Cod Almighty | Article
by Pete Green
9 July 2010
For some years now, hopeful young right-backs have been rolling off the production line at Blundell Park. Most of the time they've failed to trouble the GTFC teamsheet in any meaningful way and rolled directly on to North Ferriby United. Based on his emergence in the otherwise catastrophic 2009–10 season, Bradley Wood, to my eyes, looks capable of breaking this pattern. Can you break a pattern, or am I outdoing the Grimsby Telegraph at mixing metaphors? I dunno. But if anything can break a pattern, Bradley's big-hearted crunching tackles can. The pattern would then go down in a heap clutching its ankle and Bradley would get a yellow card, obviously.
Born and raised in Leicester, Wood was initially on the books at the Bowl of Crisps but joined Town's set-up at under-16 level. His debut came last September, at home to Darlington. The player had turned 18 just two weeks earlier. While the Mariners took only a point from a game they should have won easily, fans were cheered up no end by the enthusiasm and skill of young Bradders. A string of powerful but well-timed blocks and tackles earned him a man of the match award in a display described as "nigh on faultless" by CA match reporter Tony Butcher, who is not an easy man to please at the best of times.
Wood went on to turn in a dozen or so similar performances through October and November, winning hearts, minds and bookings everywhere he turned. Some years after potential right-backs such as Iain Ward and Wes Parker looked like the sort of lads you'd be pleasantly relieved to see your daughter bring round for tea, Wood's willingness to get stuck in made Chesterfield supporters really quite annoyed. I'm not suggesting for a moment that you'd kick Wood out of the house before the end of Antiques Roadshow. But there's a palpable difference between his demeanour on the pitch and those of his predecessors. Personally I reckon we might have got a real gem in the making here.
There's an argument that Wood's performances were just decent rather than superb, and that to some extent the player was made to seem more special by the towering ineptitude of his teammates. The FA Cup humiliation by Bath City, in particular, stands out in the memory as a game in which only Wood and the excellent Jammal Shahin appeared to give a monkey's bollock for the result, the football club and their own personal dignity. But if supporters were excited about his emergence, so too was the club, which handed him a staggering four-year contract in October. I don't know if this is wholly unprecedented – even the hysteria that surrounded Straight Peter Bore's emergence in 2006 resulted only in a three-year deal for Grimsby's most notorious heterosexual – but if GTFC have ever awarded any youth player a first professional contract as long as this, it's beyond my remembering.
Surprisingly, Bradley played just twice more for the first team after the Bath game. In withdrawing him abruptly from the first-team squad, perhaps Woods was mindful of the damage done to players of Ward's and Parker's generation by pitching them into a demoralising relegation brawl. But it was interesting to note the manager's comments after July's friendly win over Frickley Athletic:
"Without a shadow of doubt, the best player in the first two games has been Bradley Wood. I think anybody would agree – the boy has been outstanding so far. He's come back in great condition after a lot of personal problems last year. From our point of view it's great to see him back playing like we know he can."
But with Bore at last seeming to have come good after switching to the right-back slot, Wood's role is unclear in the short term. Maybe he'll revert to the central midfield position he apparently filled for the youth side. There's talk of a centre-half spot too. Bradders will still be only 18 when the new season begins, though, so there's no terrible urgency to decide the playing position for the rest of his career.
In the meantime let's summarise. To draw a comparison with the other two right-backs on the books, Wood seems very much more in the lower-division, Robbie Stockdale mould of solid defending than the top-flight Peter Bore model of pushing up to support the attack. If you want another reference point, albeit on the other side of the pitch, he is a Stuart Pearce rather than an Ashley Cole sort of full-back. And I think we all know which of those two men we'd sooner welcome into our house for a scone.