FC Halifax Town: “They come as a pair” - Town defender Bradbury on faith and football

“There’s no football without faith now, and there’s no faith without football.”

Thursday, 31st December 2020, 1:00 pm
Tom Bradbury. Photo: Tom King

For Town defender Tom Bradbury, faith has had a transformative effect on his life and his career.

The 22-year-old says his Christianity has played a crucial part in his time in football so far, providing the driving force to try and make the most of his ability.

“It’s huge,” said Bradbury when asked how much of a role his faith plays in his life.

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Tom Bradbury. Photo: Marcus Branston

“I’d go to the extent to say that, obviously football is extremely important, but faith is just as important, if not bigger to me in my life.

“The way I would describe it would be it gives me peace, and it takes the pressure off me in terms of football.

“I don’t just have my faith for that, but I believe that God has a plan for my life, he’s chosen me for a reason and he’s given me this talent for football to express myself.

“The plan is to get as high as I can and then spread the word, because I’m forever grateful to him.

Tom Bradbury. Photo: Marcus Branston

“I used to get really nervous before games, and stress and worry, but it’s not about that anymore, it’s playing to enjoy myself, believing you’re good enough and knowing that God’s got big things for you.

“When the timing’s right, I’ll achieve those things.”

Bradbury sees any success he has had or will have in football as being indistinguishable between being because of him and because of God.

“There’s no football without faith now, and there’s no faith without football,” he said.

“Football’s my platform to express my faith, and live through my faith.

“Even little things like when you want to watch a film and not stretch and prepare for the next game, God tells me to get my stretching done because I’ve got another game.

“It makes me a better person, I try not to sin.

“They’re both entwined. They come as a pair.”

Bradbury says his faith helps him deal with the ups and downs of a career in football.
“I had a few tough times last year at Yeovil,” he said, “but my instant reaction now is always ‘go to God’ and he has the answers for me. He’s almost my rock that some people don’t have.

“I’ve praised him when I’m happy and I still praise him when I’m down.

“I’ve always been strong mentally. If you do make a mistake, you can’t let it affect you.

“You’ve got to be far bigger and mentally stronger than that because you’ve got 89 more minutes to rectify it and nod one in at the other end.

“It’s more that I’m almost not worried now about my career. Every kid thinks ‘will I make it, will I not?’, obviously I’ve still got a long way to go, but he tells me he’s got a plan for my life and I can’t wait to live it out.

“It lights up my life and makes me smile.

“It benefits my football. It’s not like I put faith before football and I don’t care about losing on a Saturday.

“My mindset going into games, I’m so much more confident, I’m nowhere near as nervous as I was.

“And when you’re confident, you play better.

“I don’t pray and ask for a good performance because he can’t give you that.

“Once your faith develops, it’s more thanking him for the opportunity to play, thanking him for the talent he’s given me.

“I do pray he keeps me injury-free.

“When I score, I’m doing it for him now because my mindset says, if I play well, if I score, if I move up the leagues, if I create a name for myself, then I can go into the Ministry and talk about him and change people’s lives.

“That’s the plan he’s set out for me and that’s my thought process.”

Bradbury hasn’t always practiced religion, but says it has changed his life.

“My mum’s always gone to church from being a kid,” he said.

“I found God probably three months before I got my first professional contract.

“The initial thing everyone thinks is ‘what can he do for me?’. I related my football career going from strength-to-strength with him, and the more I got to know him the better my career got, and now I’m in a really good place with him.

“He’s honestly changed my life and I couldn’t imagine having my life without God.”

Bradbury says there is a strong, supportive religious community within football.

“It’s definitely growing in the game,” he said. “There’s a charity called Christians In Sport, set-up by ex-Portsmouth defender Linvoy Primus and the director of football at Cambridge United, Graham Daniels.

“Once a week there’s loads of football players from Premier League to National League who meet up and talk about their faith, it’s a nice little community.

“Some are further down the line, some have had a relationship with Christ for many years, I’m only two years in.

“It’s just a place where we can take all the judgement away. You get judged as a professional footballer every day, you’ve got to impress every day.

“I play for myself and for God, to give him all the glory.

“There’s also an organisation called ballers In God, set up by a Championship player.

“People aren’t afraid to express their faith and I’m all for it.

“If people don’t believe they’re well within their rights but the way it makes me feel, I’ve never done drugs but that’s all I can relate it to.

“My mindset’s totally changed.

“I still do stupid stuff, don’t worry about that, but I’d like to think I’m mature.

“I’ve lived on my own for three years and I’ve found God in those three years.

