Geography by day, history by night

Simon Turnbull meets the man for whom United were a distraction from the classroom
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The Independent Online
WARREN BRADLEY lives in leafy Urmston, a straight four-mile drive from Old Trafford and the memorial clock frozen in time at 3.04pm on 6 February 1958, the fateful moment when an Elizabethan monoplane crashed through the perimeter fencing at Reim airport, Munich. Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the tragedy which claimed the lives of eight members of the Manchester United squad returning from a European Cup quarter-final in Belgrade. "It's awkward for me," Bradley, a genial 64-year-old, said, "in the same way it was when I was a player. I obviously know the survivors, because I played with them, but those who lost their lives... I didn't know them."

Bradley's unease is understandable. He was one of the players brought to Old Trafford in the aftermath of the Munich crash, "just to make up the numbers", as he puts it. But Bradley ended up doing much more than that. In 15 months he made the transition from Northern League to international football. Through a combination of fate and circumstance, the tragic events of 40 years ago led to the transformation of Bradley's fortunes as a footballer. It did not transform his career because football never was his career.

He trained as a teacher but in February 1958 was serving in the RAF, stationed at the air traffic control centre at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire. He was also playing in the Northern League, in the Bishop Auckland side he had helped to win the FA Amateur Cup in 1956 and 1957.

It was to the celebrated part-timers from County Durham that Jimmy Murphy, Matt Busby's assistant, turned for help as he set about the delicate task of rebuilding a playing squad at Old Trafford. Bradley and two of his Bishop Auckland team-mates, Bob Hardisty and Derek Lewin, were loaned to United.

"It just so happened that Bishops had been knocked out of the Amateur Cup early," he reflected. "If that hadn't have happened we wouldn't have come down. We just came down every Saturday and played in the reserves until the end of the season. I left the RAF in the summer but United asked me to stay on, still as an amateur, so I got a teaching job near to Old Trafford. You couldn't get any nearer, in fact. It's where they're building PC World now. That's where Greatstone Secondary School was."

Bradley continued to teach at Greatstone when he signed as a part-time professional in November 1958 and was immediately promoted to the first team. He played 63 First Division games as a goalscoring outside right, wearing the red No 7 shirt that has since been sported by Best, Cantona and Beckham. Like his celebrated successors, Bradley was a true master - a geography master, that is.

"I can remember doing a day's work and then playing against Real Madrid at night," he said, chuckling at the memory. "By staying on teaching I got the experience I needed to get promotion. I became a headmaster eventually. People always thought of me as an amateur but I trained with Bolton from being a schoolboy right through until I left university and went into the air force. So I'd always been with a professional club, apart from Bishop Auckland."

Bradley, a native of Hyde, actually started the 1958-59 season playing for the England amateur team and ended it in the England professional side. He scored twice in three full internationals, on his debut in a 2-2 draw against Italy at Wembley and in an 8-1 win against the United States in Los Angeles - Billy Wright's 105th and final match for England. It was a remarkable story: the geography teacher who made it on to the global football stage. But it would never have happened had Manchester United not been struck by tragedy - 40 years ago next Friday.

"I can't really say what the immediate impact was like on the club or on the city," Warren Bradley said. "I wasn't living here and I was only coming down for reserve matches. But one thing I'll never forget is when we went to play a friendly in Munich - late in 1959 or in 1960, I think it was. It was the first time the club had flown the team since the crash. Harry Gregg was back in the side, and there was Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and Albert Scanlon too. And Matt Busby, of course. Everybody was very conscious of the whole thing. It was quiet, very quiet."