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Life After Retirement

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Ask any Premier League footballer nearing or at the end of his professional club career and he will tell you this- there are three steps to retirement.

1. Deciding to retire. No matter how much he tries to convince the public it was completely his decision, retirement is mostly chosen for him. Age, injury, a worryingly persistent lack in form. Fatigue. It’s the body that fails and ends it. Fallings-out, disagreements over money, getting benched – those things don’t force retirement. They’ll force the most loyal man away from his home but not away from the game.
Only some retirements are quick, ideal. Making an announcement in the relaxing afterglow of a successful season, a successful career, followed by an outpour of admiration that he can just bathe in. That’s lucky. No one will admit it but this is the best part of retirement. Everyone loves him again. And this way, if he doesn’t announce it in the middle of the season, there’s no pomp and circumstance around his last matches. There’s no heavy expectation of a goodbye banger or a heroic win to send him off with. And anyone close to retiring knows that everyone already knows it’s going to happen. The decision is the easiest part because he really doesn’t have to decide at all.

2. His last match. If his last match isn’t at home, then he gets the pleasure of having two last matches. These matches are never as romantic as expected, because he can’t deliver, his nerves act up, he just want to be good for his family and his friends, his fans. If he’s a big deal, high budget lad, the proceedings and the guards of honor are forced, and on the occasion that members of a team he hates in his blood and guts stand to honor him, he doesn’t feel honored, but sick. Sick and angry and let’s get on with the match, tossers.
He can’t win. If he wins, it’s sad. If he draws, sad. Loses, sad. Not knowing if and when he’ll ever be back here, because where the fuck is life going to take him next. Just anywhere but bloody America, he thinks when he kisses the crest, points to the sky, bends down to touch the pitch.

3. Life after retirement. This is the hardest part. He does sit around for a bit. There are only so many stations and programmes that need pundits, or clubs that need staffers, or autobiographies he can pen (ideally, just one). He most likely can’t (or shouldn’t) model. He’s most likely not stylish, so no clothing brand. If he’s not business savvy or a philanthropist, if he likes no other sports or has no other hobbies but football, if he hasn’t got a family, what does he do? And what if he doesn’t want to do anything else? Not an option. Bouncing back after retirement, at an age still considered young in every community but the football community, is a must. He is held to the standards of the greatest.

Luckily enough, Jamie is great and hardly gets a nap in before Sky Sports comes calling.

“Looking to come on? You bored yet?”

Jamie groans and shifts on the couch, frowning. Always frowning.

“Yeah, always bored. When do you want me then? It’s been a few weeks and I’m out of me head, to be honest.”

“Seems like. So – ”

“But I’ll not be working with Neville. Swerve that. Trying to lead a relaxing life here, now, ‘ve earned it.”

“Come off it, Carragher, it’s not just him here. Redders and Souness are about. You act like you’d be the one outnumbered.”

“You’re on one. I’ll do Match of the Day, like.”

“And go work for the BBC over Sky? Daft cow. And you’re a liar as well, you wouldn’t last a day with old Links and you know it. You’d be asleep in minutes.”

“You’re absolutely right. I’m in. Cheers. Bloody boring fucks at Match wank each other off in the dressing room after, I’ll bet, to United matches.”

“Can’t say things like that to Gary. And don’t forget his brother works at Match.”

“Christ, they’re everywhere, Nevilles. Phil’s the lesser of two evils, innit. I’ll phone Match then.”

“So how soon can we have you in to sign a contract?”

And Jamie laughs, making a date for the beginning of his Life After Retirement and flipping to Sky on the telly after he hangs up the phone. He’s got a text message from Steven that is literal gibberish because Steven hasn’t gotten a hold on his first ever smart phone yet, having just recently graduated from England’s final flip phone.

yer wha??? what language was that

soz Carra new phone. drinks?

Steven doesn’t have to ask twice. Life After Retirement Jamie is up for anything.

 

 

Except seeing Gary Neville’s face all over the pub tellies.

“Monday Night bleedin’ Football. Prefer Match myself.”

“Can you believe I’ll be working with him? Fucking manc.”

“Stop chatting shit, you’re excited.”

And Jamie is excited to be doing something, to still be involved in footy, to show that he knows more about the game than life as a centre back. But how can any self-respecting Scouser work under those conditions?

“It’s wrecking my head, I have to be decent, don’t I. Shaking hands and saying, yes Neville. What’d you think about that goal, Neville? You’re right, Neville."

“Come off it, now you’re just being childish, Carra.”

“And you, Stevie, who made you the serious lad, hm? Just taking the piss.”

Stevie clinks his glass, almost gone, against Carra’s on the table, almost full.

“This is actually wrecking your head, innit. Retired lads everywhere would be buzzing for this chance. Ungrateful.”

And Stevie smiles at him, motioning for Jamie to drink and finishing his own. Jamie polishes off half in one go and smiles back, shaking his head.

“Next season will be a good one for us. You’ve finally fucked off, Carra, and the lads are rearing for a good go. The gaffer’s in good spirits.”

“You still feeling up for the title race? You’re getting old too, don’t forget that.”

Stevie’s face falls a bit and Jamie jumps forward a little, waving his hands.

“No no, Steven. Just having a laugh. Can’t have you muppets taking the title the season after I retire.”

“And who’d you rather take it? Wouldn’t you love to be at work with Gary Neville the day United win the league again.”

Stevie laughs and Jamie shoves his shoulder across the table.

“I will miss it, though. I miss the lads already – I speak to you and some of the others but it’s not the same, like. Luis tried to FaceTime me the other day but we couldn’t understand each other at all. Gave it bifters, Luis.”

“We’re harder to understand than he is, mate.”

They both nod at each other, because if there’s anything they know, it’s that.

“Imagine if Gary Neville were Scouse. Monday Night Scousers.”

“It’d be sound! Proper footy chats, all about the clubs that matter.”

“You’d have no viewership. At least Lancashire lad Gary can translate if you get too made up about something and start gabbing like mad. WhatdoyoumeanHendersonisshiteyouvegotnooneinthemidfieldlikehim!

Jamie is unamused by Stevie’s bang-on impression of excited Jamie.

“I’ve got my meeting with Sky tomorrow and I’ll sign then. World Cup coming up here, sure we’ll spend some time on that along with the new season. Looking forward to it, skipper?”

