How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 52

Scotland’s game against Wales turned out to be a formality with Scotland winning 3-1. Bradley didn’t score this time, but he created all three goals by turning the Welsh defence inside out all through the game. That was it as far as international games go until next spring so it was back to club duty once more. In many ways, Bradley preferred to be back with his Arsenal team mates rather than the occasional excursions with the national team, as much as he enjoyed playing for Scotland. It just seemed more like the ‘day job’ for Bradley and he didn’t have to travel all over Europe every other week, except for the Champions League games.

It was now December and half way through the domestic season and Arsenal were running away with it sitting on top nine points ahead of Chelsea and Manchester United. Bradley hadn’t missed a game and so far he had scored eighteen goals in all competitions which was a record for a midfielder. They were also top of their Champions League group having won all their games. This was turning into the best season ever, both from his point of view and for the club, and the papers were full of how well Bradley was playing and still clamouring for interviews at every opportunity.

Living under the spotlight wasn’t all great. It meant that he and Jessie had to be careful about where they went for a night out, preferring small discreet restaurants where their anonymity could be virtually guaranteed. Their pictures were all over the glossy gossip magazines regularly and there was much speculation that the pair were to marry soon which was ridiculous as they were far too young and Bradley didn’t have time for any more distractions. His dad’s latest publicity stunt involved his girlfriend getting shot which luckily didn’t get to the British press and apparently was no big deal in LA either. That kind of thing happens every day and hardly ever makes the news there.

After speaking to his dad about the shooting, they realised that despite going to Florida every year, they knew very little about the American way of life where everybody had guns and nobody could afford decent medical care. They had always been protected from the real world by staying in the bubble that was Disney World with security guards everywhere and ‘protected borders’. Bradley noticed the difference when he was there for the World Cup; it wasn’t the America he recognised and was in some ways surprised when his dad took that job in LA.

Although London was much, much bigger and dirtier than Dunfermline, he felt safer there. Especially with Jessie by his side. They had a life together now and she got to see her dad every other week when Arsenal were at home as Bradley had got them nice tickets in with the players’ wives and girlfriends. Barry had a field day with this arrangement, one minute he was talking to the captain, Gilles Renout’s wife, then the next minute he was rubbing shoulders with the wife of the manager. He was in seventh heaven. He had also got to know Bradley’s friend Jose Sanchez well. He now had his own flat near Bradley’s so they still spent a lot of free time together.

Jose had heard from his former team mate and Bradley’s hero Alvarez who was still playing for Valencia. Apparently, he had been in talks with Arsenal about joining in the January transfer window which excited Bradley. He was coming to the end of his career but he still had a few goals left in him and he would probably be there as a back-up player which didn’t worry him as the money on offer was far more than he could get at Valencia, and at his age he needed to bank as much cash as he could.

Nobody mentioned this news to Barry as he wouldn’t be able to keep quiet about it and he would be telling all his punters the news before it broke. Bradley did worry about Barry’s loose tongue and made sure he didn’t tell him anything that could be construed as insider trading. He was happy enough telling everyone his daughter was living with him so it was best to leave anything else alone.

The other concern in his otherwise perfect life was the state of his mum. Sam and Stuart had kept him updated on her health. It was apparent she was slipping into a depression which wasn’t helped by the two bottles of wine she was consuming every day along with the gin and tonics. Bradley desperately wanted to help her, but she had become hard to talk to nowadays. He had suggested checking into a clinic like the Priory for however long it took to get her off the booze, but that hadn’t gone down too well with Martine who had taken umbrage at Bradley for implying she was a drunk.

Her looks had gone and her once fit body was now becoming bloated and flabby. Something that Stuart wasn’t too keen on as her body was why he fancied her in the first place. But if he left her, she would be tipped over the edge and there would be no coming back, so he stuck with her and tried to help her which wasn’t always appreciated.

Bradley knew he was going to get a phone call sometime soon to say she had been admitted to hospital, it was only a matter of time. He knew his dad was concerned as well, but there was no way she would listen to him as she was still bitter at their divorce even though it was entirely her fault. She didn’t have any financial worries, the mortgage had been paid up and Bradley sent her money each month for her to get by. There was no way she could hold down a job in her state, nobody would employ her which was a shame as she had a lot to offer if only she could sober up.

