As the new school terms beckoned for Sam and Bradley, their excitement grew. They had already made friends with some of their new schoolmates so it wasn’t a complete step into the unknown for them. Brian had been promoted at work so they had decided that Martine should stay at home and look after the boys.
Dunfermline Colts’ season wouldn’t start until September but there were two training sessions per week and Coach had arranged a number of friendlies to warm the team up for the upcoming season, and to assess who was going to be their best starting eleven. Bradley threw himself into the training sessions with enthusiasm, unlike some of his team mates who weren’t so enamoured with the training regime, preferring to just put a shirt on and play. Coach drove them hard, but also made it enjoyable and emphasised that training was important on a lot of levels. Plenty of practise and hard work now would make it a successful season for them and they all wanted the lure of winning cups at that age.
There were indeed some very decent players Brian noticed during the friendlies. Considering this was Bradley’s first experience of playing for a team outside of his appearances for the school, he was acquitting himself well. He marvelled at his confidence and ability and couldn’t help but glance over to the management team and smile inwardly when he saw the looks of admiration on their faces.
In total, the Colts played five friendlies against teams from nearby leagues and their own, winning all five of them by a healthy margin. In the first game, they won 6-0 with Bradley setting up two and scoring two himself, much to the delight of the watching parents and coaches. They followed that result up with a thumping 12-1 win in which Bradley scored five and was deservedly Man of the Match. The remaining three games were much closer but with the same prolific display of skills from Bradley. His coach remarked that he was playing well beyond his years and he hoped he could keep this level up as he had seen so many boys at his age that promised a lot, but delivered little once they had grown into moody teenagers who were more interested in booze and birds.
Bradley’s attitude right now was commendable and was to be encouraged before he found those distractions. Scottish football was notorious for this kind of fallout and it galled Coach McVie immensely seeing obvious talent disappear in a cloud of Buckfast and Lambert & Butlers.
With training in full swing and their first match of the season approaching, Coach McVie pulled Brian to one side during one such training session.
‘I have to admit, I am looking forward to this season more than I have done in the past. I’m excited about seeing how far Bradley can go in this team. He has the ability without a doubt, but there are always outside influences that can affect his game. Can I ask a few personal questions, Brian?’ Asked Coach.
‘Sure. What’s on your mind Stuart?’ Said Brian.
‘Do you mind if I ask how he’s doing at school? What’s he like at home? How is his family environment? I hope you won’t mind.’
‘Not at all, Stuart. He’s only just started his new school and seems to like it. He’s a typical boy when he’s at home, plays video games, reads comics, eats well, and he has a loving family at home so there’s no problems on that front.’ Brian replied.
‘That’s a relief then, I was hoping you would give me those answers. There are so many kids who could be world class that don’t have that kind of stable background and end up wasting their talent. Nothing annoys me more, but there’s nothing I can do about it short of adopting every boy who gets caught up in it.’
Brian liked Stuart; he was a good influence on Bradley’s life and Bradley was learning a lot from him. He was glad they had made the decision for Bradley to sign for them. He would learn a lot more than just playing football would offer him.
‘One other thing.’ Stuart added. ‘I have to tell you that I am also the chief scout for Hearts and I am always on the lookout for the next Kenny Dalgleish. If, in the next few years, Bradley progresses how I think and hope he will, then I should point out that I will be recommending him to join Hearts when the time is right. Hearts have one of the best football academies in Scotland and Bradley would thrive with them. Would that be a problem with you?’
‘No problem at all, I am familiar with Hearts’ reputation already. They are my adopted Scottish club.’ Brian laughed.
‘Great. Just thought you ought to be aware of what I am hoping will happen.’
Brian looked over at his son as he was taking a break during training. Wow, he thought. If he gets to play for Hearts then I will seriously be impressed. That would be a lot further than Brian’s football career had gone; he managed to turn out for a Rymans Premier side for a couple of seasons when he was fitter, but a torn cartilage had put paid to any hopes he had of making the big time. To be fair, he was an average winger who relied on speed rather than skill so when he found it hard to run after his injury, he gave it up completely apart from turning out for his local pub team occasionally. Now it was up to Bradley to succeed where he couldn’t. He knew he shouldn’t put any pressure on Bradley to achieve this, but most football Dads were the same. They achieved glory through their sons; it was the way of the world.
Brian decided not to tell Bradley about Coach’s Hearts connection for now, he didn’t want him to get carried away with the expectation of playing for a top professional club if he wasn’t going to see it through. He couldn’t keep it from Martine though. He was bursting to tell someone and Martine was the only one who would keep it quiet. Of course, he never stopped talking about his sons at work, he was proud of both of them naturally, but Sam was doing well at things like Maths and History which was great, but you can’t stand on the edge of a pitch in January getting soaked while watching him reel off the Kings and Queens of Scotland for half an hour.
The grandparents made sure they came up to stay with them regularly and keep close to their grandsons, who they adored. Grandad would always make sure he came to Bradley’s games and even the odd training session. Brian’s Dad in particular had a great interest in his grandson’s footballing prowess as he had also been a decent player at amateur level, almost making it to the first team at Leyton Orient. Well, he had a couple of trials there, but they didn’t follow up. He loved football though, and he was almost as delighted as his son that Bradley was showing such promise. He insisted on Bradley phoning him up after every game and telling him all about it; how many goals he had scored, how many assists, but also what he thought he had done wrong or could have done better. Brian’s Dad would have made a good coach and Bradley would spend ages on the phone to him listening intently to the advice offered to him by Grandad. It was lovely that he managed to get up to Dunfermline every month or so to see him play and he was most upset if a game had been called off due to the weather, which was fairly often in the winter.
