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Chapter 50: Can you smelll what the Brush is COOKing?

Basil was enjoying a relaxing Sunday morning with the tunes blasting from the Alexa, absolute bliss. Then suddenly, his mobile rang. It was an unknown number. Being sceptical as always, Basil answered it with a degree of trepidation.

"Hello?"
"Hello, is this a Mr Basil Brush?
"Yes, and this is?"
"Hello, my name is Kayva Tauira and I'm calling on behalf of Mii Piri."
"Sorry but I haven't heard of either name. Are you sure you have the right person?"
"Oh yes, I have. I work for the Cook Islands Football Association; and we would be honoured if you will be the national team's new Head Coach."
"Really?"
"Yes, we have seen your achievements with Werribee City in Austraila. They speak for themselves Mr Brush, we think you can help improve the team's national standing."
"Just a moment..."
"Sure."

Now this was a call out of the proverbial blue, an international job. Basil texted Stewart, telling him was unfolding and Stewart's response was positive: "If they let you manage Werribee too, take it. It's a real development opportunity." The nation stood 189th in the world rankings out of 211, not exactly a world force, there might a potential to grow them Basil thought. He released the hold.

"I have one question Kayva, before I give you a decision."
"Sure."
"I have a club managerial commitment here in Australia, and I would like to continue with that."
"No problem, we can commit to this."
"You can?"
"Of course."
"I, well, accept then."
"Welcome on board then Mr Brush. Your first international will be on 11 November 2020, a friendly against Micronesia. We will expect you a few days beforehand, a reception party will meet you at Rarotonga Airport. Goodbye for now."
"Goodbye."

https://i.postimg.cc/HshHJCHL/Cook-Islands-Appointment.png

So Basil's fledging managerial had taken another step forward with his first international role. Granted it wasn't with a big nation but from small acorns grow. He was going to combine club and international management for the new season ahead, and then take stock afterwards. Nothing big was expected at the Cook Islands, Basil just wanted to grow the nation as a footballing force and make them little bit more respectable in the Oceania confederation.

The following day, Basil was sat in the hotel restaurant, enjoying a nice mixed grill, when he received his now complimentary copy of the Herald Sun newspaper. It was talking about the new season ahead, and had a preview of the new NPL Victoria season. The Werribee preview was very heartening:

Werribee City: Last season's Victoria Division Two champions come back to the NPL Victoria after an absence of seven seasons, and they have the potential to cause a few surprises. They won the Division Two title with an unbeaten record and whilst we don't expect them to repeat this, they will finish comfortably away from the relegation zone.

Pundits Media Prediction: 3rd
Odds to win the title: 7/1

Of course South Melbourne were the favourites at 4/1, but to see the Bees listed as 4th favourites was pleasant in itself. Basil smiled, he really couldn't wait for the new season to start. Was it Saturday the 10th of October yet? The days couldn't be ticked off quick enough now.
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Chapter 51: Unbeaten in two!

There was a real buzz enveloping the Galvin Park Reserve on the second Saturday in October, Basil could literally taste it as he arrived in the car park. Despite the media saying that the Bees would have a great season, Basil was content to consolidate and stay alive. That was something he made clear in the shed before that first game against Bentleigh Greens.

"Guys, we're up against a higher standard of class here. No disrespect meant to Manningham United Blues and Bulleen Lions but this is as good as it will get for a club of our standing. It's the pinnacle."
"Yeah, and it's imperative we come out of this first month with some points on the board eh boss?" Matteo Ballan said.
"Exactly Matty, exactly. We need to get points on the board as that might just make a difference. I'm targeting a top half finish here if we all pull together. Anyone think otherwise?"

The shed fell silent as the players looked at each other, nodding as if to say "Yup, with you on that boss." Could the Bees achieve what their manager wanted? Brush had confidence in them, whether they wanted it as well was a different proverbial kettle of fish.

Matchday 1: Werribee City 2 - 2 Bentleigh Greens (0 - 0)

Werribee City staged a remarkable comeback from two goals adrift to secure a point on their return to the NPL Victoria. Both the Bees goals came in the final minute, something that Basil Brush's mentor Sir Alex Ferguson would have applauded and left former Hibs midfielder Grant Brebner wondering what had happened. Brush gave debuts to four of his summer signing spree whilst sticking by a number of his title winners.

The visitors had the better of the game for sure and took the lead after 57 minutes when Marco Jankovic lashed in an unstoppable effort from just inside the box after Werribee failed to clear their lines. Six minutes later, they doubled their lead when James Xydias crossed for Matt Thurtell (older brother of Werribee's Jacob to power a header towards goal. Alex Baird parried that but unlucky for him and Werribee, the striker snaffled the rebound home.

Brush's response was a double change with Michael Holden, such a goalscoring sensation in pre-season, entering the fray alongside Josh Gaspari. Then as time ticked on for six minutes of added on time, Brush urged his players forward in the hope they might get something and cause jitters for Bentleigh. And as soon as that fourth official disappeared with their board, Werribee and their fans were rejoicing as the Bees halved the deficit. Lisandro Paz sped down the right, leaving the defender for dust, before crossing to the back post where Holden volleyed in. Keep pushing was the message, we can get something. And in the fifth minute of six, it became 2-2. Oskar Dillon opted to go route one from a free kick deep inside the home half, and Nathan Elasi was onto it before slipping it past the advancing keeper. Absolute scenes!

