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A new bag of nuts is dangling from the bird table in Church Langley and causing quite a stir. With a nip in the air, hungry beaks far and wide are swooping in for a little nibble and to sort out a score or two in the Predictorship pecking order.

… But with an average weekly score of 4.77 in Week 23 there’s not much to celebrate.

Rob Dimery is first to hang from the tasty offering and puff up his scarlet chest:

‘The Robins are in turmoil: Reading dump Liverpool out of the Cup and Gipsy Hill is a slushy death trap. Ah, but it’s OK: this week I jump an impressive 30 places in The Predictorship, with these to-die-for scores.”

“Unfortunately it takes more than 4 points to achieve a feat like that” crows Matt White from a branch above, sitting pretty in 6th place but submitting a similarly dismal selection this week.

Suddenly, there’s a rush of wind above his head as Reading’s Rob Molloy dives straight at him. The crow dodges out of the way and turns to goad this week’s one pointer.

‘Having a Royal tern are we mate?’

As Rob comes in for another dive the birds scatter from the table, startled by a rumbling voice like a distant train. ‘Knock him off and leave him to me’. Boomed the voice.

Wolves man Pete Yoder emerges, 9 point leader for the week and aided by the correct score jackpots Manchester United 3 Burnley 0 & Stoke 1 Liverpool 1. Pete is in the mood to celebrate and a tasty crow may be just the way to do it. Matt makes a sharp exit over the shed, pursued by the wolf.

The birds descend once again to tuck into the tasty seeds: some Posh bird nobody can identify, Steve McHugh, and Dartford Warbler Jill Taylor take a moment to preen themselves after bagging 3 correct scores each (Manchester United, Stoke, Bolton for Steve and Everton, Wolves, Bolton for Jill.

Pretty impressive for a week with only 33 correct scores, including 11 for Manchester United 3 Burnley 0 & 10 for Stoke 1 Liverpool 1.

Meanwhile, the Predictors of the Week gather on Janet’s washing line. No hoper Mark Lawrenson chatters inconsequentially like an old myna with nobody taking much notice about the Everton Man City match, as Jill Taylor flies in looking rather gorgeous after her recent grooming session. Jill can’t contain her excitement as she twitters away to Everton’s a slightly ruffled Hope Arnold about her two award winning predictions at Everton and Wolves. Hope, herself rewarded for her quite excellent Blackburn 2 Fulham 0 prediction is attempting to dislodge a shiny wrapper stuck to her foot, spotted by Liverpool’s Red hawk Joe Zalewski who’s keen foresight also managed to spot the tie at Tottenham; the only non-Spurs win prediction.

‘Hey, watch out for that Hornet!’ chirps Jill. The Chairman’s buzzing around and has spotted Hope’s Toffee paper.
Eagle-eyed Benfica man Steve Dunlop sails down from the roof and symbolically lands on top of the table. All fall silent to hear the King of birds speak, listening for any tips in the weeks ahead:

‘Officially half-way point in the season here with Benfica still at loggerheads with surprise leaders Braga (although interestingly they’re the former team of the current Benfica manager). Not quite so tight for Benfica in the Predictorship, however with the regular occurence of random results in this year’s premiership, there’s no room for complacency!’

‘Wise words’ hoots ‘Wednesday girl Janet Roberts, the amber eyes of the impressive Owl, swivel around the assembled flock.
‘Hey, and get that thrush off my nuts!!

David dive bombs the table as Mark Young flies away.

Mulligan’s Law

Barely have Predictorship feet tiptoed into the New Year’s snow before there’s an unhealthy whiff in the air.

Possibly not on the level of the Chicago Red Sox or Fred Lorz – the marathon champion who travelled by car (or even David Robertson who picked up his golf ball to move it 20 foot across the green in the 1985 Open), but shameless behaviour on any scale should not be encouraged.

Nevertheless, the murky waters of the Predictorship pond are swirling with eddies of intrigue and insider dealing once more.

Always the man to rise above suspicions is Stat Man Matt, the Alistair Darling of Predictorship HQ, but is the Suffolk Druid as White as he seems? Making angels in the snow to celebrate his 16 point haul and rise to 6th place it would certainly seem so:

‘The decision to play my joker this week was just about a success, but my 8 bonus points could have been considerably more had Liverpool and Manchester United won as expected, Bolton failed to score a last gasp fourth and Arsenal found one more goal!’

Pondered a prostrate Matt, but is it all a smoke screen? After all, greasy palms are difficult to spot underneath those winter mittens and questions are being asked:

• How did third from bottom of the table Andrew Thraves manage to draw Normanetta in the FA cup? Surely far too easy a victory.
• Is it a coincidence that two of this weeks top (non joker) scorers with 10 points, Sally Moon and Tom Roberts been seen fraternising with the board?
• Have the other 10 pointers, Gabe Bevilacqua, Wendy Nathan and Sanjiv Sachdev been topping up Matt’s sherry a little too often?

Tales of late night poker games in Church Langley raise questions about whether Janet Roberts’ 7 weeks at the top this season has been more to do with shaking Chairman David’s vodka martini’s than match winning form. We know the Chairman is partial to a party game or two.

Predictor of the week Joe Roberts (another coincidence?) for Bolton 4 Lincoln 0 can vouch for that.

… and for the proof of insider dealing we need look no further than Baggies Boy, Mark Young who should surely be red-carded for attempts to subvert the scoring and influence a Chairman under the influence…

‘So, my New Year Resolution was to get my predictorship predictions in on time every week… Can I have a mulligan?’

