How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 32

After a sumptuous meal in the restaurant of the Taj Palace, Jessie and Bradley retired to the verandah to take tea. Proper tea. Bradley’s favourite beverage in the place where it all began. They sipped their tea and listened to the noise of the city in the background.

Jamal had promised to pick them up at seven the next morning for the four hour drive to Jaipur to explore the city for the day. They would stay in Jaipur for two nights then it would be another early start and a four hour drive to Agra where they would spend one more night before heading back to the Taj Palace for three more nights. It was a lot of driving on busy roads, but it would be worth it and it would be comfortable enough in Jamal’s air-conditioned Mercedes.

On the long drive, Jamal continued with his history lesson and explained how the British had left their influence on many aspects of Indian life. Only the good bits, he stressed happily. Jessie and Bradley found all this information fascinating and far more interesting than they thought it would be.

It wasn’t long before Jamal asked them what they did for a living and how such young people could afford to take an expensive trip like this. Had they won the lottery? He enquired.

Bradley explained to Jamal how he played football for Barcelona and he got paid extremely well. At that moment, the penny dropped for Jamal.

‘Ah, I knew I had heard your name somewhere!’ Jamal exclaimed. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t really follow football Mr Gardner. I love my cricket.’ He laughed.

‘Don’t worry, Jamal. It’s nice to go somewhere and not be recognised all the time, unlike Europe.’

He went on to tell him all about Barcelona and how they were the most successful club in the world and won lots of trophies. Being modest, he was reluctant to tell Jamal how much he earned, but Jamal kept pressing him. When he told him and Jamal worked out how much his salary was in Rupees, he nearly ran off the road in shock.

‘Really? You earn that much for just kicking a ball around? It would take me a lifetime to make just one week’s salary compared to you. What do you do with such wealth?’ Jamal was fascinated. Bradley was at a loss to answer him truthfully. He told Jamal how he had bought a nice house in southern Spain and how he had an agent who looked after his money, investing it wisely in various tax efficient accounts and funds. He didn’t really know what Archie did with it, he just trusted Archie and his friend implicitly.

‘Archie must be a very good fellow then. I think if I had that sort of money I would be sitting at home counting it.’ Jamal laughed. ‘Do all football players earn that money? I understand there are hundreds of clubs in Europe. Surely they aren’t all millionaires, Mr Gardner.’

‘Most of them are, if they are playing for the top teams. Some lower league players barely make enough money to pay the mortgage, but I am one of the lucky ones.’ Bradley explained.

‘You are very lucky indeed, Mr Gardner. Maybe I should tell my sons to become great footballers and go to Europe for the big money.’ He laughed.

The conversation carried on between Jamal and Bradley for ages and before they knew it, they had arrived at Jaipur, the Pink City. It was less hectic than New Delhi and not as humid, which was a relief. Their home for the next two nights was at the Taj Rambagh Palace, a six stars resort which looked magnificent from the outside and breath-taking inside. If Bradley and Jessie thought the Raj Palace in New Delhi was luxury, then this place took it to another level.

Once again, they were helped from their car and escorted through the vast and opulent reception area to check in. Jamal had insisted he was happy to stay at a nearby three stars hotel which was the best he could afford on his salary, and waited in the reception for Bradley and Jessie to find their room and unpack again.

After a superb lunch in the hotel’s restaurant with Jamal, they got back into his car for a tour of the city which left them speechless. Jamal was a superb guide and knew this city well. He showed them all the usual tourist spots, plus some out of the way places for shopping and seeing the real Jaipur, which of course, involved alleys full of poor children playing games and showing a happy interest in their visitors.

It was then that Bradley noticed a game of football happening on a nearby piece of wasteland and told Jamal he should watch it for a while to see how the beautiful game was played, so they parked up and wandered over to watch what looked like a twenty-a-side match with no apparent rules. They seemed to be enjoying themselves though, which was important.

One player caught Bradley’s eye immediately. He was about fifteen, tall and muscular, and had a lighter skin colour than his team mates. He had everything; skills on the ball, good in the tackle and it looked like he was their star player as his team mates tried to get the ball to him every time they had possession. After twenty minutes watching him, Jessie was getting bored and Jamal was listening to Bradley wax lyrical about this boy. He took out his iPhone and recorded about ten minutes of action involving the boy, mesmerised by his talents.

He asked Jamal if he could find out who he was and whether he could talk to him for a bit. Bradley was thinking that this boy could do well in Europe, despite the fact that there had never been a truly talented Indian footballer in history which was hard to understand in a country with a population the size of India’s. Even Jamal recognised his talent and during a break in the game went over to talk to the boy.

After a minute or so, Jamal brought him back to meet Bradley and have a chat. As he drew nearer, the boy’s eyes nearly popped out as he recognised Bradley.

‘Mr Gardner, this is Deepak Bhatia. He says he knows you.’ Jamal laughed.

‘Are you really Bradley Gardner?’ Deepak asked excitedly.

Bradley laughed and told him he was. ‘You’re not a bad player Deepak. Where did you get your talent from?’

‘My grandfather was a professional player when he was young. He played in Scotland, where you are from.’

‘Really? What’s his name? Who did he play for?’ Bradley asked.

‘Drew Robertson. He played for Aberdeen between 1982 and 1986. Then he moved to India when he got a bad injury and met my grandmother. He never went back to Scotland again.’ Deepak explained.

Bradley had a vague recollection of a player by that name, but he knew someone who would definitely know him. Archie. As he couldn’t get a good signal on his phone, he would have to wait until he got back to the hotel and used their Wi-Fi before speaking to Archie and sending him the video showcasing Deepak’s skills.

‘Look Deepak, I think you’ve got a lot of natural talent and I’d like to show some video to my agent. We aren’t going to be around after today so how can we get in touch with you?’ Bradley asked.

‘My grandfather has a computer; he uses it to keep up with the football results and Scottish news. I think he has a phone also.’

‘Great. Here’s my details, get your grandfather to email me with his and we can keep in touch. How would you like to play football in Scotland? It’s a bit colder than here.’

‘I know. Grandfather keeps telling me all about Scotland. I would love to go and see it one day. It sounds lovely.’ Deepak smiled.

They all shook hands and Jamal, Bradley and Jessie got back in the Mercedes and continued their tour. When they got back to their hotel Bradley raced into the reception and picked up the hotel Wi-Fi to call Archie while Jessie waited patiently under a ceiling fan, cooling off after a long day’s sight-seeing.

‘Archie? How you doing? Have you seen that video I just sent you? The boy’s got real talent, and he’s got a Scottish grandad. How bizarre is that?’ Bradley laughed.

‘Aye, I’ve seen it. You’re right, he does look like he’s got loads of talent. What’s the story?’

‘His grandad used to play for Aberdeen in the eighties. Goes by the name of Drew Robertson. Do you know him?’ Bradley asked.

‘Drew Robertson? Are you kidding? I knew him well when he played here. Got a bad injury then disappeared. Nobody knew where he went. It was a complete mystery. So, are you telling me he shipped out to India when he finished? That would explain a lot.’ Archie said.

‘I’ll email you Drew’s contact details. Deepak said that was the best way to contact him. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear from you after all these years.’

He hung up the phone and emailed Drew’s details to Archie, as promised and collected Jessie before heading back to their room for a lie down and some refreshing tiffin.

Bradley wondered how many more talented boys were out there. How would they get noticed? Nobody sent scouts to India as far as he was aware. And why didn’t Deepak’s grandad put him in touch with his contacts back in Scotland? Archie said he disappeared after his injury. Was there something he was running away from?

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