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Authors: Cindy Jefferies

Hot Prospect

BOOK: Hot Prospect
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STADIUM
SCHOOL

WHERE FOOTBALLING DREAMS COME TRUE

Hot
   Prospect

Jefferies & Goffe

To Cindy, who I quite literally couldn't have
done it without, and to Cat, for living with
my football madness. SG

Thanks to Seb, who has made our writing
partnership so much fun. CJ

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Map of Stadium School

1.  The Beautiful Game

2.  Some Proper Coaching

3.  A Big Decision

4.  Stadium School

5.  At the Trial

6.  School Life

7.  Evening

8.  Home Again

9.  The Waiting Game

10. A New School

Imprint

Map of Stadium School

1. The Beautiful Game

“Roddy! Your ball!”

Roddy Jones turned and chased the goalie's wayward kick up the pitch. He was exhausted from running himself into the ground all afternoon for the Valley Primary School team, but happy doing what he absolutely loved. He was easily the best player, and as captain did most of the work himself, but he didn't care. In his head he was a world-famous attacking midfielder, playing in the World Cup, and he could hear the commentators marvelling at his skill.

And it's Jones now, in acres of space. He puts his foot on the ball and looks up to assess the situation, then spots Bryn Thomas making
a lovely run down the right wing. He hoists a pin-point pass 40 yards across the pitch, and sets off at a gallop towards the penalty area. Thomas collects the ball a split second before the covering defender, and instinctively lashes in a cross to where he knows Jones will be arriving. Without breaking his stride, the young Welsh-Brazilian midfielder lets the ball bounce once before firing home a vicious half-volley into the top-left corner, leaving the despairing keeper sprawled in the mud. Jones wheels away with his fist in the air, and slides on his knees towards the corner flag. His fourth goal seals a magnificent 5–1 victory for a well-deserved place in the final!

Roddy came off the field with the rest of his five-a-side team. He was gasping for breath, covered in mud, and his jet-black hair was sticky with sweat. But his dark eyes were
sparkling with excitement, and he was laughing. They'd won every game they'd played and were in the final of the tournament. What could possibly be better than that?

“Stuffed them, didn't we, Bryn?” Roddy panted to his best mate with glee, rubbing his face with the bottom of his shirt.

Bryn Thomas nodded his cropped head. “St David's has twice as many pupils as we do,” he said. “But they're useless.”

“Now then,” said their coach, Mr Taylor, as he joined them from the touchline. “No rubbishing the opposition.”

“But 5–1!” objected Bryn. “They
are
useless.”

“They just don't have a Roddy Jones,” said Mr Taylor, smiling at the team. “He played a blinder out there, but he needs more support. This is a team game. You can't expect Roddy to
do all the work. You're in the final now, but if you're not careful, our star player won't survive the match.”

“Drinks! And a Mars bar each.” It was Roddy's dad with the refreshments. Dan Jones was almost as keen on football as his son, and had taken the afternoon off to help with the five-a-side tournament. “Well done, Roddy,” he added proudly. “Your third goal was brilliant. I think St David's gave up after that. Well done, all of you.”

“Yes, you've earned your place in the final,” agreed Mr Taylor. “And we're playing on this pitch again, so you can have a good rest. The opposition will have to come to us.”

“Who are we up against?” asked Roddy between gulps of his drink. He was sorry the day was almost over, despite being totally shattered. His mum, Francesca Jones, said he was so football mad he'd play in his sleep
if he could! In fact, the whole family was keen on the game, but recently his older sister Liz had lost interest, which was a shame because she'd been pretty good, too.

Roddy played football whenever and wherever he got the chance. In school, in the back garden, at the park, even in his bedroom sometimes, although that wasn't really to be recommended. Roddy Jones simply
lived
for the game. Mr Taylor had already told him how much he'd be missed when he moved up to Valley Comp next term.

“You're facing Manor Primary,” said Mr Taylor, checking his list. “They've only dropped one game today. Did you get a chance to see how they play, Dan?”

Roddy's dad nodded. “They've got a midfielder you'll need to watch out for,” he told the team. “He's almost as quick as you, Roddy. But their defence is a bit weak – they all
want to be goal scorers. If you can get past that midfielder, you should be OK.”