Inveigled Mark.

‘If I knew what a mulligan is, you could certainly have one as long as its legal.’

decreed the Chairman.

To enlighten the you all then:

A mulligan in general speech means any minor blunder which is allowed to pass unnoticed or without consequence. It is implied that a mulligan is forgiven because it was either made by a rank beginner, or it is unusual and not indicative of the level of play or conduct expected of the person who made the mulligan.While mulligans are typically reserved to the sound discretion of the league commissioner, they should be used extremely sparingly and only in such instances of legitimate human error, rather than in cases of mistake resulting from carelessness, laziness, or inexcusable neglect.

Need I say more?

The Journey

The snow cascaded through the night sky, caressing the branches as it fell to carpet the earth in lace.

‘Do you mind?’ trilled a voice from below. Joe Roberts looked down to see a frosty looking Wendy Nathan tugging at the hem of her dress.

‘Your camel’s stood on my bl***dy foot!’

‘Oh, ‘scuse me!’ tittered the Monkey Sheik rider and heaved the sturdy beast back onto the grass, leaving his victim scowling and rubbing her swollen foot.

‘Alright there Wendy?’ hailed John Collins, emerging from the darkness into the warm glow of the sodium light. ‘I told the Chairman this was a stupid idea. Why he couldn’t lay on a coach, I’ve no idea.’

‘Something about fluffy snow freezing up the engines,’ replied Wendy, exasperated, ‘but camels and snow shoes are no substitute are they. Really. It’s taken six hours to herd these sheep down the M11, it’s a wonder nobody’s got killed’.

‘In any case, didn’t you and Steve McHugh get correct scores for the Arsenal and Everton matches like Joe? I don’t know why you didn’t get a camel when they’re perfectly capable of walking’, John complained.

Jill Taylor joined the other shepherds looking red and flustered.

‘And Jill, for the Blackburn and Wolves games’ he continued.

‘Well so did you John, and you were the only one to predict a Portsmouth win against Liverpool. Stroke of genius if you ask me’, replied Jill. ‘I think we should seriously consider replacing David if he doesn’t start sorting things out soon. Those boys on the camels are getting out of hand. And the smell! That big hairy one’s just breathed all over me. Nearly knocked me out.’

‘Something to do with getting 8 points this week.’ interrupted Wendy who had been listening quietly to the conversation. ‘Joe Roberts, Nigel BirelI and Maziar Sattari all got 8 points. I did ask.’

‘Wise guys eh?’ John shook his head and kicked a mound of snow in the direction of the hairy camel. ‘I heard Maziar Sattari got Predictor of the Week for the Chelsea v West Ham draw too. Sounds like favouritism to me.’ he grumbled.

‘What sort of competition is this anyway?’ Jill fumbled in her pocket for the GPS as they arrived in Church Langley to track the last section of their route.

‘The Xmas Factor, Matt said.’ shouted Maziar from the hairy beast which had just belched rather unattractively over one of the sheep.

‘Can’t you keep control of that blasted thing for just one minute, mate?’ John raged guiding the ladies down the narrow path Jill’s screen had lead them to.

‘And look out for a bright shining ‘P’ on the roof’ chimed in Nigel helpfully. ‘We should be nearly there now!’

Just as the wise man had predicted, the familiar logo, iridescent in the lamp light shone up ahead and the Predictors quickened their pace.

‘Hey, Mark. It’s us!’ Wendy shouted happily bounding through the snow to the open door. ‘When did you get here? Oh, and by the way, congrats on your predictions for Arsenal and Blackburn. Bet the Moonerazzi’s mad at you for that one!’

Mark Young held his arms open to welcome the shepherdess’ embrace, carefully holding the Brasso at arms length to avoid staining her cloak.

‘Arrived yesterday doll. Like I’ve never been away!’ he unwrapped his arms and looked her up and down approvingly.

‘Gonna be a great evening. Hey, but just let me finish polishing the handle on this big front door for the main event. S’really gonna be something special.’ he drawled.

‘I can’t wait to have a hot shower and something to eat.’ joined in Jill, a large smile engulfing her face. I bet David’s done us proud eh?

‘Ah, well.’ Mark looked at his feet and shuffled about. Actually he’s pretty full, what with Chris Butters here already.’ On cue Chris appeared from the hallway, her golden hair displaying the faintest of gold twinkles and a smile that shone out illuminating the dark night.’

And, well. Me, of course.’ He fidgeted about some more and flicked the polishing cloth against the paint work.

‘There’s always the garage of course.’ continued Mark helpfully. ‘Loads of old tarpaulins from the car and a couple of picnic rugs I dug out earlier. I’m sure you’ll be fine!’

‘It’s such an honour to be here.’ Gushed Chris to the crowd huddled around the door. Playing my joker on this special week and with a top score of 10 points is amazing. Of course, I gave it 150% and it’s been an incredible journey, and I’m sure you can’t wait to join me in the celebrations.’

And so it was on that cold December night. The Predictors huddled together in a garage in Church Langley, but it was a magical evening and singing and laughter could be heard drifting across the rooftops as a man in a sleigh visited all the houses that night.

Baby-chambles

It was a curious gathering on the train that night. Unusually the first-class births had all been booked and their residents were assembled in the restaurant car.

Unseen, The Moonerazzi surveyed the scene suspiciously and, catching the pungent smell of pickled onions drifting from the raucous gathering opposite, scribbled something hastily in a note book.

