Bradley admits he struggled during his first taste of men's football when on loan at Luton's FA Cup opponents Harrogate Town

Centre half made his senior debut when a teenager in the National League North

By Mike Simmonds
Friday, 7th January 2022, 6:30 am
Luton captain Sonny Bradley
Luton captain Sonny Bradley

Luton captain Sonny Bradley admitted he struggled to get to grips with the physical nature of senior football when taking his first steps in the men's game during a loan spell at the Hatters' FA Cup third round opponents Harrogate Town.

Back in October 2010, Bradley, a 19-year-old at boyhood club Hull City, was sent to the then National League North side, managed by Simon Weaver, who remains in charge to this day, in a bid to cut his teeth after coming through the academy system.

The centre half readily concedes he found it difficult to adjust to his new surroundings and playing in non-league, but having come through it, felt it was a vital part of his development, saying: “It was maybe nine, 10 years ago, which is a long time in football.

"It was the same manager, Simon Weaver, he was the manager back then, he surely must be one of the longest serving in the EFL at one club, and it was a short loan spell.

"I was at Hull at the time, I’d only played academy football, so I was unsure what it was going to be like going into non-league, up against men and if I’m honest, I struggled a bit.

"I thought it was difficult, Conference North and I thought it was tough, but at the same time it was a good experience for me.

"I can only thank Simon for allowing me to get my game time and after that I went and kicked on and played in the Football League, so it was a short spell, but certainly one I enjoyed.

“Since I left, they stayed in the Conference North for a few more years and then they made their way up through the leagues, went through the Conference and now they’re in League Two and doing extremely well, mid-table.

"The manager’s clearly ambitious, wants to do well and I don’t think they’re too far off the play-off spots.

"We don’t want them to have a good cup run obviously, but that’s for us to deal with that and then hopefully they can kick on in the league and finish the season well.”

From his spell at Wetherby Road, Bradley then went to Swedish club IK Frej on loan and was also awarded a first pro contract by his parent club.

Looking back at his stay with the Sulphurites, where he made seven appearances, scoring once, that in an FA Trophy tie with Witton Albion, plus his brief time abroad, the Town skipper continued: “I wouldn’t say it shaped my career but it gave me the experience of men’s football.

“No disrespect to that league it wasn’t the best quality in the Conference North, but the physical element was certainly a lot different to the level I was playing.

“It was a brief spell, I was only there for a couple of months in total but the games I did play, I learned things in those games.

“I was also in the dressing room with men which gave me an idea of what it would be like when I stepped up into the first team so I’m glad I went and got those games and it is a time I’m thankful for.

"I don’t remember too much about it (first goal) but I remember I started the game pretty poorly actually.

“Then I got a goal and it boosted me, gave me confidence.

"It was my first goal so maybe I should do some more research on myself, it wasn’t a 30-yard screamer against Middlesbrough live on Sky though.

“I then went out there (Sweden) in the summer once the season finished at Hull.

"The sport scientist at the time had a link with IK Frej and he did some work with them and recommended to the manager that a couple of youngsters go out there and gain some valuable experience.

"I was lucky enough to be chosen to go out there and see what it was about.

"It was interesting, it was only for a couple of months, but the experience of being in a first team and playing a completely different style of football and lifestyle, I really enjoyed it.

"It was a good experience and it has helped me in my career, even though it was a short spell because once the summer finished it was back to Hull.

"IK Frej was a really good club at the time and I was living in Stockholm, so I’ll leave that to your imaginations.”

Although Bradley himself has moved around a fair bit since his time with Harrogate, playing for Portsmouth, Crawley and Plymouth Argyle, until his move to Luton in the summer of 2018, Harrogate will turn up Kenilworth Road with the same man at the helm in former Lincoln and Kidderminster defender Weaver.

The 44-year-old has now completed over 12 years in charge, as Bradley said: “He had his own ideas, everything we did in training was well structured and we liked to play on the front foot.

“It was a long time ago but I remember him being a really good man and a good manager and I wish him all the best moving forward.”

Despite his brief affiliation with the club, who knocked League One Portsmouth out in the last stage at Fratton Park, Bradley's best wishes don't extend to a place in the fourth round at Luton's expense on Sunday, as he added: "I would say they’ve got nothing to lose but then they have their place in the cup to lose.

"They will be thinking about that, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t play on the front foot and go at us.

"It will be a difficult game and depending on how we approach the game with our attitude and mentality, we can either make it easy or hard for ourselves, which will make it a lot more difficult.

"There’s no replays so it will have to be done in the 90 minutes and everything we have done in training for the last month or so, we will try and get out there and show the fans who are eager to get back in the grounds.

"We owe them a nice comeback and hopefully we can keep a clean sheet and score a few goals."