Warren Bradley, footballer,
teacher and headmaster: born Hyde, Cheshire 20 June 1933; played for
Manchester United 1958-62, Bury 1962-63; capped three times by England
1959; married (three children); died Manchester 6 June 2007.
It was a storyline which the
scriptwriters for Roy of the Rovers, the enduringly popular comic-strip which
riveted readers' attention with rousing yarns of footballing derring-do for
several decades in the second half of the 20th century, surely would have
rejected as too far-fetched.
In February 1958 Warren Bradley was a whole-hearted and bold but hardly
remarkable amateur outside-right in his middle twenties. A mere 15 months later
he was a key member of the prolific Manchester United forward line that
propelled the Red Devils to within touching distance of the League championship
and had also scored for England on his full international début.
Yet the irony was that Bradley had never intended to make his living from
football; to him it was a game to play for fun on a Saturday afternoon. Unlike
most lads with his talent for sport, what fuelled his boyhood dreams was a
passionate ambition to teach; and so he did, eventually excelling in a trio of
challenging inner-city headships.
Alas, the catalyst for the diminutive flankman's meteoric progress as a
footballer was one of the most tragic events in the history of the game. When
United's plane crashed at Munich on the way home from a European Cup tie in
Belgrade, eight top players lost their lives and two more were maimed so that
they could never take the field again.
Jimmy Murphy, the inspirational Welshman who kept the Old Trafford flag
flying while the grievously injured manager Matt Busby fought successfully for
his life, sent out an SOS for emergency recruits. Bradley was one of three
amateur internationals with Bishop Auckland to answer the call.
Initially it was envisaged that he, Derek Lewin and Bob Hardisty would
bolster United's reserves, but such was the positive impact of the industrious
winger that in November 1958, when he made his senior entrance, he signed a
part-time professional contract and took the First Division - the equivalent of
the modern Premiership - by storm.
In their first full campaign after the disaster, United might have been
expected to struggle, but a free-flowing attack consisting of Bradley, Albert
Quixall, Dennis Viollet, Bobby Charlton and Albert Scanlon plundered 82 of the
side's 103 League goals as they finished as title runners-up to Wolverhampton
Bradley was a revelation. Sturdy and tough, pacy and irrepressibly
determined, he was ever willing to chase back and harass opposing defenders in
the feisty manner of his illustrious predecessor in the United number-seven
shirt, Johnny Berry, one of those invalided out of football by wounds received
He packed a rasping shot, too, which flashed past goalkeepers a dozen times
in his 24 appearances that season, and if he wasn't endowed with the flair and
pure skill of Berry, there was no doubting the immense value of his
contribution. Indeed, so eye-catching was his form that the England amateur - he
garnered 11 caps at that level as well as two FA Amateur Cup winner's medals
during his three-year tenure with the Bishops - was rewarded with a call-up by
his country's professional team in May 1959.
In truth this elevation startled some observers, who questioned his class,
but he confounded them by introducing himself to the full international arena
with a goal in a 2-2 draw with Italy at Wembley, then netted again against the
United States three weeks later in Los Angeles on his third and final outing.
This strike was greeted with enormous relief as it equalised an early goal by
the hosts that had raised the spectre of a second humiliation at the hands of
the humble (in footballing terms) USA. The first had come in the form of a shock
defeat during the 1950 World Cup tournament; this time, though, the final tally
was 8-1 to England.
Thereafter Bradley never played for England again, and although he performed
creditably for United during 1959/60, the irresistible rise of the young Johnny
Giles was dimming his first-team prospects. Soon it became apparent that he was
not part of Matt Busby's long-term reconstruction plan and, following a knee
problem that limited his effectiveness and demanded an operation, he was sold to
Second Division Bury for £2,500 in March 1962.
Now his football career petered out with a brief stint at Gigg Lane followed
by enthusiastic service to non-League Northwich Victoria, Macclesfield Town and
But Bradley was not dismayed. As he said in 2005:
Even when I signed schoolboy terms for Bolton Wanderers as a 14-year-old, I
never saw myself spending too long at Burnden Park, although I enjoyed myself
there in the junior teams for quite a few years. All I really wanted was to be a
After Hyde Grammar School, there followed a degree in Geography at Durham
University, National Service as an officer in the RAF and a first teaching job
at the Great Stone secondary modern school at Stretford, Busby having persuaded
him to take a job in Manchester while commencing his Old Trafford sojourn. Then
came a few years of living a double life, teaching by day, training for United
on two evenings a week, all the while playing top-level matches. Eventually the
conflicting demands of work and football dictated a full-time move into
education, and he relished it.
In 1968 Bradley became a head teacher, presiding over the conversion of a
large secondary modern into a comprehensive school. In his next job he oversaw
the change from single-sex to co-ed, and then he was responsible for the
successful amalgamation of three schools in Bolton - one grammar and two
secondary moderns - into a 2,000-pupil comprehensive.
He trained as a school inspector in 1988 and set up his own educational
management consultancy, contracting work from the newly formed Ofsted until
retirement in his sixties.
However, throughout his distinguished teaching career, Bradley - a
meticulously courteous, gently humorous man - never stopped loving football, and
served as treasurer of the Manchester United Former Players Association from its
inception more than 20 years ago, also putting in a stint as chairman. - The
Independent Obituary 9 June 2007