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The Steel City

A tale of deception and corruption from the pen of Simon Cheetham


This piece contains flash photography, gratuitous bad language and graphic descriptions that some readers may find disturbing.

It’s now got to the point that when someone I’ve just met asks me what I do for a living I reply ‘IT’, or maybe ‘accountancy’. I’ve learnt that telling the truth, that I’m actually a private detective, really is more trouble than it’s worth. They imagine excitement, glamour and adventure. Car chases, fast women and casinos. The reality is a 12-year-old VW Beetle that needs two new back tyres, a studio flat above a Chinese takeaway, a tiny office in the redlight area of town and, oh yeah, two broken marriages that have landed me with a couple of women who still see me as their meal ticket and demand their monthly pound of flesh. Legally, at this point I am contracted to make it quite clear I do not and never have endorsed cannibalism of any kind.

Glamorous? That’s not the word I’d use. No, my days are often spent sat outside grubby hotels waiting to photograph adulterous couples or perhaps tracking down some poor soul who has skipped town owing a few hundred pounds to the solicitors who had brokered his particular acidic divorce. And he never got his Fall CDs back. If you can afford £75 an hour plus expenses – then I’m your man. Just remember, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ (Elton eventually went with piano player, which is fine with me, I was only trying to help). You’re the one who wanted to know if your partner really is taking Spanish lessons every Thursday afternoon, well now you do, and I hope you’re happy – but of course you’re not. Maybe in retrospect, you were better off not knowing and just waiting for things to wither on the vine. Which in my experience, they always do.

It was a damp grey November Monday morning. As usual I dropped into ‘The Little Nibble’ for a takeaway coffee. As I waited for my double espresso I took a look out of the grease-smeared window. North Watford is no cultural hub at the best of times, but today, with the winter drizzle permeating every nook and cranny, it looked particularly bleak. A few glass-half-full residents had taken it upon themselves to give the forthcoming festive season an early welcome by displaying rows of cheap gaudy lights in their front windows, although this only showed that when those nylon net curtains had last been taken down and washed Troy Deeney had looked like a promising new signing.

Stepping over the detritus of the previous night in the doorway, the usual condoms and needles, I shuffled up the dark stairs to my office. The door sign had once read ‘Simon Cheetham, Private Investigator’. Over the years most of the letters had fallen off so it now simply pronounced ‘I AM A TIT‘.

As I sat at my desk sipping the coffee I went through the morning’s post. A bill from BT, a takeaway menu from Xavier Gravelaine’s bistro, a postcard from Barry Ashby, enjoying a week in the Canaries, lucky dog, and an interesting-looking envelope with my name and address written in a stylish, flowing hand. Intrigued, I opened it. Inside was page 16 from the previous day’s Financial Times, with a small article at the foot of the page circled in black pen. The FT wasn’t on my radar, so this really was news to me. The headline read ‘FA to Probe Hornets/Blades Links’. The piece, just a couple of hundred words, mentioned an ‘insider’ had contacted the paper to inform them that an algorithm on a newly installed computer system at football’s governing body had thrown up a number of anomalies regarding transfers over the years between Watford and Sheffield United. I thought for a moment. Off the top of my head I could think of half a dozen or so, but so what? It was just then my phone rang. A woman’s voice. “You read the article?” “Yes”, I replied. “I’m coming straight up”, then the line was dead.

In her mid-twenties and dressed all Annie Hall, pretty if you could get past the over serious expression.

“Zoe March, freelance journalist. I wrote the FT article.”

She looked around the office, focusing on the second desk. On it were a few papers and files, and a ladies’ jacket hung from the chair.

“My secretary has popped out for a few minutes.” She arched an eyebrow.


We both knew there was no secretary. Before sitting down, she pulled a handkerchief from her bag and dusted down the chair, then lit a cigarette.

“So, what do you think?”

“What, the article?”

“No, red or black shorts – yes, the article.”

"Well, all clubs buy and sell players. There’s nothing strange about that.”

“Take a look at this.” She pushed a piece of folded A4 paper across the desk.

There was a list of names.

“Take your time.”

She lit another cigarette. Currie, Eddy, Scullion, Franks, Garbett, Rostron, Holdsworth, Hetherston, Agana, Rees, Hodges, Morris, Bromby, Henderson, Williamson, O’Toole, Webber, Page, Morris and of course Bassett.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, I haven’t got to Harley, Dyer, Falconer, Furlong, Devlin, King, Powell, Shipperley, Spring and Waugh yet. As you see, it’s been going on for years, decades.”

“What has exactly?” Clearly exasperated by my obvious stupidity, she blew a powerful jet of tobacco smoke across the desk.

“Players by the truckload going from Watford to Sheffield United. Something is going on, and I want you to help me find out just what it is. Jesus, they only signed Brian Deane because they thought he was Luther Blissett.”

“Whoa there Tiger, why me?”