Team: Baird; Lakic, Abbott, Dillon, Bavcar; Gonano; Zaffina (Gaspari 67), Ballan ©; Ammache (Holden 67), Paz; Scott (Elasi 57)
Man of the Match: Marco Jankovic (Bentleigh Greens)
Attendance: 545
Position After Game: 5th

The week between the games was eventful as well. First was the good news that Werribee had sold 132 season books for the new campaign, a 20 per cent increase on last season. Hopefully if the crowd was a decent as the opening day, granted there was 308 away supporters though, then the Club's financial situation might improve and maybe some off-pitch investments could be made. The biggest surprise came midweek when Julyan Collett phoned Brush up to apologise for his pre-season outburst. Brush was dumbstruck but accepted the defender's words with the dignified good grace he had shown all along. But as soon as the dust settled on that, Elasi was whining about depth in central midfield to him. Obviously having six players to fill just two slots wasn't on. Maybe one last shopping trip....

Matchday 2: Oakleigh Cannons 0 - 0 Werribee City (0 - 0)

Werribee secured a hard fought point from their first away game of the new season with a goalless draw with an Oakleigh Cannons side that finished runners-up to South Melbourne last season. Both sides created many a chance but neither could get that all important breakthrough to edge ahead. For Werribee, Brush will see this as a point gained rather than two dropped whilst the Cannons will feel that they could have, and should have done better given they were at home.

Team: Baird; Lakic, Abbott, Dillon, Bavcar; Gonano; Zaffina (Gaspari 80), Ballan ©; Ammache (Holden 54), Paz; Elasi (Goodwin 63)
Booked: Elasi (1st)
Man of the Match: Tyson Holmes (Oakleigh Cannons)
Attendance: 581
Position After Game: 9th
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Chapter 52: Boom, bang a bang!

Basil knew there was no way to deal with the unhappiness which had enveloped both Nathan Elasi and Lisandro Paz. To deal with the striker, one final central midfielder whilst Paz would only be content if he was played on the left as an inverted winger, and even if it meant that Michael Holden would be used as an impact player to begin with then if it did it's trick then it could only benefit the Club. So when a recommendation came through to sign a quality midfielder, Basil literally jumped at the chance.

Dion Kirk - M C: Free Transfer
https://i.postimg.cc/q7z2sJb7/Werribee-2021-Dion-Kirk.png

Dion is a quality central midfielder that fits right in with what we want at Werribee. He was once on the books of A-League side Adelaide United, and although he didn't make the grade there, he's trained at a high level. A great passer of the ball and with equally good technique, he will add more quality to our midfield options. He has also very good leadership skills so we can count on him to make others accountable if they are not pulling their respective weight. Last season he was at Campbelltown City who nearly made the end of season play-offs, and has also played for South Melbourne and Bentleigh Greens in our division. He might be the final piece of the jigsaw.

He will allocated squad number 29 for the season.

Then as soon as Kirk had signed on the dotted line, Brush got a text from Elasi. The message was short and succinct, a thumbs up emoji. Moments later, a second text came through: this time from Paz. Paz's text said: "Happy with everything boss, no need to cause a fuss now." So all was fine and dandy for now. But with the squad having cover everywhere now, Basil knew he couldn't play everyone. Players might have to be moved on, but nobody was wanting to at present. It would be a case of horses for courses as Basil's grandfather used to say to him.

Matchday 3: Werribee City 1 - 2 Hume City (0 - 1)

Werribee City slipped to their first loss of the season as goals in each half enabled visitors Hume City to walk off with the three points. The Bees gave an immediate debut to new signing Dion Kirk and dominated their opponents from start to finish but failed to make their opportunities count. The visitors took the lead six minutes from half time when Tsoukarellis crossed from the right to the far post, and winger Thierry Iradukunda peeled away from Tom Lakic to drive a low shot home.

Midway through the second half, the visitors went two goals to the good when Mark Ochieng blasted in an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area that simply rocketed into the roof of the net. Brush's response was a double substitution moments later, and one of those substitutes halved the deficit with 16 minutes to go. Skipper Matteo Ballan played a ball into Lachlan Scott who spun away from his marker and drilled a low effort into the far corner. However, that was as good as it was and Werribee suffered their first loss in 25 games under Brush,

Team: Baird; Lakic, Abbott, Dillon, Bavcar; Gonano; Kirk (Gaspari 66), Ballan ©; Ammache, Paz (Holden 60); Elasi (Scott 66)
Man of the Match: Mark Ochieng (Hume City)
Attendance: 522
Position After Game: 12th

The new week started with a Zoom call for Brush on the Monday morning. Calling him was Domenico Serafino, the new chairman of Bangor City. Bangor, who had won the Welsh Cup three seasons in a row in the late 2000s, were having a wretched start to the new season with four points from 13 games and had recently sacked former Argentinian internationalist Pedro Pasculli. Pasculli had been a teammate of a certain Diego Armando Maradona when La Albiceleste won the World Cup in 1986, so had the pedigree. But winning in Mexico wasn't as easy as a wet night on the Menai Strait.

The discussion went well but Brush sensed a sticking point, what the prospective new chairman was demanding. Whilst they seemed to agree that avoiding the drop in 20-21 was paramount, Serafino was targeting winning the league the following season. Talk about a jump in expectations. Brush was more conservative in his judgement, and he told Serafino such: "If the Club survives the drop, you should be looking at a mid-table finish the following season. And then, only one, should you target the title." Serafino's reaction said it all, speechless. Aside of that, Brush received a call from Michael Jessup: one of the senior players at Werribee. Jessup announced he was going to end his career at the end of the season, and he thought it would be considerate of him to give Brush and Werribee a fair of advance warning instead of just dumping on them.