Simon Gold, Mark Lawrenson, Normetta No Mates and Mark Young were all smiles and something appeared to have gone wrong at the hairdressers as she could just make out the faintest of green tinges. Young, with his soft American drawl, was being particularly attentive to this evening, topping up Normetta’s Ribena and Babycham at regular intervals with the result that she had acquired a distinct tide mark which masked the hairs on her upper lip. Normetta delighted in the unexpected attention of her fellow Joker players and the reporter took notes as they compared their scores. Gold and Lawrenson (6 points) forced oily grins as they conceded to the skills of the unctuous American (10 points) and the week’s top scorer (14 points) who was gradually sliding under the table.

Catching sight of Normetta’s predicament, the gallant Sanjiv Sachdev swiftly lunged for Norma’s braces and hoisted her back into position.

Oblivious to the lady’s plight however, Lawrenson continued to spout incontinently to his greasy companion: ‘There is an awful lot of mediocrity in that [Liverpool] squad” of course.’

‘Ideally I would like to see the Scousers stuffed by the Gooners and ultimately relegated… here’s hoping.’ Sachdev butted in to the obvious distaste of the pundit who continued ignominiously.

‘I think that Fernando Torres will return for Liverpool, but I am not sure Alberto Aquilani will feature. He played 76 minutes against Fiorentina on Wednesday and Rafael Benitez will probably decide the Italian needs 23 weeks to recover!’ the oily gent chuckled like an old Etonian in a gentleman’s club.

David Jones, the week’s top non-joker playing scorer strutted the aisle like a pregnant pigeon in a sharply pressed military uniform greeting Chairman David, with a hearty slap between the shoulder blades.

‘We’ll speak later Mr John.’ the stiff Englishman mumbled hurriedly into his phone before snapping it shut. Robert quickly composed himself to make an awkward acknowledgement before introducing his companion, Nicola Savage who had curiously assumed a German accent. The threesome were soon deep in conversation comparing their correct scores for the week: Jones (Burnley & Liverpool) and Roberts (Burnley & Sunderland) and Savage (Birmingham & Burnley). However Jones ego was easily distracted and, on the look-out for more plaudits lighted on fellow Predictors of the Week Janet Roberts and Roger Taylor (Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal) for another round of self-congratulatory back-slapping.

Meanwhile, over on the ‘jokers’ table, yet another Babycham had arrived, courtesy of John Collins who toasted Normetta ostentatiously from the bar. Celebrating his clever prediction of an Aston Villa win against Manchester United had undoubtedly go to his pocket as well as his head. As another stroke of good luck Collins had encountered Maziar Sattari as he was bringing in the drinks – the first zero of the season (aside from Normetta of course) which only helped to augment the Millwall man’s cheery disposition.

Already half cut from celebrating his continuing poll position on his way home to Belfast, Steve Dunlop put his arm around the disconsolate Seattle Gooner and offered him a warming brandy.

‘I’ll have to keep my wits about me over the holiday period as I’ve been known to miss a few games here and there during the holiday season.’ confided Steve cheerfully, but at that moment, the midnight train plunged into a snow drift on the outskirts of Church Langley. The passengers screams were as chilling as the night air, but more had just been extinguished than the lights.

As the dim orange glow returned to the carriages, anxious faces scanned the chaos and harvested scattered possessions.

Normetta was dead.

The crowd parted the Moonerazzi saw the still body swimming in a pool of blood spilt BabyCham fizzing out of the fresh wounds. She counted 13 stab wounds to the ravaged body.

“The greatest cast of suspicious characters ever involved in murder.” muttered the reporter. With an average score of just 3.46 this week, she realised there wasn’t one person in the carriage who wouldn’t profit from this night’s work.

What the Dickens?!

The Chairman was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Under a volley of beetroot jars he lay and not a limb stirred. One last time had the great man lead the Predictors awry and into a slough of misery. But at last they were free.

Ebenezer White climbed the old oak staircase at Predictorship House carrying a heavy bag of subs wrested from the grasp of the pale man’s frozen hands. Nobody would suspect him – his vituperative reports about the festive vegetable over the past month had made sure the stains would lie at another’s door. Mark Young’s words rung in his ears and he smiled:

“If there’s one thing we’ve learnt this season, it’s that Matt White can’t be bribed with beetroot”

Surely the finger of suspicion would point at Nick Watson and his stock pile in the garden shed.

Oh! But White was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

He looked down of the window to the commotion in the street and scowled. A band of Predictors had gathered in the snow to celebrate the World Cup draw and the excitement of the year ahead. He drew tight the curtains to shut out the revelling, but the voices couldn’t be silenced.

‘Well well well. June 12th it is! ‘ drawled Gabe Bevilacqua, willing forward the England – US draw.

‘Thank goodness for one walk over’ goaded Nigel Birrell, flailing a drunken arm to slap the American squarely between the shoulder blades.

White shrugged off his tattered robe leaving it crumpled on the floor and slumped into bed with a heavy grunt, pulling the covers over his head.

‘All the talk at this end is of the World Cup draw and Portugal getting drawn in same group as Brazil which should ensure an awesome atmosphere come the 25th June, particularly with 3 Brazilians on the Portuguese team (Deco, Pepe and Liedson).’ Steve Dunlop enlightened his attentive mates, pulling out a small note book. ‘Odds are extremely attractive for England at 7-1 and Portugal at 23-1 so I did the decent thing and stuck a few bob on both!’ He licked his index finger and turned over the page. ‘Fancy having a little flutter yourselves?’

