Hungry Woolford values shot at City millionaires
Sunday 24 January 2010
Stepping out alongside Manchester City's collection of millionaire athletes in the fourth round of the FA Cup this afternoon will be a surreal experience for Scunthorpe's players, though not a new one after their encounter in the Carling Cup earlier this season.
However, the circumstances this time are different. Whereas the pride of north Lincolnshire were overwhelmed 5-1 at Eastlands last October by a swaggering full-strength City side, they meet now in the claustrophobic confines of 9,000-capacity Glanford Park, where the home crowd will do their utmost to make their privileged visitors feel like they have collided with another planet.
To some, it might seem that way. At a club whose most expensive player could have been paid for with three weeks of Robinho's wages, dream worlds reside in less lofty places. Martyn Woolford, the 24-year-old Scunthorpe winger, felt he had found one last May.
Then, his goal in the play-off final at Wembley, the 3-2 winner against Millwall, clinched Scunthorpe's promotion to the Championship. Ten months earlier, he had been in pre-season training with York City in the Conference. He'd thought he was in the big time then.
Woolford was born into a community – and a family – steeped in rugby league. His father Neil and grandfather Cyril both played for Featherstone Rovers, Cyril once holding the club record for tries in a season.
Woolford's ambition to be a footballer set him against the tide but he took on the odds. "I played [rugby] at school but my dad was always torn between rugby and football and I got pushed towards football more anyway," he said.
"There was no chance of me going into a career in rugby. I always had one goal and that was to play football." But there were setbacks. Trials with Barnsley and Doncaster came to nothing. He began instead with Glasshoughton Welfare, in nearby Pontefract, moving to Frickley Athletic in the Northern Premier League. Meanwhile, he studied civil engineering at Leeds Metropolitan University, then took a job as a land surveyor.
"But I never gave up on being a footballer," he said. "We only trained a couple of nights a week but on the other days I worked on my own, just trying to make myself better."
It paid off. York played a friendly against Frickley and were impressed enough to offer him a contract. "I thought that was a dream come true. It was not massive money but I was playing football every day and getting paid for it."
Scunthorpe signed Woolford in August 2008. He says: "I watched a pre-season game against Leeds. You could see the difference in pace and quality. I wasn't sure at first if I was up to it but that just made me work harder and the first year could not have gone any better."
This season, Scunthorpe will be happy to stay in the Championship. But they still fancy themselves to pull off an upset. "We let City play at Eastlands, when their passing and movement was so good we found it difficult to get the ball off them at all in the second half," Woolford said.
"We will try to stop that from happening this time and with a small pitch and not as good a surface they might not be able to play their passing game."
There is an added piquancy. His dad is a fervent Manchester United supporter and brought up Martyn to be the same. "I used to go all over the country watching them when I was younger," he said. "I would have liked to have played them at Old Trafford but this is the next best thing and hopefully we can put one over on them."
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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