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PROTRACK » Welcome to the ProTrack Forum » Jim Bradley Tribute: 17th May 1921 - 2nd July 2015

Jim Bradley Tribute: 17th May 1921 - 2nd July 2015

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This is the transcript of my eulogy at Jim Bradley's Memorial Service held at the Essendon Football Club on Tuesday 7th July 2015.

Warning - It is quite long, and probably takes about 10 minutes to read. So if you do wish to read it in it's entirety, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the read.

Jim Bradley Tribute

G’day everyone.

Jim didn’t said g’day. It was always “Hello wee Youngy” or “Hello wee Paulsie,”
“Hello wee Browney, Hello Davey, Hello Stevey, Hello Sam…”

The Aussie greeting wasn’t for Jim.

Neither was “Not Bad.”

I remember the first time he said “How are you going wee Paulsie.”

I responded “Not Bad.”

Jim said, “So you’re good?”

I said “Yeah that’s what Not Bad means”.

He just laughed and away we went.

Of course Jim was always “Going Well”

“I figure that the world of sprinting, certainly the British world of sprinting owes a great deal to Jim Bradley because he formed the bridge between all those areas of potential that we felt our athletes had and the actual fulfilment of that potential.”

That was Frank Dick in 1988, the former British National Director of coaching and British Olympic Track & Field coach.

I mention this to demonstrate the importance of Jim Bradley’s influence across the world.

I first met Jim Bradley when I visited his sports shop in Rose Street Essendon – Bradley/Wilson Sports. At that stage, SIMS in Moonee Ponds was primarily a toy store so the main sports store for the Young family of Robb Street off Buckley Street was Bradley/Wilson’s.

I bought a pair of Adidas Mexico spikes there when I was about 14. I was aware Jim had an involvement with Essendon but like most kids who went to Rose Street I went there to see the Essendon stars Andy Wilson and Peter Hickmott. I thought the Scottish bloke was just a part owner of a sports shop who hung around Windy Hill. I knew nothing of Jim’s athletics background. I bought these spikes and said to him proudly I’m one of the fastest kids in the school. (That wasn’t hard at Essendon Tech…)
I puffed out my chest and said I can run 13 seconds for the 100m. He seemed impressed at the time. But I think he was just being kind. Only three years earlier he had coached George McNeill to run about 9 yards inside even; so to him 13secs was pretty much rubbish.

I was at the Essendon v Richmond game at Windy Hill in May 1974 when Jim unfortunately got his jaw broken in that infamous half time melee started by Malcolm Brown. He told me several times, (you keep company with Jim long enough; you will hear all his stories several times), that Alan Schwab did the dirty on him. Jim said he knew Schwabby well and had met him several times for a cup of coffee, but when Alan came to give his testimony at the tribunal, Alan said he had never heard of Jim Bradley. Knowing Jim he would never have spoken to Schwabby again.

That’s what Jim did.

When Jim got dirty on you, he sent you to ‘Coventry’. He just never spoke nor engaged in conversation until HE was ready.

I remember I had arranged to pick him up for training one Sunday morning. We were training at Williamstown. Training started at 9.30, Jim wanted me to collect him from his house at Cooper Street at 9.00am. No later. Well…I rocked up at 9.01am. I pulled up out the front. I got out of the car then proceeded up the driveway. I noticed the Ute was gone. Anyway, I knocked on the door hoping that maybe he had lent the Ute to a friend. But of course that wasn’t the case. Jim left at 9.00am as he had planned, only he had gone in his own car. When I arrived at training I immediately apologised and tried vainly to offer an excuse, but Jim just turned his back. He didn’t speak to me for a few days after that. And I can’t recall ever being asked to take him to training again.

I don’t know of anyone who didn’t have that happen. Even his most loyal life-term friends Peter Hickmott and Ken Fletcher have stories about how one comment or an action Jim didn’t agree with and he would wipe you as quick as he could look at you. But after a while you get use to that. Every genius had his flaws and that was Jim’s – his over-the-top reaction to something he didn’t agree with. And he never apologised.
That was Jim.

Jim retired from the shop some time later and I really didn’t see him again for several years. In 1981 George McNeill won the Stawell Gift (under Wilson Young…..and Jim always spoke highly of Wilson Young who later coached and introduced Allan Wells to the speedball that Allan used very effectively to win an Olympic Gold medal in 1980) In 1983 George published his wonderful book “The Unique Double”. I read that book several times over and over. It was magical. Especially his commentary on Jim Bradley. The success of Bradley’s Albany Athletic Club was phenomenal.

