Big Interview: Paul Wood

Paul Wood in action for Pompey
Paul Wood in action for Pompey
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When most footballers find out they will be making their professional debut, they get straight on the phone to their parents.

Paul Wood didn’t need to bother with that, though, after learning of his unexpected Pompey bow while stopping off at his mum and dad’s house on a trip to Middlesbrough.

For somebody who has achieved what he has in football and the respect he commands to come out and give me that compliment was a great feeling.

Paul Wood

The boy from the north east had used the Blues’ long January 1984 journey to Teesside as the perfect excuse to check in at his childhood residence.

Aged 19, Wood left the team’s nearby hotel for the all-too rare comforts of home, following his bold geographical switch two years previously.

Expecting to just make up the numbers, he had been given special dispensation by boss Bobby Campbell to spend the night at Mr & Mrs Wood’s house before linking up with the squad the next day at Ayresome Park.

That was until illness robbed Campbell of star striker Mark Hateley, prompting the Wood’s landline to ring with on the eve of the clash, with their son called to report for duty – and a dream debut against his hometown club.

Wood said: ‘I was at Middlesbrough Boys as a youngster and we won the English Schools Cup – it was a really good team of lads.

‘I was also playing for another team, Guisborough under-16s, at the time when a scout from Portsmouth spotted me.

‘They actually invited the whole team to come down and play Portsmouth Youth.

‘We beat them 4-2 and I got a hat-trick!

‘The next day they had set up another game against the under-18s, who beat us 4-1 – I scored as well in that game. I did myself a few favours!

‘They asked me back to sign apprenticeship forms.

‘I loved it. I couldn’t have done any better for myself to travel away from Middlesbrough.

‘It made me grow up quite quickly.’

Wood still missed home, though, as his debut arrived in surprise fashion.

‘All I can really remember about it was I was actually travelling just to see my parents,’ said Wood.

‘I had come on the coach and was just going to pop up and see my parents for a night and then go to the game and come back.

‘But there was a couple of lads carrying injuries and illnesses.

‘I think he (Campbell) left Mark Hateley out and maybe Micky Tait.

‘It was decided last minute. He phoned me up at my mum and dad’s and told me to report back to the hotel and that I would be playing tomorrow.

‘God it was exciting!

‘I was trying to scrounge tickets for everybody, all of my mates from school – it was a big day.’

The game finished goalless with Wood earning plaudits for not looking out of place in Campbell’s recently-promoted side.

The teenager’s first Blues goal arrived less than a month later in a 2-1 loss at Man City – with the hosts netting twice late on to snatch an unlikely victory.

Wood said: ‘My first league goal was a month after my debut.

‘Really, we should have won that game as well because we played very well.

‘I remember one of their lads, a midfielder, Nicky Reid, had not scored for hundreds of games but chose to break that duck against us with a last-minute winner.’

Following a lively introduction to life in Pompey’s first team, Wood was forced to wait his turn to establish himself in the starting line-up, with a succession of impressive Blues strikers holding him at bay.

He said: ‘We always seemed to have a flow of good strikers.

‘When I was there to start with we had Mark Hateley, Alan Biley, Nicky Morgan – then we signed Scott McGarvey from Man United for a lot of money, Mick Channon, Micky Quinn – the list goes on.

‘Of course it is difficult but as a young man you are prepared to wait your turn a little bit.’

Alan Ball, who had succeeded Bobby Campbell in the Fratton Park hot seat at the end of the 1983-84 season had no problem with giving the Blues’ youngsters opportunites to impress, though.

Wood said: ‘Bally really liked how I acted. He brought through a lot of kids at the time.

‘Paul Hardyman, Kevin Ball, Lee Sandford, there were a load of players in that youth team who went on and did really well.’

It was Wood’s performance in a 4-0 win against Shrewsbury in December 1985 that really caught the eye of his boss, however, with Ball declaring ‘a star is born’ after a superb two-goal display from the striker, who was 21 at the time.

‘That will stay with me for the rest of my life,’ said Wood.

