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"Welcome to the third round draw for the Nando's Cup."
Capital One let their sponsorship of the League Cup expire and everyone's favorite chicken chain had bought the rights.
"In this round, the eight teams who qualified for European competition last season will enter the tournament, joining the 24 second-round winners."
One of the latter was FC Hotspur of Tottenham, whose draw had been kind. Over the first two rounds, they got to play fellow League Two strugglers Barnet and York City at home, defeating both of them. Now they had a chance to not only play a top side for the first time ever, but secure a massive payday that could alter the club's immediate future.
FCHT had the best ticket sales of any team in the Conference the previous two seasons, and their gate receipts were highest in League Two as well. They could spend more on wages than anyone else in the division, but they were still a community-run club. Ownership wasn't pumping money into them and they were committed to both keeping ticket prices low and establishing an academy team. A seven-figure payday would allow them to invest more in their youth and training facilities while also putting a big chunk of money in the bank for a rainy day. Knowing they wouldn't win the League Cup, Ledley King and Ryan Mason were hoping to draw a massive side away from home.
"We're here at Fratton Park, home of Championship side Portsmouth, who advanced with a thrilling victory over Premier League rivals Southampton earlier this evening. They're joined in the draw by eight other teams from the Championship, four from League One, two from League Two and 17 from the Premier League. This is the first round where the draw is unseeded, so any two teams can be drawn together. Each team has been given a number, between 1 and 32. Barry, when you're ready, let's get started with the draw."
* * *
The League Cup was not of any concern to any of the higher ups at Tottenham Hotspur. None of Donald Trump, Justin Bieber, Zayn Malik or Aubrey Graham turned on their televisions to see who their side would face in the third round. Peter Crouch was half-listening to the draw in the background as he watched Tottenham's most recent Under-18 match on the computer of his office.
* * *
A couple of miles away, Mason and King watched intently in Ledley's closet-like office at King Park.
"I know the supporters would love it, but I hope we don't draw Tottenham," said Mason.
"Why not? It would be as big of a payday as United or Arsenal, and it's not like they'd blow us out any worse," replied King.
"It would feel so much different than playing Arsenal or United. The lads, the fans, they'd get so up for it. They'd build up unrealistic expectations. I think they'd get so disheartened by getting blown out by Spurs that we might get relegated."
"Don't think about it."
* * *
"Number 3 ... Manchester United. They'll host Number 12 ... West Ham United."
"Number 17 ... Bournemouth. They'll host Number 7 ... Chelsea."
"Number 31 ... AFC Wimbledon. They'll host Number 9 ... Leeds United."
"Number 5 ... Tottenham Hotspur. They'll host Number 23 ... FC Hotspur of Tottenham."
First, there was an audible gasp. Then, everyone in the room started clapping and cheering. Seven years into FC Hotspur's adventure, it was time for them to face the club their owners and supporters broke away from.
* * *
Crouch hit pause on the video on his computer, turned in his chair, looked at the TV and exhaled long and slow. He let out a chuckle as he turned around to pick up the phone and call Donald Trump.
"Peter, what's up?"
"So this is funny. They did the draw for the cup and we've got FC Hotspur. They've got to come play us here."
"No kidding? Well I'm sure they'll love that."
"Poor guys. We're going to kill them."
"Yeah. Oh well. Hey, I'm going to have my assistant set up a lunch with Ledley King. Maybe he's changed a bit, I haven't spoken to him since he walked out, what was it, seven years ago now?"
"Yep, seven years."
"Yeah, have you talked to him at all since then?"
"Just a few times when they've wanted to sign academy kids we released, to ask if we just didn't think they were good enough or if they had any other problems. Nothing besides that."
"Well, maybe they can help us with some community relations, PR kind of stuff. I can take an hour and try to butter him up next time I'm in London."
"Sounds great. See you in a couple weeks then?"
"Yep, see you then Pete."
Crouch didn't feel like telling Trump that Ledley King would have no interest in acting as the community outreach and public relations arm of Tottenham Hotspur AFC.
* * *
"Well f--k me," King said as he turned to look at Mason.
"No, f--k me," replied his parter, who would have to play and manage in the game.
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