Where was I? This room was unknown to me. Pleasant garden view from the window, but where?
“Welcome to Etraxia, I’m your guide, Bramthus,” piped up bronzed young man. He stood, clearly ready to engage with me.
“Where am I?”
Bramthus: “Paul, there is nothing to worry about. It has been arranged for you to spend a few days here. Then you will be returned home, to continue your life as before.”
“We have arranged for you to take part in a special football match.”
“What? You’re joking.”
“No, I’m serious. Come and see yourself in the mirror.”
Reluctantly I followed him into the en suite bathroom and toilet. We seemed to be in some hotel: very smart! There was the mirror. And there was me. I looked twenty five again!
“I hope you approve. We have reverted your genes so that physically you are as you were at twenty five. However, we have left your memories intact.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Etraxians. Please do not panic. Stay calm. You will be home within days. Okay? Paul, you are on planet Etraxia, five thousand light years from your Earth. But we can get you back in the blink of an eye, any time you wish.”
“So why should I stay here?”
“Forgive the cliché, but I have an offer you can’t refuse.”
“A chance to pick a squad of your favourite footballers and take on a team from two hundred years into your future. Here, take this. Do sit down.”
He handed me a mini-laptop. As we talked, we had returned to the “lounge”, where the computer was waiting for me on a small table.
The laptop was already running and showed what was clearly a spread sheet on which I could list about thirty people.
However, the “list” was subdivided into “Goalkeepers”, “Defenders”, “Midfielders”, “Attackers” and “Manager”.
Bramthus: “We would like you, please, to ‘select’ twenty five players who you have seen since the early 1960s, live or on television and can relate to personally. They do not have to be alive still, just well known to you as a spectator. We can get you anyone you choose.”
“Like Pele, or Best?”
“Yes. But not such as Stanley Matthews, or Tom Finney, because they were ‘before your time’ and you hardly watched them play.”
“And you may add one of your relatives if you wish. Plus yourself of course, perhaps as a right back. That’s you, plus a relative, plus twenty five stars. Your own Dream or Fantasy Team! But, I shirk my duty, would you like a beer or whisky?”
Actually I had both, and felt much better for it. After a while Bramthus showed me around. We were indeed in a hotel of sorts, with beautiful gardens. There were many bars too, one looking out onto a magnificent, futuristic city. In-between these “trips”, however, I compiled my team.
For the record, my team was (* in starting eleven; 4,3,3 formation):
Goalkeepers: Pat Jennings* (Spurs and Northern Ireland), Gordon Banks (Leicester, Stoke and England), Peter Shilton (Leicester, Nottingham Forest and England): Defenders: Myself* (amateur), Paul Reaney (Leeds and England), Terry Cooper* (Leeds and England), Des Walker* (Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and England), Norman Hunter* (Leeds and England), Ruud Krol (Ajax and Holland), Bobby Moore (West Ham and England), John Terry (Chelsea and England); Midfielders: Zinedine Zidane* (Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid and France), Stephen Gerrard* (Liverpool and England), Diego Maradona* ( Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Napoli and Argentina), Frank Lampard (Chelsea and England), Ronaldinho (Barcelona, Milan and Brazil), Eddie Gray (Leeds and Scotland), Michelle Platini (AS Nancy, Juventus and France), Glenn Hoddle (Spurs and England); Attackers: George Best* (Manchester United and Northern Ireland), Pele* (Santos and Brazil), Alan Shearer* (Blackburn, Newcastle and England), Thierry Henry (Arsenal, Barcelona and France), Peter Lorimer (Leeds and Scotland); Guest Player - (my cousin) Martin Haresign (Farsley Celtic); Manager - Martin O’Neil (currently Aston Villa Manager).
Bramthus (a little later): “What we’ve done, Paul, is take each player out of the time line at a point when he was twenty five. When the match is over we will wipe his memory and return him to resume his normal life. While they are here, nobody will remember that George and Bobby are no longer with us. You are not to breathe a word of this to anyone, Paul, okay?”
“Agreed. So who are we playing?”
“You are to play the Manchester United of the 2209-2210 season. Again we will return them to their own time when the match is over.”
“Bring it on!”
So I went to the main bar, to meet the squad. Needless to say, most of the British players were enjoying the beer. The overseas players were mainly drinking fruit juices.