‘For somebody who has achieved what he has in football and the respect he commands to come out and give me that compliment was a great feeling.

‘It was a game where everything seemed to go right. I scored a couple and was in confident form.’

A run in the team followed for Wood, who made 25 league appearances as the Blues fell just short of promotion.

The following season proved to be glorious for the club as they realised their promotion ambition under Ball, only for Wood to play little part in proceedings.

His seven league games all came towards the start of a campaign that saw him sidelined with a pelvic injury and unable to feel part of the celebration party.

Wood said: ‘The strange thing for me was because I only played early on in the season, I didn’t feel a part of it.

‘It was difficult to join in with the celebrations because I felt like it wasn’t really my party.

‘I had a pelvic injury – osteitis pubis – caused by playing on plastic pitches.

‘I played three games on plastic pitches in three weeks – Oldham in the first team and at Luton and QPR in the reserves.

‘I was in a lot of pain, doctors said they could operate but there was no guarantee it would work and that I might be out a year or two years.

‘The other option was to rest it for the season and hope that worked, so I just watched on.’

By the time Wood had made his recovery, Pompey were playing in the top flight and he had fallen down the pecking order. An open exchange with Ball paved the way for a move to Brighton – only for Wood to return to Fratton Park seven years later.

Wood said: ‘I was at the bottom of the pile again at Pompey.

‘I was disappointed to go because I never really wanted to leave but I had a mortgage to pay and no bonuses on appearance money was forthcoming.

‘It was fantastic for me to get the opportunity to return to the club.’

While playing for Bournemouth, Wood was involved in the deal that saw the Cherries acquire out-of-favour Blues striker Warren Aspinall.

He said: ‘Coming back was amazing. The best thing about it for me, though, was that on a match day it was the same people helping out in the stand and, in the bars – all the staff remained.

‘Things changed for me on the pitch, though, because I started playing in a midfield role (under Jim Smith who signed him).

‘And then when Terry Fenwick took over he started to shuffle things around even further.

‘I think he had me and John Durnin playing wing-backs for a few games to see if that worked!

‘It did for a few games but then when the wheels fell off, there was a bit of a panic and things changed around again.’

Unfortunately for Wood, one thing that failed to change in his second Pompey coming were his injury problems, which ultimately curtailed his professional career.

‘The second time round I had a bad knee injury and was disappointed I couldn’t get back to prove my fitness,’ he said.

Wood was forced to retire from the professional game in 1996 having made 88 appearances and netted 11 goals in his Blues spells.

A switch to Hong Kong followed before another successful return to the south coast with the Hawks.

Now aged 51, Wood is running his own decorating business from Bournemouth.

PAUL WOOD on...

...HONG KONG

‘After my professional career ended at Pompey, I got a phone call from an agent who asked if I was interested in playing abroad.

‘Torquay had offered me a deal here but I couldn’t be bothered with all of the driving.

‘It sounds funny because I travelled all the way to Hong Kong to play instead!

‘But it was a fantastic experience for me.’

...HAWKS WONDER GOAL

Paul Wood’s goal for the Hawks against Burton Albion at Westleigh Park in 1999 is viewed by many as the club’s greatest ever.

He said: ‘It was a goalkeeper’s clearance and I somehow brought it down on my chest and hit it from just inside our half.

‘It flew in just below the crossbar. It was a hit and hope but a nice one to go in!’

...LASTING LEGACY OF 1986-87 SIDE

‘I still keep in touch with quite a few Pompey fans on Facebook and social media and they are always really fond of that group of players.

‘The Billy Gilberts, Mick Taits and Blakeys of the days are remembered.

‘It was a passionate team but a team of men and fantastic players as well.

‘They went out and gave it their all and there is a lot of respect there from the fans for what they achieved.

‘They were at the top of the second division for a few years before they got promoted but stuck at it.

‘It’s fair to say Pompey have been up and down since but that is one of the teams the fans will remember the starting XI for – and having Bally as manager helps their legacy.’