Up until two years ago, 44-year-old Nigel Hughes had a typical career in finance, slowly climbing the corporate ladder to a Vice President position and a hefty salary. He started as an intern during university, got an entry-level position when he graduated and found himself making six-figures by his mid-30s. He thought he'd probably get one more promotion, work until he was 55 or so, then settle into an early semi-retirement.
But unfortunately for Nigel, he was raised a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, and recent commercialization efforts couldn't break his bond to the club. He was a season ticket holder from the day he was able to afford it and volunteered as a financial adviser to the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust. As Sporting Tottenham Hotspur's empire grew, Donald Trump needed to hire people he could delegate to, and Nigel was recruited to be the operation's new CFO. He thought he was landing his dream job. He had no idea what he was getting into.
"What do the final season ticket numbers look like for the football club," Hughes asked at a meeting of the finance team.
"We've sold 45,732, filling up the lower level," replied one of his subordinates.
"That doesn't sound ... what were the numbers for last season?"
"And please remind me what we projected for this season?"
"We believed that our success in the Champions League would bring in a surge of new season ticket orders. We projected to sell 50,000 of the stadium's 55,000 seats as season tickets this year."
"And what's this going to cost us?"
"Hopefully nothing in the long run, we still believe we're going to sell out every Premier League and Champions League match this season. but at the moment, £7 million."
"Are there any other shortfalls you'd like to tell me about? Merchandise?"
"Domestic merchandise sales have dropped slightly, but international merchandise sales have picked up considerably since May. We're exactly at projections, just a nominal amount above."
"Paul, do you have a complete report for me?"
"Yes, Mr. Hughes."
"Alright, I'm going to go over that myself, we'll reconvene tomorrow and everyone better have some answers for me about what happened and what we can do about it. You're excused."
As Nigel retired to his office, he briskly walked past his secretary as he said "please get me a meeting with our senior marketing team as soon as possible, tell them I said it's urgent."
"No problem, Mr. Hu-"
And before she could finish, he slammed the door.
* * *
The act of ripping up my season ticket during a rush of blood to the head didn't mean anything, I realized. This is not the 1980s, I go to the club office with my identification and debit card and they'll gladly get me a new one. Which is good, because I'd like to find someone to sell it to for face value. I could use that £800 back.
I don't actually have a ticket to the FC Hotspur match either. The season opener was a sellout, but maybe the hype will have died down a bit after a couple matches? No, come on. It'll be sold out. I'm not on getting there early enough to find someone who needs to get rid of their spare. Why am I on this bus? I should just go home.
"Do you still go to the Sporting matches?" asked a woman in the seat behind me. "Sporting" had become a derogatory term for Tottenham Hotspur among hardcore Hotspur FC supporters.
"I actually just got rid of my season ticket."
"Then why are you wearing all that Sporting stuff then?"
"I got rid of it today. I went to the match, and after the 10th advertisement I couldn't take it anymore. I got up, left the stadium and walked a few streets down to catch this bus to King Park."
"Do you have a ticket to the match?"
"I don't, actually. I know I'm going a bit late for someone who's trying to find a ticket. I didn't really think it through, just decided to go to the FC Hotspur match on a whim."
"Well you're in luck, Jess and I have a spare and we couldn't find anyone to come. If you've got a tenner it's yours."
"Brilliant. It's great to meet you Jess, and...?"
"Great, Kevin, you better sing the whole match or you're not standing near us again."
"That's no problem at all."
* * *
"Hello, Nigel Hughes speaking."
"Nigel, it's Don."
Nigel Hughes was nervous.
"Good afternoon Mr. Tru-"
"Nigel, I hear the season ticket sales are down and merchandise isn't selling like we thought it would?"
"Uh ... yes ... that's what ... I'm looking at the report right now, and I'm meeting with the marketing people tomorr-"
"Hey, buddy, you sound worried. Don't be, OK? It's not a big deal. I know you'll sort it out. I'm not concerned about it, that's why I wanted to call you. I know you care so much about the club that you want to account for every loss, but you don't need to do that, got it?"
"Yes, Mr. Trump."
"Meet with the marketing people tomorrow and see if they can do anything to get sales up. But this isn't a mom-and-pop operation anymore. We're a big organization now and a tiny shortfall in one division of the company isn't going to make or break us."
"Of course. Thank you, Mr. Trump."
And as he hung up, Nigel wondered how many CFOs had ever been told by their boss that whiffing on projections for major revenue streams was nothing to be concerned about.
* * *
"Who is that?!?" I couldn't believe the tricks I saw this kid doing outside the stadium.
"Oh, that's Miles," Jess replied. "Him and his friends are always out here playing before the match. They're all pretty crap and he just embarrasses them."
"Does he play for anyone?"
"Hell if we know," said Amy. "HEY MILES," she yelled, "you playing for anyone this season?"
"I'll play for whoever you want me to babe."
"Oh stuff it you little s--t."
"Miles has been coming to games since the beginning," said Jess. "All of the couple hundred people who have been going since the first season all know each other, we met Miles and his father as long as he could kick a ball. I don't see Mr. Richardson around anywhere. MILES, YOUR DAD AROUND?"
"You going to tell on me for making a joke?" He nutmegged one of his friends, then turned and hit a backheel pass as he said this.
"He's not here anyway, went to see Gram today, Josh has his ticket."
"All right. Have fun, little Leo."
"You said it this time, not me."
* * *
"If I had the wings of an eagle, if I had the arse of a crow, I'd fly over Crawley tomorrow, and s--t on the b------s below!"
FC Hotspur of Tottenham were having a tough go of it in their first spell in League Two. Michael Woodburn decided to stick around in the absence of an offer from Leyton Orient, while a handful of experienced professionals and former Tottenham Hotspur academy players signed up, but the jump up to the Football League was proving difficult, just like the step up from the Conference South to National was. Between their sold out 10,000 seat stadium and their division-high merchandise sales, FCHT could pay wages that were League One standard, but they weren't quite putting it all together early. They drew their opener against Stevenage, lost away to Yeovil, and now found themselves down a goal at home against Crawley Town.
Mason looked frustrated as his team struggled to keep possession. Every time he picked a perfect pass to one of his teammates, they'd take a poor touch or give the ball away with a poor passing decision. The defense was holding up, but they couldn't generate anything going forward. And yet, the supporters continued to sing.
"We all dream of a team of Ryan Masons! A team of Ryan Masons! A team of Ryan Masons!"
And on that day, like many others over the past eight years, it would be Mason that helped his team salvage something. In the 80th minute, he chipped the ball up to new signing Chris Wood, who knocked the ball down for Woodburn to smash into the back of the net. FC Hotspur had failed to win their first three games in League Two, but thanks to their captain and manager, they also had two points. By just one point, and for at least one week, they were clear of the drop zone.