in general, and Bristol Rovers in particular, could do with more men
like Geoff Bradford. He was the most prolific goal-scorer in that homely
club's history; he remains the only "Pirate" to win a full England cap;
and, were it possible t o hold a cross-generation poll of fans to
determine the finest player ever to wear Rovers' distinctive
blue-and-white quarters, the odds would be heavily in favour of the
gentle, acutely unassuming Bristolian coming out on top.
When Bradford was in his bountiful 1950s prime, he was
accorded a sporting celebrity in the West Country exceeded only by that of his
close friend and rival the late John Atyeo of Bristol City; meanwhile at grounds
around the country, he was often the only Rovers player of whom supporters had
heard. The acclaim, however, never turned his head, and when the two men were
together at a function, invariably Bradford would ask the more outgoing (though
also modest) Atyeo to deal with the demands of press and public.
Bradford's impressive record - 260 goals in 511 senior
outings - owed much to a sharp-edged technical talent which contrasted vividly
with his unthrusting personality. He was as clean, accurate and powerful a
striker of the ball with either foot as could be found outside the game's top
division (in which, sadly, he never played), his touch was subtle and certain,
his timing in the air was intuitive.
To these gifts were added a natural resilience which saw
him return in triumph from two fearful leg injuries which might have put him out
of football for good. His critics called him lazy, but Bradford, known as "Rip"
(Van Winkle) to team-mates because of his knack for sleeping before a match,
could justifiably refer them to his goal tally. His England chance came in
October 1955, against Denmark in Copenhagen, when he scored once and made
another for Tom Finney in a 5-1 victory. It seemed enough to warrant a second
call but this never arrived and Bradford returned uncomplainingly to
bread-and-butter duty with Rovers, who had plucked him from local amateur ranks
in 1949 and who remained his only professional club.
The highlight of Bradford's 15 years at Eastville - the
much-loved home of the Pirates until a controversial move to Bath in 1986 - came
in 1952-53 when his club record of 33 goals did much to secure the Division III
(South) Championship. Had his peak years not coincided with football's
maximum-wage restriction, it is reasonable to suppose that such a talent would
have moved on to more lucrative fields, but all who revelled in his exploits as
a Rover would find it hard to imagine their faithful spearhead in the colours of
After his retirement in 1964, Bradford became a petrol
tanker driver, continuing to live quietly in the city of his birth. - The
Independent Obituary 2 January 1995