How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

By Andrew Playle All Rights Reserved ©

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Chapter 44

JULY 2021

The rest of the summer had gone well. Bradley was totally relaxed and ready for the new season, Archie was managing the Jaipur project and updating him regularly and Deepak had got his visa in plenty of time to start pre-season with Hearts. All was going well on that front. He had phoned his dad and apologised for his attitude when they were in the bistro and offered to help re-locate the restaurant for them.

He asked them if they would like to pop over for a few days, but Brian’s flying ban put paid to that idea. Going by train would take days and they didn’t have that much time to spare travelling, what with sorting the new place out and everything. Frustratingly, that would mean that Brian and Bradley were unlikely to get together for months unless he got a free weekend, which wasn’t going to happen.

They had found new premises in Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch which was not only bigger, it was in a much nicer area. Shoreditch was one of those areas that had been up and coming for years and was popular with the young professional crowd from the City and Hipsters who would look for somewhere nice for dinner before hitting the clubs in the area and nearby Hoxton.

It would, of course, be much dearer on the rent but they weren’t far away from the original site and they hoped their regulars who ate there often would remain loyal to them in their new home.

With Bradley’s help, they managed to get the new bistro opened within a few weeks, keeping the old one open at the same time to keep things ‘on the boil’. Numbers had gone down after the incident, but they had picked up again once people knew the villains were behind bars.

By the time pre-season started, Bradley was itching to get under way, unlike many of his team mates who wanted the summer break to last a bit longer. It had been a good, if eventful, summer for Bradley and he wasted no time telling his colleagues about his Jaipur project. Quite a few of them turned out to be very supportive and promised to help out, especially those that were brought up in the favelas of South America, and some of them suggested extending the programme to include that area in any future developments. Bradley saw no reason why not, but this was going to take more than just Archie sending a few emails now and again. It needed a proper business manager and he hoped Archie would know just the right person to handle it.

Buoyed by his success, Bradley threw himself into training to get ready for a pre-season tour of China which would include two games against the top Chinese teams and selling an awful lot of merchandise. The Far East had always been a big market for selling anything FC Barcelona related and it paid to pop out there every couple of years to entertain their fan base. Bradley liked these trips a lot; it was only for a week and they would be royally looked after in exchange for loads of photos and autographs. Then it was back to reality and the new season in which they were expected to win everything again.

There hadn’t been much activity in the transfer market in the summer Bradley noticed. A couple of fringe players had moved on and been replaced either by a promising youngster in the reserves or a decent Spanish player snatched from Sevilla or Valencia. It looked like it had been busier back in England where Arsenal in particular had been very active. Alvarez had retired and moved back to Spain, so Bradley hoped he would be able to meet up with him again, and his old friend Jose Sanchez didn’t make the grade at Arsenal, was shipped back to Valencia who had promptly sold him to Real Mallorca at a bargain price. At least he might see more of him as well, he thought. He could see a reunion being arranged for the Winter Break at his place if it all went to plan.

China still fascinated Bradley and the tour was very successful. He only played forty-five minutes in each of the two games which was fine as it gave some of the fringe players a chance to shine for the other forty-five minutes. They had eaten some great food, met some lovely people and saw a bit of the country as well having played one game in Beijing and one in Shanghai.

Now, it was time to play for real. The opening fixtures in La Liga had not been kind to Barcelona with an away game at Atletico Madrid to start followed by Sevilla at home then newly promoted Eibar away who were largely an unknown quantity since being bought by a wealthy Arab the season before. They had invested heavily in some half decent players and it had all worked out well for them as they ran away with the league title ensuring they were promoted as champions with three games to spare. Much was expected of them this season, although realistically they would be happy with a top half finish.

Finally, the season was under way as the referee blew his whistle in the heat of the Calderon in Madrid. This was the moment they had all been waiting for. All the hard work in the gym and on the training pitch would now pay off with a bit of luck.

Despite any big signings, Barcelona looked, if anything, a better team than last season. The players were used to the way each other played and it was like telepathy on the pitch as Bradley made some slide-rule passes into areas where his team mates would run on to the ball and take a shot.

This was too much for Atletico who were roundly beaten by the score of 4-0 and ended up with a standing ovation from both sets of fans. Bradley got Man of the Match for his contribution of two goals and two assists. They had started as they meant to carry on. Wins against Sevilla 3-0 and Eibar 2-0 meant bookies were already throwing in the towel after only three games. The odds on them winning every trophy that season had been slashed to 2/1 and still punters were getting on board.

It was going to be an expensive season for the bookies at this rate. Things didn’t get any better them by the time Christmas was approaching either as by then, Barcelona had won every La Liga game, including beating Real Madrid away 2-0 and getting revenge for the previous season’s result, and they had won all five games in their Champions’ League group where they had been drawn with Dinamo Zagreb, Tottenham (Bradley enjoyed beating them 5-0 as they were Arsenal’s enemies) and Porto. Nobody wanted to be drawn against them, they were that invincible. Bets were now being taken on Barcelona winning every game of the season, including European games, and punters were happy and confident to invest at the odds of 4/1, which was unprecedented. The bookies were desperate for someone to beat them and save their season.

Bradley had played no small part in Barcelona’s success, as usual. So far, he had scored ten goals in the five Champions League games and twenty-four of the fifty-eight La Liga goals plus numerous assists in the fifteen games played so far.

Just one more game to play before the Winter Break and another happy family Christmas. Trouble was, Bradley had a dilemma to deal with. Brian couldn’t fly, and to be fair, it was his and Lucy’s busiest time of year and with the restaurant doing so well, they couldn’t afford the time off anyway. So, that would mean a Christmas without them, which would be a shame. So, he hit upon the idea of renting a large apartment for two nights just after Christmas in London where they could host the rest of the family and Archie (who was more or less family anyway) and have a second Christmas dinner with his dad and Lucy. The bistro would have quietened down in the few days after Christmas so they would have more time, they could show Carlos around London when it’s quiet and Bradley could spend some time with his dad. He could even see if Deepak wanted to join them rather than spend the festive season on his own. Everyones’ a winner, he thought.

He called Archie as soon as he and Jessie got back to Mijas and ran the idea past him.

’So, you want to rent a six bedroomed luxury apartment somewhere in the City or West End for the nights of 27th and 28th of December? That’s going to be a tall order this late in the day.’ He told Bradley. ‘Not sure if there are that many six bedders anywhere in London. What about in the countryside somewhere?’ Archie asked.

‘No, got to be in the centre of town. Going to show Carlos around London and we want to be able to walk it as there won’t be as many people about. Come on Archie, make it happen.’ He laughed.

‘Okay, leave it to me. I’ll see what I can find. I suppose you want me to sort out the catering arrangements as well. Does that include hiring a cook and staff?’ Archie replied with a sigh.

‘Of course! You can do it, Archie!’

Having left Archie to do the hard work, he took a cup of tea out on to the terrace and joined Jessie who was talking to her parents on the phone making plans for their visit and Bradley’s plans for a couple of nights in London, which they thought was a terrific idea.

This was going to be the best Christmas ever, he thought as he sipped his tea.

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