How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 51

Barcelona’s unbeaten run continued well into March winning all ten games in La Liga and finding themselves twelve points clear with eight games remaining. There had been some close calls like away to Alaves when they were 1-0 down with five minutes left on the clock before Bradley won a penalty, which he deftly tucked away, and followed up with a last second header to win 2-1 and deny Alaves a share of the spoils.

In the Champions League, they had smashed their way through to the Quarter Finals where they would face Benfica home and away. Never in the history of the Champions League had one team been so dominant. Barcelona had beaten the likes of Manchester United, Ajax, Besiktas and Bayern Munich by cricket scores and made it look so easy.

Bradley was having a superb season now the rumours had stopped and his personal life was more settled. So far, he had scored twenty-eight goals in La Liga and a further twelve in the Champions League. And he had made a record number of assists making him the most successful player in the tournament’s history.

But the big prize that season was to take place in Australia in June and July. The 2022 World Cup where Bradley had set his hopes on lifting the trophy for the ailing former Scotland manager, Jimmy Anderson, who had got them this far and been a mentor to Bradley and his young Scotland team mates.

Jimmy had undergone chemotherapy which had been slightly successful in as much as it would hopefully prolong his life long enough to see them succeed in Australia. There was no doubt the team were ready for it and the determination was there for all to see. It would be a shame that Jimmy wouldn’t be well enough to make it, his travelling days were over and the trauma of flying 12,000 miles would be too much, so he was ready to watch it at home, surrounded by his loved ones. Bradley only hoped he would survive long enough and couldn’t wait for June to come around.

In the meantime, Bradley had to make sure he was injury-free and wasn’t subject to some of the bone-crunching tackles that were part and parcel of professional football. He was usually nimble enough to get out of the way of the really bad tackles, but now and again he would get kicked and have to be subbed. He knew broken bones and hamstring injuries were a part of a footballer’s life, but if he kept his body in good shape then it shouldn’t happen to him.

Springtime in Barcelona was wonderful. Winters could be cool, sometimes as cold as the UK, but once March had passed then it was a joy to behold. The trees were blossoming, you could sit outside cafes and bars and everyone had a smile on their face. It was also perfect weather for playing football as it got a bit too hot for a Scotsman in May when the most important games of the season were played. Thankfully, he had got more used to it over the last couple of years and had grown acclimatised to the heat. As soon as he got back to his Barcelona place after training or a match, he loved to sit outside listening to the birds singing whilst sipping a cup of tea and nibbling on some healthy tapas.

At times like this, he thanked his lucky stars that he was successful at what he did for a living and could enjoy living this lifestyle. His thoughts almost always drifted towards his parents and brother as he wondered how they were doing. Those thoughts normally ended up with a phone call home to check up on them.

He had been reading the reviews of Bistro Lucia and was pleased to see they were all raving about his dad’s restaurant. Bradley had certainly been impressed with the food and ambience when they visited the place, despite the interruption from Buster and Duke. Feeling happy for him made Bradley pick up his phone. It would be the quiet time between sittings back in London so he should have time to speak.

‘Hi dad, how’s it going?’

‘Hello son, nice to hear from you. It’s all going well here still. Packing them in every day, sending them off with a smile on their face. How are things with you and Jessie?’ Brian replied.

‘All good here too. Looking forward to the World Cup. Wish you could have come out to watch me.’ Bradley lamented.

Brian didn’t tell him that he was making plans to appeal the airline ban and try to get it overturned. Hopefully, it will be a nice surprise if he got it lifted and turned up in Australia. He had a solicitor on the case and he was confident of a win.

The rest of the call was mainly small talk about the weather, Barcelona’s run of games and so on. But once he hung up, Bradley felt immensely better for it as it was re-enforcing the bonds that should never have been broken.

The call to his mum straight afterwards had different topics of conversation. Was he looking after himself, eating the right things, missing his mum and that kind of thing. Mums never stop fussing over their little boys and that suited Bradley. He was equally glad she had got herself together after what she had been through and happy that Carlos was looking out for her. He told her they would be back in Mijas around May the 20th straight after their last league game when he would have a week to recover before setting off to Australia for the World Cup with a brief stopover in Malaysia for a couple of friendlies on the way.

