In the three weeks off that Bradley had before reporting for Scotland duty, he saw a lot of Jessie and spent a lot of time just relaxing, going for day trips in the country and long walks in Epping Forest. They got to know each other really well and found they had a lot in common. Bradley was enjoying the fuss made of him whenever he met her parents who similarly, thought the world of him too. Not just because of who he was.
Bradley loved hearing Barry’s stories about the punters he has in his taxi whilst Sharon kept an endless stream of cakes and tea coming, even though Bradley never ate cake, not even in close season. Barry had quizzed him endlessly about the Champions League final and how they all sat around the TV watching the game with excitement. He really wanted a story to tell his passengers and fellow cabbies to claim bragging rights. They never spoke much about Bradley’s family although he had told them bits and pieces, like how his parents were English and moved to Scotland before he was born. Barry was dismayed when he realised that Bradley could have been playing for England in the World Cup. The current shower of prima donnas weren’t worth watching since the new manager had come in and wiped out entertaining football. He assured Bradley he would be supporting Scotland in the US, however hurt he might feel by neglecting his motherland.
Although he had only known Jessie for a short time, Bradley was going to head to Spain for a week relaxing before going to Glasgow prior to the World Cup. He had plucked up the courage to ask Jessie and to make sure her parents were okay with the idea. He had nothing to worry about; Barry and Sharon even suggested going with them until Jessie objected. So, a few days later, Bradley was showing Jessie around the complex in the south of Spain where he liked to relax in the sun. She loved every aspect of it. It was luxuriously expensive and worlds apart from the usual family holidays in Devon or the Isle of Wight, although they were fun too and she had many happy memories from those holidays.
In many ways, Bradley’s love life was starting to mirror his Dad’s. Both had taken up with new girlfriends lately and Lucy and Jessie had enjoyed similar pasts. He was sure Dad would like Jessie more than Bradley liked Lucy. Not that he didn’t like her; he didn’t blame her for the break-up of his parents’ marriage, but he just didn’t know her well enough. She seemed nice and was looking after dad which was the main thing.
The following seven days flew by and it was time to pack and go home after a week of sun, sea and sex. Jessie had been a virgin, much to Bradley’s surprise, and he was happy to please her. She in turn was happy to give up her virginity to him. She was falling in love with the boy, not the superstar he had become. He was falling in love with the girl who didn’t care whether he was a big time footballer or a shop assistant. There was a spark there and they suited each other perfectly.
All too soon, Bradley had to head for Scotland for the pre-tournament get together. He drove the 400 miles to Glasgow in his new car; the first time he had driven it further than ten miles in one go. Their last night together was one to remember. Jessie told him she would be watching his every game with her mum and dad and to go and win it for her. Bradley promised her he would do his best and told her how much he would miss her for the next six weeks or so. They would have to keep contact down to a minimum but he would try to Skype her whenever he could.
She waved him off with a hint of a tear in her eye, wishing she was going with him, but she appreciated that it was his job and this was better than a wife having to wave off her soldier husband who she probably wouldn’t see for the next six months, rather than six weeks.
Bradley spent the last night at his apartment getting packed for his next adventure before heading off early next day to drive to Glasgow. The eight hour drive gave him plenty of time to think about the World Cup; how they would play against certain teams, what he should expect and the weight of expectation from his country for glory. The Scottish press was full of stories about how Scotland could actually win the cup, despite having an abysmal record in the past. The team was packed with eager and talented young players who had ignored the distractions other players had succumbed to at his age. Players that were talented enough to play in the English Premier League, the Scottish Premier League and even two players who were plying their trade with top French teams. This tournament would be their coming of age. Much was expected of them and the pressure was intense.
There was a distinct air of comradeship when the team all met at the team hotel. They only got together sporadically during the season, so occasions like this were like a family reunion, only without the family feuds to spoil it. They spent the first evening relaxing in the hotel bar with the management team recalling stories from the just ended season and generally enjoying each other’s company. The bonds that had been forged were going to be strong enough to carry them through the competition. What they lacked in skill and experience they more than made up for with patriotism and passion. They would have a good World Cup, he was sure.
Jimmy Anderson’s team had arranged three friendlies with Morocco, Wales and Paraguay who hadn’t qualified, but had arranged a tour of Europe to take part in warm up games for those countries that had.
Training was kept low key so they could limit any injuries. The friendlies passed without incident and resulted in a 3-1 win against a decent Morocco side, 1-1 draw with Wales and finally rounding it off with a 4-0 defeat of Paraguay. They had learned a lot by playing these teams, not least because each continent tended to have a different style of playing so by playing a South American and African team this helped them adapt their strategy.
Bradley found himself playing more of a number 10 role again which he preferred to where Arsenal played him in a more advanced position. This meant he was creating more goals than he was scoring, which was fine as they had a deadly centre forward who would feed off Bradley’s passes all day. They had also tightened up in defence where a couple of young centre halves had come through the youth ranks and impressed. Jimmy Anderson was satisfied with his squad and pleased that he had cover in pretty much every area. They were now ready to go and conquer the world.