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The death and birth of Tottenham Hotspur: Chapter VI

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A ridiculous sport takes the world by storm, while our heroes learn a lot about their motivations.

When the concept of Twenty20 BaseCricket was first leaked out to the world, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Not only were cricket and baseball purists genuinely offended by the idea, but the general public was completely unreceptive to it as well. When the first pitch was set up at Lord's for a game involving baseball and cricket stars, fans bought tickets and tuned into the television broadcasts for a laugh. They assumed the game would be a disaster, everyone would laugh about it, and it would never be tried again.

Instead, it turned out better than anyone could have imagined. As they watched, fans slowly admitted to themselves that what they were watching wasn't a silly exhibition, but a truly compelling new sport. The best part of the match was when, with just five overs to go, Mike Trout came up as Team de Villiers' 6th batsman. Despite never having played cricket in their lives before they started training a month prior to the event, he and the other baseball players on the squad had to score 75 runs to chase down Team Tendulkar.

Trout didn't need five overs. He needed two and one ball. He hit 13 consecutive sixes.

While the other baseball players were goofing off during their month of learning how to play cricket, Trout strangely decided to take it seriously. He was the first at practice every day and would stay as long as bowlers would toss to him. He studied tapes of Tendulkar, Don Bradman and Viv Richards obsessively. And on the day of the first ever Twenty20 BaseCricket match, he made the world's best cricket bowlers look like amateurs.

The world was hooked.

May, 2020

The step up from the Conference South to Conference National was the biggest step to date for FC Hotspur of Tottenham, though they still had no problem being competitive in the division. Their brand new 10,000 seat stadium and rabid fanbase allowed them to attract excellent talent every time they got promoted, but on this occasion, they didn't bring in enough to seal instant automatic promotion as they had in every season prior.

Much to the chairman's dismay, the stadium was named Ledley King Park. The stadium name was put up to a vote, and though he wasn't in favor of it, there was enough fan outcry to get a stadium named after King on the list. He asked fans not to vote to put his name on it, but said he would accept the honor if that name was chosen, and it was.

This was the first time FCHT had to compete against fully professional sides on a regular basis. Ryan Mason and the new signings were up to it, but it took a while for the club's young talents that had guided them up through the lower divisions to adjust to the level of play. For a small handful, it was a step too far, and they were sent to 6th tier clubs on free transfers in January. Others, like multiple promotion heroes Cyrus Yeganeh and Michael Woodburn, got better as they obtained more experience, and were first choice again by the end of the season.

By this point, Yeganeh and Woodburn were as synonymous with the club as Mason and Ledley King. They were the two players in the team that had starred for them only a couple years into the club's existence, far down the pyramid, that were still stars for the club in the professional ranks. There were good players in the team that had joined them in the 7th division and some 8th and 9th division players that were barely hanging on as backups, but only Yeganeh and Woodburn joined Mason in making an impact throughout the club's history.

Mason's boys bounced back and forth between playoff spots and mid-table throughout the season, but played well over the final few months and clinched 4th place on the second-to-last day of the season, putting them in a playoff semifinal against Gateshead. The Tyneside club had thrashed FCHT at home early in the season, then come down to London and snagged a 1-1 draw in the return fixture. They'd bounced between the Conference and League Two repeatedly over the last five years and most of their squad had Football League experience. Mason might have been the top player in the division, with a talented young squad and brilliant fanbase behind him, but his team would be underdogs in their playoff tie.

This was a place FCHT had never been before. They only knew automatic promotions. Gateshead were veterans of playoff scraps. The Tynesiders weren't just favored because they'd gotten the better of FCHT earlier in the season, but because they'd been there before.

And so, as expected, Gateshead grabbed another 1-1 draw at King Park. It wasn't a disaster for FCHT, but they would be significant underdogs in the second leg.

★★★

"There's nothing around here for miles. There's no one for them to play. Why are we doing this?"

"Have you ever seen 'Field of Dreams'?"

"What the bloody hell is 'Field of Dreams'?"

