How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 27

The month of January brought another run of wins for Barcelona after the Real Betis game, against Osasuna 4-0, Sevilla away 2-1, Athletic Bilbao 5-0 and Elche away 3-0 in La Liga. Bradley had continued where he left off and scored six goals in those games to add to the hat-trick at the start of the month against Real Betis. The Real Madrid defeat still rankled and the team couldn’t wait to take revenge. Preferably, in the Champions League Final if they both made it.

He hadn’t heard any more from Kevin McNair, the Edinburgh Fraud Squad or his dad since Christmas and hoped it would stay that way, although he was curious to know what his dad was up to now he had been deported from the US and now presumably had no job and nowhere to live. It brought him a twinge of guilt at the thought of him being homeless and not knowing where he was. He was still his dad after all said and done and he hadn’t meant to be such a pain to Bradley.

At least his mum was happy and enjoying life with Carlos. He would miss visiting her in Dunfermline whenever he popped back to Scotland for international games, but she was only an hour’s flight down the coast so there was nothing stopping him flying down for a quick visit, or her and Carlos coming up to catch a game in Barcelona.

Jessie’s parents were frequent visitors to Barcelona and Mijas, Barry having virtually retired from driving his taxi so he could spend more time with his daughter. Bradley had paid off their mortgage on the house in Loughton and bought him a new taxi as his old one was more in need of retirement than Barry.

He was happy with life overall, but he still wanted to know that his dad was okay.

In the meantime, there were some big games coming up for him, mainly Champions League where they had been told that nothing less than the trophy would suffice this season. Then in March, there would be internationals in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup. Scotland were every bookies’ favourite to qualify, but could they go one further in the tournament than last time in the US? Scotland was buzzing with excitement and anticipation at the prospect and most people thought they were going to do it.

Luckily, Bradley kept himself injury-free most of the time, apart from the odd muscle strain or knock which could normally be rectified in time for the next game. When they were still winning every game through February and into March, the bookies refused to take any more bets. The league had more or less been wrapped up and they were progressing well through the Champions League where they were crushing all the opposition.

By the time the international games came around, Barcelona were in the semi-finals of the Champions League where they would face the surprise package of this year’s competition in Zenit St Petersburg of Russia.

Internationals week gave the players the opportunity to focus on something other than domestic games and all the players involved were excited to be playing for their respective countries. It was also a good excuse for the players to go home for a few days and catch up with families, especially those that had come from South America or Asia.

Bradley’s flight back to Glasgow was delayed due to bad weather so he had to hang around in the executive lounge at El Prat airport until the fog had lifted in Glasgow. Fortunately, he had a few team mates to keep him company until their flights to sunnier locations got off.

When he eventually arrived at Glasgow airport, there were a mass of fans and press waiting for him as usual. Despite being tired out, he spent the next thirty minutes or so signing autographs, kissing babies and smiling for the cameras. Archie the agent was there to meet him and led him out to his car waiting outside.

‘Good to see things are going well for you, Bradley. Your name is all over the papers for the right reasons now.’ Archie laughed.

‘Aye. Makes a change. Thing is Archie, you know all about what happened to dad after Christmas, well, I’m kind of worried about his welfare. I’ve no idea where he is or how he is. I’ve tried texting and calling but I think his phone number must have changed. If he’s still got one. Do you know any private detectives that could find him?’ Bradley asked.

‘Not an area I normally move in, to be honest. I know a couple of fellas in Glasgow who might want to have a go. Not their usual line of work, but at least it will be different to the debt collection business which is their main job. They’re good at tracking people down when they fall behind on their payments. Not particularly nice people mind, they can’t afford to be in that job, but I can have a word.’

‘Thanks Archie. Just want to know how he is.’

Archie assured him he would speak to his contacts and see if they were interested. If he could set up a meeting before he went back to Barcelona, he would.

During the rest of the drive to the Scotland team’s usual hotel, they went back to discussing football, Scotland’s chances against Moldova at home and Switzerland away. They caught up with the latest gossip in Scottish football, the continuing miserable weather and how Archie was missing Spain after enjoying another great Christmas with Bradley’s family, as dis-functional as they were at times.

He checked into the hotel and met the rest of the squad in the conference room which had been reserved for them. A big cheer went up when Bradley finally arrived after his delay. This was a good squad, he thought. Average age was only twenty-five and if they stayed together long enough they could beat the world. Everyone got on well with one another, there were no divisions amongst the players even though there were some that plied their trade in the second level of English football or Scottish Premier League which meant it took them a year to earn what Bradley earned in a month.

The manager, Jimmy Anderson, entered the room to another loud cheer. He had the shortest journey to get there, but was always held up somewhere, normally getting through Glasgow. After they had all caught up, Jimmy asked for a bit of quiet as he had an announcement to make. The team weren’t unduly worried about this; it was how he started all his team talks before these games. This one was to be slightly different though. Jimmy didn’t look his normal cheery self.

‘We’ve come a long way lads. Nobody expected us to win the Euros last year, but we did. Nobody expected us to get to the World Cup final in 2020, but we did. The world is sitting up and taking notice of us now. They show us respect when in the past they would have shown us sympathy. We’ve showed them that we are a force to be reckoned with and they fully expect us to lift the World Cup next year. That’s all down to you lot. You’ve set a great example to others by sticking to your healthy eating and taking care of yourself. Focusing on the dream you all shared. You did it, not me. I was just lucky enough to be able to work with such a great squad of players.’

‘However, you’re going to have to finish the job without me. I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer and been told I have to give up the job I love. I’m sorry guys; I wish I would be leading you to glory in 2022, but I might not even be around to see you win it. I’ll do my best.’

‘Obviously, this means you will have a new manager, and I’ve been working with the Scottish FA to find the right replacement. I can now introduce you to that replacement, who some of you might know already. We believe he will be the right man to carry on the job I started. Gentlemen, please welcome Rory MacMillan.’ Jimmy tried hard not to cry, but in vain.

The room was silent. Players openly wept at the thought that their beloved manager wouldn’t be with them anymore. They had nothing against Rory; a few of the Scotland players played for Hearts where he had spent the last few years building Hearts into a top team once again. Bradley remembered him well as he was a great manager to have when you start out. Jimmy was right; he would be the right person to carry on and lead them to glory. They would do it for Jimmy.

Rory took the stage and looked at his new team.

‘Alright, lads? As much as I’m delighted to take over this team and carry on Jimmy’s good work, I’m just as upset as you all are at Jimmy’s circumstances. I’ve known him for many years and admired what he, and you, have achieved. Like all Scotsmen, we’ve loved Jimmy every step of the way, and that will continue. Yes, we’re all upset. It’s not going to be easy carrying on without Jimmy, but we’re not going to let him down. He’s not finished yet and I firmly believe he will be with us next year when we lift the World Cup. So, let’s keep it going and see you all at training in the morning.’

It was the hardest thing Rory had ever had to do in his life and deep down, he felt gutted that he was the one to have to take over the running of the team. It was the job every Scottish manager dreamed of right from their first managerial steps at places like Forfar, Ayr or Elgin. Rory was lucky enough to be given that dream job, but in tragic circumstances. It was his job to raise the morale of his troops and spur them on.

He only hoped that Jimmy would hang on long enough to see his good work finished.

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