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Remembering Gordon Bradley: Dave Johnson

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On Tuesday, we received the sad news that Gordon Bradley had passed away at the age of 74 years. The Englishman had been involved in soccer in the U.S. in some fashion for the last 35 years and was unquestionably one of the most influential soccer figures in both the U.S. and D.C. area. In the 70's, he served as the head coach for the New York Cosmos during the Pele years and then the Washington Dips when Johan Cruyff was on the team. Following, he served as George Mason Men's Head Soccer coach from 1985-2000 and was also a color commentator for United. He was inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 1996.  

His impact on U.S. soccer was profound and many have mentioned to us their memories and impressions of a man who was often described as a gentlemen. A few members of the United family have expressed their desire to honor Gordon Bradley. We'll be using Behind the Badge as a forum for those memories. 

The television voice of D.C. United, Dave Johnson, shares his memories of Bradley:

Gordon Bradley literally kicked his way out of the coal mines of northeast England and into a better life. Football was Gordon’s ticket out of the mines but as much as the game gave him, he gave back even more.

It’s hard to explain how special it was to be Gordon’s friend. But as everyone who has dealt with him knows, Gordon made everyone feel special.  For me, someone who grew up a Washington Diplomats fan and season ticket holder, it was almost unbelievable that I would be his broadcast partner.

I still remember the day Gordon called me to see if I was interested in broadcasting Washington Stars games in the old APSL back in 1990. I was broadcasting Naval Academy football and basketball games but also had worked a couple of years for the Maryland Bays while helping to publish a soccer magazine. That telephone call sent me into orbit.

The next year we were paired together doing cable-access TV games for the Maryland Bays. The Bays played at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia, Maryland which had a tree fort  for a press box. Before a game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies I can still picture Rowdies' owner Cornelia Corbett in that make shift press box looking down on the field and seeing Gordon. She got a big smile on her face and asked me what Gordon was doing with the Bays. I proudly said television with me. But I always remember her smile.  

Gordon had that power. He could make people smile and he was always smiling. Bradley’s attitude was always positive even when things were less than perfect. Let’s just say Cedar Lane Park was a far cry from Pele and the Cosmos in Giants Stadium.

It didn’t matter to Gordon where the game was being played or at what level. Gordon gave it his  all to make a difference. He was there at the beginning of the North American Soccer League and he stayed with it through some incredible highs and lows.

I remember flying back from an APSL game in 1990. Sure the US had made the World Cup but there was no top flight outdoor league and the Major Indoor Soccer League was in its final years. Gordon commented, “We must have dome something right” as he saw soccer field after soccer field below as the plane came in for a landing.

The “we” Gordon was talking about was people like himself and others who were involved in the NASL who worked hard to promote the game of soccer. They brought the game to a generation of people who are now grown up and coaching, maybe still playing, buying season tickets and even broadcasting the game.

Soccer’s momentum finally did swing back in the right direction in the early 90’s and in 1996 we celebrated the launch of Major League Soccer. It was only fitting that someone who was involved with the NASL’s premier franchise, the Cosmos, would be involved with a club with the class and conviction of D.C. United.

For five years I worked with Gordon on D.C. United television broadcasts on Home Team Sports. It was a pretty good time for the club. There were three titles and four MLS Cup appearances. It was a wonderful time for me personally.

It could be the beginning of the season or a critical playoff game. It didn’t matter to Gordon. I can clearly remember his enthusiasm for each and every game. He loved walking the field before games. Once the whistle started he was into every kick as if he was still playing.

Countless times we misplaced the rental car because we were too busy talking to take notice of its make and color. Countless times we got lost going to the hotel because we were too busy talking or reliving the game.

And we did crazy things. In 2000 we worked on internet broadcasts for the Olympic qualifying games in Hershey, Pennsylvania. We went to Hershey on a Friday and then drove back to my house in Annapolis so we could catch a flight to San Jose the next morning to do a D.C. United game on Saturday night. We caught a red-eye after the game and made it back to Hershey for more Olympic qualifiers on Sunday.

That was Gordon. He lived for the game at all levels, but he had his priorities straight. I remember all the soccer talk but I remember even more his philosophies on life and family. Gordon Bradley was as morally strong as he was physically strong. 

He was a friend to soccer and even better friend to those who had the pleasure of knowing him.

In association with George Mason, the family has created the Gordon Bradley Scholarship Endowment. To contribute, call 703-993-3215. Feel free to share your memories or thoughts about Gordon Bradley in the comments.