Kitman Tom Bradley gave his all to Walsall
Tom Bradley gave most of his working life to Walsall – and he loved every moment.
He’s worked with 23 managers, seen dozens of players come and go and has had three stints at the club, spanning the last 33 years, before retiring last month.
And the 81-year-old from Coseley has admitted for the first time that since 2017 he’s been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
He intentionally went to hospital in the early hours so he didn’t miss training and kept it a secret from most people at the club.
Before that, in May 2017, he had a full knee replacement on his right leg, deliberately having it in spring so he didn’t miss pre-season.
Bradley has shown a commitment and desire to work that most managers dream of in their players, but for him it’s just another day in the office.
“In all my time at Walsall I’ve had one sick day, it was some time in the mid-90s,” he said. “But the fans don’t know that in 2017 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and in July 2018 I started my hormone treatment and radiotherapy.
“I used to go to New Cross between 7am-8am so I could get to training on time for nine.
“Only a few people at the club knew, I kept it a secret.
“I wanted to be any ordinary guy doing an ordinary job, not someone after sympathy.
“Treatment has finished now, but I’m still having blood tests to check it hasn’t come back.
“It’s something every man should be aware of and every man should be checked – that’s what I want to happen from me speaking about it.”
Looking back over the years on the Walsall terraces, Bradley has seen it all.
He joined the club in 1986 as a physio after previously serving three years in the RAF Regiment as a driver, spending two years in Libya, before working as a liaison officer for the ambulance service for 28 years.
After a long time liaising between ambulance staff and Black Country hospitals, Bradley made the leap into football.
“I worked in the ambulance service for 28 years and I was getting a bit fed up with it,” he said. “I was always interested in sports and did some work for lower league teams like Aldridge and Willenhall and then Worcester City.
“A call came in for me to say there was a job going at Walsall so I rang up the club and went in to see the manager Tom Coakley.
“I started part-time at first, doing Saturdays and Sundays, and not long after they asked me to join full-time, but the money was ridiculous and I was earning more at the ambulance service.
“They got someone else in, but he only lasted three or four weeks and they came back to me and said they needed me.
“The first 14 years I worked as a physiotherapist, but in the year 2000 I said enough was enough, my wife said I should call it a day too.
“I left for a couple months and they called me back to do the job as a kitman.
“As a physio, I was doing the kitman duties anyway and also drove the bus for the reserve team, so I went back to just do the kitman job.”
Despite all his achievements and his unflinching commitment to the club, one of Bradley’s proudest moments in life was his dedication to his wife – especially in her time of ill health.
He married Connie in 1988 after meeting her when she worked in the restaurant of Birmingham Heartlands Hospital.
In 2005 she was terminally diagnosed with Lewy body syndrome, a condition that brings together dementia, alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease.
And in 2006 Bradley gave up his post at his beloved Walsall to take care of his wife.
“I wouldn’t let her go into a home, so I nursed her myself,” he added. “The consultant told me that without my care for her she would have lasted two or three years, not five – that makes me very proud.
“I felt it was my duty to look after her. I didn’t have any help for the first three years, but it got to the point where I was bathing her because she couldn’t use the shower and I had to get some help.
“If it wasn’t for Connie’s illness, I would never have left the club – I enjoyed working there every day.”
After she passed away in 2011, aged 73, Bradley went back to Walsall on a part-time basis before taking over the permanent kitman role shortly after.
He went on to enjoy several more years with the club, with one of the highlights being the 2015 Wembley visit.
“The Wembley trip was absolutely amazing, but the football wasn’t too good – we just didn’t turn up on the day,” he said. “I had some great years and met some great gentlemen, some really lovely gentlemen.
“Phil Hawker was an absolute gentleman, as was Tony Grealish.
“Off the pitch, Adi Viveash was the perfect gentleman, but on the pitch he was a kicker, a different character.
“I loved my time at the club, I met some great people and have some great memories.”