Arsenal’s opening fixture was a home game against Stoke City and was approaching rapidly. Training had gone well and their pre-season tour of Italy was a great success. Bradley had played most of the games and although he didn’t score, he looked good enough to be included in the first team squad for the Stoke game.
Starting a game on the bench was something Bradley wasn’t used to, but he didn’t have a problem with that. This was a world class team and there was no way he was going to go straight into the starting line-up. He used his time on the bench to observe how his team mates played and soaked up the atmosphere in the stadium. The Emirates held almost four times the number of supporters as Heart’s modest Tynecastle did, and the way it was constructed made the noise even louder.
After the ninety minutes were up, Arsenal had secured a 2-0 win to get the season off to a good start. He followed the team into the dressing rooms for the post-match briefing from the manager who was obviously pleased to get three points and play well. It was also far more serious and intense in the dressing room than his experience at Hearts. They went into more detail about where they could have done better, where they were particularly good and how they should warm down.
After most of the crowd had died away, the players left The Emirates and got into their supercars after signing autographs and having photos taken with the remaining fans. Bradley only had a short minute walk to his apartment and foolishly thought about walking it until he was surrounded by fans wanting his autograph. He couldn’t believe a two minute walk could take half an hour, but it did. He resolved to hitch a lift or get a taxi next time.
Back at his new flat, he put Sky Sports on TV and settled down to a quiet evening watching even more football. His Dad had phoned to ask how it went, eventually passing the phone to his Mum who was more concerned about his welfare than how he had played. He texted his new number to some of his old friends and spent most of the evening in text conversation with them. Without noticing, it was 11 o’clock and he was getting tired. It had been a big day for him, even though he hadn’t got any game time. However, there was a League Cup match against Southend United coming up and the manager had promised him a starting role in that game.
His Dad made sure he had a ticket for this one, along with a couple of his work colleagues and his boss who were keen to see him make his debut. As it was midweek, Brian had arranged to be in the London office that week and although he wasn’t staying with Bradley, he looked forward to seeing him after the game in the Players’ Lounge.
It was a full house at The Emirates and the noise that greeted Bradley was immense as the two teams walked on to the pitch. There were a few first team players available for this game, some coming back off injury and needing a runout and some of the younger talents.
Bradley dominated the game from the kick off and by half time he had scored two goals and assisted in three others to make the score 5-0. A penalty early in the second half made it 6-0 and three for Bradley, then another brace before the end rounded off an excellent debut for him. He was well pleased with his first game for Arsenal and his manager was equally delighted at his performance watching from the stands.
He met his Dad and his colleagues in the Players’ Lounge after the warm down and started to replay the game with them. They were all impressed and didn’t think it would be long before he was starting for the first team, although the Brazilian, Geraldo, was playing in that position and although he was getting on in years, still had a touch of class about him. The game plan was to give Geraldo the first 60 or 70 minutes in the next game then bring on Bradley to close the game when Geraldo got tired. As their next league game was away to Manchester United, this was going to be a baptism of fire. Arsenal loved to beat them and would do everything they could on the day, preparing for it intensely.
Dad ordered a taxi for them all, dropping Bradley off as they headed into the City for a few post-match beers. Bradley had been given the match ball in recognition of his five goals that evening and placed it proudly on the fireplace, admiring it for a couple of minutes before switching on the TV and watching the highlights of his game all over again, revelling in the plaudits coming his way from the pundits.
The Manchester United away game had gone to plan perfectly with Geraldo taken off after 70 minutes when they were 2-1 up to be replaced by Bradley who had grown in confidence for this game. Like many supporters, Bradley was not a fan of Manchester United, and this gave him an extra edge to his game. His first touch was a superb dribble around the defender then slamming the ball into the net to make it 3-1 to Arsenal and game over.
The result meant that after three league games Arsenal were top with nine points which was an excellent start to the season. This could be their year, the manager thought as he watched the players go and salute the travelling fans who were cheering and applauding wildly.
It was a long coach ride back to London and Bradley didn’t get back to his flat until gone ten so he went straight to bed, totally exhausted, but replaying his goal over and over in his head as he drifted off to sleep.