Brad Sandeman Interview (23/06/08)

Interview by Matt Harris

At the grand age of 38, Brad Sandeman brings no shortage of knowledge of the game to the relatively young side around him at Tunbridge Wells. A well-traveled player who has plied his trade at most levels of the English football pyramid, Sandeman is also one of the quieter members of the squad - but it is clear he has earned plenty of respect from the players around him.

“Being the old man of the team, I just try to help the players with a little advice here and there,” Sandeman explained to “The main thing I try to push to the younger players around me is to keep playing it simple - it’s the best and easiest way to play football. I generally don’t like to say too much, though, as Mike and Martin need to get their points in - sometimes you have too many people trying to have their say, so I will have a quiet word when necessary, and that is all.”

But Sandeman isn’t just looking to pass on his experience of the game to others. Even in the twilight stage of his career, he’s still learning things from the game himself. “Whether it’s a matter of knowing when to get forward from defence, or even when to have a word to one of the lads, I don’t think you stop learning,” he remarked. “That in itself is a valuable lesson to pass on - as only too often you can come across young players thinking they know everything about the game. You can never stop learning from it.”

And with his wealth of experience, Sandeman should know. When he looks back on his career, and draws on some of the highlights, he jokes that there might be too many clubs to mention. Sandeman’s professional career began back in 1986 at Northampton Town, before he moved on to Maidstone United in 1990. Unfortunately, his first spell in Kent was cut short as The Stones went out of business back in 1992, so the next port of call was Port Vale.

It was at Vale Park that he enjoyed some career highlights - including winning promotion to the Championship, and also playing over two legs in the League Cup against Manchester United. “They put out a mixture of first and reserve team players in those two games, and their squad included the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Roy Keane and Gary Pallister - some decent players to pit your wits against.”

Following four seasons with The Valiants (including time in the second tier of English football), Sandeman joined Rotherham United, and then Hereford United, before, after making around 220 league and cup appearances in the full-time game dropping into Non League football. “My last game in the league was for Hereford against Brighton back in 1997. We needed to win, while Brighton needed a draw to stay up. Brighton got the draw and we were relegated - it was obviously not the way I wanted to end my pro career,” Sandeman recollects.

Since then, he has moved around various clubs, including Northwich Victoria, Kettering Town, Worcester City, Leek Town, Witton Albion, Kidsgrove Athletic and now Tunbridge Wells. The Kent League is often noted for its physical nature, but Tunbridge Wells supporters will notice Sandeman doesn’t get drawn in, instead offering a calming and measured counterbalance to the ‘hurly-burly’ side of the game. “The Kent League can get a little physical,” he observes. “But being a right-back you tend not to get involved in that side of things. The higher up the leagues you go, you do get more time on the ball - but in general the standard in the Kent League is not too bad. You have certain teams who like to play football like ourselves, and some who are physical.”

Generally, Sandeman seems happy to fly under the radar most of the time as far as the limelight is concerned, and yet more than one player has mentioned him as being a driving force behind the team. “I’ve never been the loudest person in the dressing room, and I tend to stay in the background and let the lads who think they’re funny have their say - as with all clubs you have a mix of loud and quite players.

“I think I’d best describe myself as a consistent player - I don’t do anything outstandingly good, or fantastically bad - I’m a great believer in just playing the simple ball - and to be honest, that’s probably the hardest thing a player can learn to do.

“Many players think you have to try the Glenn Hoddle pass - whereas pass and move will get you out of trouble most times. Because we play football at Tunbridge Wells, that’s what we need to focus on doing. As a team we are getting there - as form showed from February onwards, but being a young side, you need to keep labouring that point. We have some good players in the side so it is looking good for the season coming.”

22 years after starting out in the senior game, Sandeman plays for the moment - fully aware that retirement isn’t far off now. “Realistically, I probably don’t have too many years or games left in my career, so I will see how this season pans out,” Sandeman remarks. “Last year I had problems with my knee (tendonitis), but you never know - I keep saying to myself ‘last year was my last’, but I always end up at pre-season training again.

“A lot of players say you should play for as long as you can get away with it - there really is nothing better than playing the game when you’re enjoying it. But when you wake up and can’t move too well, you begin to think ‘let’s get on the golf course instead.’”

And when Sandeman does hang up his boots? “Coaching has never really interested me if I’m honest. I managed Witton for a few games when I was there, as caretaker manager - and I won all four games - but you never know; if somebody asked me to coach or manage, then maybe I’d think about it. However, I only moved into this area a couple of years ago, and I’m not that well known or connected down here.

“If I was still living up in Stoke, then I think I might be involved with coaching somewhere. At the moment, though, Mike and Martin are doing a great job so there’s no danger of a vacancy at Culverden.”

So as Sandeman moves into pre-season preparation for what could be his swan-song, he is focussed on what needs to be done to help move the club forward on the pitch. “Pre-season is all about getting ready for that first game - getting your fitness right, and your touch. Most important it’s about the team playing how the manager wants them to play, which can be hard, because players go away and can’t make training,” he observes. “For any player this is the most important time of the year - if you miss pre-season, you always seem to suffer more when you report back. When the season starts it’s hard to have the time to get your fitness right, especially when there are a lot games packed in.

“I think everyone at the club is looking forward to the coming season - the way we played from February onwards has set our sights a bit higher than they were back in December. But that was last season,” he warned. “We’ve got to let that go now, and concentrate on that first game and a good start to the new season.”

In concluding, Sandeman knows what needs to happen to make the targets for next season achievable. “If we want to get in among that top four or five, a good start is essential. It will give us that confidence to push on. With the addition of a handful of players, I believe we have a great chance of reaching those goals. The club obviously wants to push on, but the only way to achieve that is by being successful on the pitch - and with everyone pulling in the right direction by August, that’s very possible!”

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