HEREAFTER  follows the first of a three-part story about Ukraine. There will be some factual information about Ukraine in there but if you want some actual tactical analysis you can do little better than these links from intelligent men.

Until then you have this…

ATKINSON – Football Flatfoot

1. Botched Borscht

Prologue – Monday.

The job was done.

It had been no picnic. McLeish’s eyes burning into me as I confiscated the negatives, the putrid negatives. He was tied to his wooden chair. “No dice, McLeish. You’ll not blackmail another club.”

He gave me the look which reminded me why Mick McCarthy had cried when I’d questioned him about McLeish’s hold over English football. The look which reminded me why he had won “Most Protestant Man Alive” for three consecutive years. The look that abhorred any form of enjoyment or pleasure.

“They are fucking disgusting men. They got what they deserved. And so will you.”

I turned away from him in shame. He was right. The material he had on Jeremy Peace, Randy Lerner and Carson Yeung weighed heavily in my bag. I’d never known such things were possible. But McLeish had shown me they were.

“You think they are the only negatives? You think there’s no one else who has them? Think on. I have friends you know. Well…acquaintances.”

“McLeish, you son of a bitch, Peace only asked me to stop you. To get them from you. He never said a thing about anybody else. I’ve done my job.”

I walked away as McLeish screamed about suffering and sacrifice. I walked out of his austere office and began looking for a cab. Nothing, and the rain fell like God was furious with the concept of Birmingham. I knew how he felt. I rang Peace and told him the job was done.

“Mr Atkinson, I can’t thank you enough.”

“Transfer the money tonight and then I’ll burn the negatives, the tapes and the implements.”

“I will, I will. Mr. Kenwright said you were good. The world’s best football flatfoot he said.”

“Don’t blow smoke up my arse, Peace. I know I’m the best. You remember that and you tell Kenwright to pay his fucking bill. Do us all a favour and pack in with the filth, will you, Peace. The Gold/Sullivan days are long gone.”

The phone called ended as a taxi pulled over.

I beat a hasty retreat back to my Liverpool office. Put the negatives in the safe and pulled the bed down. Sleep came hard. Midlands football had always been tawdry but the depravity, torture and nihilism had managed to shock even me. I just couldn’t believe what they’d watched Hodgson do to Odemwingie.


Chapter 1 – Tuesday

It was the sort of Tuesday you could fry an egg on. Greasy and smouldering, and my office smelled like a Parisian slaughterhouse but with none of the charm. It was not a Tuesday you’d take home to meet your mother.

I’d been up for hours, waiting for a new case, wondering exactly what the Doubtpacks thing was about up and down Duke Street. Some days this city gets into your head, your phone never rings and your office door never opens.

Then it does. And how it did. A vision walked in. Time slowed and there, framed in the doorway was beauty. True beauty. Long blonde hair and killer curves to die for, double denim and a nose you could crack rocks on. A vision from my past. Andrei Voronin. The Vog.

“What do you want, Voronin?”

“I don’t get a warm welcome, Neil?”

“It’s Mr. Atkinson to you.”

“Oh, Mr. Atkinson.” He put his hands down on my desk, leaned forward and those locks fell over his shoulder and caressed my bare arms. “Well I know we’ve had history, Mr. Atkinson, but I need your help.”

That accent. Thick. Hard. Delivered with a superior sneer. I’d loved that sneer once. Smelled that musk. Ran my fingers through that hair. He broke my heart.

“I don’t like you in my city, Vog.”

“And I don’t like your city.” How we used to argue.

“Well then get out.”

“I can’t. Oleh sent me.”

“Blokhin?” Andrei loved Blokhin. It was partially due to the hold Blokhin had over him that we parted. Things were so much better with Oleh. He had been a great centre forward, the first Ukrainian to win the Ballon D’Or. Every few months Andrei would be off to see him. He’d come back and tell me of the wonderful times they’d had together. Of course I couldn’t compete. And he never let me forget it.

“It’s about this.”

“So what? Could be nothing.”

“Nothing? Food poisoning on a massive scale in the run-up to a major tournament. You know better than that, Atkinson. You know we need you for this case. And you know Oleh wouldn’t throw us on your mercy without having good cause.”

I did know better. For one thing I knew that Voronin had a stomach of iron.

“I couldn’t eat for two days.”

He’d never missed a meal all the time I knew him. In fact he’d even created new meals between meals. Drea, tupper and supfast.

“The vomit. It got in my beautiful hair.” I allowed myself a smile, aimed for malicious but, oh how apposite, I missed the target by a distance. We both knew it was bittersweet. How he riled me. But I bristled.

“Well what can I do now? The scene will be contaminated.”

“Oleh knows the work you did for Spurs years ago.”

“Damn it, Andrei! You weren’t to speak of that. Nothing was proven.”

“But everyone in football knows how close you came.”

I shook my head and slammed my hand down on the newspaper.

“I’ll nail Pat Rice to the fucking wall one of these days.” Rice was slippery as an eel and twice as smart.

Voronin gripped my hand. “You can do it right this time. You can do it…for Ukraine. Let me take you to tupper, Neil. Just the two of us. I’ll tell you everything you need to know.” I acquiesced. Nobody gave tupper like The Vog. But…something just wasn’t right. I looked him in the eyes. I eyed the hairline. I tugged.

“A wig! Andrei, how could you? How could you mutilate yourself and hide it from me?”

“We need you Neil. We knew the only way you’d come is if I still had the pony.”

“Do you really think I’m that shallow?”

“So you will do it?”

I nodded manfully. I was taking this case the minute I saw that story. Pat Rice had just left Arsenal. Current whereabouts unknown. I don’t believe in coincidence. Coincidence can get you killed.

End Of Part 1