Armband or no armband, Richard Wood is Rotherham United's leader

By Paul Davis | 25/09/2019

Armband or no armband, Richard Wood is Rotherham United's leader
Richard Wood

JOE Mattock walked out at the front of the team wearing the armband.

Captain for the day at home to Bolton Wanderers last weekend, skipper for the evening at Sunderland a few nights later.

But everyone knows that the real leader of Rotherham United was sitting on the bench.

Richard Wood. Woody. The hero of Wembley. The man with the magic hat. The 34-year-old who clocked up his 500th appearance in senior football in the derby at Doncaster Rovers earlier this month.

It's happened before in the centre-half's Millers career and it will probably happen again: he loses his place, he's written off, he fights his way back into the side.

If history repeats itself, it won't be too long before Rotherham's players are following a familiar figure on to the pitch again: the retro black boots, the short-stepping, feet-splayed gait, the jaw set resolutely forward, a man marching into battle.

Paul Warne knows the importance of the veteran centre-half even if he doesn't always select him.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, Woody is always the captain,” the boss states. “He will always be the captain. If he isn't on the pitch, he is still the captain.

“Woody is the leader of the group. Any success we've had in the last two years can be largely attributed to Woody because he runs the dressing room. He keeps the atmosphere up.”

The club's longest-serving player — and 17 years a pro — is in the final 12 months of his contract but Warne has said more than once that there will always be a job at the Millers in some capacity for the defender whilever he is the manager.

Steve Evans signed the player in 2014 but hardly played him, Neil Redfearn made a mistake in following suit, Neil Warnock understood his value and made him a cornerstone of the 2016 Championship survival side, Alan Stubbs neglected and disrespected him, Kenny Jackett picked him every week.

Warne turned to him as soon as he took the hot-seat and was moved to tears in an emotion-charged dressing room when his skipper apologised on behalf of the team for not delivering a first-match win at Burton Albion in December 2017.

Wood was magnificent in the second half of the League One promotion campaign in Warne's first full season in charge, uncompromisingly taking the Millers and the division by the scruff of the neck.

He provided the example, set the tone, put his head where others feared to put boots and inspired the famous 'magic hat' song long before he scored twice at Wembley to win the play-off final.

“What kind of skipper am I?” says the man who takes the onus of responsibility very seriously. “I hope I'm a popular one!

“All the lads seem to get on with me. They all respect me. They respect me as a player, I think. They know what I bring to the team, what I'm good at.

“Off the field, I try to help as many of the players as I can. I always speak to the young lads.

“If I see something in training or in games where they're doing something wrong, I'll pull them afterwards and say: 'You need to be doing this or that.'

“I'll tell them if I think they're not trying hard enough and need to work harder. It's not having a go at them as in shouting and screaming, I'm just trying to give them a bit of guidance.

“People might come to me for advice if they're not in the team and ask me what I think they should do. I'm halfway between the manager and the players.

“I'm the players' link to the gaffer. I'll speak to him on their behalf. Captaincy is more than wearing the armband and shouting during a game, although, obviously, I do do that!”

Last term, he was in and out of the side. This season he's been out, in and out. But his worth is never lost on Warne.

The man with the armband, whether he's wearing it or not.

“When Brendan Rodgers went into Leicester City, he gave 35-year-old Wes Morgan a new contract straight away,” the manager says.

“Morgan will play a part for them just like Woody will for us. Managers appreciate what the true great pros do for the club off the pitch.

“We have brought in 12 new players over the summer.

“With all these signings, with young players coming in, Woody has taken them all under his wing and shown them the ropes.

“That's without what he can do for us on the pitch.”

The players know who their captain is. Last year, during one of the spells when Wood was benched and Will Vaulks was standing in as skipper, teammates would rib the midfielder that he was plotting to take the role permanently.

“You're wasting your time, Will,” shouted goalkeeper Lewis Price as he spotted Vaulks deep in conversation with Warne at the training ground. “Woody's just signed a new deal.”

Meanwhile, like a 6ft 3in, chiselled mother hen, Wood fusses over his brood.

“Off the pitch, I help as many as players as I can,” he says. “I probably don't look after myself or think about myself as much.