He didn’t bother calling Sam, he knew he would still be at school and couldn’t be disturbed so he made a mental note to call him much later.

As he had a bit of time on his hands, he thought he would skim through some of the online newspapers from Edinburgh which he still considered to be his home and Google some of the players he had known from his time at Hearts to see what they were up to as he had lost touch with a number of them.

It was when he Googled Kevin McNair that he got a shock. There were a number of tabloid headlines from a couple of months ago about him getting beaten half to death in a mysterious assault in Fuengirola. Bradley couldn’t resist reading some of the stories to find out what had happened and once he had finished, he wasn’t totally surprised that someone had taken umbrage with him. He really was a slippery bloke and Bradley had never liked him, so it served him right.

He read how McNair was rushed to hospital and treated for a bleed on the brain and various broken bones but was making good progress after six weeks in hospital.

McNair was looking forward to getting home and was feeling much better than when he arrived as he gingerly pulled his trousers on and slipped into his beach shoes. The doctor had given him plenty of painkillers to take should he need them and advised him not to drink any alcohol while he was taking them as they would react.

No chance of that, thought McNair as he threw them into a bag the hospital had given him to take his stuff home. First thing he was going to do when he got home was limp round to his local and sink a few beers.

He climbed into the back of the taxi carefully, not wanting to crush his ribs or pass out again, and told the driver where to go. It was time to reflect on what had happened, without telling the local Police, and making plans to not let it happen again. He had spoken to some of his contacts back in Edinburgh about McInally’s bookie friend and asked them to find out if he was on the level and could be trusted. He was pleased to learn that this bookie didn’t like to welch on his bets as he had a reputation to maintain having taken over McInally’s business and his goons, Marek and Ludo. He was also warned not to mess him about. That was okay, he had already paid his ante so he had kept his side of the bargain.

The driver had tried to make conversation with McNair on the trip back to his apartment, but as his linguistic skills only amounted to a few words it was a bit one-sided. They pulled up outside his home and McNair gave the driver the fare along with a decent tip, then hobbled up to his door.

His apartment looked like a bomb had hit it while he was away, not because someone had turned it over but because he was such a messy slob and hadn’t cleared up very well. Now, there were flies everywhere and an army of ants marauding through his kitchen to a pile of something tempting in the fridge.

Shit, he thought. How was he going to clean this mess up in his state? There must be a cleaner locally who would do it for a small fee, perhaps he should ask in the bar. He could play on the sympathy vote and explain how he had been robbed and didn’t have much money, which was true in a way as Ferraro had indeed taken €1,000 off him and he wasn’t likely to see that again. He was going to have to dip into his savings again until he got straight.

Luckily, his local bar was only across the road so he limped in and struggled on to his favourite bar stool and ordered a beer, contrary to doctor’s advice.

The barman asked McNair where he had been for the last six weeks as he had missed his miserable face and acid comments. He told him about how he got beaten up and left for dead by some unknown robbers in Fuengirola. There was no way he was going to mention Ferraro to the barman, for all he knew he could be in with him. He wouldn’t put it past him. It was a smallish community and all the locals knew each other so the prospect of what would happen if he told the truth didn’t bear thinking about as it would go straight back to Ferraro.

He got a knowing look from the barman when he finished telling the story which indicated to McNair that he did indeed know Ferraro and wouldn’t think twice about dropping him in it if he told the truth. McNair decided to change the subject and asked him if he knew of a cleaner who could come and sort out his apartment while he was incapacitated. The barman said he would have a word with the girl who cleaned the bar. She was cheap and she did a good job. McNair thanked him and ordered another beer while he powered up his laptop to catch up on six weeks’ worth of emails.

There was nothing of note in his email folder apart from the usual spam and offers of get rich quick schemes by betting on football. Ha! He could sell that kind of scheme to them, he laughed. It was a useful reminder to tell him it was time to look at the next weekend’s fixtures and try to make some money from a legal bookie.

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