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[defender meets midfielder] (CLOSED)

A battle ground for the sportsmen and women of nations worldwide. [In character]
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Tumbra
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Founded: Aug 29, 2013
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[defender meets midfielder] (CLOSED)

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 4:45 am

Please do not post in this thread unless you are a mod or authorised to do so by Tumbra.

defender meets midfielder
a story of friends


Welcome to the central thread for defender meets midfielder, an arc being slowly developed by the user behind Tumbra. What started as a one-shot project by me in response to an RP prompt in the thirteenth edition of the Under-18 World Cup caught my attention, and slowly has evolved into an arc for the future. The fact that I won in that tournament probably helped with that, too.

In a nutshell, the story is a ██████. Chronicling the footballing careers and so much more of Stephen Kerr (the defender) and Trudy Harrison (the midfielder), the story aims to cover at least a decade of their careers, if not more.

While originally contained inside a factbook inside the nation of Tumbra's gameside account, I soon realised after my elimination from the Cup of Harmony 80 that I might not be able to fully elucidate my roleplays in threads after that fact of life. This thread thus serves multiple purposes; as a means for me to compile the various "episodes" of the storyline, "remaster" them as necessary, and push through episodes that might not have made actual tournaments due to untimely eliminations or otherwise.

The inspiration for this thread comes from Quebec and Shingoryeo's The Wanderer's Guide To Somewhere thread; I am eternally indebted to him for it and blessing to set up my own thread for this roleplay arc. Thanks also goes to the users behind Chromatika, Savigliane, Tikariot and others, for reading my roleplays, constant feedback, etc. as well as Banija for allowing the use of one of his characters. I cannot possibly include everyone who might have read my roleplays and enjoyed them (if there are any such people), though I always welcome feedback and suggestions through telegram and/or direct message on Discord.

A full contents page will follow; perhaps a list of characters with their colours will, too.

I wish all viewers of this thread a happy experience.

— Tumbra
Last edited by Tumbra on Sat Sep 11, 2021 9:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Contents

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 4:46 am

All links go to the ORIGINAL post; i.e. the one posted for the tournament, unless I was eliminated beforehand.
Season One
RTC Under-18 World Cup 13
viewtopic.php?p=38499691#p38499691 - Prelude I: Groundbreak
viewtopic.php?p=38509526#p38509526 - Prelude II: Glass Ceilings
viewtopic.php?p=38519327#p38519327 - A Day in Kven
viewtopic.php?p=38525473#p38525473 - Rooftop
viewtopic.php?p=38533167#p38533167 - Dynamo
viewtopic.php?p=38540328#p38540328 - Endings and Beginnings

Season Two
World Cup 88 - Qualifiers
viewtopic.php?p=38613150#p38613150 - Three Thousand Miles Away
viewtopic.php?p=38648477#p38648477 - The Up And Up
viewtopic.php?p=38660651#p38660651 - Come to Chromatika, Maybe?
viewtopic.php?p=38674560#p38674560 - Home Is Where The Heart Is
viewtopic.php?p=38685168#p38685168 - Come to Chromatika, Maybe? (Reprise)

Cup of Harmony 80
viewtopic.php?p=38727063#p38727063 - Touchdown
viewtopic.php?p=38731256#p38731256 - Dresses, Scarves and Whales
viewtopic.php?p=38737597#p38737597 - New Things
viewtopic.php?p=38739091#p38739091 - Míng Yā

Season Three
Di Bradini Cup 51
viewtopic.php?p=38920006#p38920006 - The Shock
viewtopic.php?p=38929715#p38929715 - The Quebecois And The Tumbran
viewtopic.php?p=38934557#p38934557 - The Journalist
viewtopic.php?p=38939332#p38939332 - The Meal
viewtopic.php?p=38945390#p38945390 - The Legend
viewtopic.php?p=38949811#p38949811 - The Memory
viewtopic.php?p=38949811#p38949811 - The Decision
viewtopic.php?p=38960771#p38960771 - The Reunion
viewtopic.php?p=38966407#p38966407 - The Final
viewtopic.php?p=38973480#p38973480 - The Flight

Season Four
World Cup 89 Qualifying
viewtopic.php?p=39024602#p39024602 - Chromia, Once More
viewtopic.php?p=39035506#p39035506 - Double Debuts

World Cup 89
viewtopic.php?p=39060423#p39060423 - f e e l i n g s
viewtopic.php?p=39064183#p39064183 - Static
viewtopic.php?p=39068771#p39068771 - Epistolary
Last edited by Tumbra on Mon Oct 18, 2021 4:34 am, edited 21 times in total.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:06 am

defender meets midfielder: prelude, part 1
groundbreak


THE TUMBRAN NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM (U-18 side)
The Junior Eagles


Marking their first foray into youth football, the Junior Eagles' (which really is a blanket term for the U-18 and U-21 tournaments) will be looking to challenge norms by including, for the first time, female players in its setup. The TFF, which has basically given Hemmings a blank cheque over the sporting side of things, has given the job of U-18 manager to Toby Barton, who served as Hemmings' assistant at Hesham FC, one of the clubs Hemmings was at before his run at Fraser Valley. Having been molded by Hemmings, Barton sets up his team stylistically the same way as Hemmings - a quick, counter-attacking style that focuses on technique more than it does physicality.

As expected, the Junior Eagles' philosophy focuses more on how the team plays, rather than what the actual result was.
As for why female players were included? You'll have to ask Barton.

Style Modifier: +3

Coaching Staff
Pos Staff Member Gender Age Prev.Club
Manager Toby Barton Male 39 Hesham FC
Asst. Manager Zachary Syles Male 34 Kirkby Railwaymen
Coach (Atk) Lucille Creighton Female 43 Lakewood City (F)
Coach (Def) Stephanie Staunton Female 39 Lakewood City (F)
Coach (GK) Phil Gretton Male 59 Collett Park United
Head Physio Gordon Wilson Male 66 --
Physio Victoria Ponsoby Female 53 --
Scout Jon Zelmerlow Male 47 Caldecott 93


Information on Tumbra can be found here.


Goalkeepers
No Pos Player Gender Age Caps Goals
1 GK Richard Russell Male 18 0 0

12 GK Victoria Jones Female 17 0 0
13 GK Adam Stanton Male 18 0 0

Defenders
No Pos Player Gender Age Caps Goals

2 RB Tracey Mercurio Female 17 0 0
19 RB James Green Male 17 0 0
4 CB Stephen Kerr Male 18 0 0
5 CB Dean Perkins Male 17 0 0
14 CB Wendy Pritchett Female 16 0 0
20 CB Ricardo Wyatt Male 17 0 0
3 LB Annie Renton Female 17 0 0
18 LB Martin Hawthorn Male 16 0 0

Midfielders
No Pos Player Gender Age Caps Goals

6 CDM Trudy Harrison Female 18 0 0
8 CDM Mark Finnemore Male 18 0 0
10 CAM John Batten Male 18 0 0
15 CM Ian Robertson Male 17 0 0
16 CM Brian Murphy Male 16 0 0

23 CAM Susan Monaghan Female 18 0 0

Wingers
No Pos Player Gender Age Caps Goals

7 RW Lynne Crossley Female 18 0 0
17 RW Julie Hardaker Female 16 0 0
9 LW Valerie Wells Female 18 0 0

21 LW Daryl Ferguson Male 18 0 0

Strikers
No Pos Player Gender Age Caps Goals
11 ST David Greer Male 18 0 0
22 ST Paul Harding Male 16 0 0
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:07 am

defender meets midfielder: prelude, part 2
glass ceilings


Image

SPORT: In Under-18 Football, A Brave Cry for Equality


PORTO NOWI - Amidst the glitz and glamour of the Campionato Esportiva, as the entire country watched the nailbiter against the Licentian Isles in Hannasea, another match was occurring in Esportiva a few oceans away - yet the importance of this match could be seen to be just as, if not more, important than the one that heralded Tumbra's first ever match in the knockout round of any competition. Unfortunately, due to its very nature, considerably less attention was heaped upon it than the senior team's exploits in Hannasea.

It was the perhaps cut-throat world of under-18s football, and for the first time in Tumbran history, male and female players would take the same stage beneath the floodlights of Zeta Reka and Hugeltadom. The Junior Eagles' head coach, one Toby Barton, perhaps escaped more scrutiny over his choices by virtue of the fact that the CE match against Hampton Island was occurring at the exact same time the squad for the flight to the fast-developing country. And yet, his choices were revolutionary for that very fact - nine female players amongst the twenty-three selected - and said nine have gone on to play a major part in every single match since, with defensive midfielder and unofficial captain (Barton refused to name an official captain, and instead determined the captain on a match-by-match basis) Trudy Harrison scoring the winner in the Junior Eagles' sole win in the competition so far. Barton's official reason for choosing female players was "I know what they can do, and it's time for Tumbra to see the light" marked a decidedly different tone from the rest of his cordial self throughout the rest of the press conference, suggesting that his reasons for choosing female players extends beyond just the sporting side of matters.

But why has it taken so long for female players to share the same stage as their male counteparts, when it is a relatively common occurrence throughout the world? Indeed, the current world champions, the Cormorants of Nephara, and many other sides that made it to the World Cup in Ethane and Taeshan boast an almost equal number of males and females on the roster - to the benefit of those nations, who are able to call upon 100% of their population, instead of just the 50%. Of course, there were many arguments for and against the inclusion of women in the men's game - different levels of physicality being the first one - but that has proven moot, especially with the Cormorants' third world title being evidence of that.

Of course, the argument is young - and many a traditionalist and reactionary will obviously shake fists at the very idea of women being allowed into what has traditionally been a male-dominated sport in Tumbra - a women's league was only established in Tumbra in 1973, and still runs today - albeit at a level that receives extremely low levels of support from the public in Tumbra, despite or because of the TFF's efforts to publicise women's football - and most women's footballing clubs are but offshoots of the male versions of the clubs.

Could this competition lead to a springboard in the conversation about women in the men's game, for it to become truly a people's game - which the TFF enjoy trotting out every so often? With a football-hungry crowd searching for more football and the domestic league season still a-ways away from starting, should attention fall on this competition, expect the conversation to begin, and in earnest. And one day, should the conversation end with full equality in the sporting leagues, most will remember the moment when Trudy Harrison scored a headed winner against Sorianora as the beginning of the end for that glass ceiling, and Barton's brave decision to even spark the conversation by including nine female players in the travelling squad.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:09 am

defender meets midfielder: season 1, part 1
a day in kven


Kven Okrug, Hügeltaldom

The imposing shadow of Mount Prinzessin loomed large over the small, picturesque town. It was also relatively cold for this time of year, but perhaps that was mainly due to the altitude of the town, more than anything else. They wouldn't be spending much more time in this town - a trip up north to face Tequilo awaited them in Platinastigrade, and knowing that the teens needed a day off, Barton had cancelled training and allowed the players a free and easy day - perhaps to take their mind off the hardest of their matches yet. Tequilo were known for their entertaining style, and their junior teams were probably no different. So, he thought, letting them spend a day in the prettiest part of Hügeltaldom to ease nerves probably would help matters.

So it was this that Stephen Kerr - who had amassed five caps for the Under-18 side, and having started four of the five matches so far - was faced with. Looking to make some memories before the match before Tequilo, Kerr whipped out his phone, trying to snap some pictures of the impressive Mount Prinzessin. It was a lovely evening, all things considered - pigeons stood by idly in the town square, the fountain's continual stream letting out a nice whirr that underpinned the whole thing. He glanced around, saw a few of his team-mates; but they were all goofing off with each other.

Then, as his eyes swept around the town square, he zoomed in on a white-walled cafe. And inside? Trudy Harrison, the normally determined and outspoken defensive midfielder, sipping on an iced drink while looking pensievely at her phone. Alone, unusually, for she was normally seen with the rest of the girls. A true leader, she was a commander on and off the pitch, and had basically become captain by proxy.

The team had no captains, though the guys and girls, perhaps awkward at having to share a pitch, had gravitated to Kerr and Harrison for guidance. They'd struck up a cordial, if strictly professional, relationship. And it'd worked, for the most part - bar a few hiccups near the start of the cup, it'd been relatively smooth sailing for the team so far, and some of them had gelled together.

So why was she alone? Stephen, against his better judgement, decided to enter the cafe and talk to her. Despite the fact that he had no idea how to talk to girls. It did tend to be one of the skills one missed out on when your social circles were entirely male, thanks to the profession of your choosing. He had no idea how to approach it - he just knew something was vaguely wrong, and that he wanted to help.

The door opened, with a little ring. The cashier took his order in halting English - an iced chocolate, with a waffle - and he duly sat down next to Trudy, who hadn't responded to Stephen opening the door, but shifted a glance at him when he sat down, and promptly turned off her phone and turned towards him when he did.

"Beautiful day, isn't i--"
"Stephen. What do you want."
"It's nice to see you too, Trudy. Anyway, I spotted you. Alone. Which is...rather unlike you."
"Yeah, it's an off day. So I decided to leave football behind for a bit. Enjoy the time I have. While I can."
"That is...remarkably...pessmistic coming from someone like you."
"Yeah. So what? We've known each other for like, a week. We've talked about one thing at most. Football. So what's to say you knew anything about me?"
"You're right. I'm sorry. It's just that I always thought you were...a determined character, one who never gave up."
"On the pitch, I am. But off it? Faced with the rest of...this?" She waved her arms around in a slight motion. "It's not much better, believe me."
"Is something...wrong? Look, we're both eighteen. You can tell me."
"Stephen, what the fuck does both of us being eighteen have to do with what's bugging me?
"Right...I'm sorry." he said sheepishly. "I just wanted to help, that's all."
"You wouldn't get it, Stephen. You're lucky." Now she was firmly turned towards him, and Stephen, for the first time proper, observed Trudy. Typically, her hair was tied back in a ponytail - as were the rest of the females in the squad - but, today, however, she'd let it down, and her dirty blonde hair flowed down to slightly below her shoulders. It was a small change, for sure, but one that left a deep impression on Stephen. Here was another person, who played football, and had the same hopes and dreams as he did. It was why they were here, anyway - anyone who would accept a U-18 callup was probably pretty bloody serious about becoming a professional footballer.
"Whaddya mean, lucky?"
"Stephen. However well or badly we do, we'll go back to Tumbra. You're going to be lauded with a professional contract, and a career in football. Me? Oh, good job, Trudy, now go back to playing in stadiums with shite pitches and have almost nobody turn up for your matches. Why do you think most female professionals in Tumbra call it quits before the age of 30?"
"Because nobody gives a shit?"
"You're smarter than you look."
"Hey!" A small smile escaped Trudy's mouth, as she stirred her drink. She was clearly enjoying this.
"It's true, though. For all we've done for the team so far, half of us will remain at the amateur level until we retire." She took a sip. "It's why we're giving so much of a fuck, you know. Because for many of us, this could be our last taste of international football."
"But...you guys are talented. More so than some of us."
She grimaced. "Exactly. But nobody, nobody gives a shit about us in Tumbra. Why? Becuase we were born into the wrong half of the population. Nobody in Tumbra gives a shit about women's football, Stephen."
"You could...go overseas."
"It's...really expensive, Stephen."
The conversation was interrupted by the waffle and iced chocolate arriving. The iced chocolate, delicate as it was, and topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a cherry, was tall, and a sight to behold. But all the more impressive was the waffle, dripping in maple syrup and powdered sugar, and which was somehow bigger than Stephen's hand.
"I...can't finish all this by myself. D'you wanna...?"
"Eh, why not." She grabbed a fork and knife from the cutlery holder, carved out a piece, and munched on it. "It's good. You should try some."
He did the same. It was good, and it was fresh. And warm.
"You could try and get a scholarship."
"Mmmph, Stephen, not right now. Waffle."
They sat in silence, and sipped on their drinks, preoccupied by their food as their forks fought each other for every last bit of the waffle, slowly eating the hot waffle as the sun slowly set, illuminating the peak of the mountain in bright orange. When they had finished, Trudy sighed, and bit her lip.
"I'm not smart enough for a scholarship, Stephen. Football's all I've known for my entire life."
"You're kidding. And no, you're not. What would you be if you weren't a footballer?"
"I dunno, Stephen. I really don't. I suppose...a businesswoman or something. Actually, sod that. I haven't paid much thought to it, Stephen, going pro really is my only option. If you spoke to Val or Lynne they'd probably give you an answer in three seconds, flat, the speed at which they talk, but for me? It's football."
She drained the last dregs of her coffee, then stood up.
"It was nice talking to you, Stevie," she grinned as she walked out the door.
"Stevie? Hey! Come back!"
He ran out of the door, trying to locate her, but she was already gone. Guess the next chance he had of talking to her was at the hotel, but then there'd be...everyone. Huh. Talking to girls was difficult. But that'd gone...better than he expected. Who knew it was that easy?
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:11 am

defender meets midfielder: season 1, part 2
rooftop


Platinastigrade, Hügeltaldom

80 minutes of hell.

80 minutes on the clock, and Stephen Kerr had been wheezing and panting for the first time in forever. He was bushed, tired, whatever. These Tequiloa played football well, and they played it aggressively. Run, run, run. Attack, attack, attack. Never a break with these guys. Their captain Monné - by all accounts a quiet, easy-going bloke - pushed the defense hard, springing up from god knew where to deliver two early goals past the outstretched hands of Victoria Jones. The first time, she shouted at Dean Perkins that he hadn't chased done Monné enough, and that he'd come from nowhere. He couldn't begrudge her that - the slippery little striker had escaped Perkins' grasp and popped out on the far post to shoot one in. Fifteen minutes later, he'd left Perkins on his arse with a utterly fantastic piece of dribbling, and, Vic couldn't really do much about the all-powerful shot that sailed past her...into the net, once more.

Vic looked broken, and sat down at a goalpost - she'd asked for a chance to show her worth, and she'd gotten it. But now she'd conceded two goals in thirty minutes, when it had taken Richard Russell about a hundred and fifty minutes to concede the same amount. Kerr had begun walking towards Vic when Trudy Harrison walked in, showed him her outstretched palm, and began talking to the girl, kneeling down to her level as she comforted the novice goalkeeper. From what he'd seen of her in training, Vic had tons of potential - with her feet, she was extremely handy, and when training as a defensive unit, her calls often turned out to be just as salient - if not more accurate - than the typical starting goalkeeper, Richard Russell. To give her a chance, as coach Barton had mentioned, was only fair.

Five minutes later, Vic pulled off a worldie of a save from Caca, and when the ball was taken out for a corner Trudy had run over to Vic and embraced her, the smiles on their faces evidence enough that whatever Trudy had told Vic had worked. And she'd been safe-hands ever since, with Vic keeping out pretty much every ball that came close to the penalty box.

And now they were just trying to find a way through, however possible. Greer had found a way back into the match via a Finnemore through ball just over two minutes ago; now they were searching for a second, in order to take the game to extra time. Barton, perhaps frustrated with Perkins' mis-placed passes all day - a key reason why Stephen was as tired as he was now, having to chase after stray balls and stray Tequiloa who had made their way through the Tumbran defences all match long - had substituted Perkins for Ricardo Wyatt, who proved to be much more solid on the ball, giving Kerr a bit of a reprieve.

Now they were on the attack again. Harrison was moving backwards as Libio Baptista moved forward with the ball. With nobody to either side of him, he had to go forward and see that his team-mates would keep up with the ball. Here comes my shot, Kerr thought as he moved in for the tackle. Then Baptista went right, and when pivoting, Kerr lost balance, and fell on the ground.

Oh, fuck.

He recovered his balance for long enough to see Baptista bounding through on goal, perhaps with the lethal third shot on his hands, before a speedy blur of black, yellow and a ponytail of brown charged in. The blur went onto the floor; Baptista went flying into the air, and the ball slid off the pitch, ignored by all as the referee blew a shrill whistle and everyone who was on the pitch converged on the referee.

A stern man who looked about 45, he clearly was unimpressed with what he just saw, and withdrew a yellow card from his pocket and waved it in Trudy's face. The team wanted to complain, but emotionless, Trudy accepted the booking, before shaking her head at the rest of the team and walking off. The rest of the team resumed their positions, ready for the free kick, but Trudy walked up to Stephen, first, got perhaps uncomfortably close to him, and jabbed a finger into Stephen's chest.

"You owe me one, mister." she said, trying her hardest to sound strict.
"Sure. Thanks." was all he could muster before she marched off. But as she did, Stephen caught the unmistakable glimpse of a huge grin on her face as she prepared for the resumption of play. The free kick, in any case, went sailing over the bar, and hell began to resume.

Later

They'd won, but only just. A goal-mouth scrabble had led to Lynne Crossley putting the ball in the net, giving the Junior Eagles (which had always been a dumb name, Stephen thought - why not Black Egrets or something?) a slender one-goal lead that necessitated sitting back for the last six minutes and trying to frustrate the Agave-Blues in whatever manner they attacked. The speed and chaos of their attacks just kept ramping up, and up, and up, but the defence didn't give.

And suddenly, it was over. They were into the semi-finals. Celebrations were wild, but dampened by the fact that they still had two more games to fight - against Kriegiersen, then one of Yesopalitha and Oberour Ar Moro, whomever made it to the final. Bottles of cold, fresh milk were being handed out - and as Stephen took a swig from the bottle, he remarked he'd never tasted better tasting milk before.

He approached Trudy, trying to talk.

"Hey, Stevie," she said, as Stephen approached her.
"I thought you got over that already, Trudy."
"No, I hadn't. What do you want now?"
"Err...just to say thanks for just now, really."
"...I heard you the first time, y'know." She laughed, and the rest of the girls did too. He felt his cheeks turning red. "And you're welcome. Now shoo."
But before he turned away once more, he saw her mouth the words "11pm. Rooftop." That piqued his interest, and he kept unbroken eye contact with her before she mouthed the same words and glared at him. Intimidated, he averted his gaze immediately.

11pm. Rooftop.

So here he was. He'd gotten there 10 minutes early, having excused himself from the day's debrief and then the awkward questions from Perkins to catch the fresh air - or what could reasonably pass off as fresh air in the mining town. The hotel was in a relatively nice part of the city, but the low-rise buildings reminded him of home, in Shepperton. The mountain air hit him as a breeze hit him from the east, reminding him of that time in Kven Okrug when the team stared down the mountain.

He checked his watch. Why was he even here? Was she playing another trick on him? Was this her way of making him pay her back, by coming to the rooftop at a time when he'd normally be starting to wind down and go to bed? Or was this --

The door to the rooftop slammed open, and out came Trudy Harrison.

"Huh, you're actually here. I didn't think you'd be smart enough to catch me mouthing the words at you." She strolled casually to the edge of the rooftop where Stephen had ben standing.
"I--"
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" she remarked as she turned around, with her back to the wall that separated the two of them from sixty metres of a sheer drop.
"Why'd you tell me to come here?"
"To talk. It's difficult to talk when everyone's around, you know?"
"Yeah, but why me specifically?"
"Because I thought it'd be interesting."
"What about this is any interesting?'
"That's for me to know, and for you to find out. First, however, it's time for payback. Your phone, please." she said authoritatively, stretching out her hand, awaiting the black glass brick.
"What are you gonna do with it?"
"Not throw it off the rooftop, for one. I respect property rights. It's nothing. Just hand it over. It's just for a teeny, tiny bit."
"Well, if it's nothing, then I could do it myself."
"You're annoying, you know."
"Not as annoying as disappearing after eating half my waffle."
"You're still hung up about that? Listen, Stevie, if you ever get a girlfriend, god forbid, and you get hung up on every little matter like that, you're not gonna have her for very long." She laughed. Then she walked towards Stephen, before dramatically pirouetting and collapsing onto the floor.
"Trudy!" He immediately knelt down to help her, but she was fine.
Trudy just laughed. Propping herself up, she mimicked a commentator, going "And that was a re-enactment of Stephen Kerr's dramatic fall against Tequilo, which required the brave Trudy Harrison to come in, suffering a yellow card in the process." She then extended her free arm into Kerr's back pocket, where he'd been keeping his phone and withdrew it.
"Hey!" Stephen did not like having the piss taken out of him. "Fine." He grabbed the phone back, unlocked it, and handed it back to her. Squatting down, he began looking over Trudy's shoulder, waiting to see if she'd do anything suspicious to his phone.
"Thank~~you~~", she said, as she scrolled through his phone. "First, l'Instagramme...there." He watched as she clicked on an account - trudyharrison6 - tapped "Follow", and then exited out of the app. "...twii.tur..." She opened up another account - @trudyharrison this time - and hit 'Follow', then re-tweeted a pinned twiit. Stephen was riveted by her actions.
"Whaddya think you're doing?"
"I'm not done yet."
She opened up his Contacts, tapped "New contact", and then typed in a series of ten digits, before hitting "Save" and then she finally handed the phone back to him. Utterly bewildered, Stephen tried to open his mouth, but no discernible words came out, only a series of sounds.
"A-a-a-a,", she mockingly teased, mimicking the aghast defender. "Stephen, there's no point in opening your mouth if you're not gonna speak, you know. Sooner or later a fly'll go in there." She stood up.
"...What have you done?"
"You saw what I did. Come on, are you really that dumb?"
"But why?"
"Because I find you interesting. Next question."
"What's the point of all this if we're just going to go our separate ways after the tournament?"
"God, Stephen, you really are as dumb as you look. Me - a girl, no less - voluntarily giving a guy her phone number implies that she wishes to be friends, and keep in contact after the tournament ends."
"Friends?"
"You know, I'm beginning to regret my choice with every passing moment," she said, while folding her arms. "But I've made it, and I'll live by it. Personal motto, y'know? Anyway, that's all. Consider your debt repaid. See you tomorrow."
And she left the rooftop, leaving Stephen Kerr standing there, dumbfounded, wondering what had just happened.
Friends?
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:12 am

defender meets midfielder: season 1, part 3
dynamo


Bauernhaus Okrug, Hügeltaldom

Sitting on the bench was a painfully boring experience.

Sitting on the bench for a semi-final, against a bunch of players who were wearing close to nothing - or at least as close to nothing as the regulations allowed - was...worse. These players could be taken. But, of course, he'd been stuck on the bench.

Who? Stephen Kerr, of course. He'd been benched after the match against Tequilo. Fair was fair - after the 120 minutes of non-stop running against the Agave-Blues, which would be chalked up as their hardest match yet - Barton had decided he needed rest. And so Ricardo Wyatt and Wendy Pritchett - two defenders who complemented each other in the same way that him and Dean did - would start in the semi-final against Kriegiersien. But 70 minutes had passed, and it'd been...dour. Wendy and Wyatt had been solid, he'd give them that - Wendy playing in the quintessential role of the ball-playing defender, beginning attacks by playing passes and going ahead a bit more, while Wyatt hung back and tackled more often, when the Kriegiersien players broke through. Not that they did much of that, to be fair.

The game, to put it simply, had been crap. Despite the presence of a more attacking midfield - Mark Finnemore, a reliable, sturdy midfielder serving as the sole pivot, while Brian Murphy and Susan Monaghan venturing forward, sending passes to the wingers and striker.

Despite the pivot to the more attacking formation, however, the game still was dour. The game was missing its dynamo - someone who could run, pass, shout, tackle...basically someone with boundless energy and was key to the Tumbran national team's strategy - essentially on all levels. On the senior team, that role was filled by Vincent Hicks. On the U21s, who were beginning their tournament the very same day, and who had been getting a lot more media attention than them - by accident or by design (Kerr had thought it the latter, a sentiment that shared by a majority on the team) - that role was to be filled by Chris Tipple. And on this team, well...

...she was on the bench, too. Nodding off, next to him. To be fair to Trudy Harrison, it had been a long trip against to Bauernhaus Okrug. And she'd played every minute of the tournament so far. Until the preceeding 60, of course.