“I'd rather help the players, particularly the younger ones. Ben Wiles, for example, is capable of going a long way in the game. I want to help him as much as I can so he realises all of his potential.

“I do tickets for games. I'm always that man. Player fines, I do all that. Rules, I come up with all of those.

“It doesn't all come down to me, but I'll be the voice of the lads. If something is wrong or any of them have a problem, they might come to me and I'll then go to the gaffer, or whoever it is I need to speak to, with it.”

Not playing kills him and he struggles with his disappointment. No-one else in the camp feels this way, but his view is that his authority is diminished when he's out of the starting 11.

“He's better when he's in the team, quite obviously,” Warne concedes.

The will to prove himself never leaves a competitor whose strength of personality matches the strength of his hulking frame.

“Being left out happens every season,” Wood says.

“I deal with it in the right way. It's the sort of person I am.

“I've been put down many times throughout my career and that spurs me on to get back into the team.”

Says Warne: “He will be a force for us again this season.”

For now, it's the frustration of the bench. But coming soon to a ground near you ...

A familiar figure leading out his side: the retro black boots, the short-stepping, feet-splayed gait, the jaw set resolutely forward, a man marching into battle.

*****************************************

WOOD'S KEY MILLERS MOMENTS

April 11 2015, Championship:

Middlesbrough 2 Millers 0

Having played only five games for his new club before going out on loan to Crawley Town, Wood finally returns and has a blinder at the Riverside Stadium although he predictably tires towards the end. Manager Steve Evans bawls him out for conceding a stoppage-time penalty taken by Patrick Bamford and saved by Emi Martinez.

February to April 2016, Championship

A rock at the heart of the defence with Kirk Broadfoot as a miracle run during Neil Warnock's spell in charge keeps the Millers in the second tier.

August 16 2016, Championship:

Aston Villa 3 Millers 0

Then-boss Alan Stubbs points the finger at the centre-half and never plays him again. Kenny Jackett and then Paul Warne have a different opinion later in the campaign and pick him regularly.

October 7 2017, League One:

Rochdale 0 Millers 1

The player heads the winner in the teeming rain and the 'Richard Wood is magic' song is heard for the first time. It won't be the last. Warne nicknames him 'Wrecking Ball'.

February 17 2018, League One:

Shrewsbury Town 0 Millers 1

Wood introduces himself to Shrews goalkeeper Dean Henderson with the winning goal and Rotherham's promotion charge is really on.

May 16 2018,

Millers 2  Scunthorpe United 0

The Millers seal their place in the League One Play-off Final and the defender scores the second goal in the semi-final second leg with a trademark header.

May 27 2018, League One Play-off Final:

Millers 2 Shrewsbury Town 1

Hello, Dean. Me again. Wood twice puts the ball past Henderson at Wembley and wears a magic hat, complete with brick, in the after-match celebrations. Warne's men are promoted and fans 'sing this song all night'. The captain finishes the season with seven goals.

March 13 2019, Championship:

QPR 1 Millers 2

Part of the Rotherham team that win 2-1 in front on 321 travelling fans on a Wednesday night in West London through Semi Ajayi's stoppage-time header — the club's first away triumph in the second tier since the days of Warnock.

 

CAREER STATS

Sheffield Wednesday,

2003-2010:

189 appearances, eight goals

Coventry City (loan),

2009:

26 appearances, three goals

Coventry City,

2010-2013:

108 appearances, five goals

Charlton Athletic,

2013-14:

26 appearances, no goals

Rotherham United,

2014-present:

127 appearances, 12 goals

Crawley Town (loan),

2015:

10 games, three goals

Fleetwood Town (loan),

2015:

Seven games, no goals

Chesterfield (loan),

2015/16:

Seven appearances, no goals

Total:

500 appearances, 32 goals

 

ROTHERHAM STATS

2014/15, Championship:

Eight appearances, no goals

2015/16, Championship:

13 appearances, no goals

2016/17, Championship:

31 appearances, two goals

2017/18, League One:

42 appearances, seven goals

2018/19, Championship:

27 appearances, two goals

2019/20, League One

Six appearances, one goal


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