Gary Bradshaw’s Non League Journey

North Ferriby’s greatest striker Gary Bradshaw

Gary Bradshaw is North Ferriby’s greatest striker and one of the best in the history of the Northern Premier League.

Bradshaw was the league’s most feared marksman his heyday. Rightly so as he hit over 200 goals under ten years to become Ferriby’s record goal-scorer. 

The striker, who is back at reformed Ferriby for one last hurrah as a player at the age of 37, developed a love affair with the club and apart from a brief stint with League Two side Cheltenham in 2005, he consistently resisted the advances of multiple clubs.

After his release in 2002 from Hull City after 22 appearances during the Brian Little, Jan Molby and Peter Taylor eras and following a brief spell with Harrogate Town, Ferriby and Brian France helped him re-establish his love for football and he rewarded them with the late title-winning goal in the final day 2-1 victory at Mossley in 2005. 

He returned from Cheltenham in 2006 and stayed with Ferriby until a parting of the ways in 2013 after the NPL Premier Division title was won on the final day of the season.

Scarborough Athletic became the first of several port of calls and in his interview with Non League Yorkshire, Bradshaw talks about his Non League career and why he fell in love with Ferriby – a club he is synonymous with alongside his best mate Paul Foot. 

He also gives an insight into the team bond that was a key part of the team’s success.

This is Gary Bradshaw’s Non League Journey:

Gary Bradshaw in action for Ferriby against Boston United in 2009

Release from Hull City

“I went on loan to Scarborough from Hull City when they were still at the McCain Stadium and in the Conference. But I just wasn’t enjoying my football at all in general. We had a game right down south somewhere and I had a bad attitude at the time and I just thought I can’t be bothered to travel down there. Russell Slade was the Scarborough manager at the time and I rang him and told him I wasn’t coming. So I ended going back to Hull and Peter Taylor fined me two weeks wages and told me not to come training again. I thought fair enough. I was sat at home on the Monday and I got a phone call off the Hull secretary saying that if I get on the training field in the next hour that I would be fined another two weeks wages. I rushed out of bed ago get to Boothferry Park to train on the back pitch to where Peter Taylor had another go. That’s basically how my time with Hull ended because he eventually released me.”

Harrogate Town

“After leaving Hull, I went to Harrogate Town under John Reed and I had a good time there and we had a good team. John Reed is a quality bloke and I still have a good relationship with him now. John’s Mr Motivator and he’s a really good man-manager. He always big’s you up and he always tries to say you are the best at this and that. He’s proved that he is a top manager when you look back at his career.

“My attitude was wrong when I was younger and at Harrogate I started to get my head on and when I came to Ferriby it went well for me. As I have got older my attitude has changed towards football. I’m addicted to football to be honest. I always say it is my drug. It is all I want to do. I can’t seem to be able to give it up. I’ve said a few times ‘I’m retiring’, but there’s nothing more I love than being in a changing room with the lads and playing a football match. There’s nothing better than that to me.”

North Ferriby Love Affair Starts

Former North Ferriby and Scarborough manager Brian France

“I don’t know how it came about, but Brian France wanted me to go on loan initially to North Ferriby from Harrogate (in 2003). We got on from the moment I walked through the door. He made me feel good about myself and feel really welcome at Ferriby. Mind you, he used to get names wrong all the time. If he was talking to me he’d call me Carl Fothergill!

“He used to give the same team talks without fail before every game. He’s say ‘goalkeeper is s*** and he can’t kick and the back four are rubbish and you’ll tear them apart. You might laugh at the team-talks now, but he always managed to get the best out of everyone. Like Reedy he was a really top bloke and a real motivator. 

“I don’t know why, but he also made me captain. I must have been 21 at the time. I owe Brian France a lot because he is the one who basically started my Ferriby career which went onto be really successful. I don’t just owe him in terms of football because he was a nice bloke off-the-pitch and he’d ring you and talk to you about personal stuff which was a massive help. A lot of stuff like that goes unnoticed with managers. People see managers just as football managers, but they’re not. They really do care about certain people. What Brian France did beyond football needs to be noted because the kind of things he did were remarkable.

North Ferriby during the Brian France days

“Leon Wainman and Carl Fothergill were upfront with me. I don’t know what got the best out of me. I always knew I had the ability to score goals, but you need people like those two who were so hard-working and would put it on a plate for you most of the time. They were such good players, under-rated in my view. Carl Fothergill was a great bloke. He used to make me laugh all the time, in the dressing room, on the bus. I spoke to Leon recently at a Legends match and he’s a top bloke as well.

“My closest friend is Paul Foot and he was there when I first started at Ferriby. But you also had top pros like Rob Dewhurst, Adam Lowthorpe and I met a lot of close friends from the early doors and I keep in touch with a lot of them. Not all the time, but I speak to Ben Morley, I speak to Martin Thacker quite a lot even though he was always an opposition player and a rival.”

