Gordon Bradley: Legend, Pioneer, Titan
Yesterday’s passing of Gordon Bradley I must admit left me totally numb. I read about his passing on Steve Goff’s blog at the Washington Post.com and couldn’t believe it had come so quickly after John Feinstein’s article of last week in the Post about Bradley. For those of us who grew up with the NASL, were held over by NCAA Soccer and the APSL/A-League after the league’s collapse, and then turned to MLS, Bradley was an icon of the fledgling game here in the U.S.
Bradley was from the northeast of England, where football passion is something you are born with. Due to conscription and injury, Bradley’s promising career at Sunderland, gave way to work in the coal mines at 19. But Bradley was able to return to professional football with Carlisle United some years later. Bradley translated his football passion to North America when he moved to our shores in the early 1960s. Bradley played in several small leagues in Canada and the United States before the formation of the NPSL, which gave way to the NASL a year later. Bradley by now in his late 30s played for the Baltimore Bays which folded, and then became the first manager of the New York Cosmos.
Bradley, now thirty nine continued to play but managed the Cosmos for the first five seasons of the legendary club. The Cosmos won the NASL title 1972 and Bradley remained as coach until 1975 when Pele joined the club. Bradley returned as coach of the Cosmos in 1977 and as chronicled in the Miramax film, Once in a Lifetime, the Cosmos became a travelingfreak show littered with celebrity hanger ons. One particularly light moment of the film was Franz Beckenbauer recounting Bradley wanting the security to escort a man who looked thin and drugged out of the Cosmos locker room. The man was Mick Jagger!
Bradley was soon thereafter fired by the Cosmos thanks to the meddling of Giorgio Chinaglia, who along with Rodney Marsh was the footballer I most despised growing up. (I have grown to like Marsh since. The same cannot be said for Chinaglia, who to me simply typified the arrogance of the whole NY Cosmos organization as the NASL collapsed.) Bradley’s time with the Cosmos has seen the emergence of the first soccer super club in North America, and an improving standard among American players whom Bradley cultivated himself as US National Team manager for a time.
Bradley then moved onto to manage the Washington Diplomats, led by Johann Cryuff, making Bradley the only man in the history of football to have coached Pele, Cryuff and Beckenbauer. It was in the Washington area where Bradley’s remaining years would be spent. Leading the Dips from 1978 to 1980, Bradley helped cultivate local youth and fan interest in the sport.
Bradley coached George Mason University from 1985 to 2000, and also led the Washington Stars of the APSL for a time. It was during that time that Soccer was kept alive in this country when it easily could have died by those like Bradley who had been pioneers in the NASL. South Florida was fortunate to have a team in the APSL and it kept my interest alive in the sport as well. Bradley more than anyone was responsible for cultivating soccer interest in the Washington DC area during this dark age in the game’s American history.
When MLS began Bradley could often be seen commenting on DC United games on the MLS Direct Kick package. His analysis was always sharp and his presence always felt on the telecasts. Steve Goff has an outstanding write up on Bradley’s life here.