Chapter 13: 14th September, 2011. Old Trafford, Manchester.
“And it’s three! Ryan Giggs with the finish! Classic United performance tonight...”
I wheeled away in joy, fist raised as Giggsy slotted us 3-0 ahead in my first ever Champions’ League match against Napoli. This was the sort of win we needed, after going down firstly 3-2 to Wigan, conceding 3 times in the last 10 minutes (including a 95th minute winner) and then losing 2-0 away at struggling Blackburn Rovers. Even the performance of Navas, who’d set up both goals on his debut, didn’t help. Tonight however, with a goal and two assists, he’d been instrumental for the win.
As the players filed into the dressing room after the final whistle, I congratulated what was mostly a second string side, faces such as Darren Fletcher, Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba, Anders Lindergaard and Dimitar Berbatov joined the spattering of regulars. All of the players looked happy, however, Marek Hamsik seemed less so than the others. Understandable, he’d come through at Napoli and the fans had adored him, when he’d bagged the second earlier he’d refused to celebrate.
I drove back to my flat in quiet thought. The next game was Everton, at Old Trafford. The former team visits seemed to be happening rather regularly, first Marek, and now Jack Rodwell at the weekend. I wondered how he’d take it. Sure, he was young, but he was still 2 years older that Wayne Rooney at the same stage, with the same fans. He also had that “never-say-die” mentality that shone whilst we scouted him.
I opened my apartment door, switched my phone back on and left it to boot up whilst I grabbed a beer from the fridge. Loosening my tie and leaving my suit jacket on a nearby chair, I switched on the television and channel-hopped to Sky Sports News. The highlights were in full flow, the pundits especially enjoying Jesus’ 35-yard free-kick that left De Sanctis floundering in the Napoli goal.
I checked back to my phone. 3 new texts, all from Alice. We’d clicked right from the off, had got back together after meeting a couple more times, and had been seeing each other for almost a month now. I’d suggested that she move in and she’d taken me up on the offer. Ah, the last few nights of ‘freedom’ before the inevitable discipline of having the woman you love living under the same roof.
I scrolled through her texts, the first two were jokey, almost playful. The third, however, consisted of three words.
Dan... I’m pregnant.
I choked on my beer as I did a double-take. I just hoped to hell the media wouldn’t catch wind of this.
“ ...well I certainly haven’t told anyone! You didn’t let it ‘slip’ at a press conference, did you?”
“Of course not! What the hell do you take me for?” I yelled back across the table to Alice, who was furious. Spread in front of me was this morning’s News Of The World, on a full two-page spread detailing how my girlfriend was pregnant. Naturally, I had said nothing about the subject to anyone other than her, so both of us were blaming the other.
“Look, Alice. I’ll ask around, see if anyone’s seen whether any journalists have been sniffing around. Then we can sort this out, eh?” That calmed her down a bit.
“OK... it’s just a bit.... mad, that’s all. Anyway, I’ve got to be at the office in ten, see you later.” She left, more shocked than anything.
As I drove to training, I pondered over whether anything odd had happened since I’d got the text after the Napoli match. I always left my phone in my suit jacket during training, which was in...
My office. What if some journo had told the receptionist that he wanted to see me, just on the off chance he’d get some scoop? Would they have sent them up to wait? Possibly. I called into the security office once I arrived at the ground.
“Mr Newton, would never have expected you. What brings you down here?” John, the guard on duty, asked. John Martins was a big guy and built like a bodybuilder, exactly the type of man you’d expect as a security guard.
“Not much, Johno. Can you bring up yesterday’s CCTV, from outside my office, in here?” I mentioned, almost whimsically.
“Of course, wouldn’t be much of a security office if it couldn’t!” he joked. Chuckling to himself, he typed for a few seconds and my office came into view.
“9 o’clock... 10... 11” He commented as he fast forwarded the tape. “See anyone that interests you?”
I didn’t answer as I watched the footage like a hawk. “There! Pause it!” I pointed at the screen. A man was frozen leaving my office, a press pass clearly visible. “What time was this?”
“44 minutes past 3. Guessing you weren’t having an interview, then?”
“No, John. So I want to know what he was doing in my office.”
I wandered out of the security office and toward reception. The receptionist looked up with a glittering smile. “What can I do for you today, sir?”
“The journalist you sent up to my office yesterday, about half 3? Do you have his name listed anywhere? It’s just I want to give him a call back.” I said, trying to sound as innocent as possible.
“Of course. Let me just find it.” Another smile. “It’s Peterson.... Bill Peterson, News International.”
Walking out, I retrieved my phone from my car and dialled. Steve Kirkwell, my old gaffer, had retired and become a reporter for some local paper based in Manchester. He’d still be able to do some digging, though.
“Hey, Steve. Long time no see. Can you do me a favour? I need a phone number, of one Bill Peterson. Can you do that? Good.” I put the phone down and checked my watch. I still had half an hour to get to Carrington for training.
There was the important match against Liverpool coming up, and I don’t think “personal reasons” would please the fans if we lost.