‘Bah Humbug!’ rasped the muffled voice from behind the window above. ‘Profligate extravagance! Wait until it’s subs time again. They’ll all be listening to me then!’ and he turned over in his bed as the chill wind swept through the room and caught the dieing embers to make them dance defiantly in the darkness.

The Chairman’s ghostly form stood over him in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for White observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, stats ledgers, almanacs and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent, so that White, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.

White had often heard it said that Roberts had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.

‘You were once a great predictor Ebenezer’ the Chairman’s icy voice sliced through the pounding silence. ‘But you have lost your way.’ The pigtail swung solemnly as the grey figure shook his head.

‘But I’m in 13th place – and I still have my joker’ whined the voice pitifully from beneath the covers.

‘Behold the ghost of predictors past Ebenezer’ boomed the ghost. ‘Look who has surpassed you this week. Can you deny that you’ve been outsmarted by a Millwall fan? Have you no shame?’

The miser looked away, from the ghastly vision that appeared at the end of the bed. John Collins cheered as he ticked off the last of his 10 points to leapfrog White into 11th place. The vision was accompanied by another grey form: it was Moonerazzi gorging on a large plate of chocolates and winking in his direction. It was a horrible, horrible sight.

As the visions faded White drew the perspiration from his brow with the back of his bony hand.
‘Can’t you just leave me to my misery David?’ pleaded the sorry figure.

Again the ghastly apparition shook his pigtail.

‘You should have thought about that before throwing so many point away. You couldn’t even make prediction of the week could you? Collins even beat you to that with that dreadful American outside the window. Surely a 2-1 score at Manchester wasn’t beyond you? There’s no turning back now, our journey has just begun. Come with me.’
The Chairman beckoned to Ebenezer to follow him and he pointed a sinewed digit out of the window.

‘Don’t make me look at them! Please don’t’ wailed the sorry old man, turning his face away from the revellers in the street. Their happiness burned into his skin.

‘Yes look, and observe. That man with the notebook and wad of money.’

‘I know. Dunlop. Always smiling. Yes, of course I know him.’

‘Well, he’s sitting on over 100 points right now. The first of the season – don’t you heed your own table? Shame on you Ebenezer.’

‘I just fill in the ledgers until my fingers bleed. Don’t expect me to rejoice in their success too. God knows none of them deserve it’.

‘And that man in the arsenal scarf, dancing with the ladies?’ the apparition turned towards a merry crowd singing outside the bar on the corner of the street, toasting the evening with warm jugs of ale.

‘Warland. Bah. Humbug! He won’t be so merry when he arrives at work tomorrow morning. He can let the ale warm him because there’s no money for coal.’

‘But he did predict a Birmingham win at Wigan – and he’s the only one. Even a man of his advancing years could see that one! Take a warning from what happened to me. The years of bad advice has been shaped into this hideous chain you see before you and I’ll be forced to carry it for all eternity.’

‘Come.’ The mists swirled again and the ghost turned towards the fireplace.

‘I’ve seen enough. Please have some mercy Chairman! I’ll give you an extra joker – nobody will every know.’

‘Looking for more ways to feather your own nest again I see? That’s the behaviour that’s turned you into this sorry state. No, there’s one more spirit yet to see.’

The flames danced high in the grate but no heat came from them. Then a flash. The image of a queen sat on a butter churn formed from their golden fronds. Her glass was held high and her crown wobbled a little as she toasted the ghost at White’s side.

‘Behold, the ghost of Predictor’s future.’ announced the Chairman.

‘Not Chris Butters again!’ cried the old man.

‘Heed my words and this need never happen.’ boomed the ghost.

‘Don’t worry Dave. We know how it works, you say one thing we do the other…..it’s been many a year since you wore the Predictorship crown.’ the golden spirit taunted as she filled her glass.

‘Be gone!’ The Chairman rattled his heavy burden at the flames and they fell back as if nothing had ever been there.
The room was dark and cold with only a blue haze of ghastly moonlight so pale that Ebenezer could barely make out the spectre’s form.

‘I’ve done everything I can for you now Ebenezer. You still have a joker to play, Chris Butters is still only in 6th place. The rest is up to you.’

There was a blinding flash and White opened his eyes. It was morning.

He ran to the window and pulled up the sash to hear the sound of church bells. He still had time. It was still only mid way through December and he had everything to play for. Taking some money from the pouch he tossed it down to Saleel Sathe and Alex Iskandar Liew who were celebrating their seasonal highs (Salleel – 7th, Alex 26th) and laughing together below.

‘Congratulations! Best of luck for the season!’ chuckled White!

They picked up the money warily, thinking it must be some trick, then realising he meant it, beamed up at him broadly.

‘God bless you Ebenezer. We always knew you had it in you!’ shouted Saleel.

‘And God bless us everyone!’

Mr Chairman: Are You Phil Brown, Are You Phil Brown, Are You Phil Brown in Disguise, Are You Phil Brown in Disguise?

It all became abundantly clear at the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday: the reverse psychologists are up to their old tricks again.

For a sixth miserable week in a row, all but a few lucky predictors are sat glumly in a large circle with a humiliating finger being wagged in their faces for their low-scoring antics. This week’s ringleader-in-chief is Hull City’s penalty-taking maestro Jimmy Bullard, with a copy of David Roberts’ latest best-seller, Reverse Psychologists Of The World Unite, tucked snugly under one arm and a cannily-positioned earpiece to the undercover author himself, barking out orders to his disciple from seat 110 in row Z, where he is flanked by Thaksin ‘Frank Sinatra’ Shinawatra, former Prime Minister of Thailand, and new Man. City moneybags man Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment and, more memorably, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.

