How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 25

APRIL 2017

Bradley’s first season with Arsenal had gone extremely well. He was a big part of the team that won the League Cup beating Leicester City 2-0 to gain his first English medal, and they were through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup where they were due to play Everton at Wembley. In the league, they were five points clear at the top with only six games remaining and were everyone’s favourite to win it after they put in some superb performances during the season. In the Champions League, things hadn’t gone quite so well and they were knocked out in the quarter finals against Benfica, much to Bradley’s disappointment as he had enjoyed a run in the teams that played in this competition.

He was getting plenty of action in the first team, having started ten games and come on as a substitute in over twenty games for the ageing Geraldo who he was getting to know well.

On the international front, he had been made captain of Scotland after his commanding performances against their group opponents in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, where Scotland were sitting at the top of their group and looking favourites to qualify easily. The World Cup was eventually moved to the USA once Russia had been found to have given a very large bribe to Serge Billancort who had subsequently been imprisoned for his actions. The 2022 World Cup had been moved to Australia for the same reasons.

All this action meant that Bradley was due to play almost fifty games this season which would leave him shattered by the end of May. He didn’t feel it yet, but having left the Champions’ League so early, this would help him maintain his energy for the important games ahead.

With two games left in the league, Arsenal were two points ahead of Liverpool in second, and ironically, that’s who they would play on the final game of the season at The Emirates. Tickets had been sold out ages ago and the black market price for a ticket was over £5,000 if you could find one.

After Arsenal beat West Bromwich 3-0 away in the penultimate game and Liverpool had also won their game against Chelsea, the showdown was set for a winner takes all final game at The Emirates. A draw or a win would be enough to crown Arsenal champions for the first time since 2004; if Liverpool won it would give them their first title since 1990 so there was a lot at stake.

The first half was understandably tight and tense so a half time score of 0-0 was not a surprise. Bradley was sitting on the bench hoping to come on for his customary twenty minutes and maybe scoring the winning goal if he was lucky. Geraldo had picked up a knock but was happy to give it another ten minutes to see how it went before coming off. Bradley should keep himself warmed up and ready to go at any time, the manager told him.

After fifteen minutes, Geraldo signalled to the dugout that he couldn’t carry on so Bradley stripped off and warmed up ready to go on. As this was probably Geraldo’s last game for Arsenal, he saluted the fans enthusiastically and blew kisses to the supporters who had taken him to their hearts for the last five years.

Bradley ran on to the pitch to tumultuous applause as he took his spot behind the striker.

Despite hitting the bar and having a long range shot saved by Liverpool’s keeper, Bradley’s contribution was minimal. His manager had cajoled and encouraged him to start attacking their tiring defence and it would come, which he took on board.

Then, in the 89th minute, when the game was looking to end in a stalemate, Bradley found himself in the box aiming to connect with a cross that was coming in from the right. He stabbed out his foot and made just enough contact to divert the ball into the back of the net.

The crowd went wild knowing that this moment had sealed the title for them. Liverpool had other ideas though and came back at them straight from the restart and thirty seconds later they equalised which silenced the large crowd. Could they hold on for another three minutes? Even though Liverpool themselves hit a post, the final whistle blew and Arsenal had won the Premier League title, at last.

Any experience Bradley had about what happens when your team win the league paled into insignificance as fireworks flew into the sky, fans sang and cried with joy and the players congratulated each other on such a major achievement.

Now, there was a matter of a FA Cup final against Newcastle United to complete the double, after beating Everton in the semis.

There was nothing like FA Cup final day in England. It had a magic that no other club knock out competition could hold a candle to and Bradley had found out that he would be playing the whole game due to Geraldo’s injury picked up against Liverpool.

The build-up was worse than an American election campaign with all the major TV channels having their slots showing how the teams got there, who the players to watch out for were and interviews with the team during the run-up.

Bradley’s agent made sure things ran smoothly for him and didn’t detract from the job in hand and Brian stayed at Bradley’s apartment to help him keep his feet on the ground.

The day of the final came around quickly and no sooner had they finished celebrating winning the league, they were kitted out in their matching suits parading on the Wembley turf in front of their fans.

It turned out to be an easy game for Arsenal running out 4-1 winners with Bradley scoring twice. The double was completed and the Arsenal supporters were delighted. They had waited so long for this moment after years of being almost there and falling at the final hurdle.

Sr Cantonelli was understandably delighted, as were the board, and at the end of the victory parade through the streets of Islington the next day, he gathered all his players together and wished them a pleasant summer and he looked forward to seeing them back at the end of July.

Most of the players had World Cup qualifiers to take part in, Bradley included, but once they were done then the players had a couple of weeks to squeeze in a holiday somewhere. This year, Bradley had decided not to join the family for their annual visit to Florida, choosing instead a luxury resort in Spain popular with Premier League footballers. His decision didn’t go down well with his parents who in the end agreed not to bother with a holiday this year. Instead, they would concentrate on moving house back down south. Possibly.

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