A Leper Can’t Change His Socks


Ron Gourlay, CEO of Chelsea F.C.

Ron Gourlay has 2 jobs at Chelsea F.C.: he is Chief Executive and he is Chief Sacker. He sacks Abramovich’s managers for him. Usually, he just has to sack 1 or 2 a year, but it takes up a lot more of Gourlay’s time and mental life than you might think. We don’t hear about all the near misses, all the if-he-loses-tonight-he’s-gone misses that don’t come to pass. For example: every single game Chelsea played in the CL last year under RdM was in that category.

But being a constantly readied assassin takes a hell of a toll on any man, physically and mentally.

In the NHL hockey league, there is a role assigned to the team thug. He is the enforcer. He is sent on the ice any time an opposing player needs some sorting out, or some rough justice. WE all see hockey as this sport for real men, where they don’t mind mixing it up.

There is the old joke: I went to a boxing match this evening and a hockey game broke out.

Then I saw this documentary on HBO, about the level of suicides and depression among the enforcers of the NHL. That’s right. The tough guys. A few reasons were given. Of course they suffered more than their fair share of concussions, which we are all learning is a major contributing factor to depression in athletes (and non-athletes). But, more significantly perhaps, they were depressed because of the job they had. They were the brutes. Skillful athletes, but not quite skillful enough to play as a regular squad member, they were singled out as the thug of the team. And they were scared. Not so much scared of the fight itself, or the pain of it, they were scared of losing the fight. When the team was on the road, the enforcer cut a lonelier figure, sitting in his hotel room, drinking, fists clenched, picturing the game they would play that night. Would he be called on that night to try to smash someone’s face in, in front of 20,000 baying fans, the media and his team mates? Would he humiliate himself and his team by getting his ass kicked. There he would sit, preparing himself for a fight that may never happen, the animal of the team, wracked with tension, flinching as he pictured the imagined fight that evening.

When he started as an enforcer it made him feel tough and macho, a hero to his squad. It ended in alienating him from the the rest of the “real” players, and confining and defining him as a mindless Neanderthal. But he was a hockey player too, almost as good as the rest. Almost, but not quite.

A few years of that could easily explain the high rates of alcoholism and depression. Still, we “sports fans” love a good scrap at a hockey game, so we do. And you’ve got to give the plebs, I mean public, their panem et circenses, their bread and circuses. Hockey, beer and hot dogs to you and me. In some ways, not much has changed since Roman times.

Roman times. Roman’s times.

Roman’s expression, is something that Ron Gourlay has learned to read, as a matter of survival. What kind of mood is Roman in today? I am his Yes Man. But what kind of Yes Man does he want me to be today: a categorical, emphatic, you’re always right kind of yes? or a thoughtful, considered, I too have thought on these matters and arrived at the same conclusion kind of yes? Gourlay must read his master’s face.

Gourlay must get himself mentally prepared early on in a new manager’s career for the sacking. And he must stay prepared. Always ready to join the swat team who will swarm the manager with no warning and sack him on the spot.

With Rafa Benitez, Gourlay has even tried to pre-empt the need to sack him. As Rafa was walking down the corridor towards Abramovich’s office for his interview for the Chelsea job, Gourlay popped his head out of a closet.

RG: “Psst. Dont do it, Rafa.

Rafa: What?

RG: Don’t do it. Don’t take the job. Please, Rafa. I’m begging you.”

Rafa: Too late, Ron. The deed is done. I’m committed. “

Gourlay’s head sank, his shoulders fell. He turned around and shuffled back into the closet. Rafa could hear a low sobbing coming from the closet. He shrugged it off, blocked it out and walked down to Abramovich’s office, and lay his neck on the guillotine.

From the time RdM took the job, Gourlay began steeling himself for the brutal ending. For breakfast he switched from cornflakes, to biting the head off a chick. Then two chicks. By the time D-Day came, the morning of the sacking, it was up to a puppy and two hamsters. When he arrived in a daze to the office that morning, his secretary had to point out to him that he hadn’t wiped the blood from his chin.

Gourlay arrived early and peeked into Abramovich’s office. There was no sign of him. Gourlay let out a heavy breath, a moment’s relaxation. He nipped in to the office for clues to what was in store. Was the sacking still on? Abramovich’s white evil genius cat was cowering in the corner, recovering from being stroked half to death. This was a very, very bad sign. The sacking was most definitely on. Gourlay walked around the desk and saw on it a sheet of paper. It read:

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“Creative Ideas for getting rid of Di Matteo or any other manager.”

  • Sack manager in tunnel straight after game
  • Sack at 4am in my office after international flight back from game
  • Sack when manager in technical area of pitch with 2 mins left to play. Tap on shoulder, whisper in his ear and run.
  • Wait till manager uses toilet cubicle after match. Look over top. When manager about to wipe arse, shout out “You’re fired” and run
  • Tell manager he’s sacked. Then say it was a joke. Then tell him it wasn’t. Then it was. Until breaks down. (Funny! I like this idea a lot.)
  • Have Harley Street oncologist diagnose manager with terminal cancer, 3 months to live. Later, when he resigns and finds out it’s a lie, he will be overjoyed and thank me. (Use this for managers I actually like.)

Some sacking ideas from my “friends”

  • Jab leg with poisoned umbrella
  • Radioactive soup

Sacking ideas from movies:

  • Horse’s head in bed.
  • Thelma and Louis. Car over cliff, with Gourlay and manager. Gourlay is given hidden parachute but doesn’t know it’s a dud. (2 birds, 1 stone, 0 parachute.).
  • Throw manager in Silence of the Lambs pit. Lock up the poodle first.
  • Terminator. Travel back in time and kill manager when still a teen.Also, will save on contract fees. While back there, snuff out Harry Redknapp, annoying ball bag.
  • Psycho shower scene. (Note: arrange fitting for Gourlay’s wig.)
  • Sink oceanliner near arctic circle. Have fat girl refuse to share wooden plank with manager in icy water

Then at the bottom of the list were a few scribbled domestic to-dos:

  • Tonight, don’t forget to feed pets: Feed guinea pig. To cat. Feed cat. To pitbulls. Feed pitbulls to tiger.
  • Also feed panda cub. To tiger.

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