“Bryn, make sure you back up Roddy, and Ella, more of those long passes would be excellent,” said their coach. “Manor Primary must be good, otherwise they wouldn't be in the final, but we can beat them if we play our best.” He rubbed his hands together. “Time to go. Good luck, everyone.”

All the parents, teachers and pupils from the losing teams were making their way over to watch. Roddy pulled his socks well up and checked the laces on his boots. He took a few deep breaths. The Manor Primary team had arrived, and the referee was ready.

Valley Primary, in red, lined up opposite the Manor Primary players in blue, both sizing each other up. With only ten minutes of football between him and the chance to lift a real trophy, Roddy wasn't going to let any of
his team-mates slack off now.

“You heard Mr Taylor,” he said. “The way to beat this lot is to let them come at us, then strike when they're exposed at the back. Strong defence and counterattacking, that's the stuff. Now, let's show them how to play!”

From the kickoff, Manor Primary have made their intentions clear, and are really going at the red defence, forcing Jones back to help out his team-mates. But with such a fierce assault, Manor is leaving dangerous gaps at the back, and Jones will look to take full advantage
.

The reds' goalie manages to hold onto the muddy ball, and launches it over the heads of the Manor team, to where Jones is sprinting into unmarked space. The blues are streaming back to chase him, and gaining on the lone attacker. Jones has run his heart out today, and with the rain beginning to come down,
his pace is fading. Just as he shapes to shoot, a blue shirt catches up and clatters into him from behind, clearly with no intention of playing the ball. The ref's whistle shrills immediately, and he gives the defender a good talking to, but the free kick comes to nothing and the chance is wasted
.

The reds are back struggling in their own half, unable to play under the constant pressure from the blues. As the first half draws to a close, the reds seem to be cracking. The ball is floated in from the flanks, and Flowers, in the Valley goal, only succeeds in punching as far as the blue midfielder lurking on the edge of the box, who avoids a tackle, and slots the ball into the bottom corner of the net. 1–0 to Manor Primary. The ref looks at his watch, and blows a long blast to signal the end of the half
.

There was a short rest before play began again.

“You all right, mate?” Bryn asked Roddy anxiously. “That was a horrible tackle. He should've been sent off.”

“I'm fine,” said Roddy. “It's just a pity we didn't get a goal out of it.”

Ella Flowers was sitting on her own, blaming herself for the ball she'd let in, but Roddy did his bit to cheer her up.

“Come on,” he said. “One goal will get us back in the game, and they'll be rattled then. We can still win this!”

The ref was waving them back onto the pitch, and Roddy's monologue resumed.

The reds have left themselves a mountain to climb, but if anyone can inspire a reversal of fortunes, it's Jones. He plays the ball out to Thomas, in his customary position wide on the right, and moves up the pitch in unison with his vice-captain
.

Thomas splits the defence with a magical
through-ball, leaving Jones one on one with the keeper. He runs forward until he can see the whites of the goalie's eyes. Then, with a cheeky little shimmy, he leaves the keeper sprawling as the ball spins into the back of the net. Jones wheels away to high-five his teammates, then jogs back to his own half to await the restart. 1–1. Can either side finish this?

The clock was winding down, and the match looked like heading to penalties. Neither side was dominating, and all ten players were exhausted. Roddy picked up the ball on the edge of his own area after another fruitless blue attack, and saw an open space ahead of him.

And now Jones is on the ball. It's a long way to the other end, but he's thundering down the pitch. He skips past the despairing lunge of the only blue defender, and now he is all alone in the Manor Primary half
.

Jones puts his head down and hoofs the ball ahead of himself, sprinting to catch up. The keeper is unsure what to do, and dithers a few yards off his line before rushing out late. Jones senses the indecision, and hoists a perfect lob. Time seems to stand still as the ball arcs over the goalie's outstretched hands. Slowly, it dips just under the crossbar and nestles in the back of the net. The final whistle goes! Jones topples over backwards and lies flat out on the ground, before being crushed by his celebrating team-mates. Manor Primary is gutted. Jones will be lifting the cup here, and his team will be taking home the glory!

Valley Primary was presented with prizes by the tournament sponsor. There was a silver cup for their school and a boot bag for each member of the team. Roddy raised the cup above his head to the cheers of the crowd. As the applause died away, he could see his dad
smiling proudly, so Roddy sprinted over to him. But before he could show off his winnings, Mr Taylor had joined them, too.

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