There’s a challenge afoot: an eleven aside match against one of our major competitors at work, and even though the threat of a football match against a rival company is not a regular thing, it’s the timing of the challenge that has raised eyebrows this time round.

Ordinarily, the sudden urge to stage such a game usually coincides with the first appearance of the Daily Star Premiership pull-out wall chart, or following some exciting developments in the January transfer window (obviously this usually does not apply to Wigan supporters). On this occasion therefore, tongues have been wagging as to why there’s sudden interest this close to the end of the season when there isn’t even a World Cup, a Euro, or an African Cup of Nations looming.

Have they got a promising new member of staff from their paperclip supplier in Brazil? Or maybe the bearded French bloke in HR called Eric with a passion for seagull metaphors has just revealed his true identity? A more plausible explanation would be that they have come into possession of a decent football, complimentary use of a pitch or some freebie kit perhaps. Whatever the reasons however, as the selflessly (or selfishly?) appointed player-manager, it’s my job to get the rusty wheels in motion and scrape a team together from the unhealthy, uninspiring, and mostly unexcited collective that is our office.

My first task as gaffer is to send a ‘global’ email out to gather names and preferred positions. This action nearly always results in around twelve people declaring their interest in playing. This, on close inspection, informs me that along with myself, I have six strikers, five midfielders, one defender, and no goalkeepers. If questioned more closely, I’m sure the five midfielders would reveal they’d also rather play up front, but have played it a bit cagey in order to get in the team. The one defender really considers himself to be a defender/midfielder, who can also play as a striker. We still have no keeper, but eventually an overweight lad who used to play rugby will be talked into playing in goal providing he can squeeze his bear-paw-like hands into the old scuffed, putrid smelling Sondico goalkeeper gloves.

We have the kit already as it was blagged from the head office marketing budget three years ago on the promise that we would be joining a league and it would be good advertising. We have used it twice. Our opponents are sorting out the pitch and the referee – which is a good thing. The last time I did it, we played on a municipal pitch/stolen car skidpan in Salford, and the experienced referee we had was definitely experienced in refereeing a sport that wasn’t football.

As per usual, training sessions will be planned, and then cancelled at the last minute, and suddenly the match day will be upon us, with half the team not having even taken their boots out of their bags since the last game two years ago.

In an ideal world, I would conduct an inspiring team talk, instilling into the team the importance of a strong defence to prevent the opposition scoring, and the need for possession to increase our chances of scoring. It is, however, very difficult to deliver such a speech when you’ve got your main striker in the middle of sending an email to a supplier, your right back on lockdown with a copy of the Racing Post in ‘trap three’, and your centre half using his teeth to try and untie the mud-sealed knots in his boot laces.

And then, with my words of advice ringing in just my own ears, it’s kick-off time. Immediately after the referee blows his whistle, our entire back four will be charging into the opposition’s half to hoof the ball goalwards at every given opportunity. The end result will inevitably be yet another embarrassing mauling and the vow that we are all too old and unfit and should never do it again. But, inevitably, we will do it again.

As I type this, I’ve just had word that our opposition have employed a new accountant who they’ve heard had a trial for Bolton Wanderers in 1981 – hence why we now have this challenge match. Hang on a minute, I’ve seen his name, and I’m sure I went to school with him. He would have been eleven years old in 1981, and he was never that much good even back then.

Bring it on, and cancel my four o’clock Mildred, I’ve got a team to pick…..

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