I have been most impressed this year with our splendid new miniature berserker, Luke Terrier, the Winchester Wingnut. His tenacious and full-blooded displays have roused the faithful, bringing as they do such a frightening intensity.
You may be surprised to learn that such is his energy, between matches he has to be kept in a secure unit at London Colney, with only rare access for journalists.
This week I imagined, in screenplay form, one such encounter between a plucky and completely fictional Guardian journalist Agent Starling and Doctor Torreira, one of the most feared midfielders in the Premier League. I have changed his name to ‘Lucas Torreira’ for the purposes of the scene.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a scene from THE SILENCE OF THE FANS, named after the deafening hush that draws over the opposition terraces when yet another shot or pass is blocked by Dr. Torreira.
INT. CORRIDOR – LOWER FLOOR – DAY
A dark, grim area. Heavy grids over the lights.
Distant SLAMMINGS and faint, hoarse SHOUTS. They walk briskly.
Do not reach through the bars, do not touch the bars. You pass him nothing but soft paper – no pens or pencils. No staples or paperclips in his paper. Only Fray Bentos meat pies. He likes those. Use the sliding food carrier, no exceptions. Do not accept anything he attempts to hold out to you. Do you understand me?
I’m going to show you why we insist on such precautions… On the afternoon of November 25th, 2018, he complained of chest pains and was taken to the physio’s room. His mouthpiece and restraints were removed for an EKG. When the physio bent over him, he did this…
He hands AGENT STARLING a small, dog-eared photo. Looking at it, she is stopped in her tracks. This pleases EMERY.
The doctors managed to re-set his jaw, more or less, and save one of his eyes. His pulse never got over eighty-five, even when he ate his tongue.
(pauses, he smiles) I keep him in here.
He turns, pushes a button. A steel door BUZZES slowly open, and BARNEY – a big, impassive orderly – awaits them in an anteroom. On its walls: restraints, mouthpieces, Mace, tranquilizer guns, and a stack of Fray Bentos pies marked ‘EMERGENCY’.
AGENT STARLING (quickly blocking him)
Dr. EMERY – if Torreira feels you’re his enemy – as you’ve said – then maybe I’ll have more luck by myself. What do you think?
You might have suggested that in my office, and saved me the time.
But then I would’ve missed the pleasure of your company.
She holds out the photo. A beat. He grabs it, jaw twitching.
When she’s finished, bring her out.
He turns on his heel, goes. Barney smiles reassuringly.
Hi, I’m Barney. He told you, don’t get near the bars?
Yes, he did.
(shaking his hand) AGENT STARLING
Okay. Past the others, it’s the last cell. Stay to the middle. I put out a chair for you.
Sensing her tension, he indicates a nearby security monitor.
I’m watching. You’ll do fine.
AGENT STARLING nods gratefully. She looks down the long corridor, takes a deep breath, walks into it. He watches her go.
INT. DR. TORREIRA’S CORRIDOR – DAY
MOVING SHOT – with AGENT STARLING, as her footsteps ECHO. High to her right, surveillance cameras. On her left, cells. Some are padded, with narrow observation slits, others are normal, barred… Shadowy occupants pacing, MUTTERING… Suddenly a dark figure in the next-to-last cell hurtles towards her, his face mashing grotesquely against his bars as he hisses.
I WAS SSS-ITTING ON THE PITCH FOR A REST.
AGENT STARLING flinches momentarily, but then walks on.
DR. TORREIRA’S CELL is coming slowly INTO VIEW… Behind its barred front wall is a second barrier of stout nylon net… Sparse, bolted-down furniture, many softcover books and papers, including The Rough Guide to London in Uruguayan Spanish. On the walls, extraordinarily detailed, skilful drawings, mostly of Fray Bentos pies, in charcoal or crayon.
AGENT STARLING stops, at a polite distance from his bars, clears her throat.
Dr. Torreira… My name is Agent Starling. May I talk with you?
Dr. Hannibal Torreira is lounging on his bunk, in red and white pyjamas, reading Viz comic. He turns, considers her. His voice is cultured, soft.
CUTTING BETWEEN THEM
as AGENT STARLING comes a measured distance closer.
