SHOOTING GOALS WAS MORE FUN THAN ARMY
GOOD BAD & UGLY: LEE BRADBURY
WHEN Lee Bradbury was patrolling the streets of Northern Ireland, a professional football career must have seemed a long way away.
Born on the Isle of Wight, the striker wasn’t nurtured in football academies like many others. Instead, his route into the game was with the Army. A prolific scorer, he landed a trial with Portsmouth and didn’t look back.
Bradbury scored goals for his boyhood Pompey, Crystal Palace, Manchester City, Sheffield Wednesday, Southend United and Bournemouth before moving into the Cherries’ dug-out.
Now boss of Vanarama Conference South club Havant & Waterlooville, the 39-year-old is forging his way in management.
Here, the man who has won promotion from each tier of the Football League guides us through his journey from Cowes Sports to a £3m player.
I was playing for the Army team in a pre-season tour around Porstmouth and the Isle of Wight. My coach knew the Portsmouth manager Terry Fenwick and we went to have a look around Fratton Park. He told Terry Fenwick about me, at the time I’d been scoring a lot of goals, and he offered me the chance to go into pre-season training.
I didn’t really know what preseason training was – I just thought that’s what a normal day of training was like. I was 19 years old, really fit from the Army, and I won all the running.
They asked me back for the preseason to Scotland. I came on as a sub, scored three goals and they offered me a contract.
It’s what I’d always wanted to do. Growing up on the Isle of Wight, there weren’t the academies there are now and it was hard to get spotted. I wrote to all 92 League clubs, had a couple of trials around the country, but picked up a few injuries and couldn’t get the break. So I joined the Army. To come from the streets of Northern Ireland to playing football every day... I couldn’t believe my luck.
I had about 25 managers so this one’s hard! My favourite was Terry Venables. I was with him at Portsmouth and Crystal Palace. As an all-round manager/coach, he ticked the most boxes with me. I’d never really been coached to a standard like that. He made me understand my roles and responsibilities. Tactically, he’s really good and he had a really good way of putting it all across on the training pitch.
It’s split between Robert Prosinecki at Portsmouth and Georgi Kinkladze at Manchester City. Both were unplayable on their day. Fantastic awareness, touch, vision, could breeze past people – the full package.
Robert was very laid back. He’d been used to playing in front of 80,000 in La Liga for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. To play in front of 20,000 was a doddle for him. He had the ball on a piece of string. He was great to watch.
Georgi could go past three players, turn around and beat them again. That’s the sort of player he was. They were both good lads, too.
I’m lucky enough to have been promoted out of every league. From the Championship with Portsmouth, League One with Southend and with Bournemouth from League Two to League One. But the first was Portsmouth in 2003. I hadn’t been involved that much because I’d been coming back from an injury. I went out on loan to a couple of clubs, one being Sheffield Wednesday.
We had a couple of injuries so I was called back. We then played Sheffield Wednesday and I scored to put us 1-0 up, which would have got us promoted, but we went and conceded two goals. We got up after the following game. At the time we had players like Yakubu, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Merson, Patrik Berger, Steve Stone – we had a really good squad. It was a really good opportunity for me to play with players like that.
Warren Cummings. He’s quick-witted, bright, takes the mickey all the time and is really to the point. So much so it can be cringeworthy at times! He’s always playing jokes and great in the dressing room. That’s why I’m pleased to have him playing for me at Havant & Waterlooville. He knows when it’s time to have banter, but he knows the game, is outspoken and he’s a winner. That’s important.
At Pompey we had a winger called Jimmy Carter and he was so funny. He was a very wealthy guy, not that you would have thought so. He had a Bentley but he’d travel down from Potters Bar in a Peugeot. This Peugeot broke down a couple of times on the motorway.
We had a night out in Bournemouth once so we’d all had a couple of beers. Jimmy saw a Peugeot and he started jumping up all over it. He was running up the bonnet and over the roof, doing forward rolls on it because he hated Peugeots. He got arrested!
Playing for England U21s away to Italy was my proudest moment. It’s something you always dream of in the playground when you’re a kid pretending to be Alan Shearer. It’s surreal to look at yourself in a real England kit, representing your country, singing the national anthem. In the Army you represent your country, but playing for something you love like that in sport was a real achievement.
I had a complete knee reconstruction when I was at Portsmouth and that really hit me hard. You start to doubt whether you’ll play again. I got back but I don’t think I was ever
U21s Playing for England Best team-mate: Robert Prosinecki Funniest Player: Warren Cummings Favourite Place: Fratton Park ON THE ATTACK: Lee Bradbury in action for Bournemouth against Luton in 2008