“My faith does stop me from doing silly stuff that people my age might do on a Saturday night.”

Bradbury grew up in Buckinghamshire and started out as a central midfielder.

“My dad’s always been a football fan,” he said, “and he gave me a ball when I was young, and I showed a bit of talent with my left-foot.

“I joined my first-team and played central midfield, defending, attacking, scoring plenty of goals.

“I did well for my local side and then got scouted by Oxford United.

“Then got scouted by Reading, went there for a season but my dad was doing full working weeks and then carting me to Reading, which was an hour and 20 minutes each way, Tuesday and Thursday nights, so it got to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore, plus they had a squad of 22, so each player got four or five minutes, so we thought ‘yeah, they’re a good side but I’m only 12, let’s get back home’.

“The head of the academy at Reading rang up MK Dons and got me in there.”

Bradbury stayed at MK Dons until he was 18, developing the necessary skills there that help him to bring the ball out from defence and start Halifax attacks on the left-side of Town’s back three.

“The schooling I had there was brilliant,” he said. “They had a good academy, they brought through Dele Alli and a few others who all came through in a five year spell, and I was towards the end of that.

“The academy manager, Dan Micciche, rather than have training with 11 v 11 on a normal pitch, he’d make us play on the smallest pitch possible.

“When I went there, my feet were stiff, I couldn’t move them but basically it was just repetition, year after year, making us play out from the back.

“And because the pitch was so small, someone would press you within a couple of seconds, so you had to take someone on or make your way out of it with skill, or know where your next pass was, otherwise you’d get tackled every time.

“I did that for three or four years, whereas the typical English academy was to boom it, head it and kick it if you were a defender.

“But he taught me to be calm with the ball at my feet.”

After leaving MK Dons, Bradbury played in the Southern Premier League for a season-and-a-half with Banbury United.

“I went from academy football to men’s football and got whacked in the face, got stood on, got bullied that an 18-year-old, scrawny centre-back needs to grow up,” he said.

“But I never thought I wasn’t going to get back, I’ve always believed in myself.

“I knew I was better than the level but you have to grow your mental and tactical side of the game.
“I was better than the players but they might do me on a Saturday, get the better of me by using their body. They racked up 15 years of tricks and all the little things off the ball.

“My dad’s quite knowledgeable about football so he’d tell me what I’d done wrong.

“I wouldn’t have swapped it for anything because under 23s football is too soft and far too timid.

“If you don’t get professional terms at the academy you’re at, then your head can drop, some players can give up.

“You look at the stats and I think it’s one out of nine who get a pro deal, but I thought ‘not being arrogant, but I’ve got too much talent to waste it’ and I wasn’t afraid to go in and play where someone would take me.

“It’s the best thing I could’ve done because at that age, you’re still making mistakes, you’re raw, you’re inexperienced, you don’t know what playing for three points means.

“At that level, people were needing to stay in the team to pay for bills and stuff, so you have to grow up fast.”

Bradbury then moved away from home to sign for Dundee.

“I was going to sign for a team in the National League South but Dundee were in the Scottish Premiership at the time,” he said.

“I didn’t play matches but I was training with the first-team of seasoned pros, there was a centre-half Steven Caulker, who was in the Premier League when he was younger, and Kenny Miller was there.

“There was a player, Darren O’Dea, who was great with me, a left-footed centre-half, spent loads of time after training with me.

“It was great, full-time football. I definitely enjoyed it.”

After a season at Yeovil, Bradbury joined Halifax in the summer after being wooed by Pete Wild and Chris Millington’s sales pitch.

“They went into lots of detail, made you feel wanted,” Bradbury said.

“They make you feel very confident and they’ve done that since I’ve been here.

“They make me feel like I’m a big part of the team, I’ve obviously played regularly so far, and I’m really enjoying it.

“They’re really great coaches to have, and Joe Sargison is really thorough, goes into a lot of detail.

“A big factor in me wanting to come was that they wanted to play a back three, and I’d say that is my favourite position.

“I’m comfortable in a four but I’ve had a couple of assists from getting forward, which I enjoy.
“Without blowing my own trumpet, I am comfortable on the ball so the back three allows me to step in with it and help the team out going forward when I can.”

Bradbury says anything less than a play-off finish this season would be a failure in his eyes, but is enjoying his time at the club.

“It’s the most confident I’ve felt in myself,” he said. “You get real honesty from the gaffer and Milly, we have regular communication about how I’m doing, if I need to do certain things, what I’m doing well.

“That’s what I thrive off, I’ve always wanted that.”