How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 54

Jessie could tell that Bradley was wound up about something. Ever since they got back to Mijas for their last week together for a month he had been restless and not his usual laid back happy self. She had asked him what the problem was, but he insisted there wasn’t one. He was just looking forward to the World Cup, but not being together was going to be tough.

Jessie’s parents would be joining her in Mijas for the tournament, so she wouldn’t be on her own, although Martine and Carlos were likely to pop round regularly. No doubt they would all meet up at Bradley’s to watch the games, especially the Scotland games, although Barry still wasn’t sure whether to support England or Scotland and Carlos would of course be rooting for Spain so they decided to order some football shirts off the internet to add some spice to the occasion.

After a week of doing very little, it was time for Bradley to report for training with the Scotland squad. Carlos dropped him at the airport where the private jet was waiting to fly him to Glasgow for a couple of days before heading off to the World Cup. He wished him all the best and told him he would look after Jessie and his mum while he was away and looked forward to celebrating when he returned with a winner’s medal.

Jessie never found out what Bradley was so wound up about, although she thought it might have been a combination of things. His dad’s inability to go to Australia to cheer him on, Jimmy Anderson’s terminal illness and whether he would last until the final, and the fact that they were to be apart for a month. It was going to be tough for him and she wanted to be there to support him but other halves were considered to be a distraction to the players and were advised not to go.

On the flight to Glasgow, Bradley was alone with his thoughts. He was incredibly nervous about this tournament which was unlike him as he was usually excited. He guessed it was partly due to the weight of expectation on him and the pressure for the team to not let Jimmy Anderson down. Whatever it was, he needed to get positive as soon as possible he thought as they touched down.

Archie was there to meet him and drove him to the team hotel on the outskirts of Glasgow where it was raining quite heavily and unseasonably cold, unlike what he had left behind in Mijas. He updated Bradley on Deepak’s progress and Jimmy’s condition on the way.

Deepak was doing brilliantly and was becoming a much talked about youngster who wasn’t far off his first team debut. If he made it, he would be the youngest ever player in the history of the Scottish Premier League. He was in danger of becoming better than Bradley, Archie laughed. That brought a smile back to Bradley’s face. He could always rely on Archie to cheer him up. Especially when he updated Bradley on his ever-growing investment portfolio which was doing extremely well. When the conversation moved on to Jimmy’s state of health, the mood got darker. He had finished chemo and was very weak, but he was following the team’s preparations for the World Cup and Archie was sure this was keeping him alive.

When they got to the team hotel, the rain was easing off. Archie wished him all the best and told him to bring back that trophy. Bradley was determined to do just that. He checked in and joined his team mates in the conference room at the hotel which had been turned over to the Scottish FA where they would hold talks on tactics, how to behave in Australia, what they should expect weather-wise and loads of other useful and useless tips.

The manager had been doing his homework on the other nations competing in the cup, with extensive reviews of each country that they were likely to get drawn against. Rory MacMillan had a more analytical approach to games than Jimmy Anderson who it had been said, was tactically naïve at times, but depended on his players to be themselves and it would all fit together. More by luck than judgement didn’t even cover it.

Rory MacMillan would have huge computer screens in the room covering every tactic necessary, rather than Jimmy’s white board approach. Jimmy was old school; Rory was of the technological age which was good because it meant they now had the benefit of both approaches and could only improve by using them in tandem.

After a couple of days of endless presentations, fitness assessment work and sitting around the hotel playing cards, they were ready to meet their destiny. There were crowds of people at Glasgow airport waiting to cheer the team off, with high expectations. For the last few years, Scotland had been a huge success story and winning the Euros two years earlier had only convinced the fans that they only had to turn up in Australia to claim the trophy. This was putting undue pressure on the young Scottish team to live up to those expectations. It wasn’t just Bradley who was nervous, he could tell the rest of the team were too. It was a lot to expect from a team whose average age was less than 24 years old.

Still, they believed in themselves and deep down, they knew they could produce the performances that would lead them to victory. They had to for Jimmy’s sake, not just Scotland’s.

Australia was a long flight. A very long flight. So breaking it up with a couple of games in Malaysia was a great idea, even though it was still fourteen hours up in the air just to get there. Luckily, the Scottish FA had booked the entire squad and management in Business Class which gave them a lot more comfort than usual.

Although the emphasis was on what to expect in Australia, these two games in Malaysia were going to be important and would determine which team Rory MacMillan would pick for their opening game against Chile in less than a fortnight.

When they eventually arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport, the first thing that hit them was the humidity. Although the temperature was less than Bradley was used to in Spain, it was uncomfortably sweaty and would be a drain on their stamina. Their first game was against Selangor in the huge Shah Alam stadium in front of 80,000 passionate supporters which they won easily 5-0 without a problem, apart from the humidity which meant that each player could only play forty-five minutes before they ran out of gas. Rory MacMillan was pleased with what he saw, and was even more pleased when his boys ran out 7-0 winners against Kuala Lumpur based PDRM.

They were now ready to compete with the best of them.

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