Brush appreciated it, and hoped the season would end up a decent one and give the midfielder a happy finish, Yet the next game was another test, Werribee were off to the J L Murphy to face a Port Melbourne side that had won three out of three so far. No pressure, right? Well considering the Sharks had been tipped to finish 10th, they were certainly punching above their weight. Could Werribee stop them?

Matchday 4: Port Melbourne SC 0 - 1 Werribee City (0 - 1)

Port Melbourne saw their unbeaten record disappear when Werribee City took the spoils at the J L Murphy Reserve on a windy Friday evening. After losing to Hume City the previous Saturday, Werribee made three changes to their starting line up. Out went Alex Baird in goals, winger Omar Ammache and striker Elasi; and replacing them were Jordan Thurtell, Holden and Scott. The changed line up certainly didn't perform like a struggling side as they controlled the leaders with ease and took the lead after just four minutes when William Abbott sent Paz away down the right and his cross was thumped into the net by Scott for his second goal in successive games.

Werribee went close to a second and almost did so six minutes after the restart. A goalmouth scramble saw Scott hit the post from close range. Then the home fans thought their team had equalised in the 57th minute when Milos Lujic found the back of the net from an Evan Christodoulou pass, but those celebrations were soon muted by a linesman's flag. And deservedly so. Yet with Thurtell proving to be a barrier on his debut, Port Melbourne couldn't get back on even terms and Werribee celebrated a well earned three points.

Team: Thurtell; Abbott (Pistininzi 78), Dillon, Lakic, Bavcar; Gonano; Kirk (Zaffina 65), Ballan ©; Paz, Holden (Ammache 70), Scott
Man of the Match: Lisandro Paz
Attendance: 453
Position After Game: 8th

As he got on the team bus post-game, Brush received a text: Bangor had not appointed him and he knew it was because of what he (Brush) had perceived as regards the team expectations. "Ah well," he said to himself. "Their loss."

Soon enough it would be time to pick an international squad for the first time; that would be interesting and a challenge as well.
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Chapter 53: Naming the international team

After celebrating his birthday quietly, Basil sat down with a list from which he would name his first ever international squad for the Cook Islands. This would form the side for the friendly against Micronesia on 11 November 2020. He chose the following names, following on from a recommendation.

https://i.postimg.cc/KjQ3djJB/Cook-Islands-FA.png

GOALKEEPERS:
Tahiri Elikana (10 caps /0 goals), Keegan Inia (12/0), Manaariki Pierre (0/0)

DEFENDERS:
Don Aiturau (5/0), Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri (15/0), Spoon Hallin (4/0), Sunai Joseph (9/0), Roimata Karika, Samuel Maoate-Cox (2/0), Ishaq Mohammed Nazeem (12/1), Arus Sem (13/0), Manu Tautu (2/1)

MIDFIELDERS:
Daryl Areai (6/0), Tereapii Moutiaki (3/0), Gustav Raiora (7/0), Rhys Ruka (3/0), Rua Samuel (0/0), Harlem Simiona (15/1), Lee Tereu (3/0)

FORWARDS:
Maro Bonsu-Maro (4/4), Emiel Burrow (13/1), Darren Hall-Batty (3/0), Gustav Sila (4/2)


Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri has been named as captain, with Arus Sem as vice-captain at present.
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Chapter 54: Home is where the heart is

Basil poured himself a glass of wine after submitting his first ever international squad list to the Cook Islands FA public relations team so the media could be informed. Since he was in Australia, Basil delegated to job of letting the players to Tokoa Newnham: Newnham, despite having no coaching qualifications to his name, had been given the role of being Basil's number two. An advertisement had been put out for a proper number two with qualifications prior to Basil's appointment, but sadly this attracted very little in the way of interest.

So Basil had to deal with what he had. There was no scout either so getting an insight on the opponent would be very limited. It was like stepping into the dark and trying to find the light switch. At least at club level, Basil did have some kind of network in place. The advertisements would be re-submitted into the job centre in the next week. Even at international level, it was important to have the right structure and if that meant expanding the management team for such a small nation: then it would have to be.

As he relaxed, there was suddenly a knock on the door. Basil arose from his comfy chair and opened the door to John Waddell, panting as if he had just completed a marathon.

"Wads, come in. Take a seat mate."
"Thanks, thanks Basil."
"You look shattered Wads, everything OK?"
"Yeah grand, I've just been out for a wee 5K run and had to call in..."
"Sure everything's OK?"
"Yeah. Here, take this..."

Waddell thrust a piece of paper into Basil's hand. It was the fixture list for November.

"They had a computer glitch down at the FA mate, so I had to phone up and get our fixtures that day. Apologies for the terrible handwriting, you multitasking and that..."
"Aye, and they say us blokes can't multi-task."
"Yep, exactly."

Basil looked at the paper:

Saturday 7 November 2020 - Dandenong City @ Home
Saturday 14 November 2020 - Altona Magic (Away)
Saturday 21 November 2020 - Avondale FC @ Home
Saturday 28 November 2020 - Green Gully SC @ Home

Three home games, that would boost the Club's coffers a bit and if the team could get a winning streak then maybe the crowds would go up as well. Seemed like a win, win situation to Basil. If only...
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Chapter 55: COOK-ed to Perfection

After Werribee's home game against Dandenong City, Basil didn't hang around to speak much with the media. A couple of questions and he was away in his car, and off to the airport. Basil's destination was Auckland International Airport and then onto Ranotonga as there were no direct flights from Melbourne, for that read also no direct flights from Australia, to the Cook Islands.

There was 5 hour wait between flights so Basil would sit in the lounge, headphones on and tuned to his music in the meantime.