“Yeah, of course, as much as I can. Roy’s a bloody trip. You know, all the drama with Fabio and JT, we needed a change. Euro was decent, like. We’ll see.”

Stevie holds his hand up to order two more drinks and Jamie sits back, crossing his arms and looking at his noticeably tipsy best mate. He’s hardly changed in a decade.

“Trying to bevvy me up, Gerrard?”

“It could be so much worse than Gary Neville. Actually, no. That’s the worst possibility, that. Carra, you think you’re a fucking hard man but you’re not at all. You’re mates with everyone. Just wait.”

“I’m not bloody mates with everyone, you drunk tit.”

“Say what you like, Carra. You’ll be gone on the manc in weeks.”

Jamie swats him in the head with a that’s enoughand lets Stevie’s heavy drunk head lean against his hand for a moment before swatting him again, gentler this time.

“Is this my Steven Gerrard, the same one who wouldn’t let even a United shirt in his home, saying I’ll be gone on a manc.”

Stevie mumbles something unintelligible, mouth half full of beer, and Jamie reels with laughter. Stevie drinks long after Carra stops, and he has to help Stevie stand up to leave. Carra puts his arm around him.

“Alright, mate, you deserve this, long hard drink after the season. What will you do when I’m not around to do this?”

Jamie brushes his hand across the closest telly set as he leads Stevie out the door, switching the programme to BBC.

 

 

Ask any Premier League footballer after the end of his professional club career and he will tell you this – he is held to the standards of the greatest.

Luckily enough, Gary is great and has been at Sky Sports for two years.

“How do you work Wikipedia?”

Gary asks Redders on commercial break and Redders looks over, confused. Gary is twiddling around on his phone in his lap.

“What?”

“How do you change something on Wikipedia, I said.”

“You don’t.”

“No, I know you can.”

“Alright, Gaz. Lemme see.”

Redders holds out his hand and Gary drops his phone in it. Redders almost immediately begins to snicker and Gary reaches back for his phone but Redders turns away.

“Why you reading your own page, you tosser?”

“Checking for…accuracy.”

Redders echoes back checking for…accuracy and Gary huffs, flipping angrily through the notes in front of him on the desk. One big, highlighted note – Meet with Carragher after the show – ruffles his feathers. He’s not in the mood for this and doubts he will ever be.

“What’s wrong on your page, Gaz?”

Redders is clearly having a laugh at Gary’s article, picking out points he likes and spouting them out. Fergie’s Fledglings, that’s bloody right. That's a worse nickname than Spice Boys. You only managed to score five goals in nineteen years? No goals for England either…

“I was a right-back, idiot, of course I didn’t score any goals. And you’re having a laugh for sure. Your England career was rubbish.”

“Jesus Christ, listen to this. Neville's final professional appearance was against West Bromwich Albion on New Year's Day 2011, a 2–1 victory at The Hawthorns. Neville later revealed that, during half-time of his last game, he sat on the toilet and knew for certain that it would be his last game. Banter! Did you really say that?”

Gary and Redders are given a signal that they have to go back on air to wrap things up and Redders slides the phone back to Gary. Gary tucks the phone away quickly and brushes his hair out of his face.

“That’s what I wanted to change. Don’t need people thinking I made one of the biggest decisions of my life on the toilet. Even if I did.”

They both laugh and go live still laughing, Redders explaining how he’s off to host Saturday Night Football and how Ed and Gary will be sticking around MNF.

“And the one and only former Red Jamie Carragher is coming in to be Gary’s co-analyst, eh Gaz?”

Gary looks at him quickly with a grimace and back at the cameras, nodding.

“Co-analyst is the ticket. I’m the pundit, he’s the co-pundit. Keep that straight.”

Redders laughs his on-camera laugh, flashes a smile and claps Gary on the back. They sign off and Redders is off like a shot, greeting a newly arrived Jamie on the side of the stage as Gary shuffles his notes once again and hits them against the desk to straighten them.

“Come on then, Gaz.”

Redders calls for him and Gary exhales slowly, looking exasperatedly at the camera crew shutting down the equipment and getting a few knowing smiles back. He slips out of his suit coat and drapes it over his arm, walking over to Jamie and Redders as calmly and confidently as he can because he’s grown now – a bit older than Jamie as well – and doesn’t want trouble. Or, at least, he is trying not to want it.

“Carragher.”

“Neville.”

They shake hands and look pointedly at each other. Jamie is surprised they are almost exactly the same height, because he always remembered Gary being shorter than him. But maybe Jamie is just bigger. Not bigger in that way – Jamie is keeping well in shape where Gary seems to have gotten a bit softer. Jamie's just broader.

“How’s the England gig?’

“Fine, thanks. Hodgson’s a good appointment.”

“Not what I hear. You contractually obligated to say that?”

Jamie smiles waggishly and Gary frowns, pushing up the sleeves of his button-down as Redders looks on, enjoying the reunion between these two far too much.

“Speaking of contracts, why don’t you get to signing yours so you can bugger off.”

Jamie’s eyebrows go up dramatically.

“Oh yeah? Sound. Wouldn’t want to spend any more time around you than I have to.”

“Good to know you’ve grown up a lot since the last time I saw you.”

“Like you’re not taking the piss too!”

Redders says something about going to find out where the contract business is going down but Jamie grabs him, holding him in place with tight fingers in Redders’ jacket.

“You’re not going anywhere, Redders. In case Neville here tries to punch me.”

“Christ, Carra, take a breath. You two need to get over whatever this is right now. You’re both forty and you work together now.”

“I’m thirty-five, Redders!”

Redders walks off hastily and Jamie turns away from Gary and toward the catering table, pouring himself a cup of tea and grabbing blindly for a pastry.

“You really need that, Jamie?”

Gary quips, quieter and more subdued, and Jamie doesn’t react, doesn’t turn around to face him.

“In the best shape of me life, Neville, I'll eat what I like. And it's Carragher to you.”

Redders calls for Jamie from down the near hallway and Jamie goes, cup of tea and pastry in hand, without a second glance back at Gary.

 

 

Gary and Jamie’s first show together is on the nineteenth of August. City against Newcastle. They stand as far away from each other at the desk as possible, Ed positioned in the very middle, blissfully uncaring and unaware of Gary and Jamie’s constant rows. Jamie and Gary receive the strict instruction from the makeup staff to stop frowning and stop angrily running fingers through their hair.