The team was missing its dynamo. That much was obvious to anyone who had followed Tumbran football before, and had followed the National Team's exploits during the World Cup qualifiers. And Toby Barton had been trying to force Finnemore into the role, telling him to run, Mark, run! - but it just didn't suit the lanky midfielder, who much preferred ambling around the pitch, holding on to the ball, looking to redistribute whenever necessary. It was his niche - the easygoing passer, dribbler, but with a massive eye for the game - and he looked remarkably uncomfortable trying to fit in for Trudy, who groggily opened her eyes, squinting as she tried to focus on the game. The ball had just gone out for a throw, which Finnemore had been slowly moving over to take.

"Has anything happened yet?"
"No."
"I'd go back to sleep, but I think we're going to go on soon."
"What makes you think that?"
"The team's been playing like shit since half-time. We, in these previous six matches, have proven that we're indispensible. Me more than you, of course." A slight grin formed on her face. "So it's only natural that we're going to be the first two subs. Try and see if we can get anything done. You're going to go on..." she squinted again, examining the defence. "You're going to go on for Wendy. She looks bushed, poor girl. And I'm going to go on for Brian."
"How did you come to that conclusion?"
"Team's not playing in formation, and the 4-3-3 with a double pivot's worked so far when I'm on the pitch. Of course, I could do it alone, too, but poor old Marky Finnemore's ego would be hurt so bad if he was taken off for doing what he does best. And wouldn't you love to be the one, oh Captain of the Boys, to try and fix up that ego before we go into the Final?"
"Good point. How did you get so good at reading the game?"
"When you're playing as a pivot, you've either got to read the whole game within seconds or you lose. And I-" she said as she stood up and took off her tracksuit jacket, revealing her shirt, "-don't like losing. Come on."
Stephen stared blankly back at Trudy, nonplussed.
"I said, come ON!" she hissed as she slapped Stephen on the forearm. It stung. Bloody hell, she could slap.
"Fine, I'll go with you," he said through gnashed teeth as he tried to play off the slap. He stood up, and began warming up with Harrison as she took the duo through their paces.

Fifteen minutes later, they were indeed subbed on for the two that Trudy had mentioned, and once she'd Trudy began running, she didn't really stop. She was back to her usual best - running around, barking orders at Finnemore to hang back and sweep up any loose balls that came through midfield, while telling Crossley to shape up on her defensive roles. And all of a sudden, the team was back to its very best.

"Mate, you see that?", Ricardo Wyatt asked when Kerr joined him in the centre of defence.
"Yeah, I do."
"Of course you do, you two're practically inseparable," Wyatt chuckled as he punched Stephen on the other arm. Lighter this time, though. "You two're all the whole squad's been talking about."
"Wha-what?"
"I'll tell you all about it later."

117'

The match, predictably, had gone into extra time. Again. And of course this had been expected - Barton had only used two subs. The last, striker David Greer, had come on for the misfiring Paul Harding, who looked relieved that his nightmare was over. All match he had been bullied by the Kriegiersen defenders, and he looked visibly relieved once he was off the pitch.

The offence had been shaped up since Trudy arrived on pitch - several dangerous chances had gone amiss, only thanks to the strength of the Kriegiserien defenders - and Barton had obviously hoped that Greer, who was shaping up to be a star in his own right, was looking to take advantage of them and score. And he nearly came close two minutes after he came on, too - he rounded a defender before shooting, but his effort was denied by the crossbar.

"She's mad, that's what she is," Wyatt wheezed out after Trudy, who exhibited basically no signs of tiredness, shouted at him for not going after a ball that went loose. "How's she able to run for so bloody long?"
"She's our dynamo, mate."
"Are you in love with her or something? Our dynamo. Soppy shite, really."
"Her? No. She's annoying. But she seems to count me as a friend, for some reason. Stay out of the way, Vic's going to take the kick."

The kick was taken in short order, making the landing in midfield, where Finnemore scooped it up, and passed to Monaghan. Stephen and Wyatt began advancing - Wyatt slightly ahead, for he'd taken over the role of ball-playing defender - before Trudy began sprinting into the box. The ball, meanwhile, had found its way to Lynne Crossley, who was advancing quickly, beating the Kriegersien defence - who somehow were playing with more men on the left than on the right side of defence - and crossed the ball. From his perspective, Stephen arrived on the halfway line, ready if any counter-attacks were to happen. The ball met Greer's chest, and he confidently brought it to the ground, and he took a shot which ricocheted off the Krieg goalkeeper, but fell to Trudy's feet. She advanced, taking one step, two steps, before she thwacked the ball, cool and composed, sending it sailing past the flailing Krieg goalkeeper.

1-0.

"Guess you were right, mate. She's our dynamo after all. Though she might as well be your dynamo, eh? Mwah-mwah-mwah!" Ricardo began, making a kissy face and teasing Stephen.
"Step off, Stephen, you git," he said, jokingly. But he couldn't wipe off that smile off her face. Truly a friend to have, huh.

Later

The mood was light on the way back to the hotel, where they'd spend the night before heading for Aleusia. Barton was fast asleep, his mind fatigued by the two matches that had gone to extra time already and the added stress of trying to explain the whole female player situation to the TFF on his return to the country. None of the players, however, knew this, and as with any bus full of teenagers, it was...chaotic, to say the least.

Stephen, however, was on his phone, listening to the latest tune from Yuseong. Quebpop was never his style, but after giving this song a listen...he'd gotten it stuck in his mind and it was all he'd listened to the past few days.

Then the notification popped up.

@dangalbraith (Daniel Galbraith) retweeted your twiit that you retweeted from @trudyharrison: 9 of the players included in Tumbra's U-18 Squad - all female - are looking to further their professional careers outside of Tumbra...

He frowned. Was that the twiit that Trudy had retwiited while on the roof? He turned around, to see Trudy with earbuds in her ears, staring wistfully at the passing roads.

"Trudy!"
"What is it, Stevie?"
"Care to explain...this?" He gingerly showed the phone to her, and instantly her eyes seemed to light up.
"Daniel Galbraith? Daniel fucking Galbraith? Holyshitholyshitholyshit..." She tried to grab the phone from his hands, but this time, he grasped onto it. Firmly. "Stephen..."
"Listen, Trudy, if this is all you wanted to be friends for, you might've well asked, and I would've just re-twiited it for you! No need to...well...make me think you wanted to be...friends..." His voice trailed off as his heart sank, slowly coming to a realisation. He sank back into his seat.
Immediately, Trudy darted out of her seat and moved into the one next to him.
"Whaddya want?"
'Listen, I'm...sorry. It was a shitty thing to do. But...that aside, I...really do want to be your friend. It's, well, because..."
"Don't tell me it's because I'm interesting, please."
"You really wanna know why...? Fine. Because you were the only one who cared why I was in that cafe. That's what makes you interesting, Stephen Kerr. Because you've got empathy, not a quality a lot of footballers have. And I'm sorry for making use of you like that. It was shitty of me. I didn't mean for it to be interpreted otherwise."
"I..." Stephen said. "I don't know, Trudy."
"Please," she replied, almost pleadingly. "I don't want to lose this friendship."
"It's okay, then. I accept your apology. But please, don't do it again."
"Right. I won't. I promise," she adopted a faux serious tone, saluting. But he could tell that she meant it this time.
"And get ready."
"For what?"
It was Stephen's turn to smile, albeit worryingly. He knew what was about to happen, and...it felt kinda good, for all the times she'd held her knowledge above him.
"For the media storm. Dan Galbraith retwiiting this...we're about to be in the middle of a media storm. And you, Trudy Harrison," he said, slowly choosing his words, "...and I, for that matter, will be in the middle of it."

The colour slowly drained from her face as the bus turned into the hotel.



OOC Notes:

1. Daniel Galbraith is Tumbra's most famous player, whose career pretty much predates that of (new) Tumbra's entrance into WCC-affliated tournaments. Now playing for Pearce Town in Quebec, he still holds considerable sway in the footballing parts of twii.tur. He follows a lowly youth player like Stephen because during a training camp held for his previous club (Straton FC), Kerr was the only one to dare to tackle Galbraith head on.

2. The Tumbran media is...intense. Like, really intense.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
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Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:15 am

defender meets midfielder: season 1, part 4
endings and beginnings


Aleiusia

Pee-pee-peeeeeeep!

And there it was. The final whistle had blown, and the Junior Eagles had avoided extra time once more thanks to a Valerie Wells winner. Really, she'd spearheaded the counterattack, starting the resurgence after going 2-1 down in the first half. Her first goal - the third of the tournament - ended up being on the fast counter, with a Paul Harding through ball to the advancing winger catching her, before she masterfully cut in and scored on the edge of the box. Her second goal — scored in injury time, no less, was the result of a Stephen Kerr tackle, a pass to that boundless source of energy, Trudy Harrison, who herself went on a run, found Wells on the edge of the box with another long pass. Wells duly put it away, in what proved to be the last kick of the game.

That kick ended up winning the Under-18 World Cup. Tumbra's first international trophy. Something that could never, ever be taken away from them. Senior team or not, it was a trophy.

And as the team gathered on pitch to receive their medals - the question of who would lift the coveted trophy in the air remained. Typically, the role went to the captain, but there hadn't been a captain named. Barton had told Stephen to go and receive the trophy — he vaguely mentioned something about "controlling the narrative now that the story had gone out of control" — but as he gazed upon a slightly crestfallen Trudy, who'd been passed over, a pang in his heart for his newly-found friend told him to do something else, to defy what Barton had said, and to make the issue that Trudy wanted to focus on — the merging of the women's and men's game in Tumbra — take front and centre stage on the news. If the media were going to post this - and they had to, for their victory had become common knowledge in Tumbra — they were going to post a picture of the two of them lifting the trophy.

So he beckoned her with his hand. She initially shook her head, but after he repeated the gesture, she smiled, gave in, and hopped over to the trophy. She smiled, as the grasped one ear of the trophy, and he the other. On the count of three, they lifted the trophy, and the 23 young men and women, adorned with their gold medals, cheered as the confetti fell around them, and the shutters of cameras went off.

It felt good to win.



Later

The two found themselves alone in the airport, a moment of peace in the relative chaos of everyone preparing to head home. To Tumbra. It'd felt like an eternity since they were last there, and soon they'd be home - a mere eight hour flight separated them from the absolute chaos that was about to go down. It was late at night in the departures lobby, and most of the team was asleep, trying to catch forty winks before the red-eye flight. Both of them knew this might have been the last chance to talk to each other, and as soon as they made sure that there was nobody else awake to listen in on them, Trudy went up to Stephen, sat down, let out a long sigh and relaxed her shoulders. Stephen knew exactly how she felt.

"What made you do that? Barton himself said that you'd be in charge of lifting the trophy."
"Trudy, don't you dare tell me that you would've let me live it down. Plus, I only thought it fair."
"Is he...mad at you or anything?"
"I smoothed things over with him. Said that since it was out of control, anyway, we'd try to steer it onto our own paths."
"I'm not ready for this, Stephen. Whatever awaits us in Straton..." Trudy looked away. For the first time, the veneer of self-confidence had faded away, and for the first time Stephen saw just a teenage girl, thrust into a world that she was struggling to survive in. Gone was the shouty, assertive leader on the pitch, and now she seemed genuinely afraid of what was to happen. Nobody could blame her, of course. The Tumbran media was known for being unflinchingly brutal, and several tabloids would reserve some of their most venomous comments for the slow march towards gradual equality. Granted, of course, the election would and did dominate home - but after the Under-21 team's 5-4 loss to Pemecutan, a sharp distinction would be drawn between one Junior Eagles' last minute winner and the other Junior Eagles' last minute loser. There was a reason why every professional Tumbran football player had been made to go through a media relations course - but Trudy and the rest of the girls had never been afforded this luxury.
"But I am," said Stephen, voice lowering, delicately, as he tried to assuage the defensive midfielder. "Me and the boys'll do my best to handle them. All you and the other eight girls need to do is walk towards the bus. Don't show any emotion, don't show any fear."
Trudy looked back up, the glint of a tear appearing in the corner of her eye, but trying to do her best to muster a smile.
"I'm really sorry for all I've done."
"Hey, I told you it was okay. I'd have retwiited it anyway."
"You're a good friend, Stephen. You're a good man."
"You do know that twiit went viral, right? Several clubs have reached out to Daniel. And Daniel, well, he reached out to me. They want to take you guys on."
"They, meaning? And from where?"
"Well...apparently there were a ton of clubs who were interested in you lot, after the performance in the quarter-finals against the Agave-Blues. Dan let me know that clubs from all over the globe - Chromatika, Quebec, Kelssek, Brenecia, Cassadaigua...they were all interested."
Trudy's eyes widened at the words Stephen had just uttered. It was difficult to describe, but it was the look of hope. That she, and the rest, would be able to pursue professional careers outside of Tumbra. And these weren't just any old nations either. The first four were highly-rated, and Cassadaigua, even if they weren't as highly rated, were well-known, and would be ascending the ranks of global football soon. That, and they were well known for encouraging female footballers.
"You're joking."
Stephen smiled again. "I'm not. I wouldn't. Especially not with this. I know you care. And I do, too."
"But why?"
The smile turned into a wide grin, and Stephen saw his opportunity to finally get one back over Trudy.
"Because you're interesting." He barely got a laugh in before another one of Trudy's slaps landed on his arm. There it was. It stung, like usual, and as he rubbed his arm, he noticed Trudy trying to look mad, but her expression gave it away. She, too, got the joke.
And, instinctively, he put both his arms around her, and embraced her. She was caught off guard, of course - but once she got over the shock of it, she returned the embrace. It was warm, enjoyable, and perhaps the best hug Stephen had had in a while, and when it eventually came to an end, both looked away, perhaps sheepishly.
"And what was that for?"
"To say thanks. On my part."



Straton

The flight had been peaceful - for the most part, the lights had been off, and Stephen had been watching Four Happy Families on the way back to Tumbra. He sneaked occasional glances at Trudy, who'd been just glancing out of the window into the star-encrusted sky, one of the few members of the team who weren't still asleep. He wondered what she was thinking - then, as he glanced at the in-flight map, he realised they were closer and closer to a landing.

And his heart began to sink. For all the assurances he'd given Trudy, and all the browbeating he'd done to the rest of the guys to protect them — Richard Russell, who'd been dropped for Vic Jones halfway through the tournament, was a particularly hard one to convince — he still wasn't confident. He'd gotten all of them on his side, in the end, but they were a bunch of 16, 17 and 18 year olds, who in no way deserved to be interrogated by the press (he thought) like this.

And as the plane landed on the runway with a gentle bump, the lights came on, and everyone groggily packed up their stuff and headed over to the terminal. It was a cold, crisp morning in Tumbra, by the look of things - the sky had been rapidly brightening, and now resembled a shade of azure than the navy it was a few hours back - and it was time for another day in Tumbra.

Immigration was easy, remarkably so - everyone knew who they were, so there had been no problem coming back into the country - and as they waited for the luggage to come round, several of the team caught the media scrum that had gathered outside, and sighed.

"All right, what we've feared is here. Them. We've been over this. We know what to do."

The company nodded, determined, and after the last player had picked up their luggage, they walked bravely into a new world - one of vicious camera flashes, questions being bombarded at every angle, et cetera. But they just kept walking, with the guys stopping occasionally to give a non-answer. Stephen followed behind.

A microphone was shoved into his face.

"Stephen Kerr, you lifted the trophy along with Trudy Harrison, a female player, no less. What are your thoughts on females in the modern game - do they have a place?"
"I think that everyone has a place in the modern game, and we should be exploring options to allow, of course, more participation into the People's Game. Of course, if you want more information, you'll have to ask the Federation, since I'm not privy to the options they're exploring."

Walk, just walk. Trudy's up ahead. Why is she so far behind?

It turned out that she'd completely frozen, a microphone being shoved into her face. She tried to stammer out an answer, but couldn't think of anything. Once more, Stephen went to her side, put an arm over her shoulder, and spoke with a tone that she'd hardly heard before.

"I think if there are any questions, you'd be better off asking them to me, or direct them to the Football Federation proper. If you'll excuse us, we've got a bus to catch."

He guided her away, and as soon as they reached the bus, he guided her to the back, where they both collapsed, essentially, and she buried her face into his jacket. A small sob could be heard.

"It's all right now. You're with me." He patted her on the arm.
"Thanks...I was...really scared out there. Winning a football match...? Easy. Dealing with them, out there? Whole 'nother matter..."
"I know. I know. You'll get used to it."

The bus set off, pursued by the chasing reporters, but they gave up after a while. Scoop-less.




A Few Weeks Later

Stephen had signed a professional contract with Straton - a formality, of course, given the team's victory - and had begun training in earnest, with the hope of breaking into the senior team sooner than later. He'd already begun training with them - and had come face to face with Vázsony Sallay, the club's next big star. Soon, Stephen thought, he'd be sharing the same pitch with them. And then? On to bigger things.

Trudy had stayed in Straton, too - as had the rest of the Nine, as the media had nicknamed them - it was, after all, easier for them to negotiate contracts with the teams that wanted them. The Federation had originally not wanted to pay for the hotel lodgings, but in the end, they'd relented. They were already facing a PR nightmare over the future of females in the game, and the last thing they wanted to happen was for another scandal over restricting female players' rights to sign contracts, especially when they were so disadvantaged already. Dan Galbraith, too, had flown in from Perce; he'd be guiding the contract negotiations, and hopefully convincing some of the Nine to sign for his club, too.

In the meantime, Stephen and Trudy had met up several times, doing different things each time - one week it was a museum, the next, an ice-cream parlour; enjoying each other's company, getting to know each other more, becoming closer and closer.

Then, on their sixth meeting, she broke the news. It was another shimmering evening, the sun setting over Straton Harbour. The orange glowed over them, as it had their first meeting in Kven, all those weeks ago. Once again, he was the first one to speak.

"It's been a beautiful day, hasn't it? It's been nice. Same time next week?"
"Stevie..."
"Yeah?'
"Stevie, this'll be the last time in a while we'll be meeting."
"What?"
She turned to him. "I've signed a contract."
"That's wonderful, wonderful news, Trudy! Oh, I'm...oh." The realisation dawned on Stephen, and as much as he wanted to be happy for Trudy, he couldn't help but wish she'd stay in Tumbra. It was wishful thinking, of course, but...
A small but wistful smile escaped from Trudy's lips. "I'm going to Chromatika. They've got one of the best youth setups in the world, and...well...I had to. I'll keep in touch with you, Stephen, I promise. And if I ever find myself back in Tumbra, I promise I'll meet up with you."
Stephen nodded. "I know. All of this...all of it, had to come to an end, someday. It sucks that it couldn't last longer. But...that's the end of it, I suppose."
"That's the end of this chapter, perhaps, but the beginnings of a new one. Plus, you've got my number. And we can video-call."
"I know." A swell of emotions was welling up, and a tear began appearing in his eye.
"You're not...crying...are you?"
"How am I supposed to answer that?"
"Aw. I'll miss you, you know. But I'll always be here for you. No matter what."
"I know. I'll miss you, too. And I'll always be there for you. I promise."

And underneath the setting sun, both of them walked towards each other, and they embraced once more.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:16 am

defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 1
three thousand miles away


Two weeks had passed since Stephen Kerr and Trudy Harrison had properly spoken. Or, rather, texted, since that was the main way they were able to communicate nowadays. They were both busy as time marched on, and had rarely found the time to chat over the phone; Kerr was trying to break into the first team, while Harrison was moving to Chromatika, in a different continent altogether. Timezones, too, were proving to make it hard to speak; often Stephen's messages of greetings would go unanswered for most of the day, and when Trudy decided to start a conversation, Stephen was usually fast asleep.

It was perhaps a sad state of affairs for the burgeoning friendship; though most long-distance relationships, platonic or not, required a lot of effort to keep up. Through the two weeks, though, they'd agreed that they'd set out one day to talk over Zoom; to catch up with each other. Both of them really missed each other at this point; they'd expressed as much throughout their conversations — or what could be construed as a conversation.

So it was that on one fine Saturday afternoon — a Friday night for Trudy — that they fired up their computers, and called each other. To chat. While waiting for Trudy to pick up the call, he began feeling nervous. What would he possibly say to her? How long could they possibly talk for? There was so, so much that he wanted to tell his friend, and yet...he felt like he was lost for words.

Then Trudy picked up. Both their images were reflected on the screen. There he was, in broad daylight, at home; and there she was, seemingly on her bed, under a blanket. She flashed a familiar grin at him through the darkened room she was in, and all his nerves immediately dissipated. He was at ease. Nothing had changed.

"Hey there, Stevie. You're looking...normal."

It'd be all right, after all.

'Hey, you. You're looking normal, too."
"Hey!"
He smiled. "It's...been a while, hasn't it?"
"Sure has."
"How's life been for you?" The moment after asking that question, an awkward silence followed, before both of them broke out into laughter.
"You go ahead."
"No, you. You're the one with the more interesting career trajectory."
"Is that...jealousy that I sense? Anyway, I wanna know what's going on at home, too."
"Well...I've been training. Sometimes with the first team, sometimes not. Apparently the manager thinks I've got...potential? It's weird, really. But I suppose winning a cup'll do that for you."
"As someone who's played along with you, Stephen...you do have potential."

This wasn't much like Trudy. Typically she'd be teasing him, telling him he'd need to be in the under-18s for a while longer or what not. This...this was different. They continued talking — Stephen talked about training with the senior team, with their new marquee signing, Vázsony Sallay — he certainly looked like a goalscoring threat. There was also coming up close with the Straton manager, Ted Bayh — a hard taskmaster, but a kind nurturer, nonetheless. He also took the time to update Trudy on the upcoming World Cup, though news of that was pretty much everywhere — and more importantly, the recent protests that had broken out to try and fight for equality.

"It's hard to think that it's you who started this push."
"You, specifically. My twiit would never've gotten off the ground without you."
"I don't know. Dan's the one who got this off the ground. But you? You, Lynne, Wendy, Vic and the rest? Catalysts."
She smiled when hearing the clumsy compliment.
"That's honestly nice to hear."

The conversation shifted to Trudy. There she talked about the whole process of moving to Chromatika, from the initial offer to how Dan Galbraith helped negotiate better terms for the nine, to her actual plane flight. She talked mostly about her own experiences, and little about her family — which puzzled Stephen. Surely, surely, her family must've been involved in some way or another in their daughter's career? But try as he might, he just couldn't break down the barrier she'd put up when refusing to talk about her family.

Stephen took the chance to observe his fellow Tumbran. Not much was out of place, but...there certainly was something. She seemed more tired, somehow. When they weren't talking, or when there was a lull in the conversation, her expressions seemed less energetic, less vigorous, less Trudy. Perhaps it was the distance between them, perhaps it was something else, but the subject just didn't leave his mind as they kept talking about everything. From how big Chromia was, the different football clubs in the city — there were three, and Chromatik, Trudy's new club, was the club of the northern part of the city — to how different life there was. Comparing training regimen, the quality of food, the housing (Trudy had gotten to stay at Chromatik's training ground). The hours flew past, but finally, a quizzical glance must have escaped Stephen involuntarily, because the look on her face shifted from what it was before to...something that didn't look as natural.

When her expression fell, Stephen decided to take his chance.

"Are you...feeling okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I am. Why do you —"
"Because you haven't really looked up to your usual antics throughout the three hours we've been talking."
A smaller, perhaps more rueful smile, escaped her lips.
"I'm just tired, that's all, Stephen. Moving to a new country's difficult. Full of little difficulties. I expect it'll go away after a while, but the first few days? Weeks? Months? It'll be tough. But it's to be expected, isn't it?" She bit her lip.
"I'll always be here if you need me, Trudy."
"I know. I know, Stephen. You've been a really good help, and a really good friend. Well...we've been talking for long enough. It's late here...I should go and sleep. Thanks for talking to me."
"Trudy...I'm sorry for not texting more. If there's anything, anything at all that I can help with —"
"There's not much, unfortunately. And no, apology not accepted. We're both busy. I know. I appreciate when we can talk, just like today."
"Stay strong, alright?"
"I will."
"I-I miss you." Another clumsy attempt at trying to extend the conversation.
Another small smile. "Hey. I miss you too, friend. But we'll always be here. See you soon, Stephen. Good night." she said as she ended the call, not even giving Stephen a chance to respond. Stephen was left staring into a black mirror, heart sinking as he picked up his phone and tried to text Trudy.

Staring into another black mirror, three thousand miles away, Trudy Harrison closed the computer screen, curled up in her bed in Chromia as she'd tried to, as she'd done so many nights beforehand, trying not to think too much about home. Fighting off the well of emotions that had come just from seeing a bit of Tumbra. A bit of home.

She missed it, all right.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
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Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:18 am

defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 2
the up and up


Being outside of Tumbra came with its own little set of challenges — learning how to be independent, however, wasn't one of them. For it was that Trudy Harrison had long since learned to be independent, living on her own or off the meager wages being a female professional footballer in Tumbra offered. Meager was probably an overstatement, but compared to wages in the men's game, it was certainly the difference between night and day.

While she lived in Kingsbury — playing for the ladies' team of Kingsbury United, though the contract terms were so loose as to essentially not be a contract at all — she'd rented a place in the working-class district of the city, where the rent was cheap and the community close-knit. She'd gotten by on the kindness of her neighbours, too, given that she was terrible at housekeeping. It was a far cry from what she was used to in her early years, but she'd made do. With Tumbra's lax contract laws allowing minors to rent at the age of 16, there wasn't much in the way of legal troubles as well.

So when it transpired that Toby Barton had been paying visits to her matches with a view of sending her to the U-18 World Cup, she'd played out of her skin. Of course, she'd always played out of her skin — but before the call-up she had been seriously considering throwing in the towel and returning to her family and a life of comfort, though she wasn't sure if she'd be able to live down the shame of attempting to strike out on her own, before being forced to return, head bowed, to her family. She was honoured that Barton had deigned to visit her club on the muddy, terrible pitches that dominated women's football and probably did more to injure players than help the ball play smoothly; it was here that she'd honed her craft as a midfielder — running, tackling and passing in equal measure.

But the tournament had gone the way it had. She and Stephen lifted the trophy together; Dan Galbraith, one of her footballing heroes, helped her negotiate her contract with Chromatik; she'd be named in the senior squad, but both her and the club agreed she'd need some time in the U-18s, both to help refine her footballing skill and her leadership ability, which she'd demonstrated in droves throughout the tournament. She hadn't told her family that she was going to Chromatika; only a few days before the flight, after she'd signed the contract, had she thought of informing them; the outrage was there, of course, but it was simply water off her back for her. It was her job, after all, and she was simply applying her family's principles of placing themselves first before anything else.

And now she'd moved to Chromatika. The first days were hard, but in the end, she'd settled in gradually despite a rough beginning — and she'd made a friend in the Under-18s, 15 year-old Ami Coulibaly. The right wing-back had extended the hand of friendship to her after a particularly gruelling training session in which she'd tackled the Tumbran hard; yet, at the end of it all, they'd hung out, shared a round of drinks (non-alcoholic, of course), and got to know each other better. A straight-talker, much like her, Ami was trying to make the most of her unorthodox position on the pitch — and packed a mean tackle for someone her age. They'd struck up a fast friendship, and all of a sudden, Chromatika felt a lot friendlier to her. She'd gelled in with the squad quickly, and was looking to try and integrate herself in time for the league campaign to begin.

The training was hard, regardless of the team she trained with; with the intensity that the team trained at, she found herself too tired to respond to most messages that her friends in Tumbra had sent her; but she always tried to find time to respond to Stephen's, though, much like the time before their video call, their conversations had come to a halt, essentially.

