In a dimly lit room, deep in the bowels of Wembley Stadium, a secret group meet. A group known by a set of first names. A group’s whose address is only ever simply given as Wembley Stadium. No room number, no department section, no office block zone.
They don’t have to say. If you are someone they want to meet, you know where in that vast structure to go and look. If not, you will beyond doubt get lost in the labyrinth.
They are in fact a secret society – meeting all three requirements of such a society being an exclusive club to which only a few are invited, holding special secrets that no one else can know, and showing an eternal inclination to favour its own, above all others.
More secret than the Cambridge Apostles, more outrageous than Cicada 3301, more determined than the Bahraini February 14 Youth Coalition.
For Wembley is the ultra hidden HQ of Professional Game Match Officials, and today we find them holding a meeting. A meeting in which the high and mighty of the society tell Martin Atkinson that he has messed up terribly in the Arsenal match against Leicester and he should get punished for it.
Michael Riley addressed the enclave. “We have all gathered here for the reason I don’t need to mentioned. Brother Martin has sinned last weekend in the most horrendous way one could possibly imagine. I think we all know what happened.” Eleven harmonized nods confirmed Michael’s words.
The twelfth nod was different from the others though. It was a nod of a man who felt shame. The twelfth nod wasn’t harmonized with the others as the man was watching the ground under his feet and was praying for the ground to open while the red colour of his cheekbones turned brown. “Brother Martin, step out”, Michael said with a cold voice. The man who had been watching the ground stepped out without raising his head. His cheeks were now completely brown.
“Holy crap, Mike”, someone from the crowd whispered into the ear of the nearest person, “I haven’t heard this voice since Gameweek Two! Poor sod is screwed!”
“Tell me about it, Lee!”, Mike replied using the same silent tone, “I had to kneel on the broken glass for an hour after I had given a penalty for that Kompany’s foul. Speaking of… Where is Babyface Oliver? Still on that Special Geography class?”
“Yes”, Lee replied with a smile of a weasel, “I guess some people have to learn where is North in a hard way before their career goes South.” Both of them started to giggle before Michael stopped them with his look.
If a look could kill, that one would be at least worth of a violent conduct. Even if Michael was not that kind of a guy. “Now, if all of you have finished exchanging humorous stories and other creative things we don’t want to see as a part of the honourable English tradition…”, Michael said while watching at the crowd, “Brother Martin has something to say to all of us. But firstly, let’s hear if you want to say something to him first.”
Martin collected all the courage he had and raised his head to look at the crowd. Eleven people looked at him from the darkened outer reaches of the room. Martin felt their look as an unpleasant mix of disdain, condemnation and, most of all, disappointment. He was waiting for the first stone to be thrown at the glass house of his self-confidence. Finally, one from the crowd stood up.
“Brother Martin”, the man said, “I have always looked up to you. I was watching reckless tackles on Their players with your eyes. I was watching numerous fouls on Their players and pretending not to see them just like you would have done. I was watching the opponents diving in Their penalty box and thinking: “What would Brother Martin do?” before I pointed to the spot. I watched the last game and had enjoyed your lesson for 45 minutes before… I can’t continue. I’m sorry.” The man started to cry. His tears were shredding Martin’s heart. After crying a river of tears, the man finally managed to mumble with a broken voice: “I just want my big Brother Martin back.”
Martin was in tears now. “I’m sorry, Brother Anthony. I’m sorry I have let you down.” A few more in the crowd started to cry as well. “Forgive me, Big Brother Michael, for I have sinned…”, Martin whispered through tears. “I’m sorry for letting you all down.” Michael, however, didn’t seem to be touched at all.
“OK, brothers, men up! When did you become so…so…so Reyes? IT’S NOT ENGLISH THING TO DO!”, Michael said with a disgust in his voice when he mentioned the word “Reyes”. “What’s next? You’ll look at Their players as equals to the others?! If you have fed your inner female and synchronized your periods…”
“I’m sorry to bring this up, Big Brother Michael”, a single shy voice said, “isn’t it a sexist thing to say?”
“…I would like to say the verdict for Brother Martin”, Michael finished the sentence responding to the shy voice with another violent movement of his eyes. “Brother Martin, for committing a huge crime of issuing two yellow cards in Their game to the player that is not Theirs, under the GNECC (Great Northern England Criminal Code), you will have to watch The Game 50 for 24 hours two times per week until the end of the season, and each time one of the Nevilles fouls Reyes, you have to drink a glass of a hot water.”
“AMEN!”, eleven voices confirmed the verdict.
“I will do as I was told”, Martin replied with a voice of a man who was relieved of the heaviest burden ever. Michael gave him the nod and showed him a way to the stands with his finger.
“Now that we have made a step in healing this painful wound”, Michael said with the voice that was becoming louder and louder, “let’s think through this game between Man United and Them.
“As you know, if one of The Founding Fathers had still been in charge, he would have had his 30th anniversary on the Man Utd bench. I was thinking about killing two birds with one John Stones… Sorry, this pun I have kept for Their game against Everton in March. So, killing two birds with one stone by making Them pay as a gift for one of The Founding Fathers.”
He continued, his voice rising to a scream: “I want Them to pay for what Brother Martin had been going through since Sunday! I want Them to pay for what we have all been going through this season whenever we look at the table! ARE YOU READY TO DO IT?”
“BRING THEM DOWN!”, the crowd screamed.
“ARE YOU READY TO DO IT?”, Michael repeated the question with almost palpable fever in his voice.
“BRING THEM DOWN!”, the crowd replied with even loused tone.
Michael looked at his twelve soldiers with a feeling of pride and diabolical excitement. “Arsène, you may have built The Invincibles once”, Michael whispered to himself with a devilish smile on his face, “but they are no match to my army. Arsène, The Incompetents will hunt you down!”
- “Journalists make it up? Why would we?”
- My early days as an Arsenal first team player. By John Radford
The Untold Books
The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon. Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.
- 17 February 1906: Jimmy Ashcroft became Arsenal’s first England international. He played over 270 league games for Arsenal and three games for England.
- 17 February 1940: The movie of the “Arsenal Stadium Mystery” novel released. The book remained the only Arsenal novel published until “Making the Arsenal” in 2010. George Allison, the man who had been the lead commentator for BBC football matches, says, in the movie, “One nil to the Arsenal”.