During the 1960’s in Scotland, athletes would go to Jim Bradley and immediately be re-handicapped, just for joining the Bradley squad. In 1969 George had 9 and a half yards for the Powderhall New Year Sprint. He didn’t get past the cross tie. (Scottish term for semi-final) A few months later he joined Jim and had his mark cut 4 yards to 5 and a half. Didn’t matter. George still won Powderhall off 5 and a half.

In 1970 Wilson Young had 10 yards when he was beaten in the cross tie by George McNeil. The following year he joined Jim and immediately was pulled back to 6 yards. And even then some trainers were complaining that wasn’t enough. Wilson won the New Year Sprint beating George McNeill who ran off scratch.

Imagine that today? You don’t have any wins so you seek out a new coach and immediately have your mark go back 3 metres, simply because of the coach’s reputation.

He was that good.

And before George and Wilson there was Ricky Dunbar. Ricky was Jim’s first athlete, the one he trialled his new-found methods on. When Jim first saw Rick compete he was last over 100 yards in 11.4 secs. 14 yards outside evens. As Jim would say, girls ran quicker. From 1957 to the time he left Scotland and moved to Australia, Ricky had improved every year for 9 years to ultimately cover the 100 yards in 9.4secs. Soon after arriving in Australia Ricky ran 11.9 for 130 yards at Lancefield. Eleven in.

Knowing the extraordinary success Jim had achieved in Scotland, it was in the back of my mind what a tragedy for our sport if Jim Bradley never coached his own squad in Australia.

During the 1980’s Neil King and Evan Armstrong enjoyed unprecedented success in our sport, dominating the major Gifts, especially Stawell and the Bendigo 5000 (as it was known in those days). Kingy and Evan had adopted Jim’s program and produced not only the fastest athletes in pro running but some of the fastest sprinters in the country as proven when John Dinan won the national 200m title, Chris Perry ran 2nd in the national 100m and both athletes were selected for Australia. Thanks initially to Kingy and Evan, Jim Bradley’s speedball program was a phenomenon that swept through our sport. By 1988, there were very few squads in the Victorian Athletic League who were not using elements of the Bradley method, especially the speedball. If you weren’t using speedball, you were considered a dinosaur. (funny how today, the use of speedball is considered a traditional training method exclusive to pro-runners; and now we’re the dinosaurs). But it still fricken works.

It wasn’t until about a decade after my visits to Bradley-Wilson’s, when I went to Scotland; that I got talking to Jim about sprint training. Myself and a few other Aussies - Mick Giulieri, Jike Jones, Gary Smith & Paul Bolton were training with George McNeil’s squad at Meadowbank stadium. Jim had travelled across to Scotland and was at Meadowbank helping out a Scottish coach who was preparing an athlete for the Commonwealth Games.

Speaking to Jim at Meadowbank each night, I was fascinated by his training theories about the speedball and the successes he enjoyed in Scotland.

I gather it was much the same spiel that he gave George McNeill when George first visited Jim back in 1969.

George wrote in his book The Unique Double.

That meeting lasted two hours during which our sitting room became a laboratory of running. It’s component mechanisms were taken apart and explained, the way to better functioning  - pointed. Bradley was around 6 foot tall, aged somewhere in his mid fifties, but with the solid muscled shape of bodily fitness.”(Sounds like a taller version of a Scottish Tommy Hafey)

“From time to time he went down on our carpet to demonstrate what he called his “chinnies” – abdominal exercises. We saw the one legged squat, the one handed push up – the lot.

His effect was of a powerful light bulb, illuminating the dark corners of a subject. “Forget about your leg action in running. Throw your legs away, mentally. Concentrate on arm action. All the action comes from there. The arms control the legs.”

He continued: “The arms were powered by the shoulder girdle – the muscular nexus sheathing the upper chest, shoulder blades and upper arms. Development of the muscles there – the raising of a greater head of steam in locomotive terms – was a prerequisite of faster running. And for its accomplishment. Bradley went on, we must turn to the gymnasium before the running track.......And his vehicle was the speedball.”

That’s all in chapter two of George McNeill’s book. I reckon I’ve read it 50 to 60 times.

While in Scotland I too found it illuminating. I sought out as much information as I could on Jim and there was no shortage of Scots to offer advice. Like George, I learned about his extraordinary record at Powderhall and the New Year Sprint. Of how incredibly fast the likes of Ricky Dunbar, Dave Walker, Robbie Hutchinson, Davey Deas and of course George McNeil had run through that period until Jim chose to move to Australia in 1972.