But deep down, Trudy knew that Stephen would stay the course — but was this her taking him for granted? Either way, she messaged Stephen one day, asking for another videocall soon enough to catch up — and Stephen, despite it being close to 2am in Tumbra, responded almost immediately. She'd followed the news, of course, and had seen that Stephen was named on the bench in several Straton FC games — which meant he was probably close to making his senior debut. Deep down, Trudy wanted to get tickets for the two of them to watch several World Cup matches in Chromatika, for them to meet up properly; but she knew that most of the tickets would probably have been sold out by now, anyway.

Life was beginning to look on the up-and-up again for Trudy, and of course it was — the team were pushing to win their first ever Chromatik title, and she'd been swept up in the preparations for the 30-match season ahead. She hoped she'd be able to live up to expectations; and for the first time, she truly was coming into her own.

And she hoped it would last.
Last edited by Tumbra on Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:19 am, edited 2 times in total.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
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Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:22 am

defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 3
come to chromatika, maybe?


Autumn changed to winter as the first flakes of snow began falling in Chromia. Snow was rare in Tumbra — only the real northern parts of the country really experienced it, and even then it was less "snow" and more "vaguely grey skies raining down generally freezing rain". The changing of the seasons, too reminded how long it had been since the two friends — one in Tumbra, one in Chromatika — had talked. Long-distance friendships weren't easy; they never were, but both of them had tried their darndest to keep it together, and keep it going. Trudy had talked to a few of the Nine, in whichever corners of the world they were in — some had found themselves as close to home as Brenecia, while some had gone for further-flung countries such as Kelssek. It was easier for most of those who had landed in Anaia — and she had to remind herself, it was Anaia now, which changed so much yet so little at the same time — because they would at least catch up at a time where the other few were still awake. But Stephen? As always, their time zones were...weird.

Change was afoot in the general region. Chromatika, instead of being the latest in a long, eminent line of Atlantian Oceanian hosts of the World Cup, would instead become the first Anaian hosts of the World Cup — something which certainly added a sort of buzz into the air. Trudy Harrison couldn't help but notice, however, that tensions in the squad — particularly coming from those who had and hadn't been involved in the split — were bubbling over, more than usual.

It would be good fodder for a conversation with Stephen when they next were able to schedule a video-call — an opportunity that thankfully arrived sooner rather than later. This time, it was on a weekend morning for Trudy — which meant it was on a weekend night for Stephen Kerr. Thankfully, there weren't any hitches like last time — Stephen's camera switched on in a rather messy room, typical of the Tumbran suburb. Seeing her caused him to smile, and seeing him smile...made her smile, too. There was that mutual recognition, that mutual friendship — which just kept their links together, despite them being physically so far away.

"Hey, dork."
"Hey, Stevie."
The two shared a laugh.
"It's...been a while. Though I somehow feel like I've said this before."
"Really? It's been so long that I can't remember."
"Well. The least you could do today is to tell me everything. It's all over the news. Anaia.", emphasising the last word.
"Yeah...that. It's a long story."
"From what I've heard, yeah. It's the biggest piece of news since...God. We haven't had something like this in a long, long time."
"It's been a bit tricky and complicated. We haven't heard anything from our clubs, though as a Tumbran I doubt that I would've done so anyway."
"That's...fair."
"But there's been a lot of tensions in our squad. I mentioned Ami, my new friend?"
"Yeah." He smiled, lightly. "Honestly, I'm really happy that you managed to find someone as a companion, a friend. Even if said friend turned out to be...fifteen."
"She certainly doesn't tackle like a fifteen year old. Anyway, yeah. Ami. She's a good friend, but after a recent training session she did mention that the news had made her somewhat worried about her future in Chromatika."
"Why would that be?"
"One of her parents is Banijan. And Banija..."
"In AO. Yeah. Mmhm."
"So mainly I've been by her side, trying to empathise, trying to tell her that it'll be fine. No matter what happens."
"Spoken like a true captain, indeed."
"Oh, shush."
"Anyone else, though? I'd assume being in a formerly-AO nation there'd be a bit more."
"Oh, there definitely are. Despite the two being utterly professional there's been a weird feeling between the Mrii and Teus in our squad, Dun Mekeus and Mario Kogler."
"Wow."
"There's definitely...something. But enough about me. How about you?"
"Me?" Stephen scratched the back of his neck. "I made my debut. For the senior side." He tried to play down his excitement, but even from three thousand miles away, Trudy could sense it.
"Really?"
"Yeah. It was as a sub, though, but — "
"Stephen, I'm so proud of you." The words came out of her mouth on autopilot. She didn't know why, but they just tumbled out of her mouth.
Trudy saw Stephen's face turn a momentary bright shade of red. He glanced away from the webcam.
"Are you...embarrassed?"
"No!" He yelped. "Just...just the lighting of the room, yeah?"
"I...I genuinely meant that. I know you wanted to debut for Straton. I'm proud of you, friend."
"Thanks..."
An awkward silence ensued. They kept chatting, about life, how it'd gone. About how nice Chromia was, and politics in Straton and elsewhere.
"So...the World Cup. Protests in the game against Kelssek. And again, against Kandorith."
Trudy's ears pricked up, eager to hear more about the cause that she'd helped start.
"Things have been going pretty well, even if we did lost to Kandorith. There's — I daren't say it out loud — but there's a chance we just might make it. That's the general feeling here, anyway. If we play our cards right, the team might be going to Chromatika. Or Cassadaigua."
"Here?"
"Personally, I doubt it. Unless our defence shapes up."
"Which is where you'd come in, I suppose."
Stephen's face went red again. "Maybe...maybe next time."
"Pffft. The Final's being played in my stadium, didja know that?"
Stephen nodded. "How does it feel?"
"Frankly? It feels surreal. Like, I'm playing on the same field that Nephara, Banija or Ko-oren will play on in a year or so. All for a title."
"Yeah, I thought as much. Lucky you. You'll probably be able to attend the Final, huh?"
"I've thought about asking the club for tickets. And, uh..."
"Yeah?"
Now it was Trudy's turn for her face to turn red. She'd been mentally preparing for this for a while now — but Stephen was just a friend, goddamnit — so why was she feeling nervous when asking him?
"I was thinking about whether...you'd want to come to Chromatika for the World Cup Finals."
Stephen's eyes widened in joy.
"Are you serious? I'd — I'd love to go if my family'd allow me!"
"Family? Ah...uh...perhaps it's best if you didn't..." she stammered.
Once again, a concerned look crossed Stephen's face. "They'll most likely be fine with it, Trudy. Don't worry."
"I...hadn't considered that."
"Is everything alright?"
"Yeah. Yeah, it is. I just thought..."
"It's okay. I'll get back to you on how it'll go."
"Really?"
"Yeah."
Somehow Stephen saying that made her calm down. Trudy didn't like talking about her family, and had noticeably steered away from the topic when Stephen had tried to talk about it. In part, it was her own experiences — and she didn't feel ready to share that with just about anyone. She said that, but really nobody knew the true situation about it.
"Trudy? Is everything okay?"
"Y-yeah. I'd love to see you in Chromatika. It'd be my turn to show you around, after all."
"Oh, after that month in Straton? Yeah, you definitely owe me for that, Trudy," with a smug grin on his face.
"Whatever, Stevie."
"It's getting late here. I'm gonna go and sleep. Thanks for today, and, well, the World Cup, of course. I can't wait to go to Chromatika and watch the football. Oh, and yeah, you, I suppose," he said in a jovial tone.
"Yeah, watching football will be nice. Seeing you, not so much."
"Still got that sharp tongue, then."
"Never lost it. Alright. I'll see you. Good night."
"Good night."

Trudy had never expected for the two to meet up again so soon. She kicked herself mentally for letting slip that comment about her family — she didn't want anyone to know what her background truly was, even to Stephen. Hopefully he'd have forgotten about it by the time the World Cup rolled round — after all, this was a throwaway line in a videocall.

But she'd have to confront her family matters, sooner or later.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:25 am

defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 4
home is where the heart is


For Stephen Kerr, life had just been going about swimmingly for the defender. He'd won the Under-18 World Cup, which catapulted him into minor stardom and had led coaches to want to appraise him. He'd gained his start by having a high enough potential, of course — MiCF Fantasía 87, that ever-famous football management game from Tequilo, had given him a potential of -9.5, meaning they thought he'd go on to be a world-beater. Of course, he'd been trying to prove it with the junior teams, too — and had been succeeding, very quickly.

He'd been moved through the ranks, then, quickly ascending the ranks of the teams and breaking into the senior team at just 19. After all, the team needed all the defensive options they could get — Straton Football Club had been leaking goals at a remarkable rate, and they wanted to at least plug the gap for the season, before diving into the market for an expensive foreign defender — as had been all the rage recently, and worked extremely well, looking at how Devon Daniels had been doing with Nantwich.

But even for now, Stephen Kerr would be promoted into the senior team. A stopgap? Perhaps. But what nobody really expected from him was the sheer impact he'd make on Straton's defences from the moment he came on in a 7-1 victory against Fraser Valley as a sixtieth minute substitute. While the match had been won, Nepharim striker Reinhard Geist was proving a dangerous opponent in his game — but Kerr had nullified Geist for the rest of the match, leading to more eyes falling onto him. More substitute appearances followed — it appeared as if Ted Bayh, the reclusive manager of Straton, was yet preparing him for life in the Prem.

A cup round appearance followed, then, and as an extra-time substitute Kerr had managed to make a crucial interception against Caldecott to keep Straton ahead in the dying embers of the match. His first start would then came against league leaders and defending champions Lakewood City, as they tried desperately to keep their flailing title challenge alive. Some criticised the club for heaping all their hopes on a nineteen year-old; yet, rising above the expectations, he only let one goal through as Straton scored three goals to peg the league leaders back and to finally, finally get their title challenge on track.

And then his popularity exploded. Frustrated with the number of goals Tumbra were conceding on the international stage so far, football twii.tur had begun calling for Kerr to be included in the squad almost immediately. It was overnight stardom for the young defender, who'd immediately been innundated with requests for commercial deals, agents, et al. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, he'd gone to Dan Galbraith, who he now was on talking terms with — a childhood dream for the born-in-Straton youngster. Dan had advised him to go at things slowly, and go to the club if need be — they'd always have his interests at heart.

Kerr had never really aimed high. Born in Straton to a middle-class family, he'd been brought up to just be a good person by his family. By most accounts, Sylvia and Bertram Kerr had succeeded in that aspect — as he'd grown older, Kerr certainly had been a well-behaved youngster, who was extremely handy with a ball at his feet. When Straton had gone to his school for trials, then, he'd gotten a glowing report from the scouts present, who immediately wanted to sign him. A long, deep discussion followed between his parents followed — but ultimately Stephen's desire to play for his boyhood club won out.

He was 8 then. That conversation took place eleven years ago.

And from then on, football had become the biggest part of Stephen's life. While he continued attending school, and was guaranteed an A-level certificate (due to the club guaranteeing all students an education in case they didn't make it professionally), football and making it through the ranks had become more than a past-time. It'd become his life, now, and he was determined to go pro. Slowly, but surely, he found his niche — and hitting his growth spurt helped him decide to play at centreback when the time actually came to decide on a position.

But regardless of what happened in his career, at least his family had always been here for him. Sylvia, Bertram, his younger sister Stephanie (though she'd gone off to Serrapince to attend art school)...they'd all remained grounded in their little family home in Straton. In some ways, it was comforting. In others, it was restricting. Stephen had never been in a relationship — too busy focused on football, when asked on the subject. Girls...never really part of his life so far. And from what he'd been told, they'd be falling over themselves to get with him if he made it.

But he didn't buy it. Where his squadmates got far by leveraging on his footballer status, he'd never used it. He simply wasn't really interested. Plus, his mom (who was half Xinhuanese) would probably have killed him if he dared to bring home a girl without him knowing first. Secretly, though, Sylvia Kerr was probably more worried that Stephen was gay than him bringing a girl home.

So Trudy had been an eye-opening experience for him. A girl. (Period.) In the wholly male-dominated world of football, rarely had he deigned to think about the other gender and their relationship with football, let alone play it. Making friends with Trudy — friends, as he was keen to impress upon others — was unexpected, but a wholly fun experience so far. The whole playing-football-with-each-other thing, and the whole long-distance-friendship thing.

He certainly hoped it would last.
Last edited by Tumbra on Sun Oct 17, 2021 11:47 am, edited 2 times in total.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
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Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:27 am

defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 5
come to chromatika, maybe? [reprise]


Kerr's recent performances had been attracting attention. Labeled as some sort of panacea to Tumbra's defensive problems (though others thought that it was Marco Hemmings' fault, who really had no idea how to manage a defence), expectations had been piling higher and higher on the young defender. While he kept a low profile, he'd begun noticing more press on the streets, trying to get a sneaky shot of Stephen doing something untoward or another. Straton's nightlife scene was always infamous for the frequent sighting of footballers, whether from Straton or not; the club itself had a list of establishments players were prohibited from going to, on pain of fines.

But the thing was that Stephen was just a rather boring, average person. He enjoyed alcohol, but in limited amounts, and he liked to think he treated his body like a temple. That meant no drugs, not too much partying, nothing that would prevent him from, well, playing football. Over time he'd gradually worked himself into the first-team lineup at Straton, all while on a under-21 contract; which meant that soon his agent would be agitating for a new contract.

Stephen had first encountered his agent on the way to signing his first professional contract; John Whiting, his name was, and a shrewd negotiator he was, too. Whiting had identified Kerr's talent from a young age, and taken him under his wing — though with his clients all over Tumbra, he'd barely had time for Stephen. Now, however, Whiting had begun talking to Stephen, more, again.

Hey, kiddo.

Hey.

So you're all over the news, then. Broken into the first team and all of that. Proud of ya.

Thanks. It's been wild.

Have you been thinking about the future?

The future? No, not really.

Never too early. You're on what, two thousand a week?

Plus or minus, yeah.

Think it's time we started angling for a new contract. Either that, or...

Or what?

The world's a big, large, place. And the world's hungry for Tumbran talent right now. 'specially after that U-18 WC win
and the fourth place in Valanora.


Really, then? Moving abroad?

Well. It really was just a suggestion.

Think I'd prefer to remain in Tumbra for now, Mark.

I'll begin talking to the club. I've got your stats — highly impressive. How much do you want?

I really don't know.

Ah, come on. You've got to give me something to work from.

I really, really just wanna play football.

I can respect that, I really do. But your career only lasts for what. Twenty years, at most? You've got to make
the most of what you have, when you can. Five digits, six? I can make it happen.


I...really don't know.

I'll start with...eh. Sixty thousand. See how low they'll go. But I'll give you my assurance — your salary is about
to go up. Here, or elsewhere.


Please, don't piss off the club.

They can afford it. Plus, you deserve it. See my above messages. And if they don't want to give it to you, there's
always other countries you can go to. You'd sell like hot pancakes overseas.


Maybe it's something to consider. Alright.
Sixty thousand, starting offer. But please be patient with the club.


I'll do my damn best to get you what you deserve.


So that had been that. And the press speculation got heavier — would the club bend, and pay sixty grand a week to its fresh, young talent? Or would it seek to keep him, on more modest terms? That was what dominated Stephen's next videocall with Trudy, when they next found time for one.

"I don't agree with agents often, y'know. But he's got a point. Two grand a week's like eight grand a month. And you're a footballer. A footballer, for chrissakes! You've got fifteen years to make as much money as you can before you go into...coaching, or something."
"I get that, Trudy, but Straton was what gave me a start as a footballer. I don't...feel...comfortable...treating my boyhood club like this."
"It's your call, Stephen, but for what it's worth, you're acting like an idiot."
"Hey!"

Trudy had evidently touched a nerve.

"I don't know, Trudy, I'd like to show a bit more loyalty and backbone to the club that made me who I am today! Without them, I wouldn't even be talking to you now.
"I'm sorry, Stephen." Her face softened. "I really just...want you to realise that you need to make money. As much as you or I enjoy our jobs, our careers last less than twenty years. We've got to make the best of it as we can."
"I know." He looked away from the screen. "It's just...I wish I didn't have to make this choice."
"The two aren't directly opposed, you know," remarking in a rather surprised tone. "You could stay in Tumbra and become a club legend while earning a lot of money. You do deserve it. And what's sixty grand a week to Straton, anyway? You play for a Big Six team — that IFCF money's enough to cover a lot of shit."
"I suppose."
"So listen to your agent, Stevie. I don't like agents, and my current one's about as unobtrusive into my career as I want —"
"Didn't Dan help you negotiate your contract?"
"Yeah. Apparently picked up some tricks from his own agent, Pierre, I think his name was. Seems to be a bloody good agent, too."
"Wonder if he'll become an agent of his own in the future."
"Eh, I don't really care. What I was getting at was that although I believe agents are bloody bloodsucking bastards, Mark knows his way 'round the industry. You're not the first young talent he's probably dealt with, nor will you be the last."
"So?"
"Listen to him."
"And if it doesn't work out?"
"Then you could always come to Chromatika," she said without missing a beat.

A simple statement, curt in its delivery, yet bold in its message. In one fell swoop, Trudy had broached a topic she'd always wanted to talk to Stephen about — moving to Chromatika. It wasn't even that ludicrous a suggestion either — fifteenth in the world, its league ranked ninteenth in it. A strong, developing country in Anaia, forging ahead on its own path. History, culture, a future — all could be found and sought on those isolated islands in the far northern reaches of the world, three thousand or four thousand miles away. Typically, Stephen would have rubbished these suggestions, but he was tired of Tumbra and its media.

And for the first time, Stephen found himself entertaining that suggestion.

"That...ah...huh."
"It's not a bad place to live, you know," she said gently. "And you could always rent a nice place in Chromia. Just...just make sure to let me visit once in a while."
"This is...a lot to take in."
"When you come to Chromatika, I promise I'll show you what it's like to live here."
"But you live with the club."
"I might move out soon. By the way, was that a yes on coming to Chromatika?"
"Uh..."
"For the World Cup, dummy."
"Oh, that..." His face lightened up for a moment. "Yeah, I asked my mom. I can go. You got the tickets?"
"Whole country's swept up in World Cup fever. Managed to get some, for cheap."
"Darn."
"And once again, you," she jabbed a finger at the camera like how she'd jabbed her finger into his chest in Zeta Reka, "owe me."
"Well, what would I?"
She shrugged. "A meal. Several meals. Properly treating your career like it is. And entertaining the thought of coming here."
Stephen merely laughed at hearing that.
"I thought I was already —"
"Permanently, Stephen. I was being serious. I mean, I am being serious. There's not many better leagues than that in Chromatika."
"I know. I promise, I'll think about it."
"Good."
A small smile crossed Trudy's face.
"Go to sleep, dork."
"Soon. Take care, Trudy."
"You too."

So it was that the first seeds of an idea were planted into Stephen's mind. The idea of moving to Chromatika. A step rarely taken — precious few of his countrymen had moved abroad. Norm Watson, Dan Galbraith, Neal Diamond, Nigel Erskine, van Heirolf, John Bridges — the first six to step beyond Tumbra's safe shores and take a look at the beyond. The Nine, of course, had to go overseas to make a living — there was no point in attempting to make a living playing women's football in Tumbra as it stood. But apart from that? Precious few exports. Little imports, too.

Perhaps it was time to join that club. To take a step out into the world. Into the kind-of-unknown.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
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Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:28 am

defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 6
touchdown


Aéroquébec Flight 774 to Chromia is about to land. Please fasten your seatbelts...
The familiar feel of a descending plane, and popping ears; Stephen Kerr groggily woke up to the green fields of Chromatika below him; and near that, the gleaming, shining metropole that was Chromia. Trudy hadn't lied when she said it was one of the most liveable places in the world; the country had definitively punched above their weight in the world, and years of progress since the Chromatik Party dictatorship had culminated in their first ever World Cup hosting opportunity after several failed bids prior. And what a World Cup it was shaping up to be; a near-all Esportivan group in C; an all-Anaian group in F, even though they would be travelling to Cassadaigua; the usual stalwarts and some new faces would appear, and it was shaping up to be a fascinating competition.

He could have been forgiven, though, for the quizzical look the customs guard at Franscesca Larriet-Cortes International Airport gave him as he stamped Stephen's passport; the Black Eagles, after all, were playing in Krytenia, not Chromatika, though they did come mighty close to playing in the latter. Still, though, he remained relatively unrecognised by the foreign country, a welcome respite from Tumbra where he had begun to be stopped in the streets for a picture; such had his renown grown in the latter half of the season.

Of course, it'd come to naught — the early season meltdown Straton had suffered put paid to their title hopes — but the team had still rallied to come second, Stephen's introduction being a big reason why the team had done so. Already, they were planning ahead for a future with Kerr in the defensive backline. Perhaps a big responsibility for the youngster to shoulder, and one that perhaps demanded greater contract terms; with Stephen's tentative blessing being given to his agent, he'd begun negotiating; yet he was wary about negotiations failing.

It was, then, the best thing to leave Tumbra for the time being; and come to Chromatika, where presumably there would be less people interested in whether he would sign the contract or not, and more interested in what was happening on the pitch. As Stephen exited customs, and stepped into the great Arrivals hall, he stumbled over to the nearest bench with his luggage, and plopped down.

It was fascinating, being in an airport, watching people come and go, getting on with their lives. It could have been a pleasant moment of introspection, but Stephen, his timezones wildly out of sync, was quickly threatening to turn into just a light nap in the middle of a crowded airport as he felt himself nod off. That, however, was quickly interrupted by a figure in a grey hoodie plopping itself down on the seat next to him. Stephen, too tired to notice, was jerked back to attention when he suddenly heard a resounding clap in his left ear; he nearly fell off the bench as the figure in the grey hoodie began laughing, and unmasked itself to reveal the familiar laugh and visage of Trudy Harrison.

"You know, I haven't laughed that hard in ages. You never do cease to amaze me, dork."
"Really? A thousand different ways to welcome me to Chromatika and this is how you choose to do it?
She stood up, arms akimbo.
"Welcome to Chromatika. A proud, strong nation marching towards the future," she said, albeit a tad sarcastically. A tad? No, perhaps extremely so. "I'm your tour guide, Trudy Harrison, and our first stop today is Chromia."
"Alright, alright." Stephen stood up. "It's good to see you again. In the flesh."
"It's good to see you too, Stephen."

They hugged for a bit, enjoying each other's presence; after all, it had been a year since the triumph in Zeta Reka, and a year since both of their lives had changed. For Stephen, it was breaking into the first team and becoming somewhat of a cornerstone in Straton's defence (and an additional bonus of getting to know his childhood hero, Dan Galbraith, better); for Trudy, it was signing for one of the strongest teams in Chromatika, when just a year ago she'd been on the verge of giving up of professional football; and spearheading a movement to get equality into sports; she'd become the face of that movement. In the end, she'd succeeded; and now floodgates had been opened to both sexes when it came to sports.

It had been a rollercoaster year for both of them, full of little challenges; but meeting each other, as friends, made it all worthwhile.

"So we'll be going for quite a few matches, then; there's the opening match, Chromatika versus Quebec, four days from now; that's in Depri Lanar, so it'll be a train trip there; hopefully you're ready for that. Before that, though, we'll be going for the opening ceremony. I won't reveal the rest of the itinerary yet; but suffice it to say, it'll be fun. Of course, we'll be attending the Final, in my home stadium; that'll be one for the books."
"Interesting. Any chance we get any Esportivan matches?"
"That's for me to know and for you to find out," she said with her typical mischevous grin. The two walked straight into the cold Chromatik air; they'd be taking a train to the middle of Chromia, where Stephen had booked a hotel room in what he'd hoped was a luxurious hotel. Of course, it was World Cup season, and pretty much everything was booked, what with the deluge of fans; but Stephen had managed to book a room before coming to Chromatika. Luck, as he guessed; but there was none for Trudy, who would have to continue to stay in Chromatik's accomodation. She'd stridently refused to return to Tumbra during the summer break; instead choosing to stay over the summer. A full-time Tumbran emigrant, then, even when the other Tumbrans overseas had returned to their homeland.
"Are you planning to move out any time soon, then?"
"When I sign a new contract, maybe. More pay for me. For now, I'm happy to stay where I am."
"Any plans to return to Tumbra?"
"Nope."
"Really? You must miss —"
"I don't miss Tumbra that much. Maybe in the beginning, but...I've adjusted well to life here. I could see myself remaining here for the rest of my life, only going back if needed."
"Your family was what I meant to say. Really? Not even for your family?
The expression on Trudy's face darkened a bit, but disappeared after a moment.
"No, Stephen. My career comes first," she said, with a smile that looked just a bit contrived to Stephen.
"Aight.


Two Days Later
48 Hours Before WC88 MD1


"Prime seats!" Trudy presented the ticket to Stephen with a flourish. "You'll have to go up first, though...I've got to attend to something."
"You sure?
"Yeah. Don't worry about it."
"You saying that is exactly the thing that would make me worry."
She smirked. "You're such a worrywart. I'll see you later."

And then she disappeared into the crowd, her mane of black hair bouncing as she ran off somewhere. Evidently it was urgent — but Stephen merely sighed and presented his ticket stub. Going up to where his seat was, he realised Trudy was right — she had gotten the two of them plum seats.

Still, though, he settled in; waiting for the opening ceremony to begin. Quite why Trudy had dragged him here was a mystery; he always regarded opening ceremonies as stuffy, performance-laden, and a tribute only to stroke the egos of the many people who'd worked on it. It didn't fit with what Stephen knew of her; Trudy had always been one of those people who cut straight to the chase, ignoring all fanfare.

The opening ceremony began; yet Trudy was nowhere to be seen. He shot her a quick message, but the two ticks remained grey; evidently they hadn't been read. He began worrying — she was going to miss the best part. Well, best as it could be, perhaps. Was this another prank by her?

The flags continued marching in, presented by various important people; he recognised all of them, of course, by virtue of an education in football; national anthems blared. The Novastrella was raised by a slightly disheveled man in blue overalls; the others, by figures he didn't recognise, but he'd gotten the shock of his life when he saw who was raising the flag of the World Cup itself.

It was Trudy Harrison.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
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Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 5:30 am

defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 7
dresses, scarves and whales


After an opening ceremony of that stature, and arguably of the world's pre-eminent sporting event, there has to be a function.

And while Stephen would typically have relished any opportunity to mix it up with people from all across the globe and enjoy the free food, he experienced a particular reluctance to attend this one. And secondly, he was way, way underdressed. With the exception of the man in blue overalls, most of the people there were wearing full evening dress; Stephen found himself gently ushered into the function room wearing...cargo pants, sneakers and a black shirt. Evidently he wasn't prepared for this; the only notice he got was when Trudy grabbed his arm and led him into the function room after the opening ceremony, without saying a word. An apologetic glance on her face later, she'd disappeared into the crowd.

Well, as well as someone who had clearly been the centre of attention could disappear into a crowd, anyway.

If anyone asked, he was wearing the outfit ironically; though he'd tried his best to stay out of the spotlight, and nobody had given him as much a glance. He'd spent the night mostly flitting about the sides of the room, holding a small paper plate cautiously and eating what little food he'd managed to glean from the trays, or from the ever-present waiters. He'd briefly considered asking if he could borrow a waistcoat, just to blend in; but if he did, he expected he'd just get more attention. What was a waiter doing without a tie? And why wasn't he doing waiter things?

So there he was, relegated to the corner of an impressive ballroom, with a lot of the rich and famous of the world in there. He recognised a few, though he wasn't daft enough to go and talk to them. And right in the middle of it all, in the same black, flowing dress that she wore when raising the World Cup flag, was Trudy Harrison. Laughing, socialising, chatting with those who talked to her as though she'd been born to do it. It struck Stephen as strange — this was a side of her he'd never seen before. A social butterfly. But then again, as he reflected, he hadn't seen much of Trudy in the year prior. Perhaps she'd just gained a lot of social skills.

