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Woolford's dreams come true at Wembley

Paul Fletcher | 18:46 UK time, Sunday, 24 May 2009

Have you ever looked at Martyn Woolford's Wikipedia profile? I suspect it is about to undergo some major changes.

As I write, the photograph of the Scunthorpe midfielder is so grainy and indistinct that it looks as though he has been snapped by the paparazzi from several thousand metres. If the 23-year-old showed the same lack of focus in his football he would not have scored the winner for Scunthorpe in Sunday's extraordinary League One play-off final.

Woolford drilled the ball low and hard past Millwall goalkeeper David Forde in the final act of a match that seesawed this way and that. It was no more than he deserved for a performance of immense energy and willing, scooting up and down the left flank in defiance of temperatures that hit 100 degrees.

His parried shot led to the game's opening goal and his low cross to Matt Sparrow saw Scunthorpe equalise at 2-2 before Woolford himself struck after 86 minutes.

Stood outside the changing rooms after the match, shirt and match ball in one hand, man of the match gong in the other, Woolford looked a little bewildered at being the centre of attention.

Asked again and again how it felt to score the winner, Woolford understandably struggled to conjure the adjectives to do justice to his emotions. The Yorkshireman said it was an unbelievable feeling; the thing that dreams are made of. Not surprising really, when you consider that this time last year the lad from Featherstone was still a non-league player with York City, not signing for Scunthorpe until late August.

Martyn Woolford scores

He joined the Minstermen in 2006 and before that had been playing part-time for Frickley Athletic while studying for a degree in civil engineering at Leeds Metropolitan University and working on a building site.

"It was not a tough decision to leave my job when I had the chance to play professionally at York and luckily it has now paid off," Woolford told me.

Clearly a bright lad with a good sense of humour. When asked about the temperature at Wembley, 'Wooly' quipped that he is normally only ever on a sun bed in such heat and I got the distinct impression that his feet will remain firmly on the ground.

"I will be training hard over the summer and I know that I have still got a lot to learn," he told me.

Attitude and an even temperament seems to be a big thing with Woolford. People who have followed Scunthorpe all season insist he settled into his new surroundings very quickly and has been one of the Iron's most important players this season.

I asked Scunthorpe boss Nigel Adkins whether he had been surprised by the speed of Woolford's progress.

"No," was the manager's instant reply. "He has flair and talent. He can cross, head, shoot and score but I am going to go with attitude as his biggest attribute."

Woolford did not start the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley seven weeks ago, with Kevan Hurst preferred on the left side. Adkins pointed that out to me, even though I had not asked about it. I think that he might have been making the point that Wooly responded in the right way and earned his place in the play-off final.

Sunday's victory must have been incredibly satisfying for Adkins, who tasted relegation last season and a 3-2 defeat to Luton in the JPT final.

Immediately after that result Adkins resolved that his team would learn from their bitter experience. In the changing rooms he told them to bottle their emotions and use them as a motivation to ensure the season ended in promotion.

And on Sunday his team delivered. Scunthorpe played some wonderful, deft football that was extremely attractive on the eye. There was no hint that they felt intimidated by the huge and committed Millwall support - and it was Scunthorpe's turn to snatch a late winner.

"What a great day," said Adkins afterwards. "What an achievement. The players have responded after the defeat at Wembley."

Plenty will be made on Monday about the fact that Burnley are playing their 61st game of the season but Adkins pointed out Sunday's final was the 60th of a long and testing season for the Iron.

And the Lincolnshire club can now look forward to fixtures against the likes of Newcastle, Middlesbrough and West Brom next season.

It could have been a significantly different afternoon, however, but for one missed chance after 76 minutes.

Gary Alexander, a wholehearted lower division striker, had already scored twice - one of them a spectacular long-range strike - when he connected with a cross six yards from goal. The scores were locked at 2-2 at the time and it might well have proved to be the winner but the striker inexplicably headed wide.

