The Non-League Football Paper


- By Andrew Simpson

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.”

 ?? PIC: Xenia Simpson Photograph­y ?? TALISMAN: Matt Woolley
PIC: Xenia Simpson Photograph­y TALISMAN: Matt Woolley

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