Church Langley is fizzing, bubbling and veritably popping its corks with excitement as the climax of the 2010 Season approaches.
The Chairman flings open the bedroom window to greet the shot-silk rays of a beautiful morning, and takes the opportunity to give a little tug on the bunting to check that all is nicely secure for the merriment to come.
An owl flies down to the kitchen window and, seeing Janet Roberts, hops inside. David Roberts, gazes out in the peaceful scene and smiles with contentment at a job well done, unaware of the shiny object tumbling through the crisp morning air and heading towards his left ear.
The Chairman is flung to the ground as a Nimbus 5000, screeching like a breaking steam train, plunges through the open pane and crashes into the Ikea book case.
â€˜Got it!â€™ Screams John Collins clutching the Predictorship Cup tightly in his fist. â€˜Itâ€™s coming home, itâ€™s coming home! Footballâ€™s coming home!â€™ Collins scrambles to his feet, his hair erratically woven with several Leylandii twigs from Davidâ€™s boundary hedging, just as the black form of Steve Dunlop smashes down through the conifers to land precariously on the laminate flooring.
â€™27 weeks Collins! itâ€™s had my name on it for 27 weeks. Donâ€™t think this is the end of this. itâ€™s definitely not the end of this.â€™ the Benfica manâ€™s eyes burn with fury and his shocking white hair flaps menacingly in the cool morning breeze as he stands over his rival.
â€˜No one likes us, no one likes us, no one likes us, we donâ€™t care!â€™ Collins chants, waving his prize crazily with the expression of a man overwhelmed by his good fortune.
â€˜I can still disqualify both of you,â€™ threatens the Chairman, immediately diffusing the volotile situation and stroking his rapidly growing beard. This Cup is about fair play and the reputation of Swinemoles and Church Langley wonâ€™t be sullied by your petty squabbling. Go down to the kitchen and wait for me there.
The two players hang their heads as they file out in silence.
â€˜Hey, how did it go?â€™ Stevie mood picks up instantly as he spots Rob Dimery whoâ€™s slouched in the lounge with his feet up on a crate of Guinness bottles, and strides over towards him. The bottle are curiously opening themselves one by one as the guests arrive.
â€˜Pretty good Stevie, pretty good,â€™ sighs Rob contentedly, picking up a cup cake as the icing instantly changes to an attractive red and white Cheltenham town colour, â€˜Bobbie D kept himself off the bottom â€“ Lady Luck and a well-timed joker helped me leapfrog over ‘you know who’, which is all that counts, my friend. So, I guess itâ€™s time for another beer!â€™ and a bottle of Guinness obediently popped itâ€™s top and bounces into his hand.
The lads break off their conversation as the TV suddenly blares out at full volume. Mark Young â€“ (just one point behind Sally Moon in the final table) has switched the set on and Lady Gagaâ€™s latest chart topper â€˜Moonerazziâ€™ blares out. Mark pushes his grubby black hair out of his eyes and hammers his umbrella angrily down on the remote to change channel.
â€˜Hate that songâ€™ the Baggie sneers, rounding on the sniggering Cup challengers.
â€˜And itâ€™s time you lot of over-confident chancers learned something worth knowing.â€™ He pushes the button on the remote and â€˜The Great Escapeâ€™ begins to play. â€˜Look and learnâ€™ Young threatens and slips on a baseball mitt to catch the Guinness bottle flying towards him.
Meanwhile, engrossed in a game of Subuteo in the corner, Ralph Hannah and Rob Molloy are mercilessly launching the small animated figures across the pitch in front of them, each flick elicits a variety of verbal and visual assaults from their tiny victims. Ralphâ€™s â€˜amazingâ€™ achievement, according to Statman Matt, was not only to achieve top scorer recognition in the final week with 11 points (and the only player with three correct scores – Bolton, Everton & West Ham) but ends 6 points above arch rival Rob (the first time heâ€™s been ahead of him all season…); Rob is intent on settling the score as another little chap on his team is the unfortunate recipient of his determined finger.
The lights flicker in the house and the air temperature drops suddenly. As the clouds darken outside, the Predictors begin to gather at the patio doors to gaze at the spectacle unfolding in the garden. A wild Moonerazzi and frightened-looking Pete Yoder, his mop of ginger hair lit up like a giant sparkler in the sodium lights, have begun their final dual. The FA Cup battle is underway and orange flashes fly from the Wolves manâ€™s claxon, blasting the Blackburn Rover backwards into the Clematis. The Moonerazzi pounds a large blue and white drum in return and with each beat a bolt of lightning flies at Peteâ€™s head, parting his Highland mop left, then right. The Moonerazzi weakens as the sound waves pin her into the foliage, but as Pete begins to smoulder, thereâ€™s no way to separate the two opponents.
Matt White prepares to hurl himself into the fray, just as the cloud split open with an Earth-shattering crack.
The huge green eyes of Normanetta No Mates peer down into the faces of the terror-stuck players.
â€˜So you think youâ€™ve defeated me do you?â€™ the icy voice slices through the hearts and aspirations of every quivering spectator.
â€˜Iâ€™ve seen whoâ€™s been loyal to me and whoâ€™s turned their back.â€™
John Collins feels an unimaginable pain sear through his head.
