I have two lives and two careers right now: my life offshore in the
oil business, and my intense career as a football manager of a lower
league English club. It testifies to the state my head is in right now
that I’m not sure which one is real and which one isn’t.
I strongly suspect that the oil career may be a figment of my
imagination. According to that, I’m still in Nigeria but haven’t done
anything at all in weeks, which oddly seems to be the case every time
I go to Nigeria. A couple of weeks ago there was the fatality
offshore, resulting from the sudden and catastrophic failure of the
crane. Myself and The Mountie were downmanned and sent back to the
Novotel in Port Harcourt, where we spent a week drinking gin, playing
a Nigerian card game involving Swiss flags, Star of Davids and latent
psychic abilities, and lamenting our Groundhog Day existence that
seems to have been going on since March. I’ve worked out that so far
this year I’ve been away 150 days, which is 67% of the year, but about
110 of these days have been in Nigeria, overwhelmingly hanging around
in the bland Novotel. It occurs to me, at the back of my mind, that I
once lived in Edinburgh, and had friends and family, but that’s dimmed
to a mere dream within a dream.
Fortunately, unlike the darkness of the Novotel in late May, myself
and the Mountie kept ourselves psychologically healthy with the
aforementioned gin and card games, but the Novotel wasn’t to last
long, as last week we returned offshore. We had great hopes that this
would herald the recommencement of operations, which for us are only a
few days worth of work before we’re finished and can go home. But this
was a somewhat foolish hope, as a week has gone by now with absolutely
nothing whatsoever happening.
A couple of years ago, on this same rig, a different crane failed
suddenly, dropping a gigantic piece of equipment on a guy, killing him
instantly. With that and the more recent crane accident, people have
become understandably jittery, so for the last two weeks very
extensive ongoing checks and tests have been undergone on the
remaining three cranes. These are very, very nearly complete and very
soon – so we believe – a decision will be made as to whether we can
In the meantime, myself and The Mountie have only had the most minimal
amount of work to do, and otherwise have had a lot of time to kill.
Table tennis has killed a small amount, as has eating Danish pastries.
But there’s still a lot more time in a day.
The last couple of days have seen helideck pacing kill an hour, after
most of the week was rendered non-viable by weather and “random”
incidents. The most concerning of these was a few days ago, at about
9pm, when I’d ventured up onto the quiet helideck on a peaceful, calm
evening. After doing only a few circuits, I was greatly alarmed when a
fire hose – fixed in position and aimed at the centre of the helideck
in the event of a helicopter fire – suddenly spluttered into life and
became spraying foam and water. A few paces more and it would have
sprayed over me. As this was spluttering, the hose at the far end
exploded into life with much more force, ejaculating a forceful blast
of foam across the entire helideck, and only my far distance from it
prevented me getting soaked or even knocked off my feet. The far one
soon stopped, but the close one continued, sluggishly. I left the
scene and returned half an hour later with the hoses again dormant,
but couldn’t get into a rhythm as I was in too much fear the hoses
could go off again at any moment.
They’ve behaved since then, but the helideck only kills at most two
hours a day. Meals maybe another hour. Washing, coffee, meetings, and
checking very slow internet another hour or so. But there’s still a
lot of time in the day. So what do I do?
I have become a Football Manager. My greatest addiction has returned.
As a young lad, many years of my life were lost to a game called
Championship Manager, in which I could take the helm of a football
club and take it to glory or ignominious failure. It was a game that
could suck a day, then a week, and suddenly a year from a life without
you even noticing. All engrossing, I lived many lives as the manager
of teams such as Manchester Utd (I deliberately got them relegated by
playing Ryan Giggs in goals and fining him every week), Italian
minnows Casale, Wycombe Wanderers, AC Milan, Portugal, Ivory Coast and
tiny Kettering. But recognising that I was growing up without social
skills and with the knowledge only of obscure winning tactics in a
fictional universe, I kicked the habit. It was tough, but I kicked it.
And for years I’ve been clean, with a mere tiny relapse a few years
ago when bored in the North Sea.
It struck again. It only took The Mountie to say, “You want a go of
this?” and offer me Football Manager 09/10 (the modern incarnation of
Championship Manager) and suddenly my life has been sucked from this
world and replanted me in another.
In this new – real, it seems – world I am inhabiting, my name is R.
Russell de Russell (I’ll let you guess what the R stands for), born in
1964 from Belgium, and I am the manager of the Blue Square South side
Thurrock, average attendance 200. The year however is now 2017 (with
Cameroon and then – oh no – England winning the World Cups) and after
five years coming 15th every season, I managed to get promoted to the
Blue Square Premier – which, for unfamiliar readers, is just four
leagues below the top division. I have achieved the heights, such as
being voted Blue Square South Manager of the Year and signing 38 year
old Jimmy Bullard, but also seen lows, such as my debt-ridden club
almost being bought by a consortium who threatened to replace me.
It’s tough, being the manager of a poor, barely supported football
team with a yellow home strip and light blue and purple away strip,
trying to motivate a bunch of players being paid about £100 a week,
but I’m thriving on it. Many lower division Belgian clubs have tried
to prize me away from Thurrock but I have remained resolute and stuck
with my little team, who now command crowds of up to 900.
Of course, being a full-time manager is a demanding and full-time job,
and so I am utterly immersed in it, with no time for outside thoughts,
such a friends, family, sleeping or working on an oil rig. Thus I am
dedicated to my profession and my football management lifestyle,
blocking out the distracting world around me as I stare at a laptop
screen that has become my real world. My career has become my life and
everything I am.
Thus, I now have two lives. My real life and my imaginary life. And as
the scenario of sitting in a room on a giant boat in the Atlantic
Ocean south of Nigeria and getting paid to do nothing there is clearly
a nonsense one, I can only conclude that my football management career
is my real life, and lose myself forever in this most immersing of