Rumours in this ugly game spread faster than a Jermain Defoe hat-trick and the long-suffering Janet Roberts has been whispering to close friends and anyone else who’ll listen since the start of the season that she suspected David was skipping Vicarage Road, his usual Saturday afternoon haunt, in favour of a quick dash north to the Phil Brown finishing school in Humberside.

Evidently, the Chairman learnt two valuable lessons in Hull: 1. Take every opportunity to abuse your power with some carefully chosen words designed to flummox even the toughest of opponent. 2. Never attempt to walk across the Humber Bridge in a gale-force wind. OK, I made the last one up.

“This week’s 10 fixtures don’t look quite so Thaksin to me,” argued David – complete with his shiny new coaching badge pinned to his garish yellow Watford strip – at the top of last week’s fixtures e-mail. “If I hadn’t already done so, I think I might have been tempted to play my joker. I’m even thinking, for the first time ever, they could all be draws, which is bad news for the 1-0, 2-0 and 2-1 brigade”.

Calls for the Chairman to be publicly guillotined and his head spit-roasted on an open fire outside Predictorship HQ went up a decibel or two this week when the week 16 table – showing David up three places to fifth – was leaked to the press. “Clearly the man is bonkers for suggesting all 10 games would end as draws,” said celebrity fan Dizzee Rascal. “And clearly his antiquated thinking has influenced the prediction-making process of his Predictorship rivals. It smacks of desperation, without a league title to his name since the 2001-02 season”.

In the interest of impartiality, I present to you the cold, hard week 16 facts. Draws predicted by David: Not 10, but 4 (Aston Villa, Blackburn, West Ham, Wigan). Actual draws: 4. Players “tempted to play their jokers” in light of the Chairman’s comments: 0. Members of the “1-0, 2-0 and 2-1 brigade” (essentially Dave and Jill Taylor and Janet) who abandoned their predictable digits and went back to the draw-ing board: 0. Chairman’s respect-o-meter rating among his Predictorship peers as a percentage: 0.

So, while Janet saw her husband’s premeditated trash talk coming from a mile off (funnily enough, it’s about the same distance to the confectionery aisle at her local Tesco), it appears that nobody else took a blind bit of notice of his musings either, leaving the Chairman with several smelly, out-of-date and intensively-farmed eggs on his beetroot-coloured face. [The beetroot reference is just for you, Moonerazzi – hope you appreciate it.]

Meanwhile, in the US of A, Everton’s Hope Arnold was up to her usual Thanksgiving trick, getting her priorities horribly mixed up by stuffing the turkey and downing a few bowls of festive brew instead of submitting her predictions. Remarkably, Hope hits a new seasonal high league position this week, 23rd, despite destroying her 100% attendance record. I imagine she’ll be giving thanks for that.

Week 16 Stats
* Top score: 8 – Alex Iskandar Liew & Dave Taylor
* Total players: 40/42
* Total points scored: 173
* Average score: 4.32
* Total correct scores: 25, including 8 for Wigan 1 Sunderland 0
* 2 correct scores: Simon Gold (Aston Villa, Wolves), Tom Palmer (Fulham, Wigan), Saleel Sathe (Wigan, Wolves), Nicola Savage (Aston Villa, Blackburn) & Dave Taylor (Wigan, Wolves)
* Predictions of the week: Rob Molloy for Portsmouth 1 Manchester United 4 & Marek Phillips for Everton 0 Liverpool 2
* Fact of the week: League strugglers Marek Phillips (39th) and Andrew Thraves (41st) amassed two points each, with both of their points coming from a single game, Everton-Liverpool and Fulham-Bolton respectively. However, Marek only has himself to blame for failing to replace Birmingham’s ‘X’ with a number, thus forsaking a potential point or two
* Jokers: 0
* Yellow cards: 2
* Red cards: 0
* Quote of the week: “On the whole, women do tend to resent their men going out of the home to enjoy themselves – and this applies to football matches too. Women themselves do not display much interest in football” – The findings of a 1962 survey conducted by the Football League. Thank your lucky stars if your better half is a) a woman and b) loves her football as much as you do. Speaking from bitter experience, a Radio 5 Live match commentary and the Ceefax Rolling Videprinter are the last thing on my wife’s mind on a Saturday afternoon …

See you all for The Predictorship Cup in January!

Matt ‘the Stat’ Wayne

Why the Long Face?

The Serbian school of horse placenta massage has been inundated with visits from underperforming predictors since week 11, amid fears that a constant stream of low scores is blurring the senses and sending one or two players a wee bit doolally.

Let’s face it, anyone who resorts to having a squelchy, slab-like bit of horse rubbed over their poorly region has to be bordering on a state of mental unstability but the practice has a fair few fans among the fantasy football elite. After scaling new heights of ineptitude in recent weeks, Simon Gold, Cathryn Gregory, Sally Moon, the Roberts clan, David, Joe and Tom, Nicola Savage, Roger Taylor, Andrew Thraves, Ted Warland and Joe Zalewski have all hopped on the Predictorship-liveried minibus and headed to Belgrade for some alternative therapy, and to their number you can now add Jill Taylor, who’s at the end of her tether and desperate for some treatment. Seven days after celebrating hubby Dave’s inability to put a ‘1’ and a ‘0’ after the correct team on four separate occasions with a boisterous streak across the windswept moor, Jill becomes the fourth player in as many weeks to record an unrivalled low score, failing abysmally with her incessant twoing and nilling. The good news is that all the aforementioned predictors are on the road to recovery and in a stable condition (boom! boom!).

