Allardyce was beginning to get very tired of sitting in the shadow of his own ego outside the bank, and of having nothing to moan about: once or twice he had peeped into the book of tactics his replacement was writing, but it had no pictures of long balls in it, 'and what is the use of a book about passing,' thought Allardyce, 'without pictures of the route one ball?'
He was considering in his own mind (as well as he could, for thinking made him feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of beating Wenger again would be worth the trouble of getting up and applying for a job, when suddenly a Red and White Striped Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by him.
There was nothing so VERY remarkable in that; nor did Allardyce think it so VERY much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, 'Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be relegated!' (when he thought it over afterwards, it occurred to him that he ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually TOOK A CHEQUE BOOK OUT OF ITS WAISTCOAT-POCKET, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Allardyce started to his feet, for it flashed across his mind that he had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a cheque book to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, he ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole beside the Wear.
In another moment down went Allardyce after it, never once considering how in the world he was to get out again.
The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Allardyce had not a moment to think about stopping himself before he found himself falling down a very deep well.
Either the well was very deep, or he fell very slowly, for he had plenty of time as he went down to look about him and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, he tried to look down and make out what he was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then he looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with empty trophy cabinets; here and there he saw pictures of Montgomery and Porterfield hung upon pegs. He took down a jar from one of the shelves as he passed; it was labelled 'Premiership Victories', but to his great disappointment it was empty: he did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as he fell past it.
'Well!' thought Allardyce to himself, 'after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they'll all think me at West Ham! Why, I wouldn't say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of my own ego!' (Which was very likely to be true.)
Down, down, down. Would the fall NEVER come to an end! 'I wonder how many positions in the table I've fallen by this time?' he said aloud. 'I must be getting somewhere near the bottom of the league. Let me see: that would be nearly one hundred places down, I think—' (for, you see, Allardyce had learnt several things of this sort in his lessons in the hard school of knocks and though this was not a VERY good opportunity for showing off his knowledge, as there was no one to listen to him, still it was good practice to say it over) '—yes, that's about the right distance—but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?' (Allardyce had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say, like total football, the false number nine and free flowing football.)
Presently he began again. 'I wonder if I shall fall right THROUGH the league! How funny it'll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward! The Antipathies, I think—' (he was rather glad there WAS no one listening, this time, as it didn't sound at all the right word) '—but I shall have to ask them what the name of the division is, you know. Please, Ma'am, is this the Blue Square Prem or the National League?' (and he tried to preen himself as he spoke—fancy preening yourself as you're falling through the divisions! Do you think you could manage it?) 'And what an ignorant big Sam they'll think me for asking! No, it'll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.'
Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Allardyce soon began talking again. 'Sullivan'll miss me very much to-night, I should think! I hope they'll remember his bottle of champagne at tea-time. Sullivan my dear! I wish you were down here with me! There are no Payets in the air, I'm afraid, but you might catch a Nolan, and that's very like a Payet, you know. But do Premiership clubs want a Nolan, I wonder?' And here Allardyce began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to himself, in a dreamy sort of way, 'Do Premiership clubs want a Nolan? Do Premiership clubs want a Nolan?' and sometimes, 'Does Nolan want a Premiership club?' for, you see, as he couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way he put it. He felt that he was dozing off, and had just begun to dream that he was walking hand in hand with Nolan, and saying to him very earnestly, 'Now, Kevin, tell me the truth: did you ever play a pass over five yards?' when suddenly, thump! thump! down he came upon a heap of dirty kit and boots, and the fall was over.
Allardyce was not a bit hurt, and he jumped up on to his feet in a moment: he looked up, but it was all dark overhead; before him was another long passage, and the Red & White Rabbit was still in sight, hurrying down it. There was not a moment to be lost: away went Allardyce like the wind, and was just in time to hear it say, as it turned a corner, 'Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!' He was close behind it when he turned the corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen: he found himself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of miner’s lamps hanging from the roof. There were doors all-round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Allardyce had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, he walked sadly down the middle, wondering how he was ever to get out again.
Suddenly he came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass; there was nothing on it except a tiny golden key, and Allardyce’s first thought was that it might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but, alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate it would not open any of them. However, on the second time round, he came upon a low curtain he had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: he tried the little golden key in the lock, and to his great delight it fitted!
Allardyce opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: he knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest stadium you ever saw. How he longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those retractable seats beneath that Olympic roof, but he could not even get his head through the doorway; 'and even if my head would go through,' thought poor Allardyce, 'it would be of very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.' For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, like West Ham winning at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City that Allardyce had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so he went back to the table, half hoping he might find another key on it, or at any rate a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time he found a little bottle on it, ('which certainly was not here before,' said Allardyce) and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words 'DRINK ME' beautifully printed on it in large letters.
It was all very well to say 'Drink me,' but the wise and wily Allardyce was not going to do THAT in a hurry. 'No, I'll look first,' he said, 'and see whether it's marked "relegation" or not'; for he had read several nice little histories about managers who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they WOULD not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you keep it up your back passage for too long; and that if you cut your finger VERY deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and he had never forgotten that, if you drink too much from a bottle marked 'relegation,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.
However, this bottle was NOT marked 'relegation,' so Allardyce ventured to taste it, and finding it not so unpleasant, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of jock straps, coal dust, Geordie tears and hot pies) he very soon finished it off…
To be continued...
To be continued...