How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

By Andrew Playle All Rights Reserved ©

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Chapter 31

DECEMBER 2017

As the season progressed, Arsenal drew further away from the chasing pack by continuing their winning streak. By Christmas, they were ten points clear at the top and cruising. Their Champions League campaign was going equally well with Arsenal winning all but one game so far and were becoming bookies’ favourites to lift the trophy in May.

Bradley was having a great season, scoring eighteen goals in all competitions so far and was a leading contender for European Footballer of the Year, even though he was still only nineteen. Life was good for him; he was popular in the dressing room and was becoming a natural leader amongst his team mates, most of which were much older and experienced than him.

Since Sr Cantonelli had recommended he see a psychologist after the scandal with his family, Bradley had been able to put those events to the back of his mind and compartmentalise things that affected him more clearly. It had definitely helped him on and off the pitch and he now saw more of his family which was good.

Sam had been down to stay with him a couple of times and they used the opportunity to clear the air and restore their once close relationship. Whilst his mum hadn’t been to stay with him yet, she promised she would as soon as the divorce was sorted out but in the meantime she would be staying with her parents on her frequent trips down south. They had met at his grandparents once or twice and the atmosphere was still a bit strained.

His dad continued to attend most of his home matches and even managed to wangle a business trip to Nice when they were playing a Champions League game there. A particularly good choice of game as Bradley scored three goals in a 4-1 victory for Arsenal. Bradley had noticed a brunette had attended a couple of games with him and as he didn’t tell Bradley who she was, he just assumed it was a colleague from work.

Deep down though, where Bradley really ached for success was for his country. Scotland had beaten Estonia 3-0 and Slovenia 2-0 to qualify unbeaten as champions of their group with Germany a dismal second. They had truly arrived on the world stage now and were going to be a force to be reckoned with.

On the day the World Cup draw was to be made, all the players had gathered at Hampden Park for the day just to create another bonding opportunity and see who they would be playing in the US next year.

As the draw was about to be made live on TV, they all stood around the large screen TV in the players’ lounge and waited with bated breath. They were second seeds which meant that they would have to face one of the major nations, but would be expected to finish at least second in their group by having to play two lower seeded teams.

When each country was drawn, it was met with comments from the players; glad we avoided that one, or wish we could have drawn them. Finally, Scotland’s name came out of the hat and was placed in a group that so far consisted of Japan and Serbia. Now, they waited eagerly to find out who the top seed would be, knowing that as there were two European teams in the group so far, they would avoid the likes of Italy, Spain and France. They somehow knew which team was going to be drawn with them; it was Argentina which brought back bitter memories of Scotland’s disastrous 1978 World Cup campaign in that country.

A huge cheer went up among the team as they engaged in speculation and supposition as to how the games would pan out. There was nothing like the excitement and anticipation of a World Cup to get the players’ juices flowing. This is what they were all there for.

As the get together wound down, Bradley high-fived every team mate and had a quick chat with Jimmy Anderson before he left for his Mum’s.

‘What do you reckon, Bradley? Can we beat those three?’ Jimmy asked.

‘Why not? Argentina will be a handful, but they are an aging squad and we can exploit that. Japan and Serbia should be winnable. I fancy our chances next year; we are definitely going to worry Argentina, they won’t fancy playing us.’ Replied Bradley optimistically.

They said their goodbyes for now, and Bradley headed out to his waiting taxi to take him to Dunfermline. The next hour or so would be more of a challenge for him than standing up to the mighty Argies.

Jimmy Anderson and his team were now tasked with the pursuit of some suitable pre-tournament friendlies to arrange before they set off for the USA, while Bradley contemplated seeing his mum for the first time in months. This was going to be awkward. He wanted to know more about those alleged affairs and why his parents’ relationship had broken down so suddenly without anybody else realising.

Was she aware of the damage it could have caused him? Did she care? He hoped she wasn’t that selfish as to put her interests in front of her kids. But then he supposed he had been selfish with his outburst that fateful night over dinner when they announced they were separating. He was confused, angry and upset so in his mind, he had every right to protest.

Hopefully, they could use tonight to put all that behind them and move on. He didn’t want to go through life without his beloved parents.

Martine opened the door before he had even got out of the taxi. Bradley signed the chit and rushed up the drive to meet her with open arms. They hugged tightly and Martine told him how much she loved him and missed him through sobs of happiness. She had made him his favourite dinner which was sitting on the dining table just waiting for him as she fussed and cuddled him constantly. She had really missed him.

Bradley told her all about his exploits playing for Arsenal and Scotland and how he was going to the World Cup next year in the States, showed her videos of his apartment and the views over London, and was like an excited teenager (which he still was).

After dinner had been cleared away, Bradley’s conversation took a serious turn.

‘So, what happened between you and dad? Was it true what the press was saying about you having an army of lovers?’

Martine sighed deeply before answering.

‘I was hoping you would never find out what happened. It was the worst day of my life when it got splashed all over the newspapers. I’m sorry you had to get caught up in it.’ Martine apologised. ‘I had just fallen out of love with your dad; he didn’t satisfy my needs anymore and didn’t pay me any attention. All women like attention, whether it’s good or bad. It happens. He didn’t realise we had grown apart and to be fair, he did try to make amends and we gave it another go, but it was never going to work after my affairs. And yes, I’m sorry Bradley, but there were affairs which became common knowledge and for that, I am sorry you had to find out. Not sorry I had them, just sorry for you.’

Bradley sat quietly taking it all in. He could never imagine his mum playing around and it had come as a shock to find out. The psychologist had told him this might be the case and that he should prepare for it, which he had.

‘Anyone I know? There was a football coach apparently. It wasn’t Stuart, was it?’

‘Yes, it was Stuart. He felt terrible about betraying you like that, but he was lonely, I was desperate and we found ourselves getting closer. I haven’t seen him in ages though; we are trying to move on. There wasn’t anybody else you knew. I’m not seeing anybody right now either. It could make the divorce settlement get messy and that’s something nobody wants.’ Martine explained.

It was at that moment that Bradley had finally become a man. He understood everything that had happened, why it happened, and more importantly, that it could happen again. He should just accept it and focus on his own life and let his parents get on with theirs, whatever path that should take.

He wondered if the mystery brunette he had seen dad with recently was his girlfriend. He would have to confront him next time he saw him.

He made him and Martine a cup of tea and they sat down in the lounge to carry on their conversation.

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