By the time I had returned to Australia I was driven by the desire to be a part of a Jim Bradley squad.

I visited him and rung him about oncer per month urging him to start coaching. I believe I wasn’t the only one, Ricky Dunbar and Peter Hickmott were also urging Jim to coach again.

By the start of 1988 Jim had decided to get back into coaching and in May of that year the Australian chapter of the Albany Athletic Club was born.

Ricky had generously given up his squad that included 1984 Stawell Gift runner-up Sam Kirsopp and  (old) Chris Brown who had run 3rd in the 1976 Stawell Gift and Jimmy Park and then there was myself and Dave Krushka; and with Ricky we became the Jim Bradley squad.

A few months later along came Dave Gill and Steve Tilburn.

We trained at Olympic Park in Melbourne, hitting the speedball six and sometimes seven days per week. We’d share the room with Graham Goldsworthy’s squad and other athletes including John Dinan. And we would do our bodyweight exercises work in an adjacent room.

When I first started hitting the speedball, I was delighted as I was soon hitting it at a rate of 90 hits per minute – for a 3 minute round. (Counting on one hand) Then Jim came and watched me hit the ball, told me I was doing it wrong; demonstrated how to use your body and to transfer the weight as you would when you ran. Doing it Jim’s way, I could barely hit the ball more than 70 hits per minute. I was hitting it at a lesser rate but felt more fatigued, and would sometimes cramp in the legs and feet. Those were the days before plastic swivels. Now days you’re considered a hack if you can’t hit the Jim Bradley Pro Ball at around 140 hits per minute.

Jim would organise film nights at his home in Cooper Street where he would bring out the 16mm film of his athletes from Scotland. He had footage of Eric Cumming winning the New Year Sprint on a snow covered track in 1952. There was no sound to the film but it was just amazing to watch.

After about 12 weeks in the gym, we commenced the track program at the pristine ovals of Xavier College.

By November 1988 we were ready to compete. I had no idea how I was going. We had only competed against each other at Xavier College.  So I headed off to my first competition as a Jim Bradley trained athlete to the Caulfield Grammar School Gift carnival. I had entered the 70m and 120m Gift.

I returned home late that Saturday afternoon. My wife Wendy asked how I went. I hadn’t made a final for over 3 years. I didn’t say anything until I sat down in the lounge room then took the money out. I vividly remember saying: “Jim Bradley is a genius”….”he’s a dead set genius.”

I had just run 3rd in the Gift final and 2nd in the 70m. My first final in anything for 3 years. I won about $400, my first collect for over 3 years.

To Jim Bradley, this was all matter-of-fact. He expected it. He had been through it so many times before 20 years earlier in Scotland. His athletes dominated the scene there. He trained 12 New Year Sprint finalists including 5 winners in about 10 years.  To him, he just expected all of us to improve substantially, but to me, it was a revelation beyond my imagination.

When I first went to Jim he asked me had I used speedball before. When I replied “No” he said I would improve at least 5 metres. Based on my run at Caulfield, from the previous season, I estimated I had improved about 6 to 7m. He was right. As he always was. But he wasn’t blasé with his advice. Far from it. He was careful to ensure what he said could be backed up with fact. He acknowledged he was in charge of a young person’s athletic career and the importance of that role could never be under-estimated.

In those early years Jim wouldn’t ring too often, but when he did it he’d say “Hello wee Paulsie” and then he would talk about training and soon he would get into his stories about Dunbar, Walker, Hutchinson, McNeill and Wilson Young.

I heard them dozens of times, but I never got tired of them. And he never told them in a way to boast. It was more to motivate you, a source of inspiration, to get you excited about training and what lies ahead, to get you thinking not to put limits on yourself. By the time I got off the phone, I couldn’t wait to go to training and churn out another six by three minute rounds on the speedball and hundreds of exercises. I’d go home exhausted but satisfied I was on my way to realising my potential.

To Jim, that was the essence of what he was about. His innovative program was designed to realise an athlete’s potential, whether that be 10.2, 11.2 or 12.2 for the 100m. Or win a Gift off 10 metres or scratch. The more you put into it the more you got out of it, said Jim.

His passion and desire to make his athletes the best they could be was amazing. He had an insatiable appetite for knowledge that would assist an athlete to be faster. His development of his revolutionary speedball program was a product of his research. He was not a trained sports scientist but his attention to detail was on a par with that level of commitment. He demanded high standards and he wasn’t hesitant in letting you know if those standards weren’t met.

