"A love struck Romeo, sings the streets of serenade,
Laying everybody low with a love song that he made."
I am leaning over the light blue, ceramic-tiled work surface waiting for my breakfast order. In front of me is the back of Sandra's small head, her scruffy mousy brown hair is rolled up into a tight ball and a long, thin red HB pencil is inserted in place to stop it spilling out and down her back. Her apron string is pulled tight and the beige coloured ropes which are holding the plastic front to her frail, skeletal frame are fraying at the seams. A queue is forming behind me and the groans from the steel-toe capped and fluorescent waistcoat wearing builders are starting to build up, with each loud exhaled breath drowning out the radio that is blaring out of the speakers.
"What's happening, Sandra?" I ask with concern, "why's it taking so long to get our breakfasts done today, my love?"
"It's been ridiculous, Mike!" Sandra replies, obviously agitated by the bell above the cafe door ringing for seemingly the hundredth time this hour to signify another guest to South East London's finest cafe, "ever since the squad got back from Portugal, all they've been doing is spending time in here! I mean, even the new signing Murray Wallace has been in here three times this week and he only signed on Wednesday!"
"Tell you what though, Sandra," I begin with a beaming smile on my face, "what an absolutely fantastic bit of business that is! Did you see what Neil Harris said about him on NewsatDen? Apparently one of the best central defenders in League One and excellent recruitment once again by the club. In all last season he played in 54 games. 54 games! That is ridiculous, but just goes to show how reliable he is and what an important player he was for Scunthorpe."
"I've done about £54 in this poxy machine it feels like," spat Dave venomously in frustration, "and just like his goal return of one goal, it feels like I've only won a poxy quid."
"Oh leave it out, Dave," I replied, "he's a centre-back and I strongly doubt Chopper has brought him in to find the back of the net."
“Well not being funny, Mike,” says Dave in his typical know-it-all tone, “but the way Jake Cooper and Shaun Hutchinson were last season, he’ll need to do something special to break into the first team. What with Sid Nelson getting his contract extension too and Byron Webster back fit, we have a quality crop of centre-halves.”
“Do you know what, Dave?” comes a voice echoing from the gents toilets, “that is without doubt the most intelligent thing I’ve ever heard you say. Wallace is a top quality defender and have you seen the social media meltdown from Scunthorpe when he left? They are gutted he has gone and that is a sign of a superb signing.”
After hearing a second flush from behind the faded white door, ‘Arry leaves the cubicles with this week’s GQ magazine tucked under his arm. “Sandra, I’m feeling happy this week, can I have a venti Green Tea Frappuccino, no classic or base sweetener, soy to the second line, one scoop vanilla bean, one pump skinny mocha, 4 scoops of matcha, heaping grande scoop of ice, blended on level 3, three times please to celebrate?”
“While she’s making that monstrosity,” I ask in amazement at yet another outrageous caffeine concoction from my young friend, “can you let us know what you’re celebrating?”
“What am I celebrating?” ‘Arry replies in shock, “well my favourite player has also signed a contract extension! Tell you what, it’s not Juliet who’s madly in love with Romeo, I am as well! I was really worried when he was on the bench because of McLaughlin but I’m so happy he will be staying with us a bit longer.”
“I wish he was as keen on me as he was on Mahlon Romeo,” sighed Samantha Patchcole from the inside of the Lucozade fridge, “it’s all he ever goes on about after he even sung to him at the end of season party.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” I said to Sandra’s young niece in a reassuring tone, “he’s a bit fickle is our ‘Arry. Today it will be Mahlon Romeo, tomorrow it’ll be Ella Rutherford and next week it could be Tom Bradshaw if we end up signing him from Barnsley. I said last season a number of times after they beat us at home that I’d have him here. Let’s hope someone gives him a nudge in our direction and he comes here and not Bolton!”
“I hope someone gave me a poxy nudge,” Dave shouts after thumping the fruit machine again, “I swear this place is jinxed for me.”
“Well hopefully it is for you and not Millwall,” I laugh at our gambling chum’s misfortune, “the fixture list has come out and we have a tough opening. Last thing we needed was to get a defeated play-off team and a team promoted from League One in the first two games. Confidence will be high in those games for Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers, but some of the transfer window activity Neil Harris has done already has been terrific. If we can secure the Marshall deal that seems to be going on, we will be a force to be reckoned with.”
“That we will, Mike,” says ‘Arry in a monotone way after wiping some of his coffee off of his nose, “not really sure we can say the same about the Lionesses. Shall I tell you what has been happening there?…”
After a break in Portugal where I built up a nice tan just to peel again. We headed home into a rather more chilly England. We returned to our usual meeting point of the Millwall café, where we got back some to the usual. It was a rather busy week in the Lionesses camp, after a brilliant week for the men’s side, it can’t be said the same for the women. Just this week, captain Ashlee Hincks announced she was to be leaving Millwall, as well as the best goalkeeper in the division, Sarah Quantrill, who has joined London rivals London Bees. Everyone wishes them the best and hope they carry on their impressive form just not against Millwall of course. Sarah we will take 3 goals to go please and Ash if you can just aim for the corner flag next time you visit that would be very much appreciated?
"I feel like we’ve lost the core of the team," I sigh as I try to avoid Samantha Patchcole's love sick gaze, "the two most experienced players, Lee and Lauren. It’s going to be hard to replace such a calibre, but there’s no reason why we can’t! The new manager will have their targets and hopefully improve our team."
"It’s gutting to see them go," Mike agrees, "but it’s now about shaping up ready for pre-season to ensure we are ready. This will be a very hard and challenging season, keeping our players now will be key but also adding."
The cafe was getting quieter today with just us two as well as Tim Gale who was reading the paper in the far corner, producing his usual angry stare.
"This empty cafe resembles the feeling inside of me," I groaned, "I'm unsure of the future, but at the same time excited for what we can produce next season."
"Depending on what the squad is like," Mike said, "it will be interesting to see how we fair. No bias, but I expect us still to do well. There’s no reason we can’t perform as well as last season, but the players need to play with no pressure."
"That’s exactly how I feel," I concurred, "it’s going to be a fresh new start and the players need to play with no fear or pressure on them, so they can adapt this season and help them perform."
"Not only that," Mike said after a big glug of builder's strength tea, "but if we can raise attendance we can be the 12th player just like Sandra was at the Hop-Scotch cup final between Dairylea Buttercups v Pique Blinders."
"Pre-season is only a round the corner," I laughed remembering the classic story of that 1973 fixture, "so I'm sure everything within the club will be getting sorted soon. I think for now we just have to be patient and wait to see what happens. Anyway mate, I'm off. Got to drive down to Yeovil and have a well done pint with Burchy. See you next week!"