The beer bottle exploded into shards as it hit the wall, with the neck passing through the base as the whole rendered into glassy nothingness. This was the sound of Aston Villa’s relegation from the Premier League.
The bottle had been launched from the hand of Head Coach Dean Smith - and it was one of many kindly provided by a sponsor. One of just the few that remained full in a bucket full of warm water - once ice. Smith wiped his brow, a fleshy battlefield of sweat. How could this have happened? How could this administrative error have caused the downfall of his plucky Aston Villa side? A side that fought so hard to avoid relegation - a side now struck down due to a breach in rules.
But how could they know?
Dean sobbed, threw his head back and howled. The dressing room shuddered.
“Why didn’t anyone tell us about Fulham? Why? We needed to know!”
Aston Villa had been found guilty of breaching Premier League rule 19(A) subsection 1819, point B: Don’t do a Fulham. Don’t under any circumstances do something that people on social media, influencers and commentators may not understand, because it will definitely relegate you. Don’t spend any money that the average schmuck cannot account for when they go home to practice amateur bean-counting after a hard day of trying not to dribble all over themselves. Your money must be spent sensibly, and within regulation, as signed off by every single random person that ever stumbles upon the information of Villa’s spend.
”I mean, they did, Dean” were the soft words emerging from the mouth of the trembling Christian Purslow. He cautiously reached forward, placing a hand on the shaking knee of Villa’s Head Coach. “Or at least, they tried to... Sky Sports did one of those graphics with the money and put your face next to our badge, you know the ones where it looks like you’re smiling for a passport or the ones where it looks like you’re lining up at the chip shop and said ‘look! Villa have spent lots of cash!’ The writing was on the wall mate.”
Dean screamed. “Christian - we had to buy lots of players! We’d have been starting the binman if we didn’t! It’s not fair! We had to spend! We bought our first player in a full month before Fulham brought theirs! Half of these lads are loan deals made permanent! It doesn't make sense! Are you telling me that the rules of our game are determined by random cosmic nonsense and the mewlings of bored stupid men with nothing better to do? I'm not having any of it!"
Fuming, Dean turned to someone else to blame and pivoted his head toward the shirtless form of Tyrone Mings - a hero in Villa’s past two league campaigns. Tyrone stood a foot above everyone else in the dressing room - and oozed calmness. His aura was that of a aloe vera rub applied to the body after sunburn - soothing - but not to Dean. He saw Tyrone, and he saw cash - spent.
”It’s all your fault Tyrone. With your nice hair and square jaw. You were overvalued! We spent thirty bloody million bloody pounds on you when Gary Neville AND Danny Murphy said you were only worth about ten! F**k!” Dean’s hands scraped at his temples. “And not only that, but it was only bloody Registability who stated that you shouldn’t have went for higher than fifteen million on Twitter dot com! He’s got a degree in brains and badges in coaching! Why didn’t you tell us? This has damned us!”
Dean’s rage slowly ebbed. He knew that shouting at Tyrone was fruitless. It was the fault of the Cherries. It was the fault of -
Purslow tomatoed. Blood filled his face as Dean slapped the hand from his knee.
”You signed off on this Christian! You knew! WHY?”
Christian Purslow retreated into himself. He stuttered and stammered before finally meandering to an answer.
“They wanted it.”
Purslow pointed in the direction of the stands, upwards. “They demanded the signings. #AnnounceMings. All of that - and Dean, believe me when I say that I like my job. I love my job. I also like my arms and legs. Do you think I want to lose my job, my arms, and my legs?”
Purslow scrunched his hands to his knees and pulled his trousers up to reveal his ankles and socks. “I like my legs just how they are, Dean.”
Dean sighed. It wasn’t mean to be this way. All of his progressive and democratic ideals stood in ruins around him. He tried to think of a quick act to prove himself and his mind traced back to when he had flicked through one of Roy Keane’s biographies. The former Ipswich manager had tried to etch his authority onto his team by ordering a kitman to set up a tactics board, which Keane will gracefully boot into the air - before ordering the kitman to do it again so that Roy could do it again.
Dean glanced to the tactics board. John McGinn, tongue set firmly in the corner of his mouth with the concrete of concentration, was scribbling distorted faces and clouds onto it. It was a distraction. Dean shook his head. How could he take the board from sweet, sweet John only to boot it into the air. It was pointless.
He held his hands up and shrugged, exhaling as he did so. Exasperation. “How do we fix this then?”
Purslow smiled and rubbed his fingers against his chin. There was a plan. "Easy - we go back - but only one of us. Our future is doomed. We’ve done a bloody Fulham and danced with the Lilywhite devil over his hellhole on the banks of the Thames.”
“It’s got a nice tree in the corner” interjected the deep, yet soft, voice of Tyrone Mings.
Dean pounded his fists on his knees. “F**k the tree!” The noise startled John McGinn, who scampered to the showers on all fours, as though palms to the ground could aid his escape faster.
Purslow moved forward to calm the discourse down.
“Tyrone, it’s got to be you. Go back to the play-off final. Drink the night away - but please, get this deal down to £26.5 million, exactly. Somehow”
Mings nodded, but caught a quizzical look. “What’s the code though - how can I communicate with you?”
Dean and Christian moved forward.
“It’s easy Tyrone, do exactly what you’re not doing now” Dean and Purslow centered on Tyrone and stubbed pointy fingers into his bare chest. Tyrone looked down, before glancing upwards.
”Don’t take your kit off - ever. We’ll know. Get to the train station with that shirt on. Make the point known. Drive that price down, just a bit. Just so we can try one more time. It’s one more chance”
Tyrone nodded, and shot one more question towards his bosses.
Purslow placed a hand on Tyrone’s shoulder and smiled.
“Try not to do a Fulham”
Mings shook his head. “What does that mean?”
Dean smith bit his lip and shook his own head.
“Honestly, I’m not really sure.”