Signed: February 1921 from Bo’ness
Departed: March 1927 to Raith Rovers
Shut Outs: 66
- Fought twice in WWI
- Record number of shut outs at the time
- Joint equal best shut out to games ratio in clubs history
- Benefit/Testimonial match awarded
- Club Captain
- 1922 Barcelona Cup winner
- 1926 Scottish Cup winner
- Man of the match in 1926 Scottish Cup final
- First ever captain in a winning national competition
With the Love Street career of Willie O’Hagan (Saints greatest goalkeeper so far in their short history) fizzling out after refusing to play in a Scottish Cup tie against Armadale in 1920, the number one position in the team was something of an issue for manager John Cochrane for a short period of time at the beginning of the 1920’s. However, like the great Saints boss always seemed to do, from seemingly nowhere a signing of superb quality was procured from an unlikely source.
Bo’ness is a name associated primarily with non-league and Junior football today, but back in the period between both World Wars their original club played in the professional ranks between 1921 and 1932, even managing a single season in the top flight in 1927/28 which ended in relegation by a narrow margin.
Just before the West Lothian club’s promotion to the professional ranks in the summer of 1921, Cochrane paid £25 in January of that year to take goalkeeper John ‘Jock’ Bradford back to Renfrewshire having previously played for Morton before and after World War I. It was to prove an inspired transfer from Cochrane.
Rutherglen born Bradford had made his name at the Greenock club after signing from junior outfit Kirkintilloch Harp in 1910 aged twenty one, and was often a candidate for the Scotland squad according to the press of the day, however the keeper had to be content only with a Scottish League appearance in 1912 when he played in a 1-0 defeat to Southern English counterparts at Millwall’s ground in London.
The big keeper was highly regarded especially by the written press however, with many journalists considering Bradford the finest goalkeeper in the country when at Morton, and one particular hack described him playing the sport in relation to the size of his hands as “being so big the football was like a billiard ball” when in his possession. So highly thought of in fact was Bradford that Newcastle United offered Morton £1,000 plus striker X for his services in January 1914, a deal worth over £150,000 today, which was an extraordinary amount of money at that time in football yet Morton point black refused to sell their star man.
Circumstances well outside the control of any football player however played a massive part in the life of Bradford, and with World War I breaking out the goalkeeper joined the Highland Light Infantry in May 1915, being assigned to the sixth battalion based at Yorkhill in Glasgow City. Only two months later, Bradford and the entire Glasgow City Territorial Force were in Gallipoli fighting before being evacuated to Egypt in early 1916.
During the war, Bradford continued to play for Morton on occasion if home on leave and re-joined the Cappielow club permanently when he returned in 1917 from active duty. However, with the conscription legislation changed in 1916 to include even married men with children like the big goalkeeper, Bradford was then summoned to re-join the army but he appealed the legality of his conscription on the basis he worked at an East Dunbartonshire colliery at the time the first conscription bill passed parliament on the 14th August 1914, which would have made him exempt from being legally obliged to join the army again. This was not unusual to appeal conscription it should be noted, and 750,000 men in the UK also did so during World War I.
Bradford’s case was heard on the 20th April 1918 along with champion boxer Eddie Beattie, and with both men well known and, likely famous, it was well reported when they lost their cases. Unfortunately for Bradford he was unable to prove he actually did work in a coal mine at the exact time he claimed earlier in his life, and in fact it appeared from the court transcripts he had left the colliery to become a barman when he turned professional with Morton a few years beforehand.
In early August 1918 Bradford therefore legally returned to the Army, but thankfully the war ended in November of that year, and the keeper re-joined his Morton teammates in early 1919 after finally being discharged from service. His football career however looked in serious doubt though as Bradford had lost his place in the Morton team and was freed in the summer, allowing ambitious Bo’ness to tempt the twenty-nine-year-old keeper east in what looked an end to his top-level professional career.
John Cochrane had other ideas however, and the £25 he paid to bring the now thirty-one-year-old Bradford back to Renfrewshire in February 1921, the modern-day equivalent of just £1,200, may well be one of the best value for money signings in the clubs history.
After a solid start to his career at Saints as the club finished eighth in the 1921/22 campaign following a bottom placed finish the previous season, in the summer of 1922 Bradford travelled with his fellow Saints teammates by train to Catalonia, where the club had been invited to open Les Cortes, the new £75,000 (£4.2million) ground of FC Barcelona. After playing a couple of friendly matches against the Catalan giants, Saints took on Notts County in the official match to open the stadium and Saints won 2-1 to capture the Barcelona Cup, widely accepted as the first trophy won by a Scottish club on mainland Europe.
Saints continued their European Tour and travelled to Santander where they took on a North Spain select, winning the first match 3-2 before Bradford became the centre of a strange ending to the next game against the same select. With Saints leading 2-1 and going into the final minute, the Spaniards were awarded a controversial penalty which Bradford saved, and looked to have secured another win in sweltering conditions.
The local referee had other ideas however, and in the tenth minute of injury time awarded another debatable penalty to the home side which incredibly Bradford saved again, but the referee unbelievably awarded a retake and finally the Saints keeper was beaten and the match finished immediately in a 2-2 draw!
Over the next few seasons, Bradford excelled in Saints goal and it was only really age discrimination that prevented him being capped for Scotland as he was still considered the best keeper in the country by most of the journalists despite him approaching his mid-thirties. The pinnacle of Bradford’s long career was still to happen however, and in 1926 whilst he was Saints captain, the keeper lost just one goal in seven Scottish Cup matches, the last of which was a 2-0 win over Celtic in the final where the keeper claimed the man of the match award due to another outstanding performance.
As captain, Bradford therefore became the first ever Saints player to lift the Scottish Cup as a winner, and immortality quite rightly has followed since. By this point the keeper had already had a benefit match awarded to him in September 1925 when Saints played an international select at Love Street losing 3-2, but despite reaching the twilight of a quite incredible career, he remained first choice at Saints who were one of the top sides in the UK at the time, even playing Wales at Anfield for Billy Meredith’s benefit match in November 1925.
Eventually even time caught up with the great Jock Bradford however and in 1927 he left Saints for Raith Rovers at the grand old age of thirty seven, but over the six seasons he played for the club the keeper manged to appear almost two hundred and fifty times, an achievement in itself as most players were considered past their best in their late twenties during this period of football, and also recorded sixty six shut outs which places him third in the all-time list behind only Billy Thomson in second place and the leader Campbell Money.
However, as was the case with fellow keeper Willie O’Hagan, the emphasis was much more on attack in the early decades of the twentieth century, therefore the clean sheet total Bradford recorded is quite extraordinary; in fact he averaged a shut out for Saints approximately every four matches, the exact same rate as Money, but with a much heavier ball and forwards trying to legally knock him over as was the way back then!
The name Jock Bradford is of course far from forgotten and his place in the club’s official hall of fame will guarantee it is at least known to generations of supporters. However, his full story is a bit of a mystery and his fighting spirit on the battlefield as well as on the football field as he returned from obscurity to a St Mirren legend deserves to be known. Like every other Saints hero, there is always something bigger than merely being a footballer and John Bradford is more than just a name on a wall.