â€˜Next season will be a very different story…â€™
Janet Roberts walks carefully up to the window and as she slowly looks up, drops the beetroot soup.
A thunderous noise crescendos through the house and Janet Roberts, tarts in hand (and not in a good mood after dropping from 5th to 8th place), rushes into the lounge at Church Langley just in time to see Steve Dunlop (still heading the table following John Collins two points slippage this week) tumble out of the chimney and untidily onto the hearth rug.
â€˜Oh, â€˜evening Janet. Sorry about the mess. Have you seen Mark Young?â€™ Stevie splutters, spitting out a piece of carpet fluff.
â€˜Heâ€™s been running around all morning tapping his watch and rabbiting on about being late for something, then, after coaxing me to come and look down the chimney, he gave me a shove!â€™
Janet sets the tarts on the table to give Stevie a hand up, â€˜Youâ€™re a bit early to be honest Stevie, but David could do with a hand setting up the croquet. Look, heâ€™s out there in the garden.â€™ Janet ushers him towards the patio doors.
â€˜Why donâ€™t you go and lend him a hand? And keep your hands off the buffet!â€™
Stevie surreptitiously pockets a tart on the way out.
Chairman David (also out of spirits after dropping from 8th to 12th place) is turning a curious shade of red as his attempts to push the hoops between the crazy paving come to nothing. â€˜Isnâ€™t it about time you lent a hand?â€™ he chastises Joe Roberts (still in 3rd place despite his 5 point tally), whoâ€™s gazing on appreciatively from the padded swing.
â€˜Just chill Dad. And, hey, have you seen these mushrooms in the flowerbed? Just try them â€“ man, theyâ€™ll really float your boat!â€™ Joe takes a deep puff from the hookah on the table beside him and passes it over to the Baggie’s boy whoâ€™s mysteriously appeared out of nowhere.
â€˜Wow, check out the silverware!â€™ Joe nods appreciatively as Mark offers his latest Grammy award for inspection.
â€˜Made my night on Monday…â€™ grins Mark â€“ I nearly didnâ€™t get there after trying to get Dunlop here from Benfica. Ungrateful b******d. i had to push him down the chimney in the end just to get rid of him!â€™
â€˜Well, make the most of it friend.â€™ Joe pats him on the back and flashes a wry smile. â€˜looks like the only trophy youâ€™re getting this year. The bettingâ€™s on for a Moonerazzi Cup win.’
As Mark splutters on the pungent smoke, another commotion begins at the end of the garden and a portly pair of predictors fall our onto the lawn. Ralph Hannah (30th) and Rob Molloy (25th) are locked in combat with everything they can grab from the potting shed and it looks as if Ralph has the upper hand.
â€˜I know Iâ€™m out of the running,â€™ puffs Ralph, â€˜The only battle I’m in now is the overhauling of Rob Molloy. This lot should do that.â€™ and with that he crashes a pile of terracotta pots over the Reading manâ€™s head.
Joe offers them both a tart if they shake hands and order is once more restored.
â€˜Yeah, beetroot. A bit strange â€“ but it grows on you, believe me.â€™ he sympathises, as the earthy players munch through their reward.
Itâ€™s been a traumatic week at the top with the late jokers and a fresh run of form causing somewhat of a stir in the top ten:
Top scorers (with joker) Nigel Birrell (who moves from24th to 20th) is offering round the tea and doffing his titfer obsequiously at anybody whoâ€™ll listen to his exploits and Pete Yoder (who moves from 14th to 5th) is grinning so widely at nobody in particular he could hoover up an oil slick through his teeth.
Meanwhile, fellow joker, Gabe Bevilaqua (who lifts his prospects with 12 points, rising from 10th to 4th position) has been enticed by the Chairman to organise a Caucus race around the parked cars. Gabeâ€™s been haring around so excitedly heâ€™s making his fellow predictors quite giddy and itâ€™s left to Statman Matt White, who was stirred from his slumbers by the eager leveret to restore order and begin the race.
Matt drops Janetâ€™s Predictorship tea towel to begin the race and the exuberant top scorers of the week (9 points without joker) set off past the Mini Cooper – Simon Gold (holds 15th place), Alex Iskandar Liew (29th to 26th), Dave McAleer (32nd to 29th) and Dave Taylor (11th to 7th) are all eager to let of steam and a Janet is pleased to see them off her patio and out of her limey locks.
With Gabe out the way and order restored, David turns back to his construction and soon has the last peg knocked into the ground ready for the match to begin:
The 2 correct scorers line up: Hope Arnold (Birmingham, Tottenham), Simon Gold (Stoke, Wigan), Cathryn Gregory (Birmingham, Liverpool), Dave McAleer (Birmingham, Wigan), Saleel Sathe (Tottenham, Sunderland) and Dave Taylor (Tottenham, Sunderland) are each given an old Predictorship mug and set about hammering and their crockery wildy into Janetâ€™s carefully arrange planters.
But more serious matters are afoot in the lounge. Predictors of the week: Ralph Hannah for Blackburn 2 Arsenal 1; Simon Gold and Dave McAleer for Wigan 2 Hull 2; Dave Breese, Rob Molloy and Sally Moon for Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 1; Cathryn Gregory, David Jones and Jill Taylor for Liverpool 0 Chelsea 2, have assembled to hear the Chairmanâ€™s judgment on the overall winner.
