How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 30


A few weeks after the initial revelations about Martine, everybody had forgotten all about it and moved on to other celebrities for their fix of lurid gossip. Pre-season training had taken Bradley’s mind off the scandal and although he hadn’t spoken to his Mum for a couple of weeks, they had at least spoken, which was something positive.

He had met Brian a couple of times after their argument at Arsenal home games in the players’ lounge, but the atmosphere was still a bit strained, even though he didn’t blame his Dad for what had rocked his world. Dad seemed quite relaxed about the whole affair and told Bradley about his new apartment on the Isle of Dogs and how he should pop round one night for dinner. Bradley said he would think about it, but he was very busy during the season.

Since the 2017-18 Premier League season had started, Arsenal had won all their games and were sitting happily at the top of the league. Bradley was starting every game, as he had been promised, and was in terrific form scoring eight goals in six games. The press were more interested in his performances than his family’s exploits once again and there were internationals coming up that would determine Scotland’s participation in next year’s World Cup in the USA.

Their next two games were against Estonia away and home to Germany who were lying in second place behind Scotland by two points. That was going to be the big one. Win that, and they were virtually there. Bradley decided against going home for a few days before meeting up with the rest of the team, going straight to the team hotel instead, much to Sam and Martine’s displeasure. His mind was totally focused on helping his country to victory in both games.

Estonia proved to be a weak opposition with Scotland running out 4-0 winners. Now to prove they were worthy of gracing their first World Cup in decades by beating one of the best teams on the planet.

A packed Hampden Park was buzzing the night Germany came to town. The game was sold out weeks in advance and the Scottish press was agog with excitement at the biggest game for years.

It was a fast, flowing game with both sides having decent chances to score before half time. With the second half starting 0-0 there was all to play for. The manager made a couple of switches half way through the second forty-five minutes which worked a treat as it gave Bradley a bit more space in his preferred role.

With fifteen minutes to go, Bradley got on the end of a corner and headed the ball firmly past the German keeper to make it 1-0. The crowd were tense as the clock ran down; could they hold on against the German onslaught? When the whistle blew for full time, the crowd went wild once again. Another two games, another six points and two clean sheets. Scotland were almost there; just two games left against Moldova at home and Slovenia away next month to secure their place. It didn’t get much better than this for Bradley.

When the Arsenal players returned from their individual international games, there was a lot of banter going around about Scotland’s performance against Germany. Even the English press were singing Scotland’s praises, especially as the England team’s qualification route had proved to be a bit more onerous than they would have hoped. There was still a chance that England would miss out on qualifying unless they beat Sweden and Austria in their last two games.

Sr Cantonelli rallied the players around ready for Arsenal’s next league game against newly promoted Burnley and the upcoming Champions League games. He was pleased with how the season was progressing and aimed to keep it that way. This was as good a squad as he had ever managed and if they won the league again this season he would surely be approached by an even bigger club to manage them. Wherever he went, the first thing he would do is buy Gardner, whatever the price.

He was glad that all the fuss surrounding his family had died down now and he hoped that there wasn’t going to be a recurrence. There was no room for distractions with so much at stake and he needed Bradley at 100% focus for every game. Sr Cantonelli wasn’t impressed with Brian Gardner; he had met him a couple of times and thought he was a bit of an arse. Still, he had to be nice to him for Bradley’s sake, but he had been hearing rumours about his private life that disturbed him. He made it his business to employ ‘spies’ to monitor his players’ social and family life. You could call it dictatorial, he called it emotional control.

Brian hadn’t mentioned Lucy to Bradley yet and wasn’t intending to do so. It was too soon after his split and the wounds were still open as far as Bradley was concerned. He didn’t want to do anything to upset him with so many important games coming up.

He and Lucy had met regularly and Brian had become like an adolescent schoolboy with his infatuation getting out of control. He thought about her every day and longed to spend every waking hour with her. As Brian had always been faithful to Martine since the day they met as eighteen year olds, these feelings were unknown to him and although it made him feel young again, he didn’t want it to get out of hand and affect his job, or his already strained relationship with his sons.

Apart from a few phone conversations with Sam, he hadn’t really been keeping in touch as much as he should. The last time he spoke to Martine it ended up as a full blown argument and when he called her a slapper that killed any chance of them getting an amicable divorce. She didn’t know about Lucy and it was definitely in his best interests that she didn’t find out. It could prejudice any settlement due to him.

For her part, Lucy was taking things slowly. After a messy divorce, she didn’t want to rush into another long term relationship just yet. She was still young enough to find someone to look after her and there was no doubt she had the looks and body to attract someone better than her ex-husband, but for the time being, Brian would do nicely. She liked him in a fatherly way; he was nearly fifty and she was only thirty-two so the age gap was quite big. Still, he had money and if it meant she got treated like a lady, despite her job, then letting him have sex every now and then was a small price to pay.

Her relationship with the bosses at Toppers was getting strained; they knew she was seeing someone else and as they knew her ex well, they made sure that she was uncomfortable with working there. She was a good act, she knew how to turn the punters on and she earned decent money there, but nobody was indispensable. Sooner or later it would come to a head and she would have to find something else.

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