The Cook Islands was somewhere Basil had never been to before, not exactly number one on his holiday plans for sure but it was somewhere he was going to experience. The second flight was just a shade over four hours long, equivalent to Basil taking a flight from Manchester to Dalaman in Turkey back home. Therefore that Spotify playlist Basil created a few nights previous was being to put some serious usage. As he eventually disembarked the flight in Ranotonga, Basil looked up at the skies and typically the heavens opened with a downpour. "Just like being at home in the UK", Basil said to himself. "Nothing ever changes."

After collecting his suitcase from the carousel, Basil made his way to the arrivals concourse. There he met Tokoa Newnham for the first time, the assistant manager.

"Pleased to finally meet you Basil." Newnham said.
"Thank you, and likewise to you." Basil replied.
"Sorry about the weather, I wish I could make the sun shine for our new national team manager."
"No need to apologise Tokoa, am used to it. I come originally from the UK, and from a city that's used to its fair share of rainfall."

Newnham laughed.

"I like you already Basil, you have an incredible sense of humour."
"It's what makes me what I am. Now I think we best get me checked in at the hotel, yeah."
"Yeah, sounds good Basil. Sounds so good."

The two made their way to a black Ford, and clambered inside: Head Coach and assistant ready to start their adventure. For the next couple of days, Basil put the 23 players he had named in that initial squad; through their paces. Putting them through professional drills he had been through himself as a player and observed as a coach. The players were unused to this kind of regime so seeing a few of them blowing as they completed yet another circuit of the pitch, represented some kind of achievement for Basil. As the players passed him, Basil barked out: "Keep going lads, this will be of benefit in the long run for you. You'll become better players for it."

Eventually, game day came and it was time to test himself on the international stage. Basil opted for the same formation that he was using at Werribee even though the players were far from adept at it. The rain was still teeming as the players emerged from the tunnel, and a warm round of applause greeted Basil as he was announced to the sparse crowd. He leant forward from his dugout, and shook the hand of Micronesia's player manager Alex Panuelo warmly.

The game itself was a classic case of a game of two halves, The Cook Islands dominated the first then Micronesia had the best of the second. The home nation took the lead in the 37th minute when Harlem Simiona fed the ball into Maro Bonsu-Maro who placed his shot out of the reach of the Micronesia keeper for his fifth goal in as many internationals. Simiona scored the second four minutes later with a nice angled finish from a deep cross from Lee Tereu. Then with half time just a couple of minutes away, The Cook Islands scored a third when Rhys Ruka arrowed in his first ever international strike from the edge of the area and right into the top corner. Basil couldn't have wished for anything better as the teams came off at half time.

Panuelo made changes at the interval and Brush did likewise, after all it was only a friendly. And Micronesia seemed to respond to their changes better than the home nation as they made it 3-1 just three minutes after the restart. Kenneth Suldan was the scorer, a low shot from 25 yards out that skidded off the wet turf and in. Basil saw it as a goal that shouldn't have happened. Second choice keeper Tahiri Elikana should have at least got a hand to it Basil rued. That goal seemed to breathe a new life into Micronesia, and they got within one with a second goal on 66 minutes when Panuelo powered in a header. Twitchy times for Basil and his new squad, they needed to get a goal to settle any nerves which were become all too apparent. Thankfully for Basil, it came with 15 minutes to go when Ruka netted from the spot after Arus Sem had been fouled whilst challenging for a free-kick.

Micronesia pushed to get back into the game after the goal but The Cook Islands defence held firm for a win on Basil's maiden international game. It hadn't been pretty, it had been nervous in places but at least Basil had an idea what his new charges were like. He smiled, and walked down the tunnel a happy man. Half an hour later, he walked out of the stadium and into the car bound for the airport. Time to go home, and go back to Werribee whilst the Cook Islands FA planned the next friendly out.

Team: Inia (Elikana); Manate-Cox (Hallin), Joseph (Aiturau), Barringer-Tahiri (Karika), Nazeem (Tautu); Sem; Areai, Ruka; Tereu (Sila), Simiona; Bonsu-Maro
Scorers: Bonsu-Maro, Simiona, Ruka 2 (1 pen)
Man of the Match: Rhys Ruka (Cook Islands)
Attendance: 648
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Chapter 56: Fireworks!

After the team had delivered three points to him as an early birthday present, Basil settled down to enjoy his birthday in peace and quiet with a quiet meal accompanied by John Waddell, John's wife and vice-captain Matteo Ballan and his spouse. The meal had been planned by Ballan as he wanted to show Basil the best Italian restaurant in Melbourne. It was a huge success, and the perfect way to unwind from the football managerial stresses.

The team put in their best performance of the season against Port Melbourne; and despite the large squad; Basil was reluctant to ring the changes. Never change a winning squad was the philosophy that Basil had been instilled with but despite this, he was still far from happy. He wanted a team that was settled with the players believing in themselves. A tweak here and there wouldn't harm anyone.

Matchday 5: Werribee City 3 - 0 Dandenong City (1 - 0)

Despite the win at Port Melbourne, Basil did decide to change the team for the first of three home games in November. James Karvelis was given his debut after missing the opening four games to a rolled over suspension, this meant that Tom Lakic moved back to the right back spot and Lachlan Davis came in for Michael Holden on the wing. What Brush got was a performance that delighted him no end in a tight encounter settled by two late goals.

Werribee had the best start when they took just a couple of minutes to open the scoring. Ballan fed recent signing Dion Kirk 30 yards out, and the midfielder strode forward before launching a long range effort that simply rocketed home. It was a class strike and underlined to Basil that this signing was one worth making especially for moments like that. Dandenong thought they had equalised a couple of minutes later when Brayden Mann played in strike partner Stipo Andrijasevic but a flag soon subdued those celebrations. It was to be one of those nights for the Dandenong frontman who was well shackled by the home defence.

