From Owl to Miller ... Richard Wood's long journey from S6 to Rotherham United legend

From Owl to Miller ... Richard Wood's long journey from S6 to Rotherham United legend

By Paul Davis | 23/11/2021

From Owl to Miller ... Richard Wood's long journey from S6 to Rotherham United legend
Richard Wood, Rotherham's longest-serving player

 

THE boggle eyes, the whirling arms, the mad sprint down the touchline at Wembley after his second goal of the play-off final had secured Rotherham United a place in the Championship.

In a career spanning 19 years and 569 games, that’s the image that stands out for him more than any other: Richard Wood — captain, Wrecking Ball, Magic Man, dad — running to his sons and into Millers history.

“Easily that’s my best day in football,” he says of the May 2018 2-1 extra-time win over Shrewsbury Town. “My missus and two boys were there.

“I knew where they were sitting and I still remember dashing towards them. The memory will stay with me forever. It will stay with my kids as well.”

Wood is 36 now and the armband remains his. The centre-half, in his eighth season with the Millers, is a key man in the push for a third successive League One promotion under manager Paul Warne and it would surprise no-one if he was rewarded with yet another extension to the contract that is due to expire in the summer.

It hasn’t always been so.

Steve Evans signed him from Charlton Athletic in June 2014 but hardly selected him and Evans’ successor, Neil Redfearn, was equally blind to the defender’s potential influence.

Eighteen months into his time at New York Stadium, he’d played in nine games and been out on loan three times.

“During those first two years, I never thought I’d be still be here now,” he says. They were difficult.

“I’ve always had confidence in how I can play and what I can do and I just thought I’d end up moving on and giving my best somewhere else.

“Football is all about opinions and my face didn’t fit at that point. Not playing was killing me, but I didn’t spit my dummy out or anything like that. I just trained as hard as I normally would.

“There didn’t seem to be any point in staying. However, things can change overnight, can’t they? In football, it’s mad how it all works sometimes. One minute you’re completely out of the picture and the next you’re thrown straight back in.”

Neil Warnock duly arrived to save player and club, selecting Wood throughout the 16-match Championship Great Escape of 2016.

Warne, stepping up from fitness coach to manager a few months later, has always shared Warnock’s admiration for the defender who nowadays starts every match unless his ageing limbs are being kept in reserve for other tests ahead.

“Things really changed for me when the gaffer we have now came in,” Wood says. “We have a really good relationship and he’s helped my career no end.

“It was strange to start with because I’d seen him as the fitness coach and as a friend, then suddenly I’m calling him ‘Gaffer’. He grew into the job and ever since he’s been in charge we’ve just complemented each other really well.  How I play is how he wants his team to play.

“He’s learned how to manage me, how to take me out of certain situations when I don’t think I need resting but he thinks I do.

“I feel as good as I ever have and I always say I’m fit to play or train. He’s had to restrict that and pull me back a bit. I didn’t appreciate it when he first did it but I do now.”

We’re talking on a Monday morning at the start of the international break. It’s early but Wood has already done the school run with sons Jenson and Graye and is now looking forward to treating their mum and his long-time partner, Jade, to breakfast at a farm-shop near their home in a quiet village in West Yorkshire.

Thirteen-year-old Jenson and Graye, 11, make sure Wembley is never far away. “They still go on about it now,” Wood smiles. “They often put the video of the match on our TV.

“It will be a proud moment for me to look back on when I finally finish playing. I’ll show it my grandkids.”

‘Richard Wood is magic,’ sing the massed ranks of 15,000 Rotherham supporters on the video, to the Magic Man’s embarrassment.

“I’m quite reserved with stuff like that,” he says. “I just concentrate on playing. After the Wembley game, I didn’t like the attention.

“It seemed like everything was about me and the lads were pushing me forward with the trophy and stuff like that, but I saw it as a team thing and I’d have rather stayed out of it.

“Everyone was calling me a killjoy! It’s just how I am, I don’t like fuss.”