Hours passed, the crowd thinned, yet Trudy showed no signs of slowing down. The kimchi Stephen had taken a particular liking to had grown cold; the fermented vegetables sat on his plate, sad and wrinkled, and Stephen really had no interest in it anymore. Merely staring at the world going by, again, he'd picked a vacant table and sat down; a phone notification buzzed. A tentative buzz revealed it wasn't from Trudy, but from his agent, John.

Negotiations...not going well. They're not prepared to pay. I might walk away — I am not letting you stay on two thousand a week. I'll get your name around the world; surely people will want to pay for the next big defensive thing.

For a vacation where he was meant to be getting away from the stress of his future of his footballing career, it sure found a way to catch up to him. He sighed, marked the notification as read; and sat at the table, ignoring the waiters who brought wine to his side.

What did the future hold for him? Was he really going to move to Chromatika? From Trudy's perspective, who'd spent the past year here, Chromatika did sound like the perfect place to hone his footballing talent. A decently-highly placed and competitive football league. A culture he'd enjoyed, and thought he'd fit right into. Sure, the weather was a little on the cold side, but there wasn't anything he couldn't adjust to in time.

Plus, Trudy was here.

This was a holiday, for god's sake, but it quickly seemed like scouting for his next home.

Phone, face down; and the next time the waiter passed the table, he gratefully took a cup of wine. It wasn't strong, but he never did drink much. He drank too much on his first sip; the smoky feeling rising through his nose almost was too much. After what felt like an eternity, he drained the glass, and immediately regretted it; pushing the glass away, that would be it for tonight.

After what felt like an eternity, Trudy finally sat down next to him; in characteristic Harrison fashion, it was less a sit and more a flop. Presumably with less people around, she could act more like herself again; but she still cast eyes around, warily.

"So...I owe you an explanation."
"Trudy, I don't really care. I've felt naked throughout the night and I've spent the last three hours prowling around this ballroom. If I didn't know better I'd say I was more acquainted with the paintings on the wall than anyone here. Let's get the fuck out of here, please — I don't think I can physically stand this place anymore."
She looked at him, almost taken aback. "Sure...let's...let's go."




Their attempt to get as far away from the stadium as possible brought them to a little park; then again, the stadium really was just about a ten minute walk away, and its bright lights still shone, resplendently, a celebration of football that had occurred before and a celebration of the football that was about to begin.

Trudy had dropped the dress; now dressed in a simple t-shirt and pants, the two walked quietly. Stephen's hands were in his pockets, Trudy keeping a small distance away from him, evidently cautious of making conversation. It was evident he wasn't in the best of moods.

"Penny for your thoughts?"
"I don't know, Trudy."
"I'm sorry I didn't let you know about this earlier. I should've...well, I should've let you know. So you could prepare.
"That would've been nice, yeah. But what led you to yknow, raising the flag of the whole bloody competition itself? The pride of place in the entire competition?"
"About three months ago, from what I'd heard, this lady called Ms. Eyken was tasked with finding people to raise the flags for this ceremony. It was...big. But they couldn't find anyone fitting, anyone that had sufficient gravitas to raise the big one."
"And they somehow chose you?"
"Believe me, I don't know how they got to know my story, either. Evidently news spreads, you know?"
Stephen's mind flashed back to the text he received from his agent.
"Anyway, a few weeks before this, they got in contact. Said they'd heard about my story and how they wanted me to raise the flag, as a symbol of sporting equality. I couldn't say no, Stephen."
Stephen looked up, glanced at Trudy. She seemed genuinely down; but at the same time, who could deny her that? The chance to make a splash on the world stage?
"Mmm. You could've at least told me."
"I wanted to keep it a surprise."
"Not even a hint? Darn."
"I'm...sorry."

The two continued walking in silence for a while.

"What'd they talk to you about, anyway? You certainly seemed...at ease amongst the rich and famous."
"Mostly about my career. And the TFF's resignation. That's made waves throughout the world."
"You never seemed like the kind to be up for this kind of social interaction."
"What can I say? I'm good at acting, I guess. I'm exhausted," she said in a noncommittal way. Stephen wanted to press the issue, know exactly what Trudy was hiding from her, but he decided to let it go. He didn't want to press her too much; and there was no indication she'd been lying, anyway.

The rest of the night was quiet; Trudy walked with Stephen back to his hotel in the middle of Chromia. Even near midnight, it was a bustling city; Trudy advised him to pack for the trip to Deprí Lanar, where they'd be watching the first match of the competition.



Deprí Lanar was intimidating and awe-inspiring in equal measure, though there hadn't been much to write home about; the industrial city which made mostly cars had little in the vein of sights and sounds that screamed tourism; they were mostly there for the first match, anyway, a real end-to-end battle as Chromatika did battle with the Quebecois. The hosts came out victors; but that was it.

The second matchday would see them go to a much more tourist-friendly place; Trudy revealed that they'd be heading to Lhor, on the north coast of the country. Renowned for its naval culture and fashion, Trudy promised they'd indulge in both; but Stephen was personally more interested in the former.

A breath of fresh air, too, the town proved to be; Straton, too, faced the sea, but the cold sea air in Lhor proved to be extremely refreshing. Whales dominated the tourist parts of the city; even their local football club had a whale as their motif. It seemed like a lot of people in their mid 20s lived there, too; the atmosphere certainly seemed like the place to be for young people. If Chromia felt like an established giant, Lhor felt like somewhere that had more energy and was going somewhere fast; such was how youth seemed to play on the general vibe the city had.

She'd been right about fashion, too; the streets were filled with boutiques which they'd stopped in. Stephen had bought a nice hat; there was a scarf which had caught his eye, too; long, flowing yet looking equally scratchy; the multiple colours which the scarf seemed to encompass seemed to come straight out of the Imperial Commonwealth of Eastfield Lodge. When he'd asked about the scarf, the shop owner merely smiled; there was a sense the scarf had a lot of history behind it.

The main attraction, though, outside the football — Pasarga versus Banija, 72 vs 86, as it was touted, a match between former world champions — was the whales. They'd both signed up for a whalewatching tour; hopefully they'd be able to see multiple. If Lhor had been cold on land, it was even colder on the sea; even Trudy, who'd been in the country for a year, found herself shivering. Stephen had put his hat on her; though it looked ludicrously oversized it somehow helped warm her.

One, two, three whales began breaching the water; their magnificent grey bodies leaped above it, a graceful move which reminded the two of them how small they were compared to these great beasts of the north. Near the end, a particularly playful one decided to draw close to the boat and perform a tail-slap; sending water onto the deck, drenching both Stephen and Trudy. Both of them began laughing uncontrollably; a whale deciding to go right next to a ship and drenching both of them was somehow inherently funny, even if there hadn't been a punchline.

What wasn't so funny was drying off their outer clothes later; it had gotten so cold that it was more comfortable wearing just their shirts and not the jackets that they'd been so securely wrapped up in. Both of them would shiver as they looked for somewhere warm to dive; in the end, a cafe sufficed. With a knowing look at each other, they ordered a waffle and two iced chocolates.

It had been a good day. No football, nothing; just two friends enjoying each other's company, far away from home.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
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Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Jun 15, 2021 12:50 pm

The following roleplay was meant to be posted in the Cup of Harmony thread; however, my sudden elimination, and not wanting to post in the thread any more than I needed led to this. Consider this, and the next part, exclusives to this thread; things should hopefully become normal again from Season 3 onwards.


defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 8
new things


Matchday 28
TPD Season 2 — Straton FC vs Lakewood City
Straton, Tumbra


"This is Stephen Kerr's sixth appearance in seven games, Malcolm; certainly the young defender, merely 19, has somehow become a cornerstone of the Red-and-blues' defence."
"You can't help but wonder if this is the very signing that Straton needed, John. They've gone through a defensive crisis at the start of the season, and that's really hampered their charge for the title."
"It's not hard to understate his impact. What Straton — and really, the rest of the big clubs — need is a defensive stalwart, someone that can shore up their defence. It's a common saying, that attack wins games but defence wins titles. Sure, Straton have Vászony Sallay, but their leakiness at the back is why they're fifth in the table. Seventy-eight goals scored, Malcolm, but thirty-eight goals conceded in twenty-seven games. If you take a look at clubs like Inter Nantwich, who signed Devon Daniels and have only lost two games so far this season — that's the kind of form that wins you titles. Of course, though, with Lakewood City's dominance on all fronts, there's no doubt that trying to mount a sustained challenge is a whole new level of difficulty in and of itself. "
"What an impact he's had. What an impact — though at just nineteen, is it really fair to pile pressure onto him?"
"I'd say he's more than happy to have it. A natural leader, born and bred in Straton — many would be chomping at the bit to have the opportunities he's having. And yet he hasn't fluffed his lines, shown much of the nervousness that players his age would be displaying when on the pitch."
"And yet there's still talk about his contract. Apparently he's still on a youth player contract — that's going to be negotiated soon, for sure, and it'll be one windfall for both him and his agent when it does happen. But he's got to be careful, though, because if he demands too much off the bat, fans will turn against him. It's happened before, with Straton's fanbase, and it might happen again."
"But you have to say he deserves those terms. He's the next Johnny Brown, the next Charlie Schwartz, the legend of the 70s. If they can tie him down to a long-term contract, then they've got a legend on their hands. But they've got to give him what he deserves — the lad's locally born and bred, but he still needs to make a living."
That's a story for another time, I think, perhaps the off-season. Now the lineup for Lakewood City. Lennon starts in goal..."


Chromatika

The train whistled through the Chromatik countryside, a bullet of grey speeding its way through the auburn and viridian fields of the Capital District. A picture of tranquility, a picture of peace. Thirty years ago these rails had been used to transport troops; now they were key to Chromatika's steps into the future. None of this was, however, on Stephen Kerr's mind.

It was another brilliant day in Chromatika. And a great day for football, too — though the match they were attending wasn't slated to take place until tomorrow. A clash of titans, the colonised versus their coloniser, Esportivan versus Rushmori, 80 vs 87. Brenecia versus Nephara. But this wasn't on his mind, either. The World Cup was secondary, though he did bask in moments of joy; football, after all, was the most important of the least important things in life. Though for him, it was a bit different.

Being a professional football player did skew your priorities a bit when it came to the sport that was your life. He'd come to Chromatika to get away from his career, yet at every moment it'd been catching up to him. He wondered if he should've gone to Krytenia ahead, with thousands of others of the faithful who'd made the pilgrimage to watch the latter-day apostles play; but he'd been following the news, and there hadn't been anything much to follow there, either. There was every chance that the faithful would be spurned by the Krytenian heat, and they'd have to go back home with their heads bowed in shame, shame on being a second seed yet somehow not managing to exit the group stage.

Then there was his contract.

Since that one tense text, Stephen hadn't replied to his agent John — he was loath to talk to him. He didn't have anything against John, and he was certain that he was doing his best, given how tough Stephen had made his job. But he just didn't want to know whether he'd still be a Straton player next season. He had faith in his boyhood club, the one whose stripes he'd grown up wearing, the one who he'd been picking up balls for on the sidelines of old Premier Division matches, that they'd pay him adequately for what he'd brought to the team. Youth, zest, a new energy, defensive solidity — those were just some of the terms bandied about the defender.

They couldn't let him go. Not now, when they stood their best chance of winning their first title in eleven years. Not now, when they had a free-scoring Pasargan up front. They couldn't possibly spurn the chance to keep the next defensive titan of Tumbran football (or so he had been labelled — he hated using those terms on himself) just to save a couple thousand dollars a week, could they?

It seemed like they could. And they would.

"Oi," came a voice from a million miles away.

And where would he go, then? Surely people will want to pay for the next big defensive thing. But what if he wanted to play for Straton?

And what if they were trying to take advantage of his loyalty? Misplaced, perhaps, but still, loyalty had to count for something in this day and age? They did say football had changed since the 90s, but...had it changed this much?

"Oi." A jab in the arm. One finger. Still not enough to shake him out of his reverie. Still he stared, out into the distance. The azure blue sky. Golden fields. Yes, it was very nice, but there were other things to focus on.

Trudy Harrison sighed, then put down the two boxes she'd purchased from the station and had kept hidden until now. She'd have to employ her favourite tactic, then. A small grin crossed her face as she prepared one of her arm-punches. Somehow it'd become one of her ways to get people to listen to her. When she was small, on the playground, and the boys didn't want to share the ball with her. A few arm punches later (and, admittedly, a few somewhere else, but she often omitted that part of the story when she told them), and they were all playing nice.

Even when they were playful, they hurt, somewhat. Perfect for getting attention. Particularly if that somebody seemed to be a million miles away and not focusing on the two lunchboxes she'd specially picked out for the two of them on the train ride to Z'ai'ai.

The punch was light, though it had the desired effect. Stephen yelped, looked as if he'd been shot, then began nursing his sore arm.

"What did you do that for?"
"Food. Getting cold. You were far, far away. Me calling out for you didn't catch your attention, neither did one finger, so I went for the next best alternative."
"I'm more interested in knowing how your thought processes went from calling me to landing a punch on my arm."
"It's a natural progression." She grinned. "You must be hungry."
"I am, yeah." Stephen looked pensively down at the two teal lunchboxes Trudy had secured from Lhor station. "You got these, then?"
"No, Kenneth Everett did, Stephen. Of course it was me."
A small smile crossed his face. Trudy was abrasive, but she cared. That was one of the few things he'd kept in mind throughout their year of friendship. Phones off rooftops, acid tongues over videocalls, but she truly cared.

She delicately opened her own lunchbox, placing it on the table. Mounds of fluffy white rice were topped with six different coloured vegetables, with a perfectly rounded sunny-side-up egg on top. Cracking the pair of wooden chopsticks that came with the intricately designed lunchbox, she dug in. Scooping a bit of the rice onto her spoon. Deftly maneuvering the chopsticks to pick up some of the vegetables surrounding the egg, she chomped down on the lot. Then she put it down. And frowned.

"What're you looking at? Eat."
"You certainly know your way round these," gesturing at the chopsticks.
"Well, yeah, half the food here requires these.
"So...uh...why'd you stop?"
"Because I'm an idiot." Rummaging through the plastic bag, she withdrew a small container of red sauce. "If you want to eat this, you need to have this on top."
"What's it called?
"This? Bibimbap. The sauce itself is called, uh, gochujang, I think. Anyway, eat."
"The cuisine here's definitely unique."
She shrugged. "It's different to what we have at home, yeah, definitely. But it's new. To you, at least. And isn't that the point of going on holidays, life, even? Something new?"
He considered her words for a moment. Then he did the same as her — though only more clumsily, and definitely not using chopsticks the correct way. Glancing up, he caught one of her traditional smirks — before digging in. The sauce was tangy, a bit spicy, and contrasted well with the sweetness of the rice and savoriness of the vegetables.
"Like it?"
"Yesh."
"Good. 'Cause there's more where this came from. And there's arguably no better place for food in this country than where we're going next."
Last edited by Tumbra on Tue Jun 15, 2021 12:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Wed Jun 16, 2021 2:35 am

defender meets midfielder: season 2, part 9
míng yā


Straton

In one corner of Straton, quite near to the Tumbran National Stadium, sits a quite indistinct six-story office building, clad in grey and rising just a bit higher than the surrounding blocks. It is quite indistinct from every other office block in the area, if not for the logo of Straton Football Club on the wall when one walks in. These are Straton FC's offices. These were where contracts were negotiated, deals were done.

Agents often have to be aware that walking into one of these offices is akin to walking straight into the lion's mouth. Here the club has the home-field advantage, here they have less negotiating power. It is a minature game of sports, a minature war, going on inside one's mind. Between two, or even three, depending on how many minds there are negotiating at any one time. It is meant to demotivate agents, to get them to cave into what the club wants. It is meant to demoralise. Quite so very often agents go in there full of confidence and exit, meek as a mouse, having been browbeaten into accepting the club's terms. They call it negotiations, but it really is more dictatorial.

John Whiting strode into one of the offices, checking his briefcase for the final draft of what he wanted Stephen Kerr's contract to be. Thirty thousand a week. For a nineteen year-old, perhaps a bit too much. But for a nineteen year-old with unbridled potential and already starting for the bloody club, some might say it was a steal.

But the club were playing hard ball. Ten thousand was what they were going up for. Five his current contract, they argued. A five fold increase was reward enough for someone who'd played half a season and had done spectacularly. Plus there was always then performance incentives.

But he'd looked through them. And they were horseshit. They were trying to keep him at the club for wages half of what he should've been on, taking advantage of the man — boy's — and his loyalty.

He sat, back facing the only window into the busy office outside, and awaited the arrival of the other two men he would be negotiating against. There was Richard Cassidy, the Director of Football.

And there was Ted Bayh, the manager of Straton's first team.

Z'ai'ai

The smell of food seemed to be baked into the air. The culinary capital of Chromatika, the guide book had mentioned. The city centre is renowned for having food from all over the multiverse. Anything you want can be found here. But of course, none more so than the famous Ming Duck, or as it is locally known, míng yā.

Tomorrow two of the multiverse's strongest sides would be doing battle. But for now, it was once again time to eat. They'd arrived in the early afternoon, checked into separate hotel rooms, and were now looking for things to do, burning time for the night. The two were now traipsing down one of Z'ai'ai's multiple culinary streets — narrow, pedestrian, but full of character and light. It was almost overwhelming in a way, but there was a sense of organisation to the whole chaos. It suited the country.

"So whaddya feel like eating?"
"Ooo, someone's finally taking the lead for once. What's gotten into you?"
"I seem to remember you saying I owed you a meal for the whole task of, you know, bringing me here to watch the World Cup in the first place."
"Is that...character development? The same Stephen Kerr, who just a year ago got pissy about me eating half his waffle, treating me to a meal? I'm not worthy!"
"Oh, come off it, you. Plus, I've got to thank you for dragging me around Chromatika somehow."
"If you're treating me to a free meal, I'll take it."
"So where do you want to go?"
"I think I know just the place."

Straton

Ten o'clock. Right on cue, the two men strode in, without much expression on their faces. Without waiting for a handshake or other, they sat down on the opposite side of the agent.

"Mr. Bayh. Mr. Cassidy. It's good to be here again," the agent lying without much effort.
"Mr. Whiting. It's good to see you. Have a seat. Can I get you anything to drink? Water, perhaps, or something stronger?"
"With all due respect, Mr. Cassidy, it is...ten o'clock. Water will do fine, thank you."
"Very well, water it is."

A small pitcher on the side of the table was emptied slightly. The cup of water was handed to John, who took a small sip out of courtesy, before placing the cup down. He withdrew some papers from his bag.

"I believe we can cut to the chase. Three times we have met beforehand, three times my offers have been rebuffed."
"That is because your offer for Mr. Kerr's contract has not been of satisfaction to the Club." Cassidy pronounced club with a particular emphasis on the hard c. It was evident that this was meant to faze. But Whiting remained unfazed.
"And I have revised my offer multiple times since. And still each time you seek to rebuke me. It is almost as if you are not interested in negotiating any further."
"Indeed, we are not. The offer we have presented is our first, only, and final offer regarding the future of Mr. Kerr. A base salary of ten grand a week. Four years, with the potential for an extension. Multiple, generous, I may add, performance-related contract clauses."
"And you expect me to take this? It's a load of horseshit."
"We could always improve your compensation."
"What?"
"We are prepared to improve your agent fee." The implications of the statement were obvious."To, ah, sweeten the deal."

Z'ai'ai

The two had arrived in front of a place called Imperial Jade. Three small flags fluttered on a table — Chromatika. Yuezhou. Xinhua. A smiling waiter stood in front of them, ready to welcome them through the imposing-looking facade. Ornate, intricate, grand — just some of the words that were floating through his mind at the moment.

"This place looks expensive."
"It's the best restaurant in all of Z'ai'ai. Well, one of the best. It's difficult to discern objectively what's the best in a city like this. And...quality does come with a price, after all." She smiled, slightly. "You okay with this?"
He smiled back. "Sure. Let's go."

He motioned to the concierge. "Table for two, please."

And in they went, past the red-and-golden curtains.

Straton

"Did I just hear you correctly?"
"Yes. If you would like me to repeat it again —"
"Do you think I am that kind of agent, that kind of man, who puts money above my clients' happiness?"
"It was merely a suggestion, Mr. Whiting."
"You dare to insult my client with a contract like this, and then you try to fob me off by buying me off?"
"I apologise if you found this suggestion offensive."
"I will ignore it. But suffice it to say my patience with your club is running thin."

Z'ai'ai

"Míng yā. Known for its crispy skin, succulent meat and aroma, this is a must try. Served with pancakes, spring onions...God, this sounds delicious. What's...what's a ?"
"I believe it means duck. But yeah. It's delicious."
"You've had it before?"
"No. But I've heard things about it. Does live up to the name."
"Well, let's have that, then."

Straton

"My final offer. Thirty thousand a week. Four years."
"And we will stick with ours. Ten. Five with a one-year extension."
"We both know that is unacceptable to me and my client."
"It seems we have reached an impasse, Mr. Whiting."
"It's not an impasse if you're being wilfully obstinate, Mr. Cassidy. My client is the next big thing in the Tumbran defence. He is bang on to be a starter, now, and in the next few years, and several Chromatik clubs have been in contact with me, asking how much it would take to bring him there. Out of courtesy and in accordance to my client's wishes I have not entertained their calls. But that might very well change if we are unable to reach an agreement."
"If I may." The raspy voice of Ted Bayh emerged from a corner of the room.

Both sets of eyes were now fully focused on the manager.

Z'ai'ai

The food had arrived. And it had been every bit as delicious as the menu had proclaimed it had been. The skin — roasted to perfection, crispy and producing a smoky taste in the mouth as they bit into it — was the best part of the whole thing, but the duck meat had been kept over the flames for such a time that it still was moist. The pancakes would come later — they just wanted to experience the meat on its own, by itself.

They were quiet as they chewed. Soaking in the flavours, the sensations, the textures, everything.

"Y'know," Stephen said with his mouth full. "I think they might call thish something elsh in Rushhmor. 'Might be a Yuezhou thing. Yincheng, I think the name wash."
"Please don't speak with your mouth full, Stephen, you're in the literal most exclusive establishment in this city."
He swallowed. "Right, sorry. It's just...this is way too good."
She was looking at him with a mixture of sadness, hope and and anticipation.
"Penny for your thoughts," he enquired, trying to score a zinger.
"Perhaps...perhaps later. Let's eat first."

Straton

"I must say, Mr. Whiting, that you make a very good point as to why Stephen deserves the wages you are trying to get him. And as someone who has watched him train, and play, week in, week out, I...I cannot help but agree with your assessment. Stephen is something special. He could be a club legend."

Cassidy looked scandalised. Whiting's angered expression mellowed significantly.

"And it must be said that we should treat talents like him with special gloves. He is only nineteen, yet he has already worked his way into my plans by his sheer tenacity and determination. With the under-18s he is a born leader, with the senior squad he has displayed a remarkable tendency to learn from his seniors. He is a model professional."

He paused, as if for dramatic effect.

"But yet, Mr. Whiting, I am so sorry. I am so very, very sorry, Mr. Whiting, because as first-team manager, it pains me to say that I cannot offer your client the wages I feel he deserves. The club's offer was arrived at after...quantitative analyses, wage budget. I cannot disclose the exact details, but our finances have not exactly been in the black for a while."

Another pause. This time it was Cassidy's turn to look smug, and Whiting's eyes gradually narrowed in anger.

"I regret that this is our offer. I really do. But I implore you to look past it, and to the future. We can re-negotiate the contract when our financial situation gets better, but for now, I beg you to accept this. Stephen wishes to play for Straton, and we know he will play for us whole-heartedly regardless of his compensation."

John Whiting closed his eyes, took a few seconds to let the words sink in, and spoke. Unlike his previous outburst, it was way more professional, way colder and way more final.

"It is evident that our valuations of Stephen Kerr are too far apart. I now believe —"
"Not so."
"Allow me to finish. As I was saying, I now believe this club is attempting to utilise my client's attachment and loyalty to the club to underpay him, because he is just a boy who does not understand the value of money. You are trying to rip him off. It matters not what I think of any compensation you have feebly attempted to buy me off with, because I put my clients first. Stephen specifically instructed me not to anger the club, but I feel from that the club has embarked on a campaign to anger me. Quite why you would attempt to do so is beyond me, and if I did not know any better, I'd say you were trying to get rid of me to negotiate with him directly, and in so doing, keep him here forever on wages that do not match his ability in the slightest, trading forever on the nebulous concept of 'loyalty'."

"We're done here. You can consider my client transfer-listed. Surely the club will not stand in the way of someone who might be able to fetch a hefty sum for his services. And after all, if your financial situation is as dire as you, Mr. Bayh, claim, then selling him for a pretty penny might go a long way to ensuring that your finances get back into the black sooner rather than later."

"Good day, gentlemen. I am sorry that we were not able to reach an agreement, though from the way you were attempting to negotiate this, I highly doubt you were coming towards this in a position of good faith, which makes me sincerely doubt your motivations for going through with this in the first place."


And with that, he left the office, leaving the two men dumbfounded and at a loss for words. Their greatest talent was now on the market. They'd lost their one opportunity to go for the title. Now they'd need to search for an alternative, lest they fell behind in that great fight to catch up to Lakewood.

It wasn't a good situation to be in.

Z'ai'ai

The night was growing old, and Stephen and Trudy had eaten their fill. The duck had been magnificent, the rest of the food even more so (though Stephen was half tempted to order another serving of the duck). As the last of the food was cleared, Stephen looked over at Trudy; she still had that worried expression on her face.

"Well, we've eaten. So..."
She sighed. "I want to ask you a question. So far you've been to...several places in Chromatika. You've liked it here."
"Mhm," came the reply, almost casually.
"Remember a few months ago when I asked you to consider your future career prospects? To...consider moving here?
His eyes narrowed. "Mhm.
"So. The question is...this. Would you like to move to Chromatika at some point in the future?"

Straton

John Whiting exited the building far less harrowed and angrier than most agents that went in. He began texting Stephen — he knew the boy was in Chromatika, and hoped the time difference wouldn't be too great that he'd be asleep.

A few, well-crafted words that got the message across. His finger hovered over the Send button for a few moments. Was it wrong for him to have walked away from negotiations?

No.

He pressed the button.

Z'ai'ai

The question felt like a brick being dropped on his head. Immediately he began feeling a bit queasy, and the world felt like it was revolving slowly around him.
"Stephen? Are you...okay?"
His phone buzzed. He got a hand to it, turned the screen on.

Negotiations failed. I'm sorry. They refused to budge. I understand if you're angry. They just wouldn't offer you more than ten thousand. As of today, please consider yourself on the market. If there are any clubs you wish to join, please reply ASAP and I will send out feelers.

Once again, I'm sorry it had to come to this.


He stared at the screen for a few moments, trying to fully take in what the words that appeared on his screen meant. Thousands of thoughts began surging through his mind, hundreds of emotions, tens of swear words. Then slowly, surely, he locked his phone, put it face-down on the table, and looked Trudy straight in the eyes.

"I might not have a choice. You might get your wish, after all," he said grimly.

"W-what?"
Last edited by Tumbra on Wed Jun 16, 2021 8:20 am, edited 6 times in total.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
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Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Sun Aug 22, 2021 6:30 am

defender meets midfielder: season 3, part 1
the shock


“...with the biggest news of the day being that Stephen Kerr, Straton’s talented defender, will not renew his contract at the club.”