"Build it and they will come."

No one saw the opportunity in Twenty20 BaseCricket like Donald Trump. He wasn't the initial organizer, but from the second he heard about the exhibition game at Lord's, he was intrigued. He followed the push to get TV rights sold, the campaign to sell out Lord's, the comments that baseball players made about learning a new sport. When he watched the match, he knew he had to be part of building up the game. When he saw the TV ratings, he knew had to be the sport's true pioneer. Donald Trump would be to Twenty20 BaseCricket what Dana White was to mixed martial arts -- sure, he didn't invent it, but he might as well have.

The day after Mike Trout and Team de Villiers beat Team Tendulkar in the inaugural match, Trump called Charles and David Koch and sold them on Twenty20 BaseCricket as the sport of the future. He convinced them that they had to be the founding partners of the first league. They had to be the people behind the international organization of the sport, making all of the rules, running all of the marketing. It would be a massive early investment, but if done right, the sport would give them their money back dozens, if not hundreds of times over. Trump sold hard. He committed to putting millions of his own money on the line. And the Kochs took the plunge with him.

Tottenham Hotspur Twenty20 BaseCricket Club was founded just two weeks after Trout's famous 78 not out, with Trump guaranteeing that he would convince others to start team and have a league ready to begin play sometime in 2021. It was a rapid progression for a sport that not only was invented just under a year prior, but sounded like someone's acid trip.

The game featured a baseball diamond in the center of a cricket pitch, with the mound gone. A cricket bowler bowled at the stumps to a waiting batsman, holding a standard cricket bat. He had no partner, and didn't have to run. Instead, there were designated runners, who would run the basepaths like in a baseball game. Stumps were set up outside each base, and fielders could get outs by knocking the bails off the stumps while runners were not touching the bag. If a runner was thrown out, the batsman who was up at the time was out. If a runner got home, their team got a run. A boundary counted as four runs, plus one for each runner on base. A ball hit over the boundary was six, plus one for each runner. Otherwise, the rules were the same as Twenty20 cricket -- six balls an over, each team bats for 20 overs or until they're all out.

And incredibly, this absolutely absurd-sounding game saved two dying sports. Both baseball and cricket had declined sharply in popularity over the last five years as the NFL and basketball became more international, while association football became more popular in the United States and India. MLB clubs stopped giving out huge contracts and tried to find their way out of the ones they were locked into as revenues fell, which they failed to do. Talent in each subsequent MLB Draft got thinner, with athletes dropping baseball in favor of soccer, football, hockey, basketball or individual sports in their early teens.

Despite all this, baseball was still popular enough that it could be saved. Perhaps it would always be a firm No. 4 behind football, basketball and soccer, but there was a place for baseball in the American sports landscape. Or so MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and team owners thought, before Trump and others like him decided to risk billions of dollars to decimate the league's talent base.

"I can't believe we're building a damn cricket oval out here," said Peter Crooks, Trump's Chief of Staff and top advisor, as he looked out onto a piece of farmland north of London. "We're outside of the M25, no one lives here."

"Yet," said Trump.

"I don't even think we can get people to drive out here."

"Sure we can, this is going to be the biggest sport in the world."

"There's not a train station for miles."

"We'll add a station along whatever line goes in this direction."

"I'm not even sure that train runs on weekends."

"We'll make it run on weekends."

Crooks could see he wasn't getting through to Trump. The man would not be deterred. In Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, Sporting Totttenham Hotspur Group were going to construct a BaseCricket oval, first with a capacity of 18,000, but built in a manner that it could easily be expanded to four times that size. Despite his instant feverish obsession with this game and its possibilities, Trump was also realistic -- he couldn't expect to sell out a ground the size of StubHub Stadium at White Hart Lane in the first season. But the moment he saw Trout hit a six off his first ball from Jimmy Anderson, he got a feeling deep in his gut that this would quickly become the world's game.

