The Non-League Football Paper
CAPTAIN MARVEL IS SHOWING THE WAY
MATT Woolley is laying down markers that are unlikely to be moved any time soon.
With his appearances record, which reached 350 last month, the 1874 Northwich midfielder has combined durability with accomplishment like nobody else at his club.
He has been the team’s captain on match day most often, and is the only man to have played a game in every one of the Cheshire outfit’s 10 seasons.
All that, and he’s still only 32.
“Looking at those numbers makes me feel older!” he told The NLP.
“It’s a big deal though, probably more so in non-league because lads switch sides so much.”
He remembers vividly his debut, as a substitute in a North West Counties League victory at Widnes, after a transfer from Knutsford in December 2013.
Before that, his first taste of semi-pro football had been as a 17-year-old with neighbours Witton Albion long before fed-up fans of Northwich Victoria voted to form their own club.
Understanding just how partisan supporters in his home town can be has come in handy.
Woolley said: “I know what it means to them.
“Even if I didn’t, they’d tell me when I walk into the pub on a Saturday night.
“It’s alright for the other lads; they can go home and not think about it. When you’re a local, you have to front up.”
It’s a role he relishes, and there is an upside.
He was an integral part of 1874 Northwich’s run to the FA Vase semi-finals in 2018, and lifted the trophy on both occasions when they became the first club to retain the North West Counties League’s Challenge Cup.
A rise to the Northern Premier League, and a meeting with Witton as equals on the field, has also had Woolley at its heart.
While his position on the pitch hasn’t altered, he has taken on more responsibility as leader of a side which more than once this term has had an average age barely above 22.
He said: “I’ve had to learn how to talk to them, when to criticise and when to be constructive.
“If they’re looking to you for guidance, particularly if things are going against us, then it’s my voice they’re waiting to hear.
“Luckily, after all this time, I reckon I just about know what I’m doing!” He is being modest. Wayne Goodison, co-manager at 1874, is happy to have a man that he can count on.
He said: “Matt’s been loyal to the club, and it takes some doing to reach the milestone he has.
“He’s resilient, and his consistency over a long period demonstrates the intelligence he possesses to evolve his game and continue contributing.”
How long can he carry on playing, potentially putting the record out of reach a while?
Woolley insists he hasn’t set any targets.
He added: “I’ll listen to my body, and that will give me the answer.
“My dad always says you’re a long time retired, so I’ll stick to what I’m doing for now.”