How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

By Andrew Playle All Rights Reserved ©

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Chapter 28

News about Jimmy’s illness had got out to the public and the next day’s press was all over the story. The nation wept as they heard how their beloved Scotland manager, who had led them to glory and was expected to lead them to the ultimate prize the following year, had been stricken with an illness that probably meant he wasn’t going to be around to share in their success.

Jimmy tried his best to be upbeat about his condition when he gave a press conference a few days later. He was a passionately, patriotic Scot who had made huge sacrifices to create a world-beating team of youngsters that had made the world aware of his country.

The hardened journalists wept uncontrollably as he told them of his illness and his plans to be there at the World Cup Final next year, even if he was there as a ghost, he joked. After the press conference, every one of assembled journos shook his hand and hugged him, thanking him for what he had done and re-assuring him that his work wasn’t over just yet. He was a hero to them all; at the end of the day, even journalists were loyal Scotland supporters. There were even representatives of the English press in attendance who were also visibly upset at Jimmy’s predicament. They too, hugged him and wished him well in his fight against that wicked disease.

Training for the players was understandably miserable. Rory had tried to lift their spirits, but understood how they felt and decided it was best to let them get it out of their system in their own way. It was a low-key session; these players knew how to play and didn’t need to learn anything new, just needed to keep fit and ready for the upcoming games.

By the time they were on their way to Hampden for the home game against Moldova, Rory had noticed a more positive state of mind from the team. Nobody would get over Jimmy and he hoped that it would spur them on to win the World Cup for him.

The half time score read 4-0 to Scotland. It had been one of the best performances from the team in a long while. They were clinical, determined and entertaining. You could tell they were doing it for Jimmy which pleased Rory. That was just the reaction he had hoped for. As the final whistle blew with the final score at 7-0 to Scotland, Rory looked up into the boxes and gave the thumbs up to Jimmy who was sitting with his wife wrapped up in a tartan blanket with a huge smile on his face. The crowd had been terrific, cheering the team on and singing Jimmy’s name constantly. This was the best medicine for Jimmy as he watched his boys with pride.

The big test now was to travel to Switzerland and get another three points which would virtually guarantee them a place in the finals in Australia. Originally, Qatar had won the bid to stage the 2022 finals, but as with Russia and the 2018 tournament, it was found to have been riddled with fraud and corruption and the result was over-turned and the games handed to Australia who had come second in the ballot. FIFA had more or less imploded after the scandal and it had taken them a long time to rebuild the trust. Those responsible had received jail sentences and new, more trustworthy heads were installed. Australia was ready for action having upgraded their stadiums and they couldn’t wait to stage the finals.

Switzerland was still showing signs of winter with the remaining snow covering the surrounding mountains as their plane came in to land at Zurich airport. The team had been fairly quiet on the flight over, even during Rory’s team talk which was held at 35,000 feet and consisted of Rory walking up and down the aisle of their chartered Airbus 318 explaining where their opponent’s weaknesses were, raising morale and giving high fives all round. His managerial methods were vastly different from Jimmy’s, but none the less, still had the desired effect.

A bus was waiting for them once they had cleared immigration and collected their bags and it took them straight to their hotel on Bahnhofstrasse, near to Lake Zurich. It was a pretty town and the view from the bottom of Bahnhofstrasse to the mountains in the background of Lake Zurich was stunning. They were only staying the one night as most of the players had club games to prepare for in the following week.

The game was to be played at Grasshoppers Zurich’s stadium in Wallisellen just outside Zurich. It was a fairly new, compact stadium which would sell out for this game.

Scotland’s ‘Do It For Jimmy’ mood continued unabated and they ran out 3-0 winners against a decent Swiss side. Two games, ten goals scored and none conceded was a pretty good start for Rory. He didn’t have to rely solely on Bradley either as the ten goals were shared amongst him and four of his team mates. He had his first team virtually pick itself and he would try to use the same players every time, injuries permitting, so they could maintain consistency. Obviously, there would be times when back-ups were needed, but he had a good squad with some more promising youngsters coming through.

He and Bradley had enjoyed a long chat after the news about Jimmy broke. Since leaving Hearts in 2016 they had kept in touch and spoke regularly. Bradley looked forward to being re-united with Rory and it had to be said, Rory shared that view.

Their flight touched down at Glasgow airport late morning the day after their game and they made their way back to the team hotel for de-briefing where Archie was patiently waiting for Bradley to finish so he could update him on his dad.

‘Great results, Bradley. Everybody loved the way you all played. If you can keep this run of form going for another couple of years, we’ll be laughing. Not that there’s much to laugh about right now. How are the rest of the team taking the news about Jimmy?’ Archie asked.

‘As expected. We’re all so gutted for him, but determined we will carry on his hard work. He built this team and Rory is lucky to be taking it over. Jimmy is like a dad to most of us but the rest of the lads seem to buy into Rory’s ideas so I don’t think there will be any unrest in the camp if that’s what you mean.’

‘That’s good. Jimmy loved watching the game the other night, cheered him up no end. Now, talking of dads, I’ve got an update for you about yours. It wasn’t difficult to find him once I’d got my contacts on to it. They have contacts in London and it appears he and Lucy have got back together and are living in a former council flat near somewhere called Old Street. They are still digging around to find out more info but at least you know he’s okay.’

‘Thanks Archie. That’s good to know. If you find out any more that would be great. Thank your contacts and ask them what the bill is so far.’ Bradley smiled weakly.

So, the old bugger had been chucked out of the US and headed straight back to his old girlfriend. He wondered why she took him back in after all that time. He also needed to know if he was alright for money; he was aware of his dad’s profligacy when it came to spending cash and he suspected he didn’t have much right now to splash around.

Archie dropped him back at the airport for his flight back to Barcelona and wished him luck for the rest of the season. There were some great games coming up over the next couple of months and Bradley promised to get him tickets for some of them. He was welcome to stay with him and Jessie for the home games.

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