Ronaldinho to Rovers: How Bradley battled back from career ending blow
FOR four years Shayne Bradley couldn't bring himself to kick a ball in anger after his dream was taken away from him.
The Gloucester-born former England Schoolboy International star was forced to retire from professional football at the age of just 23 due to a long-term and degenerative ankle injury.
His dream career harshly and prematurely ended, Bradley spent four years wondering what could have been before Tuffley Rovers tempted him back into football, initially as their manager.
And while Saturday afternoons at Glevum Park are a far cry from rubbing shoulders with Ronaldinho, John Terry and former schoolboy international forward partner Michael Owen, Bradley is relishing his second chance.
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"I am loving this late run, I was 23 when I retired from Chesterfield – my last professional club – and I didn't kick a ball in anger for four or five years," Bradley said.
"I didn't play at any form of level because medically I was retired. The specialist I was seeing for my ankle told me not to play again as I could be in a fairly bad way.
"I'd had my ankle reconstructed twice – it was a degenerative problem with the ankle ligaments and after the second one failed they basically said I wasn't going to be able to continue.
"So I took my insurance and quit the game.
"I was still in a lot of pain, but over those four years I gradually got used to managing that pain and built the muscles up around it.
"Then I was asked to take over as manager at Tuffley and I played the odd game when the team were short – and without being disrespectful to the county league, I was thinking, blimey I can get away with this!
"Even now I don't run around a great deal. But I just use my experience and know-how to get into the best positions.
"I began to think that I could give it another go. And during those four years when I didn't play you realise that you are a long time retired from the game.
"I loved playing football and having the opportunity to play again was one that I wanted.
"I get the same buzz from playing football now, as I did when I made nine Premier League appearances for Southampton."
A child star who banged in the goals for Robinswood Youth and Sir Thomas Rich's School, Bradley earned a move to the Premier League with Saints as a 14-year-old.
He graduated through to play for the Saints first-team and later played professionally for Swindon Town, Exeter City, Mansfield Town, Lincoln City and Chesterfield.
And while retirement was a bitter blow, Bradley says that time has been a relatively good healer and he now looks back on his pro career with great affection.
"When I first retired all I could think about was what might have been. I used to live with Wayne Bridge as a youth teamer at Southampton," Bradley said.
"He was a really good mate and you look at what he's gone on to achieve, but you can't dwell on things like that.
"I can still be happy with the taste of it that I did have. I was a pro footballer for five or six years and I had the privilege of living that lifestyle for that time.
"I was playing with and against some superb players during my early days at Southampton. My dad kept a scrapbook of all my achievements and looking back on it now it's a bit of an eye opener.
"I played against some unbelievable players. I was looking back on a game for England Schoolboys against Brazil at Wembley and their team was amazing.
"Ronaldinho played in that game, just as a 15-year-old lad you don't realise who these players are and who they will go on to be in the game.
"It was the same playing for the Saints youth team, playing against John Terry and players like that. They weren't household names back then, but look at them now."
While those players are still earning their fame and fortune, Bradley is just happy to be back playing the game he loves, even if it does leave him feeling somewhat drained.
However, having had the game taken away from him once, he is doubly determined to keep playing while his increasingly creaky body allows.
"I'm 33 years old now and I have had 11 operations on my body since the age of 16 and to put it politely my body is 'shoed in'," Bradley said.
"It's a drain on me to play but because I have had that break of four years, the adrenalin of playing gets me through.
"I am like a big kid every weekend to have Saturday come around and be involved in playing football again.
"Sometimes I come home and I am barely able to walk, on Saturday nights when I'm hobbling up the stairs my missus will say to me 'you've got to quit'.
"But I've done that once already, they'll have to drag me off the field this time around."