… but Janet has returned to find her plate of tarts filled with nothing but crumbs and from the angle of her beehive, it looks as if heads are about to roll.
Picking the sharp slivers of palm fronds from her hair, the Moonerazzi stands up to be greeted by a strange psychedelic world. The beach shack that had seemed so sturdy just a few minutes ago has mysteriously smashed to pieces around her and, sticking out of the bamboo debris are a pair of scruffy white socks with blue trim, shod in a rather luxurious pair of sequinned Nike trainers.
â€˜Ooh, Iâ€™ll have thoseâ€™, she muses. â€˜They look rather niceâ€™!â€™
And in two sheiks of a monkeyâ€™s tail she’s whisked them from the inanimate (and slightly crispy) feet and put them on.
â€˜Bit big for you arenâ€™t they?â€™
The Moonerazzi spins round. There didnâ€™t seem to be anybody there, just a pile of empty cans of Fosters, but the cans seem to have a curious life of their own.
â€˜Hey, I said… a bit big for you arenâ€™t they?â€™ creaks the beery pile, belching as it stands up.
John Collins is looking a little worse for wear. It had been a pretty good week all in all â€“ 10 points (top score without joker), also bagged by his crumpled companions David Jones and Gareth Jones who crunch to their feet beside him. â€˜You havenâ€™t got any beer have you? Weâ€™re trying to get well oiled here!â€™ They break into gales of tinny laugher and fall over again.
â€˜Look. I havenâ€™t got time for all this.â€™ wails the Moonerazzi. â€˜I have to get back to Church Langley. Iâ€™m in the Cup Final and itâ€™s my only hope of silverware this year!
â€˜Sorry love, Youâ€™re going to have to get a flight out of the Golden City and quite honestly you havenâ€™t a hope of getting within 10,000 miles of London with that volcano belching out.â€™
â€˜Hey, the liddle ladyâ€™s got to try, huh?â€™ sighs a languid form propped up on an old sun lounger. Joe Roberts flicks sand from his reedy dreadlocks and inhales long and slow on his reefer. â€˜The grass around here is heaven, man.â€™ The young rookie is high on the taste of success, and with only six points adrift from John Collins, still in contention for the big prize.
â€˜Jees, what was that?!â€™ Joe swings around to see Ralph Hannah, Alex Iskandar Liew and Maziar Sattari scream past on their jet bikes.
â€˜They call themselves â€˜The Flying Monkeysâ€™ apparentlyâ€™, John Collins creaks, twisting his neck back into place. ’14 points each after playing their jokers this week seems to have seriously gone to their heads. Theyâ€™re probably off to that big yacht over there â€“ see.â€™ he nods towards a Sunseeker moored out at sea. The Predictors turns to look and the Moonerazzi squints to make out the name on the front: â€˜Baggiesâ€™ Delightâ€™.
â€˜Man, Is there Karaoke on somewhere?â€™ blinks Joe, â€˜put me down for Bob Dylan!â€™ The tin men nudge each other as they catch sight of their new companion.
The group had been joined by a spangly-looking lady who had all the appearance of a cabaret singer topped off with a sequinned pistachio wig. The lady ignores the tittering cans and turned to The Moonerazzi.
â€˜Itâ€™s time to get moving, my dear. He must know where you are by now and I believe those Nikeâ€™s you are wearing belong to his brother.â€™
Janet â€˜The Goodâ€™ (5th place in the table) has a strong sense of fair play and despite narrowly missing both the Cup Final and the League, is determined to use her special relationship with the Chairman to make sure it is a cleanly-fought contest.
â€˜Yeah, better move it sisâ€™ drawls Joe. â€˜Why not catch a ride with that Dude?â€™
He points towards a battered red jeep rattling up to the shack driven by a sad and shaggy looking Steve Dunlop. Not a good week for Stevie who, despite playing his joker is now only 2 points above John Collins.
Marek Phillips is in the passenger seat already and hoping his part in the escape will win him a point or two:
â€˜Do I get extra points seeing as i am stranded in Malaysia due to the volcano and I am still keeping my Predictorship updated?â€™ the likely lad inquires of Janet as he gives her a hand up. Donâ€™t think so Marek!
The jeep growls loudly as Stevie revs the engine. â€˜Jump in Sal, thereâ€™s a flight leaving in 2 hours and I hear the Monkeys are heading for the airport.â€™
â€˜Just follow the yellow, man.â€™ advises Joe, pointing down the sandy beach.
The jeep speeds off down the beach, Janet clutching her wig in the strong Indian breeze and a throng of people running along beside â€˜Yes, follow the beach, follow the beach…â€™ the voices chimed… Jill Taylor, Saleel Sathe, Chris Butters, Gabe Bevilacqua and Dave Taylor â€“ all a little short, have joined Matt White in the guest house heâ€™s hired with the money cadged of the Chairman last week to draw lots for 4th and 5th places: With 4 players on 254 points and another 3 on 253 itâ€™s anybodyâ€™s guess but all the players are eager to take part in the great getaway.