The Bees were given some breathing space when they made it 2-0 with seven minutes to go. Ballan swung a free-kick and the ball dropped to the feet of Lisandro Paz who netted his first of the new season from eight yards out. The game was firmly Werribee's three minutes later when they netted a third. This time it was the turn of Alec Goodwin to net his first of the season when the substitute latched onto a Kirk through ball to lash in an unstoppable effort from the edge of the area.

Team: Thurtell; Lakic, Dillon, Karvelis, Bavcar; Gonano (Pistininzi); Kirk, Ballan ©; Davis (Holden), Paz; Scott (Goodwin)
Booked: Davis, Karvelis, Gonano (all 1st)
Man of the Match: Dion Kirk
Attendance: 545
Position After Game: 3rd

After completing his maiden international bow with the Cook Islands in the week, Basil arrived back in Melbourne: exhausted. Considering he had not played any international football in his career, the globe trotting came as a culture shock to the Werribee manager. Prior to this, the most he had done in terms of travelling was the flights between Britain and Australia or the usual summer break in Mexico or Dubai which Basil enjoyed. Still it meant more stamps in that passport.

Matchday 6: Altona Magic 1 - 2 Werribee City (0 - 0)

The sole away game in November saw Werribee travel to the Paisley Reserve to take on Altona Magic. It was a return back to an old stomping ground for Marinos Gasparis although the midfielder didn't make the matchday eighteen to mark his return with an appearance. After that 3-0 win against Dandenong, Brush chose an unchanged side which indicated that perhaps just perhaps he might have found his ideal first eleven. It was a game Werribee controlled from the start to the end even if the scoreline suggested it was much closer.

After a goalless first half, Werribee took the lead in the 47th when Llevares fouled Brendan Gonano as they tussled at a free-kick. Ballan stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot. With 20 minutes to go, Werribee had a second when a cross by Lakic was finished with aplomb at the far post by an unmarked Holden. There was time though for a jittery finish when Shahril Mohamad scored with a long range shot that Jordan Thurtell got a hand to but couldn't keep out. Yet Werribee held on and as a result also improved their league standing.

Team: Thurtell; Lakic, Dillon, Karvelis, Bavcar (Abbott); Gonano; Kirk, Ballan ©; Davis (Holden), Paz; Scott (Goodwin)
Man of the Match: Shahril Mohamad (Altona Magic)
Attendance: 455
Position After Game: 2nd
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Chapter 57: It's gotta be...PERFECT!

After reaching their highest position in the new division with their triumph at Altona Magic, Basil poured himself a nice glass of Merlot to celebrate of sorts. For a team that had been massively overhauled in the summer, Werribee were certainly punching above their weight. It was becoming the stuff of fairy tales and of course Basil wanted it to last for as long as it could. Nothing lasts forever was the phrase Basil was thinking of as he scanned the latest league standings. It was a case of seeing how long this winning feeling would last.

As he did, he received an email from the admin team at the Cook Islands FA. They were still buzzing that their new national Head Coach had led them to a win in his first game in charge, even if it proved to be too close for comfort in that second half. The email also advised Basil of his second national team assignment, a home friendly against Fiji on 24 March 2021. Fiji were ranked 30 places above the Cook Islands in the recent world rankings, and had also won the last meeting between the two nations: 3-0 in the OFC Nations Cup this summer. But they would be foolish to think that something similar would happen again, right?

Matchday 7: Werribee City 2 - 1 Avondale FC (1 - 1)

Werribee's next game was against bottom of the table Avondale at Galvin Park, the first of back to back home games for the Bees. The mood was upbeat, the media predicting Werribee would swat their opponents aside like flies: after all Werribee were on a run of three consecutive wins. But it didn't start off as planned though as the basement dwellers took the lead after just five minutes play, Argentine Jonatan Germano chipping Jacob Thurtell from the edge of the penalty area.

The game had a pattern throughout, Werribee attacking and Avondale trying to stop by fair means or foul. Midway through the first half, Werribee got back on level terms when Abliantis inexplicably handled the ball from a Michael Holden corner with nobody near him. Not the smartest decision for sure. Anyway, skipper Matteo Ballan stepped forth and sent Markogiannkis the wrong way from twelve yards. It was his second in successive games.

Werribee suffered a blow to their team plans in the 67th minute when Dion Kirk limped off but Basil knew he had a ready replacement in mind. The replacement was Brandon Zaffina, and within three minutes of his introduction, the substitute netted what turned out to be the winner. With the rain continuing to lash down, Lisandro Paz played him in and he then had the composure to steer his shot into the far corner. What an impact! Blushes spared and now it's four wins on the spin for an in form Werribee.

Team: Thurtell; Abbott, Dillon, Karvelis, Lakic; Gonano; Kirk (Zaffina), Ballan ©; Paz, Holden (Bavcar); Scott (Goodwin)
Man of the Match: Jonatan Germano (Avondale FC)
Attendance: 464
Position After Game: 2nd

Basil rued the injury to Dion Kirk, particularly as the new signing had been starting to show why he was so well sought as an acquisition. But the midfielder would recover in time for the final game of the month. Yet before then Basil had to also deal with a strange sequence of events involving David Parkinson. A couple of days before that final game of the month, the Kiwi had phoned Basil to ask him if he could have a wee chat: Basil naturally agreed. The chat was for Parkinson to voice his concerns about not getting much game time recently. Basil understood the concerns and the two shook hands on an agreement for the defender to get some chances soon. After all, the season still had plenty of games to go and there was bound to be an injury or two happen.

