There is an old saying in Serbia: “Better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick, and better to be poor and sick than Vasa Orlovic”. I should have thought harder about this as I watched the middle aged but decidedly sickly looking Assistant Manager of Novi Sad swing open the metal door to the small dark room under the main stand. Why I had to be here to sell programmes before the pre-season friendlies had even kicked was beyond me. He flicked on the light switch and a dusty bulb spewed a yellowish light across the grubby room. There was a table dotted with rat shit, a chair that had shed most of its stuffing onto the damp floor, a typewriter that belonged in a museum, and a huge bulky object under what appeared to be a soiled and stained bed sheet. Some of the stains looked, well, suspicious to say the least. Suspicious and violently unpleasant. I took a deep breath and froze. I thought he was going to bugger me. However, what he did was even worse. He whipped the sheet away to reveal a rusting heap of crap that closely resembled an archaic 1950s printing press. The sickening reality began to hit home. I had to write and print the bloody programmes before I could sell them.
There is an old Serbian song that goes: “Every man has a song inside him, Mother fetch the hook and I will drag it out, out into the morning sun”. I realised that I was going to have drag the very song out of every player and staff member at Novi Sad if I was ever going to afford a beer, let alone another pair of shoes. Where to start? Vasa had simply walked away, laughing. The stench of dampness and stale cats’ piss was getting to me, and judging by the coughing and spitting noises I could hear, some very sick people were taking some exercise outside. I decided to go and take a look.
The first thing that struck me was the size of the Novi Sad squad. The stadium wasn’t big, but I figured they could fill half of it with players and staff. I counted what I thought was 65 players, ranging in age from mid teens to near 40s. The staff count was 16. Perhaps I had been hasty. Was Novi Sad a sleeping giant. Perhaps they had just fallen from Grace. I asked around to try and unravel the club’s history, but no one really wanted to even acknowledge my presence. I seemed to be in everybody’s way, lost in an ocean of faceless players and staff, all seemingly clueless and stinking of cheap brandy and turnip stew. The reality was that no one knew what the hell was happening. I wasn’t the only novice there that day. It turned out to be Boris Krakov’s first day too. It was not only his first day, it was also his first post in football management. WTF was going on?
The board were hopeful of his ability, the fans wanted him to rebuild the squad, and Vasa Orlovic – who obviously got passed over for the job – probably wanted to ride him so hard his head popped off. And me? I was here to chart, on a fortnightly basis, the man’s slippery demise into the netherworld of football management failure. Time for a beer, I thought, and went looking for the bar.
The barmaid was grubby and smelled of pipe tobacco. She had the first few hairs of what was sure to become a tremendous moustache on her upper lip, and her tits already drooped to her waist. I bet myself she’d lose her looks before her teenage years were over. She told me her name; it sounded like Phlegm, but that obviously wasn’t right. I didn’t want to ask again so I just called her Angel. I figured she’d be dead soon, so it seemed appropriate. All she could tell me was that Novi Sad had won the Second Division in 1961, and she’d bang like a shithouse door for a bag of turnips. I was about to query how many turnips constituted a bagful when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, and stared into a face heavy with worry and an undeniable sense of futility. The man spoke: “Hello, I am Boris Krakov, do you know where the toilet is, I need a dump?” I merely smiled, and said: “The toilet? I think you’re in it!”
NB. As I said before, this is not my own work. It is Vic Flange’s. The original work can be found on TheDugout, right here. TheDugout is dying, so I’m rescuing the story and giving it the attention it deserves.