OBITUARIES : Geoff Bradford

Football 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 andpublic.

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 couldbe 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 another club.

After his retirement in 1964, Bradford became a petrol tanker driver, continuing to live quietly in the city of his birth.

Ivan Ponting Geoffrey Reginald William Bradford, footballer: born Bristol 18 July 1927; played for Bristol Rovers 1949-64; capped once for England 1955; died Bristol 30 December 1994.

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