He sacked a few athletes in his time.

David Gill had been training well but was getting on Jim’s nerves a bit as Gilly was a lad who was a little care-free in his approach to the sport. One night we had just completed 12 x 50/20/50’s all flat out off blocks. We were all sitting down, exhausted.

Jim asked Sam how he felt, Sam said he was stuffed.
Then he asked Dave Krushka; Dave said he was knackered.
He asked me; I said “I’m buggered Jim”.
Then he asked Gilly. Gilly replied “I feel great, I could go again.”

Wrong answer Gilly.

Jim said “Is that right Gilly, OK you can go again. Another set of six.”

As we were driving out of the Xavier College car park, it was starting to get dark. Down on the oval, there was Jim standing behind Gilly going “SET” and BANG off went Gilly for the first of another six.

At Gisborne, Gilly had won his heat of the 70m and was now waiting for his heat of the Gift. He was in heat 5. After heat 4 had been run, the athletes for heat 5 went to their handicaps. Gilly was still standing adjacent to the track oblivious to what was going on.

I turned to Jim and suggested I should go over and tell Gilly this was his heat.

But Jim said “No”, stuff him! (I’ve substituted Jim’s actual word for the word stuff).

I said “But he’ll miss his heat”.

Jim said “No, let him go.”

Well we then watched the runners in heat 5 go down the track, but no athlete in green. Gilly was wearing the green standing near the starter.

When the athletes for the next heat went to their marks, up walked two athletes in green. The athlete who was down to run in the 6th heat and Gilly. After a quick consult with the starter, Gilly looked up the track, acknowledged he missed his heat and came back to where we were standing.

“I missed my heat Jim,” said Gill.

Jim gave him a stern look and replied “I know I saw you, you daft idiot.” (Again I’ve replaced what Jim really said with the word daft).

He told Gilly – “Win the 70 metres or don’t come back on Monday.”

Unfortunately for Gilly he was about 2m out of the race on times and he ended up at the back end of the 70 metre final.

On Monday, Gilly turned up in his shiny red Ute. Jim saw him park the car and asked the rhetorical question “Didn’t I tell Gilly to win the 70 or not come back”….”You can’t put brains in statues” and off he went.

Jim walked across the oval and met Gilly half way. After a flurry of arms, Gilly picked up his bag, turned around and slowly walked back to his car and drove off. That was the last we saw of Gilly in Jim’s squad.

Jim had very high standards; deviate from those standards at your peril.

One of those was – you never missed training. Even the ‘character building’ 50/20/50’s in rain hail or snow. We were at Fairbairn Park one day doing 50/20/50’s. It was pouring rain. Jim had strategically parked his car in the carpark just behind our blocks. He sat in the car. We stood behind he blocks. He wound down the window and called “To your marks, Set and bang went his gun.” We took off; sloshing through the water logged grass, in the pouring rain. Jim just wound up the window until we came back.

He sacked me in September 1989 for missing a training session. My problem was I had assured Jim I would attend on the Sunday morning, however I got caught up at home with work for the VFA Half Time Sprint Final and thought I wouldn’t have time to go training and get organised for the Grand Final.

Big mistake. Jim rang me that night and said “Don’t come back.” I went and saw him, rung him a few times, pleaded to be allowed to stay, but to no avail. Once Jim made up his mind, that’s it.

I made the mistake and paid the price. If anything I had more admiration and respect because how many coaches could afford to sack an athlete for missing one training session? I know if I had of done that in my coaching career I would have been left with maybe two athletes – Leon & Chris Burckhardt.

I only had myself to blame and I missed out on the next season when the Bradley phenomenon hit a crescendo.

His squad dominated the 1989/90 season. They won most of the major Gifts, including Broadford, Burnie, Maryborough, Wangaratta, Bendigo and Werribee. Jim trained the first four past the post in the Rye Gift final with Simon Smith running 12.05s off 5.0m. Sam Kirsopp’s win at Wangaratta was unbelievable. 12.2seconds off 1.50m. Paul Dinan 2nd – another Bradley quinella. Simon Smith was also in the final off 2.75m. On New Year’s Day in 1990, I was at Maryborough in the grandstand sitting with Jim watching Dave Clarke win the Maryborough Gift beating Paul Dinan. Jim had just quinellaed the Maryborough Gift. Soon after news came through from Tasmania, Sam Kirsopp had just beaten Simon Smith to win the Burnie Gift. In the space of an hour Jim had trained the quinella in two of Australia’s Classic Gifts. Bear in mind he had only just started coaching in 1988. Within two seasons he had turned the sport on its head.