The Predictors check their watches as nearly 2 hours into their journey, they hit a road block. Mark Young stands in the background as Simon Gold and Ted Warland, wearing their â€˜Predictor of the Weekâ€™ badges (Bolton 2 Portsmouth 2) move towards the jeep. Tedâ€™s vendetta with the Moonerazzi isnâ€™t over after losing in the semis and heâ€™s glad to be one of Markâ€™s henchmen.
â€˜You think you can take those Nikeâ€™s and get away with it?â€™ snarls Ted, ready to settle his score once and for all.
The Moonerazzi jumps from the jeep ready to make a run for it, but as she lands on the ground, the sequins on her heels squeak together. â€˜I have to get to Church Langley, I have to get there!â€™ she cries out, but itâ€™s too late. Mark Young holds his his umbrella up ready to strike.
… David Roberts is looking quizzical. What is the Predictorship reporter doing asleep on the carpet in the front room? Obviously the pressure of the competition is proving a little too much.
â€˜Nice colour Stevieâ€™ nods David Roberts, attempting a smile through the furrows channeled across his brow as a cleanly-shaven Steven Dunlop administers a final lick of scarlet paint to the weatherboarding at Predictorship HQ in Church Langley.
â€˜Iâ€™m happy with it Dave,â€™ acknowledges the Benfica man with a wry smile. â€˜and Iâ€™m thinking of putting an eagle in the middle, what do you think?â€™
The Chairman runs his eyes across the neighbouring houses which have also succumbed to Stevieâ€™s enthusiastic brushwork and gently wrests the can of Dulux from his grasp to steer him indoors for a nice cup of tea.
Janet Roberts, 4th in the table and still in with a shout for the FA Cup, seems to have been thinking along similar lines and the kettleâ€™s whistling away as she lays out the beetroot savouries on a doily, adjusting her verdant curls. The last week has taken itâ€™s toll on the runaway table topper and Janet listens with concern as the crest fallen leader pours out his heart:
Well, well, well… probably my worst week football wise in history, a lowly 4 points in the Predictorship, my ‘home’ team Man U go out of the Champions League after being 3-0 up and my ‘adopted’ team Benfica lose their first game since November and say adeus Europa. Only a top notch set of Predictorship selections can save my footballing soul now.
A desperate cry from the heart but it wasnâ€™t to be. John Collins itâ€™s rumoured is riding into town this afternoon. The Millwall man, now equal on points at the top, is riding shotgun with a moustachioed Mark Young (a man with nothing to lose after sliding yet another point down the table away from FA Cup finalist, the Moonerazzi) and Ted Warland wearing a mean look and an even meaner pair of two-tone western boots. Collins, having snatched a bunch of silverware from the Church Langley vaults only weeks before, is determined to hold the trophy aloft by fair means or foul and Warland â€“ sore from his Cup defeat by the Moonerazzi this week is a formidable accomplice. They wonâ€™t be giving their booty up easily and are intent on settling a few scores.
Meanwhile, hearing about the impending stand-off and being a little short this week, Matt White has turned up at the Roberts to offer his support and cadge a meal or two into the bargain. With a creditable 7 points (given the average score of 4.89 for week 34) and swapping places with the Chairman to rise to 9th in the table, itâ€™s a generally acknowledged truth that the success has gone to stat-manâ€™s head as he panders to the every whim of the troubled man at the top.
Stevie D hasnâ€™t been the same since Normanetta No-Mates equalled his score last week and, following her haul of three correct results (for 0-0s at Wolves, Blackburn and Liverpool) and 6 points to Stevieâ€™s 4, he reacted to the gleeful womanâ€™s taunts by ravishing the young maiden on the crazy paving.
Matt eagerly directs the assembled Predictors into their positions: Top scorer Gareth Jones with 8 points and 2 correct scores for the games at Aston Villa and Wolves (and also Predictor of the Week for the Aston Villa â€“ Chelsea result) â€“ is determined to see fair play and eagerly takes up his position behind the wheelie bins at the corner of the cul-de-sac; the â€˜242â€™ five: Chris Butters, Gabe Bevilaqua, Saleel Sathe, Matt White and David Roberts, all battling to move into the fifth placed spot, peep out of the velux windows, vegetables in hand; Ralph Hannah â€“ the only player to predict a Portsmouth win against Tottenham squats down behind the stable door of the neighbours caravanette; and Dave Taylor â€“ the only player to predict a Burnley win at Hull, shifts nervously under a blanket in the back of the Robertsâ€™ Mini Cooper.
The Enfields cruise past the filling station into the estate and the Predictors fall silent. Even the harsh wind blowing the leaves around the empty streets drops to a whisper as if sensing the battle ahead.
â€˜Thereâ€™ll be no crocodile tears here…â€™ leers Young, raising his umbrella to the Lion on his left. Collins nods his appreciation and spits a red mouthful of beetlenut into the pavement as Warland reaches into his back pack, ready to strike. But Stevie’s got other plans. He quietly turns the engine over on his Goldwing as they pass by and snakes around the corner to cruise up behind them.
With Easter eggs cracking open around Predictorship land it must be spring… and with the spring comes Wendy.
