How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 30

MAY 2021

Barcelona had enjoyed their best season in history in 2021, dropping only five points in La Liga the whole season, winning the Copa del Rey and now to make their season complete they had beaten Real Madrid 3-0 in the Champions League final. Revenge was sweet. They were now ranked the top club in the world and their value had increased dramatically, much to the delight of those running the club.

This wasn’t achieved solely by having Bradley Gardner in the team and winning everything himself, no, it had been a team effort. Every player that pulled on the blau grana shirts had played their parts and were ranked among the best players in the world. That’s what happens when you are successful; you can attract the best players in the world and make you even more successful until it comes to the point where there’s nothing left to win. Barcelona fans were used to celebrating at the end of every season and should they not win every competition they are in, then they are unsatisfied and let you know how unhappy they are. Such is the price of success.

In many ways, it’s best not to be entirely reliant on one player, especially one as young as Bradley. It puts too much pressure on the player to perform at 110% percent every game and carry the rest of the team. One defeat can knock their self-confidence and damage morale completely. For this reason, Bradley was exceedingly happy with his contribution to their success without feeling the pressure.

After their final league game at home against Real Sociedad, which they won 4-0, the team went on a lap of honour around the Nou Camp parading their trophy haul, soaking up the applause from their delighted supporters.

Bradley had got tickets for Barry and Sharon, Archie, Carlos and his mum for this game and they thoroughly enjoyed the day. He would have loved to have seen his dad there as well and it was especially upsetting as he felt he still owed him for all the support he had given him when he was younger. Still, it was his fault he was banned from flying and in any case, he hadn’t heard from him in months.

Archie had kept Bradley updated on how Brian was managing the last few months. It seemed he was making a success of owning a bistro in North London with Lucy and had completely turned his life around for the better. He was pleased that his dad was back to being successful and he wished he could go and see this bistro, but his pride wouldn’t let him. While he was sure he would be warmly welcomed, he figured his dad wasn’t that bothered about seeing him otherwise he would have made contact. And then, the longer you take to make that call or send that text, the harder it is to re-engage with someone. Was he watching his games on TV? Did he sit at home with his fingers poised over the keyboard? Who knows?

For now, he was just happy that another successful season was over and he could look forward to a nice relaxing summer in Mijas with no tournaments, and spending time with Jessie and his mum. They were thinking of taking a holiday somewhere exotic like Bali or India for a couple of weeks as they had so much time off. It would just be him and Jessie to spend some quality time alone and away from family pressures and the press.

He was forever fending off newspapers and football magazines’ requests for interviews, putting them all in touch with Archie who handled the press. Not that he minded giving interviews, but they all tended to be the same content. Once you had read about his upbringing in Scotland and how lucky he was to have been born with so much talent, you didn’t need to read another magazine’s take on the same subjects. There just wasn’t any point. So, as Archie said, just throw them some bones now and again and wait until the glossy mags were all over them for the rights to their wedding photos.

So, the plan was to head down to Mijas with Carlos, Martine, Barry and Sharon for a few days before jetting off somewhere, while Archie headed back to sunny Scotland.

Before Archie left, he had more information on Brian to impart to Bradley. According to his sources in London who had been keeping tags on Brian, he and Lucy were planning to get married at the end of the year. The news came as a shock to Bradley, but in other ways, it was probably the right thing to do if he was truly settling down. He thought about calling him to congratulate them but that would have blown Archie’s contacts’ cover and he would have wanted to know how he knew. So, he left his phone where it was and told himself that he would phone him after his holiday which was going to be in India starting in five days’ time.

As the saying goes, always put off until tomorrow what you can’t be arsed to do today.

Ironically, a thousand miles or so north, Brian was contemplating the same thing. Time after time he picked his phone up and wanted to call Bradley. Time after time, he thought better of it and put it off. He wanted to congratulate him on his season’s success and to tell him that he and Lucy were thinking of marrying later that year.

Brian badly wanted to show Bradley how well the bistro was doing as well. Since opening, they had been an instant success and regularly had to turn people away in the evening as they were over-booked. The bookings reached out to more than one month and they were gaining a decent reputation in the area, especially amongst the young professional crowd who often booked the same slot weeks in advance.

It hadn’t been long before the restaurant critics from the London Evening Standard, Time Out, the Daily Telegraph and a couple of local rags had wanted to know what the fuss was about. They booked dinner for two or four without declaring their intentions, so that Brian and his team didn’t make a fuss of them. They wanted to savour the experience for themselves.

None of them went away unhappy with their meal; in fact, they all gave Bistro Lucia rave reviews which only succeeded in making the place even more popular. They had started to attract local celebrities and actors who lived nearby, as well as a surprise visit from some of his son’s old team mates at Arsenal.

When they had opened, it was just Brian and Lucy with their chef and junior, Diego and Delroy. Now, they had taken on another couple of waitresses and two more people in the kitchen to take some of the pressure off of Delroy who was having a great time learning how to manage a restaurant. Brian and Lucy had also given them both a decent rise, although Delroy protested that he was just grateful to be given the chance. Brian assured him he had proved himself and he thoroughly deserved the recognition.

Together, they had all worked hard to make it the success it was; now they had to maintain that success. All too often, great places get complacent and when a new restaurant opens offering the same food and service, they can be pushed off the top and settle for leftovers unless they continued to work hard. Brian would make sure that didn’t happen. One day, his son would walk through those doors and he wanted him to see the bistro full of happy customers to show him he could still do it.

He hoped he would walk through the door, anyway. There was no guarantee of it, sadly.

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