AS MY PALS TOASTED THEIR BIG MO­MENT I GOT MY P45!

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEWS - By John Lyons

WHEN Andy Wood­man was axed by boy­hood club Crys­tal Palace and sent off twice in a few days at his next club Ex­eter, he feared he wasn’t cut out for a ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller.

Yet the larger-than-life goal­keeper put the early set­backs be­hind him to carve out a lengthy ca­reer in English foot­ball’s lower leagues.

Best mate of Eng­land boss Gareth South­gate, long-time goal­keep­ing coach for Alan Pardew, ‘Woody’ tells us about his highs and lows, his man­age­rial am­bi­tions and his dodgy shoot­ing…

FIRST CLUB

Crys­tal Palace. As a young boy at school I got thrown in goal and I went on to play for the county and Lon­don. A scout called Reg spot­ted me. He was reff­ing once and he came up to my par­ents af­ter­wards and said I should have tri­als with Crys­tal Palace.

I signed as a 15-year-old and spent seven years there. I was un­der­study to Nigel Martyn – who never got in­jured. I sat on the bench for years. I re­mem­ber one time when I broke my kneecap in the last re­serve game of the sea­son. Nigel then did his back and they had to get some­one in on loan!

Palace was my boy­hood club and I lived in the area, but on a pro­fes­sional ba­sis it hasn’t been very good to me.

When I went back as a coach, I still saw Reg. He’s been there for ever and a day and does the lottery draw at half-time. I’ve known him all my ca­reer, but I still don’t know his sec­ond name...

BEST MAN­AGER

The best man­ager I played for was Jack Pearce, a Bog­nor Regis leg­end. I spent two sea­sons on loan at Bog­nor from Palace and I re­ally en­joyed my time there.

Jack wouldn’t let me kick a ball. It was al­ways proper foot­ball. He was a re­ally good in­flu­ence when I was a young foot­baller learn­ing my trade. I’m still re­ally good friends with him.

On the pro side, the man­ager I had the most suc­cess with was Ian Atkins, who signed me for Northamp­ton and Ox­ford. He was the hard­est man­ager I played un­der, but we had suc­cess. We reached two Wem­b­ley play-offs with a team – and I say this with re­spect – that wasn’t the most tal­ented. It was the most hard-work­ing and it was re­silient.

BEST TEAM-MATE

Gareth South­gate. We grew up to­gether from Sun­day morning to the pro­fes­sional game and were team-mates from our ap­pren­tice days at Crys­tal Palace. We are still best friends to this day. He’s god­fa­ther to my son, Fred­die, and we even wrote a suc­cess­ful book to­gether, Woody & Nord.

It wasn’t the stan­dard foot­ball book. It was about the two sides of the coin – one player who goes to the top of the game and one who has to strug­gle, like most do, in the lower leagues.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

My first one was when I was on the bench all sea­son for Crys­tal Palace – but it was bit­ter­sweet. The day we got pro­moted to the Premier League at Sel­hurst Park in 1994 was the day I got re­leased. My team-mates were on the big­gest high of their life, but it was prob­a­bly the sad­dest day of mine

The first one I re­ally felt part of was with Northamp­ton in 1997. We went up via the Di­vi­sion Three play-offs at Wem­b­ley – and there’s no bet­ter feel­ing than that. The whole Wem­b­ley Sta­dium ex­pe­ri­ence is amaz­ing. There’s a big crowd and all your fam­ily are there.

It was the best mo­ment of my ca­reer when we beat Swansea 1-0 in the fi­nal. The fol­low­ing year we were back there in the Di­vi­sion Two fi­nal. I saved a penalty, but we lost 1-0 to Grimsby and that was dev­as­tat­ing.

I had the highs and lows, but I count my­self re­ally for­tu­nate to have played those Wem­b­ley games. That’s the great thing about the play­offs – a lot of lower league play­ers would never get the chance to play at Wem­b­ley oth­er­wise. It’s a real high­light.

I’d also like to men­tion go­ing up as Di­vi­sion Three cham­pi­ons with Brent­ford in 1999. The last game at Cam­bridge was a ti­tle de­cider and we won 1-0. I had an un­be­liev­able game. It was one of my few good ones for Brent­ford!

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

I don’t know if he was the fun­ni­est, but Dave Martin at Northamp­ton was crazy. He was ex-Wim­ble­don, ex-Crazy Gang and it showed. If you dared him to do some­thing for a laugh, he would do it. I re­mem­ber once when the play­ers were wind­ing him up to throw a plate of veg over a woman’s head – and he did it. I also re­call when we had the open-top bus and he nearly fell out of it!

