So Gordon Bradley has left us, carried away by the dreaded Alzheimer's. To be honest, I guess I said goodbye to Gordon Bradley a decade or so ago -- certainly I hadn't spoken to him for
years. And now I'll not have the chance to bid a proper farewell. Well, so what? It's not something I want to do, because above all, I want to remember Gordon.
That's not difficult to do. Maybe, somewhere, there exists someone who didn't like Gordon, but I cannot imagine what sort of person that would be. Gordon had a smile you wouldn't forget, a huge lop-sided grin that quickly enveloped his whole face, a smile that captured anyone within range. Sitting on top of the smile were two impish eyes that poured out good humor.
I loved the guy -- which is a bit odd, because he was a coach, a genus with which I have a lot of disagreements, and he was an English coach, which ought to have made matters worse.
But Gordon and I had a shared background -- of English soccer when it was still a sport for the masses, a no-frills affair that belonged to the working class. Gordon was from the working class - an honest worker at whatever he did. First it was a spell in the coal mines, then it was soccer, as a player and as a coach. He loved what he did, and his enjoyment showed in that smile.
What made Gordon, to me, something more than a coach, was that he was less of a coach. He came on the scene just before the awful triumph of the scientific approach, just before the coaching schools and their nauseating dogmas and their boring buzzwords took over. I could always talk real soccer with Gordon, and it was always a fulfilling experience.
Of course, that damn Geordie accent was a bit of a problem, but the smile and the humor and the knowledge and the anecdotes conquered all. The soccer stories just poured out, but there was never a villain in Gordon's stories, he could find something nice to say about everyone.
I knew him during his New York years, first with the New York Generals, as a player. Well now, I was there, that famous night of July 12, 1968, when the Generals played Santos, complete with Pele. When the Generals somehow beat Pele and Santos 5-3. I'd spoken to the Generals' coach Freddy Goodwin before the game -- he told me "We'll put some one on Pele -- Bradley probably -- but you can't really stop him."
Later, I wrote that "Bradley did an outstanding
job on Pele and while he didn't exactly stop him, he certainly reduced his effectiveness ..." Gordon's shining moment for sure. For a while, Gordon coached at a posh private school in New
York -- he left there in 1970 (bequeathing the job to me -- I had it for a year, my only coaching assignment - I tend not to talk about it too much!).
Gordon left to coach a very rudimentary Cosmos team, a bunch of local wannabees and mightabeens, but Gordon loved all of them, you could just tell -- loved them for what they could do, and also for their failings, and heaven knows there were plenty of those.
He turned that bunch of stumblebums into NASL champions in 1972 -- but then came two losing seasons, and in 1975 Pele arrived. In 1976 Gordon was shoved aside, replaced by another Englishman Ken Furphy, who was already showing signs of being a coach in the modern manner. Furphy was quickly into trying to teach Pele how to play soccer, so that didn't last. Out he went in 1977 - and, certainly to my delight, Gordon was re-instated.
Suddenly it was possible to speak soccer again to the coach. He told me: "This is a game that should be played on the ground. It's more skillful, and I think it's more attractive." This from a basic English coach!
At the beginning of the 1977 season, I asked him if he felt he had to win the championship that year; he replied, "We have to, it's crucial. And apart from anything else, I want to win it for one man. For Pele. He's done a wonderful job here. He deserves to go out as a champion."
And that was the way it happened -- but Gordon was not there, in Seattle, to see Pele lead the Cosmos to victory. He'd been ousted in midseason.
After that, it was the Washington Diplomats, then college soccer, and Gordon faded from my life. I regret that. I think of what he said about Pele -- "He's done a wonderful job here" and, you know, it applies even more so to Gordon himself. During those early years, when the Cosmos played at Hofstra University, Gordon spread the soccer gospel to every part of Long Island, racing hither and yon giving clinics and talks, and making friends everywhere he went -- friends who still recall the man with touching affection.
We won't of course, see the likes of Gordon again. They do not make 'em like that any more -- the background he came from, the working class mining community in northeast England, and the sturdy down-to-earth values that characterized it, that has all gone.
Times have changed, values have changed. But, oh, how we could do with more Gordon Bradleys, not just in soccer, but in life. He deserves to be talked of as a legend of American soccer, but I can't deal with the coldness and the distance that surrounds legends. I know only that Gordon was a wonderful, warm man ... a man, as the poet has it, "too soon returned to earth."