The clockâ€™s ticking and alarm bells are ringing as places are keenly battled in the last few weeks of the season with 36 of the 42 players predicting, 220 points scored in total and a weekly average of 6.11. And nobodyâ€™s flying higher than Wendy Nathan and Peter Yoder. Wendy, wearing her winceyette nightie in style, soars gracefully into 11th place (her â€˜loftiestâ€™ position to date) with 10 points matched only by the elegantly-turned green hosiery of Pete who tucks in behind her in 12th place for a quick peak of her M&S lingerie.
Down in the Predictorship swamps below, Mark Youngâ€™s patchy vision is focused on mischief. Dropping another place this week, two places below tu-tued cup semi-finalist the Moonerazzi and with no silverware in prospect, thereâ€™s no fairy dust been sprinkled near the belligerent Baggie recently and, with nothing to lose, the curly haired rogue’s sure to be hatching a plan.
Stevie-John Dunlop-Darling picks up an umbrella that has mysteriously been left in the bedroom and adjusts his top hat to a rakish angle. Stevieâ€™s feeling on top of the World, sitting precariously at the top of the table for yet another week, and celebrates by taking a quick swoop around the rooftops of Church Langley with Joe-Michael Roberts-Darling. The young rookieâ€™s buoyant and bobbing about with success on a seasonal high of 3rd place in Week 34 and now only 7 points behind the titfered Benfica man.
â€˜What a scorcher on Thursday night between Benfica and Liverpool, I hope you were watching!
Shame that we couldn’t have grabbed a third goal to take to Anfield, but even so I’m feeling confident, I think we are the better team and capable of scoring away as we showed in Marseille.
Difficult bunch of fixtures this weekend back in Premiershipland and rich pickings for Norma no mates in my view…â€™
Muses Stevie as he lands gingerly on the window sill, careful not to disturb the Chairman and his 4th-placed wife and Cup semi-finalist, Janet Roberts snoring in the room below.
â€˜He may be right in his assertion that Benfica are a better team than Liverpool, but he should be quaking in his boots at the thought of meeting Fulham!â€™
mumbles a voice in the shadows. Stevie looks around curiously but realises it must just have been the wind as Joe breaks through a nearby tree to land in a crumpled heap beside him and gazes up in happy reverence, still clutching his lucky bear, Norma.
Nevertheless, the Curious Statistic of the Week is that Top-of-the-table Stevie has exactly the same number of points as bottom of the tablers Normanetta no Mates and â€˜Lost boyâ€™ Rob Dimery (4 points each).
And Rob isnâ€™t the only â€˜Lost boyâ€™, Hope Arnold, Tom Roberts, Maziar Sattari, Roger Taylor and Nick Watson have also fallen out of their prams and failed to submit scores.
A stripy shirted figure shifts uncomfortably around a pile of silverware at the back of the wardrobe as another flurry of activity stirs the sleeping village.
Pete and Wendy limbo under the sash window carrying cartons of pukka pies, mushy peas and a little chopped beetroot for a midnight feast. As the children tuck into the tasty fare Wendy, Joe and Pete congratluate each other on their 3 correct scores: Wendy (Manchester United, Stoke & Birmingham), Joe (Bolton, Stoke & Fulham) and Pete (Bolton, Stoke & Birmingham).
But itâ€™s all too much for the plump figure in the wardrobe: tempted by the heady aroma and talk of glory 10th placed Matt White squeezes his way out and announces himself theatrically to the shocked picnickers:
â€˜Sâ€™mee!â€™ Matt makes a grand sweep with his arms, â€˜thought Iâ€™d come and congratulate you all in personâ€™. he lies unconvincingly and licks his lips at the sight of the puffy pastries. Unseen by the innocents below a hooked hand clings on to the top of the wobbling wardrobe.
â€˜… and not only that, Wendy. Youâ€™re only a Predictor of the Week as well.â€™ Matt spluttered between mouthfuls of pie. â€˜You, Gabe Bevilacqua and Gareth Jones all got the Man United, Chelsea result bang on. Cracking. Cracking.â€™
â€˜Hang on Matt. I can hear something.â€™ Pete interrupted. â€˜I can hear something ticking.â€™
And he was right. The harder they listened the louder the sound became.
Mark Young fell from the wardrobe and, with a wild look in his eyes, grabbed the umbrella to make before crashing out the door.
As foot fetishists have a field day dreaming about massaging Wayne Rooney back to fitness, Predictors worldwide fantasise about stroking the end-of-season silverware in an embattled week seeing 39/42 players submitting their scores, a total of 257 points scored, 28 correct scores (including 8 for Tottenham 2 Portsmouth 0) and a respectable average of 6.58.
And despite the serious work still ahead, yet again rumours abound of under-cover antics in the Predictorship playground:
â€˜What is it with your joker fetish?â€™ asks Nick Watson of the Chairman. A rumour swiftly denied by David Roberts as he shakes his headful of jingly bells.
Nick may not be tempted this week but top-scorer-with-joker Wendy Nathan (12 points) celebrates rising from 19th to 12th place â€“ a seasonal high, by skipping gaily under the netball ring with fellow joker player Steve McHugh (8 points).
