The Apprenticeship

Vienna Barnes is given the opportunity of a lifetime when she is offered an apprenticeship to work for her favourite football club, Sunderland AFC. Sunderland AFC are one of the biggest clubs in the North East. After pulling off the greatest escape in Barclays Premier League history, the Black Cats are back in action, and sitting nervously towards the bottom of the table. Just as Vienna arrives at the club, a bombshell is dropped, and owner Ellis Short sells the club to a mystery new owner. This new owner is determined to keep themselves a secret from the footballing world, and the media are therefore forced to keep possibly the biggest secret and scandal in footballing history. Soon, all begins to fall apart at the club, and the new owners drive Sunderland into the ground. Thinking on her feet, Vienna steps in to offer her help in any shape or form. With problem after problem unveiling, will Sunderland AFC still remain intact by the end of the season?

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38. New Beginnings?

Sophie and I stand huddled together behind an open door as our new owners begin arguing with each other about the Crystal Palace score. The Brooks brothers seem set on targeting Wes for his own goal last Saturday, but Daniel and James are defending him as much as they can.

"He's not the first player to score an own goal! If we want to go around blaming people for own goals why don't we start pointing fingers at Bridcutt or Vergini?! Why don't we point our fingers at them for scoring own goals at Southampton?!" Daniel yells at his business partners, "Get over yourselves - this is fucking ridiculous!"

"He's 35 for fuck sake he's way past his best! That own goal was a sign that he's done here." Jai spits, "This is a Premier League team we can't have people scoring own goals!"

"Oh fuck you Jai." James yells, leaving the stadium with Daniel.

I cover Sophie's mouth to prevent them from hearing us, and as soon as James and Daniel can no longer be seen we peek around the door. Thankfully the rest of the boys have disappeared, and dressed in our thick green steward jackets we run through the corridor and up the stairs towards the stands. Chris and Jared are stood talking to Michael, our new boss for the next two months, and they quickly notice our agitated behaviour.

"What's wrong girls?" Chris doesn't hesitate to question us.

I turn towards Sophie, urging her to spill the news about what we just witnessed, but she stays quiet and it falls on me to tell the news of the owners displeasure with our defenders recent performance.

"Basically the Janoskians aren't happy with Wes, and they've just had a huge argument over it." I inform the group, "James and Daniel just left and...I really don't know it's all so mad."

Jared wraps his arm around my shoulder in an act of sympathy, and Michael expresses his dislike of our new owners - something I think we all agree on at the moment. They've come in and not really given us the best first impressions, and I'm not entirely sure why they were sold the club in the first place. Sure it's nice being given a probably seven or even eight figure offer, but still.

"Alright let's just put all this behind us and get on." Michael announces, seeming fazed by the reveal of the recent incident, "So, stewarding. Obviously if you've been to the stadium you'll know what we do, we like to keep everything in order and keep the fans behaving appropriately. I would say this is a fairly difficult job to do. You need to be confident in yourself and if someone is behaving inappropriately then you need to be confident in your actions. Be prepared because you will receive some form of backlash from someone at some point, but keep your head up, keep moving, because you're right at the heart of the action and once you get started you will love it."

Don't get me wrong I loved working with Mary and all the girls at the food court, but I can't wait to actually work and be able to watch the football as well. We'd be sat in our booths listening to the crowds chants and cheers to judge what was going on - sometimes it was so frustrating.

"You're going to need a brief bit of physical training. Just to teach you what to do and how to act when you come into contact with any fans that you know...think they're all tough and want to start a fight. Occasionally we do need to physically restrain fans that like to run onto the pitch but that's very rare." Michael laughs, "Although I have seen some wonderful scenes in my life. Pitch invaders can be a laugh for the crowd, but we have a job to do at the end of the day."

We all nod simultaneously, as if we're all nursery children taking orders from a teacher, and we are lead down to the edge of the pitch. Michael initially shows us the types of fans that we need to look out for when trying to keep the crowd in order, and those that would require a steward to step in. He does some BAFTA award-winning performances of drunk and disorderly fans; and approaches us as one of these fans to see how we would handle an encounter like this. I'm approached by a rowdy supporter, who finds it entirely appropriate to call me names like 'sweetheart', and 'pet'. Being the socially awkward person I am, I stand there and laugh nervously, soon finding the confidence to ask Michael if he can 'please stay in his seat'.

