If you were into football video games as much as I was, you will have a weird relationship with certain players. Despite never having seen them play, fond memories may exist in your head of a player’s ability that are entirely divorced from reality. Weirder still, you might think that a player has a personality problem purely because when you were 13 playing Championship Manager he was late for training and kept angling for a move to a rival club.
For instance, I will always think Mark ‘Marco’ Bresciano was world class. He was the creative nexus of my world-conquering Parma outfit on Pro Evo 4. That team won everything, admittedly because I had it on that setting where you could sign classic players as free agents in Master League Mode and I bought Maradona, but still, the Barrilete Cósmico very much played second fiddle to Bresciano. I’ve just YouTubed him. Half of his top 20 goals are tap ins, one of which he celebrates by doing that stand-and-stare Cantona celebration. He was clearly, in real life, fine. Learning this presents a problem of cognitive dissonance though because my Pro Evo image of Bresciano will always come out on top.
I imagine there’s a German word for this sort of concept, but in English we’ve got zilch.
My farthest foray into the hypothetical depths of Total Club Manager 2003 (EA’s rival to Champ Man where, if you also had FIFA, you could manage your team, eject the disk, slap FIFA in, and assume control of your players) involved Porto. I think I got to about 2019 with them, won an absolute f*ck-ton (including your inter-continentals) and then decided to try talking to girls, left the house, couldn’t find any, bought GTA San Andreas, came home and stuck that in.
This article tells the story about how I moved to Grove St. and actually gunned down a real-life Balla whilst cruising for ass in a low-rider.
IMAGINE! No, I met Edgaras Jankauskas.
Well, in actual real-life Edgaras won the Champions League with José Mourinho’s Porto in 2004 (to date the only Balt to ever do so), before going on to play for Hearts and beyond that becoming somewhat of a journeyman striker - 16 clubs, 10 different countries, ending with brief stints at New England Revolution and Fakel Voronezh.
But in my Total Club Manager narrative I was in charge of Porto in 2004, and while we didn’t win the Champions League that year, Edgaras proved his worth enough to become my captain. I bought a buck-toothed wizard from PSG named Ronaldinho to feed him and the rest, as they say, is completely false. Anyway Jankauskas became a Porto totem, a club legend who managed to weather formation changes, an almost total turnover of playing staff, and whatever else he had going on in his make believe mid 30s, to break all Porto goal scoring records and retire in 2017 aged 42. He amassed a huge haul of 8 European Cups and 12 Portuguese league titles and probably some domestic cups too, I can’t really remember.
12 years on and I’m a comedian that you won’t have heard of, but for some reason I can sell tickets in Eastern Europe. I’d headlined a tour that went round some of the Baltics in 2015 that also had Lithuanian comedian and massive Spurs fan Paulius Ambrazevicus on it, and he managed to get me out to his home turf the following year.
As is the norm he sent me over some fairly inane press questions to fill out the week before the show to help promote it, “What do you know about Lithuania?” etc. I answered by saying that Edgaras Jankauskas had won the Champions League in ’04. I Googled that just to make sure that was correct, saw a photo of him and was struck by his devilish jawline. I mean, mega phwoar. So I added, “He is also a thoroughly beautiful man”. As soon as I sent it, I had a brief thought that in former USSR countries heterosexual appreciation of male beauty might be an alien concept, but then I realised that that in itself was pretty bigoted as I’d just got that from Russian homophobic crowd chants.
A couple of days before my flight out, I got a message from Paulius saying that I had gone viral in Lithuania. Initially I was like “Well of course, there are only 6 people who live there, so all that is is one bloke sharing it on his mum’s Facebook wall”.
But then I clicked on the link and it turns out that by ‘viral’, he meant that I was on the front page of Lithuania’s main news website - “British comedian: Edgaras Jankauskas is a thoroughly beautiful man”.
It must have been a hell of a slow news day. I mean Edgaras is like Lithuania’s Beckham. But if Paulius came over here to do a gig and in the build up said “David Beckham is slam dunk fit”, it wouldn’t bother the Daily Mail website. Well actually it probably would but the story would be more about free movement within the EU – something outraged about them ‘coming over here, complimenting our most treasured hunks, willy nilly’. But then the stakes got properly high when Paulius said that he had showed the article to Edgaras Jankauskas himself and that he was thinking of coming to the gig!
At this I just burst out laughing. I think all football fans have the sport to thank for giving them geography lessons, with strikers who make it in the main European leagues becoming synonyms for their lesser-heard of countries. Think of Liberia and you think of George Weah; Latvia and Marian Pahars; Trinidad & Tobago and Dwight Yorke. This man Edgaras was literally the only thing I knew about the place and on the day I was in Lithuania I might actually meet him. Not only that but I already felt I knew this guy, I had spent more than a simulated decade (real time: 2 summer holidays) helping him fulfil dreams he never did in real life. I almost felt like he owed me something, as in my head he was a rock-star that I had made. It’s a bit like I’m Pete Waterman and ever since 2001 I’ve been listening to Hearsay on repeat, imagined they’re the biggest band in the world, and still email them asking for commission. When in reality Danny now tours working men’s clubs doing Motown covers.
On the day of the gig it was still 50/50 as to whether Jankauskas would make it. According to Paulius he was fairly busy being officially announced as Lithuania’s national team manager and so would be making his way from a press conference at their training complex just out of town.
The gig itself went ok, I remember it being harder than in neighbouring countries. I have a theory about audiences: the further east you go the less giving they are. As in, American audiences are stir crazy wild, Irish audiences are a bit less so but still pretty raucous, British ones are great but you’ve got to put the work in and then central/eastern European ones will stare at you confusingly before bursting into laughter and applause. It can be quite unsettling actually, every build up you’re questioning whether you’ve done something to anger them, and each laugh is a huge sigh of relief.
I was at the bar afterwards flogging some recordings of past shows when I saw a ridiculously well put together lady strut past, clearly a model. She was walking past me when she turned, shouted something in Lithuanian and pointed me out to someone at the other end of the bar. It was then that I realised this was woman was none other than Baltic Posh Spice, because making a bee line for me Becks in the USSR himself, Edgaras Jankauskas.
He shook my hand and said “Just so you know I am not a gay.” If you could have taken me back to the summer of 2003 and told me that that little dot at the top of my 4-1-2-2-1 would greet me with these words, I probably would have believed you, seeing as I was 13 and that’s how most conversations started.
He turned out to be an absolutely solid gold ledge. I chewed his ear off for half an hour about Mourinho (I’m a Chelsea fan) and the rest of his playing days. I drank it all in earnestly as he said that Deco was the best he’d ever played with or against, that Mou was pure motivation and drive and that that’s why he only ever lasted 2 and half seasons anywhere (in his words, after winning trophies, players’ ambition turns sour at the punishing levels of training he demands).
I congratulated him on the national team job and asked him about their chances. Having bemoaned how young footballers in the country “lack the simplest techniques and basics” he seemed under no illusion of the task facing him and told me that having watched Lithuania take until the 93rd minute to score the winner against the 10-men of San Marino (2-1 FT) he had seen it as his duty to impart some of the wisdom accrued from playing around the world. I asked if he had José’s mobile number and he said he had a Portuguese one for him from about 11 years ago. I said that that’d be just fine thanks and he gave it to me.
If José ever returns to his mother country I’m hoping he’s kept the same number; or at the very least, every now and then he gets his old blower out the kitchen drawer and turns it on for old time’s sake. He’s probably got some photos of his 2004 squad on it. Well, I know I do.