A quick message from Nick Watson’s best mate to all our Irish-blooded friends: France are going to the World Cup. Get over it.

Back to the matter in hand (not the ball in Henry’s), we find Ralph Hannah, fresh from a bit of horseplay and his Drummond Street staple fight with Rob Molloy, nailing a top score of 10 courtesy of eight correct results and some pinpoint accuracy with the Burnley and Chelsea fixtures. Earlier in the week, it looked odds-on that Ralph would be heading back to an eastern European rehab facility after admitting typing his predictions with only his left hand “without the referee noticing”, but the boy finally came good.

James Bradley didn’t let a holiday in Venice come between him and not submitting his predictions on time and not even an unopened Sunday newspaper could tempt him into the seedy underworld of frowned upon score-peeking. Gabe Bevilacqua, meanwhile, this week’s other latecomer, had “no idea what’s happening” while roading it “on the wrong coast of America”. With five points scored, we tend to agree. Not to be outdone in the quotable quote stakes, warehouse technician Joe Roberts, way ahead of the next best performing rookie in 7th and hitherto keeping his head well below the parapet in Monkey Sheikh City, dabbled in some idle chatter of his own this week. “I’m liking the pink!” declared Joe in reference to the rose-coloured fixture list supplied by Chairman ‘Dad’ Roberts. Three more for Belgrade …

The last seat on the minibus will be filled by Maziar Sattari, who, according to the Chairman, “e-mailed about the Predictorship but not with his scores”. Maziar even debated “the protocol of using his joker and then promptly forgot to send in his actual predictions,” added a perplexed and ever so slightly irate Hornet. Tut tut.

With Thierry’s ‘hand of God’ and an interminable amount of horseplay at the placenta of the footballing universe this week, Benfica’s Steven Dunlop is quietly going about his business and taking the opportunity to build an unassailable lead (how unassailable can a lead get after 15 weeks?) atop the league table. Finally stepping out of Janet Roberts’ chocolate-enhanced shadow for a fourth week at the summit, Steven is loftily perched 11 points clear of the next joker-clinging predictor and, arguably, his greatest threat to securing a third league title, Christine Butters, the lady with an enviable record of Predictorship success in her Manchester City locker. “It’s a relief to get back to Premier League matters after the pain and suffering induced midweek!” said Steven. What could he be referring to?

A question for you. What is the next club in this sequence? Cambridge, Leicester, Crystal Palace, Norwich, West Brom, Gillingham, Rushden & Diamonds, Brighton, Northampton, Coventry, Peterborough, Watford, Swindon, Boston, Walsall, Hereford, Gainsborough, Northwich, Hednesford, Wellingborough, Kidsgrove, Tamworth, Harrogate … Answer below the stats.

Week 15 Stats
* Top score: 10 – Ralph Hannah
* Total players: 38/42
* Total points scored: 235
* Average score: 6.18
* Total correct scores: 36, including 13 for Stoke 1 Portsmouth 0
* 3 correct scores: John Collins (Birmingham, Sunderland, Stoke), Rob Molloy (Burnley, Chelsea, Manchester United), Sally Moon (Birmingham, Sunderland, Stoke) & Pete Yoder (Birmingham, Burnley, Stoke)
* Prediction of the week: Incredibly, Simon Gold for Tottenham 9 Wigan 1***
* Prediction of the week in any other week: Dave McAleer, Steve McHugh & Joe Roberts for Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2
* Jokers: 0
* Yellow cards: 4 – 3 of them had a 100% attendance record until this week
* Red cards: 0
* Quote of the week: “My predictions – all typed with my left hand this week without the referee noticing” (Ralph Hannah)

Answer: Woking. They are the 24 clubs journeyman (and that’s putting it lightly) Trevor Benjamin has played for during his career. And he’s still only 30!

*** Almost had you fooled

Matt ‘the Stat’ Wayne

A Totally Irre–sponsor–ble Rant

It’s about time The Predictorship weaned itself off the beetroot and tackled some of the pressing football-related matters of the day.

Aping Newcastle United’s rib-tickling example, this week’s report is brought to you courtesy of suffolkscribes.com @ The Predictorship. I know Kedington’s finest, the much-maligned Moonerazzi, would heartily approve of the catchy moniker as she recuperates a little further down the A143. Get well soon, Moony!

Before flinging the words ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ in my direction for having the downright cheek to necessitate an expansion in the width of the Predictorship table with the pretentiously-titled team name Elements Cefn Druids A.F.C. of Plaskynaston Lane (spot the sponsor), let me point out that I’m not a rotund, multi-millionaire, club strip-wearing, terrace-dwelling owner desperately trying to get my team back into the top flight of English football, just an ordinary bloke trying to win the glittering top prize in fantasy football.

To cut a long rant short, Newcastle United can keep their sportsdirect.com @ St. James’ Park Stadium (although Blue Square Premier outfit York City are quite welcome to their Kitkat Crescent, which sounds kinda cool). Three unabashed company plugs in one moderately-sized sentence makes grim reading for those who already believe flashing, revolving, epileptic shock-inducing advertising hoardings around pitches are a gargantuan step too far, but York’s sponsors are more than welcome to deliver my free stash of wafer-smothered chocolate bars to Predictorship HQ c/o Chairman Roberts.com @ Church Langley to aid the Druids’ surge up the table.