“Breaking news now — Aurora Sports can confirm that Stephen Kerr will be looking to leave the club that brought him through their youth system and gave him his big break…”

“Scenes now from outside the National Stadium, Straton’s home ground, as a gathering of Straton supporters…”

“...did he deserve that big contract in the first place? I mean, he played for half a season. You have to ask yourself — what has he really done for the club that necessitates him getting that new contract? Players these days are too fixated on getting that next payday…”

“...protesting the club’s decision to not give Kerr a new contract, initially…”

“...Kerr, reportedly on holiday in Chromatika, unlikely to continue with his current club beyond the summer as it is likely that he will be sold…”

“...holiday cut short as the defender returned to Tumbra merely a few days after the news dropped…”

“...press conference…”

“...does he deserve this big contract? Thirty thousand a week? After all, he has but half a season of senior team experience…”

“...protestors changed their target from the Club to Kerr…”

“Is he entitled to this much? Are we perhaps entering a spiral of money where players begin demanding more and more? Where the footballing economy turns from a clubs’ market to a players’ market? And sure, the Big Six and Clyde can afford it, but what about the other thirteen? Are we going to see a new class of club…”

“...protestors calling Kerr a traitor, disloyal following the revelations of his demands…”

“...with his agent, John Whiting, who may have become the most hated man in Straton overnight following this revelation…”




Straton

“You sure you want to do this?”
“Yes.”
“You don’t have to, you know. You don’t have to explain anything. It’s not you.”
“John...I owe this club’s supporters something. They’re not the top brass. They’ll understand.”
John Whiting smiled at the young defender. Stephen Kerr could be stubborn at the best of times; that was what the agent had learned from his time knowing the kid. The moment he’d set his mind on something, he knew that there was little chance of dissuading him from, well, changing his mind.

Stephen took a peek at the room. Two microphones were laid out — one for him, and one for John. Though, Stephen privately thought, he’d be doing most — if not all — of the talking today. He knew what he wanted to say. His truth.

The assembled journalists were eager, waiting for the scoop of the transfer window. And how could it not be? Straton Football Club were about to lose their young talent for close to nothing. And they wanted to know everything they could. What led to this turn of events? Straton’s Golden Boy, the one who would bring Straton to that promised title...was now leaving. Dan Galbraith’s departure two seasons ago stung, but he’d been with the club for his entire career. This? This felt like a baby being torn from the womb before it’d been fully developed. There were so many stories yet to be written, tales to be told, and yet it would end abruptly. Stephen Kerr was meant to be the defensive linchpin of Straton’s defence for the next decade and a half, the man who’d anchor their team and bring them to success elsewhere.

Not just up and run when the money wasn’t good.

Stephen closed his eyes. He recalled what Trudy said on their last day in Chromatika, when he decided to go back to Tumbra, cut short his holiday. The World Cup had been a long time ago; the departure hall of Francesca Larriet-Cortes Airport had become a blur. But what Trudy had said that morning remained in his mind, sticking out like a sore thumb.

“It’ll all be alright. Even if people don’t believe in you, you can leave with a clear conscience.”
“I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”
“I believe in you. This’ll pass. And soon you’ll be elsewhere. Maybe here.”
“I don’t know, Trudy. I really don’t know.”


“Stephen? You ready?”

The voice came from far away, but it snapped Stephen out of his reverie. A small grin emerged on his face.

“Yes.”




“Let me be clear. I love Straton Football Club. I was born in Straton, I grew up in Straton, I was moulded by this club and its philosophies. This club is my lifeblood. And it will always be.”

“Unfortunately, as much as I love the club, and the players, I do not feel as if the club treats those who put in a shift for it every week with as much respect as they could have.”

“And it is this — plus the failure of the club and I to agree to a new contract — which has led me to arrive at the conclusion that my future here is untenable. My future lies away from Straton. I do not see myself playing in the red and blue of Straton Football Club from next season onwards.”

And there it was. The shock, the announcement, the confirmation. The shutters of the cameras, which had been going at a steady clip throughout Stephen’s statement, seemingly exploded. There was no doubt about it —Stephen’s wish to leave was now no longer mere rumour, a story concocted by an agent. It was genuine. And from the look that crossed his face when he uttered the words, there was no doubt that it was genuine.

Painful, too.

Stephen felt like he was watching himself utter those words. To speak them, to say that he wouldn’t be playing for the club he’d supported since his birth, the club whose shirts he’d put on for the past twelve years; it felt utterly alien. But it was true. The words were his.

“I will now be taking a few questions.” Almost every hand in the room went up. Stephen made eye contact with a woman with a shock of frizzy hair, glasses, clutching a notepad and gazing earnestly at the player. He motioned towards her.

“Stephen, Miriam Goodword from Matchday. If not Straton, where do you see yourself playing next season?”

“For now, I wish to remain in Tumbra. I think it would be best for my career that I do not leave the shores of Tumbra at an early age except if absolutely necessary; I believe that playing for another club in Tumbra would be good.”

“Do you see yourself playing for another club in the Big Six?”

“Perhaps. If they will sign me.”

“And do you think Straton will allow, facilitate your transfer to any of their direct domestic rivals? To give up an advantage that they have, directly weaken their own squad and strengthen another’s?”

“While I do care about Straton’s sporting projects as of now, my main wish is to leave the club. If they do not wish to sell me, I will leave on a free next season. Therefore I think it’s best for the club to let me go, right now, and try and gain some money, however much or little, to help their financial situation.”

“Thank you.”

The assembled hands went up once more, and Stephen motioned towards an elderly gentleman wearing a brown coat.

“Timothy Roberts, the Couno Herald. Do you think you might have destroyed your legacy at Straton with this move?”

“I rather feel instead that the club has betrayed me by refusing to do me the courtesy of paying me fairly. The supporters may rage at my decision, and I understand all of their rage. I do. At the end of the day it is on me, however, as a footballer, to do what’s right for my career.”

“Will you continue to show up for training sessions and attend club-related events?”

“I am still a player of Straton, and will fulfill all responsibilities of a player of the club until which day the contract ends or is annulled.”

The questions went on, and on, but it was more of the same. Yes, he’d be okay with moving internationally. No, he wouldn’t move to the club that offered him the biggest paycheck. Yes, he didn’t wish any ill-will on Straton, and hoped they’d facilitate his transfer as soon as possible to end their relationship on as good terms as possible. No, this didn’t mean he’d never return to Straton…

By the end, Stephen felt positively exhausted. He’d bid farewell to John; hailed a taxi, and slumped into the back of the seat, trying to get some rest.
No such thing, however, for the weary defender. It came barely half an hour after the press conference, when the gravity of what he’d be doing was still sinking in, still setting in that for the first time in his career, he wouldn’t be playing at the National Stadium —

OFFICIAL COMMUNICATION
STRATON FOOTBALL CLUB


Straton Football Club regrettably notes the decision of centre back Stephen Kerr to wish to leave the Club due to a failure to negotiate terms of a contract agreeable to both parties. The Club acknowledges this decision, and will accept bids of a suitable value for Mr. Kerr’s services.
The Club is open to selling to either a domestic club or a foreign club, but reserves the right to demand different valuations from different sides, depending on the club’s nationality.


And his phone began buzzing again. Sifting through the multitude of texts from everyone — family, friends; he found the one that mattered most. For now. John had messaged him; in times like these, he was the most important person to remain in contact with.

You seen the club statement yet? Whaddya think?

Seems pretty standard to me. What’s up?

It’s bullshit. Their asking price for the Big Six — let’s be real here, you only want to move to them — is six million. Foreign clubs, five.

What?

Yeah, no typos there. Six million domestic, five mil foreign. They really don’t want to let go of you.

Who the fuck’s gonna pay that much?

I’m asking around. United’s interested. Maybe Serrapince. City, Nantwich, Clyde, Couno aren’t. So it’s just those two, domestically, at least.

God.

I know. It’s tough. But we’ll get through this. We’ll talk to United first; they’ve already scheduled a meeting tomorrow. Will send you the details.


The taxi pulled up outside his house. Thankfully, after a long day of media scrutiny, it was bereft of journalists; at least they still respected, somewhat, his right to privacy. The sun was setting; harried, tired, Stephen shoved a note into the taxi driver’s hand and ran to his house.

Upon opening the door, Stephen was enveloped; no, crushed, by a hug from his mother, Sylvia. She held his face in her hands, but their foreheads together, looked at him as if trying to search for any injuries. Her eyes were red; she’d obviously been crying.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re safe…”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Your mom’s been watching the news, Steve. She’s scared silly.” Slowly but surely, the lanky figure of Bertram Kerr stood up, a slight smile on his face. His face didn't show it, but his tone of voice clearly suggested he was just as pleased as his wife that his son was unscathed. “You haven’t seen the protests? They started by calling the club idiots; then they started calling you a traitor.”
“What?”
Bertram merely shrugged. “Have a look for yourself. Should be all over the news.”

The assembled images were hardly believable. The protests...they were targeted at him. And for the first time, staring at the indignant Straton supporters...he felt genuine fear stab at his chest. It was all he could do to text John, ask him for advice.

John, you gotta be fucking kidding me. Protests?

Yeah, the club seems hellbent on not letting you go. Don’t think they’re below mobilising the supporters to achieve that.

But they were protesting against the club!

Thirty thousand a week for a first teamer’s apparently too much for them.

After all I said?

[Straton’s a club. You’re a person. They managed to get control of the narrative.

Fucking hell, what the fuck do they really want?

You know as well as I do.
Remember, Stephen, stay true to yourself and they’ll give in eventually. Stay safe, stay as anonymous as possible.


“Stay as anonymous as possible?” Stephen read the last bit of the sentence out loud.
“Steve, I recommend a face mask when you need to go out. Hoodies, too. Cough every once in a while to keep people away from you. The last thing your mom and I want is for you to come home injured. And we’ve got to discuss leaving the city, too.”

“Leave...the city?” The words hit him hard. Surely he wasn’t in that much danger that he needed to leave the city to remain safe?

“Oh, honey, let’s not...Not yet. Let’s eat dinner.”

“Dinner...dinner sounds good,” Stephen stammered out. Leave the city?

What had he done?

His heart clenched. For the first time in a long time, he felt something deep within himself. A warmth, a gradual wave of unbearable heat.

Anger.


Chromia

“Welcome back, everybody. This season’ll be a crucial one for us. But then again, every season’s an important one. Third last season was decent, but as we all know, we want to go further than that. We need to work hard, and smart, if we’re going to try and get anywhere near Wirr Tsi…”

Trudy Harrison stared on into the distance of the Capitalizt Dome, with Quebecois manager Jannick Kontiola’s words entering her left ears and exiting the other. Last season had been disappointing for them; third in the league, inconsistent form costing them a spot in the Champions’ League. Trudy, meanwhile, had led the Under-18 squad to victory in the Youth League; and she was now in the squad. Kontiola and her had talked; she was ready to take the step up.

But on the warm summer’s day (by Chromatik standards), she just couldn’t feel herself focusing. Her holiday with Stephen had been cut short. She didn’t know if she’d see him again soon. She’d spent at least an hour each night trying to follow Tumbran football; she knew what was going on.

Her texts, however, were met with short and sporadic, if extremely apologetic replies; after a while, she’d stopped. After all, she didn’t want to burden Stephen too much. But she couldn’t get Stephen off her mind. Back home, he was all alone; facing the club all by himself. She couldn’t — wouldn’t — let him face it alone; she had to help. And while Stephen’s answer to her question of whether he’d entertain playing in Chromatika had been…

No. Don’t think about that. Focus on the football.

One exceedingly tiring session of training later, where Trudy felt herself going through the motions but nothing more or less, and all of a sudden it was over. The trip with Ami Coulibaly, her friend and wingback, was more or less typical; what wasn’t, however, was the silence they shared as Trudy stared wistfully into the distance.

“Penny for your thoughts, Trudy.”
“Huh? Oh…”
“You’ve been really — and I mean really quiet today.”
“Well, I mean...I’ve just been thinking about things.”
“About what?”
“Well, you know my friend, Stephen…”
“Yeah, you’ve told me quite a lot about him. If anything, that’s what we mostly talk about when not...well...football. You’ve heard of the Bechdel test, yeah? Named after some Quebecois film critic. If this was a film we’d have failed it, multiple times, by now.”
She glanced away, sheepishly. “Sorry.”
Ami smirked. “Nah. What’s wrong? Ever since the World Cup ended you’ve looked more and more worried. Is this...about him? Dear God, did he do anything to you? I’ll punch the living daylights out of him if he dared —”
“No, Ami,” she smiled. “I’ve been thinking about his future.”
An expression of disgust formed on Ami’s face. “You’re not his mom.”
“I was thinking about whether I could ask Coach to...well...ask Coach to get him to play here. He’s in the middle of a transfer saga. Well, I say saga, but it’s really more of a firestorm —”
“But why?”
“Well...uh...the squad needs centre backs. Kattie (Will)’s not getting any younger. Kamil (Jernejec)’s thirty next season.”
“You sure that’s all?”
“Well, it’d be nice to have another Tumbran here.” Trudy looked towards the window of the bus they were travelling on. She, after all, couldn’t drive. Yet, at least.
“Are you really sure that’s all?”
“And he’s a friend.”
Just a friend?”
“Yeah. Just a friend.”
“Your face is bright red, y’know that?” Ami began laughing.
“What? No.” Trudy instinctively held her hands to her face. They only felt warmth. Was she blushing? Either way, she decided to ignore it.
“Oh, Trudy...well, if there’s anything, I’m sure Coach’d be willing to listen to one of his bright young talents. Couldn’t possibly hurt. And yeah, from a purely tactical point of view, the club does need a new centre back.”
“But how would I find time to talk to him?”
“That’s where you’re on your own, Trudy. You know how to deal with this. If you can score a penalty in extra time, you can talk to your manager. It’s not that different.”
“I’ll see...I’ll see.”
“You talk as if this is some kind of insurmountable task. But I know you. Until Stephen puts on the grey and white kit of this club, you won’t stop. Because that’s just who you are. I’m not sure where this Trudy came from, but...it’s not like you.”
“Really?”
“Maybe you want to reconsider what you said when you said that you two were just friends.”
“Best friends, maybe.”
Ami looked at Trudy exasperatedly. She just didn't get it, did she?
“Yeah. Sure.”
Last edited by Tumbra on Sun Aug 22, 2021 9:03 am, edited 3 times in total.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Thu Aug 26, 2021 4:35 am

defender meets midfielder: season 3, part 2
the quebecois and the tumbran


Straton

The air-conditioning hummed, providing a pleasing break in the silence that enveloped the air-conditioned conference room. Three people were in the room; two middle-aged men wearing suits, and one young adult wearing something demonstrably more casual. The location of the meeting, of course, was somewhere downtown; but for the hoodie-clad adult’s safety, it had been kept on the down low.

For it was that Stephen Kerr had found himself the equivalent of a persona non grata within the confines of the city of Straton. His announcement that he wanted to leave the club had generated a backlash he’d never seen before; and now he feared for his safety. So he’d adapted. A hoodie. A mask. Sunglasses. In the sweltering Tumbran summer he might’ve looked out of place — and possibly a textbook case for “someone doing something suspicious” in a policeman’s handbook — but it also rendered him anonymous.

And anonymity was what Stephen Kerr needed right now. Especially when he was about to be pitched to. Sat next to him was Kerr’s agent, John Whiting; opposite them, preparing a presentation, was someone from Lakewood United.

“Good morning, Mr. Kerr. Mr. Whiting. My name is Caleb Redwood, and I’m a representative of Lakewood United Football Club. I’m here today to discuss why you should join Lakewood United, and the opportunities as well as our initial offer for your contract should our bid for you be accepted,” the bespectacled man on the opposite side of the table droned. “Mr. Kerr, we have identified you as a target for our defensive setup, and we believe that should you join our club, you will become — either immediately or eventually — a key part in our defence as we seek to take back our place in not just the IFCF competitions, but the Tumbran title as well. I’ll first bring you through the history of our club…”

“Look. Uh. I don’t want to be disrespectful, Mr. Redwood, but we are a bit pressed for time. Not immediately, of course, but a more ‘in general’ kind of pressed for time. Mr. Redwood, I’m sure that your club has an extremely illustrious history — after all, I play for one of their historic rivals. I know you guys have 19 domestic titles, 12 cups, uh, countless else. But can we please get to the point?”

Impatience was not typically a word in Stephen Kerr’s vocabulary. Next to him, John Whiting, Stephen’s agent, reacted with a slight shock. The boy had never been this assertive before — not over his career, not over his football. For the three years he’d known Stephen, the defender took things as they came, reacting to life’s various events as they were thrown at him. It was perhaps a weakness of his; for him now to react in such a manner was new to him, certainly.

Glancing over to the defender next to him, there was something new on his face. Clad in a black hoodie, there was a look which John identified as something that wasn’t quite...steely determination. No, it wasn’t quite the look that came to mind when Straton went behind, or when Stephen was concentrating on defending.

It was a look of anger. A quiet rage hummed within. This was new.

Redwood shrugged and glanced over at John, seemingly waiting for approval to continue with the presentation. Whiting gave a noncommittal look, and Redwood sped past the next ten or so slides on the presentation. Black-and-white photos, pictures of trophies, players wearing the famed red-and-black kit, Johnny Brown…

“We think that you can step into our club alongside our captain, Johnny, and act as a long-term replacement for him when he does eventually retire. You two exhibit a lot of the same characteristics — determination, grit, leadership...we think that you could prove to be a capable successor to him.”

“Mm.”

“As for money, we’ll be offering you a basic salary of thirty thousand a week, plus performance bonus. The first copy has already been sent to your agent, Mr. Whiting —” Caleb gave a performative nod in John’s direction “— and he informs me that while he hasn’t gotten a chance to look through it properly yet, most of the terms should be satisfactory.”

“Well. I don’t really...I’m not in it for the money. If John thinks it’s okay for me, then, well, I’m most likely going to be okay with it too.”

“Well, then I think we will be able to reach a very quick conclusion to these talks.” Redwood put his hands together with glee, and flashed a massive smile at the gathered duo.

“Just one question, though.”

“And that is?”

“How much are you planning to offer Straton?”

“Well, I’d say it’s not our, uh, policy to reveal the transfer fees we’re planning to offer, to avoid…” Redwood’s voice trailed off upon seeing Stephen’s face and hearing the question., His smile vanished, replaced with a blank look — afraid, one might even say.

“I don’t think this is to stroke my ego, Mr. Redwood. This is very important. How much are you planning to offer Straton?”

“Two million will be our opening offer.”

Stephen pshawed, and looked to the side, seemingly in disbelief.

“I’m gonna take a break.”

Kerr sauntered out of the room. John, torn between following the young defender and getting Caleb to up his offer, decided to do the latter. Surely Stephen wouldn’t do anything daft. He motioned to Caleb to sit down, and began talking exasperatedly.

“Caleb, I thought we’d gone over this when we first talked. The price for his services is six million. Not a price he wants to set, mind, it’s just...it’s a price that the club wants.”

“It’s a bloody ransom, that fee. Club laughed when I first raised it. You and I both know Lakewood United are not paying six million for a nineteen year-old with half a season of senior experience. With just one year left on his contract, to boot. Two million was the best I could get them to agree to.”

“I know, Caleb. But, well, you’ve seen him play. People are already saying he’s the next Karl Varsteeg or Kohev Küngas-Vaga.”

“People say that all the bloody time. Every fucking defender with an ounce of potential gets hyped up. Six million is not a light sum, John. It’d break the fucking transfer record. We thought four and a half for [Pierre-Louis] Laishram was insane. They’d expect him to instantly step in, become the best in the world for that fee.”

“Look, I know this is tough. But I need you to realise that Stephen cannot stay at this club beyond this summer.”

“And I need you to realise that paying six million for someone who might just be able to come for free next summer is simply not worth it. Why don’t you wait? Straton does not hold many cards. They will fold, eventually. You just have to wait it out, and he’ll be signed for a cut-price deal. By us, or by someone else.”

“You’ve got other transfer targets on the table?”

“One.” Caleb raised a solitary finger, causing John’s face to change from serious to shocked. “Goes without saying I shouldn’t be telling you this. But if he’s signed, he’ll come on a free.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah. Fuck is exactly the word I’d use in this situation.”

“Who?”

“A Tikariotian from Murphtannia. They’re letting all their foreigners go, or so it seems…”

“Right bloody season to do so,” John muttered under his breath.

“Now, John. We’re all just looking for a deal.”

“You can submit this offer, but it’ll be rejected.”

“We won’t go any higher.”

“They won’t go any lower.”

"Then we've reached an impasse, no?'

“I don’t know. I don’t think Stephen will want to come back into the room if he hears you say that you’re going to open with two million with a straight face.”

“Then I think we’ll end things here. Apart from, well, that, the rest of the meeting went well. Shall I assume we have a preliminary verbal agreement that the terms are okay?”

“I’ll give the terms a read through, then I’ll get back to you. I trust you, Caleb. But you know what football clubs are like.”

Caleb grimaced. “Still that same person I went to business school with.”

“I didn’t finish top of my class for nothing.”

John strode out of the room, to find Stephen leaned against a wall, an annoyed look on his face.

“Stephen —”

“Idiot. What the fuck? Two million? They’ll never agree to that!”

“I know, Stephen, I know. Look, Serrapince are interested, too, maybe they’ll schedule a meeting. They’ve got some people in the pipeline, they’ve got a good portfolio, they’re spending hard this window. Not wrong to think they might be willing to shell out six on you.”

“I don’t know, John. Can we just go?”

“Sure.” He stepped over to the lift, and pressed the down button. “Let’s.”

The car ride home was filled with an awkward silence.


Chromia

Trudy Harrison clutched a small file, standing outside Jannick Kontiola’s — the Quebecois manager of Chromatik —office. Her heart thumped in her chest, sweat rolling down her face. It was a simple meeting, where they’d talk about her promotion to the senior team, and at the end of it she’d segue into the team’s future and...well...and trying to sign Stephen Kerr for it.

She’d already been assured by his secretary that Kontiola was free for the entire day. All she had to do was knock, and they’d begin. Kontiola didn’t know that Trudy was coming to talk to him.

Neither did he.

Her mind flashed back to another time in her life, when she stood in front of a door just like this. It was a conversation that ended in tears, anger, a renewed determination to forge her own path in life.

Thump, thump, thump.

You’re not there now. You’re at your place of work, not, well, back there. There’s nothing to be scared of. Nothing, nothing, nothing. So just raise your hand, knock, and turn the doorknob. See? It’s easy. Just raise...


She gulped. Took one step forward. Before she could knock, however, the oak door opened, with Kontiola’s wizened face smiling at the midfielder.

“Trudy? It’s nice to see you. Come in, will you? I was just about to make some tea.”

He opened the door for the midfielder, and she entered. Kontiola’s office was stacked to the brim with files, memorabilia, and others. A small electric kettle whirred, as Jannick motioned to the chair immediately opposite him. Trudy sank into it, the comfort of the sofa making her feel at ease almost immediately.

Tea, Trudy? Back home they call it nokcha. Well, the version I drink, anyways. But tea explanations can be saved for another time.”

She nodded gratefully, and the small white porcelain cup was placed in front of her. Taking a small sip, she was taken aback by the heat; but the bliss provided by the tea outweighed all that.

“Careful. It’s hot.” He took a small sip himself, before putting his own cup down. ““What can I do for you?”

“Well, ehm, I thought we could have a chat.”

“About?”

“Life in general. And, uh, the future.”

“I’d say you’ve blended in very well since you first arrived here. Naturally, there were some teething issues, but no move would be complete without those, would it?”

“I...I guess.”

“And I’d say you’re part of my long-term future plans here. You’re a great fun to watch, and a pleasure to coach. You’re not going to tell me you want to go back to Tumbra now, are you?”

“Never!” The word escaped her mouth before she could restrain herself, surprising Jannick, who evidently wasn’t expecting a response that quickly. Attempting to ignore it, she blithely tried to move the conversation on. “Uh, well, it’s not really about me. I was thinking about, well, other parts of the squad, and I wanted, uh, I had a suggestion, well, really…”

“A tactician! Well, let’s hear it.”

“I, uh, I think the club would do great if we signed a new centre-back. I mean, Kattie Will is already thirty-two. Kamil Jernejec is thirty. I-I know that thirty’s not over the hill for a defender by any means, b-but…” Trudy, stammering, tried to get her point across.

“I completely understand what you’re saying. And, well, what do you have in mind? Or who?”

“Uh...his name is, uh, Stephen Kerr. He’s a Tumbran, like me. He’s 19, and, uh, he…” Trudy glanced down at the folder she was grasping. “I think this could, this could explain it better.” She put the folder on the desk, where Jannick put on his reading glasses, then flipped through it briefly.

“These are certainly some outstanding statistics for someone who’s nineteen years of age.”

“Uh, yep! Definitely.”

Kontiola typed two words into his search engine, before reading off the headlines section. “Wantaway defender Stephen Kerr on the market, could go for six million. Stephen Kerr, the next Kohev Küngas-Vaga? Stephen Kerr, wonderkid extraordinaire. Well, the reviews are certainly glowing.”

“This is certainly very interesting, Trudy, and you’re right — we have been looking for someone to fill in a hole in our defence. Though I’m not sure if we’ll be able to stump up six million, as what has been reported, but I’m sure we’ll be able to negotiate it down. I’ll forward this report to our scouts, and, well, they’ll know what to do with it.”

“Does that mean…?” Trudy’s ears perked up in anticipation.

“It’ll depend on what the scouts say, Trudy, but I wouldn't be surprised if he’s pushed to the top of the priority queue after this. We’ve been looking, but nothing’s been found so far. After all, we’re also trying to sign someone very famous. We’re going all in for him, in fact.”


Straton

Once again, they were on Stephen’s verandah, the verdant lawn filled with vegetables of all kinds — Stephen’s mom was an avid gardener — providing a nice backdrop and a veneer of privacy for the defender and his agent.

“I think I’d like to have a chat with your parents — with you around, of course — on what happened today.”

“Sure thing, John. I’m just tired, though. Fucking hell. Two million…”

“I know.”

Stephen opened the door, greeted his parents, and went in; while John waited near the threshold, waiting for when it was okay to go in. True enough, he went in just a while later; and soon they were all round the table, with a drink of water for all of them. True to his promise, John updated Bertram and Sylvia Kerr on the situation; Straton’s asking price in particular caused Bertram to momentarily flare up in anger. The apple certainly hadn’t fallen far from the tree on that count. But the conversation shifted to Stephen himself, with his parents revealing something that Stephen hadn’t known before.

“Stephen, your mom and I are going to Serrapince for a few weeks,” were the first words to come out of Bertram's mouth when he they walked in.

“What? Why? When did you…?”

“I’d like to say we had planned this earlier. And, well, we had. Just for a few days, however; to meet up with Stephanie 1...she’s on her own summer break, after all. We wanted to spend some time with her, too. With the current situation, however, I think it’d be best if we all went. And for a few weeks. It’d do you some good, too, Stephen, you’ve barely gotten any sleep over the past few days. Maybe leaving Straton would help.”

Stephen’s mind flooded with thoughts, and he took several sips while concocting a response. “I…” he stuttered.

“You don’t need to come with us. It’s entirely up to you.”

“I...well...I don’t really wanna go. It’s an important time, and, well, Serrapince…”

“There are rumours that Serrapince may make an offer for him, and it’d be best for all parties involved if he stayed in Straton. The situation’s already quite bad; it’d only get worse if any more bad press got involved. Going to Serrapince would just set the rumour mills off.” John stepped in, delicately.

“...Yeah.”

Bertram nodded. “I understand.”

“Sylvia, Bertram, I want you to know that I’ll be responsible for his safety.”