All is not quite so peaceful behind the bike sheds where a violent conker match is taking place: Southamptonâ€™s Tom Palmer lands a sneaky blow (and 9 points) on Ralph Hannahâ€™s little brown nut. Ralph is pretty sore at Tomâ€™s lucky 2 points from leaving the XXâ€™s in the Wolves-Everton fixture, languishing as he is in 36th place despite a creditable 8 points without predicting wins for Manchester United or Chelsea.
â€˜Game boyâ€™ and Predictor of the Week Rob Molloy (Bolton 0 Manchester United 4) takes on playground pundit Mark Lawrenson (this weekâ€™s top-scorer-without-joker â€“ 10 points) in a high Octaine game of Wario Blast. Lawrenson breaks off mid-stream (he canâ€™t help it â€“ what a professional) to give an impromptu Quote of the Week:
“The problem we have in football now is that if a manager loses one game he is a muppet and if he wins one he is a genius” ( re: Gianfranco Zolaâ€™s position at West Ham)
before the keen competitors resume their lunging and swaying and rat-tat-tatting to the delight of the assembled crowd.
But eyes turn swiftly to the scuffle breaking out in the Adventure Playground. Mark Young, refuses to take off his duffle coat to reveal his International Rescue play suit, despite goading from the Moonerazzi and a race has ensued down the slide and across the parallel bars. The bottom of the table grudge match between 30th and 31st place sees the Moonerazzi one step ahead this week and success is making her bold in the face of Markâ€™s taunts:
Clearly the Moonerrazzi has taken a trip on the Sun Probe this week — hopefully Brains can get through the snowstorm to get the satellite truck in place to fire off the laser beam to save her from crashing into the Sun before its too late… Then again… After staring deeply into the Hoods fierce red eyes…
As Young slips off the end of the last pole heâ€™s stopped in his tracks by table leader and Head Boy, Steve Dunlop. Steveâ€™s in no mood for shenanigans in the playground today with tension mounting for the Benfica â€“ Liverpool clash this evening. With Torres just one booking away from a European ban … anything could happen.
… five, four, three, two, one: Predictors are go.
Predictorship Island is hotting up for the final count down. With a sizzling average score of 7.40, 66 correct predictions and a total of 274 points in Week 32 they may not have the power to save Portsmouth from relegation but our smartly dressed players are reaching for the stars with their powers of divination.
Chairman Tracy swivels his velor executive chair towards the portraits on the wall to see the eyes flashing on his star Predictor:
Head and shoulders above the rest is the â€˜Fabâ€™ one herself: Nicola “I’m going to be brave and play my joker this week” Savage. Nicola purrs her way from 32nd to 20th place with a joker-aided 18 points. And mighty fine our pink lady looks too in her best bib and tucker sucking on a long cigarillo. The Chairman doffs his little blue cap at the screen in appreciation.
But hot on our ladyâ€™s finely turned heels are a 5-starred pack:
Five: the number of correct scores bagged by top scorer without joker (13 points) an interstellar Tom â€˜Johnâ€™ Palmer (Stoke, Wigan, Blackburn, Fulham, Manchester United) all predicted whilst playing with his gameboy on the space station, and second-in-command Chris Butters (12 points and correct scores for Arsenal, Stoke, Wigan, Fulham, Manchester United ) sporting a particularly fine spangly 70s jumpsuit.
Four: the number of correct scores trawled in by top-of-the-table Steven â€˜Gordonâ€™ Dunlop scooting around in his aquanaut (Arsenal, Everton, Wigan & Fulham) and Mâ€™ lady, Nicola Savage (Arsenal, Stoke, Wigan, Manchester United).
Three: the number of correct scores to thrust ahead last weekâ€™s high flyer Marek Phillips and fellow astronauts â€“ the beautifully blond Gabe â€˜Alanâ€™ Bevilacqua, Janet Roberts and Roger Taylor.
Two: the number of jokers transporting Nicola Savage and the masterful Hope â€˜Virgilâ€™ Arnold through the Predictorship skies â€“ Hope lands with 10 points, 3 places further up the table.
One: the quote of the Week from Sanjiv â€˜Scottâ€™ Sachdev piloting his way into Predictors’ hearts around the globe:
MANCHESTER UNITED X LIVERPOOL X 2-1… Here’s another nail in the Scousers aspirations to finish 4th.
And finally, palm trees bow down as our Predictors of the Week come into land: Simon Gold for Aston Villa 2 Wolves 2; John Collins and Tom Palmer for Blackburn 1 Chelsea 1.
That will be all Parker
Swinging higher than Burt Lancaster on a trapeze Marek Phillips flies merrily over his fellow predictorsâ€™ heads with a walloping 20 joker-enhanced points. According to Stat man Matt, thatâ€™s the second highest score of the season (and ever) after Roger Taylorâ€™s joker-enhanced week 4 score of 22. The circus really has come to town!
The brass band strikes up to herald the arrival of the Big Top and itâ€™s not only Marek whoâ€™s parading around in a day-glow leotard this week; fellow jokers Nick Watson and Joe Zalewski. have slipped into their iridescent Lycra too following The Chairmansâ€™ call to arms and wave gaily as they receive the applause of the waiting crowds. But thereâ€™s still all to play for with 15 jokers still to be laid down before the end of the season â€“ and all the talk is of when table topper (of 20 weeks) Steve Dunlop with pop his head out of the pack.