The bosses at Sky love the tension between the two. They cannot wait for the banter, they feed on it. They told Gary and Jamie as much and Jamie notes there will be no banter because he plans to do anything he can to avoid directly addressing Gary. The bosses smile – what a fun relationship this is – former rivals! Can’t wait for the discourse. And Jamie says there will be no discourse!

Jamie is always angrier than Gary, at least it seems, because Jamie is not as good as Gary at concealing it. The first time Jamie’s face is on the telly representing Monday Night Football, he is glowering and Gary’s got his well-practiced pundit face on – contented, relaxed, inquisitive. Clips run in the background of the match that’s just concluded, City taking it 4-0.

“It’s a bit too early to say Manchester City'll win the league, innit. But I’m calling it now. Just bloody artists. Four goals, four different goalscorers, easy as you like. Not that Newcastle’s something for Pellegrini’s side to worry about much at home, but.”

Jamie and Gary look at Ed, who’s now tapping away at the touch screen board, mapping out Silva’s early goal. Ed continues on but they stay silent, looking at each other, seeing their own hasty and defensive expression in the other’s face.

“You can’t discount Liverpool like that –”

“United’s got a real shot this season –”

They say simultaneously and Ed turns around to ask their thoughts on whether Agüero or Touré will score more goals this season, but Jamie and Gary are preoccupied, Jamie staring at Gary as Gary taps the desk nervously with a pen.

“Agüero.” Jamie says without looking at Ed.

“Touré.” Gary says, looking back over at Jamie and catching him staring. Jamie doesn’t look away.

“I think Touré’s going to score the most goals in the Prem for City but, I’m thinking Agüero will go overall, considering the Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup, what have you. Aguero’s more proficient in Europe – well, that’s not to say City are completely versed in Europe…”

Ed’s really the only one contributing and his comments lead into commercial break, when Gary walks over to Jamie and backs him into the desk, fuming.

“I know you’re new to this, but try to be a professional when you’re on live telly, yeah? We work together now, so at least act like you’re enjoying yourself or act like you have any semblance of football knowledge or just fuck off. And stop staring at me.”

Jamie looks genuinely horrified and Gary backs off a little, brushing straight the sleeve of Jamie’s jacket with a quiet apology.

“We had a nice moment of chemistry there, didn’t we? Like, a moment where I wasn’t trying not to hate you. I just didn’t. We both want our little shite teams to win the Prem.”

Gary laughs and Jamie relaxes a little, letting out an exhaling chuckle. “At least pretend to be impartial, Carragher.”

“Neville, Jesus, I’ve seen this show. You’ve not been impartial for a moment in your life.”

Gary laughs again and Jamie prefers this feeling to the tension, but the moment is short-lived as the crew calls for a return to positions.

The oscillation between stern loathing and tolerance makes Gary seasick as the weeks go on, but Jamie seems to thrive on the unpredictability. Jamie’s flying high on Sturridge and Suarez as well, which is the only possible explanation Gary can find for why Jamie invites him out for drinks.

“What for?”

Jamie looks at Gary like what for is the craziest question he’s ever heard, like a few months ago Jamie hadn’t griped on the phone to Sky that working with Gary Neville was a fate worse than death. They’ve just wrapped up a broadcast but Gary’s soon to ship off for international duty and has a lot to go over.

“It’s been a long week. Figured I could help with England notes if you like.”

“Is this Jamie Carragher or an impostor speaking to me?”

“Piss off, Gary.”

And something stills between them, because the first-name basis is still new.

“Alright, but I’m choosing the place. Scousers have shit taste in most things. Everything.”

They wrap up in their winter gear – coats, scarves, the works – because it’s a blustery frozen tundra out, but Gary remembers at the last minute to tell something to their data people and Jamie watches him walk off. He pulls his phone out of his pocket.

gary’s just asked me to drinks for work. Which isn't completely true, but.

For someone who is hopeless with technology, Steven texts back so quickly.

fuck off who’s gary then??? and why are you off to drinks w him like he’s your mate

“He's right,” Jamie says to himself.

“Who's right?”

Gary approaches him with an inquisitive smile, and it’s really gentle and Jamie stares at him for a second before answering. Gary’s smile is gone by then, replaced by something harder.

“Nothing. Erm, talking to meself.”

“If that’s Gerrard you’re texting, tell him that match at Hull last week was absolute shite.”

“Wasn’t shite for him, was it – he scored, you muppet. And don’t say a bleeding word about own goals.”

Jamie doesn’t reply to Steven and shoves his phone back in his pocket. It’s the beginning of December and Jamie has made it this far, far enough to be able to sit in the back of a cab with Gary Neville. It might not be the most cozy cab ride, but it’s tolerable.

 

 

Jamie finally goes to an England match – England against Denmark in March, and Jamie is buzzing down to his core.

Finally settling into MNF, the banter between he and Gary works. It clicks. It clicks so well their banter makes headlines and YouTube compilations. His lifelong, constructed hate response toward Gary gradually soothes into an anticipation to counter him and discuss with him, something that excites Jamie and drives him more than angers him. Jamie would never admit it out loud but Gary is decent and if Jamie dug down deep, he could even admit to himself that Gary was smart. And perceptive. And right most of the time. Jamie attributes these odd thoughts about a manc to his months-long good mood.

England shines in World Cup qualifications in 2013 and so sitting in 2014, just waiting for the summer – their summer – to come around is amazing. Stevie, Sturridge, Rooney, Welbeck, Walcott, all looking primed and ready for Rio. And there’s Gary too, working in step with Hodgson, trying not to linger around the United boys too much, around Rooney or Welbeck, Smalling or Phil Jones. Jamie notices and figures he’d be doing the same with Stevie, Hendo, Sturridge, and young Raheem, a part of him wishing he were still out there with them.

And don’t even get Jamie started on the Prem. Only days before, Liverpool showed Southampton a thrashing at St. Mary’s – as if a Suarez goal and Sterling goal weren’t both enough, a late stoppage time penalty from Stevie sealed it. Liverpool fans must be having a wank over this season, Jamie thinks to himself often as he grins like wild just remembering he was once a part of this squad. He speaks to Stevie often and of course Stevie is moony, blood running hot and young. Stevie’s going to win the league, Jamie says over and over. It annoys Gary, whose own United are not shining like he had hoped, but never to the point where the old animosity resurfaces. Whether Gary and Jamie like it or not, they are friends now. And that’s one of the reasons, if not the main reason, why Jamie finds himself at this friendly.

