How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 10

Brian was talk of the office after his son’s exploits the previous day and happily took the plaudits and congratulations from his colleagues. He had felt ten feet tall since the final whistle had blown and the next few days were going to be much the same with a succession of emails and phone calls from his clients making sure he stayed ten feet tall. He had also fielded some calls from football agents asking who represented Bradley. It wasn’t something Brian had thought about but if this carried on then he was going to need someone professional to look after his best interests. Trouble was, agents had a less than stellar reputation as many of them were just gold digging parasites who were only interested in negotiating an expensive transfer so they could line their own pockets, rather than ensure it’s the right move for their clients.

He decided to speak to the club about it and seek their advice. No doubt some of the players there had agents so it would be better if one of them would be recommended rather than discuss it with someone he didn’t know of.

As they had played on Sunday, the first team had Monday off which was just as well as it gave Bradley time to calm down and reflect on Sunday’s events. His phone had been going mad and he had to charge it three times during the course of the day. Mostly friends and family wishing him well along with texts from his team mates. One from his manager asking him to go straight to his office tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. with a smiley face emoji at the end of the message. That brought a smile to his face as he prepared him and his Mum some lunch.

It was nice to have some time with Mum, he didn’t see that much of her on her own and since she wasn’t that interested in football it was good to talk to someone about anything but football. She was passionately interested in his career though, but as Mums are wont to do, she tried to bring him back to earth by pointing out what could go wrong. He appreciated her advice; it was different from Dad’s advice which would normally include how to beat a certain defender or how to make space on the pitch. He listened to his advice, but really the only tactical advice he would listen to would be his coaches. He didn’t like to say anything to hurt Dad’s feelings though, so he nodded in all the right places when needed.

Martine asked him where he saw himself in five, ten and twenty years. It wasn’t something he had thought about, nor discussed with his Dad. It took him a while to answer her.

‘I hadn’t thought about it, Mum. I guess in five years I want to be playing for a bigger club and playing for Scotland. Ten years? Doing the same? Twenty years is a hard one. I’ll be thirty-six and probably retired by then. Maybe I’ll go into management, but whatever happens, as soon as I’m earning silly money I’ll be looking after you and Dad.’ Bradley explained.

Martine smiled broadly. All any parent wanted was to see their children be happy, healthy and successful in whatever career path they choose. She knew Bradley had the world at his feet, quite literally, and this brought her immense happiness. Martine and Brian had got over their problems of the past and were now making sure they had time for each other and their sex life had improved greatly so she had no need to risk everything by seeking attention elsewhere. She was glad the boys would never be likely to find out what she had been up to but it had crossed her mind that certain journalists would like nothing more than to find out some dirty secret in Bradley’s life if he became really famous. It was something she would have to deal with if it happened.

Next morning, at 8:30 a.m. sharp, Bradley was waiting outside the manager’s office, as requested.

Rory arrived a couple of minutes later and greeted him by ruffling his hair.

‘Morning superstar! How you feeling today?’ He asked.

‘Morning boss, I’m okay. Still getting over the game and everything that happened, to be honest.’

‘Better get used to it, Bradley. You’re in the starting eleven for now, at least until Kevin McNair gets back to full fitness. Talking of which, I know you’re getting a hard time from him; don’t take any notice of him. He’s understandably feeling a bit vulnerable, it happens to old pros when they reach the twilight of their career. He doesn’t mean anything personal but just try to stay away from him as much as you can. I’ve spoken to captain and he will be keeping an eye out for you. Now, what happens next?’ Rory asked him.

‘I guess I keep on training and learning and getting better.’ He replied.

‘Correct, up to a point. You don’t need all the publicity that’s going to come your way, but that can’t be helped. It can be managed, but it will be up to you to deal with it. It doesn’t suit everyone and can have a detrimental effect on some players. Keep your feet on the ground and doing what you do and you’ll be fine. You’ve got the internationals coming up soon, which will be a good chance to get away from here for a week or so and give you something else to think about. Best of luck with them Bradley. I’ll be in the stands watching you.’

With that, Bradley left his office and prepared for training. He was greeted with similar bouts of hair ruffling, friendly hugs and high fives from his team mates and he was relieved to see that McNair wasn’t among them. He was in the physio’s room getting his injury treated.

Fraser Ingram, the captain, took Bradley to one side and congratulated him on his performance on Sunday but warned him the hardest work was still to come. He had set himself a high benchmark to achieve each game and whilst Fraser had no doubts he could achieve it, he warned him not to lose focus and keep working hard. All the advice given to him was similar, but relevant. He knew the score.

He had a busy schedule coming up. Their next game was away to Ross County which meant a long drive up to the Highlands on Saturday morning. That would be followed by reporting to the Scotland camp on Sunday preparing for the games against Wales and Northern Ireland on the following Tuesday and Thursday, then back to league duty with a home game against their local rivals, Hibernian on Sunday. All four games would be on TV which meant his friends and family could all get to see him.

Ross County are the most northerly professional team in the United Kingdom and not many teams relished travelling there, apart from near neighbours Inverness, as it was such a long day out. The team bus left Hearts’ training ground at Riccarton around 9am for the four hour journey through the Highlands to Dingwall where Ross County were based.

Bradley had been up the A9 a few times with his parents and remembered it was a very scenic route, but the road had the worst safety record in Scotland due to the road alternating between single and dual carriageway at regular intervals. Get stuck behind a caravan or a tractor and you were lumbered. They reached Dingwall just before 1pm and unloaded from the bus into the dressing room where they were met by a Ross County official who showed them around and told them to give him a shout if they needed anything.

The next couple of hours were spent warming up ligaments, discussing tactics and making jokes about each other to re-enforce the team spirit, which was particularly good at Hearts. A lot of banter was aimed at Bradley who took it all in good faith, especially when they asked him for a hat-trick today.

There were at least a thousand Hearts supporters who had made the trip up north and they made the most noise as the teams emerged from the tunnel on to the pitch. Hearts dominated the first half, going in at half time 3-0 up with Bradley setting up two of the goals without scoring himself. His reading of the game was outstanding for someone as young as him and this caused the Ross County defence to misread his actions every time. They tried to hack him down at every opportunity but he was too quick for them.

In the second half, Bradley came up trumps and scored two goals of his own, the first one a superb volley from a corner. With the final score 5-0 to Hearts, he joined his team mates going up to the away fans and applauding them for their support which they gladly took on board. They continued to chant Bradley’s name as the players eventually headed for the tunnel to get ready for the long drive home. Sunday’s papers were going to be full of praise for his latest performance once more and he couldn’t wait to go through the papers and cut out reports of the game where he was mentioned. He was starting to enjoy that Sunday ritual with his Dad, it was a special shared moment with him.

They reached Riccarton just after 9pm and cadged a lift home with one of the other players, Ben Wilkie, who wasn’t much older than Bradley but had been at Hearts for a few years and had been in the first team for most of those years. On the twenty minute drive back to Dunfermline, they talked at length about the game, how they had torn Ross County apart and their chances to actually win the league for the first time in years. The SPL title had been shared between Rangers and Celtic since 1985; Hearts hadn’t won it since 1960, although they had come second a few times since then. If they kept this form up, it could be their year.

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