After Bradley and his Dad had gone through the Sunday papers and had lunch, they set off for Hampden Park so Bradley could join up with the Scotland team. He would be staying in dorms nearby and was going to share with three other boys who he would get to know well. Two of them played for Celtic’s youth team and he had met them before when they played against Hearts’ youth team. The other boy was an up and coming talent with Dundee United and they were all around the same age.
Once they had all settled in and Brian had set off back to Dunfermline, the boys were summoned to attend a get together with the coaches. This was to be held on the pitch at Hampden Park so they could get the feel of the place and be prepared for the upcoming games. They met Alan Irvine the under 17s manager along with Jimmy Anderson who was the new manager of the senior Scotland squad who gave them a speech about what it meant playing for your country and how every player had to give more than 100% in every game because only the best made it to the top. He closed by telling them he looked forward to seeing them play in these games and not to be surprised if some of them were pulling on a first team shirt soon.
Jimmy Anderson had recently taken over as manager of Scotland and had a rebuilding job to do. He liked to rely on younger players who still had that burning desire to succeed. You could be a good player, but without that attitude, you weren’t going to go far. Jimmy had himself played for Scotland many years ago and was in the last team to play in a major tournament for them. He was realistic about his chances of taking Scotland to another tournament, but the SFA had given him plenty of time to do it. He had heard good things about this young Bradley Gardner and was especially looking forward to watching him play. His friend Rory MacMillan had spoken very highly of him and he had watched the games against Celtic and Ross County with interest.
After the get together, they all filed back to their dorms for the night. Training would begin at 9am the next day, so there were to be no late nights for the boys. Bradley’s roommates had a similar attitude to Bradley in as much as they weren’t interested in drinking or smoking and took care of their bodies. One or two of their national team colleagues weren’t quite so strict with themselves and had sneaked in a few bottles of beer to while away the evening. They got found out during training the next morning after doing a urine sample and were sent home at once. Alan Irvine was strict in that respect. He didn’t drink and he expected his players to be the same. You only got one shot at fame in this game, plenty of time for drinking and abusing your body once you’ve retired as a player.
Bradley warmed to him immediately. He was certainly a disciplinarian and put them through their paces, but he could see this method was productive as they were working together as a cohesive unit. Nothing flashy, just getting the basics right first. He couldn’t wait until Tuesday when they faced Wales.
Brian and Sam drove through on the Tuesday evening to watch Bradley make his international debut. The rest of his family and friends were glued to the TV as the game got under way in front of fifty thousand fervent supporters under the floodlights and drizzle.
It didn’t take Bradley long to make an impact when in the tenth minute he swung a free kick into the box with precision which was met by the big centre forward who nodded it into the Wales goal. As the game approached half time, Bradley found himself with the ball near the centre circle after dispossessing a Wales player. He looked around him to see who he could pass to and found everybody marked closely so he decided to take it on alone and see if any space opened up for a pass. After taking the ball past three defenders, he slipped an inch perfect pass through to his team mate and ran into space to connect with the return pass and slam it into the net. 2-0 to Scotland at half time and the crowd was loving it.
The half time talk was a good one. Alan Irvine stressed how well they were doing and where they could improve, which they did in the second half, ending the game 5-0 with Bradley getting on the score sheet twice. The crowd were by now ecstatic as they marvelled at the young talents in front of them. Seldom had they seen such a promising bunch of players in dark blue shirts and they left dreaming about winning the World Cup in a few years. Well, at least qualifying for it for once.
The manager was understandably delighted at the performance and spoke to each of the players individually pointing out where they did well and where they didn’t, but overall, he thought it was a great win and something to build on. Jimmy Anderson came into the dressing room after a while beaming from ear to ear. He would be inheriting this squad in a few years and he was filled with enthusiasm for what they could offer.
Northern Ireland proved themselves to be slightly tougher opponents as Scotland beat them 3-1 two nights later. Bradley didn’t score in this game but his contribution was still very high. An even bigger crowd had witnessed this game after news spread about this promising bunch of boys who could lead Scotland to future glory.
Brian had driven through after work to watch his son’s latest performance and take him home afterwards as the squad went back to their clubs for the time being. As usual, the talk in the drive home was dominated by the two games and what coach had said, what Jimmy Anderson had told them and the best bit, Jimmy had taken Bradley to one side after the game to tell him to be ready for a call up to the seniors soon. They had Euro qualifiers coming up in March and if he kept up this level of performance then he could well be included in the squad. Brian was secretly disappointed that it wasn’t the England manager who was telling him that, but any remorse was quickly overshadowed by his pride that his son could be playing for the Scotland first team in a few months.
Bradley returned to Hearts training ground the next morning to prepare for the Edinburgh derby on Sunday absolutely knackered, which was quite understandable given that he had played three games in the last few days. He was given light training to do and didn’t take much part in the practise game that day. He was checked over by the physio and found to be in good shape considering, so he now looked forward to Sunday.
Rory MacMillan had plenty of encouraging feedback from Alan Irvine and Jimmy Anderson that morning, some of which he passed on to Bradley who soaked up the praise with a huge smile on his face.
‘You haven’t made it yet Bradley, but you’ve taken a big step towards it. Jimmy tells me he reckons you could be picked for the Euro qualifiers in March. Let’s make sure you are in good shape for them. I might rest you for a few games when Kevin McNair is fit again, but you will still get plenty of game time. Ready for your first Edinburgh derby?’ Rory asked.
‘Definitely boss. Got a few friends who are Hibees and they reckon they are going to beat us. No chance!’ He laughed.
‘That’s the spirit. About time we beat them; they’ve beaten us the last four times we’ve played them and it’s time for revenge!’ Rory replied.
Sunday couldn’t come quick enough for Bradley. If he kept this level up, then he wanted to play for the first team in the Euros in March. Scotland had been drawn in a tough group with Germany, Estonia, San Marino, Portugal and Albania and with a few games left they were sitting third behind Germany (who were as good as there already) and Portugal. If they beat Portugal and San Marino in March then they would be in second and stood a great chance of qualifying without the need to go to a play off.