Bradley continued to make progress playing for the Colts and by January, they were top of their league by a long way, having won all twelve of their games, some by huge margins and one or two, like against Aberdour, ending up a tight 1-0 win. Those close games were better to watch as it meant the team had to do something special to win it. Brian was delighted that Bradley made the difference by scoring the winners. This made him tremendously popular amongst his team mates, although there were always going to be the odd one who doesn’t get a game because Bradley was always picked and that led to a degree of jealousy.
He had managed to make many friends, most of which were in the same school as him, but there was one in particular who Bradley had hit it off with almost from the first day he moved into his new house. Gary Ogilvie was about six months older than Bradley and lived only a few doors away from him and they had got very close, very quickly. Always in and out of each other’s houses and having tea after school whenever possible, normally at least twice a week, and always kicking a ball around the garden recreating moves they had seen on Sky Sports the previous weekend. Gary also played for the Colts as a centre half and showed a fair amount of talent, although he didn’t take it as seriously as Bradley. His attitude changed after seeing what Bradley could do and it was noticeable that he was not only getting better with his training, he was also improving at school as Bradley unwittingly became a role model for him.
Bradley was doing well at school, although not as academic as his brother, he was in the top half and always tried hard which was all his teachers asked for. Luckily, his primary school was football daft and they probably didn’t care what he achieved in the classroom as long as he turned out for the school team every game. The school didn’t play in a league though, so most of the games were just friendlies against other schools in the area. They did, however, take part in a knockout competition, the schools cup if you will, and the headmaster was desperate to win it so he could get one over on his peers at the other schools in the area.
This year’s tournament was held over two days in March and included fifteen other primary schools in West Fife. The games were only twenty minutes each half and seven a side which meant that they could get all the games in without overexerting the boys. Needless to say, Bradley’s school got through to the final without much bother. They had a good team anyway and with Bradley’s help they were even better. It did mean that the goals were shared out more evenly and every player in the team did their bit, taking the pressure off Bradley.
Brian’s Dad had made it up for this one which made Bradley try even harder, not that he had to. The final was against one of the better teams in the county and the defending champions, so there was much at stake. It was a tense final with all the other teams watching along with their parents and followers. Brian estimated there were probably a few hundred spectators there which was the equivalent to the average Third Division team got in Scotland for a league game.
At half time, it was level at one apiece. Bradley had taken a bit of a knock early in the first half, but the coach wasn’t going to take him off unless he had to. Luckily, he ran it off after a liberal spray of Ralgex at half time and with less than a minute to go he made an exquisite pass into the box for his friend Gary who rifled the ball into the top corner to make it 2-1 and secure the victory for his school.
While his team mates celebrated victory for the first time in years, Brian and his Dad hugged and wept. There was no better feeling than seeing your kids succeed at something. They were no exception. After the presentation ceremony, Bradley ran up to his Dad and Grandad waving his medal at them.
‘I’ve won a medal! It’s the first one I’ve ever won! Look Grandad!’ Bradley exclaimed excitedly.
‘First of many, I reckon son.’ Dad replied. ‘You played a blinder. So did Gary as well. Well done!’
They made their way back home to tell Martine and Sam all about it and show off his medal. Shortly afterwards, the phone rang. It was Coach McVie.
‘Hello Brian, hope I haven’t called at an inconvenient time.’
‘Not at all, Stuart. We’ve just been to watch Bradley’s school team win the county cup. Shame you weren’t there.’ said Brian.
‘That’s why I’m calling Brian. I’ve just heard about the tournament and to be honest, I’m not happy about Bradley playing for his school, or any other team for that matter. I’m going to speak to Gary’s Dad as well. Did Bradley pick up any injuries at all?’ asked Coach McVie.
Brian was gobsmacked. He was surprised that Dunfermline Colts could dictate the rules especially at this age. It was natural for a kid Bradley’s age would want to play as much as he could.
‘I wasn’t aware this was the case, Stuart. Does this mean he can’t have a kick about in the park with his mates?’ asked Brian somewhat reservedly.
‘If I had my way, yes it would mean that. Let me explain; Bradley has signed a contract to play at Under 10s level with Dunfermline Colts. If you read the small print, you will see that this contract excludes him from playing in any competitive game for any other club, school or organisation without the express permission of Dunfermline Colts. I get this all the time with my boys playing for their school and pick up a stupid injury which means they can’t play for us. We have to do what is best for Dunfermline Colts in all instances, so I am sorry if you aren’t happy with this, but it’s in the contract.’ Stuart explained.
Brian had no choice but to explain to Stuart that he hadn’t read all the small print and wasn’t aware of the rules. No excuses, but he did see it from their side and now had to explain to Bradley why he couldn’t play for the school again. As there wasn’t likely to be too many school games anyway, it probably wasn’t going to be an issue until next year’s tournament and by then a lot of things could have changed. Bradley might not even be playing for the Colts by then and if he was, he would have to sign another contract and Brian would make sure that clause was taken out. He found it utterly ridiculous that this was the rule at such a young age.
He decided not to say anything to Bradley; he didn’t want to spoil his day.