A decision not to be taken lightly and 37th placed Ralph Hannah is less than impressed at Ring Master Robertsâ€™ whip cracking antics:
â€˜No joker yet – waiting for a time when Arsenal, Utd and Chelsea are all at home (24/25 April seems to be the weekend)â€™. postulates Ralph as he tempts his sea lion with a tasty fish, but a little more faith in Master Roberts may have been prudent given his 10 point score at the weekend.
Mark Young too, puffed up with a top non-joker score of 11 points, goads the Chairman from behind his bars â€˜I see youâ€™re up to your old mind game tricks, trying to lure people into playing jokers with tales of an easy Predictorship week. You’ve clearly been watching too much of the Tony Blair hearing… But I’m sitting on my balcony looking out at the Caribbean and not caring too much about jokers, wild cards or deuces being wild.â€™
There are fears among the troop that Mark may be going a little doolally so heâ€™s been locked in with the lions and an electronic parasol for his own safety. Fellow 11 pointers Wendy Nathan and Dave Breeze (3 correct scores) offer their consolation by passing a bowl of beetroot soup through the bars.
However, the main attraction today is the female tumblers with the Moonerazzi and Janet Roberts flick-flacking their way across the sand in celebration of their Quarter-final replay victories over Compeer Matt White and fellow tumbler Nicola Savage. Janet has decided to gel down here beehive for the occasion lest it fly off into the crowd, but it does seem to be picking up a fair amount of dust on the way.
Now bring on the clowns! Celebrating 9 correct scores they stumble into the lights toppling one over the other: leading the way is second placed John Collins sporting a blue and white frill and tossing a cuddly lion, Ralph Hannah joins in, juggling a couple of the sea lionsâ€™ balls, Mark Lawrenson doesnâ€™t seem to have bothered with the make-up but looks pretty funny all the same and Mark Young crawls in behind Wendy Nathan (who appears to have used the soup bowl as a vessel to conceal a key), only given away by his purple topper.
The drums roll and Ring Master Roberts calls for silence to announce the Predictors of the Week:
Dave McAleer, Rob Molloy and Mark Young for Birmingham 2 Everton 2; Hope Arnold (her third POTW in the last 3 weeks!), Wendy Nathan and Maziar Sattari for Burnley 1 Wolves 2. Also, an honourable mention for the 7 predictors who thought Tottenham 3 Blackburn 1 was a good idea.
The Predictors take their bows and the crowd goes wild!
Banners are being crafted in Predictorship HQ as the race for the silverware hots up apace.
The stakes are high and Janet Robertsâ€™ campaign headquarters are buzzing with more excitement than a hairdressers on a Saturday morning. The walls are adorned with good luck wishes and the lady of the moment, slightly squiffy from the previous nightâ€™s celebration for the weekâ€™s top scorer (12 points including four correct results), is plumping up her rampant lime curls in the mirror.
On the other side of the room, a throng has gathered around the Chairman, sprawled over an old bed sheet and paint brush in hand. Sporting a Che Guevara T shirt and dishevelled beret â€˜our leaderâ€™ is carefully filling in the ribbons of an FA cup in Sheffield Wednesday colours. Chris Butters (fellow cup winner with Mrs Roberts in the previous season and with 4 correct scores this week) reads out the accompanying lettering to the gathering.
Dunlopâ€™s in Trouble. Roberts for the Double!
The Church Langley Popular Front
Meanwhile, on the far side of the World by the Indian Ocean other plans are afoot: Quarterfinalist John Collins, after a run of recent form, drops back to 3 points away from the leader after scoring only 6 this week. Now only 2 points above Mrs Roberts and 4 points behind Steve Dunlop, the Millwall man is planning a coup of his own.
He dials a number on his satellite phone and waits.
â€˜Baggieâ€™s boy. Is that you?â€™ Mark Youngâ€™s voice on the other end mumbles a response.
â€˜Have you stopped dressing up those lycra body suits yet?â€™ continues Collins. â€˜Weâ€™re all getting a bit worried about you, mate.â€™
â€˜Well, Iâ€™ve emailed you details of the job we set up for Janet this week. She should be outside the car park at 7am on Saturday morning. Just donâ€™t miss with the umbrella, OK?â€™ Sally Moon (fellow quarter-finalist) comes into the room and gives a thumbs up sign to her co-conspirator.
â€˜Remember, they donâ€™t like us and we donâ€™t care!â€™ Collins hangs up and smiles.
â€˜You take care of Matt this weekend and leave the rest to me. The Monacled Gunner shouldnâ€™t prove too tricky to deal with. Markâ€™s got his instructions.â€™
A man in a top hat slopes out of a phone booth in New York City unaware that the eyes of Matt Wayne (quarter-finalist and 4th place in the table) are following him from the recesses of a shop doorway.
Saleel Sathe enters the campaign headquarters, obviously a little worse for wear after rising to 5th in the table â€“ a seasonal high. â€˜Congratulations!â€™ pipes up Hope Arnold, wiping blue paint from her hands. Hope, like Saleel, Dave Taylor, Nick Watson (once again, clearing out the cat litter in the corner) and Pete Yoder predicted 3 correct scores which have lifted her 5 points up the table. In addition, as Predictor of the Week for the Stoke and Burnley matches (alongside Janet Roberts and Tom Roberts) sheâ€™s understandably in buoyant mood.