Then the following day, Basil was down at the stadium ensuring the kit was ready like he did the day before a home game when John Waddell appeared from out of nowhere.

"Good afternoon Wads, what you doing down here?"
"Basil, I've got some news for you mate."
"Uh?"
"It's David (Parkinson), he's walked out on the Club."
"What? I was only chatting with him yesterday and we'd sorted his playing time out for a period. All was good."
"Well, he's decided to walk on us. He was out of contract today, and didn't fancy a month to month one so he's gone back home to New Zealand. Like on a flight this morning..."
"Blow me down, I'll phone him."
"Don't bother Basil, I've tried to call him back but it's saying number unobtainable."
"Well, fine. We move on without him."
"My sentiments exactly."
"I tell you one thing though, I'm calling Matteo Ballan later to tell him he's got the armband for the foreseeable now."
"Good shout, and I'm thinking young Jordan Thurtell could be a good vice-captain to him. He's always vocal on the training or match pitch. Reminds me a bit of that Peter Schmeichel fella."
"Couldn't agree more, great call Wads. Jordan's the new vice-captain, he's deserved it."

And so a new era of Werribee history was written. Nobody heard from David Parkinson, and when the squad heard about it: nobody seemed to raise a concern as if to say, we don't miss him. Basil took this as a positive step.

Matchday 8: Werribee City 2 - 1 Green Gully SC (0 - 1)

The day after he was confirmed as Werribee's new captain for the foreseeable, Matteo Ballan fired the Bees to a fifth win in a row as they came from behind to defeat Green Gully at Galvin Park Reserve. It was a game that the visitors had the majority of the possession but that in the end counted for nada as Werribee continued their impressive start to life in NPL - Victoria. Basil had made one change to the side that had won seven days ago, Nicholas Bavcar coming in for William Abbott which allowed Tom Lakic to revert back to right back from left back.

Green Gully took the lead three minutes before half time when Diamant Yusuf played a through ball and Mate Dugandzic nipped in between both Oskar Dillon and James Karvelis to poke the ball past Jordan Thurtell and into the corner of the net. Yet just four minutes after the restart, Werribee equalised. As Ballan lifted in the free-kick, Karvelis was fouled by Kalmar for a nailed on penalty. The skipper assumed responsibility as always, and this time opted for sheer power to convert rather than placement. Game back on!

Werribee suffered a setback when Kirk limped off for the second game in a row, causing Basil to cast a concerned glance as the midfielder hobbled down the tunnel. Yet Werribee would get the winner for five in a row in the 69th minute when Brendan Gonano found his skipper in a pocket of space and he rifled one in from range with a slight kiss from the post. By this time Green Gully had been reduced to ten men when George Mohammed was dismissed on the hour for a couple of yellows.

Team: Thurtell; Lakic, Dillon, Karvelis, Bavcar; Gonano; Kirk (Zaffina), Ballan ©; Paz, Holden (Collett); Scott (Goodwin)
Man of the Match: Matteo Ballan
Attendance: 476
Position After Game: 2nd

The question after the game remained though, just how bad was the injury to Dion Kirk? Head Physio Jordan Jones' report was keenly awaited...
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Chapter 58: Winter is coming

After the crowd had dispersed following the 2-1 home win over Green Gully SC, Basil sat in his car a worried man. He had seen one of his key central midfielders walk off the pitch, and then head off in an ambulance to the hospital to have his injury assessed. Head Physio Jordan Jones had accompanied Dion Kirk in the ambulance and Basil sat there in stony silence. He looked to the skies for apparent divine inspiration, hoping that the injury was just a slight knock.

After spending ten minutes doing precisely nothing, Basil drove back to his hotel. Normally he would have some rock album pumping out of the stereo but not tonight, the drive was completed without a single musical tone being emitted. He nodded at the receptionist as he walked through the lobby, glancing frequently at his mobile. Jordan hadn't phoned, what was keeping him? The more the time passed, the more anxious Basil became. He plonked himself in the cosy chair in his suite, mobile on the glass table, and a large scotch on the rocks in his left hand. Then suddenly the strains of "Welcome To The Jungle" came through on the mobile, Basil picked up the mobile...it was Jordan at long last!

"Jordan, Jordan..."
"Hi boss, sorry for the late response. A&E was absolutely chocka, we finally got seen about half an hour ago."
"Jeez."
"Anyway, the doctors have checked Dion out and it's not good news but it could have been worse."
"Right, what's the diagnosis Jordan?"
"Dion's got pulled knee ligaments boss, you're gonna have to change that team up."
"Timescale, what's the freaking timescale Jordan?"
"Looking at three weeks boss, then there's the fact Dion will have to get his match sharpness back..."
"So we're possibly looking at seeing him miss all of December?"
"Yup, that's pretty much the realistic response. Sorry, but it could have been much worse. A ruptured anterior cruciate for example."
"Sure. Don't talk to me about ruptured anterior cruciates Jordan, I had one of them in my younger days. Not good."
"Yeah they ain't, but you know now. I'll drive Dion home to his family now, and I'll be seeing you later. Take care boss."
"Take care Jordan, and thanks for looking after Dion. You're the best Head Physio in this league mate."

So the injury was a bad one, but could have been which might have ended a career yet wasn't. Three to four weeks, that's a bit of a hole to fill as Kirk and Matteo Ballan were really starting to gel together. Who could fill that void, Basil pondered. He fired up his laptop and looked at his squad list, four possible candidates. There was the experience provided by Michael Jessup and Marinos Gasparis, and the much younger guile of Josh Gaspari and Brandon Zaffina. Zaffina had partnered the skipper in NPL Victoria 2 but Basil saw him as an impact sub these days, so that left Gaspari. "I'm not gonna make a decision now." Basil said to himself. "I'll see how training goes first."