It makes me wonder - what goal will Alexander see in his sleep tonight? The two he scored or the one he didn't?


  • Comment number 1.

    Great Blog!

    I am a Scunthorpe fan and there are several reasons why this promotion is the sweetest of all of our successes.

    1) An immediate bounce back to the championship (Leiecester know how this feels too :-))
    2) You can sit here and smile at all the people who boast that they have 35,000 fans turning up every week (no names mentioned) and that we only have 4,000. Clearly our small town can be proud of the fact that this is irrelevent when we have a well run club and an unbelievebly understated scouting team!
    3) Everything points to the fact that we should not be where we are now. Even Paul Fletcher himself predicted that we should have a weekend of misery and Millwall would win! We consistently shoot above our average and continue to shock people (even if its not shocking to us anymore :-))

    Even if we get relegated immediately next season, its not all that bad because this is the pinnacle for lower league teams, whatever team you support. We will never be premier league champions, we will in all honesty never get to that league. But we can be proud that when we walk through the turnstiles every week to our small stadium we are giving money to football and not to a greedy chairmans pocket.

    Up the Iron!

  • Comment number 2.

    Congrats, from a Luton Town supporter.. We beat you at Wembley in the paint pot trophy (Just),but all the scunny fans I met were gracious in defeat and didn't jeer at our predicament.

    Nice to see a non city, non plastic, traditional club get on.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great blog on Martyn Woolford. His story over the last season is just amazing, proving that magical things can happen. I've been fortunate to witness this over the last nine months missing only a handful of games, conflicting with my day job committments and a US trip (I did get to a Major League Soccer game - Houston Dynamos v Real Salt Lake!), and experiencing the lows and highs of supporting The Iron. Martyn Woolford has been a revelation from his first goal at Brighton in September 2008 to the play-off winning goal at Wembley. He has simply been outstanding making the step up from non-league York City to Scunthorpe United seem a breeze.

    I must agree with the comments from RickPowell1311 who sums up the Scunny scenario quite nicely. To a club like ours it means so much and to our fans it really is what football is about.

    However, Martyn's story is only a part of the whole and while his success and soon-to-be-if-not-already legendary status is now assured in this part of the world, credit must be given to the whole team. It is full of players giving their all and without naming all the squad I must mention in particular the club captain Cliff Byrne. His almost last minute goal in the final league game gave us the opportunity to claim the final play-off place and it was a pleasure to see him collect the play-off final trophy this afternoon. He is the type of person who sums up our football club and what it means.

    (Almost) finally, and I know I missed naming a lot of names that should be mentioned, I must give credit to Nigel Adkins for returning the club to the Championship. You could not meet a nicer guy in football and as he would say about his players, he is top drawer. Cheers Nigel.

    Futher to the comment from our Luton friend perhaps we could also mention the Millwall supporters. My wife had the pleasure of meeting a fair few post-match in a hotel bar and without fail all were extremely pleasant and complimentary to her and the team. Their support this afternoon was excellent and I wish them well for next season.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Congratulations to Scunthorpe on their promotion. With regards to Wikipedia's photo of Martyn Woolford, as with most footballer photos it's extremely difficult to find copyright-free or donated images which comply with Wikipedia's licences, so the existing image probably was taken from long distance by a fan! If a reader has a good photo which they took themselves, why not donate it to Wikipedia so it can be used?

  • Comment number 7.

    That was an absolutely stonking game a great advert for the so called lower tiers of English football. If any of the bottom three in the Premiership had played with half the passion of either Scunny or Milwall they would have easily stayed up.

  • Comment number 8.

    Well done Scunny from an honest Leeds fan.

    You played well at the right time and took your chances. All Leeds fans will be asking 'why can't we do it' well, you have the better chairman/leader, less expectation on you and you work and play harder. I cannot see us going up next season either and I know Leeds fans will be knocking me for saying it, but we won't, simple as that! So Scunny, do well in the CCC and stay up this time, ok.