“It was before my time of course, but I’ve read about the Phillips Match Report Case*. I like your style, and let’s face it, no one is going to suspect an obscure, anonymous, unknown, unsuccessful, low-key one-man band like you of having anything to do with a high-profile affair like this.” I think the phrase I was looking for was ‘damned by faint praise‘.

“The FT have OK’d £250 a day and a bonus of ten grand for you if we get the story.”

“Well, maybe I can find a space in my schedule.”

We both looked down on my day-to-day diary. The only entry for the week was ‘Thursday, Collect Dry Cleaning’. Fuck it, that suit will have to wait.

That evening I sat down with the list of players, dates of their transfers and the fees involved. As I worked my way through a pack of Camel cigarettes and a bottle of Jack Daniels I made notes of the managers involved with the deals, trying to see if there was any link. I came up empty on that one. Likewise, there didn’t seem to be any connection with either of the clubs’ board of directors. The plot thickened. I went online to continue my research, trying to find any clue to just what had been going on. With the benefit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, I was able to access the financial records of both clubs. I drained another shot of whiskey and screwed up the now empty pack of cigarettes. It was close to 3am, I was ready for bed. Just as I was about to close down the computer, the name of a company seemingly involved in all the transfers caught my eye. Rocket Holdings, registered to a residential address in Pinner. The company owned one retail outlet based at Watford Market. After a few hours’ sleep I was back in my office. Zoe arrived around 10am with fresh coffee and some Danish pastries. I told her what I had discovered.

“Hmm, good work. First thing we should do is take a trip over to Pinner.”

We easily found the address, a semi-detached house a few minutes from the Underground station. We decided to give it an hour to see if there was any activity. We were in luck, 20 minutes later a large white van pulled up. A tall, slim woman appeared from the house and opened up the garage door. She looked vaguely familiar. The van driver and his mate hopped out and began to carry large boxes into the garage. They wore green fleeces with what I presumed was a company logo on the back, but being 50 metres or so away neither Zoe or I could make out what they said. Zoe rummaged in her leather bag and brought out a pair of binoculars. “Wilson Cutlery, Sheffield.” The two men completed their delivery, handed the woman some paperwork, then drove away. We watched as she gave the boxes a onceover, then pulled the garage door closed. I took the binoculars from Zoe and took a close look at this mystery woman. There was no doubt in my mind, it was

Kiki Dee. Kiki went back into the house, reappearing moments later now accompanied by an immaculately dressed man. The two of them loaded the boxes into a BMW estate car then set off towards Watford. We followed at a safe distance and watched as they pulled into the loading area of Watford Market. I parked the car and the two of us walked across the road to the market itself. It was now lunchtime and the food stalls were busy with office workers coming and going. We eased our way through the throng of hungry customers. I tapped Zoe on the arm and pointed towards a stall at the far end of the building. ‘Dave’s Cutlery’. We wandered over to see a vast array of knives, forks, spoons and other stainless steel cutlery on sale. Looking to the rear of the stall we spotted Kiki and her companion opening the newly delivered boxes and pricing up the new stock. Now much closer, I recognised the man. It was David Furnish. Things were beginning to fall together. We retreated to a coffee bar and took stock of just what was going on.

It was clear to the both of us that Elton John was receiving stocks of stainless steel cutlery as extra payments from Sheffield United for the various transfers. My guess was that David Furnish, short of things to do whilst Elton was touring and recording, had been given the responsibility of selling the cutlery. A nice little earner. Kiki Dee had not had a hit record since she had duetted with Elton in 1993 and the pair had reached number two in the UK with True Love. She, like all of us, has bills to pay. Elton is of course fabulously wealthy, but he lives an extravagant lifestyle and the extra income from the cutlery must come in handy. I looked over at Zoe.

“Well, what do you want to do?” I asked. “There it is, a big story. Big enough to really make your name.”

Zoe drank her coffee and looked over at Kiki and Furnish arranging the cutlery for sale. “You’re a Watford fan Simon. I adore Elton’s music – maybe sometimes a story is just not worth breaking. You’ll miss out on your ten grand though.”

“I can live with that Zoe, the ex-wives would take most of it anyway.”

I looked at my watch. If I hurried, I could catch the dry cleaners before they closed for lunch.

*From Wikipedia. The Phillips Match Report Case, also known as Oli’s Lolly, was a footballing scandal that occurred in October 1988. Football reporter Oliver Phillips was discovered to be fabricating Watford match reports. He claimed to be in attendance at games, accepting the 60p-a-mile travel allowance and £5 food payment, but was actually staying at home. The scheme was discovered when Stoke City complained to the Football League following their home game against Watford. Phillips had reported that Watford had won the game 2-0 with both goals scored by Stuart Rimmer. The actual result was a 2-0 win for Stoke, whilst Rimmer had been transferred to Notts County the previous month.