There was Georgie showing off his famous wineglass trick: glasses stacked up, he poured champagne into the top glass, which overflowed into the next glass down...
Soon many players were talking with me. They mainly wanted to know why I’d left ‘X’ out.
Pele: “You should have included Garrincha, Paul.”
Stephen Gerrard: “And Torres!”
Shearer: “Just get rid of the Leeds players!”
“That’s enough, everyone,” shouted Martin O’Neill, “Let’s have you all to bed, we’ve a big match tomorrow!”
At three o’clock the following afternoon, Pele kicked off. The two hundred thousand crowd roared in anticipation.
Then came our first surprise. Manchester United 2210, who frankly looked like a sixth form team, all retreated as one to form a basketball-like phalanx around their box.
They had conceded midfield immediately and virtually said, “Break us down if you can!”
Best took up position on the edge of their penalty area and yelled for the ball. Pele, who incidentally was captain, took it forward then knocked it to Best. With a few shimmies, Best promptly beat four men. However, as he went for the shot, a defender quickly made a block. The ball spewed out to another defender, and suddenly there were Man U 2210 players everywhere. They were like lightning! The ball zipped from one to another. Try as we might, we simply could not get near them. A flowing breakaway ended with one forward passing across our box to an unmarked colleague. In the blink of an eye it was 1-0 to them!
Martin O’Neill called one of the seven two minute time-outs he was allowed.
“Look lads,” he rasped, “If you lose the ball again you must get straight onto them! You can’t afford to give them a sniff!”
No pressure then!
What didn’t help is that we were playing under 2210 rules. The pitch was divided into quarters, and you could only be offside in the final quarter. That meant they could stand up to three quarters from our goal without being offside. (The final quarter was called “The Offside Area”). Not helpful to us when we were clearly outpaced.
Also not helpful to our defenders was the 2210 rule that they had to touch the ball before screening it from a forward, otherwise obstruction would be given. Not that we’d had chance to block anyone off yet.
When play resumed, we approached their box in a gingerly fashion. Then Zidane aimed a cross at Shearer’s head. They defended it well, conceding a corner.
With the corner-kick we played it short, and the others kindly let me exchange some passes with them. Yet we had to try to score, so Zidane played it square, about ten yards in front of their box. In steamed Stevie Gerrard with a thunderous shot! The keeper leapt high, and touched the ball over for another corner.
Another time out from us!
Martin O’Neil signalled me over. He was evidently deep in conversation with Bramthus.
Martin turned to me: “Paul, Paul. Listen to me, please. You’ve put me in soul charge of a squad of twenty five year old players, against opposition two hundred years more advanced than us. As I’ve told Bramthus here, I need at least one more manager to bounce my ideas off. And he says they can provide two! We can have our own trainer as well. How about it?”
“Okay, any suggestions?”
“Fine by me, though will you get a word in edgeways?”
Bramthus: “The age of Mr. Clough?”
Martin: “Forty will do.”
“And I suggest Sir Bobby Robson, at fifty, if I may,” I added.
Bramthus: “Yes. And Done. The trainer?”
“Les Cocker, at forty,” I requested.
Bramthus: “Good. The ‘umpires’ have allowed you ten more time-out minutes to get acquainted. And you may call up two more twenty five year olds.”
After thinking for a few moments, I asked, “Can we have Paulo Maldini and Garrincha?”
“Let me see,” replied Bramthus, “Yes, Maldini, AC Milan and Italy. Okay. Now, Garrincha, MMM. Real name, Manuel Francisco dos Santos. Also known as ‘little bird’. Botafogo and Brazil. Strictly speaking, Paul, he’s a little before your time. But the umpires say they’ll make an exception here! Done.”
Without transition the new personnel “appeared”.
Shortly after, Brian Clough appeared, his arm around Pele.
Clough: “Great squad you’ve got here Paul. And a great captain. (To Martin O’Neill and Sir Bobby). Get over here you two! We’ve got work to do. Martin, tell them the plan laddie.”
Over they came.
Martin O’Neill: “What we have to do, gentlemen, is keep our back four posted across our box, in case they break away. We’ll put Maldini on now, in place of Cooper. Zidane can come off and we’ll put Reaney in at right back. You Paul can play a holding role in front of the back four. Pele will drop back into midfield too. A bit like them really.”