“John, you don’t need to do that. I can take care of myself.”

John flashed a look at Stephen which was the visual equivalent of telling him to shut up, and Stephen duly complied. “I’m sure Serrapince will come through with an offer. After all, their two centre-backs aren’t exactly that strong, and Stephen will definitely—”

Bertram, Stephen and John’s phones buzzed at the exact same time. It was a notification. Aurora Sports’ app — what would it be?

AURORA SPORTS
BREAKING — Serrapince agree record-breaking ten million dollar transfer fee for Chromatik stalwart Hermaeus Mora, from Lhor; personal terms agreed, medical set to occur soon…


The colour drained from John Whiting’s face, as he stared at his phone screen in disbelief. Stephen closed his eyes, pocketed his phone, took a deep breath, and walked off to his room. Bertram simply swiped the notification away, and sat down.

The implications, though, were clear.



1 - Stephanie Kerr is Stephen's younger sister. She goes to the Serrapince Institute of the Arts in, well, Serrapince. Rumours that she did so just to get away from her famous brother may be unfounded.

Last edited by Tumbra on Thu Aug 26, 2021 4:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Fri Aug 27, 2021 11:13 pm

defender meets midfielder: season 3, part 3
the journalist


There's a part in this which works best if you read it in the strongest Italian accent possible. Don't worry — you'll know it when you see it.





Straton

“I am once again asking you to lower your price. Six million for Stephen is way too high — both of us know this, Mr. Cassidy, and I must ask you to lower your asking price.”

“Unfortunately, John — may I call you John? — we cannot. This price, we feel, is fair for someone of Stephen’s potential and age.”

“You set this price to drive everyone away.”

“If nobody bids for him, then, well, it is the market at work.”

“You’ll be lumbered with a defender who wants nowt more to do with your club and who will leave, regardless, at the end of his contract. If you lower the asking price, to say, two million, then you can get two million for him. Everyone will pay two million.”

“We don’t just want two million for him.”

Whiting sighed in exasperation. “But you will agree that the price you set is too high?”

“I said earlier that six million is fair. We will go no lower. Already we have rejected a bid from Lakewood United of merely two million.”

“You need the money more than you need Stephen.”

“Incorrect. We will take either.”

“Seems like we’re not making much progress. We’ll talk again soon.”

“Farewell, then, John.”




The house emptied steadily over the next few days. Bertram and Sylvia had left for Serrapince; and Stephen had to continually reassure them that no, he didn’t want to go to Serrapince to spend a few weeks even though there was almost no chance that they were in for him anymore. John had largely left him alone; evidently the agent knew that Stephen was in need of some alone time.

And he’d embraced it. It’d been quiet in the Kerr household, and Stephen took full advantage. Training hadn’t begun yet — though, understandably, Stephen was in no mood to go anyway. So he spent his days waking up late, gaming, going out on trips after dinner...long trips after dinner where he’d take the first bus that arrived and got off as he wished. Often he returned home after one in the morning.

What happened on those walks? Clad in a black hoodie, vanity spectacles and a face mask (he often coughed to pretend he was feeling ill), these long trips on buses, trams and trains often gave him the ability to, well, think. Think about his future. Here he was then, at the end of another one of those trips, making the long walk down to his house. No, he couldn’t drive yet; the cost of getting a drivers’ license in Tumbra was often obscenely expensive, and he had no wish to waste money.

Both Tumbran clubs that were in for him weren’t going to. Lakewood United’s pitiful bid of two million would be rejected immediately, of course; and Serrapince had just dropped ten million on Hermaeus Mora. The rest of the Big Six hadn’t expressed interest; and anywhere else would be a step down. It was a dead end, domestically at least.

Abroad?

Abroad, where he’d have to adapt to a new country, a new environment? Out of Tumbra, where he’d spent most of his life? Leaving his family behind, for a new start in some foreign country? And who would even go in for him? Tumbra’s league had only just entered the IFCF competitions. He was nowhere near high profile enough to gain moves to high profile places. It wasn’t a situation he wanted to find himself in — and more and more, he was beginning to regret his forceful attitude towards the entire situation. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this. Maybe I should’ve waited..

How’d the negotiations go?

No budging. They seem intent on the six million. Looks like your bridges are burnt, Stephen.

Where else can I go?

I’m working on something, Stephen. Promise. Keep your head down.


Bastards. Every time his motivation wavered, he’d turn on the television, read something on Aurora Sports, see something about himself being “ungrateful” or “greedy” and it’d just disappear. Was it really that bad to ask for first-team wages if he was playing for the first team?

The only good bit of news was the email from the TFF notifying him that he’d been selected for the squad for the upcoming Di Bradini Cup. It was nice to know that at least someone in football was looking out for him. Then again, given that there had been several calls for him to be lifted straight to the senior squad, perhaps it was still a bit underwhelming.

Whatever. The news was good. Being able to fly out to Starblaydia, focus on playing football, try and add a Di Bradini Cup — one of the hardest trophies in international football to win — to his shelf. No need to focus on contracts, salary, transfers to other clubs, whatever. Being able to reunite with Trudy on the pitch would be a good thing, too.

Trudy…

They hadn’t talked much. Again. It was a bad habit of his, letting their conversations fall by the wayside. But he missed her, still. Always was happier by her side, and even though he had to cut short their time in Chromatika together, he never felt as if she’d begrudged him that. After all, it was she who’d encouraged him to focus on his career. To hold him in Chromatika when his career in Tumbra needed attending to would be hypocritical of herself, after all.

Sure, they’d argued, especially after the Opening Ceremony and, well, other times, but they never felt as if their friendship would be torn apart by those arguments. They cared for each other, genuinely. He swiped past pictures of them in Lhor, Sanar, Chromia...and felt a smile on his face. Those were good times.
As he approached his house, though, he noticed a difference in the neighbourhood. There was a...yellow car sitting in the cul-de-sac that marked the Kerr household, amongst many others. Stephen didn’t talk to his neighbours much, but he knew that none of them owned a small, yellow, almost vintage-looking car.

Then he was tapped on the shoulder from behind, and Stephen Kerr — who was known for his composure and unflappability on the pitch — screamed.


Chromia

Once again Trudy Harrison found herself standing outside Jannick Kontiola’s office. There was a bit of hesitation, of course — he was her manager, after all, and the last time they’d met, she’d made a very brave suggestion to Kontiola — to sign her compatriot and friend, Stephen Kerr.

But this time, she knocked, confidently, and walked inside.

“Trudy! It’s good to see you. Have a seat, have a seat,” the shrewd manager welcomed Trudy. “I wanted to update you on, well, several things.”

Trudy took a seat opposite the Quebecois manager. His office was cluttered, of course, but it gave off an atmosphere of home.

“Tea?”

Trudy gratefully nodded, once more. Kontiola, it seemed, was a great appreciator of tea, and his brews were...perfection. One day she’d have to ask him what kinds of tea he used — but since Quebec & Shingoryeo was a major producer of the drink, she suspected she didn’t have to wait long to have that question answered.

“Now, I think there’s one thing that you’re most interested in...let me see if I can find the folder...here it is.” Kontiola withdrew the manila folder from a drawer in his desk. It had evidently passed many hands; and there were now many more pieces of paper inside it.

“Well, I received this just yesterday. I didn’t want to spoil it for myself, of course, so I decided to invite you here to read it along with me. I figured that since you were the one who recommended him, you’d want to know the results of the whole...scouting report. Let’s see…”

He flipped open the manila folder, past a few pages, and a singular eyebrow cocked up while reading a particularly long paragraph. Trudy’s heart in this moment seemed to want to leap out of her chest and onto the table — that was how hard it was beating. Would it happen? Would Chromatik sanction a move for her best friend?

“In the opinion of the scouting team, it is, we think, a great identification on the part of whomever recommended Stephen Kerr. We have examined his statistics when playing for both Straton Football Club and on the under-18 national team, and we feel he would be a great buy for the future and as a backup for now. We feel that we should keep an eye out on him, particularly his current situation…”

He glanced back up at Trudy. “Surely you can tell me more?”

“Well, uh, Stephen wants to leave. Club wouldn’t offer him a contract based on the terms he’s, well, really entitled to. I mean, they wanted to pay him ten thousand a week for a starting position on one of Tumbra’s biggest clubs!”

“That is a travesty, indeed.”

“But I don’t think he’s in it for the money, Coach. He just wants to play somewhere he’ll be respected.”

“I see. Yes, I think the report puts it well here too.” He looked back at the report and continued reading from it. “In short, we feel that should his asking price be lowered to somewhere along the lines of three million, then the club should put in a bid. As of right now, the rumours that his club are unwilling to part ways with him and have put an unreasonable asking price on him seem to be salient. But if the club decides to let him go, then Chromatik should go in for him at the earliest opportunity — already there are rumours that clubs all around the world are interested in him. Rating 92/100.”

“Is...is that good?” enquired Trudy meekly.

“Ninety-two is good. Excellent! It’s a great number. I think the main reservation that the scouting team has right now is merely the asking price — and I think we are rather confident that will be lowered — and that of his wages. Which, you’ve assured me, is no big deal as long as we offer him something that’s fitting for him”

Trudy felt her heart slow down a bit. She bit her lip before speaking. “So...does that mean…?”

“Yes, Trudy. I think we’ve found ourselves our first-choice target for the new centre-back of Chromatik.”


Straton

The scream Stephen Kerr let out didn’t wake up the whole neighbourhood, thankfully — after all, it was 11pm at night, and the sleepy suburb was nearly almost all asleep — but the hand that tapped him immediately withdrew — as if in shock of its own.

Mannaggia! Jesus, you scream-a like one of those suckling pigs! Cosa sei, pazzo? Do you do that to everyone who says hello to you on the street?”

Stephen turned around, to see the figure had taken a few steps back, reeling in shock. “Who-who the fuck are you?”

“Me? You don’t know me? Everybody knows me!”

“I’m going to call the fucking police if you don’t tell me who you are right this moment!”

“Right-a, right, Okay. We calm down, yes? No need to call la polizia over this little misunderstanding, yes. You are Stephen, si? Stephen Kerr? Big, famous defender?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say big, or famous - Hey, what’s it to you?”

“Right, I haven’t properly introduced myself yet. My name is Francesco Raviolo. Everybody knows me.” The man let out a big smile, and took out a name card. He proffered it to Stephen, but Stephen didn’t take it. He was still extremely suspicious of the man who, less than a minute ago, had made him think he was about to be murdered.

“Clearly not me. I’ve never heard of you in my life.”

“That is a-nonsensico! Everyone on twii.tur has heard of me. I am a reporter. Specifically, I report on transfers. You have heard of my famous catchphrase, yeah? On the way?”

“No.”

“Aw come on, that is impossible! Everyone on twii.tur —”

“That’s your mistake, then; I don’t have a twii.tur account.”

“Ah. Well, then, friend —”

“I’m not your friend.”

“Well, signor, it is time for us to be introduced to each other.”

“How can I be sure that you’re not here to kill me?”

“Relax, eh! I kill nobody. I am just a humble journalist, but today I come here because I want to talk to you. You are very famous, Stephen, on football twii.tur. Very famous. Very polarising.”

“That last one does not sound like a good thing.”

“Well, it is twii.tur. You are either polarising or everybody hates you, there is no alternative. Come, take my name card. It proves that I am who I am, and that I am not here to, as you say, kill you.” He proffered the soft pink card again between two fingers. Stephen reluctantly stepped forward again and took it, and glanced at it slightly.

LA GAZZETTA DELLO CALCIO
56 Via del Giovanni Fusilli, Barilla, Grande Cucina

FRANCESCO RAVIOLO
Sports Correspondent, La Gazzetta Dello Calcio

Phone: +3981...
Email: francescoraviolo@gazzettadellocalcio.kgoomail.com
Twii.tur: @francescoraviolo


“So you’re a reporter?”

Si, si, like I have been trying to tell you for the past ten minutes.”

“So why are you here today?”

“Because I want to talk to you. About your future.”

“I’ve talked with enough people over the past few days about that, and I’m really not in the mood to talk about it any more.”

“No, you misunderstand me. When I hear you say ’I want to stay in Tumbra’, it breaks my heart, you know? Because that is impossible. Straton, they say six million, but I tell you, they will not let you go even if someone meets that price. They are intent on keeping you from a domestic rival. If you are going to leave, you must leave Tumbra as well.”

“Yeah, I know. Not like they’ll be moving in for me, anyway.”

“But you do not know how many clubs are interested in you, overseas. It is frankly amazing how many clubs look at you, and they say, I want that player on my team. Everywhere.”

“Everywhere?”

Si.

“Tell me more.” Stephen’s interest had been piqued. How much had John been keeping from him, how much interest was he garnering? A sudden rush of hope began to flood his heart again, even if it meant that he wouldn’t be able to move to another club within Tumbra.

“No, this is not the place for it. I bring you somewhere. Authentic Grande Cucinan food. You will like it, I guarantee.”

“At this hour?”

“You are surely hungry, no? There is always time for Grande Cucinan food. It is the best in the world. I guarantee you, even if you are not hungry now, once you go to Vinny’s you will be. All you need to do is follow me. And don’t worry, I will pay.”

“You sure?”

“You Tumbrans, all the same. Someone says they will pay for your meal and immediately they are interested.”

“Hey —”

Francesco began walking back to his car, unlocking and opening the door of the stumpy yellow car. It whirred to life, emitting smoke from the exhaust; but there was something distinctly vintage about it all, and something that distinctly fit Francesco. “You coming?”

Even if this was a madman, a free meal wouldn’t hurt. Stephen was feeling a bit hungry, after all. He relaxed, and began walking towards the car.

“Yeah.”

Maybe, just maybe, things were looking up for him.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Mon Aug 30, 2021 12:41 am

defender meets midfielder: season 3, part 4
the meal

With thanks to Chromatika.


Straton

“So...the car. Is it yours?” Stephen questioned the moment he jumped in.

“No, no, is rental car. But it’s good enough for what I need-a to do.” Francesco shifted gears almost hungrily as the little Bassetti 500 purred onto the road. It was a small car, but one that had inevitably come to be associated with the picturesque nation of Grande Cucina. Considering that Grande Cucina was hardly an industrialised nation, this was quite a feat.

“Which is…?”

“Come and talk to you. You see, Stephen Kerr, it is so important that I speak to you that I come straight to Tumbra!”

“Why...why’s it so important to talk to me?”

“Because you do not have the whole story, Stephen, and it broke my heart to hear you say you wanted to stay within Tumbra. It is useless, Stephen, useless! If you leave, you become bigger, more famous!”

“I’m...I’m not in it for fame. Or money. I just want to play football somewhere I’m appreciated.”

“If you are not famous, you will never be appreciated.” It was at this point that another car decided to swerve into the lane the Bassetti was on, cueing an almost unpronounceable stream of expletives from Raviolo, multiple horn presses, ending with “Oy! I’m driving here!”

Almost immediately, however, he calmed down and pretended as if nothing happened. “Good thing this little Bassetti is nimble, eh? Strong, good Grande Cucinan export.”

To be fair to Stephen, he wasn’t sure if the whole world was driving like crazy people at this time of night, or whether it was just Francesco doing so. Every time he told Francesco to slow down he was met with “No, no, no, no…” as he kept winding in and out of multiple lanes.

Eventually, though, they arrived at the diner. Francesco pulled up to it aggressively; he didn’t even blink as he guided the car into the parking lot. The miracles a Bassetti 500 could achieve, apparently. Francesco beckoned Stephen into the diner; when he entered, a bald, moustachioed man was cleaning plates with a rag behind the counter.

The diner was, fittingly, deserted; and looked like something straight out of the 1950s. Soft yellow lights illuminated the diner; cars on the expressway out of Straton crossed by, being reduced to yellow and red dots at the speed they were going. It was off the beaten track; that much was obvious. The solitary yellow street light shined onto the bushes obscuring the diner from the slip road. It was nostalgic for some reason, even though Stephen had never stepped in here forever. But it worked like a charm. Francesco directed Stephen to take a seat at one of the tables; the red-and-white tablecloths stuck out as unmistakably Cucinan. For a moment Stephen thought he’d left Tumbra and stepped into Grande Cucina.

The man behind the counter grunted, as if to say “hello”; Francesco spoke in Cucinan (or Italian, as those Saviglianos called it) to the man with a tone of familiarity, and after a while, the bald man’s expression turned from one of annoyance to a neutral one. Then, slowly, but surely, a smile appeared on his face.

“And-and-and. The finest bottle of a vino. Vinny, you cannot tell me you do not have something from Napolina? They have the best vino, we both know this. I pay, I pay,” was all Stephen heard of the conversation, which switched rapidly back and forth from Cucinan to Tumbran. Francesco nodded gleefully at Vinny, who then shrugged and walked into the kitchen. Vinny grunted, muttered something in Cucinan, and walked back into the kitchen; Francesco sat down opposite Stephen.

Francesco beamed at Stephen as if he had just shown Stephen his favourite toy. Stephen, on his part, decided to bite the bait and begin talking.

“Why the Bassetti? It’s a shitbox. Surely you could have hired a better car,” Stephen began offhandedly.

Francesco looked pained. “Ah, questo ragazzo. Quando imparerà. You cannot call my national car a shitbox! It was my first car! Everybody in Grande Cucina drives a Bassetti. Is the best there is.”

“Also the worst there is.”

“Hey! That’s not-a very nice. I hire because I know how to drive it. Also because it is cheap.”

“Fair enough. So. Where are we?”

“I thought you’d never ask! Talk about cars and all that. We,” he said with almost a flourish. “We are at Vinny’s Ristorante. Best Grande Cucinan cuisine there is. Best Grande Cucinan restaurant in Straton and in whole of Bechor.”

“Mmm-hmm. Any reason why here specifically?"

“Because Grande Cucinan food is the best in the world.”

“Actually —”

“Ah-ah-ah-ah. No actually. No if, no but. Grande Cucinan food is the best. Il meglio! No more words.”

Stephen shrugged and decided to leave the conversation at that. His eyes wandered around the room; black-and-white pictures of vaguely Cucinan chefs posing smugly in little frames; what seemed to be a map of Grande Cucina and its neighbour Kotzellach, though without the red borders of what typically demarcated Savigliane. Evidently the map hadn’t been updated in a few years. All this added to the feeling of being thrown into a portal to the past that Stephen had been feeling the moment he’d stepped into the restaurant. It wasn’t a negative feeling, for what it was worth; but rather he felt particularly out of place.

The two sat in relative silence; Francesco had taken to scrolling through an app — Stephen posited it was probably twii.tur — while having a hand on his chin, slowly stroking an auburn beard. Immediately it was obvious that Francesco was a mix of old and young; his youthful demeanour and hairstyle contrasted with the crows’ eyes on the side of his eyes, his fingernails gnawed till there was merely pink left.

“You still haven’t really introduced yourself fully.”

“Right, ah, right. I am very, very sorry for not doing so earlier. My name is Francesco Raviolo. I am a reporter for La Gazzetta Della Calcio, specialising in football transfers. I am also known for my, ah, number of sources that help me break transfer news before most news outlets. In short, I am, ah, the source of the source.”

“Okay.”

“Today I, ah, come here because I want to speak to you.”

“Nearly bloody gave me a heart attack when you did.”

“I am so, so sorry for that. May this meal make up for it. I guarantee, you will love it.”

“Hope so.”

“But back on topic. When you gave your press conference a few days ago, I was so impressed. So brave! You are nineteen, si? So brave to say what needs to be said about Straton. But, ah, you say you wish to remain in Tumbra. That is, uh, difficult. You know how much they ask for your services?”

“Six million.”

Si, six million, correct. Il riscatto di un principe, I call it. The Prince’s Ransom. But I tell you, even if Lakewood United bid six million, they will not let you go. They are very miserly, you know? Not for six million even they will let you go to a domestic rival.”

“So…”

“So you must consider alternative options. Either you sign for Columbia and Kingsbury and below, or you…”

“Or I…”

“Or you go overseas.”

Stephen’s heart sank, again.


Chromia

Trudy Harrison had been so caught up in following Stephen Kerr’s transfer saga that she’d completely missed out on the transfer happenings within her own squad. But this was one that she couldn’t ignore. Her fellow defensive midfielder Leysa Burns had announced at the end of the day’s training session that she was leaving Chromatik — for league champions Wirr Tsi, no less.

Trudy’s heart had dropped when she heard the news. Leysa had always been a mentor, a guiding presence for Trudy; helping her to perfect the art of the defensive midfielder that she’d nearly perfected. She’d helped Trudy, too, become more confident in herself; and was a consummate professional throughout. She was one of the league’s best defensive midfielders; it was no surprise, then, that the Shock would be in for her. But somehow she’d missed the entire saga. Focused too much on Stephen, to the extent that she’d missed out on this.

What had surprised Trudy, however, was her saying yes. Or the club, for that matter, saying yes. Strengthening a direct rival? It couldn’t be possible. She entered the club’s dressing room, where Leysa was sitting on a bench, quietly contemplating...something.

“Leysa?”

“Hey, Trudy. It’s good to see you. How are you doing?”

“I’m...fine, thanks. But...I came here to talk. Y’know, about you. And...you leaving.”

“Ah, about my transfer. Have a seat, Trudy. And we’ll talk like we have over the past year.”

Trudy sat next to the stalwart, who smiled gently as she began talking.

“When you first came here, you were a nervous wreck. I mean, it’s only natural; this is your first professional contract, and, well, Chromatika and Tumbra are plenty different. But you’ve grown. And you’ve grown, oh, so much, Trudy. I’m so very, very proud of you.”

“But there’s more for me to learn. I’m nowhere near your level yet, Leysa.”

“Well. I wouldn’t have said yes to Wirr Tsi if I didn’t know that you were ready to step up.”

“You think…”

“Yes, Trudy. I think you are ready. No matter what you think. Jannick assured me that the position of defensive midfielder was in good hands. Shows how much confidence he has in you. And I couldn’t disagree, y’know. We’ve trained together for a year now. I’ve seen with my own two eyes how good you are. Furthermore, eight million? The club couldn’t turn it down. Particularly not since they’ve got big plans to replace Caszely. Something big’s on the horizon, Trudy, and you’re going to be part of that.”

“Do you really think…?”

Leysa placed both her hands on Trudy’s shoulders, and gripped her tightly. She looked straight into Trudy’s eyes; and with a quiet sense of confidence, began speaking again. “Yes, Trudy. You are going to be a world-beater. Maybe even better than me. Our stories diverge here, of course, but I will always hold the year we spent together in high regard, along with all the memories of Chromatik. But...my time’s over. It’s time for you to step up, step in, and write your story.”

“Leysa…”

“I'll see you at least twice a year, all right? And you better not take it easy on me - 'cause I sure won't take it easy on you. And if you ever need an ear, I’ll always have time for you.”

Leysa got up, patted Trudy on the shoulder, and left her sitting alone in the changing room. And slowly, a tear rolled down her face.


Straton

Vinny, stony-faced, walked out of the kitchen with several plates. One by one, he unloaded them onto the table where Francesco and Stephen were sitting. For eleven-thirty at night, the food was...fresh. Hot. First it was a small plate of cured meat; then two plates of spaghetti, with a generous serving of tomato sauce, finely cut pepperoni, and some garnish sprinkled on top. A plate of pizza, classically made — no meat, just tomato sauce and generous mozzarella cheese, was next; and finally, two wine glasses, then a beautifully engraved wine bottle.

“Enjoy,” the gruff voice came. Then Vinny marched back into the kitchen.

“Vinny...he is friendly. Just...we come in a little late, he would be closed now if not for us.”

“Figures, yeah.”

Francesco opened the wine bottle; and poured the deep purple liquid into a single glass. He poured a clear liquid into his; it seemed to be water. Passing the deep purple liquid to Stephen, he raised the glass for a toast.

“To your health, Stephen Kerr,” he said, considerably too loud for this time of night and considerably too loud for the number of patrons in the restaurant right now. “And your future.”

Stephen clinked the wine glass against Francesco’s; and began drinking.

“Good, eh? Is good. Napolina wine is the best in Grande Cucina, and therefore the world. Now, ah, we talk.”

Stephen, who had been holding a fork full of spaghetti halfway to his mouth, almost looked disappointed at the prospect of having to discuss his future when there was food right in front of him, but Francesco encouraged him to eat, regardless.

“You eat, I talk. Okay? No worries. I eat very little, you’re still growing, you need to eat more.”

“So, Stephen, the news of your situation spread very quickly after your announcement, but they haven’t put in any bids or offers or anything yet. All of this is just speculation, Stephen, you must know, because you said you wish to remain in Tumbra.”

“First, we stay a little closer to home. Esportiva. We start just a few hours from here. Walstreim Lions, South Newlandia. Good club, made a run to the quarter-finals of the Champions’ League. The rumours are that it was that run which spurred the Tumbran decision to enter teams into IFCF competitions.”

“Little close to home, don’t you think?”

Si, si, but I am not here to provide opinions. Maybe we look at other clubs in Esportiva, yes? Licentian Isles; you know them, yes? Montfort Wanderers, good, strong club also. Only problem is that they might not be able, to, ah, match the asking price. Licentian clubs, sometimes very skint. Very difficult to get players from there out of the country, even worse to get foreigners in.”

“Still quite close to home. How about the last one?”

“Halfway across Esportiva. Sylestone, land of floating toilets. Or so I heard. Anyway, they have a club, too; Capital. Also very strong, Stephen, see what I mean when I say lots of clubs are interested? Big, famous clubs. Though unfortunately none from Brenecia, where the strongest ones are. If you go there, you will become the best defender in the world, I guarantee you.”

“Not somewhere like Audioslavia?”

“Brenecian pitches are renowned for their quality. Or not. If you can play on those pitches, you can play anywhere.”

“Ah.”

“But, whatever. If Sylestone is still too close, we have other places to go. Rushmore, for example. Did you know that in the middle of this continent there is a place of fields, more cows than humans, and home to a man with more money than sense? If you really wish to make money —”

“I’m not —”

“Shhh, Stephen, eat, eat the spaghetti before it gets cold. Sanford. They will offer you whatever you want. And they are very attractive terms, too. It’s just something to consider. I just give you the rundown, yes? And you make the decision yourself. Listen, I write down the options on a napkin, you take home —”

Francesco was stopped momentarily in his tracks by a strong, piercing stare by Vinny, who looked simultaneously outraged, incensed and incredulous at what Francesco was doing. He let out a small, apologetic laugh, before he put the pen to paper — or was it napkin? — scribbling down whatever he was talking about.

The food was getting heavier in Stephen’s stomach. The vino wasn’t helping either.

“Bollonich, up and coming nation in terms of the football, they might host a competition soon, too, they have one club in for you. Interesting prospect if you want to become the face of the league, Stephen, else you could go to Tikariot; very rich league, very rich history, very different from place to place. Carathyr…”

The list of clubs Francesco was rattling off was getting a bit too hard to bear. On and on he went, about how Montreal Koreana was better than St. John’s Arsenal, or how Mipsojeon was the best club in the whole of Quebec, or how those irritating Saviglianos from the east had eyes for Stephen, too — “if Grande Cucina was rich, Stephen, I’d tell you to go to Barilla, but I think it’s better for you to avoid these Saviglianos altogether” — or even far away in Poafmersia, where apparently Bikarish were going to groom him as a successor to legendary defender Danzig Hoboson…

It was all too much for him.


Chromia

“Two million, then, our opening bid shall be; though I think we’ll receive a rather quick reply. Well, then, Sang-wook, let’s get his show on the road,” Kontiola murmured.