He won the Coach of the Year both in Victoria and nationally.

It didn’t stop there because the next year along came a 19 year old skinny blonde kid who was once described as the left overs of the Sunday chook. Steve Brimacombe. Jim coached Brimma to a 2nd at Maryborough behind John Hilditch and then Steve won the Rye Gift. Jim copped some flack over that. Some people around the place thought Jim should have pulled Brimma up so he wouldn’t win Rye. Jim was not into pulling up athletes. His mantra was - try and win off the mark you have. If you win and go back, the challenge was to improve to overcome the re-handicap.

This was never more evident than in Jim’s first VAL season when he set Sam Kirsopp for the Stawell Gift. Because of Jim’s strong belief that runners shouldn’t deliberately run dead he refused to let Sam run in any professional foot-race until Stawell. Sam had 4 metres and was regularly running about 7 yards inside evens in our trials. Myself and Steve Tilburn had made several Gift finals off our marks of about 6 and 7. In training Sam was beating us off scratch. Although Sam didn’t make the Stawell final, he ended up being an exceptionally fast athlete.

After Brimacombe won Rye and made the Wangaratta final, Jim kept Steve off the track until Stawell where he became the first man in history to break 12 seconds electronically in heat, semi and final.

Jim trained the quinella and is the only man to coach 1st and 2nd in a Stawell Gift and 1st and 2nd in the New Year Sprint.

Brimma improved every year for the four years he was with Jim, winning the Bay Sheffield, recording the fastest time ever on the Bay Sheff track – 12.28secs off scratch, winning the Keilor Gift off half a metre in 12.14secs and culminating with 2nd in the 1994 Stawell Gift off scratch in 12.19secs. He went on to make the 1994 Commonwealth Games 200m final before moving to Queensland.

Soon after Brimma, along came Ryan Witnish who won the Bay Sheffield and ended up a sub 10.4 100m athlete.

Then in 1994, Jim’s very close and loyal friend Peter Hickmott was coaching Essendon Under 19’s. He told a player he might struggle to play senior AFL but because he was quick, he suggested he go along to Jim Bradley. Glenn Crawford was very fortunate he was at Essendon where he had Pete for a coach and not say Carlton or Richmond as we may never have seen one of the most emphatic Stawell Gift wins in history when Crawford scorched down the track in 11.78 seconds off 6.5 metres in 1995. Within a couple of years Crawford had gone from a handy footballer to one of the fastest sprinters in the land.

Jim was a little quiet for a couple of years but even into his late 70’s you couldn’t deny that he was still dangerous as he proved in 2000/2001. Craig Brown won the Bay Sheffield and Burnie Gift and Adam Burbidge was dreadfully unlucky not to have won the Stawell Gift in 2001 when he was 2nd off 6.0m.

Jim had some wonderful, quirky sayings.

Resting between sets: “Never stand if you can sit, never sit if you can lie.”

When an athlete was running fast: He was “Catching pigeons.”

When you were coming out of the blocks: You had to be “Smooth and smart.”

“Ya canne educate statues.”

“Softly softly catchee monkey.”

If Jim was saying something and didn't wanted to be interrupted he'd put out a hand and say: "Let Jim finish."

And he sang:
"Running over, running over,
My cup is full and running over,
Since the lord saved me,
I'm as happy as can be,
My cup's filled and running over."

And Dave Krushka’s favourite –
“I don’t care if it rains or freezes,
I am safe in the arms of Jesus,
I am one of his little lambs,
Yes by Jesus Christ I am. “

He was a great mentor and father figure to me and many of the people here and in Scotland.

He was uncompromising, hard, maybe too hard at times, (no…HE was too hard at times) but if I had to sum his main principles, I would say:
Diligence, discipline, hard work and leave no stone unturned to be the best you can be.

To finish I’ll leave with a quote from Wilson Young who was interviewed in the Scotsman newspaper in 1978.

“(Jim) Bradley achieved incredible results from a very small pool”. “Wee guys used to come along to his house and say “Make me a sprinter – and he would. He would never turn them away and I would never turn against his principles.”

And like Wilson Young, nor should we.

Good on ya Jim.

Last edited by youngy on Fri Jul 10, 2015 10:50 pm; edited 2 times in total

"Let's Go While We're Young"


Fascinating read Youngy.

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