Basil then unfolded the sheet of A4 that John Waddell had given him in the shed pre-game, it had December's fixture list on it. The fixtures were as follows:

https://i.postimg.cc/FKVwXk6W/Werribee-2021-Dec20-Games.png

On the road for the majority of the month then, and every game as difficult as the one before. If Werribee could emerge from this latest batch fixtures , which would take the Club to within one game of the halfway stage, in touch with the leaders as they were at present then perhaps Basil could dare to dream again. Winning this title would mean a lot, and leave Basil with a decision to make since his contract was up at the end of May. He was still unsure about committing for a third season, the itch to try his luck elsewhere was burning away.

December would be a crucial month for Club and manager alike. That was a given.
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Chapter 59: Nothing lasts forever

The day before the ninth game of the season saw some welcome cheer at Werribee and it pleased Basil no end. Not content with three home games in November, which boosted the financial situation at the Club, Basil was pleasantly surprised when Chairman Craig Adam publicly announced that he and his consortium were reaffirming their commitment by putting another 85K into the Club coffers.

Nice wee bonus Basil thought, just the thing ahead of the next crucial game on the schedule.

Matchday 9: Melbourne Knights 1 - 2 Werribee City (0 - 0)

Werribee City relied upon two sensational strikes to take their winning run to six games and as a result set a new NPL Victoria record. The goals came from inverted winger Lisandro Paz who seems to have lifted his game to a new level after Basil Brush had agreed to play him in his favoured position. The result kept the Knights in mid-table whilst helping the visitors continue their chase of league leaders Bentleigh Greens.

After the sides had gone in at the interval goalless, Werribee exerted their control of the game with two goals in four quickfire minutes shortly after the restart. In the 50th minute, Paz would score one of the strikes of the season. Picking up a ball from James Karvelis wide on the left, the inverted winger cut inside his marker and took a few strides forward before unleashing an unstoppable effort into the top corner. Safe to say Anthony Zucco in the Knights goal had no chance whatsoever.

The keeper was picking the ball out of his net again in the 54th minute, Paz crashing a half volley into the far bottom corner with the same unerring accuracy. The Knights halved the deficit with 18 minutes to left to play, John Buceto measuring his cross to perfection and 16 year old striker Fu Wei heading home. However, Werribee held on for their fourth 2-1 win a row and with it, the league record for consecutive victories.

Team: Thurtell; Abbott (Bavcar), Karvelis, Dillon, Lakic; Gonano (Pistininzi); Gaspari, Ballan ©; Ammache, Paz; Scott (Goodwin)
Booked: Gonano, Karvelis (both 2nd)
Man of the Match: Lisandro Paz
Attendance: 449
Position After Game: 2nd

Matchday 10: Heidelberg United 2 - 0 Werribee City (2 - 0)

After winning six straight, the question on the lips was could Werribee make it a lucky seven against Heidelberg United? Alas Basil Brush and his team saw that unbeaten run come to an end when two first half goals proved to be enough to give the Bergers a much needed victory after losing to local rivals South Melbourne seven days previous. The damage was done early with both goals scored in the opening quarter of an hour.

Bees manager Basil Brush named an unchanged side for this game at Melbourne Olympic Village, but saw his gameplan undone after just 12 minutes when Heidelberg netted their opener. It was a route one goal which caught the Bees out with Chris Theodoritis launching a huge goal kick that was collected by teenage striker Park Il-Soo took one touch before rifling the ball past Jordan Thurtell. Three minutes later, the young South Korean striker and Heidelberg had a second when he blasted home from the edge of the six yard box following a well worked corner routine.

Werribee thought they had reduced the margin in the 32nd minute when Paz had the ball in the net. However, the celebrations were cut short when the linesman's flag went up for offside. That was about as good as it got for Werribee who now slip down two places in what has been a rather successful start to life since being promoted.

Team: Thurtell; Abbott, Karvelis, Dillon (Petrov), Lakic; Gonano (Pistininzi); Gaspari, Ballan ©; Ammache, Paz; Scott (Goodwin)
Booked: Paz (1st)
Man of the Match: Park Il-Soo (Heidelberg United)
Attendance: 454
Position After Game: 4th
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Chapter 60: All Good Things Must Eventually End

In between the games against Melbourne Knights and Heidelberg United, Basil had been summoned to a Zoom call. That call was with a certain Jerry Dolke. Jerry was the chairman of Vanarama National League side Bromley, who had sacked former Gillingham midfielder Neil Smith after eight years in charge about a month ago.

This was a chance to finally head back home after 15 months Down Under, and test his mettle in the fifth tier. Having being discounted by Chesterfield earlier in the season, Basil was unsure if he was the right fit. Only Jerry could decide that.

Jerry presented him with his vision on the call, Basil studied it closely:

https://i.postimg.cc/q7MYdQng/Bromley-Vision.png

Well, having also visualised the season so far, Basil knew that he couldn't go any further in either the FA Cup nor the FA Trophy. All that really remained was to ensure he got, should he be appointed, the team into mid-table and then kick on for the play-offs the season afterwards as per Jerry's plan. However, Basil had ideas in his head that he could actually go that bit further not that Jerry or his potential playing staff would know. He looked at the squad list, four players on long term loans and a little bit of cash available to spend as well. All seemed good. There was also a few spots spare on the backroom team, so that would needed to be sorted as well. Jerry also promised that he would put some extra funds in for the youth system as per Basil's request.