Scoring the goal to win the old NPL Division One title in 2005

North Ferriby celebrate after winning the old NPL Division One title on the final day of the 2004/05 season at Mossley – thanks to Gary Bradshaw’s 81st winner in the 2-1 victory

“I remember the Mossley game and I think I got put through in the 81st minute and I was going against Lee Bracey who was obviously a former team-mate from Hull. It was an hard game and I was tiring and I had to round him and I thought ‘oh no if I miss this, we’re stuffed’. Luckily I scored and it is one of the goals I look back on most from my career. Ilkeston and Telford could have won the league as well that day so we had to beat Mossley. It was unbelievable to win the league and the coach journey on the way back was mental. Beers were flowing the whole way back. It was brilliant and it is such a great memory. We went back to drink into the clubhouse and I’m afraid to say I’m guilty of being one of the lads who doesn’t remember how he got home.” 

Back to the Football League with Cheltenham Town

“I saw it as the last chance to play professional football in the league. I had a chance to go to Cheltenham, York City and a few other clubs.

“Cheltenham were League Two and yeah it was miles down south, but I thought ‘what an opportunity’. Playing in the league again is what drove me there. Looking back maybe I should have gone somewhere more local like York and got more of a chance?

“But injuries didn’t help me. I had an injury at the time which I didn’t really know how bad it was. It was a double hernia, but I actually thought it was a groin strain.

“I remember my debut for Cheltenham and because I came on as a sub and after 20 minutes I got sent off for a high tackle. It was never a high tackle because I was trying to block a clearance. John Ward was a very good manager, but he wasn’t very happy with me. I had to talk him round and say sorry. To be honest the red card may not have helped as well as the injuries.

“I was taking injections into my groin and missing training sessions so injuries were a big reason why I wasn’t there long. It wasn’t about my attitude or being homesick. I had matured more as a person and a player by 2005. The injury took its toll on me and I only got a contract until the end of the season. I don’t think my ability was a problem and I certainly wasn’t homesick.”

Back to Ferriby

“I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed or gutted when Cheltenham let me go, but I took everything in my stride. I had an opportunity to go to a few other clubs, but Ferriby came back in for me and I just thought ‘let’s go back home’. Ferriby is five minutes from home for me and I knew all the lads and I just wanted to enjoy my football again.

“I still had my double hernia when I went to Ferriby because I hadn’t had my operation. Our first game was away at Gateshead and I was feeling so fit because I had been training full-time and I scored two goals and it was so enjoyable.

“Bri left during the 2006/07 season as results weren’t going his way. The club appointed Neil Parsley to replace him. Pars tried to stamp his authority and unfortunately he didn’t get along with a lot of the lads. He once had a screaming match with Mike Price in the changing room at half-time and it went sour. I thought after that game ‘Pars isn’t going to last here’ and (chairman) Les (Hare) was friends with a lot of us lads and I don’t know if a few got in his ear about Pars? Player power got Pars out if I’m honest. Pars was in charge for a year.

“But under Pars we avoided relegation. That season (2006/07) we were struggled was one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had. You were always fighting for something in every game. Every game mattered. We weren’t just a mid-table side with nothing to play for. We played Hednesford on the last day of the season and we beat them away from home. Kevin Larvin scored the winner and that was probably one of the best games I can remember. I felt we had really achieved something.

“Taking over from Pars was Neil Allison who was a player. Spanner was horrible as a player. We played Ilkeston away one time and he went for a corner against Nigel Jemson and turned round and saw Spanner take Nigel Jemson out. If you had seen Spanner off-the-pitch you’d say ‘he’s a really nice bloke him’. We once played three at the back – Jamie Waltham, Paul Foot and Spanner and I used to look and think I wouldn’t like to play against that lot. Spanner was manager for manager for two or three years and he was really good. I really enjoyed playing for him until he went to Australia. I’ve been lucky in terms of managers, I’ve never had a********. I’ve always got on with them. John Anderson who was Spanner’s assistant took over after Spanner emigrated and under him we got into the play-offs. He was a great manager and bloke. I played with him at City. When John resigned a month into 2011/12 season, that’s when the club appointed Billy Heath.”

A Wanted Man 

“I had loads of opportunities to leave Ferriby and there would be clubs calling me all the time. Bob Blackburn from Bradford (Park Avenue) was always ringing me. Hednesford wanted me, but I thought ‘that’s Birmingham, there’s not a chance I’m travelling there’.

“It wasn’t about money to me, it was about enjoying football. All these clubs would say to me is ‘we can give you so much hundreds of pounds a week’. All the time I thought ‘that’s not for me’. I enjoyed playing for Ferriby. I was playing with my mates and we were kind of successful. 

