ON APRIL 20, 1995, a young soldier left Northern Ireland very early and via lorry, helicopter, plane, train, hovercraft and car arrived at Smallbrook Stadium with just ten minutes to spare before the Isle of Wight Senior Cup semi-final between Cowes Sports and Newport.

He quickly pulled on a yachtsmen’s shirt and scored twice in their shock 4-3 win.

Just a few years later Lee Bradbury became the Island’s first million pound footballer.

A tour of Fratton Park, when he was training to become an army PTI, changed his life forever.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lee Bradbury celebrates winning the Championship and promotion to the Premier League with Portsmouth in 2003.Lee Bradbury celebrates winning the Championship and promotion to the Premier League with Portsmouth in 2003.

The army’s football manager told Portsmouth they had a young player who was scoring lots of goals and urged them to take a look at him.

Pompey were impressed and, after pre-season training and a tour of Scotland, where he came on as a sub in three games and scored in each, he was bought out of the army and became a professional footballer.

During his long career Lee played 500 games in the Football League and scored over 100 goals.

He is still in the game and is now the assistant manager at Crawley.

During his playing days, transfers fees between clubs totalled £5.3m.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lee Bradbury celebrates a goal for Portsmouth with England-capped Steve Stone.Lee Bradbury celebrates a goal for Portsmouth with England-capped Steve Stone.

Dolly Crane, the manager of Plessey Reserves, had the best deal of all. He signed him for nothing at the age of 14.

Other managers to follow Dolly included Terry Fenwick, Alan Ball, Frank Clarke, Terry Venables, Steve Coppell and Eddie Howe.

In his early days, Lee skippered Somerton Middle and they were unbeaten for three years.

Later, at Cowes High, he appeared in the team that made Island history by reaching the final of a national cup competition.

Despite putting in a superb battling performance, they lost 3-1 at Goodison Park, the home of Premier League Everton.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lee Bradbury at Bournemouth.Lee Bradbury at Bournemouth.

One of his team mates was Gary Rowett, now the manager of Millwall, who himself played almost 400 Football League games, including some in the Premiership for Derby and Everton.

They remain friends today.

Lee’s son Harvey has recently been at Millwall.

When he was learning his trade at Fratton Park, Lee was sent on loan to Exeter City to gain Football League experience.

After banging in five goals in ten games, he was recalled to Pompey because of an injury to England-capped Paul Walsh.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lee Bradbury celebrates a goal in Pompey's promotion winning season in the Championship in 2003.Lee Bradbury celebrates a goal in Pompey's promotion winning season in the Championship in 2003.

Lee told me, back in 1999: “It was a good experience for me and a real boost for my confidence.

“I came back a far different player.”

After waiting ten games for his big chance at Fratton, Lee scored on his second appearance and then smashed eight in eight games.

His flair for goals continued and bigger clubs took notice — particularly when he hammered in a superb winner for Portsmouth in a great FA Cup win at top flight Leeds United.

Suddenly, Southampton and Leeds were showing interest and Pompey needed the money.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lee Bradbury at Manchester City.Lee Bradbury at Manchester City.

His agent, the same Paul Walsh, who had retired from the game, decided Man City was his best option and they had offered £3.5m.

Times were different in those Maine Road days.

Lee became their most expensive player in the history of the club.

It was a dream pre-season debut for our local boy. He scored twice in the first six minutes in a friendly at Burnley.

It took him seven more games to score in a league match.

The City crowd went crazy celebrating Lee’s goal against Norwich City.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lee Bradbury at Manchester City.Lee Bradbury at Manchester City.

He had never received that kind of acclaim when he scored seven for Plessey Sports. On that occasion, there were less watching the game than the goals he scored.

Lee’s Manchester City stay was not as memorable as it could have been, however.

Being out with an injury for several months was such a handicap and did the multi-million pound price tag put him under any kind of pressure?

“I didn’t really worry about that. I didn’t ask them to pay that sort of money for me,” said Lee.

“You don’t actually see the money. It’s just a figure.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Lee Bradbury when he managed Havant and Waterlooville.Lee Bradbury when he managed Havant and Waterlooville.

On some occasions, Lee received abuse from the City fans. For him it was all a part of a learning curve and he had a strong enough character to deal with it.

He scored ten goals in 40 appearances. In one memorable run, playing alongside Georgian playmaker, Georgie Kinkladze, he scored five goals in ten games.

It is hard to believe now, but City had to sell Lee because they were short of cash.

Hence, Crystal Palace came in with a bid of £1.5m.

The Eagles had just received a cash injection from a tycoon, but within five months they were almost bankrupt and could not afford Lee’s wages and he was loaned to Birmingham.

Lee did well there and was told by Trevor Francis they would buy him in the summer, but it just didn’t happen.

With Palace in financial turmoil and paying one per cent a day on the £300,000 they still owed Manchester City, they had to sell players quickly and Portsmouth bought him back for £300,000.

He impressed Alan Ball in spearheading Palace’s 4-0 win over Pompey.

Lee became such a hit on his return to Fratton — scoring 29 goals in 100 more appearances.

He even returned from a loan spell to help Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth win the Championship and return to the Premier League.

After successful spells at Oxford and Southend, he finished his playing career at Bournemouth.

During those 126 games at Dean Court, he played as a striker, midfielder and latterly, an impressive right back.

When Eddie Howe left to manage Burnley, Lee became caretaker manager.

In a permanent role, he took them to the play-offs, but they lost on penalties to Huddersfield Town.

After a subsequent poor run, he was sacked.

But Lee bounced back and, after a spell coaching at Portsmouth, he became the manager of Havant and Waterlooville.

He led them to the Ryman League Premier title and, the following year, they won the National League South.

Lee won manager of the year awards in successive seasons.

Following promotion, life was tough in the National League against full time clubs like Wrexham, Leyton Orient and Chesterfield.

They did beat Maidenhead 7-0, but were relegated.

Havant had to make day trips to places like Fylde — driving seven hours on a coach, playing the game then driving seven hours back.

Their two Island boys, Ryan Woodford and Ryan Young, would not get back until 6am — and then they had to go to work.

“I loved my spell at Havant and working with their chairman Derek Pope, but I was disappointed we did not have the backing to make it a success,” said Lee.

“I think the club were surprised to go up and were not quite ready.”

After leaving Havant, Lee went to Eastbourne Borough, but their backer pulled out after a few months and he became a part of their cost cutting policy.

It could well have been a blessing, now he’s back in the Football League with Crawley.

The greatest moment of his career was playing for the England U21s.

As a kid, Lee loved to wear a replica England shirt. Pulling on the real thing was such an honour for him.

Lee has been a credit to the Island and has never been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons — a model pro.

He has been very shrewd during his football career, other than a past short craze of buying fast cars.

Lee loves family life and enjoys his visits back home.

In the Pompey director’s box one Saturday, when my late wife and I were guests, I loved leaping up as Lee scored a hat-trick against Swindon.

To think it all began with Plessey Reserves.