A feature on striker Tom Bradshaw and the impact of his international elevation.
In the coming weeks Wales manager Chris Coleman will announce his squad for the UEFA EURO 2016 finals and the Dafabet Welsh Premier League will have a significant interest in the final selection with former Aberystwyth Town striker Tom Bradshaw sitting on the fringes of Coleman’s provisional list. Having made his senior Wales debut against Ukraine in Kiev last month, Bradshaw, 23, will hope that his impressive and consistent form in-front of goal for League One Walsall has impressed the manager enough to trust him to provide the alternative attacking option in France. With a limited choice of forwards to choose from, Bradshaw is considered to have a fair chance of making the 23-man squad, despite his lack of opportunities to impress for his country since he was first called-up to the senior side for the friendly against the Netherlands last November. Although he didn’t feature against the Netherlands or in the subsequent friendly against Northern Ireland, the last 17 minutes against Ukraine finally offered him his chance to make an impression, and there will be vested domestic interest in Coleman’s EURO 2016 squad as a result.
Bradshaw came through the youth ranks at Aberystwyth Town and made his debut for the Seasiders as a teenage prodigy, featuring for the side in both the semi-final and final of the 2009 Welsh Cup to compliment scoring a couple of Welsh Premier League goals for his club. However, his potential was quickly recognised and he made the move to the Football League with Shrewsbury Town that summer. It was later reported that Aberystwyth Town received a retrospective fee of £30,000 in recognition of the part they had played in his development, while Bradshaw would spend the next five years at the club before making the switch to current club Walsall in 2014 for an undisclosed fee, and made an immediate impression with a goal on his debut. Bradshaw has since averaged around a goal every other game for the Saddlers and has extended his contract at the club to 2017. But his stock is rising quickly, and there is no better catalyst to personal promotion in the professional game than international recognition. However, elevation at international level with Wales has come at the perfect time for Bradshaw, and a place in the EURO 2016 squad would mark an incredible, and so far unique, rise for the former Welsh Premier League player.
Of course, the Welsh Premier League has produced plenty of Football League players in the past, and the occasional few have also gained international recognition for various nations around the footballing world. The difference with Tom Bradshaw is that he now has a very real chance of becoming the first Welsh Premier League product to progress and play at a major international tournament. Ironically, another former Welsh Premier League figure could play an important part in influencing the final decision, with former Porthmadog manager Osian Roberts currently serving as the FAW’s Technical Director, but crucially also serving as Chris Coleman’s assistant. Roberts has first-hand experience of the Welsh Premier League and remains an advocate of the domestic top-flight as it continues to fight against negative perceptions in the Welsh football press and public.
The odds on Bradshaw making the squad are shortened thanks to his position as a striker. With Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes competing to lead the frontline with only Simon Church as a realistic out-and-out understudy, there is a vacancy for an unknown quantity like Bradshaw to emerge at the finals. Should his dream be realised, his opportunities to make an impact at the tournament are very likely to be restricted to the occasional cameo appearance. His Welsh Premier League background is rare in international circles, and his footballing roots were not lost on Coleman when he first selected the youngster in November. “You look at Tom Bradshaw now,” explained Coleman at the time to the official Welsh Premier League website. “He started with Aberystwyth, played in the Welsh Cup final, and Aberystwyth and Tom have benefited from that because they did things right. Who knows what can happen. The opportunities are there if you’re in it long enough, and in it for the right reasons. You can have the talent, but you have to work hard and make the sacrifices, and that’s what Tom Bradshaw has done. That’s why he’s gone from Aberystwyth Town to now being part of a successful national team squad.”
However, Bradshaw’s early international career was not without controversy, and he made headlines for the wrong reasons in 2013 when he opted out of the Under-21 squad to remain in contention at Shrewsbury Town. It marked the end of his working relationship with Under-21 manager Geraint Williams, who said that he would not consider Bradshaw for selection while he was eligible for his side again. Time has now brought Bradshaw’s international career into a new chapter, and his focus is now firmly on the senior side and what impression he can make when the opportunities arise. Only Gary Lloyd has received an senior international call-up for Wales while playing for a Welsh Premier League team after the former Barry Town full-back was named on the bench against Belgium by Bobby Gould in 1997. Steve Evans (The New Saints), Owain Tudor-Jones (Bangor City), Mark Delaney (Carmarthen Town) and Glyn Garner (Cwmbran Town and Llanelli) have all followed the same path as Bradshaw, but like every other Wales player of the last 58 years, they all failed to reach a major finals. If Bradshaw can now join Osian Roberts in France this summer it will bring some much-needed positive publicity for the national league, and like qualification itself, it will be long overdue.