“Oi, Carra! Been a while!”

None other than Phil Neville walks over to him as Jamie sits in the lower stands of Wembley, watching the boys warm up. Phil swats him in the head and Jamie frowns, looking up at Gary’s younger brother.

“Not long enough, though.”

“Come off it. My brother’s worse than me and you know it.”

Jamie nods, looking out at the pitch.

“How’s retirement life under United, then? Coaching with Moyes. What a season it’s been. He’ll be sacked soon and you’ll go with him, like. You’re no Giggs.”

“It’s fine, thanks. You Scousers get so cocky when a few matches go well, don’t you. We’ll see in two weeks when your lot comes to Old Trafford. Why aren’t you coaching at Liverpool instead of chatting shit on the telly with my brother?”

Jamie doesn’t answer and Phil settles into his seat, crossing his arms across his chest in an almost identical fashion to Jamie.

The match is standard – Jamie knows watching England is a bore most of the time – and a goal doesn’t come until well into the second half. It’s from Sturridge.

“That boy is having quite a season, eh, Carra? Him and your Suarez. Dangerous.”

“Is that you admitting you’re anxious for us to come to Manchester?”

“Not a fucking chance, Carragher.”

The two says their goodbyes as the match comes to an end and Jamie meets Stevie after he’s emerged from the locker room.

“You’ve made mates with his brother now too, then. Yeah, I saw you sitting with bloody Phil Neville! I don’t recognize you anymore, Carra.”

They embrace and Jamie shakes Stevie’s shoulders roughly, taking his head between his hands and kissing his forehead.

“Steven, Jesus, it’s – ”

“I know. I know! Don’t say anything – we’ve got a long way to go. But I know.”

“How’s the morale? Feeling confident going into United away?”

“Yeah, to be frank.”

Steven puts his hands on his hips, his white England kit still on, and he’s beaming. Jamie hasn’t seen him this way in a long time, but Jamie knows what he’s feeling. Jamie feels it too.

“Honest, Carra, I’ll not be forced into spending time with either Neville, or any manc for that matter. You’re my best mate and I’ll do just about anything for you, but not that.”

Jamie swats at him.

“But I have been catching MNF and it’s class. You wear a lot of bloody makeup, though. Proper Scouse queen.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“But you’re keeping in shape though, good to see. When you coming round Melwood or back round the club? Or England. Always saw you as a coach, Carra. This accent’s not made for the telly, lad.”

Jamie shrugs as his phone rings, and he turns slightly away from Stevie when he notices it’s Gary calling, and Stevie curses, throwing his hands up.

“Steven, fuck off, calling about work – yeah, alright, Gaz?”

Steven mouths Gaz? to Jamie and Jamie holds up his hand.

“Phil told me you two sat together during the match.”

“Christ. Wasn’t my choice. He’s a bit worse than you.”

“Figured you’d like him better, seeing as you’re a massive Evertonian.”

“Come off it. What do you want? Why'd you call me?”

Steven stares on disbelievingly and Jamie shrugs.

“You still around? Come chat about the match, see some of the England boys?”

“Nothing to talk about besides Sturridge. Hey, actually, let’s have a chat about Sturridge. Know you love him.”

Gary groans and Jamie laughs.

“Yeah, Neville, I’m still around. With Stevie now.”

“Oh yeah? Tell him he had a fine match. Come to the presser if you like. If not, I’ll see you in a few days.”

Jamie lowers his phone and Stevie boxes him in the ear.

“You’ve got a new best mate.”

“Have not. Gary says you’ve had a fine match. He also hopes you show his mancs a good time at Old Trafford and that you further embarrass old Moyesy.”

Steven grins and Jamie offers to take Steven out, but Steven says he’s got plans with some of the England boys.

“And I’m the one replacing my best mate.”

“No, you’re just old. Can’t keep up anymore now. You want to come out with us, though? Be good to have you along, like.”

Jamie says no and expresses a desire to go home and catch up on work, which Stevie accepts and tells Carra to come around more often, he misses him. Carra almost lets himself feel sad and he promises Steven he’ll be at Old Trafford. Jamie passes the pressroom as he goes to leave Wembley and briefly entertains going inside to see the old gaffer Hodgson and Gary give their typical England chat. The door swings open, nearly scaring Jamie to death, and there’s Gary.

“Come in, tosser. Don’t have to ask permission.”

So Jamie goes in.

 

 

It’s less than two weeks later that Jamie sees Steven again, but that day’s a blur. Steven positively leaps onto Jamie, as if they are both still early twenties, their arms wrapped tightly around each other. This time, Steven’s sweaty and heavy and screaming and Jamie is solid, dry, quiet, squeezing Stevie for dear life, in utter and blissful disbelief.

Old Trafford still rings with Liverpool chants, Jamie can hear it even in the back hallways of the dressing rooms. Everyone showers their skipper and a starry-eyed Luis with kisses and praise, singing songs at a volume Jamie hasn’t heard in years.

Who the fuck are Man United, they sing, and Jamie wonders what Gary will have to say at the studio, can’t wait to go there and find out. One of the lads asks for a group picture and encourages Jamie to join them, but Jamie has to click out of his messages before he hands the phone to Brendan, as all of his latest texts are from Gary, speak of the devil.

Jamie stands in the back, and Sturridge and Agger’s arms go around him, greeting him warmly with shouts of triumph as the camera goes off.

absolute scenes I bet. you're lucky. vidić always rubbish against you lot

Jamie reads as he gets his phone back, and he smiles, laughing to himself as he imagines Gary, frustrated and reassuringly rubbing sweaty heads of hair in the opposite locker rooms.

it’s a title charge, Gaz. what can you expect

I believe it now

Jamie’s stomach clenches.

only fixtures to be worried about for the remainder of the season are City and Chelsea, both at anfield. maybe spurs at anfield. this is your fifth win in a row

are you -

Jamie stops typing, flustered. He’s confused, having entered this separate plane from reality where Gary Neville isn’t bashing a Liverpool side that’s just made a meal out of United at Old Trafford.

this is a time where it’s ok to be biased. you talking about pool this way is concerning me

just practicing for the show

After a few more minutes of celebration, Jamie clears out along with the rest of the squad.

its our season

Jamie immediately regrets sending this text because he feels vulnerable, more vulnerable than he’s felt in god knows how long, putting his hopes for his team, his whole heart, in a text to a manc. He feels silly and mawkish until Gary replies.

glad you finally know how it feels

And Jamie thinks about that sentence for the whole night, alone in his house, watching coverage of the match into the late night.