A third manager froze out Wood between the miracle of Warnock and the reign of Warne, and player and fitness coach bonded in solitary sessions at the side of the training pitches at the club’s Roundwood complex.

“Alan Stubbs was appointed,” Wood says. “I thought: ‘Oh, God, we’re back to square one again.’ I wasn’t even travelling with the team to away games,”

“The gaffer was doing the fitness stuff back then. I had weekends off so I asked him to put me through workouts on Fridays. Before he travelled with the team on a Friday, he’d be helping me with my runs and making sure I stayed in shape. He would talk to me and help me mentally as well.

“All the players already sort of regarded him as a manager. He looked after all the lads and did way more than what was required as fitness coach. He held everything together.

“When he got the job as boss, I said to him: ‘You’re perfect for this.’ He didn’t think it at the time but, obviously, he’s gone on to do really well.”

Wood has been available for every league match this season, featuring in 13 of the 16 games in which Rotherham have climbed to third in the table and watching from the bench in the other three.

“Touch wood,” he says about his commendable injury record for a man of his age and uncompromising style of play, thinking back to the lowest point of his time at New York.

“It was when I first came here and I injured my knee,” he recalls. “I played against Brentford in August, then I was out for a while.

“I came back in January but the knee still wasn’t right. It kept swelling up and I was struggling.

“I went to see a specialist in Sheffield and he told me he thought it was unlikely I’d ever play again.

“I felt sorry for myself that day and night but then my character kicked in and I thought: ‘I’ll show him.’ It was only his opinion. There was no chance of me giving up. I never went back to see him again.”

Nearly six years on, he’s approaching 200 Millers appearances and planning to play into his 40s.

“I want to get into coaching and that’s definitely a direction I’ll eventually go in,” he says. “But why should I be thinking about that now when I’m still playing every week and contributing to the team quite well?

“I definitely want to take my first step into coaching with Rotherham if that’s possible. After Christmas I’m going to try to help out in the under-18s set-up a little bit, just go over there and take some training sessions. The club have said I can do that.”

He pictures Warne and his staff on the touchline in their club-issue gear ... “I don’t want one of those black T-shirts just yet, though!”

Wood has never hidden his affection for Rotherham’s derby rivals, Sheffield Wednesday, the club he joined as a child and where he first made his reputation as a ferocious competitor who’d rather take a broken nose than a backward step.

‘Wrecking Ball’ is the nickname Warne has given his skipper for the fearless physicality he shows in both penalty areas.

September’s 3-0 win over Wimbledon saw the player’s number of Millers appearances surpass the 189 he made for the Owls.

I ask him a mischievous question: ‘Which club are most in your heart?’

Just like Wembley, it’s all about his kids.

“Rotherham,” replies the club’s longest-serving player. “I’m hoping to captain us to a third League One promotion in a row.

“I’m older and I’ve got my children coming to games. They can’t get enough of it, they love it. That makes the club even more special to me.

“I didn’t have that when I was at Wednesday. I grew up there and will always have a soft spot for them, but Rotherham mean more now.”

Richard Wood, captain, Wrecking Ball, Magic Man, dad, Miller.

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MAGIC FEELING

“RICHARD Wood is magic, he wears a magic hat ...”

The words of the Woody song are known to all Rotherham United fans, and the Millers skipper’s two sons love singing it — minus the swearword that appears in the second line!

Wood is generally an undemonstrative man but quietly enjoys hearing the tribute from supporters.

“The only way I know the fans think I’m all right is because they sing a song about me,” he says. “It’s nice to have your own song. I’ve never had that at any of my other clubs.

“I don’t get hung up on what supporters think about me but I appreciate their backing. I don’t look at social media much or interact on it. I’m the kind of character who prefers just to focus on playing. I keep a low profile.

“Fans liking me is great. If they didn’t, I’d cope. I don’t want that to sound bad, it’s just that I want to get on with playing.