    I also hope that Burnley win the play-off today, another great example of success from the so called small town clubs!!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Superb game at a ridiculous tempo in such heat. Woolford was the stand out player and would have been heading to the Championship whether Scunny had won or not.

    BTW, the Millwall keeper is David Forde, not Andy.

  • Comment number 10.


  • Comment number 11.

    As much as players like Woolford, Sparrow, Murphy etc. will take all the praise I think the real plaudits have to go to the manager.

    You look at the players he had to let go (Billy Sharpe, Andy Keogh), then the gambles he's taken on players like Hooper and the rewards he's got, then you throw in that he has little previous mangerial experience and has had two promotions in 3 years (I know he inherited a good side but still)!

    I think that play off was fought between some good players, but two fantastic managers.

  • Comment number 12.

    As a york fan, when Scunthorpe signed him I could have told the manager of Scunthorpe that hes just made one of the best signings of his career.
    He came from Frickly athletic and now in the championship, that speaks volumes about his attitude. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw him in the premiership.

  • Comment number 13.

    Your blogs are superb. We learn more in any one of your articles than in a hundred Beckham,Montgomerie,RafaandRoger,Tiger,KP,Flintoff,SirAlex pieces elsewhere. Great work. Thanks as always.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm a Millwall fan and i was one of the 44,000 who went to Wembley yesterday. as distraught as i am at the final result, i have to offer my yupmost congratulations to Scunthorpe. You've bested us on 3 occasions this season now, and I have to admit you were the better team on the day. I felt we witnessed a great game of football and it was ironic that our defence which has held so firm all year long was what let us down. The movement of Scunny's front men was way too much for us to handle. Good luck next year and hopefully w'ell get promoted so we meet you again!

  • Comment number 15.

    Another York fan here, scunny have a gem in woolfy, he will easily play at the next level and maybe even premiership one day if he continues to progress at his current rate.

    My point is when are more managers going to start respecting the talent in non league football? Both Woolford and Hoopers have strong non league connections and they are 2 of scunthorpes best players. Most of the Peterborough team where bought from non league teams. The Gillingham team included ex non league players like Fuller, Nutter, Lewis, Oli and coincidently the scorer of the other play off final winning goal Simeon Jackson. Exeter also barely changed their team and achieved consequtive promotions. Finally you have examples like Fredy Eastwood, Jermaine Beckford and Michael Kightly (who will be in the premiership next year)all vital parts of their current teams.

    The next big non league export... Steve Morrison, who will form a lethal strike partnership with Alexander next year at Millwall, and if they can keep the majority of that team together i have no doubt they will go a step further next year.

  • Comment number 16.

    ZampRoad - A great and very gracious comment. I thought the Millwall fans made plenty of noise on Sunday and there were several reasons why I was sorry they lost - their manager always comes across as a dignified and intelligent man, nobody could have begrudged Neil Harris a victory at Wembley and the whole team played their full part in a cracking final. I just thought that the Iron had that extra bit of pace and craft in the final third.

    kwiniaskagolfer - the cheque is in the post.

  • Comment number 17.

    I definitely agree with you Fletch. It's often been the case this year we've lacked a little bit upfront, and i always felt with Harris and Alexander, despite all their hard work, we need someone with a touch of class and guile about his play, which is the sort of thing the attacking 4 of Scunthorpe (Hooper, Hayes, Sparrow and Woolford) all bring to the game. Their link up was exceptional. If they can keep those 4 together i see no reason why they can't obtain a reasonable position in the Championship next year.

  • Comment number 18.

    Have to say, although I am gutted, out of the three other teams involved, if it wasn't us, Scunny were the best footballing side and deserved to get it on the day, even if by a small margin.

    I was sorry for Harris who has suffered play off heartbreak a few times now. Lets hope its next season for us as I think we have the squad and the right attitude to gain promotion.