 

 

The next two months or so are a highlight of Jamie’s life. He shakes with excitement as he watches matches at Anfield, clutching onto the surrounding players, whoever’s out injured or sitting in the box. Everyone gets a kick out of Jamie’s glow, whether it’s Gary and Ed or Stevie (who’s got a glow of his own) or others on the Liverpool or England squad or his family or the press.

Gary phones Jamie after the Norwich match in late April and invites him over – they’ve got a lot to prepare. Manchester City are in this title race too and as things heat up, more viewers tune in. The pressure is on but Jamie feels none of it. He accepts Gary’s invitation without a second thought.

“You alright, Gaz?”

Gary opens his front door and Jamie nearly plows him over, moving with purpose and energy. Gary shakes his head and laughs, taking Jamie’s coat that Jamie has flung onto the couch and hanging it up.

“I’d ask the same but I know how you are.”

Jamie helps himself to a bottle of wine in Gary’s kitchen and leans against the counter, the lines of his body unperturbed and loose. Gary looks on with a smirk.

“You jealous, Neville? Forget how this feels?”

“Not really. Just annoyed with you.”

And they both smile, neither of them really bothered. They post up at Gary’s dining room table with their notes, videos of the matches, and Jamie brings the bottle that he’s nearly halfway polished at this point.

“Marriner was in the wrong here. In the bloody wrong. That card on Flanagan was shite.”

“I give Marriner a shout here – he had a fantastic match.”

“You would say that.”

Jamie’s getting gradually more drunk and Gary’s enjoying it as much as he can, Jamie’s accent becoming less and less understandable.

“We can’t use any of this, Jamie. Absolutely indecent.”

Jamie stills and drinks the rest of his glass, licking his lips and wiping his mouth with his hand.

“I like it. When you call me Jamie.”

Gary freezes, still looking down at the notes, his anxious hand tapping the table with the pen, erratic but keeping in time with his cardiac spike.

“It’s your name.”

Gary tries to sound matter-of-fact but chokes mid-sentence.

“We’ve come a long way and I just like to know we’re friendly. That we’re friends.”

“We’re friends, Carra. Jamie. As good of friends as we can be. Where’s this coming from?”

“I wanted to keep things like football, like on the pitch, because that’s how I like things, how I know things. I dunno.”

Jamie reaches for the bottle but Gary pulls it away, pouring some for himself in Jamie’s glass.

“Christ, if you’re going to be talking like this, I need a drink.”

“Honestly, Gary. I’m not used to being off the pitch yet. I don’t know how to be friends with a manc gobshite and I want to know I’m doing a decent job.”

“And me calling you Jamie helps you with that.”

Jamie finally looks over at him, his head lolling a little, his cheeks dusty pink and a cheeky smile tugging at his lips.

“Loads.”

 

 

Gary knows a lot about being a friend. Mostly to other mancs, really, but he knows he’s at least a decent friend. Football teaches you how far friendships can take you, how much friendship can soften a blow or help with recoveries.

The fifth of May. Liverpool falls from first to second in the league, with one match to go. He calls Jamie repeatedly, once an hour, and then once every half hour, occasionally adding texts. Jamie, mate. Talk to me. It’s not completely decided yet. We are all so gutted.

But Gary doesn’t know who ‘we’ is because it’s just him. He is gutted for this dramatic Scouser and for his alma mater. And he feels that loss acutely, he feels it in his gut when he watches it for the show, something he wouldn’t dream of asking Jamie to do. Jamie will be on the show and will talk about the match but doesn’t need to watch it more than once. How could anyone forget what’s occurred.

Gary guesses his sights have somewhat slipped from United because they are finishing the season out pitifully. Gary’s been on the phone at length with Giggsy and his brother over the club for the past few weeks since Moyes’ dismissal. He can still hear Ryan’s voice, cross and tired. Third round of the FA cup. Semis of the League Cup. Out of the Champions League again at the QFs. And looking like we’ll finish hardly above mid-table. Community Shield is no consolation. This is changing. Now.

Gary’s been getting messages and calls all day about Liverpool and strangely enough, people asking how Jamie is doing. Whether they are taking the piss or are genuinely concerned, Gary doesn’t know, but it’s clear that they think Gary would know how Jamie is. Gary wishes he knew.

Jamie finally picks up on Gary’s last go at the phone before bed.

“Gaz, please. I’ve had enough today.”

“Only checking on you. Believe it or not, I’ve been getting messages all day asking about you. People think we’re mates.”

Jamie seems to attempt to laugh but it comes out more like a sob.

“We both wanted our little shite squads to win the league, didn’t we.”

Something chomps at Gary's insides.

“You lot deserve it.”

Neither of them speaks for a minute.

“I’ll come over, Jamie. We’ll get this sorted. You talked to Stevie?”

“You mad? Not a fucking chance. He needs this time alone. This is his life that’s gotten away from him, here.”

The anger in Jamie’s voice rings clear and sharp, and Gary feels foolish.

“Come over when you like, yeah, Gary?”

And Jamie hangs up.

When Gary shows up, it’s late and Jamie is asleep on his couch, the telly on and a match that’s not Liverpool/Palace being talked about on the set. Jamie’s in a Liverpool tracksuit and Gary is overcome by the sadness amassing in his chest, finally understanding how taxing it is to be Liverpool’s son.

Gary sits next to Jamie and lays his hand on Jamie’s shoulder and back, rubbing slowly and soothingly as to not wake him. Jamie hums and Gary strokes the hair right above Jamie’s ear, resting his hand deep in Jamie’s hair, cradling the back of his head until Jamie stirs and Gary retreats. Jamie doesn’t open his eyes but smiles, moving his hand to Gary’s wrist and moving Gary’s hand back to his head. Gary scoots slightly closer to Jamie and runs his fingers through his hair until the football goes off the telly and Gary falls asleep on the couch right next to him.

