WOODY FEELS AT HOME IN LEAGUE
WHEN Alex Woodyard turned up for his first day at Lincoln City’s pre-season, he and his teammates were shown a video of the club’s relegation from the Football League. Remarkable
The idea from the Imps’ new management team Danny and Nicky Cowley, who Woodyard had followed north from part-time Braintree Town, was to help everyone hit the reset button and finally draw a line under the disappointment that still hung over the club six seasons on.
A year later, the squad turned up on day one to be shown clips of an incredible season that saw the Imps win the National League title with 99 points and beat Premier League Burnley on their way to a remarkable FA Cup quarter-final with giants Arsenal.
Midfielder Woodyard was one of the most important players in a Lincoln side that got their city to fall back in love with the club again.
“At the start of pre-season they showed us a video of all last year and how well we did,” Woodyard told The FLP. “What it felt like to achieve what we did and how good it would feel to achieve something like that again.”
The 24-year-old has made a good start to life back in the Football League having dropped into Non-League following his release from Southend United.
He had spells at Dartford and Farnborough before joining boss Cowley at Concord Rangers and then Braintree Town. Under the former PE teacher’s guidance, he has revived his career and last season he was one of the division’s best performers.
That led to interest from a clutch of League One clubs in the summer, but he chose to stay loyal and is enjoying the new challenge.
“I’ve worked hard to get back to the Football League,” the former England C captain said. “It’s a step up and every league has its levels. It’s good to play in front of some really good crowds and at some lovely stadiums so it’s enjoyable.
“In Non-League there are a few part-time teams whereas in the League everyone is full-time and training every day. Everything just has that little bit more about it.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a massive step. There are some good teams in Non-League and you obviously see how many Non-League players step up.”
The Imps made a solid start with four wins and four draws from their first 11 games, but they are hardly a surprise package with last season’s exploits making waves across football.
Summer arrivals like Matt Green and Ollie Palmer, along with the renewal of a loan deal for young Burnley winger Josh Ginnelly, have all added extra quality.
And despite losing centre-half Sean Raggett to Championship side Norwich City, they have managed to keep the powerful defender, considered one of NonLeague’s best talents in recent years, on loan until January.
Woodyard thinks their rivals have recognised the talent they have and says that’s why they have to keep moving forward themselves.
“I think you can see teams are giving us respect,” Woodyard said. “Teams do all their homework and they have their game plans.
“We’ve been doing well, we just want to keep in and around it. Where I’ve played for the Cowleys before at Concord Rangers and Braintree, our teams have tended to kick on from January.
“We’re trying to evolve and get better because, like I said, teams have game plans. As you push up the leagues, you’ve got to adapt and push on.
“We’ve still got a lot of last year’s squad and added some really good players in the summer. From day one they’ve bought into it and they enjoy it. A lot of them say it’s one of the best clubs they’ve played for, which is great.”
A big part of that is no doubt the supporters, with Sincil Bank crowds topping the average attendance charts in League Two (pre-weekend they were averaging more than 8,500).
“We’ve got the highest away attendance too,” Woodyard said. “The fans are right behind us and I think they’re enjoying it!”
IN CONTROL: Alex Woodyard on the ball in last month’s League Two win at Stevenage
BIG DAY: Woodyard takes on Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez last term