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

It came dur­ing my time coach­ing at Charl­ton. I was warm­ing up Nicky Weaver and I mis­cued a half-vol­ley into the crowd. It hit this old lady who was read­ing her pro­gramme. It knocked her off her chair, smashed her glasses and she had to be at­tended to by paramedics. I felt ter­ri­ble and we sent her flow­ers and apol­o­gised.

At the next home game two weeks later, I kicked a ball into the crowd again, but in a dif­fer­ent area. Gospel truth, it hit the same lady in the face again. It was un­be­liev­able. We thought she was do­ing it for the flow­ers!

Any­way, we sent an­other card say­ing sorry and sug­gested it might be bet­ter for her to get a seat on the side of the pitch…

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

Play­ing at Wem­b­ley is right up there, as is play­ing 500 games. You have to be half de­cent to do that. I have also had a lot of sat­is­fac­tion from coach­ing – from help­ing goal­keep­ers like Rob El­liot at New­cas­tle and Dar­ren Ran­dolph at West Ham. To play a part in help­ing them im­prove and have a good ca­reer is very re­ward­ing.

Out­side of foot­ball, I’m proud of my fam­ily, my son Fred­die and daugh­ter Iso­bel. Any­one who’s a par­ent knows how hard a job it is, but they have grown up to be good hu­man be­ings.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

I’ve al­ready men­tioned get­ting re­leased by Palace, but then came more prob­lems when I joined Ex­eter af­ter that. It’s not easy when you leave a big­ger club and go to a smaller one and I’ve told Fred­die, who’s at New­cas­tle, to never take it for granted be­ing at a big club.

I just didn’t set­tle down at Ex­eter and got sent off twice in a few days. They were both my fault. The first one, I tried a step over, slipped and then han­dled out­side the area. The sec­ond, I got an el­bow and then re­acted by throw­ing a punch.

I got a seven-game ban and it was a dark mo­ment. I thought I was go­ing to give up foot­ball, I didn’t think I would make it. I was re­ally for­tu­nate the man­ager, Terry Cooper, tried to pro­tect me from the sit­u­a­tion. I still speak to his son Mark now.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

Mill­wall was al­ways tough. Be­ing ex-Palace didn’t help and nei­ther did the fact most of my mates are Mill­wall sup­port­ers. They took plea­sure in revving the fans up when I played there.

There was an­other ground that I didn’t like go­ing to, but it wasn’t be­cause of the at­mos­phere. I played at Here­ford three times and I al­ways made an hor­ren­dous mis­take. I never en­joyed go­ing there. I al­ways had a dis­as­ter.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

Big John Gayle at Stoke stands out. He was ex-Wim­ble­don and you al­ways knew if a ball came into the area, he would smash you. When the ball was in the air, you would be think­ing ‘here we go, he’s go­ing to smash you’ – and he never let you down! I was de­lighted when we signed him at Northamp­ton and he was in my team…

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

I have to say Northamp­ton. I en­joyed ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment of ev­ery match. The club was rock bot­tom and then we went up and up. The place just warmed to me and I ab­so­lutely loved it. If I could go back in time and play one more game, that would be the place for me.

AM­BI­TION

I’ve had a taste of man­age­ment in the last few months with White­hawk in Na­tional League South. I went there when they were in the rel­e­ga­tion zone and peo­ple said I was crazy to take the job, but I man­aged to keep them up. It was a real team ef­fort.

I’ve en­joyed it at White­hawk, but I’d love to be a man­ager with a full-time club. I’ve missed the day-to­day, be­ing out on the train­ing ground and work­ing with play­ers.

I’ve worked with Alan Pardew a lot over the years and learned plenty from him.

If I don’t go back with him in the fu­ture, man­age­ment is a big am­bi­tion and the Foot­ball League would be the real dream.

Best team-mate: Gareth South­gate Big­gest Achieve­ment: Play­ing at Wem­b­ley Tough­est op­po­nent: John Gayle Best man­ager: Jack Pearce

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WEM­B­LEY WAY: Andy Wood­man val­ued his ap­pear­ances at the na­tional sta­dium, in­clud­ing play­ing here for Northamp­ton against Swansea in the League Three play-off fi­nal Tough­est place to go: The Den Am­bi­tion: A fu­ture in man­age­ment

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