 

 

The season goes out with Liverpool finishing second to City. No matter what Gary says, Jamie struggles to see the pros of the situation. Champions League qualification is great, Gaz, but. But! Gary teases him that Jamie’s just lucky he has his support, being a Red Devil and all, and Jamie asks to record Gary saying that on his phone. Gary refuses.

They are both very tired but they both head to Brazil for the World Cup only weeks after the conclusion of the season. Jamie spends most of his time in Brazil watches Gary pace his hotel room.

“I feel like I’m bloody sleepwalking, Jamie. My nerves are tatters. Italy tomorrow.”

“I know, Gaz. Jesus, sit down or something, you’re making me anxious. This is doing your head in and you need to be clear for tomorrow.”

Gary looks a little more peckish than standard, a bit red from the sun and hair a bit longer than usual, not sickly but certainly not healthy. Jamie touches his arm and he’s burning up.

“You’ve got to meet with Hodgson soon, don’t forget. Eat something before you go or on the way.”

“You sound like my mum.”

“Someone has to take care of you if you won’t.”

Gary lays back on the bed and Jamie notices how his wiry body stretches out, his clothes heavy on his narrow build where his muscles still shape him but not as prominently as in the past. Jamie doesn’t know why he notices this and why it interests him like it does.

“You done, Carragher?”

“With what?”

“Looking at me.”

Jamie shoots him a stinging glare and Gary laughs, still on his back, looking up at the ceiling.

“I know we’re in Brazil, it’s hot, emotions are running high. I understand if you’re randy, mate.”

Gary cracks up and Jamie kicks him, getting up.

“You keep taking the piss, scrawny twat.”

Gary leans up on his forearms and brushes the hair out of his face.

“What’ll you do?”

Jamie doesn’t answer and Gary rolls his eyes, getting up from the bed. He's immediately shoved against the desk in the room by Jamie, hitting his tailbone hard against the edge, Jamie’s hands tight around his arms. Something on the desk behind them falls over. Gary stays still and stares at Jamie, who isn’t moving or saying anything or really even breathing, just holding him in place, digging Gary’s back into the desk.

“You are just - having you around is just - ”

“Having me around? I invited you here.”

Gary says cheekily and earns a thrash against the desk, not hard enough to hurt but hard enough to shut him up.

“You wanna be cheeky.”

Jamie says with a grin, low and teasing, and Gary understands where this might be going. He struggles against Jamie’s grasp, which only makes Jamie’s fingers sink harder into Gary’s arms, and Gary grins back.

“Come on, call me a posh manc. Call me names. I know you get off on it.”

Jamie moves forward and their faces almost touch but Jamie stops. He readjusts and now his bottom half is leaning slightly on Gary’s.

“But you aren’t a posh manc, are you? Should I bring up those old texts? Liverpool to win the league, you deserve it. Haven’t deleted them, knew they’d come in handy.”

Gary nudges upward and slots his mouth onto Jamie's, kissing him as long as Jamie will let him, which isn’t long before Jamie pulls away.

“You’ve got a meeting.”

“Just downstairs. Not for another twenty minutes.”

Gary whimpers when Jamie’s nails sink into his arms and Gary thinks Jamie will lean forward to kiss him, but he doesn’t.

“Jamie. Let me go.”

Gary adds a please when Jamie moves against him again, clumsy but in control, and lets Gary go. In one fell swoop Gary eases up to Jamie and kisses him again, taking his time to make sure Jamie feels him, how this has definitely been coming, how a year has shaped them, how it’s changed them. Jamie must be thinking about the same things, because they both begin to laugh at the same time and fall into each other, heaving with silent laughs.

“Christ, Jamie, I’m going to bruise. You don’t have to throw me around if you want a snog.”

“Don’t be such a fucking tease, laying out on the bed like that.”

Gary runs his hand briefly under Jamie’s shirt, still laughing.

“How long have you wanted to do that?”

Jamie pauses, pressing his fingers gently into Gary’s lower back, bringing him closer.

“For a while. Since the night you came over. Didn’t know what I wanted but this is it. I think. Still not sure what I want but this feels good.”

“You ever been sorted out by another bloke before? Didn’t strike me as the type.”

Jamie looks surprised and his face makes Gary laugh.

“Have you?”

“I haven't.”

“This what you and your United mates used to do? Fergie’s little lads.”

“No, idiot.”

“You kissed Scholes! In front of the world, like.”

“Quit whinging, you’re making me rethink this.”

Gary grabs Jamie’s face and gives him a proper snog, as Jamie breathlessly admits mid-movement from against the desk to the wall, tugging on each other’s clothes to bring the other closer.

Gary’s phone goes off and scares the two of them, Gary picking it up as Jamie takes his shirt off and folds it neatly on the top of the dresser drawers. Jamie unzips his pants and Gary starts to smile but covers his mouth, turning away to take his call.

“Walking down now, cheers.”

Gary puts his phone down and turns back to Jamie, slipping into his suit jacket and brushing his hair into place.

“Tensions are running high down there. Needed now.”

“I’ll just wait here.”

“Your room’s down the hall. Go wank off there. I'll be gone a while.”

Gary winks as he leaves, Jamie looking on with bright eyes.

 

 

They are in Brazil for less than two weeks. Jamie attends all three of England’s matches and leaves all three headed straight for his and Gary’s hotel, waiting in Gary’s room for him to come back and collapse, drained and shattered. If Jamie was gutted for them, Gary was disemboweled.

“You’re getting tan, Gaz. You’re fit.”

Jamie says gently to Gary the night of the Costa Rica draw that sees England out of the World Cup. Gaz lays his head in Jamie’s lap and Jamie brushes the hair back from his forehead.

“You think so? Have I got a modeling career in my future?”

“Nothing like Becks. Something more niche. Maybe just for me.”

“You do anything to bring up my United mates.”

They stay like this for a while, Gary shedding most of his sweaty clothing, tossing them haphazardly in his suitcase. They are leaving tomorrow early in the morning.

“Everything’s shite.”

“And you say I’m dramatic, Gaz.”

“Can’t wait to get back home. You can stay in here tonight if you like.”

Jamie smiles to himself as Gary lies back on the bed, his eyes sliding shut almost immediately. The Brazil sunset is a fiery pastel that lights up their whole room, playing off the glass of the balcony door and reflecting on Jamie standing over the bed.

“On the floor, then?”

Gary laughs silently and taps the bed next to him.

