Bermudas forgotten soccer star
Long before footballers were feted like pop stars, Bermudian defender
Arnold Woollard was heaving his heavy leather boots, to great effect, over
some of the most illustrious soccer pitches in England.
Here, Mr. Woollard,
along with fans and Bermudian contemporaries, reflect back on his glory years.
ASK BERMUDIANS who is Bermudas greatest footballer? and many would
say Clyde Best. Some some might say Shaun Goater, but few, if any, would offer
the name Arnold Woollard. Arnold who? Many might ask.
accomplishments, however, rank him as one of the islands top footballers of
all time and perhaps the best defensive player the island has every produced.
His string of appearances in the top flight of English soccer has just been
doubled by Shaun Goater, who now has 22 games to his credit in the Premier
Division, compared to Mr. Woollards 10 games in the old First Division.
Woollard told us from his home in England: During my pro career I had the
good fortune to play with such greats as Jackie Milburn, Frank Brennan at
Newcastle and against Danny Blanchflower, Johnny Haynes, Jimmy Hill and Billy
Wright among many others. While his celebrity has been somewhat overlooked
on his home turf, Mr. Woollard, of course, will never be forgotten in the
English towns and cities where he made an impression; places where football
nostalgia attracts an almost religious fervour.
The fact that he is so little
known here stems from the fact that his playing career ended almost four
decades ago and that defensive players do not grab the headlines the way goal
scorers do. But Arnold James Woollard who has been living in England since
1988 could lay claim, as being one of Bermudas most successful football
Mr. Woollard spent his early childhood years in St. Georges before
moving to Pembroke; his schooling was at Dellwood and Warwick Academy. As an
18-year-old, he impressed the director of Northampton Town, Phillip Hutton,
who was visiting Bermuda in 1949. At that time, Northampton Town was in Third
Division South. Mr. Woollard was superb as a left winger for BAA and soon
found himself on a boat headed for England. When he stepped on the pitch for
Northampton Town in August 1949, he became the islands first professional
Former West Ham United player Clyde Best said: He was a
super guy. He paved the way for the rest of us. He would never play up
front in the English leagues, as Mr. Woollard was deemed too brilliant on
defence. BAA teammate George Sousa said Mr. Woollard was outstanding, a bit
temperamental, but very outstanding. He had a very powerful kick and thats
maybe why they moved him to full-back.
His first year with Northampton Town
(nicknamed The Cobblers), saw the club make it to the fifth round of the FA
Cup the best it had ever done. That season was one of the brightest in the
clubs history as Jack Dennison guided them to the runner-up spot in the
league behind Notts County. The following season, Mr. Woollard helped
Northampton reach the fourth round of the FA Cup before they fell to Arsenal
3-2 before the largest ever home crowd in Cobblers history as 72,408 fans
turned out to watch this epic David and Goliath battle.
After a three-year
spell with Northampton, he then moved on to the Midland Leagues
Peterborough United in 1952, but he would soon be packing his bags again
this time to Newcastle United, for £5,000, in December of 1952. His manager
at Peterborough was ex-Newcastle goalkeeper Jack Fairbrother and his
connections played a part in Mr. Woollard getting the attention of the First
In the Black and White Alphabet Book, which details the
history of Newcastle United (nicknamed The Magpies), the author and official
historian for Newcastle United Paul Joannou wrote:
Woollard caught the eye
of the Newcastle officials following outstanding performances for Peterborough
in a giant-killing F.A. Cup run during 1952-53.
In a phone interview,
Joannou said that Peterborough toppled football league side Torquay United,
but lost narrowly to Bristol Rovers 0-1. Woollard impressed and the result was
that Newcastle purchased him. It was Peterboroughs biggest sale up to then.
It would not be the last time a club would shell out big bucks to acquire the
defender. In the book, Joannou wrote: A fine all round defender, Woollard
stepped into Uniteds back line, initially as deputy to Frank Brennan at
centre-half during 1952-53, then more often as a reserve to Bobby Cowell. When
Cowell was injured, Arnold had the opportunity of a more regular place in the
Magpies side, but lost out to Ron Batty.
Newcastle had arguably one of
the strongest sides in England at the time. They had won the F.A. Cup in 1951
and 1952 and repeated as cup winners in 1955 with a 3-1 victory over
Manchester City. His debut for Newcastle took awhile, but it finally came in
an away clash against Portsmouth on April 18, 1953.
In a phone interview with
the Bermuda Sun, Mr. Joannou said: Newcastle had a very strong side at that
time. They won the FA Cup three times and were one of the top sides in the
country. Arnold was one of the reserve players who filled in for the stars. He
played a part in the success of winning the cup in 1955, but he didnt play
in the final.
Mr. Woollard started against Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham
in Newcastles run to take the cup. Even though he only played 10 games for
Newcastle before being sold to Bournemouth in June of 1956 for £2,000,
Woollard said it was the highlight of his professional career.
became the most expensive signing for Bournemouth up to that point in their
history. Mr. Joannou wrote that even though the Bermudians First Division
career was short he did become one of the soundest full-backs in the lower
divisions, appearing for Bournemouth in over 160 matches. Mr. Joannou told
the Bermuda Sun that Woollard took part in another great F.A. Cup
giant-killing run. Bournemouth were a third division club and in 1956-57 he
was part of the side that first took care of Burton Albion, Swindon,
Accrington, who were then matched with some of the countrys big clubs. In
round four they faced Wolves, then one of the top divisions best sides,
which included England skipper Billy Wright.
Mr. Woollard and Bournemouth won
1-0 to create a huge shock. Mr. Woollard said: We were drawn away to
Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were third in the First Division at the time, and
created a big upset in winning. The next round we drew Tottenham Hotspur,
which were second in the First Division, and beat them 3-1 at Bournemouth -
another big upset. The next round we drew Manchester United, who were first
in the First Division, and were beaten 2-1 on a hotly contested penalty. The
United team consisted mostly of the players that were to perish in the Munich
air crash the following season.
For their tremendous run and play against
the top three clubs in England, the team was awarded The Giant Killers
Cup. Mr. Joannou said: Woollard had several fine seasons for Bournemouth
before ending his career back where it started in Northampton Town. The final
leg of his professional days was at the club from March 1962 to 1963 and he
made 31 appearances for them before hanging up his boots.
Mr. Woollard told
us from England: I was asked by the Bournemouth manager if I would agree to
sign for Northampton Town in a swap deal for Ron Spelman.
In 1962-63 Mr.
Woollard continued to play well and helped the Cobblers to win their only
third division title. That season saw the most lop-sided victory for
Northampton in Division Three as they punished Wrexham 8-0. After the season
was finished, so was his professional career.
In 1963 I decided that it was
time to think of the future, Mr. Woollard said. I returned to Bermuda
and took up where I left off at the Bank of Butterfield. I was reinstated as
an amateur, enabling me to play soccer in Bermuda again with BAA. In 1964 I
went on the first international football team to play outside of Bermuda. We
played Iceland and lost 4-3 after a very good showing. In 1965 I was voted
MVP and in 1967 I decided to hang up my boots for good.
Mr. Woollard moved
back to England in 1988 but returns regularly to Bermuda to visit his brother
Wilbur and sister Carol Dunstan. He also has a brother Charles, who lives in
Toronto, a sister Judy Estep, in Atlanta and another sister Patricia Stockton,
In the hallowed pubs and clubs of English soccer folklore, a
mention of their brother Arnolds name would still be sure to prompt a fresh
round of drinks.
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