the players of Barcabesta, but what if they bought a player from Barcabesta! Jamie walked, then ran, then sprinted all the way to Dennis X-Ray’s office, where he found him finishing some paperwork.
“Yes?” said Dennis X-Ray, looking up from his paperwork. “Ah Jamie. What a pleasure to see you.”
“Mr X-Ray, sir,” said Jamie. “I have an idea which will help us beat Barcabesta.”
“Go on” said Dennis X-Ray eagerly.
Jamie explained his plan. “It’s a master stroke,” said Dennis X-Ray. “Jamie my boy, you will be known as the greatest player Champions United ever had.”
“Well?” said Jamie. “Can we buy one of Barcabesta’s players?”
“I’ll call their boss,” said Dennis X-Ray. “The deal should be done in ten minutes.”
“Have you actually considered who you’re going to buy?” asked Jamie.
“I’ll buy their striker, Ray Ripper,” said Dennis X-Ray promptly, dialling Barcabesta’s number. Then followed a quick phone conversation, which finished with Dennis X-Ray putting down the phone with a satisfied smile.
“How long did I take?” he asked.
Jamie looked at the old grandfather clock which stood in the corner of the room. The clock still had Dennis’s grandfather’s beard dangling from it, as they’d left it on when they dismantled him and placed his remains into the clock.
“Eleven minutes and twenty-three seconds,” he concluded.
“Darn it,” said Dennis X-Ray. Then he added, “I bought their striker by the way.”
There was a sound of a limousine pulling into the car park.
“That’ll be him now,” said Dennis.
“Are we going down to meet him?” asked Jamie.
“Not yet,” replied Dennis. “We’ll do it when the new stadium has been built, to impress him.”
This day is just getting better and better, thought Jamie.