“Cheeky, cheeky. Give us a break. It’s been a long day.”

Jamie sheds most of his clothes as well and joins him. Gary turns to face him.

“You being here helps.”

“Well, I’ll be here then.”

 

 

Once they get home, things briefly subside. The plane takes off from Brazil and Jamie’s hand lingers just above Gary’s knee, and the plane touches down in England and they don’t touch or talk again until their next episode together.

Jamie is both relieved and nervous to see Gary and Gary looks the same, still tan and ruffled but looking at Jamie as if he’d never seen anything like him. Ed greets them both warmly and they don’t react.

“You forget what a phone is, Neville?”

“Seems like you have as well, bloody hypocrite.”

Jamie pulls him aside. “I’m not a fucking one-off. That’s not what this is.”

“What is this then, hm? Can we do our job and have a row about this later?”

That row doesn’t come for some time, until the staff on the show goes out for Jamie’s one-year anniversary on the show. It’s late August and they’re somewhere posh in town, Gary purposely sitting next to Jamie.

“You’re well sloshed, Carragher. Good mate!”

Everyone keeps saying, and Jamie grins, nodding and accepting whatever drink or shot they pass his way. He hasn’t had much to eat, either, so Gary isn’t surprised that Jamie can hardly hold a conversation by about ten that night.

“Gazza, lad. Fucking…listen. I’m bloody fucking knackered with chasing you round, like.”

Jamie’s being loud and so Gary shushes him, even though everyone else is quite tipsy and engaged in his or her own affairs.

“We’ve hardly spoken in over a month. You’re not chasing anyone. We bloody work together. I’m right there.”

Something inside of Gary begins to boil and he grabs Jamie, saying they are going for more pitchers, but Gary drags him into the bathroom and locks the door behind them. Jamie leans to kiss Gary but Gary shoves him away, standing on the opposite side of the small, swanky bathroom, leaving Jamie to lean clumsily against a potted plant.

“Jamie, you’ve got to listen to me. I don’t know what this is and we’ve got to have this conversation –”

Before Gary can say anything else, Jamie stumbles over and violently throws up in the toilet, his knees hitting the stone floor hard. Gary watches for a moment, stunned, and then goes over and brushes Jamie's hair back, rubbing a pacifying hand over his back and flushing the toilet after each heave. Gary cannot remember the last time he felt so disconnected with himself, cannot remember the last time he was so confused by the position in which he found himself.

“Jamie, Jamie, you knob.”

Gary teases as he sits down on the ground next to Jamie, whose cheek rests heavily on the toilet bowl.

“You look pathetic.”

“Not the time for a tease, Gaz.”

Jamie throws up a few more times before he is hardly able to sit up. Gary takes one look at Jamie's face, pallid and wet with tears, and he can't find it in himself to laugh. Gary moves Jamie so he is leaning against Gary’s chest and their legs stretch out before them, Jamie slouched forward onto the toilet and Gary’s hands running up the notches of Jamie’s spine. Between heaves, Jamie asks Gary with a sob if they are best friends. Gary covers his mouth to stifle his laugh, his chest oddly warm with fondness.

“Why so quick to replace Gerrard? You two are absolutely gone on each other, you can’t even bring him up on the show without getting into it. Is Stevie alright?”

Jamie nods, lurching forward through a dry heave. Gary pushes Jamie’s hair off his face again, and Jamie falls back a little, leaning his head against the stall wall, right next to Gary’s.

“He’s going to leave Liverpool. I know it.”

“You think so? For where?”

“Thierry’s been priming him for New York, Gaz. Come to the Red Bulls, Steven. There is a special place for you. But not with Thierry there. So Thierry must be leaving, too.”

“You and these conspiracy theories. Where’s your evidence, Jamie.”

They sit in silence for a moment before Jamie sits up again, coughing into the toilet.

“I’m glad you came to the show. You’re…Christ. You’re the best pundit I’ve ever worked with.”

Jamie laughs into the toilet bowl and Gary can’t help but laugh too.

“This the best time to tell me? I’ve got sick all over me and we’re sitting on the floor of a lou.”

“I mean it. Not just saying that.”

“Gary, you’re a fucking genius. Don’t know how I got to work with you but. I don’t know.”

Gary nods and eases Jamie back onto his chest. The door to the bathroom rattles with a massive knock and Gary yells busy! and quickly covers Jamie’s mouth before he can yell too, Gary laughing hysterically as he wipes the sick on his hand onto Jamie’s shirt. Gary turns Jamie's face toward his.

“Listen, Carragher. What happened in Brazil. I want that. I don’t know what you want but that’s what I want. If we can handle hating each other off screen and getting along on screen, I think we can handle snogging off screen and, well. Not snogging on screen.”

“Mate, we’ve got to move beyond snogging at some point.”

Gary laughs incredulously and swats Jamie in the head, garnering a groan from Jamie.

“You're obscene. Let’s clean you up."

 

 

It’s not long before Gary starts thinking of Jamie as a part of him. By Christmas, Liverpool are tenth, United are third, and Jamie will not get the hell out of his bed.

“Look, Jamie, go on. Get dressed, made up, whatever you like. Phil's coming over soon.”

“I like your brother. He’s fit.”

Gary throws a pillow at Jamie and throws on a Salford City shirt and a black jumper.

“No you bloody well don’t think that. And if you do, don’t tell me. He’s coming over to talk about Salford City, and please, if you stay, for fuck’s sake. Don’t. Say anything. About his job at United.”

“I told all of you he was going when Moyes went.”

“That’s sound, but still. Please. Be nice.”

Phil comes in a bit later and Jamie is on the couch, beaming, watching the Liverpool and Swansea match. Phil says hello and Jamie does back, adding brilliant draw yesterday from the mancs, Van Gaal’s doing big things. Must have a stunning first-team coach. Gary frowns and leads Phil into the kitchen.

 

 

By that time, they have also established some sort of order of how things go when they have sex. Some sort.

“Is it embarrassing that I have to use Google to figure out how to do this? Haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. Are people supposed to be able to do this without research?”

“No, yeah, I’d like it to be good as well. It’s been ace the past few times, no complaints.”

Gary laughs from below Jamie, Jamie typing away on his phone, slowly jerking Gary off as he does.

“Okay, I’ve found a guide. Step one says ‘emotions.’ We haven’t got any though, have we, Gaz?”

