How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 37

At last, the FA Cup final had arrived. There was nothing like a London derby cup final and this one was a replay of the 1980 final when West Ham were the opposition then, upsetting the odds by beating Arsenal 1-0, despite being in the second tier of English football. The team wanted to avenge that giant-killing 36 years ago and were psyched up.

The sell-out crowd at Wembley cheered the two teams onto the pitch in blazing sunshine. The stands were a wall of claret and blue, red and white and the singing from both sets of fans was a wall of noise as they entered the pitch.

West Ham were clearly up for the game as well as by half time they were in front 2-0. Bradley wasn’t having his best game; he had been marked out of the game by West Ham’s solid defence and determination. They had obviously got a plan to keep Bradley quiet, and it was working.

Sr Cantonelli roused his team up at half time telling them to not rely on Bradley so much and use the wings to create chances. They listened intently, but you could tell their hearts had sunk and they were struggling to lift spirits for the second half. When they came out for the second 45 minutes, they did indeed start using the width and Bradley managed to crash a shot against the crossbar. But that proved to be their best chance of the game as West Ham soaked up the pressure and eventually pushed Arsenal back into their own half. It wasn’t looking good for Arsenal as their opponents grew in confidence, culminating in a third goal with ten minutes remaining. It was game over.

When the final whistle blew, many of the Arsenal fans had left the stadium in disgust. The biggest game of the season so far and they had chosen that game to give the worst performance. Bradley was in tears. It reminded him of previous cup final disappointment with Hearts, but this time it was much worse. He had grown used to winning and didn’t have the experience to cope with such a humiliating loss against a local rival. He collected his runner-up medal and joined the rest of the team on the pitch who were walking over to their supporters to offer thanks and apologies. Those that had remained, anyway.

It was then that Bradley spotted the young girl who he had given an autograph to recently. She was waving at him and blowing kisses so he walked over to her and started talking. He apologised for his performance and thanked her for coming while she just threw her arms around him and consoled him.

They stood chatting for a couple of minutes when Bradley plucked up the courage to ask for her name and number as he would like to meet her one evening. She happily wrote her details down on a piece of paper and placed it in his hand. Maybe today wasn’t so bad after all, he thought as he carried on around the pitch with his team mates before heading down the tunnel to the dressing rooms.

He could hear the celebrations going on in the West Ham dressing room and envied them. It was a great achievement for any player and he hoped they enjoyed their day in the sun as he entered a very gloomy Arsenal dressing room. No words needed to be spoken; the whole team knew they had let themselves down and there was no point in the manager laying into them as it wouldn’t help. Instead, Sr Cantonelli reminded them that there was an even bigger game coming up and this performance should spur them on to demolish Juventus the following week. Judging by the team’s reaction, that was just what they intended to do.

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