All in all, Basil felt he was being asked to achieve reasonable targets. Nothing too over-realistic like some Chairman do.

A few days later whilst preparing the Werribee side for the Heidelberg game, Basil took a phone call. It was Jerry.

"Hello Basil."
"Oh, hi Jerry."
"Just calling you to advise you that we were very very impressed with you the other day. So impressed, we would like to appoint you."
"Really?"
"Really. I've sorted a compensation figure out with the Werribee Chairman. So it's yours, just let me know if you want to accept."
"Oh cheers, thank you very much. Can I have a few days thinking time please?"
"Of course, I've sent you a contract via email to sign if you accept. Just drop me a reply back to that email and we'll be OK. Bye for now."
"Bye Jerry."

So that was that, Basil had ticked Bromley's boxes and they wanted him. As he sat on the team bus waiting for Wads and the players, Basil contemplated. Nobody would know his decision, not yet anyway.

The Tuesday after the Heidelberg loss, Basil had made his decision. He arrived at training, sans whistle and clipboard and called everyone into the centre of the training pitch in a massive circle.

"Guys, I'm going to make this short and sweet." Basil said. "I've accepted a job back in England so as of today, Wads, will be in temporary charge until the Club find a permanent successor."
"Wow!" said skipper Matteo Ballan. "Where you off to gaffer?"
"Bromley, a team that play in the fifth tier of English football. It's a chance to establish my name back in England. And to be honest, I did think hard about it before accepting the offer."
"Good luck Basil, we won't forget your impact." Wads said.
"Thanks Wads. I'd been considering to move at the end of the season anyway but this is time and the role sounds like something I can progress with. You'll be in good hands lads, and I won't forget you all either."

At that point, a cab arrived to take Basil to the airport and the long flight home. Basil Brush was the new manager of Bromley, subject to international clearance which was a bit of formality. Next stop, Hayes Lane BR2 and to meet the players Thursday morning: jet lag permitting.
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VOLUME 2 - EUROPE
Chapter 61: Getting to know you

Basil stepped off the flight at Heathrow Airport after the Boeing 777 parked at gate 32. It was 07:30 in the morning. The rain was teeming down as normal, and there was a brisk south-westerly wind which made the disembarking that bit more hazardous. He zipped up his Adidas rain jacket and held his New Jersey Devils hockey baseball cap tightly as he scurried across the tarmac and into the warmth of the Terminal 3 building.

He meandered his way through to border control, and smiled attentively at the officer on duty.

"Good morning sir, and the purpose of your arrival in the UK please?"
"I'm the new manager of Bromley Football Club."
"Really? But you have a British Passport yet have come from Austraila."
"I was managing over there, non-league."
"Right. Well everything seems to be in order, enjoy your time back home then. Good luck."
"Thank you."

Basil headed to the baggage reclaim area, picked up his case and looked for the signs for the passenger meeting point. After heading in this direction and that, Basil saw a sign with his name on it. Holding that was none other than Jerry Dolke, the Bromley FC chairman, A few steps further, and the two men shook hands.

"Welcome back to England." Jerry greeted enthusiastically, happy to have his man in place.
"Thank you Jerry, see the weather's still as rubbish as I remember it?"
"Nothing changes Basil, nothing changes here in the UK."
"Yeah, pretty much standard."
"Now let's get you to the Bromley Court Hotel. I've arranged for you stay there until you find a property of your own. That OK?"
"Sounds a plan Jerry, let's do this."

The car sped its way through the inevitable morning rush hour travel, and arrived at the hotel an hour later. Basil checked in, and left his case for the concierge to drop off at the room. Keen to get stuck in, Basil wanted to meet the players and his backroom staff before the customary press conference later in the afternoon. Surprisingly, there was hardly any sign of jet lag but Basil put this down to sleeping on the flights. Jerry parked his car at the stadium, and ushered Basil into the stadium where the team were training at this morning. He pointed the office which would be Basil's domain, and introduced him to Janette: his PA.

Basil made his way up the tunnel, to see a man laying cones out on the pitch. The man paused, cast the remaining cones aside, and jogged over to where Basil was stood.

"Morning, you must be Basil?"
"Yes, and you are?"
"Jon, Jon McCarthy - assistant manager at your service."
"Pleased to meet you, let's get down to doing the preparation before the rest arrive eh?"
"Good idea."

https://i.postimg.cc/rFSSDv7D/Jon-Mc-Carthy.png

PROFILE - Jon McCarthy: Jon has been assistant manager for the Club since the summer. A former Northern Irish internationalist, despite being born in Middlesbrough, Jon obtained 18 caps for his adopted nation. His playing career saw him start his career at Hartlepool United but he really shone at York for five seasons before moving onto Port Vale. Two impressive seasons there saw Birmingham City pay £1.5 million for him in 1997 where he had four reasonable successful seasons despite a multitude of injuries. He eventually hung his boots up in 2007 and after completing additional studies started his coaching career at Chester in 2014.

As they laid out the training exercises, the two men chatted intently as if to bounce ideas off each other. Jon explained to Basil that the Club had the following in place: a goalkeeping coach in Jim Stannard (the former Fulham goalkeeper), a fitness coach in Ben May (who played for Millwall), Sean Wickenden was the Head Physio and two more former pros in Brendan Moloney and Brian Atkinson (he of Sunderland and Darlington fame) managed the Under 23's and Under 18's respectively. But there was scope to expand if Basil felt suit. Moments later, Jim Stannard and Ben May arrived: Jon did the formalities and introduced Basil to them. Now to await the arrival of the players...

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