Gary chokes out a no as he ruts against Jamie’s hand.

“Next. Preparing to be on top or bottom. That’s settled, like. Innit, Gaz?”

“Holy fuck, hang on, Jamie, stop, I’m going to come and this won’t be as fun for me, ha. Okay. Yeah. I have always wanted you to suck me off. So if we can do that. Sound. No other requests.”

“Hang on, let me open a note on here. Suck. Gazza. Off. Perfect. We’ll defo do that. Running list. Happy to oblige.”

Gary starts to jerk himself off again and Jamie notices, knocking Gary’s hand away and wrapping his around Gary’s cock. Gary shivers and lies back, hissing.

“We’ve got condoms, lube. Gaz, I think we can do this thing. You’re a boss shag no matter what. You're fit.”

Gary blinks and looks away from Jamie as Jamie’s hand speeds up, his other hand massaging Gary’s thigh, sinewy and hard.

“Bugger off, I’m not that fit.”

“You’ve never seen yourself like I see you. Like this, me over you. You put your mate Becks to shame.”

“You’ve always got to bring him up somehow.”

They both laugh and Jamie leans down to kiss him, hard. To nip at his neck and collarbones and look him close and straight in the eye. And Jamie keeps saying it, you're bloody gorgeous – fuck, ah, Gary – you’re so good, so fit, as he fucks him, each time better than the last.

 

 

Jamie gets a call from Steven one night as they sit on Gary’s couch together, Gary’s head on Jamie’s shoulder. Jamie doesn’t immediately get up but after Steven’s first words on the phone – I’m leaving – Jamie jolts up.

“Christ, Jamie, I was nearly asleep! You alright?”

Jamie goes into the kitchen and he and Steven have that conversation Jamie’s unconsciously been waiting for, something he felt in the air but refused to acknowledge until it was right in front of him. Steven was leaving.

“Going to LA, Carra. After this season.”

With Steven, Jamie doesn’t have to ask questions. He knows Steven’s a wreck. He knows, in a perfect world, Steven wouldn’t be going. He knows why he has decided not to retire. He knows why he must leave. He lets Steven cry on the phone for a long time, until Steven says he has to go. Jamie brushes Gary’s hair as he walks back to the couch.

"Steven called. He’s leaving. The announcement’s coming soon.”

With Jamie, Gary doesn’t have to ask questions. He knows they’ll have to talk about it on the show, but Gary will offer to do it so Jamie doesn’t have to. He knows Jamie will lock himself the bathroom and turn the shower on if he needs to sulk alone, because that’s what Jamie does. Gary hardly knows what it’s like to live for Liverpool, and be haunted by the idea of Liverpool’s dearest son deciding to leave, but he’s learning. For the time being, Gary lets Jamie lean on him.

 

 

By the time the 2014-15 season comes to an end and the new one begins, few things have changed. England remains painfully average, as does Liverpool. United remain slightly above average. Jamie and Gary still work together on MNF. Jamie and Gary still lead busy, football-consumed lives and still banter like mad. Jamie and Gary still sleep together and hardly spend a day apart. Something that has changed, however, is that Gary now has a brother that coaches in Spain.

“I’m a bit jealous. I’ve told him as much.”

“Think you might be needed in England more than in Spain, Gary. Need to make a splash at the Euros. Make up for last summer.”

Gary sits on Jamie’s counter, watching Jamie make dinner. Gary is amazed by Jamie’s strict adherence to the same diet he ate as a player, as well as a slightly modified but still rather grueling exercise schedule.

“I fancy a pizza, Jamie. I don’t like eggplants.”

“Well, don’t eat the eggplant, then. Don’t whinge.”

“What are you going to do after MNF, Jamie?”

“Is this a hint that I should be looking for other gigs? MNF getting cancelled?”

Gary laughs. “Then we’d all have to watch Match of the Day. Christ. Britons committing mass suicide. Cause of death: having to listen to Gary Lineker’s voice every fucking night.”

It’s when Jamie really settles into their domesticity that Liverpool sack Rodgers and gain Klopp. This throws Jamie’s world into a mood similar to that of early 2014 Jamie, and Gary enjoys this, even when Jamie chats about Klopp every possible second on the show. It doesn’t annoy him. He loves seeing Jamie like this.

“Wish you could feel like this, Gaz.”

“Fergie made us feel that way quite often, actually.” And that earns Gary a box on the ear.

Leaving a taping of the show together in late November, they wrap up in their winter gear – coats, scarves, the works – because it’s a blustery frozen tundra out. Gary tells Jamie in the car that he’s been contacted by Valencia that day and they want him to manage the club. Immediately.

“What’ve you said?”

“Yes. Of course yes. Phil’s staying on and I want to work with him.”

Jamie goes steely.

“You didn’t give any thought to staying.”

“I want to manage. This is what I’ve wanted to do. You know that. Don’t make this harder.”

Jamie softens, breathes out and reaches over to grasp Gary’s hand. Jamie laughs despondently.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.” It's teasing, it's a joke, but it's genuine, it stings.

And something stings behind Gary’s eyes. He blinks rapidly and squeezes Jamie’s hand.

“If it makes you feel any better, Jamie, my first match is in a matter of days against Madrid. What an introduction to La Liga. I’m bloody terrified. I might be back here before you know it.”

“Stop it. You’re going to be so good. Absolutely legendary. Say hello to your brother for me. Will he get sacked if you do?”

Jamie says to Gary to make him smile, and it works.

 

 

He says the same thing when they say goodbye at the airport a day later. Jamie hugs him tightly and Gary balls his hand in the back of Jamie’s hair, the other wrapped tight around his neck.

“Going to come visit soon, Gaz.”

“You can tell everyone you’re going to Spain to visit Alonso. Can't have people getting the wrong idea about us.”

“I’ll just tell them I’m going to see you. No one will be surprised.”

Gary stares back at him for perhaps a bit too long, smiling so broadly, and then he’s gone. Jamie sits for a few minutes to gather himself and then he drives home, almost accidentally leaving the door unlocked for Gary like he usually would. He ignores the emails, texts, calls asking about Gary and if it’s true, what will become of MNF, who will take Gary's place. He only texts to Gary love you Gaz. safe flight and ring me when you arrive and to Stevie love you mate. hear you’re retiring after the upcoming season. ever thought about punditry?