by Red Casual 15/10/19
The grudge was regional, Bradley was Hibs, we were Celtic; he was younger but you couldn’t help but look up to him. Celtic played Hibs six times during the 1985/86 season, four in the league and once each in the cups, which probably built up this feud between two mobs in the football casual era during the eighties.
I remember at the start of that season thinking a smaller club such as Hibs can’t be up to much on the streets. This was a big mistake. Looking back now you have to say they were Scotland’s best firm; a very organised unit who had a baby crew the same. Brad stood out from the rest and although aged only around 14 he was knocking lads out who were five years older than him. I was on the receiving end a few times myself, most notably during the League Cup match at Easter Road. He was nightmare!
I recall a famous Celtic lad trying to deck him which backfired spectacularly. The police grabbed us and told us to ‘pick on someone your own size’ while my mate stood with a broken nose. You could see Bradley was a trained boxer and he had these eyes you could never forget. He would stand on the other side of the terrace from us like a golden eagle sizing up his prey. While lads were shouting in conflict over the fence, Brad would just watch, scanning the away end. He’d be wearing the most expensive and sometimes unique clothing and had a habit of analysing what anyone else wore. Bradley would become one of Hibs’ main faces when the CCS and BBC amalgamated into one.
By around 1989/1990 a lot of us, Brad included, had moved on from this scene. It was around this time I got to know him and I’ve loved him since, but he spent some time away and was a very private guy for many years.
I recall hearing him talk for the first time. Brad zoomed up to me on a mountain bike in Edinburgh having previously only known each other through our football rivalry. At the time he was running some decent club nights and I had been staying down south. ‘Alright ar kid?’ he asked, which was a pass as well as a greeting, then at 100 mph he would move onto the next subject before I had absorbed what he had just said. Which I thought was funny seeing as he always looked a man of few words as well as thinking that he may bare a football grudge or even look down on me, but this was never the case. He invited me to one of his club nights and I arranged to meet him in the City Café. A few old faces I recognised from Hibs were also there which was slightly daunting, but it was all cool; I was Brad’s guest and through him I got to know guys that I still call mates to this day. It’s what he did, he brought people together.
I remember him still coming over as a leader with charm and charisma. He had all this philosophy and it sounded as if he’d swallowed a dictionary. I drank beer, he drank bottles of water with his ‘fit mind, fit body’ attitude. He liked to point out that ‘we were all just laddies from different cities and it was all cowboys and Indians ehh.’ He would always ask about other Celtic lads and how they were doing, especially ‘those McCann twins‘ who, like him, were trained boxers he respected.
I wouldn’t see Bradley again until 1995 when he and a few lads came to London for the weekend to see a famous boxing match and I arranged to meet him at a pub in Knightsbridge so he could visit Harvey Nichols. When I got there I noticed him and a couple of others standing on the centre island of the road leaning against the railings – golden eagle eyes was back! Old habits die hard and he’s just checking out who’s walking by. He tells me Chelsea sometimes move around that area but to be honest he was just posturing, he had moved on. He was still oozing confidence and again he wasn’t a drinker – his tipple was water. We moved along to the Armani store after we’d been to Harvey Nic’s, Armani was the label for him and in true working class spirit he’d size up how to get his label as cheap as possible – and of course he did. We spent the day with him and his wee crowd from Edinburgh in a few pubs; I could have listened to his old stories and intense spirit all day. I left later and they went on to the boxing.
Working Class Hero
It is something to be a working-class hero as John Lennon said. In later years I had the privilege of working with Brad on a few projects which should really be named solidarity; these were mainly joint ventures between the Celtic and Hibs fans. His leadership skills came to the fore in a massive way and a couple of his many quotes being ‘it’s easier to be a good gadgie than c*nt’ and ‘there is more that unites than divides us.’
He approached us here at HWS asking how receptive it would be for a joint food-bank collection at Easter Road in an up and coming Hibs v Celtic match. I thought it was a cracking idea and the Celtic fans took to it right away. So through Helping Hands – which was his solidarity idea – we set the wheels in motion. With ex-casuals from Celtic and Hibs helping to put it in place , the idea was for the Celtic fans to bring the usual food-bank supplies when they approached the away end at Easter Road and there would be tables to collect it. We also received cash donations from fans who didn’t manage to bring any food bags. Wee Jay Beattie and his dad came up with bags and wee Jay stood and helped us for a spell which again was outstanding, although he demanded a Helping Hands vest to wear. The guys that Brad and Jim had in place knew the score, it was like a military operation, vans were already there to move the bags as soon as kick-off came. It was relatively easy for this to happen and it mainly came down to connections and Brad’s spirit, energy and respect which was vital in making it a massive success. The Celtic fans were outstanding in coming to help the disadvantaged people of Edinburgh.
