Nahki’s cup run thrills first pro Woollard
Trailblazer Arnold Woollard takes great pride in seeing young Bermudian footballers like Nahki Wells following in his footsteps.
Woollard, 82, became Bermuda’s first professional footballer after joining Northampton Town from BAA in 1949 at age 19.
He also had playing stints with Newcastle United, Peterborough and Bournemouth during his heyday.
As a defender, Woollard was the polar opposite to Wells who is a striker.
However, one thing both men have in common is that they’ve featured in major cup upsets in the English game.
Wells’ Bradford City who play in the fourth rung of English football upset Premier sides Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa en route to reaching this season’s League Cup Final. Woollard was a member of a Third Division Bournemouth team that toppled then First Division powerhouses Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup in the late 1950s.
As rank underdogs, Woollard said no one gave Bournemouth a chance ahead of their cup tie with a Wolves side that included England skipper Billy Wright.
“On the way to the game against Wolves a BBC commentator said we were ‘a waste of time’ going up there playing them but we ended up beating them 1-0 and that shook the world,” Woollard told
The Royal Gazette. “We beat Wolves and then got a home draw against Tottenham and beat them too.”
Bournemouth beat Spurs 3-1 at home to set up a quarter-final showdown with Sir Matt Busby’s famous yet ill-fated Manchester United squad which they lost under controversial circumstances.
“We lost 2-1 to Manchester United over a disputed penalty in the next round,” Woollard painfully recalled. “The referee made an error because when they showed the picture in the paper the next day it definitely wasn’t a penalty.
“The referee thought it was a handball but the ball hit the wing half in the shoulder in the picture. We were deflated having almost made it to the semi -final as a Third Division team which in those days was quite an achievement.”
Decades later Woollard is delighted to see Wells and his Bradford teammates producing a bit of cup magic of their own.
He believes the Bantams can prevail against Swansea in this weekend’s League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, but knows their task won’t be easy against their Premier League rivals.
“Swansea play very good football and are very well organised,” Woollard said. “They are on form at the moment and should be favourites but anything can happen on the day.
“They’ve (Bradford) had some good victories but they can’t get carried away. They just have to keep themselves focused, that’s the main thing.
“Swansea have everything to lose while Bradford have everything to gain.”
If given the opportunity to play, Woollard is confident Wells can hold his own on the big day.
“He’s scored 18 goals so he’s been doing all right,” the Bermuda Sports Hall of Famer said. “He just has to keep doing what he’s been doing and concentrate on the game and don’t get distracted by anything. He has to keep himself focused because it’s a hell of a thing to walk out in front of 80,000-odd people on a big stage like Wembley.”
Wells is bidding to become only the third Bermudian to play in a cup final at Wembley behind Shaun Goater and Kyle Lightbourne.
Had it not been for a cruel twist of fate, Woollard may have also had the opportunity of playing at the iconic stadium during his four-year stint with Newcastle.
The Bermudian injured himself in a match with Fulham while challenging for a loose ball with future England manager Sir Bobby Robson and missed the Magpies 1955 FA Cup final triumph over Manchester City.
“I went into a tackle with him and somehow the ball hit me in the eye and ruptured the blood vessels in the back of my eye,” Woollard recalled. “In those days we had leather balls with a lace and they weighed a ton.
“I couldn’t play for eight weeks and missed Newcastle’s FA Cup win against Manchester City with an eye injury. That was a big let down, but those things happen in football.”