Sadly, footballer Matt Woods has died last week. I got to know Matt during the period when I was working on my 2010 book: THE FA CUP: FIFTY YEARS ON. Matt was part of the Blackburn Rovers side that made it through the Cup final that year and were beaten 3-0 by Stan Cullis’s Wolverhampton Wanderers side. Matt was good enough to turn up with Bryan Douglas and speak about the 1960 Cup experiences before a well informed audience at Blackburn library. It was a really good night.
What follows are the parts of the book that Matt appeared in. Matt himself made just one representative appearance when he was part of the Football League side that beat the League of Ireland side 4-0 at Dalymount Park, Dublin on 14 September 1960. Travelling to the match he was told by an FA Council member (almost certainly Dr Andrew Stephen as Matt mentioned he was from Sheffield Wednesday) that he had not been picked for England before because they had forgotten about him on one occasion! Matt’s mate had only just dropped him off at the airport and such was his anger that Matt dashed back out to see if he could grab a lift home. However, when he discovered he had departed his teammates then persuaded him to make the flight to Ireland. Matt never did play for his country.
Centre-half – Matt Woods helped form the dynamic halfback line with Ronnie Clayton and Mick McGrath that took Rovers out of division Two in 1958. Also signed by Johnny Carey from everton in 1956, for £6,000, he was an inspirational figure who would have been in the reckoning for international honours had it not been for the permanent presence of Billy Wright at number 5 in the England set-up. Woods made 307 appearances for Blackburn. He went on to turn out for Luton and Stockport County and also played in Australia.
Wolves captain Bill Slater: “The game was more attacking then. Nowadays they emphasise defence and at times you’ve got a single forward and three or four defenders, which as well as making the game less exciting means a defender has a much easier time.”
This view is also shared by Matt Woods, the man who was to be Slater’s counterpart in the Blackburn team at Wembley in 1960. “I feel that centre-halves have it easy these days. In my day you’d regularly end up with two forwards bearing down on goal with only yourself to try and stop them; sometimes it was three. Now they have two centre-halves even if there’s only one centre-forward. I can’t see how any centre-half can have a bad game these days.”
Woods had joined Blackburn Rovers, then in division Two, after a torrid five-year period at everton. His description of experiences at Goodison Park provides an example of why Slater settled on the side of caution when faced with choosing between a teaching job and a career as a professional footballer in the 1950s.
“At Everton I started played in the ‘B’ team and I did pretty well and so they asked me to sign amateur forms as I was only 15. When I later signed professionally it was one of the worst things I ever did as I soon discovered the manager, Cliff Britton, hated me. And I hated him. In those days they could keep you even if you wanted to move. Well, I wanted to move. I was on the list for five years. When you signed for 12 months you were like bonded for life, at the end of it, and even if you wanted to move on they could just keep you. They said I could move but then they didn’t tell me about clubs who might be interested in signing me. They did tell me no one had enquired but I know that wasn’t the case.
“By the end I was on top money and I was in the reserves. I only played about eight games for everton all the time I was there. At one point I got into the first team. We played away at Sunderland, who’d been doing really well, and we drew 0-0. We then beat Villa 2-1 at home and Huddersfield 5-1 when I scored – yet the manager dropped me for the next match at Cardiff which was lost 6-1.
“I only managed to get a move when Britton resigned. They wanted to keep me but I was glad to see the back of the place and going to Rovers was just wonderful. I never regretted it for a single second,” says Woods, who was desperate for a decent cup run after Rovers had fallen at the semi-final hurdle two years previously, losing somewhat unfortunately 2-1 to local rivals Bolton Wanderers at Maine Road.
After drawing 1-1 at Sunderland in the third round, Woods said: “There were no easy games in the FA Cup in 1960 as it was the major cup competition in England. It was every boy’s dream to play at Wembley, even those who never played professionally! The match at Sunderland was a tight, hard-fought match that I feel we should have won. Roker Park is a good ground and Sunderland had fanatical fans, still have, but by managing to get a draw I was confident we’d beat them at home.”
Blackburn scrambled a draw at home to Blackpool in the fourth round of the cup in 1960.