"Alright, listen. You're going to get a lot of hassle, you young girls, and the lads as well but especially in the lass'. Be prepared for some of the more...confident men to maybe make a few comments, but you know if anything is said to you that's out of order you tell me or anyone else around you and we'll sort them out. We understand that there will be some inappropriate fans but there is a line, and if it's crossed with any of you, do not hesitate to tell me, or any of the other lads. We don't have that many female stewards so we just like to warn you, okay?" He smiles sympathetically at Sophie and I, and although I should be terrified that I could be harassed during a game - I'm more than ready to take on the challenge.

"So. If we try that little scenario again. If someone's coming up to you, saying something like, 'You alright darlin'?', and invades your personal space then all you need to do is tell them to take their seat. Repeat this until they listen to you, and if they don't then threaten them with an immediate removal from the stadium." Michael informs me, his voice slightly firmer.

As the day progress' we each get given an individual mentor who will take our training further as the weeks go by. Mine is a lovely gentleman called Oliver, who basically says that he'll start me out with the basics and keep me in the top of the stands, and as the weeks pan out and my training continues I'll be moving further down the stands towards the more physical sides of things. This can be anything from dealing with pitch invaders, to fans running around the open space at the front of the stands apparently. I mean I can't imagine Sophie, Jared, Chris and I running after a pitch invader, but hey, I guess it could be quite fun.

Oliver is just an enthusiastic and lively as Michael, and after more scenarios for me to test my new stewarding skills, and a few more interesting stories from Oliver's past memories as a steward, the working day comes to an end.

"Alright then pet, I'll see you on Friday. Good work today!" He encourages, I think you'll really excel in this position.

"Oh wow, thanks." I nervously laugh.

We bid our farewells and I take a seat on my family's season ticket seats. It takes me back to watching football games as a young girl with my Dad, and how worked up we would both get over the whole thing. Now I'm sat, in a really big almost trench coat that is the most disgusting shade of green, and actually makes me look like a lollipop lady...but who cares, I genuinely am loving this right now.

"I tell you that was the maddest, most insane, yet most amazing thing I've ever done in my life." Chris laughs, sitting down on the seat next to me.

"I genuinely thought Michael was going to physically assault me at one point."

"I know!" His laugh fills the stadium, "But I think this is going to be really good, and I'm glad I get to bond more with you and the others."

"Yeah, I'm glad we're all starting to bond a little bit more. I think all that bullshit is behind us now, thank God." I let out a deep sigh of relief.

"I never understood that." He begins, "All that crap with Anna. Was she jealous because James likes you?"

I hate the thought of revisiting all the past memories, and all the events that kicked off when Anna was still here. It seems ridiculous to know all these things happened within the space of two months, but now she's gone I think the whole group can just relax and enjoy the experience. The thought of someone being jealous over the fact that a guy likes me, is just odd. That doesn't happen to people like me...it's, weird.

"Basically, yeah. You should have seen her when she stormed into my flat, she looked genuinely psychopathic. Then when she hit Megan, that was just it. Megan left after that, so because of Anna my best friend decided to stay back home. I hate Anna." I begin ranting about our former colleague, who I hope is long gone right now.

"She was just weird man. James wanted to talk to you and start up a friendship with you, but Anna kept questioning him over and over again. 'What do you think of Vienna?', or 'Do you like her? She's so pretty isn't she?!'...all these questions over and over again. Everything Anna said, James would tell Dean and I. I did suggest him telling you but you two weren't exactly on good terms then..." Chris informs me further on Anna's antics, and I can't help but feel infuriated. Just the thought of her makes me want to scream.

"Well, she's hopefully been charged with physical assault and is back in America, so we don't have to deal with her anymore." I announce, as Jared and Sophie make their way up the stairs to join us.

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