Bobby: “Fight fire with fire!”
Clough: “As the Americans would say, let’s kick a**e!”
So, reshuffled and reorganised, we took that corner. Well Pele did, to be precise. This time aiming at Shearer’s head again. The ball was cleared and Best chased it alongside an opponent. As Best claimed it the opponent flew into Best and made sure he collided with him. He dived theatrically over Best’s legs. Some things hadn’t changed. After all, this was still Manchester United, even against one of their legends. The referee blew.
Best protested his innocence: “Never touched him ref!”
But the referee already had his yellow card out: “Number forty six red, simulation, you are booked. Direct Free Kick per 2210 rules to whites.”
(The Manchester United 2210 team were wearing traditional red tops with white shorts. We were in all white. Our free kick).
Pele, Gerrard and Maradona stood around the ball, ready to take the kick. Maradona stepped over the ball and Pele curled it, onto the top of the bar! Whether the ‘keeper would have reached it, hat it been a foot or two lower, was debatable. Their goal kick. Pele ushered everyone in white back to our box.
The goal-kick taken, “they” mounted an intricate passing-attack. But on the edge of our box Best got a tackle in. I’d read ages ago that Best was a great tackler, but this fact had been overshadowed by his attacking prowess. Well, he tackled well now, and we had the ball. This time, however, “they” did not all dash back to “base”. Instead, they each picked up a man, like a basketball “press”. Even I was marked, by number forty six! All Best could do was play it down the line to Shearer, who managed to win a throw-in.
Now the game was a whole lot tougher!
Time Out (from us)!
“Right,” explained Martin O’Neil to the squad, “from now on, whenever they press like this I want the whole back four, and you Paul, to push up into their half and look for space there.”
Robson: “And when they go zonal, everyone, the back four and Paul must retreat to our box.”
Clough (to Bramthus): “Do we have to keep this joker on?” (He pointed at me)!
Bramthus: “The rules are: you must always have one non-international on the pitch, so your only alternative is to substitute Paul with his cousin, Martin Haresign.”
Clough: “We’ll do that then. Get on son.”
Me: “Okay by me, I’ve had my ten minutes of fame.”
So I took my place on the bench, with an excellent view. The match was really on now!
For a few minutes the team really struggled, being shackled by the man-to-man marking. But then Maradona found some space and beat his man! Suddenly they were wide open, so they all retreated to their box. We attacked and Shearer headed just wide.
They now attacked and one of them showed they could shoot from long range. Jennings made a great save. We had the ball, so again they went man-to-man. This time Best broke clear and we attacked again. The pattern was set.
Under 2210 rules we were to play eighty minutes broken down to four twenty minute quarters. We had a ten minute break after the first and third quarter, and a twenty minute break at half time.
In the second quarter they scored their second goal, leaving us a mountain to climb. Maradona was replaced by Garrincha, Hunter by Terry. To add more aerial power, John Terry was instructed to get forward as often as possible.
A few minutes later, we had our payoff! Garrincha crossed, and Best scored with a header!
The pattern of the game remained the same, however. “They” attacked with slick passes and speedy runs. Garrincha and company employed more old-fashioned dribbling. A contrast in styles. However, Jennings had to pull off some marvellous saves!
Just after half time we equalised! The ball broke free from a scramble in “their” box, and Stevie Gerrard pounced with a thunderous shot into the top corner!
Manchester United 2210 called “Time Out”!
From this point we made many substitutions, the policy being to use all our players over the eighty minutes. In fact they brought me back on for a while, on the right wing!
The team were improving as they became accustomed to Manchester’s tactical variations.
In the fourth quarter, Pele and Shearer scored in quick succession!
We now had something to defend.
And we defended. Legs and bodies were thrown in front of shots, heads clashed with heads.
Until the final whistle.
We had won 4-2!
Time to party.
And we did.
During the celebrations I thanked Bramthus for the umpteenth time.
“Yes, a great victory for you, Paul,” remarked Bramthus, “though, to put it into perspective, Manchester United were in the fourth tier in 2210. Manchester City were champions then, as they had been for many years!”
Paul Butters. (W) and (C) Yorkshire, Monday 31\8\2009 at 14.50.