We’ll have plenty to say about the other Mags, but they can wait until next week. For now, the only Magpies that matter are Notts County. In the first of two memorable editions of our Who are You? series – see Alex Rae’s interview by clicking here – Salut! Sunderland is honoured to welcome Les Bradd*, a great figure from the history of professional football’s oldest club. He agreed like a shot to answer our questions ahead of the FA Cup Third Round tie on Saturday and recalls a career in which he became County’s record scorer – one of the goals a cup winner against Sunderland – and suffered an odd side effect of playing at Roker Park …
You are the top scorer in County’s history: 125 goals in 398 appearance in a career spanning 11 years. Tell us what the club means to you.
I made the move to Notts County from Rotherham United in 1967 at the age of 19 and was one of a young group of players that manager Billy Gray was getting together to achieve promotion. Billy did not stay at the Club long enough and was replaced in 1969 by Jimmy Sirrel who went on to take the club from the 4th to the 2nd division in four years. The 1970s were a special time in my football career at Notts County with the success that we achieved not only in the League but also against teams of higher status than ourselves in various cup runs that we had. Many of those team mates remain great friends to this day and regularly meet and remember the good times that we had when attending Former Players Functions.
Does your involvement with the former players’ association mean you are nowadays a supporter of the club or is it merely an affection for one you served for such a long time and with such success?
The NCFPA was founded by former player David Needham following the death of one of Arthur Mann who also played during the 1970s. We hold an annual golf day in memory of Arthur and also meet each May when we hold our annual dinner and honour one of the Clubs past players.
The NCFPA is not attached to NCFC although we attend official Club functions and therefore I must say that my support to Notts County is not connected through the NCFPA.
Of those 125 goals, which stand out in the memory?
I think that two goals probably stand out above the rest although certainly not the best goals that I have scored. Number 1 has to be the winning goal scored at the City Ground in the last minute against Nottingham Forest in 1975 when we won 1-0 and the second has to be when I scored against Wolves at Meadow Lane in a 1-1 draw in 1976 when that goal made me the Club’s all time leading goalscorer beating Tony Hateley’s record of 113.
Your career will have taken you from time to time to Roker Park. Any special memories of the place and of games, including the 75/76 home League Cup win, against us?
Roker Park certainly brings back memories to me. Along with Villa Park, Roker is the only ground that I have played where the noise from the fans actually gave me a headache down on the pitch. We managed a good win by 2-1 (I managed to score the winning goal) in the League Cup 2nd Round at Meadow Lane in September 1975 against Sunderland but took a hammering in the League 4-0 up at Roker Park later in the same month.
And have you been to the Stadium of Light?
I have never been to The Stadium of Light before and I am really looking forward to the experience when I attend the 3rd Round tie.
What were your thoughts when you heard County had been drawn against Sunderland in the FA Cup 3rd round?
My initial thoughts were that it was a good draw but would have preferred a home draw.
Smaller crowds mean these ties are no longer automatic moneyspinners – unless further progress is made leading to one or more further attractive fixture. Can County go there and win?
The Club should make money though as games at the Stadium of Light usually attract large crowds. It will certainly be a tough game for Notts County if Sunderland select their strongest team but I am sure that Notts will put up a good fight and make it a good game. Certainly Notts County are capable of getting a result at Sunderland particularly if they do not select their strongest team by resting one or two players. Last season Notts beat Wigan Athletic 2-0 on their own ground after earning a replay from a 2-2 draw at Meadow Lane.
Do you have any regrets that your career did not bring you international recognition? Might it have happened with a spot of luck and, without undue modesty, were you good enough?
If I have one regret it is that I never had the opportunity of playing in the old first division as in the 1970s there was no freedom of contract as there is today. Once you had signed a contract you stayed at that club until they wished you to leave. I was informed by Ronnie Fenton when he took over from Jimmy Sirrel in 1975 that Don Howe made an offer of £95,000 to take me to West Brom whilst Jimmy was in charge but the Club refused the offer and that was my biggest regret that I never got the opportunity to play at that level.
Who were the best players you ever encountered during your career. How do they compare with the heroes of today?
There were many good centre halves around in my playing days and I made my professional debut for Rotherham United Reserves when I was marked by a certain Charlie Hurley who needs no introduction to Sunderland fans. I also went on to play against the likes of Ron Yeats, Dave Watson who I played with at Notts County, Bobby Moore, Chris Nichol, Sam Allardyce, Micky Droy and many more. It is very difficult to make comparisons with today’s players as the game is totally different to my playing days when you could give as good as you received. The skills required are much different today as the game is not as physical.
Do you have any thoughts on the Forest/County rivalry – not one that strikes outsiders as intense as, say Sunderland/Newcastle, Celtic/Rangers, Arsenal/Spurs, Villa/Birmingham?
I am not from Nottingham but there is rivalry between the two clubs especially when they are playing at the same level. Big games between the two clubs have not happened over recent years such as the ones you have highlighted but I am sure if the two met in the Premiership that there would be great rivalry.
And after the recent ups and downs, and financial uncertainties, can County seriously hope to be a force in football as well as being the world’s oldest professional club? Are Paul Ince and a former SAFc player, Alex Rae, the right pairing to move the club forward?
At this moment in time County have enjoyed an unbeaten run of 5 matches and manager Paul Ince is looking to bring in one or two new signings in the January window. I am sure that given time the club will continur to move up the League and I am very confident that Paul can achieve his ambition of getting promotion to the Championship for Notts County.
Is it just a trick of the memory of was cheating – diving, feigning injury. trying to get opponents booked or sent off – something that rarely happened in your day? And has it now become just another part of the modern game that we should stop being so worried about?
Cheating very rarely happened in my days thankfully and if and when it happened the player concerned would be put in his place and would not be welcome in the team if his antics continued. Most former players that I speak with cannot stand the cheating that you describe and are grateful that they played in the days when diving, feigning injury and trying to get plaers sent off were just not accepted by team mates and referees.
Where will County finish in League One this season, who will win the FA Cup and who will be the top four and bottom three in the Premier?
I think that County will finish in the top half of the table probably around 8th or 9th. The team that I most fancy to win the FA Cup is Chelsea as I cannot see them in line for the League this year. The top four in order I think will be Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Will you get to the SAFC v Notts County match? What will be the score?
I will be at the game and I think that Sunderland will win by the odd goal.
* Les Bradd on Les Bradd (pictured when he won the Notts County Former Players’ Association Annual Golf Day for the second time): Having worked in Professional Football for 42 years I became a little disillusioned with the game and how it was progressing and in 2008 I decided to make try something different and took up a postion in the healthcare industry. I have been working for a company called Hillside Medical Supplies based in Newark, Notts and I have a role in business development. I try to develop the business particularly in sport with specialised equipment that can test participants heart and lungs which was not available during the time that I was playing. I am also trained to teach people how to use defibrillators and to demonstrate good quality cpr (cardio pulmonary compressions) to both clinical and non clinical personell.
My boss a very keen Notts County Supporter and has an executive box at Meadow Lane which we use on matchdays to entertain our customers and friends. I am at nearly every home game and get to see around half a dozen away games during the season which has been interesting over the past couple of seasons with the success the Club has had.
Interview: Colin Randall (with thanks to Brian Tansley, from the Notts County Former Players’ Association)