Maziar Sattari is wearing a cowboy hat and strumming his guitar happily in the corner with a contented and bespectacled Joe Zalewski listening appreciatively and tapping his sandals to the beat. 33 and 36th in the table respectively but with an impressive 4 correct scores each this week the Seattle and Liverpool the boys are happy to offer their support to anybody likely to offer them a few tips and a bowl of beetroot soup.
But it will take more than a few seasonal vegetables to stop the plot being hatched in far flung corners of the globe; the Lions are definitely not sleeping tonight.
Church Langley is buzzing with excitement this week for the annual Predictorship Donkey Derby.
The hairy beasts are lining up behind a gay selection of the Chairmanâ€™s ties carefully knotted together as moist nostrils steam and flare, ready for the off.
Pushing aside the ample rumps, David Jones Jostles through to the front to dart a sideways glance at Janet Roberts. â€˜Beat me and Motherâ€™s Day ceases to existâ€™ hisses the wayward youth. But Janetâ€™s eyes are fixed on the winning post, and moves only to adjust the blue and white silk cap perched on top of her immaculate beehive.
On her other flank sits a wiry Joe Roberts who has painted a question mark onto the forehead of his beast of burden and dyed the mane a shocking ginger. The Chairman taps his beetroot-stained beast to move up alongside him and casts his eyes over suspiciously.
He looks at his watch. Matt Wayne is overdue and the donkeys have begun to wander off in search of juicy snacks when a scuffle breaks out at the back. Matt has swooped in to jettison James Bradley, Rob Dimery, Tom Roberts and Maziar Sattari from the race. â€˜Iâ€™m taking you to the Chairman after this race,â€™ the Stat man chastises the younger Roberts and wags his finger sternly. â€˜Someoneâ€™s got to talk to you about your disciplinary record…â€™.
â€˜No bet, no race. They know the rulesâ€™. Matt shakes his head as he heads for the start line and takes up the slack on the tie string.
And theyâ€™re off.
The riders are swaying left and right, elbows flying. Only the acid beehive and a mauve topper rise above the dust to show one pitched battle being played out amongst the confusion.
Suddenly a rider in blue and white quarters lunges forward, swiftly followed by a bright red blaze. The Moonerazzi and Saleel Sathe are lobbing beetroots viciously across the racecourse ducking and diving to escape the burgundy blows.
Surging forward from the pack and hot on their tails, Ted Warland manages a vigorous rising trot, squinting hard to keep his monocle in place and kicking sporadically at the Tricky Trees man pulling up along side him. Predictor of the Week, Alex Iskandar Liew (Manchester City 1 Stoke 1) who reaches over to slap the old timer on the back. â€˜Reading and West Brom. Top prediction Ted â€“ a 2 all draw. I would have voted for that oneâ€™ Alex gushes.
David Roberts works his way to the outside of the pack ready to spur his steed forward to see Steve Dunlop racing on foot up besides him. â€˜What are you doing down there?â€™ the Chairman shouts incredulously at the panting Benfica table topper.
â€˜Just finished a 20K run and missed the start … Thanks for the Benfica inclusion by the way, there’s amazingly 35 points between the two teams, so I canâ€™t believe they only won 1â€“0.â€™
Steve Dunlop wheezes to a stop as the Chairman pulls away.
Stirring up the dust behind him, Nick Watson (3 correct scores for Derby, Benfica and Millwall) and this weekâ€™s 8 correct results man, Dave McAleer are neck and neck. Looking like theyâ€™re ready to make a break Nigel Birrell ,frosty from his 3 point haul, vollies an icy blast up the rear of the two unfortunate equines sending them galloping off across the field in the opposite direction, but for all his dirty tricks Birrell is way behind the leaders.
Now third in the table himself, Matt Wayne wings his way to the finish line to commentate on the climax of the race:
â€˜And the Monacled Gunner is striding up on the leaders…
‘Don’t look now but there’s a ginger mane nudging in front of a limey beehive which must mean Riddler Roberts will go hungry tonight! And now the Chairman’s passed her. My word. It looks like it’s the chip shop for you two! And it’s a cold shoulder for David Jones too who’s dropped behind, stunned by a well-aimed beetroot.
‘But itâ€™s going to be a photo finish with the Blackburn Bullet and the Rampant Red. Oh and theyâ€™ve flashed their jokers. I donâ€™t believe it! Itâ€™s a joker-tastic finish for the Cup-tied riders as they streak over the line with 12 points followed by Ted Warland on a non-joker 9 point high!â€™
Matt Wayne flaps ecstatically as he congratulates the winners. An ill-timed moment to drop his guard: The caped crusader is oblivous as Mark Young’s ignites the tip of his purple umbrella and aims it at through the crowd….
Copyright 2005-2006 F.C. Camena.
ca·me·na n. A tactical system of football/ soccer characterized by extreme fighting spirit, impassioned defense, opportunistic attacking, and a proclivity for profanity-laden orations regarding the competency and/ or partiality of match officials.
Dudes who are kind of crap at soccer but enjoy the TV shows, video games, and funny accents.