“So many clubs rang up, but my head was never turned.”

The Ferriby Social Side 

“There used to be me, Paul Foot, Chris Bolder, Mike Price, Andy Thompson and Ben Morley who used to be in the clubhouse after the game for hours with Les Hare the chairman and others. You’d get to your last bit of beer and you’d think ‘I’m going to go now’ and then you’d shake your pint glass on the table to make a noise and Les would look at you and serve another pint. We’d be then on the karaoke in the clubhouse.

“We used to be in the Ferriby clubhouse all the time and Footy’s wife used to ring him up and say ‘right Paul, I’m ready to pick you up’ and he’d say ‘can’t you drive round the block one more time because I have one more pint left’? She’d used to take us home and we’d be singing Take That in the back. I bet she used to dread every Saturday night with us two. 

“For away games, we used to have a green kitty which Footy used to look after. He was the captain and so well respected so he was the organiser of our social activities.

“He used to swing it around his head and be the main bar man cracking the bottles open on the seat-belts. Me and him used to go to the back of the coach with Chris Bolder. We kept hold of the crates and if anyone wanted a drink they’d have to give him a pound. But you weren’t allowed a new bottle unless the old one came back empty.

“If we went to somewhere like Kendal away, people would say to me ‘how far is that’? I used to go ‘eight crates’. So anywhere in Leeds, I’d go ‘it is about ‘four crates’.

“Some of the trips were crazy. I remember Alex Davidson lifting the coach sunroof open and the sunroof flew off onto the motorway. He was just hanging off the sunroof on the motorway.

“After an away trip we’d all go back to The Duke in Ferriby and have a few. Pete and Alex Davidson used to wrestle in the car park and our kit-bags used to get thrown into gardens and conifers. 

“Footy would swing his green bag and and when we walked into The Duke all the locals would turn to see us and think ‘oh god, they’re here’. Footy would slam his green bag on the bar and get all the drinks in.

“We once came back off the coach and went into Hull for a night out. But the problem was we all had our tracksuits on and our bags with us and we had no idea how we were going to get into the pubs and nightclubs. We got away with it because we said we were in fancy dress as footballers. It was mental. 

“They were great times and I really miss them. Times like this don’t happen anymore. In a lot of cases, players go into the bar, pick up their brown envelope and go home. I’d be like ‘aren’t you having a few pints’? My view is that you get your money and you put it in back into the club. A big reason why I stayed at Ferriby was because of the social side and being with my friends.”

Ferriby’s Loss of Identity 

“In my opinion as soon as the Allam’s came in and the money started coming in, Ferriby totally lost its identity. It used to be family club where everyone used to go in the clubhouse and stay after the game for hours. Us players were all local Hull lads. As soon as the money came in, you started getting players coming from out of town, just for money. Don’t get me wrong they did well, but Ferriby as a club totally lost its way as the family club it used to be. I had a lot of messages from Ferriby regulars who said while it was like that they would not go down there. The atmosphere totally changed around the club. Ferriby were never going to be an established Conference team. It was unbelievable to get there, but because of the size of the club and fanbase it was never going to be sustainable without a money person being there.”

Winning the NPL Premier Division title in 2013 with the final day 2-0 win over Ashton United 

Gary Bradshaw, with Paul Foot and Chris Bolder, has mixed feelings on winning the NPL Premier Division in 2013

“I was disappointed that day because I was on the bench and I was disappointed for a lot of that season because I was put on the bench a lot. It was a bittersweet thing for me because I got ten minutes on the pitch at the end of the game. It was unbelievable what we had done to win the league, but it was hard to celebrate because I was thinking ‘have I contributed anything to this game or title’? It was a weird situation to be in and I think it was weird for a few people. I don’t really look back at the 2013 title win much to be honest. I know I scored 25 goals, but I felt I was a bit-part player. It was a great that we got promoted, but in the 2005 title win I was an integral part of the side and it was my first season as captain. I was very young too and I scored 39 league goals. 2005 is a great memory.”

Leaving Ferriby 

“Billy offered me a new contract, but I decided to turn it down and I ended up going to Scarborough. When we were having our contract talks he said to me ‘I don’t think you’re doing enough, you’re not scoring enough’. I went ‘I have started 26 league games and scored 25 goals’. I’ve nothing but respect for Billy and what he has achieved as manager, but I didn’t agree with him. We had just won the treble and Footy and Chris Bolder weren’t happy with what they had been offered either. It felt like the right time to leave.”