Sang-wook, an intern at the club, hesitantly dialed the number on the fax machine; it contained Chromatik Football Club’s initial offer for the player. Two million dollars, up front; and nothing more. It was quite a bit for a nineteen year-old who had but half a season of senior experience, of course; and moves always came at a little bit of a risk. Not to mention the fact that Stephen hadn’t fully developed physically; though if, at the age of 19, he already showed this amount of prodigious talent, then there certainly would be a higher level for him to ascend to.

The piece of paper disappeared into the fax machine; halfway across the world, Straton would receive yet another offer for Stephen Kerr’s services. Every bit of information Stephen had been fed by Francesco was true, of course; the club had been inundated by a deluge of foreign transfer bids.

Not that Straton was expected to agree to any of these requests. Yet, anyway. Though Sanford’s offer of six million was particularly tempting, according to sources.

Thirty minutes later, as expected, a fax was received from Tumbra. It was, as expected, a curt “no”.

Jannick took one look at the paper, laughed, set it down, and walked out of the room.

Straton

Vinny’s diner had closed; but the food and wine had taken its toll. Stephen was barely able to walk straight; Francesco had to support the defender’s tall frame on him as they ambled towards the car. Thankfully Francesco hadn’t drank; but the side effect was that Stephen had drunk effectively a quarter a bottle of wine.

“I don’t knowww, Francesco, I don’t — hic — know where to move to…”

“Stephen, at least now you know who is in for you. Ah, Santa Maria, you are heavy. I guess Vinny’s food is good, or I haven’t eaten Grande Cucinan food in a long time. Cucinan food, they say, makes you strong. You bring napkin home, yes? Vinny is...ah...not happy I wrote on it, but at least you remember what and who is in for you.”

“Who — hic — who d’you think I should s-ssign for…”

“I think, Stephen, you should make your own mind up. You have any more questions, I gave name card; you text or call, we talk maybe in more pleasant circumstances. For now, I drive you home.”

The drive home was a blur; Stephen barely remembered half of it, except for Francesco once again weaving in and out of midnight Straton traffic. He vaguely remembered, too, Francesco supporting him out of the car as he staggered towards his house; Francesco unlocking the door, then just laying him down on the sofa.

And, somehow, Stephen Kerr managed to get the best night’s sleep since the start of the whole saga.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Wed Sep 01, 2021 6:36 am

defender meets midfielder: season 3, part 5
the legend


Straton

Ow. Fuck.

Stephen Kerr awoke, groggily, with the scent of wine still on his breath. He nearly retched upon getting the whiff of it; and immediately memories started flowing back. Hazy, painful to think of (in the more literal sense; he could feel the blood coursing through his brain). There was a napkin. Many football clubs. An excellent dish of spaghetti and pizza.

He took stock of his surroundings, making sure not to spin too much; after all, he was still quite disoriented. There was the napkin, with lots of blue ink on it; and when he patted himself down, there was a pink name card in there too. Francesco Raviolo. The man who’d brought Stephen out last night.

So the meal hadn’t been a bad dream, after all. Neither had the wine, evidently. As the sun rose, he began feeling more grimy.

Eugh. Time for a shower.

But when he got up, and swiped the dozens of notifications (as usual) on his phone away, there was one he simply couldn’t ignore.

Telegraph: 1 new message
Dan Galbraith
Heard about whatever’s going on. I’m in Tumbra for a few weeks. Message me when you’re free, and we’ll go out for dinner. Private; we can talk about whatever there. I’ve got the restaurant on speed-dial, they know me. They’ll clear a table for us, stat.

Plus it’d be nice to catch up.

Cheers.


Stephen smiled; after all, he hadn’t seen Dan for a long, long time. It’d be nice to catch up once more.



(Still) Straton
A Few Days Later


Another night, another restaurant, another meal; well, ignoring the fact that Stephen had spent the entirety of the day recovering from the massive hangover the wine from yesterday had given him. This time, he was appropriately dressed for the occasion; ignoring, of course, the hoodie and face-mask he was wearing to avoid attention.

The cover had worked; somehow Stephen hadn’t been harassed by anyone. He did, however, take great pains to cross the street and whenever he saw someone wearing a Straton FC jersey. He hated himself for thinking this way; after all, he still loved the club, and their supporters. To instinctively avoid them, now, hurt him; but he wanted to be safe.

But who knew if that person wearing the jersey turned out to be one of the yobbos outside the stadium who’d called Stephen a traitor? Who knew what he’d do to Stephen if he knew?

It wasn’t a chance he wanted to take. Best to avoid anyone who might’ve been a supporter of the Senators.

A few days had passed since Francesco’s meal/incident, and he hadn’t been in contact since; though there were rumours of a bid from a certain Chromatik club where his close friend, Trudy Harrison, was playing. Francesco hadn’t twiited anything about the matter, however; when he asked Trudy, she was reluctant to divulge anything; lest some nebulous news about insider trading happened. She seemed happy to hear of the rumour, however; so it at least looked like fresh news to her.

And now here he was, in the middle of the city. Straton was a beautiful city that often went unappreciated; the River Quernmore ebbing and flowing through the middle of the city, opening up into the sea near the Quernmore Barrage; the skyline of the city flashing various colours, the new, steel-and-glass behemoths rising above the old city with its Baroque architecture on the other bank. Here, new and old met; here coursed the beating heart of Tumbra.

This particular restaurant — Papa Wilson’s — was renowned for its exclusivity and its prices. Though in any case it might have been argued that the former had led to the latter. Regardless, they were a steakhouse; and were renowned for the best steaks in Tumbra. The original founder of the steakhouse had long since passed on, but his son had captured every bit of what made the steaks from Wilson’s so good; and it remained a meal of a lifetime for anyone.

He waited for about fifteen minutes in front of the steakhouse, before Daniel arrived; and immediately, when Dan smiled at him as he greeted Stephen, he smiled back, forgetting most of his worries that had plagued him up to that point. Dan had a certain charm, an effect on people around him; an easygoing, casual vibe that disarmed people almost immediately. Now entering middle-age, he’d packed on even more charm; growing out a beard after going nearly two decades of his life clean-shaven made him look even more mature. And, Stephen nearly hesitated to add, really good-looking.

So, then, here was Daniel Galbraith; legend of the Tumbran pitch; scorer of over three hundred goals in four hundred appearances for Straton; sixty-one goals in sixty-seven appearances for the national team (though, unfortunately, before the WCC era, which meant those caps counted for naught); leader, marshal of men, the list went on, and on, and on. A living legend of the game, who was now playing out the waning days of his career in Quebec.

It was a mystery why he’d moved; why he left the high life in Straton behind to go to Perce, and be content with the mid-table in Quebec & Shingoryeo. But anyone who’d looked, or even talked to Dan since the move a few years ago, would know almost immediately. Dan looked, felt almost younger; smiled much more often.

It was one of those smiles that greeted Stephen Kerr outside Papa Wilson’s Steakhouse. And immediately, they were ushered in.




“Take your time, Stephen. We’ve got the whole evening ahead of us. Now personally I recommend the ribeye; they’ve got this way of cooking it such that the fat drips out, making it a much better experience. Very juicy, very flavourful.”

“Mmm-hmm. Think I’ll go with that.”

“How would you like it cooked? And if you say anything over medium you might as well delete my contact from your phone.”

“Rare will do fine, I think. Always did enjoy it on the rawer side. I’ll have mash for my side.”

“Atta boy. Waiter,” Daniel hardly had to raise his voice before a cleanly-suited waiter appeared next to the table. “Two ribeye, one blue rare, one rare. Large, please. And I think we’ll have the, uh, mash on the side for both of us. That’ll be it for now, we’ll order again if we would like more.”

“Certainly.” The waiter scurried off.

Daniel turned to Stephen, and smiled gently. Not much had changed from the last time they’d had a meal like this; except the previous time they were sat at a street food store. Dan always had an appreciation for street food; he thought it was how life was meant to be lived, and how food should be eaten. The circumstances, of course, called for a different kind of place; and so Dan had chosen this. Privacy was guaranteed; the two were in a booth near a corner of the restaurant.

“Tell me everything, Stephen. I want to hear the full story from your point of view,” he said, kindly.

And the words began spilling out, starting from the very beginning; Stephen going to Chromatika, the negotiations failing, coming home, seeing his name being used as a swear word, Lakewood and Serrapince…

All of the events of the past week or so came pouring out. It was cathartic in a way, and he really just continued. Everything. Daniel’s expression changed throughout the story that Stephen weaved; it changed, from neutral, to a frown, an angry frown, confusion, mirth (especially the part about Francesco), and in the end settled on...concerned.

“I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through. You are a very strong person”

“You left Straton, too, Dan.”

“At least my departure was somewhat amicable. Even if my reasons for leaving weren’t. You remember what I told you? About why I left?”

“That you wanted to try somewhere new to play?”

“Well, I wasn’t lying. But, if I’m being perfectly honest, I didn’t really feel like carrying the team along for much longer. I felt it’d become the same thing every season. Bayh, Morrison, Whitlam, they all came in promising new additions to the squad, to finally get that title the club so desired. And after five minutes of seeing me play they decided that actually, the squad didn’t need new additions. I could do the job just fine.”

“Sounds...quite like Ted.”

“I got sick and tired of it, to be honest. Whomever we got in, typically didn’t do the job they needed to do. Sank onto the benches, then got flipped a few seasons later for a loss. And people ask me why the club is in a shit state right now. Simple. Because they didn’t know how to invest.”

“So I decided, before the start of my last season; fuck this. I’m out. I’m not going to show up and lug your asses through the mud every Friday or Saturday just to get you lot up to third. Or second. Or wherever it was that we finished. And so I decided to leave.”

“But the club…”

“The difference between the two of us is that I’d done everything with the club. And I think some people were glad to see the back of me. You, though…? Your story hadn’t been written yet. Yet they still expected the same amount of loyalty. And for what? Two thousand a week? Fucking hell.”

“And you’re enjoying life now, overseas?”

“Yes. I get that you have reservations; but trust me. It’ll do you a world of good. You know Julie? Julie Hardaker, yeah? She joined Perce a few weeks after me, a few weeks after you, well, you won the championship. I managed to convince her to come over here; and I’ve been guiding her since. It’s stuff like that that I’ve properly missed, you know? Helping someone get a leg up. Pity I won’t be doing it for much longer, though.”

“What did you get from — wait, what did you say?”

“Moving overseas? Well, for one thing, there’s the culture. If, as you said, there’s a boatload of clubs that are in for you, then you’ve certainly got your pick, yeah? Embrace it, Stephen. Sometimes a change of scenery would do you good. Plus, you’d get the press off your back.”

“No, no, about not doing it much longer.”

“Isn’t it simple, Stephen? I’m going to the Olympics. I’m going back to Perce, for one more season. Then I’m retiring.”

“R-r-retire?”

“Mm-hm.”

“That’s not —”

“What’s the matter?”

“Well, I never thought that — I always thought —”

“I’m thirty-six, Stephen. If I don't retire soon there’s a bit of a problem on our hands.”

“I —”

“Let’s not talk about that for now, though. Going back to moving overseas…”

“It’s a big decision, Dan. I’m not sure if I’m able to make it. There’s just so much to learn, so much to do...I need time.”

“Something you don’t have.”

“Yeah. I don’t feel safe here, Dan. I wish I did.”

“Do you trust me, Stephen?”

“Since the day we met. Well, the day since we properly got to know each other. Yeah. Why?”

“I think you’ll do brilliantly overseas. You’ve never been afraid to strike out on your own. Why stop now?”

“Well…”

“Remember when all of us were paired up, back in that summer camp when you were just sixteen, and well — you were tasked with stopping me while I was dribbling? Not many people would’ve gone in on me. Firstly, there was the chance I’d have made you look stupid. Then there was the chance you’d have injured me. And finally, well, you were up against...me. But you gave it all you got. And, well, you got me.”

“First try.”

“First try. And we both clattered into each other. And then we both laughed. That was the moment I noticed you, Stephen. At that moment? I knew you were something special. Brave, determined, always willing to give things a fair go — hell, your best go.”

“Yeah. But what does this have to do with, well, me?”

“I believe you’ll be able to tackle life abroad like how you tackled me that cloudy day in Xinhua. Well. Robustly. Chase your dreams, Stephen.”

“None...well, none of the clubs…”

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the food. Juicy, brown steaks arrived; the garnishing was only improved by the generous serving of mashed potatoes on the side for both of them. A dark brown sauce formed a pool in the middle of the potatoes; under the lights of the restaurant, it shimmered, making it even more inviting.

“We’ll eat first, then we’ll go over that. Some people eat to live; some people live to eat. I believe your friend from a few days ago was the latter. Well, I’m not afraid to say that I’m the same. Dig in.”



Somewhere else in Straton

“And you think you’ll really be able to get six million?”

“Well, one of the clubs we’re talking to has bid that much, Mr. Whiting. You can’t blame us for only accepting that bid. After all, he did match the club’s valuation.”

“My client will not talk to D. Tommy Sanford’s glory-hunting project.”

“Well, then we’re out of options, then, aren’t we?”

“Believe me when I say that you are possibly the most stubborn, obstinate, pigheaded person that I’ve ever negotiated with.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You do know the tide of public opinion is swaying against you, right? More and more people think Stephen should be let go.”

“The tide of public opinion doesn’t count for much, Mr. Whiting, surely you must know this by now. We don’t do business because someone thinks they want to move away from the club.”

“When your own players are twiiting about it, publicly?”

“What?”

“Leo Hooper, @therealleo, just a few minutes ago: I love my brother @stephenkerr, and think he should definitely be allowed to choose where he wants to play next if he doesn’t want to stay here anymore, muscle emoji, muscle emoji, grinning emoji. Leo’s not the only one, you know. Unless you’d rather I read out more twiits?”

“Listen, can we pick this discussion again later?” The man on the other side of the line sounded considerably more harried than before.

“Sure. Only if you’re calling to confirm that you’re allowing all the bids. And my sources have informed me that Chromatik has bid, too? I think my client will be considerably interested in that bid.”

The line went dead.



Papa Wilson’s Steakhouse

“Told you it’d be good.”

“Christ, this is fantastic.”

“Yes. But back to business.”

“Really?”

“Can’t run from life, Stephen.”

“Not even you?”

“I’m thirty-six. That’s life catching up with me.”

“Fine.”

“You managed to detail whatever Francesco wrote on the napkin? Like, on your phone? You’d look pretty weird lugging that around wherever you went.”

“Yeap. Here it is…” Stephen passed Daniel his phone; Daniel looked through the list of clubs, muttering as he went. “No, no, no, maybe, no, definitely a possibility…”

Stephen’s phone buzzed. “Hm. It’s your agent, Stephen. Says here that Chromatik have bid for you.”

His heart leaping, Stephen almost dove over the table to grab his phone; and it was true.

John Whiting

Chromatik’ve put in a bid. Respond ASAP. Your teammates are fighting for you to be able to go.


And his phone started buzzing. Trudy’s contact popped up on screen. Straton Players Group Chat. His phone started ringing. And his breathing started getting quicker and quicker, the world started spinning, Daniel seemed like he was going further and further away…

It was like that night in Z’ai’ai, all over again.

“Stephen? Stephen, are you okay? Stephen…”
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Fri Sep 03, 2021 5:02 am

defender meets midfielder: season 3, part 6/season 2, part 10
the memory/quibbles and squabbles


Z’ai’ai

“W-what?"

“I-I...Trudy, I’ve just been told…”

“Told…? Is everything okay, Stephen?”

“I’m on the market, Trudy.”

“That means…”

“I’m going to have to leave Straton. They’re not willing to pay.”

“That’s great news! You can finally go somewhere that...that…” Trudy’s voice trailed off upon seeing Stephen’s despondent face; the chopsticks clattered onto the plate, the duck on the table looking rather less delicious than it had been previously. He silently put his phone on the table, face down; then looked away from Trudy, seemingly hurt.

“You don’t understand. Straton is my life, Trudy. I grew up there. My first memory of the club is of my grandpa putting me on his shoulders, above the crowd, and walking down Stonehouse Avenue. Hundreds, thousands of people, walking towards that concrete behemoth. People call it ugly, but, well...it’s home. The first time I heard the cheers after a goal was scored. The first time I heard Straton’s Song. And I decided, at that very moment, that I wanted to play for the club.”

“Stephen, I think —”

“It was my dream to play for the club. And, well...it’s all about to go up in smoke. I was greedy, Trudy, I should’ve —”

“No, Stephen, it was right for you to try and negotiate. There was no way —”

“Don’t tell me what I should and what I shouldn’t do with my career! I shouldn’t have asked for so much. God, I was an idiot. What the fuck was I thinking?”

“Stephen, maybe we’ll just...maybe we should go? Get some fresh air. Go on a walk.”

“Yeah, sure.”




The two strode alongside each other down the crowded streets of Z’ai’ai, which was still remarkably busy despite it being relatively late at night. Chromatika, it seemed, never slept. Stephen cut a rather more forlorn figure, his steps dragging behind; while Trudy tried desperately to cheer him up.

“Look, Stevie, some skewers. Those look great.”

“No, Trudy, I don’t want anything right now.”

“Please, Stephen, talk to me.”

“Trudy, I really don’t feel like talking. And if we do, what’ll we talk about? The great meal we had? What matches we’re going to watch? Who’s going to face who in the next stage of the World Cup? Or are we just going to talk about me moving to Chromatika again?”

“Stephen, I’m just looking out for you.”

“Yeah, sure, by ignoring what I want. I want to stay at Straton, not move to Chromatika. Or anywhere else, really. It’s not something I want.”

“But it’s your career — you have to take these opportunities when you’re offered, fight for every last penny. You could suffer some kind of injury, or something could befall you. You, Stephen, are but a footballer. They are a club, a business. They’re not a charity. They can and they will short-change you whenever they get, Stephen, I —”

“I don’t see them in that light.”

“You’re looking at Straton wrongly. All those red flags? Letting Daniel Galbraith go? Trying to short-change you? Stephen, those red flags aren’t showing up because you’re looking at it through rose-tinted glasses. They just look like flags, Stephen, and they’re mistreating you.”

“But I love this club.”

“Well — they obviously don’t feel the same way about you.”

“That’s just patently not true, Trudy. Look — the club gave me my big break. They helped me get on that plane to Zeta Reka and Hügeltaldom. Without them I’d — well, I’d never have met you.”

Trudy smiled slightly upon hearing the last sentence, but forced herself to maintain her composure. “Still doesn’t change anything about the fact that they’re mistreating you by refusing to pay a decent wage for someone who’s going to start, week-in, week-out. Stephen, you were brave enough to even begin negotiating for the money you deserved in the first place. That they refused to negotiate is a failing on their side, not yours —”

“I don’t know, Trudy. I don’t know what to feel right now. It’s just — it’s just everything at once. I’m scared, Trudy, I don’t know what to do. There’s just so much going on —”

“Stephen, it’s normal to feel like this. You’ve just had a rug pulled out from underneath you…”

“I know.”

“I need to know you’re alright. It pains me to see you like this.”

A small smile crept over Stephen’s face. “You’re talking like I’m the sufferer of some debilitating disease, and I’ve been suffering for a long time. It’s been —” he glanced down at his watch, “— fifteen minutes.”

“Still, this is the saddest I’ve ever seen you.”

“...You’re probably not wrong, there.”

“I’ll buy you something. To cheer you up.”

“Like...what?”

She took his arm and dragged him to a shop in the crowded night market. The intricate Yueyu characters, in calligraphy, gave the small store an atmosphere of grandness; of something that had been here for a long time. 龍鬚糖, the sign read, each character painted with forceful yet delicate strokes; evidently a piece of art all of its own. Beneath it a small subtitle; “Dragon’s Beard Candy.”

“Really?”

“It’s good. Really good. Come, we’ll try some.” She led Stephen to a small bench which was, thankfully, unoccupied; though the rest of the benches in the seating area were; by couples enjoying the night-time ambience, parents sharing food with their kids, or just older people taking a break. This was still part of the night market, but it was a more relaxed part; here there were less people.

Trudy, for her part, approached the elderly man tending the store; a short while after, two boxes of the candies were in her hand. She put one away in her bag before sitting down next to Stephen.

“You’re not allergic to nuts, right? Just - just confirming. I never did ask before this, it’d be a real shame if —”

“No, Trudy, I’m not.”

“Cool.” She cracked open the plastic lid of the box, exposing the six fluffy-white candies to the world. Each one of the candies looked like a cloud; wisps of white sugar which had been painstakingly spun into little strings. Threads, maybe, was the more apt descriptor; the sugar had been spun so finely that it felt like cotton balls instead of, well, sugar. It was sticky, nearly gooey to the touch; but had a remarkable sense of solidity when pressed.

“What’s this?”

“Well, dolt, the sign says it right there. Dragons’ beard candy. It’s a big thing in Yuezhou and Xinhua, apparently. Dating back thousands of years. It’s healthier than cotton candy, too. There are peanuts in the middle, which, well...taste it and you’ll see. Go on.”

Stephen gingerly plucked one of the candies from the plastic box; he turned and examined it, before biting into half of it. Immediately his eyes widened; the soft, airy sugar contrasted well with the hard, earthy peanuts in the middle, producing a new gustatory experience that he evidently enjoyed. He chewed a bit, swallowed and put the rest inside without any hesitation.

He looked back at Trudy, who looked somewhat bemused. “What?” he said, looking rather annoyed.

“It’s nothing.” She took one of the sweets, and bit into it as well. “This is good. We never had it at home, but, here, well. It helped me get through the first year. Leysa — Leysa Burns, my team-mate? She introduced me to this. After a particularly gruelling training session, where I felt I wasn’t good enough? She picked me up, told me we’d go out somewhere nice. And she brought me to one of these markets, and said that they had some of the best food in the city. Of course, the markets in Chromia can't compare to what they have here, of course...but...”

“Well. I fell in love after this.”

“I can see why. This...it’s amazing.”

The two shared the remaining four candies, appreciating the warmth of the sugar in the cold night air. Before they could finish, though, they were interrupted in the middle of their conversation.

“Excuse me? Hi. Ah. I’m a photographer, and, well, I’m looking for subjects to shoot. It’s for a school project, titled ‘Reflections of the Night’. I noticed you two, and, well, I think you two look really cute together, and —”

“Cute? I think you’ve rather got the wrong idea, my dude, we’re —”

“We’re friends.”

“Yeah. Just friends.”

“Well, my bad. Sorry. You two look really close, and it’s perfect for a shot that I would love to grab. Could I? Please? I promise I won’t take up too much of your time. I just need you two to look at each other for a bit, and, well, I’ll handle the rest.”

Stephen looked at Trudy, shrugged, and asked. “You alright with this?”

“Only if you are.”

“It’s decided, then,” Stephen said to the photographer. “We’ll do it; but be quick.”

“Thank you!” The unnamed teenager got to work almost immediately, setting up his camera; Stephen and Trudy looked together, mildly bemused, before they began looking into each other’s eyes. It was immediately obvious that they’d never looked this hard at each other; and both of them couldn’t control their laughter after about thirty seconds. But, eventually, to not disappoint the young photographer who was obviously extremely enthusiastic about his work; they started looking at each other again.

Stephen’s eyes were dark brown, hazel to use the correct term, really; like an autumn’s day. They constantly darted around, trying to focus on anything but Trudy’s eyes, she suspected; but after about fifteen seconds he gave up, and started looking into her own eyes.

Trudy’s eyes, on the other hand, were a much lighter shade of blue; the inkblot that was her iris seemed stable, and pierced straight into Stephen’s gaze. It fit her, really; though Stephen felt a tad intimidated by her, and tried looking somewhere else. After a while, though, he gave up; and looked straight at her. Her eyes did look very nice, he reckoned.

After about three minutes of the two of them trying to focus on each other, giggling as they did so, the young teenager approached them, and gently told them he was done. They swapped contact details; when he offered to pay the two of them for their time, they refused. After all, he was but a student; and both of them knew what it was like to be a student.

As he hurriedly scampered off, presumably to grab some other shots, the two of them got up and prepared to go back to the hotel. It was properly late, now; the moon was high up in the air. The mood had considerably lightened, however; and there was a distinct spring in Stephen’s step as they arrived on the threshold of the hotel.

“Well. It’s certainly been interesting.”

“Yeah. Ten tomorrow? Then we can go and spend another afternoon here before we go watch Brenecia versus Nephara.”

“Sure. Stephen…”

“Yeah?”

“...would you consider moving to Chromatika?”

“Not this again, Trudy, come on.”

“I’m only thinking of your future. Please, Stephen, I—”

“Look, Trudy, I appreciate it, but I came here to watch the World Cup. It’s just unfortunate that my career got in the way, and I really just want to watch some football. I’m not going to make a decision so soon, and I’m not here to search for a career move. Please, Trudy.”

“I really think —”

“STOP IT! Please. Please, Trudy, leave me be. I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.”

He walked off without another word, leaving Trudy in the hotel lobby, simply standing there.




Was I too harsh?

Sleep didn’t come easily for Stephen that night. He tossed and turned, thinking of; well, many things. Straton. Trudy. Home. Football.

But I really don’t want to think about the future.

Maybe if he laid on his back he’d feel more comfortable. The hotel room was dark, the curtains drawn; and all he could stare at was the solitary ceiling light. He’d come here to watch football; not get drawn into a lengthy discussion over his future.

But he had to face it, soon. He contemplated leaving Straton, his home; he knew that he had to move. He didn’t like what Trudy had said, but...it was true. She knew better than him about this; she was an interested observer, for sure, but when he thought about it, she was right.

Maybe I should fly back.

Cut short his holiday, fly back to Tumbra, launch himself into the lion’s den? Here he was still safe. Here he wouldn’t have to deal with the burning-hot embers of Tumbran football’s fire. But he’d have to face up to it soon; Straton wasn't willing to offer him a deal.

He’d have to move clubs. And by God, if Straton weren’t willing to have him, he’d make them regret every moment of it.

But first, he’d have to apologise to Trudy. He didn’t want to lose one of his dearest friends; and he was afraid his stubbornness would lose her.

Stephen Kerr lay on his back for a long time; but as sleep does tend to wash over someone, it caught up with him, too; and soon he was caught in it, too, slumbering away.




Was I too pushy?

Sleep didn’t come easy for Trudy that night. She tossed and turned, thinking of...things. But in succession. Chromatik. Chromatika. Kingsbury. Stephen.

But he really doesn’t realise what’s wrong.

She flipped onto her right side, slipping a hand under her pillow. All she could stare at was the luminous clock on her bedside table; it was the only source of light in the room. She’d asked Stephen to come here and watch football; not flog the country as a potential future career move.

What if he doesn’t want to move here anymore? God, I’m so fucking stupid.

Trudy hadn’t been able to get any of the rest of the Nine to move to Chromatika; she knew it was selfish for her to want Stephen to come here, but she genuinely thought it was a good move for him. Chromatik was a great club, on the up-and-up; with him they’d be able to make a stab at the title.

I need to say sorry to him. Before...before...I lose him.

There was every chance now Stephen would cut short his holiday; but she would have to stand by him on that. But before that — any of that — she’d have to apologise, hope that their friendship hadn’t been damaged…

Trudy Harrison lay on her side for a long time; but eventually she found herself falling asleep, too. She made no attempt to fight it; and allowed herself to drift away.



The Next Morning

The atmosphere was tense as the two sat down opposite each other at the breakfast table; both avoided eye contact with each other.

“I -”

“No, you go first.”

“How about I - hah. Alright, I’ll go first.”

“I’m sorry, Trudy, for flaring up at you last night. And for, well, ignoring whatever you were saying.”

“And I’m sorry, Stephen, for being so pushy.”

“I forgive you.”

“And I forgive you.”

The two shared a quiet moment.