Matt Woods recalls the game: “We were fortunate against Blackpool at home. But they made the mistake of dropping a bit too deep to defend their lead and late in the game virtually every player was in their box and there was mud everywhere and the ball fell to Mick McGrath and he scrambled it in.”
The replay was a walkover as Blackpool were beaten 3-0 on their own patch.
“We murdered Blackpool in the replay,” says Woods. “We totally took them apart, but we did have some good players and when it all clicked we were capable of beating any side. I was a good footballer. I feel that my strengths as a player were my heading ability and I was a good tackler. I was not the quickest but I feel I made up for this by being able to read the game well so I could anticipate where a ball might get played and react accordingly.
“I became a professional footballer after my uncle wrote to Everton when I was just out of school. Like a lot of lads I loved playing football; to be honest, there was little else to do at the time – there certainlywasn’t a television to sit in front of like today. With my mates, dozens of them, we played on the fields at Skelmersdale after school and in the holidays. The ball was different than today but it was all we knew so no one complained.
“I was playing in the Wigan Sunday League, which was an open-age league. I was 14 or 15 and played for Upholland West end – it was because of a friend of mine who I worked with at the local shoe factory. He came out of the Navy and played at Skelmersdale United. He was helping me through my apprenticeship at the shoe factory and asked me to play. I enjoyed it and was playing at wing half at the time.”
Facing favourites Spurs in the fifth round, Blackburn won 3-1 with Woods scoring the first.
Mick McGrath:“At Spurs, Louis Bimpson got a free kick on the halfway line that I was going to take but Matt Woods said, ‘It’s very muddy so fuck off,’ and he hits this ball halfway between Derek Dougan and Norman and it slid through Brown. It was the bit of luck you need at times.
“I remember that Bobby Smith was going on about what a good side Spurs were to Matt Woods – ‘We’ve beaten you before, ’ and how they were going to win this and that – and at the end of the game Matt said to him, ‘Remind me to send you a Cup final ticket’. I am not someone who gets really excited but after the Spurs game I felt we had a real chance of at least getting to Wembley and winning the FA Cup.”
In the semi-final, Rovers beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1.
Matt Woods recalls: “I was delighted to beat Sheffield Wednesday. I remember Harry Leyland, who’s the bravest keeper I’ve seen, making one or two cracking saves. On a one-on-one Leyland was great as he’d go down bravely to grab the ball. I didn’t feel any great sympathy for Wednesday as no one had any sympathy for us when we lost. We came under a lot of pressure towards the end but there are no easy games.”
However, in the final, Rovers were easily beaten. Derek Dougan’s decision to play even though he was not fit meant victory was never likely.
Matt Woods takes up the story: “Dougan had pulled a muscle a week previously. It was up to him to decide whether he was fit. In those days the Cup final, and playing in it, meant everything. He must have thought he could get through the match. So Dougan took his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and played – and after about ten minutes it was obvious he was only half fit.”
Yet as half-time approached the tie remained in the balance.
With seven minutes left to half-time Horne might have given Wolves the lead when he cut in to fire a cross shot that Leyland did well to touch round the post. His opposite number had to be equally alert a minute later after Dobing’s tenacious run through the middle. But Finlayson, showing great alertness, was out swiftly to block Dobing’s shot with his legs.
Matt Woods remembers: “Peter Dobing was clean through and with his skill I thought he’d open the scoring but he smashed his shot against Finlayson’s legs and the chance was lost.”
Soon after Rovers fell behind and then lost full back Dave Whelan to a broken leg. The east Lancs side battled on and were still in with a slim chance but:-
the match was as good as settled on 67 minutes. Des Horne crossed from the byline for Deeley, who had limped back out at the restart, to sweep the ball into the net. Rovers defenders protested strongly that he was offside, claiming that Mick McGrath standing behind the goal line in the net was out of play and as such Horne was offside when he crossed the ball.
Matt Woods is still aggrieved. “I still feel the second goal was a mile offside. We used to get out quick and play offside; we all came out together. Mick McGrath was in the goal behind the line but had his hand on the post and when Deeley knocked it home the referee said that Mick was playing him on. He wasn’t and that killed us. We appealed but it had no effect.”
The final scoreline was Blackburn Rovers 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3