“I don’t let anything distract me. You can’t let stuff bother you. Your mindset would be all over the place. I’ve seen other players suffer by reading everything that’s said about them.

“I’d like to think supporters regard me as a good, loyal professional for this club.”

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EMPTY WALLS

THE 2018 League One Play-off Final will live with Richard Wood forever but there are no trappings of his Wembley glory on show at the family home in West Yorkshire.

“I don’t have any of the pictures framed or up in my house,” he says. “I’ve got them all on my computer and phone.

“I still haven’t framed my shirt and medal. I’ll definitely do it one day but they won’t be up in a main room. I’m not allowed! And I’m not that kind of bloke anyway.

“They’ll be in my office or somewhere like that.

“We’ve moved round quite a bit in my career and I’ve never had shirts on show in the main rooms of any of our houses.”

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WOODY FACTS

Born: July 5 1985

Previous clubs: Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry City, Charlton Athletic

Career debut: Brighton 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1, April 21 2003, Old Division One (now Championship)

First career goal: Burnley 2 Sheffield Wednesday 7, April 26 2003, Old Division One

Joined Millers: June 26 2014

Millers loans: Crawley Town, Fleetwood Town, Chesterfield

Career appearances: 569

Millers appearances: 196 (176 league, 7 FA Cup, 7 League Cup, 6 other)

First Millers goal: Rotherham 1 Preston 3, November 5 2016, Championship

Career goals: 38

Millers goals: 18

Millers honours: League One promotions, 2018, 2020

Other honours: League One promotion with Wednesday, 2005

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CAPTAIN’S Q&A

The skipper gives us the inside view on his teammates.

Best trainer: Ollie Rathbone. You can see what he does in games. He’s just like that in training. It’s ridiculous. He doesn’t know any other way. He never stops.

Funniest teammate: Dan Barlaser. He’s got a comment for everything and is always involved in the banter. He’s very funny and good to have around, to be fair. He’s got more comfortable and  confident the longer he’s been here so we just get more of it now.

Grumpiest teammate: Jamie Lindsay is so grumpy when he’s injured that it’s actually funny to see but he’s fine the rest of the time. We don’t really have a grumpy person in the dressing room, to be honest. Nobody comes in quiet and not wanting to talk.

Loudest teammate: Chieo Ogbene. You can hear him all over the place at the training ground. But then Ollie’s laugh is really loud as well. You can hear that all over the place. Chieo is consistently loud but Ollie’s laugh probably outdoes him in terms of decibels.

Quietest teammate: There isn’t anybody really. As captain, I make sure I get everyone involved.

Who gets picked on the most? Dan probably. He’s almost as loud as Chieo so he’s an easy target. He loves it and usually has a good comeback.

Who picks up most fines? Dan again! Kieran Sadlier is up there as well but Dan beats him. Sads picks up most of his fines for getting involved with Dan! They start getting at each other and then chaos reigns.

Best singer: Haks Odoffin is very good, right up there at the Josh Kayode level. We make Josh sing every time there’s a team outing. Haks was brilliant when he did his initiation song earlier in the season.

Best-dressed teammate: Nobody really dresses up. Everyone comes into training in tracksuits. I get hammered if I come in wearing jeans. All the lads think I must have a business meeting lined up. I’m going for me as best-dressed because I make most effort.

Worst-dressed teammate: It used to be Lewis Price. He dressed like your dad. Richie Towell was bad as well. He used to try too hard. There’s not really anybody these days because it’s all trackies. I’m dodging the question but, genuinely, there’s nobody who is really awful.

Longest in the shower? We all spend quite a long time in the shower at the moment. When the lads are fined they sometimes spin the ‘fines’ wheel to try to get out of it. The wheel has loads of different options, so you can end up paying more, not less. One of the options is shower gels instead of the fine. You have to bring them into training. The wheel has stopped on that loads of times recently and the number of gels at Roundwood now is unbelievable. We all smell lovely!


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