“The thing is, Trudy, I don’t think I can stay in Chromatika for much longer. Things are going to be heating up, y’know — and I’ve got to go back. I wish I could stay, I really could. But…”

“I understand, I understand completely. It’s a shame we weren’t able to watch the Final together. But your career comes first. Please, Stephen, choose wisely.”

“I will. Or, at least, I’ll do my best.”

She grinned. “I know you will. Plus, I’ll always be here for you. Same way you came, then? Quebec, then Tumbra?”

“Most likely. Trudy…”

“Everything will be alright, Stephen. Let’s eat.”



Straton

“Stephen. Stephen, everything’s okay. Stephen, can you hear me…?”

The dulcet tones of Daniel Galbraith shook Stephen out of his shallow, rapid breaths; he snapped out of it, taking deep breaths like a swimmer who’d just surfaced from a long, deep dive.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Just...got away from me there.”

“That’s good. That’s good. Take your time, alright? No need to rush. Everything’s alright…”

“Yeah. Everything will be.”
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

User avatar
Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Sun Sep 05, 2021 5:02 am

defender meets midfielder: season 3, part 7
the decision


Straton

Daniel had gotten a glass of water for Stephen, which the latter gratefully sipped on; he was still recovering from his ordeal. Stephen had never gotten an anxiety attack before; but these were unprecedented times, and, well, his mental health hadn’t been in the best of places since Air Tumbra Flight 240 touched down in Straton.

Everything will be alright. Everything will be alright…

He glanced at his phone again, as if it was some kind of bomb. Dan had very kindly turned the phone screen onto the table. But he caught Stephen glancing at his phone, and he knew that Stephen would try, just try to catch the phone, to try and look at whatever was going on.

“I see that glint in your eye, Steve. No. Not now. Drink your water, make sure you’re breathing correctly, then we can discuss about what the fuck just happened. Or —” he glanced at the phone, which was still vibrating, “— is happening. Lots of people want to get in contact with you, Stephen Kerr. I have a slight suspicion on what is happening, but that can wait. All things can.”

“We don’t have all the time in the world, Dan.”

“But we do have time right now. And, to me, you recovering from the anxiety attack is the most important thing to me. Alright?”

“Alright.”

“D’you want dessert? I wager it’ll make you feel better.”

“Yeah, sure, I suppose.”



Chromia
A Few Hours Earlier

Jannick Kontiola strolled into the office of Chromatik Football Club again, making his way towards the fax machine at the back of the room; and once again, Sang-wook, the intern, was there. He looked visibly nervous at Kontiola’s presence; but Kontiola cracked a smile at him, and Sang-wook visibly seemed relieved.

“You must be pretty annoyed that I’m always asking you to use the fax machine, Sang-wook.”

“No! No, boss.”

“Oh, I don’t blame you. Fax machines are annoying to use at the worst of times. Then there’s the whole business of dialing the number. This could’ve been an email, at the worst of times. But whatever, eh? Fax is fax, and most places in the world use this to submit transfer offers, or whatever. Even though we’re clearly supposed to have moved past this technology. Well. I’ve rambled on enough.”

“Who’s it this time, boss?”

“Straton.”

“You’re going in for the boy again?”

“Yes. He is a very good target. No reason why we shouldn’t go in for him, after all. And our improved offer should be enough to get Straton to part ways with him”

“How much is it?”

“Three and a half million.”

“But the word on the street was —”

“Sang-wook, you’ve been a fan of Chromatik for how long, now?”

“About fifteen years.”

“Right. So you can tell me about our squad.”

“You think we can get him because of Trudy Harrison?”

“Well, they evidently share a very close relationship.”

“What if Straton doesn't accept your offer?”

“Oh, they will, I think. A few days ago they said no, but things have changed. A lot. I think they’ll buckle under the pressure soon, and we’ll be first choice for him. Because Trudy plays here. If anything, this may be the final straw. Fire her up, Sang-wook, and we’ll do this again.”

The fax machine whirred and hungrily ate the piece of paper containing Chromatik’s second transfer offer for Stephen Kerr. After a half-hour wait to confirm that they hadn’t just sent the offer back with a giant picture of a middle finger on it, he smirked. Maybe they stood a chance, after all.



Straton
Now


The two had pigged out on some excellent ice-cream and brownies; Stephen felt much better, more himself again. A feeling of control had returned to the extremities of his limbs; there was no longer a ringing sensation going through his entire body.

“You’re feeling better again.”

“That I am, yeah.”

Both of them glanced over at the phone on the far side of the table.

“Now I don’t know what’s going to happen when you view the messages that have come in. But I just want you to know that I’m here. I’ll be here to help you make any decision, if you need it.”

Daniel reached over the table, grasped the black phone and put it in front of Stephen. Stephen gingerly unlocked the phone — and the deluge of information nearly made him put his phone down again.

Three missed calls from Sylvia. Two from Bertram; even one from Stephanie, his younger sister. Twelve from John Whiting; evidently something big had happened. He opened Telegraph; the Straton Players’ group chat was lit up, with tons of messages having been sent in the past hour; and it seemed that everyone in the squad had sent some messages of some sort to Stephen.

At that moment, the phone began vibrating again. John. Without hesitation, he picked up the call.

“Stephen? Where the bloody hell have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for ages! Your parents are worried sick, so has the club; but if we’re being honest, we’ve all been trying to tell you the same thing…”

“What’s that?”

“They-they agreed to put you on the market. They gave up, Stephen! They admitted defeat. And it turns out that they’ve received a metric ton of bids for you, Stephen, lots of them. Are you with anyone right now?”

“Yeah. Hold-hold on, I’ll put him on the line.”

Stephen put the phone on speaker, then put it on the table; thankfully they were secluded.

“John Whiting? You’re Stephen’s agent?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“I’m Daniel Galbraith. You might know me from all the goals I scored?”

“Goodness, it’s Daniel Galbraith! Good evening.”

“I understand something has happened?”

“Yes! Straton have finally agreed to put Stephen on the market. For real, this time.”

Daniel grinned at Stephen; Stephen beamed back. “Well, let’s hear the clubs who are in for him, then.”

And the clubs began pouring out. Francesco, as ever, was right; all the clubs he’d mentioned that night had bid for him. The Lions, Montfort, Capital; Sanford. Vreton. Carathyr, Anhedron, Krasnograd, St. John’s…

There was one club, however, who hadn’t been on Francesco’s list that was amongst the list of names that was being read out by John right now.

“So, Chromatik, in Chromatika, they’ve put on a bid for you. I think clubs in Savojarna are interested, too, they just haven’t been in contact yet —”

“Could you-could you repeat that last one?”

“Chromatik. Club in Chromatika, they play in the Red League. Come quite close to winning their title several times, but they’ve never actually won it.”

He smiled. Trudy did come through. Chromatik had bid. But he still had to consider the other options, first.

“I’ll call you back, John. Ah...I need time to think.”

“Sure.”

He put the phone down, and turned to Daniel.

“Where-where should I go?”

“My personal opinion? Bikarish. Poafmersia’s far — like really far, as far as Kelssek, even — but they’ve got a solid plan. And they seem to really rate you — Danzik Hoboson’s not a name they take lightly there, and they seem to think you can possibly step into his shoes.”

“Hm…”

“But, Stephen, it looks like you’ve already —”

The phone started ringing, again.

“Strange, I thought I told John I’d call him back when —”

He took one look at the name on the screen, and immediately picked the phone up.

“Trudy?”



Chromia

She’d spent the last few hours refreshing and scrolling again, getting her hands on whatever source she could — La Gazzetta della Calcio, the Herald (Couno’s version), the TBC. She’d heard the rumour, of course, that Chromatik had put a bid in for Stephen; and unlike the rest, it’d been accepted.

The unfortunate reality of timezones, of course, meant that she was scrolling through the news sites of about sixteen different sports websites at the same time as lunch. All this led to a very distracted Trudy trying to shove food in her mouth — rice, chicken and some vegetables — while scrolling, which evidently served as a source of bemusement for Ami Coulibaly, sat opposite her.

“What’re you scrolling through?”

“Nothing.”

“Is it Stephen again? Hm? Is Straton finally letting him go?”

“It’s-it’s —”

“Ha! Knew it. Your face is super red again.”

“Is not.”

“Is too.”

“...Fine. Yeah, it is him.”

“Aw, why’re you so scared of telling me, Trudy?”

“I don’t want anyone else to know.”

“Are you scared that perhaps I’d steal him?”

“Ami, you’re seventeen.”

“Hasn’t stopped anyone, you know. If he’s good looking, well...speaking of which — I haven’t actually seen a picture of the two of you together, you know.”

“That-that’s because-that’s-that’s-”

“Cat got your tongue?”

“No! We just haven’t taken many pictures together.”

“Aw. Why not? You two have got to cherish these moments, you —”

“We’re friends!”

“Damn. And here I was thinking you had some sort of long distance relationship.”

“No.”

“...I just realised I have never seen a picture of him. Lemme have a look.”

“...You could’ve just searched him up.”

“It’s not as exciting when I see him playing football, you know. I want to see what he really looks like. What he looks like with family, you know, and all that. You can tell a lot about someone from their display picture.”

“Sure, I guess.” Trudy opened up Stephen’s display picture and gingerly turned the phone over.

“Trudy, that’s a picture of a dog.”

“Yeah, and you told me you wanted to see his display picture.”

“You know what I meant, Trudy…”

“Alright, alright, I’m just joking. Here he is.” Trudy swiped a few times, and held the phone out for Ami’s inspection again.

“It’s...a picture of him playing football.”

“What did you expect it would be? He’s always focused on that. It’s his football or his family.”

“Ye-es, so show me his family.”

“Oh. He’s super private about that.”

“Darn, you two have been talking for how long now and he’s still being private about that?”

“Well, I know. He’s not comfortable with telling outsiders about it. Maybe if he comes here —”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ami examined Stephen’s picture for a bit. “He’s cute.”

“Ami!”

“What?”

“You can’t just go around calling my friend cute!”

“Yeah I can. He’s single, isn’t he? And you two are just friends.”

“I-I-”

“Unless…”

“No!”

“Relax, Trudy. I won’t steal him.”

“There’s nothing to steal!”

“Sheesh. Why’re you so worked up?” Trudy’s phone vibrated. “You should probably take your phone back now. Something’s just come up. I think you’ll like it.”

The phone was withdrawn quicker than it was shown to Ami, and Trudy’s face seemed to light up upon reading what was on screen. A few scrolls later, and she was positively beaming from ear to ear as she began dialing Stephen.

Ami crossed her arms, shook her head and smiled. When would she get it?



Straton

“Trudy?”

“STEPHENIHEARDCHROMATIKBIDFORYOUANDITHINKSTRATONACCEPTEDPLEASEPLEASPLEASECOMETOCHROMATIK —”

“Trudy, you’ve got to calm down a lil’ bit on the words there, I can’t hear what you’re saying clearly —”

“YOUGOTTACOMEHERESTEPHENIKNOWTHISISWEIRD —”

“Trudy. Trudy, relax. I’m all ears. Maybe start from the beginning?”

A few hard, heavy breaths emanated from the line. She began again — still quickly, but at least Stephen could discern what Trudy was saying this time.

“Stephen I heard Chromatik bid for you — and-and Straton actually accepted. They’re willing to let you go, Stephen, so will you please listen to what we have to say? I’d love for you to come here. I really would, Stephen, I know this is weird but—”

“Yeah, I get it. I’ll — I’ll definitely listen to what they’re saying.”

“I haven’t talked to you in such a long time. I...”

“I miss you too. I promise we’ll talk soon once all of this has blown over.”

“It’ll be soon, right?”

“Yeah. After all, there’s not much time before we gotta fly out to Starblaydia.”

“That’s true. Please consider their offer, Stephen, I’m begging you.”

“Alright. Have fun at training, Trudy.”

“Thanks. See ya. Soon. Dork.”

“See you soon too, idiot.”

The line went dead.

Dan looked up, smirking. “Trudy Harrison. What an enigmatic figure she is. Star of the show; hardest worker on the team. I tried really hard to get her to come to Perce, y’know. But her mind was set. And once her mind’s set...”

“You can’t change it. Yeah, I know this too well.”

“Though it seems your mind’s set, too.”

“What? No.”

“You say that, but when I read out the list of clubs to you earlier, you were quite ambivalent to most of them. You’re the most coveted footballer the world’s seen for a long time, Stephen. Since Hawk or Valruncion, maybe.”

“I don’t know…”

“But when the bid from Chromatik came through? Everything changed. You seemed happy to move overseas. Really, Stephen, you had ten, twenty options, even, when the transfer window started. But now we know there’s only one. Search your feelings, Stephen. You know it to be true.”

Stephen looked beyond Dan, at the confines of the opulently-decorated restaurant. He stared down at his phone, again. All he had to do was make one phone call, and he’d be able to decide his future. It wasn’t going to be with Straton.

“You’ve got a flight in how long, again?”

“Crap. It’s in about a week.”

“Can’t have you preoccupied with transfer news while trying to win the Di Bradini Cup. Ahh, a trophy I wish I’d won, but the TFF refused to enter us…”

“Why’d they —”

“Story for another time. Are you going to call John or what?”

“I guess I will, yeah.”

He dialled a familiar number; it took but two rings for John to pick up.

“Made your choice, have you? Who d’you wanna speak to first?”

“Chromatik.”
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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Tumbra
Diplomat
 
Posts: 738
Founded: Aug 29, 2013
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Tumbra » Tue Sep 07, 2021 1:02 am

defender meets midfielder: season 3, part 8
the reunion


Couno International Airport
Couno, Tumbra


There was just something about airports that seemed universal. Steel and glass. The sense of disorientation when it came to time. What seemed to be every merchant or brand in a corner somewhere, hawking wares from every corner of the globe. It was almost as if airports were designed either to get one to stay in it for a long time, Stephen mused as he paced up and down the arrivals lounge. Either they were going to extract as much revenue as possible from a travel-weary tourist — or to provide a seamless experience when arriving into a new country, before thrusting them into the heat/cold/humidity/dryness. But there were differences between them, of course. The giant split-flap boards of Couno International Airport — a relic from the 1980s, which had become an iconic image of the airport in its own right — flickered with details of arrivals, departures; from places as close to Tumbra as Montfort in the Licentian Isles to as far away as Port-des-Saints in Omerica. Staring at the board, scanning for a flight from Chromatika or Quebec, Stephen Kerr sighed and headed off to the nearest bench.

Here he was waiting. There was only one person he could have been waiting for, of course. The whole under-21 team had gathered, with the exception of one person whom he was now waiting for; but he’d promised he would be here for her when she touched down. There was just one snag to the whole thing which meant that Stephen would be spending the better part of a day in an unfamiliar airport, draped with pictures of what made Tumbra Tumbra; the seaside beaches of Marray, the rolling greens of Iswilyn, the heritage of Ridgewell, and the unfettered wilderness of the west. “Welcome to Tumbra,” the colourful banners said; saccharine images of the best of Tumbra. He wondered, however, if the person she was waiting for felt the same.

Of course, Trudy had somehow left out multiple details of how she was coming to Tumbra, so Stephen was now just sitting in the arrivals hall like an idiot. Trudy had only told him when she was arriving in Tumbra, but not from where. To make matters worse, she’d only told him the date of her arrival, and not the expected arrival time of the flight. The only thing he was certain of that she hadn’t touched down yet; after all, her Telegraph status was Last seen 11 hours ago - so she had to be on a plane.

They’d talked a lot more since the night of the decision; Trudy seemed distinctly happier now that the saga was near its end and Stephen had chosen to finally move somewhere. Double points for putting Chromatik first, of course. Trudy had gone on a charm offensive; telling him all about the club, and her team-mates, and the various foes they’d meet in the Red League, and how nice of a city Chromia was, and…

Stephen just tended to smile and glance at the screen whenever she launched into one of her explanations. She seemed to apply the same energy on the football pitch to life in general; never showing signs of slowing down. It was how she lived life in general, Stephen had observed; run, run and run again. Effortlessly dodging everything life threw at her, even though she hadn’t told him anything about her family — which was still a mystery to him.

He, on the other hand, had told her lots about his own family and life — Bertram Kerr, his father, a well-meaning, genteel man who worked as an accountant; Sylvia Kerr, his mother, a half-Xinhuanese, quiet lady who worked as a pharmacist; Cook the dog (a giant Golden Retriever), who seemed to be a cushion of warmth, cuddles and hugs, and his sister, Stephanie Kerr, an arts student, whom he shared an often-complicated relationship with. Had she gone to Serrapince, the art capital of Tumbra, to avoid the attention that Stephen’s fame would bring the family? Or was she just determined to focus on her own path?

But she’d told him nothing in return. It wasn’t a transactional relationship, nor one that traded on secrets that the two shared; but Stephen felt he was getting stonewalled when trying to find out more about her. He knew how she ticked; he knew who she was; but it still felt like he was still missing...something. Every time he’d asked, she skillfully redirected the topic onto something else. He got the feeling that something was up; yet the surname Harrison was so common in Tumbra that it would have been useless trying to search it up. Eventually he gave up; he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, either.

In a way, she’d just sprung up into existence when Toby Barton decided to call up some young teenage players to go and play in Zeta Reka; and by sheer coincidence — the stars aligning, Fate’s hand guiding them together, or otherwise — she’d popped up into his life when they began talking in that one cafe in Kven. Shared a waffle together. Nearly had his phone thrown off a roof. And, of course, lifted a trophy together.

It was hard to believe a year had passed since then; since then they’d gotten over troubles in their careers together; gone to Chromatika; and found themselves in the centre of a firestorm. Certainly one of the more entertaining years they’d shared; and Stephen was reminded of an old idiom.

May you live in interesting times.

He glanced up at the board again; finally, there was a flight incoming from Quebec. He fired up a flight tracker app on his phone, did some searching; and there she was. A flight that fitted in perfectly with her “last seen” time. And it would be touching down...in thirty minutes.

Stephen sighed, stood up, and began looking for the nearest Moonbeam Coffee. He needed a drink.



About 45 Minutes Later

Three-quarters of an hour later, Stephen found himself back where he’d begun; except this time he was clutching a half-empty coffee cup. The prices here were absolutely criminal; then again, it was an airport. Couno’s airport was never one he’d been familiar with — Straton was the one he knew — but the TFF’s training camp pre-DBC would be here, and so here he was.

He sat down, in front of where he knew Trudy Harrison would be emerging from; when the luggage began appearing on the carousel and people began filtering out through the door, he knew it wasn’t far off from when his friend would be arriving.

And soon, she did; but with none of the usual energy that she had. Her mood lightened considerably upon seeing Stephen, of course; but she seemed less than pleased to be back in Tumbra after a year away.

“Hey, dork,” she said softly as she walked close to Stephen, and embraced him tightly.

“Hey there, Truuuuuuuuu—”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Figured since you started calling me Stevie, I had to get one back.”

“Fine. But if you’re going to call me something annoying, at least come up with something better than...Truu.”

“What’s wrong with Truu?”

“Doesn’t have the same crackle or snap as Stevie.”

“Remind me to work on something to fix that, then. Is everything alright? You seem...pretty down.”

“It’s just...I don’t like this place, Stephen.”

“Tumbra in general or just this place?”

She shook her head. “The former. I don’t like Tumbra. Too close to home. Ugh. Look at these banners. Hate them.” She looked up at Stephen, seemingly trying to put on a brave face. “But at least you and the rest of the girls are here. That makes it better.”

“If you say so.”

“I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too. You wanna walk while I call up a cab?”

“Sure. You’ve met the rest of the girls? How are they?”

“Yeah, I have. And they’re all fine. Changed a lot, I suppose; though having seen you change throughout your year away, it’s not surprising. Lynne’s become more assertive, Vic more assured, y’know? That kind of thing. It’s not surprising.”

A warm smile crossed Trudy's face. “I’m happy for them.”

“Did you not talk that much to them?”

“Well, we have a group chat, but we’re all busy. Plus we’re all around the globe…”

“Mm-hm. Yeah, I get that.”

“So how’ve you been settling into Couno? Strange that they chose this place. Heard the national team training camp’s usually on the outskirts of Straton.”

“Well...it’s Straton.”

“Fair point. So they changed it because of you? Look at you, high-profile enough to merit a whole location change for the entire team just because your safety’s jeopardised.”

“Hey, don’t put it like that.”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Been harassed by anyone?”

“No. Couno people seem content to let people go about their daily lives. Same as Straton, really, though you’d always get people stopping you on the street looking for a picture.”

“I suppose there aren’t that many Straton fans out here.”

“I suppose.”

“But the team...you getting on alright?”

“A large number of us went to Zeta Reka, so there’s not much problem there.”

“I feel like there’s a ‘but’ somewhere in that statement.”

“You know me too well.”

“Who is it?”

A grimace crossed Stephen’s face. “You’ll see. Our cab arrives in ten. Let’s grab a snack.”



Boxworth Training Centre
Couno, Tumbra


The taxi pulled up in front of Boxworth; it was prevented from going further inside by the security guard, forcing Trudy and Stephen to lug the former’s luggage down the long straightaway into the training centre. Privacy was the key focus here; the entire perimeter of the training centre had been obscured by bushes, and the training pitches were located deep inside the site.

It wasn’t Tumbra’s primary training camp, but it was still one of the premier training facilities in the country; with all the usual trappings of civilisation located deep within. It was a long walk to the main training centre to check in with the front desk; and especially so in the sweltering afternoon heat.

Trudy was the last one of the twenty-three to arrive for the camp; they’d be flying off to Starblaydia in just four days. Their first game against Savojarna would take place a further week after that; and then their adventure would begin. The team finished fourth last time out; now manager Finnegan was hoping they would be able to repeat that performance, and maybe even go one step further and reach the Final.

With forty-eight teams in the running, however, and thirty-two of them to be sent home after the first round of games, it was going to be brutal. Their group? Even more so. Savojarna, Græntfjall, the hosts, Pemecutan, Bollonich; to make it through would be an achievement all of its own.

The team had been stacked to the brim with talent; there was previous Golden Boot winner Nick Riordan, who’d scored 11 goals last time out; of course, the Nine and a majority of the squad that had won a year ago in Zeta Reka; then quite a few of the team who’d made the trip to Valanora had returned, too. Then of course there were your wildcards; people who hadn’t made either of the above two squads but had now fought their way in through sheer luck, determination or otherwise.

Barry Hamilton was a member of the last group; he, too, played for Straton. Him and Stephen had never interacted much; though considering they played in the same position, there was that bit of rivalry. Hamilton, however, had never been rated as highly as Kerr; the defender always seemed to be lacking that little extra to truly be a world beater. Still, Hamilton had worked hard; and his promotion to the senior squad coincided with Stephen’s breakthrough, meaning that he’d always been a reluctant benchwarmer.

Why Edmund Finnegan, the U21 manager, had picked him was anyone’s guess; but he had put in some excellent performances for the under-23s of Straton. Things hadn’t gone off to the best of starts, however. Stephen was showing Trudy around, and they’d just gotten to the dining hall, when —

“Oi! Stee-phen!”

Stephen sighed. Trudy instinctively sensed something was wrong.

“Who’s he?”

“Barry. Team-mate. Or rather, soon-to-be former team-mate. Won’t stop giving me grief over deciding to leave.”

“Cunt.”

“...you can’t say that…”

“I can and I will. What the fuck does he want?”

Barry walked over to Stephen and Trudy, the former shielding the latter behind him as he put on a brave face. Stephen and Barry squared up to each other; Barry was just slightly shorter, but stuck out a bit more. but they were essentially on equal footing. The dining room was now focused on the two of them; a star defender versus his stalking horse.

“Whaddya want.”

“Who’s that?”

“A friend. And one of our team-mates.”

“Ahh. Your girlfriend?”

“Nothing of the sort. We’re friends.”

“Funny. Guess you couldn’t get close enough to her with the stench of treachery on your breath.”

“I’m not wasting time explaining it to you again.”

“You chose to leave the club that’s brought you up, gave you a chance to shine on the big stage, and for what? Money? Christ, there’s not a loyal bone in your body, is there? Haven’t attended a single training session. Skivin’, eh? Think you’re too good for us? Honestly, Stephen, they say you’re the next big thing but I frankly doubt it all. You could have had it all with us, but no, instead you’ll probably be rotting on the bench in some faraway country —”

“Barry, my career is none of your business.”

“We’re team-mates. Of course it is.”

“Not for long.” Trudy stepped out from behind Stephen.

“Trudy—”

“Ah, Trudy Harrison! Famous. I’ve heard of you before. I’m Barry, Barry Hamilton.” He extended an arm towards her.

Trudy didn’t take it.

“What’s that you said about Stephen?”

“Ah, a feisty one. Well, well.”

“Stephen’s a friend. I’m not letting anyone talk shit about him and get away with it.”

“Well, I wasn’t talking shit — just stating facts, really. Your friend’s a two-faced traitor who bit the hand that fed him and personally, if I were Straton, I wouldn’t have accepted any offer for him. Really teach him that the club comes first, and that he’s not bigger than the club —”

Trudy raised a fist.

“Say one more word and I’ll —”

“Trudy…”

“A fist, huh? Wow. So big and strong. Who the fuck do you think you are, huh? This is between me and Stephen.”

“You’re forgetting that I’m Stephen’s friend, and I don’t take lightly to anyone chatting shit about him. As I said less than a minute ago.”

“Really? Well, I think you must’ve misheard me. Every word of what I just said was —”

Barry stopped abruptly, reeling from a sudden sense of shock and a throbbing pain that was emanating from between his legs; Trudy Harrison’s leg was extended at a ninety-degree angle; knee meeting Barry’s sweet spot at just the right place and with the right amount of force to inflict the maximum amount of pain. Barry grimaced as he cupped his crown jewels in a vain attempt to get it to stop, groaning as he tried to grasp onto something to keep steady. Waves of hurt coursed through his body; even Stephen grimaced as he saw Barry’s pained face; desperately trying to amble back to his seat.

“Every word of what you just said was wrong. Do not mess with Stephen again; or there’ll be more where that came from.”

Trudy turned back towards Stephen, a look of quiet determination on her face.

“Let’s leave. I wanna tour this place.”

The two left Barry reeling, pride bruised; and they once again emerged into the fresh air of the evening. A perfectly manicured lawn with a stone path cutting brusquely through it provided them with a straight path forward; they began walking along it, slowly. Food could wait. At the very worst case scenario, they'd just order in. The TFF's catering was never known for its quality, anyway.

“Some reunion.”

“Some reunion, indeed.”

“Thanks for stepping in back there.”

“Eh, it’s no matter. You just owe me a meal.”

“Another one?”

“Whaddya expect? I kneed someone in the balls for you.”

“It kinda looked like you were waiting for that to happen, if I’m being honest.”

“Eh, it’s an old skill of mine. Useful for dealing with idiots who didn’t believe I could kick a football back in the day. And you can’t say he didn’t deserve it. And it was fun. Cherry on top, if you ask me.” A glint appeared in her eye.

“I can tell. Never do that to me.”

“Oh, no promises. As long as you’re not a prick like him.”

“You know, I’m really glad you’re my friend.”

“Is that part of your strategy to not get kneed in the balls?”

“...Maybe.”

“...I’ll accept that. Where’s the pool?”

"Just up ahead, actually. The accomodation's beyond that, that's where the girls are holed up — suspect they'll be happy to see you..."
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF TUMBRA
Tumbra - a sprawling, modern federal democratic republic located in Esportiva. Strong economy, strong civil rights, strong freedoms.
Population: 114 million | TLA: TMB | Capital City: Straton | Largest City: Couno
Constitution | Domestic News | Domestic Sports | Wiki Article | A Timely Reminder
President: Kelia Campbell (Labour) | Prime Minister: Kenneth Everett (Labour)
U-18 World Cup 13 Champions/Di Bradini Cup 51 Champions

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