FL Cup

Sunday saw my most successful Fantasy League day in almost twenty five years of effort. The way the day unfolded says as much about how Fantasy League works.

Let me take you back three weeks. One of the leagues I prioritised in the 5 leagues I was involved with was the Only And Excuse head to head league. Though there was only 11 FL points between the top 4, I was 26 head to head points behind Adela the League Champion. I actually ended the season with more points than Adela but in head to head… luck?!?!

Well, luck I say. Three games from the end of the season something strange happened. We were not being told who our next opponent was… and then… then the league suddenly broke into a Play Off tournament between the top 8 clubs. Stuart pressed a wrong button somewhere at the start. He wasn’t pleased. I was delighted!

Now I had a chance to win from 26 points back. Quarter Final win, good draw in the Semi and last Sunday I am playing my good mate Tim, Janice’s cousin who lives with us, in the Final. 

My favourite real life manager Pep caused me to feel that I needed to concede at kick off when he rested my 3 City players including my captain Haaland. Our mate Stuart, admin of the league, pointed out on Whatsapp that Tim had seven players not playing and me, only five. I suddenly realised that Tim had players rested too and that subs would now be vital.

All my subs started but getting clean sheets from Tarkowski and Pinnock seemed slim. With 15 minutes to go it was all to play for but I had concluded that I needed City to draw 0-0 to give 6 points for both Raya and Pinnock in Brentford’s goal and defence. 

Then Kane scored, as my vice captain I’d double that. Tim was Triple captaining Salah who somehow was only grabbing an assist as Liverpool scored 4! Just as it was looking good and I was dreading a City goal (we’ve won the league!!!) Pinnock scores!!! It is mine! 82-52 in the end. My first ever silverware!

BUT… wait. On the morning of the last day I got a message from James Hume. James is part of my Facebook Pundits League. I was 5th overall in that league, James finishing 20 points ahead of me in 3rd. His message was that never mind the United-City FA Cup Final next week, we were head to head in the Facebook Pundits Cup Final. I knew nothing about this. What Cup? Two Cup Finals in one day and you’ve guessed it Harry Kane and Ethan Pinnock give me an 82-34 win. 

So, if these leagues had cups maybe the MK HitARyan Dons League had one too. They did and I won that 82-42 against Richard Armitage.

One Sunday - 3 Cup wins. A Stocki Treble. Treble? Who said Treble!

To be fair my 82 points was the highest score in any league that I was entered in. My last few weeks were strong to win Semis and Quarters BUT the skill that I do believe you need also needs a huge lump of luck. Who’d have thought that City resting players would allow my subs to play and that my third sub would score against City and that goal with a clean sheet would give me 15 points. 

That’s Fantasy League. I’ll miss it for three months. I love that luck, the signings, watching what my mates do and adding points over the weekend. I need to congratulate John McMullen who won the Fitzroy League and Cup double and the Facebook Pundit League a distance ahead of runner up Rodney McCain. Also well done Constantin Albot in the MK HitARyan Dons league beating me by over a 100 into second place.

John McMullen is the other side of FL. This man is not lucky to win the Fitzroy Double after winning the league last year too. He finished 11,814 overall. In a league of 11 million that is extraordinary. I was happy jumping in til the top 500,000! To win year after year shows that skill over hauls luck in some quarters. Shout out too to Alastair Beacom for finishing runner up in the Fitzroy League. Nearly caught you bro. Well done!

Now… how much Haaland next season?!  



“… was there any point in being alive without helping one another?”

I love novels that ask questions. Few ask them quite as sharply as Claire Keegan in Small Things Like These.

Keegan sets her beautifully and economically written “long short story” in the small Irish town of New Ross in 1985. Money is hard to come by. There is a thin line between survival and not. 

Our main man Bill Furlong owns a coal business and has a wife and five children to keep happy. He’s economically comfortable but only just and for how long. When the lorry’s engine gives a worrying sound he thinks of all that his family might go without.

Furlong is a good man. He treats his family well. He treats his staff well. He treats his customers well. He is the nice coal man that every small town needs! 

Furlong’s goodness seems to be traced back to a fatherless childhood where his mother is his hero and a Protestant woman of wealth took them in and looked after them. There are a lot of women around Furlong in this narrative. 

I have a friend, the late wonderful songwriter Rich Mullins, who would say that the devil would settle for good.

As the book nears its short end Furlong has a spiritual awakening towards something far superior to good. At the Convent at the edge of town, a Convent that seems to be a foundation under the town as well, he discovers a young teenage girl being treated badly. How could that be? Furlong refrains from Mass as his views of the Church takes a hit. 

Furlong has stumbled upon something kept from many like him. The Magdalene Laundries of which Joni Mitchell sang:

Prostitutes and destitutes

And temptresses like me

Fallen women

Sentenced into dreamless drudgery

Why do they call this heartless place

Our Lady of Charity?

As the crisis of Catholic faith rises for Furlong so his courage to do the right thing. He returns to the Convent to free the young woman and to bring her home.

It is Christmas and as they make their escape. As they walk through town they pass right beside the nativity crib. The Jesus in that crib as a baby would grown up to suggest that those who are connected with God are those who take care of “the least of these”. It would be beyond miracle if “Small Things Like These” is not intended to echo Jesus.

