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Woollard Feature
 First appeared on the "Bermuda Sun" website Feb 2001

Bermuda’s ‘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 Bermuda’s 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. 

Mr. Woollard’s accomplishments, however, rank him as one of the island’s 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. Woollard’s 10 games in the old First Division. 

Mr. 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 Bermuda’s most successful football players. 

Mr. Woollard spent his early childhood years in St. George’s 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 island’s first professional football player. 

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 that’s 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 club’s 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 League’s 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 Division giants. 

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 Peterborough’s 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 United’s 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 didn’t play in the final.”

 Mr. Woollard started against Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham in Newcastle’s 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. 

Mr. Woollard became the most expensive signing for Bournemouth up to that point in their history. Mr. Joannou wrote that even though the Bermudian’s 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 country’s big clubs. In round four they faced Wolves, then one of the top division’s 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 Killer’s 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 Virginia. 

In the hallowed pubs and clubs of English soccer folklore, a mention of their brother Arnold’s name would still be sure to prompt a fresh round of drinks.

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Page last updated 24 June, 2009