★★★

While Trump was obsessing about the new sport that would make him one of the world's wealthiest men, Tottenham Hotspur's football club were about to win their first Premier League title, something he hardly cared about. Even before BaseCricket came along, the NFL team and his pursuit to bring NBA and NHL teams to London were much more important to Trump. The original football club was just a reliable income stream, akin to the subscriber base that paid AOL hundreds of millions of dollars for non-existent dial-up internet.

They were also a great brand, with a loyal customer base, that Trump could attach all of his other entities to. Though there were plenty of holdouts who were thoroughly offended by the idea of their beloved club turning into a sporting conglomerate, most Tottenham Hotspur football club fans came to see the NFL team because they were called Tottenham Hotspur. They would soon do the same for BaseCricket, basketball and ice hockey.

Trump left Zayn Malik in charge of the organization's Premier League club, and he came to enjoy that job a lot more than touring. He'd promoted Peter Crouch to chief scout, then director of football, and the former Spurs striker had assembled one of the world's top teams. Harry Kane and a few others were there before he took over, but Crouch's expertise was the difference between finishing top four and competing for trophies. Mauricio Pochettino and gobs of money laid the foundation for the football club's success, but Crouch did all of the interior decorating.

Spurs entered their final match of the season on top of the table, three points and four goals ahead of Manchester United. All they needed to secure the title was a draw at home against already relegated Millwall, and that's exactly what they got.

At halftime, the latest draftees of Tottenham Hotspur gridiron football club were introduced to the crowd, who gave a polite golf clap.

★★★

"You all remember what happened last time we were here," Mason told his squad before they took the pitch at Gateshead. "They absolutely battered us. We weren't ready to play a side of their quality, at their ground. But you've all had two dozen games since then, beaten top teams in this division away from home. You're a different team now. I know you can beat them."

Mason looked into the eyes of Woodburn. Then Yeganeh. Then Andy Barcham. Jak Alnwick. Troy Archibald-Henville. They were all ready. None of them looked rattled.

But Gateshead were boosted by their sold-out crowd. Like FC Hotspur, they'd become increasingly popular as neighboring club Newcastle United became more and more commercialized. Fans seeking an alternative traveled south, across the River Tyne, and packed into Gateshead International Stadium to cheer on their new favorite club. And with nearly 12,000 supporters behind them, the Tynesiders defeated FCHT 2-0, sealing a trip to Wembley where they'd play in the promotion playoff final.

★★★

bar

"I've never been more disappointed in my life," choked out Mason, mostly into the wall he was staring at, even though Ledley King was sitting right next to him.

"I'm disappointed too, but it's not all about winning promotion," replied King. "That's always our goal of course, but that's not really why you're here, is it? You wouldn't have started this project with me if all you cared about was playing in higher divisions. You could have done that on your own."

"I always want to win."

"Me too, but this is about community first and winning second. Right?"

"You know I love the supporters, but it's absolutely about winning."

Ledley was concerned.

"Ryan, I need you here, all the way. If we're going to make this club great you have to be committed for reasons beyond playing in higher divisions. If you can't do this anymore and you want to go play at a high level again you've got to tell me."

Ryan Mason stopped staring at the wall and looked straight at King.

"I need to hurt Trump."

"What?"

"I can't let him get away with what he did to Tottenham Hotspur. That's why I'm here. That's why I want to be here. That's why I started this club with you. To hurt him."

"Ryan, we're in the Conference. They're a multi-billion pound conglomerate. How the hell are we going to hurt them?"

"This club will hurt them. It can't take them down, it can't pass them in the table and keep them out of Champions League, but it can hurt them. I will be the thorn in his f--king side." He banged the table. "Right now, someone says FC Hotspur of Tottenham and he doesn't care. It does nothing to him, we're irrelevant. But I want him to hear the name of our club and make the nastiest face you've ever seen anyone make. I want him to look like he's just smelled a skunk when he's reminded of us. I want him to hate us like he's never hated anything before."

There was silence for a solid 10 seconds, which felt like an hour to Mason.

"All right," said King, with a sly smile on his face. "I'd love to piss off Donald Trump."

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