Keegan ends with a powerful epilogue for any time of year:

“Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?”

As I read the final pages of Small Things Like These I couldn’t help hearing a real Christ-like figure, Bill Furlough, preaching from outside the walls of the church, and indeed at the hypocrisy inside it, to call us back to the vocation of our humanity to turn upside what is wrong into what is good. 

That is face of the Christian that should be looking back in the mirror. My friend Rich would suggest that this is better than good, that this being God’s conduit, to help others. 

Furlong, the outsider preacher, is turning over the tables of the hypocritical insiders. Faith is not where we think it should be but in a coal man who has made his decision at whatever cost to stand against injustice because of real faith - “his fear more than outweighed every other feeling but in his fools heart he not only hoped but legitimately believed that they would mange”.


Tony and Christophe



FITZROY (Welcome Area)

JUNE 18th 2023 @7pm 


We are delighted to welcome back novelist Tony Macauley whose latest publication Kill The Devil, written with Juvens Nsabimana, is causing a stir and activist Christophe Mbonyingabo who is CEO of CARSA working with reconciliation across Rwanda.

I will chat to Tony about his, and Juvens, gripping love story set in Uganda and then Tony will chat to Christophe about his current work in peace building. 

Be expected to be inspired towards reconciliation in our place when you hear the power of forgiveness in post genocide Rwanda. 



Seven Psalms

What is it with Seven Psalms. Last year Nick Cave released a record of that name and now it is Paul Simon’s turn. Neither artist writing Psalms particularly shocked me. Watching how interested both had become in God things over the years, it was more of a pleasant surprise.

Paul Simon’s So Beautiful So What record from 2011 had a lot of God on it. Of that record he said, "I wondered whether there was a subconscious theme that I was tapping into. I have Christian symbols and imagery before in songs. It’s very strongly evocative, so it may just be coincidence—but it may not be.”

On Seven Psalms God is not in the subconscious. This is a man in his 80s sharing his ruminations of life and death and what after. It begins with that question on The Lord:


I've been thinking about the great migration

Noon and night they leave the flock

And I imagine their destination

Meadow grass, jagged rock


And end on that same question on Wait:


Life is a meteor

Lеt your eyes roam

Heavеn is beautiful

It's almost like home

Children! get ready

It's time to come home



In between and Simon is asking seeking God:


The Lord is my engineer

The Lord is the earth I ride on

The Lord is the face in the atmosphere

The path I slip and I slide on healing:


… and healing


The garden keeps a rose and a thorn

And once the choice is made

All that's left is

Mending what was torn

Love is like a braid


… and resolution, like sorting out the affairs of his soul:


Yesterday's boy is gone

Driving through darkness

Searching for

Your forgiveness


I’ve been amazed at the books and songs seeking out resolution to relationships with parents, family, actions we’ve done:


Gonna carry my grievances

Down to the shore

Wash them away in the tumbling tide


The Psalms get their biggest connection in The Sacred Harp. Here Simon sees the power of music: 


The sacred harp

That David played to make his

Songs of praise

We long to hear those strings

That set his heart ablaze


The ringing strings

The thought that God turns music

Into bliss…


Seven Psalms is pretty much this. It is a genius songwriter, making his guitar his soul mate. There is no catchy 59th Street Bridge Song here. Paul Simon has always been able to make his guitar playing artistic and he does that here without many grace notes. It is as stark as a sacred retreat but then that is what it is. Spiritually deep.


Michael Magee

I am gloriously fed up repeating myself - here is another brilliant new novelist coming out of my wee place. 

Michael Magee has gifted us a direct journey into the heart of a community and the soul of one young man’s attempt to get over the hurdles in his way to a life fulfilled. 

Magee has a great geographical understanding of Belfast. Well, actually West Belfast, South Belfast and the city centre. I love books that hint at places I know. Magee has you on street corners, outside cafes, sitting on steps and inside shops that you know. 

He has also a deep understand of the psyche of a West Belfast man in his twenties. All the hopes and the plethora of issues that dash those hopes are navigated with raw honesty. 

Written through the soul of Sean whose side we are on from the start. Whether he decks that South Belfast student or not we feel that he’s a good one undeserving of his 200 hours of community service.

There begins a tale of the class division in Belfast, mostly lost beneath the sectarian one. As someone who helps organise the 4 Corners Festival I am so aware that there could be an Andy in East Belfast totally relating to Sean’s danger of getting stuck but no one in South Belfast might understand.

So, Sean, after returning with his degree from Liverpool is trying to escape home, at least the drugs and drink and thieving and poverty and trauma both personal and societal past. In a game of Snakes and Ladders we watch in hope and despair.

Magee is a gifted writer, every character is believable and he has Belfast to a tee. The narrative is gripping and the gift for the reader is that he takes us into homes and bars and lives that we might never get into. We feel how people are struggling with just a mile or two from where we read it. He also challenges that classism that the Good Friday Agreement has widened the gap between those who have and those have not. 

In the end it comes down to choices. Choices that might seem like a betrayal of your family and friends. A choice to put yourself in an environment that might set you free rather than keep you captive. If Sean had been 10 years older he would have been quoting Oasis - “Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say/Chained to all the places that he never wished to stay.”  

A stunning debut!