    Its funny that it was our defence that was not quiet at its best and what a shame that Gary Alexander didn't get his hatrick, as if there is any Millwall player that deserves it, its him. He gives 100% every time he puts the shirt on and tbh his 1st goal was worthy of winning any final.

    I hope Scunny do well in the CCC next year and that we get up.

  • Comment number 19.

    As a Scunny lad born and bred, I moved Down Under to Sydney in the mid 90s and have never seen Scunny live since then. All I can say is on a Sunday night at 10PM when I switched channels to see the match live WOW, what a massive highlight. Seeing them at Wembley was exciting enough but to see them play a match and perform superbly that was an utter delight for me. No falling asleep one bit and as for the goals all of them 1st class (except for Millwalls second)

    Go for it next year in the championship again and I look forward to watching you at Wembley again(hopefully in 2010!)

    P.S. It was good seeing Steve Wharton up there in the directors box - I remember watching him play hockey as a kid!

  • Comment number 20.

    I cannot disagree that Scunthorpe were worthy winners on Saturday; however, I have a real problem with any team being promoted when they finished sixth and eleven points behind the team finishing third. They won four fewer games than both MK Dons in third and Leeds in fourth place and had a goal difference that was 17 worse than MK Dons and 9 worse than Leeds. As a Leeds fan I am not complaining about my team; we were not good enough over the season. But to determine a promotion place via this lottery is more about television and money than it is about consistent football over a 46 game league season.

  • Comment number 21.

    clarke1-0, i have to disagree. i think the excitement that the playoffs bring cannot be matched by any competition in the world. Yes there is a lot of money to be made, but surely that benefits the clubs that are playing also. You can argue about being consistent over the entire season, but the point is MK Dons, Leeds, Millwall and Scunthorpe weren't consistent enough over the 46 games to get into the top 2 positions in the league. Leeds first half of the season was fairly shocking by their standards. So neither you nor MK Dons were consistent enough. I have to admit i doubt you'd be questioning the playoffs had you won promotion through them.

  • Comment number 22.

    Why is it that the old arguments keep appearing from supporters of clubs who lose out in the playoffs ?? (clarke-01)
    Would you prefer there just to be 3 automatic places available (NOTE - you wouldn't have made that either) or the playoffs where even mid-table teams can go on a run and give them something to play for ?
    Admittedly, it's not a nice way for the losers to end their season but at least you had a chance to get promotion from the playoffs !!
    Yeah ok Scunny were 11 points behind MK but that's the league and the lottery of the playoffs isn't it ?!?! We have experienced failure previously in the playoffs, but I feel you too, would be celebrating your fortunes had you been promoted this time round.
    We all know from day one of each season that unless you reach the automatic places you're not guaranteed anything !!

    And a last note, Scunny were only ever out of the top 6 for 3 or 4 weeks all season. Not bad for a team not deserving promotion !?!?


  • Comment number 23.

    well said flatliner33 (Y) take it you're a Scunny fan? Congrats.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks to ZampRoad and to flatliner33.

    I did not say that Leeds deserved to go up at all; in fact, I said that my team were not good enough over the season.

    I suggested that the playoff system itself is inherently unfair in that it creates a cup competition out of a league competition which are two very different things.

    No sour grapes from me at all.

  • Comment number 26.

    but the point of the playoffs is that it gives a lottery to 4 clubs, some of whom may or may not be deserving of promotion. Derby sneaked in and went up to the Premier League and it showed because they were utterly thumped by every team they played bar Newcastle. The beauty of the playoffs is their unpredictability. Consistency over a seasons worth goes out the window. It is separate from the League, it's its own competition which is why it has it's own cup. I don't think that's unfair at all. And that's why people love it.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    Delighted to see that Martyn Woolford's Wikipedia photo has changed - for the better!

  • Comment number 30.

    roll on august we can do this time win the league
    millwall fan.


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