One Supporter’s Personal View of the Last 12 Months
By Geoff Wickens
When Ryan Moran`s superb header crashed off the underside of the bar and into the net to give Wood the lead in last seasons Ryman League play off decider, I like many of the bumper 1,100 plus crowd leapt to my feet in celebration. There were some nervy moments to endure, which included a stunning save by player of the season Tony Tucker low to his left, as a deflected free kick threatened to creep inside the far post, before Dewayne Clarke`s 88th minute exocet shot arrowed over the Kingstonian ‘keeper and into the top corner to send Meadow Park crazy with the thought that promotion to the Blue Square South had been secured. A truly tremendous achievement by the Club.
A week before that memorable match I had been given the shocking news that I had a cancerous tumour in my jaw and was facing a complex day long operation to remove it. I wondered at the time if the Kingstonian play off match would be the last time that I saw the Wood in action. I had seen my first ever Wood game in January 1971, another unforgettable game, a 2 – 1 F.A. Amateur Cup win over St Albans City in front of a crowd of 2,500. At least I thought, if it was to be my last game it was one of the very best. I, like many, ran onto the Meadow Park pitch when the final whistle went to celebrate, and to congratulate all of the players and management. Unforgettable scenes, some of which can be seen on the Clubs excellent new web site.
Well I`m pleased to say that I survived my 13 hour operation and was able to look forward to following the Wood through the new season, playing at their highest ever level within English football. It has been a tough year but a rewarding one. The standard of the football that we have seen has been excellent, although for quite a while not particularly from Wood! There have been many really good games this year and in total I have been to ¾ of the matches home and away.
In many ways the season has mirrored my year personally. For the first game away to Weston-super-Mare, on a generally warm and sunny afternoon, I was just happy to be there, like Wood themselves. We lost 2 – 0 in a game we should have got something from, but overall the feeling was one of a good day out. Against Bromley at home a few days later, we had lost the game by half time, 4 – 1 down, although Wood played with pride in a monsoon during the second half they still lost 4 – 2.
During the early weeks of the season I was undergoing a course of radiotherapy which was tough and unpleasant. On the football pitch Wood were finding things hard too and couldn`t buy a win. When would things begin to look up? Well, the first game after my radiotherapy treatment finished Wood defeated Bedford in the FA Cup and followed that up the following week by beating Dartford to gain their first League win. It was a real boost to all concerned.
My doctors however told me that following the radiotherapy I would feel worse before I felt properly better, and with the two matches against Ebbsfleet United, both lost, Wood realised that the season would be a difficult one to survive. The standard of The Blue Square South League was challenging to say the least and a 3-0 defeat away at Eastleigh was Men against Boys. Wood were well beaten and bottom of the League.
Two weeks later, despite a spirited effort and Sam Hurrell`s goal of the season, Wood lost again, against Dover Athletic 2 – 3, thanks to Ashlee Jones error, although there were other culprits in the team during the early part of the season that were costing Wood points.
Into December and some sub zero temperatures. A Tuesday night game, the return fixture against fellow strugglers Weston-super-Mare appeared as a must win game if Wood were going to have a chance of surviving in this League. As I live in Reading I doubted the wisdom of travelling to a game that I thought would surely have to be postponed or abandoned but a phone call to the Club assured me that the Referee had passed the pitch fit to play. With Weston quickly going 2 – 0 up I was seriously unhappy and cold but by the end of a remarkable game my mood had changed and I felt a warm glow inside as helped by two goals from Greg Morgan, one an absolute screamer, and another brace from Nicky Nicolau, Wood won 6 – 3. Only their second League win of the season.
New Year’s Day and a better year ahead I hoped, but after a seasons worst, and somewhat shocking performance at home to St Albans City I was depressed. Two days later and a second 3 – 0 defeat, this time to Woking and I was beginning to lose faith. Wood had to improve and to change their tactics to include two up front. I seriously thought for the first time that we were going down and this was the only time in the season that I did not make the effort to go to a game that I could have gone to, away at Bishop’s Stortford, because I just didn`t feel it to be worthwhile and we duly lost again!
At this point of the season it seemed that only one person at the Club really had the belief that Wood could survive. Chairman Danny Hunter. I know that a lot of people have worked tremendously hard throughout the season for our survival, the players, coaches and management particularly but from where I have been observing, Danny has been the genius behind our recovery. He was also kind enough to write to me offering encouragement and strength for my survival. In my opinion Danny has been outstanding this season and has inspired our survival. Thank you.
I couldn`t make the home game with Chelmsford for family reasons but that was the turning point. Elvijs Putnins and later, when he was injured, Wes Foderingham both showed the essential nature, as Tony Tucker did for us last season, of a quality goalkeeper. Also in this game Ola Sogbanmu`s goal and physical presence up front made a big impact .Mike Cestor too was a major plus from this point on. Although it took a further game or two for the new players to properly integrate with those who had been up to standard all along, the team from this point on had the necessary quality for our survival, and indeed the teams record from the Chelmsford game, of 9 wins, 6 draws and 6 defeats, is good enough for Wood to be placed inside the top ten of the table over this period of time. Since the end of January there have been must win victories over St Albans City, Thurrock and Basingstoke Town and superb wins, for example away against Farnborough with Elliott Godfrey`s goal being another contender for goal of the season.
In the week before Easter I went on holiday for a week to Wales. My first holiday for over a year due to my illness. A time to relax and really begin to enjoy life again. When I read in the Non League paper about “Super Mario’s hat trick” in the win over Dartford and then another Mario double against Eastleigh to give Wood the points needed for survival I felt a worry lifted from my shoulders. It also decided me on my vote for Player of the Season. Mario has led the team with energy, enthusiasm and dignity throughout and I appreciate the acknowledgement that he shows to supporters like me when we are encouraging the team to perform. For me Mario just pipped Luke Garrard for my vote. Luke has been a very consistent performer throughout the season and has made very few errors and offers intelligence, solidity and motivation to others in the team.
Major congratulations to Ian Allinson as Team Manager, whose achievement in keeping us in this league surpasses in my view what he achieved last year in gaining the promotion. I also feel that Jason Goodliffe has had a big part to play in improving Wood during the season and credit again to Danny for bringing Jason to the Club.
So I`m sure that this afternoon will not bring the same excitement and drama as the final game of last season, but I shall have a few relaxed conversations with fellow supporters to look back over a great season and will be showing my appreciation and giving thanks to the team that has secured our survival in this League. It is still a travesty that the Wood do not receive the support in numbers that they should, or that they did for that play off match, but as Wood survivors the emotions will still be felt as this season comes to an end and we look forward to the summer and then some more football seasons to come at this level for Wood and for me too I hope!
COME ON THE WOOD.