Doctor, we have lost something important and I want to ask for your help for an article.
“We” being the Sporting Behavioural Science Unit at The Guardian Newspaper?
May I see your credentials?
AGENT STARLING is surprised, but fishes her ID card from her bag, holds it up for his inspection. He smiles, soothingly.
Closer, please… Clo-ser…
She complies each time, trying to hide her fear. Dr. Torreira’s nostrils lift, as he gently, like an animal, tests the air. Then he smiles, glancing at her card.
DR. TORREIRA (continuing)
That expires in one week. You’re not real Guardian, are you?
You cheeky bastard. I’m the best writer of Arsenal things in the country. I hope you’ve read my book Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season, available in hardback, paperback and Kindle?
Mmmmm… Officer Starling. Sit. Please.
She sits in the folding metal desk-chair. He waits politely till she’s settled, then sits down himself, faces her happily.
Now then. What did Gallas say to you?
(she is puzzled)
“Bumface Billy Gallas,” in the next cell. He hissed at you. What did he say?
He said – “I was sitting on the pitch for a rest.”
I see. I myself do not believe that. I think he suffers from plain old tantrums. Hissy fits. Rages. Paddies, don’t you? You recall the incident? He kicked an advertising hoarding after the penalty that gave Birmingham an equaliser in 2008? At the end of the game he sat on his stupid arse and refused to get and go into the changing rooms until the manager told him to? The big annoying baby.
AGENT STARLING (beat)
Yes. I remember.
AGENT STARLING (shifting uncomfortably)
Did you do those drawings, Doctor?
Yes. That’s the Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie. That’s the Fray Bentos Minced Beef and Onion Pie, that’s the Fray Bentos ‘Just Chicken’ Pie and that’s the Fray Bentos Chicken & Bacon Pie. On the end is my current favourite, the Fray Bentos Chilli Beef Pie. Fray Bentos is an iconic British brand committed to providing you with convenient, satisfying meals that are ready in a matter of minutes and is also the capital city of the Río Negro Department, in southwestern Uruguay, where I am from.
All that detail, just from memory…?
Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of view. Also I eat as many Fray Bentos pies as I want. I burn off the calories just by thinking about tackling people.
A pause, then AGENT STARLING takes a questionnaire from her case.
Dr. Torreira, if you’d please consider –
No, no, no. You were doing fine, you’d been courteous and receptive to courtesy, you’d established trust with the embarrassing truth about Gallas, and now this ham-handed segue into your questionnaire. It won’t do. It’s stupid and boring.
I’m only asking you to look at this, Doctor. Either you will or you won’t.
What have you come for, Agent Starling? I assume you need my help with finding… the unfindable? The ever elusive? The completely and utterly missing?
I came because we need –
Shkodran Mustafi’s brain?
What makes you think he had one in the first place? Thrill me with your wisdom.
He’s our most expensive defender. The fifth most expensive defender of all time. He cost more than Thiago Silva. More than Nicolas Ottamendi. He must have a brain of some kind.
I’m afraid transfer fees seem to mean nothing any more, Agent Starling. Are you aware of the character of The Scarecrow in the fictional Land of Oz by Mr. L. Frank Baum? At the start of the story we learn that he has no brain but desires above all else to have one. It turns out – spoiler alert – that in reality, he is merely ignorant. It turns out that he already has the brains he seeks and is later recognized as “the wisest man in all of Oz.”
I am afraid that this is not the case with Shkodran Mustafi.
But that cannot be true. I just asked Cristiano Ronaldo what he thought and he said that there’s got to be a brain in there somewhere.
Cristiano Ronaldo tried to best me in Uruguay’s win over Portugal in the last 16 of the 2016 World Cup. I ate his liver with fava beans and some Yerba Mate.
Fly back to the sports desk, little Starling.
He steps backwards, then returns to his cot, becoming as still and remote as a statue. Frustrated, AGENT STARLING hesitates, then finally shoulders her bag and goes. But after just a few steps, as she passes – GALLAS’S CELL – She sees that creature at his bars again, hissing at her.
I was just cross about drawing the match against Birmingham. Please set me free. Please.