Maybe gouging herself on chocolate bars is the secret of Janet Roberts’ phenomenal success this season. The familiar strain of “I’m just popping out to work, Mr. Chairman, shan’t be long” should now be viewed with as much suspicion as a collapsing David Ngog at Anfield. [From this day forth, I’m pronouncing Ngog’s name phonetically to voice my displeasure, but he’s not the only one, is he Mr. Dogbra?] We’ve suspected all along that Janet is refuelling at her local Tesco store, even without the Mini, but by never putting on an ounce around her midriff – a fact confirmed by Steven Dunlop, who was in close proximity to the Chairman’s wife a couple of weeks ago and is now even cosier with her, just a point adrift of the top spot – there was not a shred of cocoa-stained evidence against the Owls fan. Furthermore, Janet is as fit as a fiddle and could easily outpace Premier League ref Alan Wiley in a 100-metre sprint, with or without a slab of Dairy Milk inside her, but Sir Alex – gesticulating and, indeed, masticating from a stand inside Old Trafford – already knew that.

Chairman Roberts has desperately tried to tap into Janet’s predicting psyche, but his advances are always swiftly rebuffed. “How does it feel to be only the third best Predictorship-playing Roberts in your family?” snarled Janet after his last attempt to weedle a few secrets from his wife’s top security computer. Alas, until Janet reveals the truth behind the Wispas, we simply don’t know what’s sustaining her impressive league challenge.

The form book reared its ugly head over the weekend as the rampant goal-scoring machine that is the 2009/2010 Premier League was put on hold for some dull and excruciatingly dull internationals. Or, as Sanjiv Sachdev beautifully put it: “Wales 1 Scotland 1 (Who cares?)”. I’d never dream of boring you with a plethora of stats but, incredibly, last season’s top three predictors, Saleel Sathe, Christine Butters and Pete Yoder, digested the low-scoring fare without the merest hint of a gulp to lunge up the table in tandem with (this week’s only three) seasonal highs of, respectively, 10th, 6th and 14th. Beware: the big boys (and girl) are shuffling into contention faster than Cristiano Ronaldo’s dancing feet … on crutches.

Please make yourself a nice cup of tea while I reel off a list of my favourite daft football names before getting down to the nitty gritty …

* Atletico Madrid’s Koke Resurreccion (with Atletico down among the dead men this season, he needs to bring the team to life … again)
* GKS Belchatow’s Carlo Costly (we beg to differ: the Poles signed him for a fiver and a cold meat pie)
* Croydon Athletic’s Shabazz Baidoo (Hackney’s finest Ghanaian/Montserratian)
* East Stirlingshire’s Michael Bolochoweckyj (regularly on the receiving end of a dressing-room b******ing so the name stuck)
* Ebbsfleet United’s Gavin Heeroo (that’s a matter of opinion)
* Floriana’s Akanni-Sunday Wasiu (personally, Saturday is always a cannier day for me than Sunday)
* Ex-Hamilton Academical Izzy Iriekpen (answer: no)
* Histon’s Erkan Okay (he was bloody marvellous last month, though)
* Leeds United’s Enoch Showunmi (oh, wait a minute, am I thinking of eunuch?)
* Morecambe’s Manny Panther (hunting down opposition midfielders is his game)
* Skonto’s Andrejs Pereplotkins (at least he’s not a plonker)
* Swansea City’s Ferrie Bodde (hopefully not a sign of impending doom on a Dover-Calais crossing)
* Swansea City’s Angel Rangel (surely the finest daft name in the history of football)
* Swindon Town’s Kevin Amankwaah (not a name you should quickly follow with the words Nwankwo Kanu)
* FC Utrecht’s Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (a well-proportioned footballer, or so we hear)

A couple of reminders …

Surprisingly, only 12 jokers have been played so far this season. Any jokers that have not been played before the last week of the season will automatically be activated in the final week, so don’t leave it too late …

Fantasy football’s greatest Cup competition, the obviously-named Predictorship Cup, will be back for a fifth season in 2010. The league’s top 22 predictors on 31st December 2009 will book their place in Round 1 while the remaining 20 will fight it out in a Preliminary Round, with the 10 winners joining the aforementioned 22 in Round 1. Full details and Cup dates to follow …

Week 14 Stats …
* Top score: 12 – Christine Butters
* Top score in just about any other week: 11 – Cathryn Gregory (predictions delivered by husband Mike from Aon Limited’s Finance & Administration department in Romford, Essex) & Saleel Sathe
* Total players: 41/42
* Total points scored: 266
* Average score: 6.48
* Total correct scores: 42, including 10 for Russia 2 Slovenia 1
* 4 correct scores: Christine Butters (Republic of Ireland, Brazil, Northern Ireland & Slovakia), Cathryn Gregory (Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Spain & Slovakia) & Saleel Sathe (Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland & Slovakia)
* Shame on you award: Every American who underestimated the might of Slovakia
* (Boring) prediction of the week: Christine Butters, Sally Moon & Pete Yoder for Brazil 1-0 England
* Jokers: 0
* Yellow cards: 1 (Mark Lawrenson, who took yet another prediction-making sabbatical)
* Red cards: 0
* Quote of the week: “I meant to e-mail my predictions before I got on a flight but totally forgot. Having said that, I still got as many points as [GWR’s Director of Television] Rob Molloy!!” – GWR Records Manager Ralph Hannah incites an office feud. Staple guns and elastic bands at the ready …

That’s all folks!