Jessie’s parents had asked Bradley about his family and were surprised when he didn’t disclose too much about his parents. They were surprised because they were a tight knit family who had nothing to hide. They couldn’t get him to open up about his family however hard they tried, so they gave up in the end and put it down to Bradley being Scottish for some bizarre reason. They obviously hadn’t been reading the papers over the last year or so, they could have found out everything they wanted to know then.

With Christmas approaching, Bradley had to decide where he would spend it and who with. It was an easy question in some ways, obviously he needed to be in London as the Christmas period was a busy one in the footballing world and there would be plenty of games to play, so that ruled out going home to his mum which did upset him a bit. Jessie had already asked him if he wanted to spend Christmas with her family and Bradley had readily accepted. It would be nice to spend the holidays with a normal family although he would have to meet Jessie’s cousins, uncles and aunts as they usually spent Christmas Day with her parents. Some of them were Tottenham supporters though, that might be a problem he said to Jessie laughingly. She assured him that she would tell them to keep their mouths shut and not spoil things.

The next couple of league games went well for Bradley; beating Swansea 5-0 and Hull City 3-0 with Bradley scoring two in each game and making sure Arsenal were top of the league by a long way come Christmas. Some bookies had even stopped taking bets on them winning the league now, such was their form.

It had been confirmed that Alvarez was joining them on January 1st when the transfer window opened again and that was great news for Bradley. He was looking forward to meeting him and as he was staying with Jose until he had accommodation sorted out so there were to be a few evenings spent with them and getting to know Alvarez. He would be a useful addition to the squad as there were lots of games coming up over the next couple of months with the domestic cups and Champions League adding to the gruelling Premier League schedule. If they were still competing on four fronts for trophies then they would need a bigger squad as players like Bradley who were playing every game would be getting tired come mid-February.

On Christmas Eve, Jessie came over to Bradley’s to help him pack for the couple of nights they would spend at her parents. She still only had a single bed at home so it was either going to be a tight squeeze or he would have to sleep on the floor which he wasn’t keen on doing. The last thing he wanted was an injury caused by an uncomfortable night sleeping on a thin carpet. They would have to snuggle up in Jessie’s bed which was a much more acceptable solution in his mind.

Barry and Sharon were busy getting the house ready for the multitude of guests they had arriving later. Jessie helped her mum dress the tree (always a real one, not one of them plastic ones on Barry’s insistence) as Bradley and Barry talked shop over a cup of tea. He wanted to know all about Alvarez and if there were any more signings in the pipeline that Bradley knew of. Of course, there wasn’t any that he was aware of, but there were likely to be another couple of additions before the window closed.

The evening was spent watching TV, drinking and eating, and talking. Lots of talking, which Bradley found strange. How could anybody who had spent so many years together still find something to talk about? It was like they were talking for the sake of it and were scared of silence. He liked silence sometimes, but he didn’t think he was going to get that here. Still, it was fun just sitting around talking about nothing in particular, although the subject of football came up quite a lot. Jessie actually displayed a broad knowledge of the game and could recall results way before Bradley started playing professionally. She was clever as well as beautiful, he thought as they sat on the sofa holding hands all evening.

Christmas Day was very enjoyable with all the family around, as promised, and even the Tottenham supporters amongst them didn’t step out of line, especially as Barry was keeping an eye on them. Whilst everyone else tucked into the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, Bradley could only have something light as he had training in the afternoon ready for their away game at West Ham on the following day. All the family were devouring vast quantities of wine and beer while Bradley stuck to mineral water, gaining sympathy from the rest of the family. He explained that he had never drank alcohol and didn’t particularly miss it. There would be plenty of time once he retired to see what all the fuss was about, but in the meantime water and the occasional Ginger Beer would be fine with him.

After dinner, Bradley said his goodbyes to Jessie’s family and thanked Barry and Sharon for a truly enjoyable Christmas. All Barry wanted was three points against West Ham on Boxing Day as thanks, Sharon was happy with a peck on the cheek. He and Jessie stood in the hall saying goodbye and they parted with a long, passionate kiss. He then jumped into his car and headed for Arsenal’s training ground to prepare for the game.

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