I visited Holyrood Boxing Gym only the once. It was a week day and I’d just popped in to see my friend. I regret not getting there for him to put me through my paces on a Sunday morning, but I believe Jake is stepping in and carrying on the tradition so I will be visiting for that very reason. It has been hard for us here at HWS to write this article as his loss is still raw and hurts even as I type, but we shall do our best. The gym was Brad’s place and I witnessed his ethos again, a leader who gave massive encouragement. You saw that everyone who walked through the door of the gym was an equal, there was no heroes. Or maybe they were all heroes. Certainly by the time they left they felt that way, he built you up, he gave that confidence you needed, including weight loss and just as importantly gave mental health issues a proper outlet; his actual presence worked in tandem with it. He could give a couple of words encouragement that would lift anyone. He made me a better person and I know he did this for hundreds of others, he would go that extra mile to help a mate for nothing in return. But does this guy ever sleep? It appeared hardly ever, after he completed a Guinness world record doing pad work for 24 hours. If you’ve not seen this; check the documentary: ‘Bradley Welsh Tough Times’.
There was a football page online that Brad used to post on; basically ex-casuals who just chatted about old times. He was instrumental in keeping guys together on there and with his motto ‘more unites us than divides us’ he fostered a good spirit and it’s this spirit that lives on, with the page even bringing out a t-shirt in his memory.
When Leigh Griffiths went through a bad patch last year it was Brad who stepped in to help and put a few people straight. Brad knew Leigh as he was one of the many footballers who came down to help out with the kids through, once more, Helping Hands. He got in touch with me and I couldn’t get him to calm down on the phone. Brad was reading stuff online from people mocking Leigh and mental health – two things you just didn’t do. ‘Leigh’s a guy from the streets with magic at his feet who’s just going through a bad patch, he’s just a laddie from the scheme’. He was rightly calling people out on Leigh’s behalf to explain their comments, LG, I believe, phoned Brad to thank him. Then it was onto business. Brad said that we needed to support him and wanted us to come together again and I totally agreed, as he said, ‘he’s one of our own mate’. Ironically there was another Hibs v Celtic match coming up at Easter Road and we put the message out. https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/holywellst.com/193
I would be on the phone to Brad most days; he was taking on a lot but never stopped helping where needed and was always thinking of what we could do next through his connections and mine. The next joint venture was with the Green Brigade at Celtic. We had arranged to meet them and work on a solidarity banner in support of the working class and bringing attention to disingenuous charities. We had arranged for member of the GB to get free boxing sessions at the club at the next Hibs v Celtic game which in the end unfortunately didn’t happen.
The McCann twins were Celtic and mutual friends of ours who knew Brad all the way through from football, boxing tournaments and later, visits to see each other. Francie McCann – after being involved in a bad accident – was fighting for his life and in true spirit Brad wanted to help. Bradley had wrote, ‘FRANCIE was me, just born in a different city and followed a different team’. Francie was starting to make a miracle recovery and was recognising people and voices. One person’s voice was of course a stand-out and that was Brad’s. The McCann family held the phone up to Francie and the coach was doing his bit again. ‘Keep fighting Francie, we’re cut from the same cloth just different cities, you can do this … I’ll be there to see you Saturday’.
Later that night was when we got the news that Brad, sadly, was no longer with us.
Everyone has their own story to tell about Bradley Welsh and it seems it’s usually along the same lines as friend, inspiration, coach, life changer, charming, gifted and loyal. I think it was Irvine Welsh who said that you would only meet a few guys like Brad in your lifetime, which is probably true, but I’m still waiting to meet the second one.
Ironically just after his passing the next game at Easter Road was against Celtic. We had been told that the Hibs fans were having a minutes applause on the 48th minute and in his spirit I felt it was only right HWS should do one last thing for a friend. It was quite easy and everyone agreed … https://wordpress.com/post/holywellst.com/336 Both sets of fans were immense and on the 48th minute we did the joint applause for Bradley Welsh. Once again the Celtic faithful rose to respect this working class hero.
In among his parting words should he ever be taken at a young age was …
‘Ye see, Now try to be me. Me … me … me. Go and never forget.’
We can only try to be him. If you get halfway there you’ll be doing more than alright.