Joining Rudy Funk’s Scarborough Athletic

Gary Bradshaw enjoyed playing for Rudy Funk at Scarborough

“Rudy’s one of these people who you speak to and after say ‘I want to play for you’. He could really get you motivated and feel good and loved. That’s a big part of managing because players want to feel wanted. He used to get the best out of you. He used to be like a firework in the dressing room and have proper screaming matches with people. But then in the next second he’d be cuddling you and talking to you. He used to call me ‘Gazzybaby’ all the time. He never called me by my name! One of the good things about Rudy is you could ring him anytime. Mind you, he used to ring me randomly all the time! Sometimes it wouldn’t even be about football. You’d come off the phone and think ‘I don’t know what I’ve even spoken about for the last 20 minutes’! But he was another good bloke.

Gary Bradshaw in action for Scarborough Athletic in a friendly against Hull City

“I think as a team we failed, definitely (in the 2013/14 season). On a personal level, I think I did alright because I had a good goals average – even though I sometimes played in different positions. But the players we had there we should have done far better. We had Paul Foot, Chris Bolder, Bryan Hughes, Peter Davidson, Ryan Blott, Adam Bolder, Joe Cracknell on loan – the best goalkeeper I have ever seen. We had so many good players and why it didn’t come together on the pitch, I don’t know? Sometimes it did because we’d batter a team 6-1, but then we’d lose the next game. We had no consistency and we couldn’t deliver every week. We had been touted as massive favourites for the title by a lot of people.”

Funk resigns straight after final whistle after 3-0 defeat at Harrogate Railway in November 2014

Final act: Rudy Funk hugs Harrogate Railway manager Billy Miller – literally minutes before announcing his resignation as manager of Scarborough in November 2014. Photo: Caught Light Photography

“It was so bizarre. I may have my recollections wrong, but I know he didn’t tell us that he had quit when he came in after the game. It was a shock because Rudy Funk and Scarborough seemed to go together. I know he was loved by a lot of fans, but I know some fans turned against him towards the end. I 100% think he chose to leave then because he was still popular and that he didn’t want his relationship with the fans to go sour. He had got that promotion from the NCEL and he was still well-thought of.”

Bryan Hughes and Bradshaw’s best mate Paul Foot take over as manager 

Bryan Hughes (right) and Paul Foot (left) were joint managers of Scarborough Athletic for just over a year

“Yozzer (Bryan Hughes) and Footy had been Rudy’s assistants and they took over as joint managers. In football joint managers don’t work for me because who makes the final decision at the end of the day. I think if you ask them both if they make that decision again, I think they’d say no. One would be the manager and the other would be the assistant. They’re still really good friends now, but it must have been hard for them to make decisions on players. 

“They recruited really well (summer 2015) and Matty Bloor, Steve Mallory, Joel Dixon were some of the lads who signed and we had a good team. We started really well, but we went on a steak where we just couldn’t win a game. No matter what we tried we couldn’t turn it round and in the end they got the boot. I was gutted for them.

“I actually left a few days before they were sacked to go to Hull United under Curtis Woodhouse. From speaking to Curtis it sounded great because they were getting loads of fans through the door. It wasn’t the best move, I’m not going to lie.”

Various Clubs 

Gary Bradshaw and his friend Ryan Williams celebrate the former’s goal for Hall Road at Worsbrough last year
Former Worsbrough key man Jack Wilson in battle with Gary Bradshaw

“After Hull United, I have played for AFC Mansfield, East Yorkshire Carnegie, Barton Town, North Ferriby (the old club) and Hall Road Rangers. I haven’t been able to keep away from football. 

“I got a job working at Siemens where I have to work two weekends a month so I haven’t been able to play as much over the last few years. But I’ve kept playing because of my love for football.

“I started for Hall Road last August. My mate Ryan Williams was playing for them and he kept telling me to come down. In the end I did. I was enjoying it, but I felt I couldn’t keep doing it because of work so I gave up a few months ago. It sounds bad because a week later Paul Robson the assistant manager of Ferriby rang me to see I’d sign for them. I knew I could end up looking silly. I’ve known Robbo since I was nine because he used to man-mark me. With it being Ferriby I was interested so I said that before I said yes I’d have to ring Hall Road’s manager Leon (Sewell) to tell them. I spent a bit of time on the phone to Leon and he wasn’t too happy about it because I’d said a week earlier I was retiring from football and I’m suddenly signing for Ferriby. It looked naughty. My first game for Ferriby would have been against Hall Road, but Leon would only release my registration if I didn’t play in that game.”

Back to the Future with Ferriby this year

Chris Bolder brought Gary Bradshaw back to North Ferriby earlier this year

“When I went back to Ferriby it felt exactly how it used to feel during the 2000s when I first went there. You had the same chairman Les, all the fans had come back. It is great to see Les back, the club wasn’t the same without him. It is his life. The lads were more local and there was a feel-good atmosphere. I love being back there. I think the club is set up to do well over the next few years. I’m 37 now and I was thinking of retiring again, but Paul Robson text me saying ‘I’m just making sure you know that we 100% want you back here next season’. So we’ll see…”

Gary Bradshaw was interviewed by James Grayson 

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