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The Michael Duff story, with former Robins chief scout Derek Bragg

31 July 2015

Bragg: Duff's attitude has helped him reach the top level

Former Cheltenham Town defender Michael Duff will be rewarded for 11 years' sterling service at Burnley with a Testimonial match against Bradford City at Turf Moor on Saturday (3pm).

However, the Northern Ireland international's fledgling football career nearly ended before it started after he was invited to take part in a trial match at Whaddon Road by the then youth development officer Mike Davis in 1996.

Goalkeeping coach-turn-scout Derek Bragg had watched Duff playing for Carterton Town Reserves on the recommendation of his father John, an airman who had been posted to RAF Brize Norton in 1994. 

Former Hertha Berlin number one Bragg was impressed with what he saw from the gangly teenager, who was invited to take part in a game for prospective youth trainees.

"Cheltenham were setting up a new YTS system and one evening they set up a game between the reserves and and team of trialists," Bragg said.

"Michael was invited, but on the morning of the game his dad said he had been poorly with the 'flu and was feeling rough.

"I spoke to Mike Davis, who said this would be the only chance to impress, so it was agreed he'd try and solider on for 45 minutes and then we'd sub him off. 

"He turned up looking very ill, but he did exceptionally well in the first half and then a couple of players picked up injuries and had to come off, so Michael had to stay on and I think he ended up playing for about 75 minutes! He could barely walk as he came off and apparently he slept for about three days solid, but it was that sort of attitude that has seen him go on to do so well."

Duff was promptly signed on as a trainee and went on to help Cheltenham win three promotions, making 372 appearances and scoring 16 goals (including the one that secured promotion to the Football League) before switching to Burnley in 2003 for a  fee of £30,000, linking up with Steve Cotterill, who had helped him progress so much as a player at Whaddon Road.

"That good attitude has held Michael in good stead throughout his career," Bragg said. "He could have easily cried off, but that night showed a lot about his character and his willingness to listen and learn since has seen him through to the very top. It just shows how much football is about getting a break and sticking at it.

"I am still in regular contact with Michael and I believe he'll go on to make a very good manager too."

Peterborough-based Bragg remained Cheltenham's chief scout before starting his own company, The Scouting Network, in 2005.

He memorably made one substitute appearance for the Robins up front at the age of 42 in an Endsleigh Trophy semi-final at Farnborough Town.

"We were going for promotion in the league, had reached the semi-finals of the FA Trophy and the Endsleigh Trophy too," he said.

"The games were piling up and the fact I was on the bench and actually got on showed how seriously Steve was taking the competition really!

"I remember I nearly scored to take it to extra-time and everyone was relieved I didn't!

"Cheltenham is still the club whose results I look out for first and I always enjoying coming back. I was at the Cardiff friendly, when I was able to catch up with everyone in the boardroom and it's nice that it has retained the feel of a family club, with people like Paul Baker and Paul Godfrey the heartbeat of the place.

"It's a great club and also nice that old players like Russell Milton, Jamie Victory and John Finnigan are still involved and I wish them well for the season ahead."

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