Matt ‘the Stat’ Wayne

Beetroot-Loving Watson Takes a Hammering

Awakened by the hammering coming from his neighbor’s garden, Nick Watson is up early and thinking that he might have finally found a use for the 24 jars of beetroot that the Chairman bestowed on him as his Secret Santa Christmas present two years ago. Poised with a six-pack of the red toxin in hand, Watson pads out the front door in his rubber-soled shoes and onto the front path ready for action. But it’s not the sound of the unknown hammering – no, this is not a reference to the Sanjiv Sachdev and Matthew White “Prediction of the Week” (Wolves 1 Arsenal 4 – a hammering we can surely all enjoy!) that startles our disgruntled early riser, it’s the sight of the Moonerazzi staring up at him from the front pages of The Sun, The Guardian and The International Herald Tribune all lying on his driveway.

Yes, reading is elementary to our dear Watson, but the Moonerazzi, with her green Marge Simpson hairdo all askew and her Amy Winehouse tribute tattoos revealed in all their unlikely glory, is enough to shake even the most well read of predictors. To say the least, Week 13 in the Predictorship was unlucky for some but none more so than the scribbling scourge of founding predictor Mark Young. But even as she was being hauled away to rehab, the Blackburn Rover’s last words were directed at the New York-based Englishman: “I’m still ahead of you in the table.”

Sadly, most people are this season. None more so than Janet Roberts, who continues to set the Predictorship pace. Two points back of the Chairman’s missus is Steven Dunlop, who earned quote of the week honors with this unique Valentine to the table-topper: “I’m rather chuffed at my proximity to your wife – in the purely platonic Predictorship sense of course!” Of course, Mr. Dunlop is not the only predictor making moves on Ms. Roberts. Various members of the Roberts and Taylor clans are all getting into Top 10 positions, girding themselves for the Home Counties version of the Hatfields and the McCoys.

The big move this week comes from Christine Butters with an 8-point top score windfall. By coincidence, 8 people also correctly predicted that Chelsea would beat Manchester United 1-0 (Lady Butters being one of them). And finally, a tip of the forelock (yes, some of us still have them) to David Jones, Matthew White and Alex Iskander Liew, who all record season high positions.

Even more importantly, a get well soon shout out to our rehab-bound poisoned-pen princess. As the Leeds United players never said of Brian Clough: “We’ll miss you while you’re gone.”

One in a Million…

Ringside and the atmosphere is steamy. It’s minutes to go and ‘Rocky’ Birrell and ‘Riddler’ Roberts slip off their silky gowns to the cheers and jeers from of crowd, prompting Buttkiss to leave an urgent message at the feet of the Chairman.

Topping the scoring with 8 points and no joker played, Birrell is favourite but the Riddler – also on 8 points but with the tell-tale green hue, is whipping up his rowdy following.

Swathed in a emerald haze the front row is packed with the villain’s supporters: Janet Roberts sitting proud on top of this weeks table and diamantes glinting regally in her crowning glory; Chairman David, content to bathe in Janet’s limelight at 8th position this week, smearing off the damp patch on his dusty brogues and the ‘Taylor’ clan: Roger, Jill and Dave snuggling up with the ‘in’ crowd in 3rd, 4th and 5th position at the end of week 12. Who says beetroot doesn’t talk?

Causing a commotion at the end of the row, Mark Young grapples to release his umbrella which cavorts disdainfully above his head to the irritation of the seats behind.

‘How did he get up there?’ whispers Steven Dunlop to Matt Wayne, watching discretely from 6 rows back with the 30–40 pointers. ‘I managed to crawl back one point last week and after this week’s user friendly selection I’m 2nd in the table!’

‘Just watch and stay back Steve,’ Wayne offers sagely. ‘Best to stay away from a crowd like that’.

The bout begins. ‘Riddle me this Birrell:’ taunts the Joker, ‘What’s black and blue and red all over?’

Birrell lunges deeply into his opponents’ stomach, winding the man in green.

‘Less of the poetry, Nigma’ heckles the Penguin, ‘or it’ll be your face not his’ he sneers and goes back to wrestling his umbrella.

Meanwhile, Nick Watson; ‘ a man celebrating his club’s first win since the invention of the wheel …’ according to Statman White, is cheering manically as either of the boxers lands a punch. Joining in the celebratory atmosphere are Predictors of the Week, Nicola Savage & Jill Taylor (Burnley 2-0 Hull City) & Andrew Thraves (Bolton 1-4 Chelsea – final score 0-4), dressed in gold and black to support their hero. Nicola, so giddy with the fumbling advances of the would-be champion that she almost forgot to submit her scores this week, is waving erratically in the air to signal her support.

Despite the hype it’s been a low scoring round this far with only 24 correct scores, half of which were for Everton 1-1 Aston Villa.

Then, the crowd groan as Riddler lands a lethal right, sending Birrell’s gum shield flying. Then another… as he stagger around the ring deliriously, everything goes into slow-motion. The baying front row, Nicola’s grief-stricken face as she runs towards the ring…

And then down.

Nobody notices that the Penguin has left or the fluttering pages of a reporter’s notebook that spiral, unchecked to the ground….

Matt Wayne heads swiftly for the exit.