How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 56

All through the short flight to Amsterdam, Bradley had a long face. His manager asked him what was wrong as he didn’t need his star player distracted by something off the pitch.

‘Is it your parents again? What have they been up to now?’ Silvio enquired.

‘No, it’s not my parents this time.’ Bradley replied and explained to Silvio all about Jessie and the rumours that were going around about a possible transfer.

‘Listen Bradley, there’s no way you are leaving here unless I say it is okay or you want to go. I don’t care what Barcelona offer, although the Chairman might think differently. I will fight to keep you here, so don’t worry about it now. I just want you to know I am relying on you tomorrow, so are all those Arsenal supporters who deserve a bit of luck. Do it for them, not the Chairman!’

Silvio’s pep talk cheered him up a bit. It was good to know that his manager didn’t want him to go under any circumstances. In fact, if he played a blinder tomorrow then he knew Barcelona would make a bid and he would have great delight in telling them where to go. For Jessie’s sake as well as his and Arsenal’s.

They landed at Schiphol on time then it was a long taxi before the plane docked at the gate. There were a number of press waiting at arrivals as they streamed through with their bags and climbed into a waiting coach to take them to their hotel. They were staying at the Hilton which was in a quiet suburb of Amsterdam some five kilometres south of the centre. They had the afternoon at leisure so Bradley joined up with Alvarez and Jose and took a taxi to the centre.

The taxi driver recognised them straight away and couldn’t resist talking football with them. He was a season ticket holder at Ajax who hadn’t been enjoying the best of seasons and he would be glad to see it out so he could get excited about the new season once more.

Like most Dutch people, he spoke English fluently and offered to take them on a tour of the city so they didn’t have to wander around Amsterdam getting pestered by fans. That sounded like a great idea to them so they negotiated a price and sat back to enjoy the ride.

He took them through Museumplein where the art museums were located, over the canals and past Anne Frank’s house which Bradley remembered reading about when he was at school. It was a fascinating city and he resolved to bring Jessie here for a weekend one day. After a couple of hours of sight-seeing, Alvarez asked the driver if he could take them to a quiet canal side bar where they could enjoy a coffee and take in the afternoon sun. He knew just the place and took them to the area known as Jordaan slightly to the west of the centre. This was where the upmarket properties were located and the area had a bit of a Bohemian feel to it which they liked.

They parked outside the bar and the taxi driver told them he would wait for them, but Alvarez insisted that he joined them as he had been kind enough to take them on a tour. He happily accepted and they found an outside table where they chatted about football for two hours before they decided it might be an idea to head back to the Hilton.

When they pulled up outside the hotel, they spotted a couple of their team mates who had done a similar tour so they swapped experiences with them over another coffee before they retired to their rooms. Dinner was to be taken in the private dining room at the hotel at six so Bradley had time to call Jessie from his room.

She sounded much happier once Bradley told her what Silvio had said, which in turn made Bradley happier too. She told him how she and dad were going to their local pub to watch the game with their neighbours so it should be a great evening. She told him how much she missed him and couldn’t wait to celebrate when he got home, then jetting off to his villa in Mijas a couple of days later.

Bradley was looking forward to that as well. All the design work should have been completed by now and he couldn’t wait to sit by his pool overlooking the surrounding forest and mountains with a view down to the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean.

Next morning, there was a light training session just to keep the team sharp, followed by a light lunch and some down time for the players to get in the zone before the biggest game in Arsenal’s illustrious history.

Just before six, the team boarded their bus and headed for the Arena which was located on the eastern side of Amsterdam in what looked like a not particularly nice area, despite there being a number of low level new office blocks nearby.

They filed into the dressing room and changed as Silvio gave them the team talk of his life. When they were pumped up and ready to smash Juventus, hitting high fives all round, they strutted on to the pitch to be met with a wall of noise, one thing the Arena was known for. It was a compact stadium where the crowd noise seemed to be echoed making for a great atmosphere.

There was an equal mix of Arsenal and Juventus supporters in the stadium, along with loads of corporate ‘fans’ and members of UEFA’s ‘Footballing Family’ as they liked to call the hangers on.

In the opening minutes, Juventus tried to emulate Barcelona and rough Bradley up at every opportunity. This time, he was ready for it and mesmerised his opponents with silky skills and dribbling past their creaky defence. They obviously wanted revenge for last year’s Champions League final defeat at the hands of Arsenal.

By half time, Arsenal were winning 1-0 after Bradley put their centre forward through with a perfect diagonal pass. However, it was still a fairly evenly matched game so nothing could be taken for granted. Silvio reminded them of this with his half time talk. They stood forty-five minutes from eternal glory and should do it for the fans.

Their second goal came from a Bradley free kick which curled viciously into the top corner of the net and sent the Arsenal supporters into raptures. Surely with fifteen minutes left history would be made now. Juventus had other ideas though and continued to fight back scoring a late goal which left the Arsenal fans chewing their nails. Then the unthinkable happened. Juventus’ winger Chiesa had ran into the box and dived theatrically clutching his leg. The referee was fooled and awarded Juventus a penalty with only two minutes left on the clock.

The Arsenal fans were raging and back in the studio where they kept replaying the incident, there was universal condemnation for Chiesa who had history for diving. As Arsenal’s first choice keeper had got injured in their last Premier League game, their Romanian back-up keeper, Florin Romanescu had been drafted in. The crowd fell silent as Chiesa himself lined up to take the penalty, despite looking like he needed an ambulance just two minutes earlier.

Saved!!!! Justice had been done and Chiesa could only hold his head in his hands as Romanescu was mobbed by his team mates.

At last, the final whistle blew and Arsenal had made history by winning four major tournaments in one season. There was pandemonium on the pitch as Silvio and his management team ran on to the pitch to join in with the celebrations. Every member of the team gave special thanks to Florin Romanescu for saving that penalty, if that had gone in then it would probably meant extra time and Juventus would have been more confident of winning than they were. It was that important.

The ground staff were busy assembling the podiums in the centre of the pitch ready for the presentation of the medals and trophy. In the meantime, the Arsenal players had gone over to their loyal supporters who were dancing with glee in the half of the stadium. Bradley recalled meeting Jessie this way after the cup final and it made him wonder what she and her dad were doing right now.

In turn, that made him think of his own parents and grandparents and whether they were celebrating or not. Right now, he shouldn’t really be worrying about that and should be soaking up the atmosphere celebrating with their fans. No doubt he would speak to them when he got home.

Eventually, the podium was ready for the players to collect their medals with Juventus having to walk past the huge trophy before climbing on to the podium, making it doubly traumatic for them. When the Arsenal team filed up to collect theirs, the Juventus half of the stadium was empty as their fans had seen enough by then.

Bradley was the last but one player on the podium and was presented with his medal followed the captain, Gilles Renout who was presented with the Champions League cup which he proceeded to hoist above his head leading the remaining Arsenal fans to cheer wildly as they danced on the stage for what seemed like hours.

It took some time to clear the stadium of fans and Arsenal players as they milked it for all it was worth. The journey back to their hotel was a happy one, waving at their fans who were making their way into Amsterdam to carry on the celebrations with a beer or two. Nothing like that for Bradley, he enjoyed a few tonic waters with his team mates before getting to bed around one in the morning. That was it; the season was over at last and he could relax.

Next stop, Mijas!

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