It was a crisp afternoon and, as he walked into RFK Stadium, Gordon Bradley, newly appointed coach of the Washington Diplomats, was reminiscing about his days in New York.
"When we first started with the Cosmos (in 1971), we were lucky if we drew 2,000 fans for a game," he said, his tone a little incredulous at the thought. "We were playing out at Hofstra (on Long Island) because we figured if we averaged 10,000 fans a game we could say we were playing to near capacity houses.
"Then we went to Randalls Island and it was almost as bad. The facility wasn't good and we drew better but not by much. When Pele came we moved to Yankee Stadium and things got better. Finally, came Beckenbauer (Franz) and the whole thing just exploded completely. Everything went right through the roof."
It took less than two minutes for Bradley to sum up six years. Pressed a little, however, he will gladly spend hours on the subject. And why not? During those six years he, as coach, and Clive Toye as general manager spearhead the growth of the franchise that was the key to the soccer explosion in the U.S. last summer. The Cosmos started with 2,000 fans per game and finished with 77,000.
But now, just as the Cosmos have climbed the mountain, Bradley has elected to jump off to take up another challenge. The Dips had a home-attendance average of 13,000 last season (many of whom received free or cutrate tickets) but Bradley knows that figure is a long way from success.
"I like to think of myself as a man for the challenge," he said, his face turning somber. "We had achieved our goal in New York, more or less. This is a new challenge."
Although he won't talk about it, Bradley's move to Washington isn't quite as simple as that. Bradley wants to coach and with the Cosmos he was no longer coach.
He joined the organization as player-coach in 1971 and had been coach until 1976. In 1972, the Cosmos, then minus any big names, won an NASL title.
In 1976, Bradley stepped down as coach to become director of player personnel. But when the Cosmos began floundering under his replacement, Ken Furphy, Bradley returned to the sidelines of midseason.
He remained as coach until last July. Then, with the Cosmos in first place with a 12-8 record, the club hired Eddie Firmani, who had resigned weeks earlier at Tampa Bay, to replace Bradley.
It was announced that Bradley had wanted to get out of coaching to concentrate on his duties in the front office. Few, then or now, believe the story. All Bradley will say is, "When I start a job, I like to finish it." He had left as coach with the season unfinished.
Most soccer people felt that Bradley, who turned 40 Nov. 23, wasn't ready to give up coaching. "We knew things weren't great with the cosmos," one Diplomat official said. "But, more important, we knew Gordon wanted to coach. Sitting around an office isn't the man's bag."
Sitting around has never been part of Bradley's bag. As a goungster growing up in Sunderland, England, he played soccer with more than the ordinary European fervor.
"When I was 14, a guidance counsellor came to my school to talk to all of us about careers." Bradley recalled. "He asked me what I wanted to do I said, 'Play soccer.'
"He gave me a very nasty look and tried to explain to me that every boy wants to be a soccer players but only a minority can do it. He told me another year of school would change my mind.
"I stayed in school another year only because our team was very good and I wanted to win the championship (which it did). The next year, the same guidance counselor came back and asked me again what I wanted to do. 'Play soccer,' I said. He told me, 'All right, I give up.'"
Putting the guidance counselor and school behind him at 15, Bradley signed with the Sunderland pro team and spend three years playing on their youth squad.
hen, at 18, he suffered a serious knee injury. The doctors told him he was through with soccer. Two years later, he signed with Carlisle United of the English Second Division. He never told the club about the knee problem and played there six years.
Even though he remained active as a player until 1975, Bradley's certificate proved handy. After leaving Carlisle in 1965, he played in Canada for two years and then joined the New York Generals as player-assistant coach in the newly formed National Professional Soccer League, which would eventually become the NASI.
"After I got to New York, I had a lot of offers to come home. People told me I should leave, that soccer wasn't going to make it in America. But I was convinced it would and that my future was here."
That Bradley was proved correct was at least partly because of his own hard work. On the day he became coach of the Diplomats, the New York Times wrote, "Gordon Bradley, the man they call New York's Mr. Soccer' because he has spoken or given a clinic at virtually every school in the metropolitian area will resign from the Cosmos today."
"Clive and I both knew that the only way to sell soccer was to go out and get people interested," Bradley remembered, with a proud and satisfied smile when the "Mr. Soccer" title came up. "That's why I started Coaches Corner. We wanted to show area soccer people we were interested in them.
"And if we gave away tickets, so what? Our first goal was to put backsides in seats. We knew if people came once there was a good chance they would come back."
How delightful Bradley's stay in Washington proves to be may depend on two major factors: How successful he is in finding outstanding players willing to come to Washington, and how willing the organization is to spend the money necessary to recruit outstanding players.
At the moment, Bradley says he wants at least five new players in Washington next season. He also says he wants very much to see 1977's leading scorer, Alan Green, return to the club. Green played here on loan last season and the Dips have been unsuccessful thus far in attempts to purchase his contract from Coventry.
His evys flashed as he spoke, as if he was saying: "I did it once; do you want to tell me I can't do it again?" Bradley has been a winner, considers himself a winner and is regarded throughout the soccer world as a man who gets things done. That is why his hiring was virtually the first move the Dips have made in months that was applauded by soccer people not only here but around the league.
"If Gordon Bradley can't get the job done in Washington," one league source said, "then there probably isn't anyone who can."