WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Menace captain Clark Bradford knew what he was getting into before the 2010 season started. Even if some players from the previous season were returning to Des Moines, it was the England native who had the inside track on what to expect from new head coach Laurie Calloway. He can thank his father for that.
Aside from both being British, Clark Bradford shares another connection to Calloway. Clark’s father, David, was a professional soccer player who traveled to the United States to play in the North American Soccer League from 1978-1984.
In 1983, he played for the Seattle Sounders. His head coach? Laurie Calloway.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” David Bradford said. “It was the best time of my life. Laurie has a lot of passion. He’s easy to play for and he understands players.”
Calloway said David was a solid midfielder and a gifted passer. Despite playing undersized, he was an outstanding player.
“He (David) was competitive, and his traits are obvious in Clark,” Calloway said. “He epitomized the phrase ‘if you’re good enough, you’re big enough.’ He was able to hold his own.”
While Clark was searching for a Premier Development League team to spend his summer with, he came across the Des Moines Menace and saw Calloway’s name as head coach. David was adamant that Clark not pass up the opportunity to play for him, because of Calloway’s knowledge of the game and reputation in the soccer community.
“He’s honest with you. If you play well or not, he would tell you,” The Blackburn native said of Calloway. “His training sessions are interesting. I wanted Clark to pick him instead of just another PDL coach.”
Clark, who also hails from Blackburn, is glad he made the decision to play with Calloway. He said he appreciates the way Calloway tells how it is, whether you’re wrong or deserve praise.
“(My father) didn’t want me to come back saying I didn’t enjoy it,” Clark Bradford said. “It’s been a good experience.”
While Clark credits his father as his soccer mentor, David said everything he taught his son is what he learned from one of the world’s greatest all-time players. In 1981, David played for the Washington Diplomats and roomed with Dutch hero Johan Cruyff, who was named European Footballer of the Year three times and led the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final.
“I’ve never seen anyone pass it like he could,” David Bradford said.
David said he is happy Clark has enjoyed success overseas at a much younger age than he did, and hopes he can get just one chance to propel his career to the next level. David said he caught his break when he met Ken Furphy, the head coach of the New York Cosmos in 1976. David followed Furphy to the Detroit Express in 1978 to start his career in the NASL.
“He (Furphy) liked me; that’s how I got my chance,” David Bradford said. “(Clark) just needs that one chance and a bit of luck.”
But it was not always smooth sailing for Clark when he moved to the United States. He has been in the U.S. for five years, playing most recently at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn., in 2009. In his first two weeks in the country, however, he immediately began to question his decision and nearly returned to England.
“I had a few friends that came with me, so that helped,” Clark Bradford said. “If I came here alone, I probably would have gone back. I’m glad I stuck it out.”
Clark said his father coached him and his brother as kids, and was an invaluable mentor. Clark said parts of his game are modeled after his father’s, such as his excellent vision. When Clark was a child, David would take him to the field to practice controlling the ball. His father was much harsher on him and his brother than their teammates.
“He (David) didn’t want anyone to think we were getting special treatment,” Clark Bradford said. “My brother was quiet, so he would get on with it. It was not that easy for me, but I’m glad he did it.”
One part of Clark’s game which has impressed David is his communication skills and ability to talk on the field. Clark said it has been something he has done as a player his entire life, which comes to David’s surprise.
“He talks to everyone, even the goalkeeper,” David Bradford said. “I never had the confidence to talk on the field like that.”
David was introduced to the professional soccer world at 15 years old, when he was an apprentice for the Blackburn Rovers, now a member of the English Premier League. One of the apprentices’ jobs was to clean the boots of the first-team members. Little did David know he was cleaning the boots of his future manager; none other than Laurie Calloway.
“Those days that was part of apprentices’ jobs. Now, of course, they’d probably sue you,” Calloway said. “I’d give them (apprentices) around five schillings for it, which is probably around a dollar.”
As David looks back on his playing days, there’s nothing else he could have imagined doing with his life. He says that being a professional soccer player was the best life he could have chosen, and wants the same for his son.
“I’m pleased with him (Clark). I really want him to play football,” David Bradford said. “It’s the best life you could imagine.”
David and his wife Elaine will be in Des Moines watching their son in his Menace season finale this Saturday, when the team hosts the St. Louis Lions at Valley Stadium.
Menace intern Matt Moran, a junior at Drake University, wrote this story.
A special thanks to David and Elaine Bradford, for taking the time to interview for the story and providing the cover photo of David Bradford.