This is an especially nice time for a glimpse at British jockdom, at what the littlest Diplomat with the biggest impact on the team lived through -- and loved -- as a pro athlete at 15. To understand it, you must ask: Would Joe Theismann, at a similar age, be content to scrape mud from Diron Talbert's cleats and sweep out RFK Stadium after games with nothing more firm than a dream of being a Redskin?

"An apprentice professional, with a team called Blackburn Rovers, is what I was," said David Bradford. "I left school at 15, because I was useless there. When I went, which was about half the time. All I wanted was soccer. What I did was clean the professionals' boots, sweep the dressing rooms out and clean the terraces after the games. For what amounted to $15 a week."

That was during the season.

"In the close season (offseason), you'd paint the stadium, all the horrible little jobs. But you play as well. They have like a youth team. Two years I did that. Then the boss (Ken Furphy, who 12 years, several teams and a continent later is still his coach) came and put me straight into first team.

"Which was something. I must have been 4 foot 9 at the time. Tiny. Real tiny. I weigh 138 pounds now, so you can imagine how small I was then."

Until yesterday, Bradford was 5-6. Or so he told everyone.

"A medical fellow measured me and said I'm only 5-5," he said. "I wasn't happy with him."

He was smiling now, though. Unlike the tiniest of George Allen's Redskins, Pat Fischer, who also played like a titan, Bradford does not mind remarks about his size. Other than blind-side blocks to his knees, nothing infuriated Fischer more than to be called the best cornerback in the NFL "pound for pound."

That would kindle the fury Fischer usually saved for such as John Brockington on a power sweep. Judge me like anyone else, he would snap, and then walk off in a huff. Anyone who nicknamed Fischer "Mighty Atom," as the Dips have done to Bradford, might well be soon split like one.

"I don't get upset," Bradford said. "I'd like to be a bit taller. But I can't, can I? There's no use worrying about it."

Usually, the ones who worry most are those unfortunate average-sized players who must try to mark Bradford, whose quickness and creative skills at midfield are exceeded only by his durability. Last season he was one of only seven players not to miss a moment of any North American Soccer League game.

For Bradford, that amounted to 3,005 minutes. It included nine games that went into overtime and seven shootouts.Perhaps the wonder should not be that he shrank but that it was just an inch.

Bradford wants more. The rascal even enjoys practice.

"There's no better life," he insists. "It's brilliant. Great. You come in everyday and everybody's going after one another. When I pack it in, this is what I'll miss" -- he looked around him at some teammates not wired quite properly -- "comin' into training everyday and havin' a laugh with everybody."

The major laugh yesterday came when the dippiest Dip, Peter Carr, overheard Bradford say that one of the reasons for joining Furphy in the U.S. three years ago was "being in the reserves in West. . ."

Carr interrupted.

"Everybody said he was too samll," Carr said."He was on the fourth team. The only reason he was on the fourth team was because they didn't have a fifth team."

Bradford always has thrived under Furphy, and lately this season he has been dominating games in the fashion of a brilliant basketball lead guard. In part, this is because his teammates, many of them new to the team, finally have found him.They also found him easy to overlook.

"It's been better the last few weeks," he said. And so have the Dips, winner of their last four games. Before, Bradford had complained, not entirely in jest, of having a stiff neck from watching ball after ball after ball being kicked over his head to the front line.

This is somewhat like the Celtics trying to win without giving the ball to Tiny Archibald.

"If the ball's in the air," Bradford said, "I've got no chance. Lately, we've been using more short balls, playing through the midfield instead of over it. I think that's how the game should be played. If it's long balls and chasin' all the time, you're givin' your front people too much to do. I think you'll see a difference (tonight in RFK Stadium) against Tampa Bay. Hopefully."

Diplomat management hopes Washingtonians will take to Bradford the way they did to Fischer, and that the smaller kids who make up the bulk of soccer fans, will realize the sport welcomes Bradford-sized players with Bradford-like skills.

And not quite so much feistiness.

"His one little drawback is his temper," Furphy said. "He gets irritated easily on the field (to the point of drawing senseless penalties or playing out of control), and I've been unable to get it out of him. I've done everything I could. Threatened him. Fined him. Several times. But I tolerate it because he's such a good player."

What Furphy wants is a Mighty Atom who stops just short of being an Atom Bomb.