Wood worried for the man in the trilby and military mac who was standing behind his goal and getting soaked to the skin.


Roy Wood had the most inauspicious start as a Football League goalkeeper. He joined New Brighton in 1950-51 when the club were about to be kicked out of the League never to return. And he joined them only because he cost the club nothing.

After that Wood’s story moved on – just as unpromisingly. He played what football he could while taking what he calls ‘little bits of jobs’, one of them working for a man in Wallasey called Broadbent. ‘He had a handcart and ladders, a tin of paint and some putty and was repairing all the damage that had been done in the war.’

Next he found work in Oxton, a suburb of Birkenhead. This time it was a job crushing brick and loading lorries with lime for the building trade.

He was pleased when he was approached by Clitheroe FC of the Lancashire Combination League to play for them but there were no great prospects of his moving on from there to anywhere more exalted.

Any such prospects seemed particularly bleak one foul April night when Clitheroe were playing Darwen in a Lancashire Combination match. The end of the season couldn’t come too soon as far as Wood was concerned.

Not only was the Clitheroe pitch a terrible one, Wood says, laid out on a pronounced slope, but on this particular night in the early Fifties the weather was awful.

‘There was just one chap behind the goal,’ he says, ‘and it was still banging it down with rain. He’d got a trilby on and a military mac and was soaked to the skin.’

Wood told him he was going to get his death of cold. ‘Don’t worry about me,’ the man replied.

Before leaving at halftime, the stranger approached Wood.

‘I’d like you to sign for Leeds United,’ he said.

Wood blinked in astonishment. Was this bloke for real, he wondered.

‘You don’t have to make up your mind now. You’ve got until the end of June. When you make up your mind, ring this number and we’ll do the rest, your travel and everything like that.’

The man was for real and his name was Major Frank Buckley, one of the most singular managers a Football League club has ever had.

Buckley had been a moderately successful player, an aggressive half back who served eight clubs between 1902-20. He had been capped by England but only once and that was in a shock 3-0 home defeat by Ireland.

He had fought with some distinction in the First World War, rising to the rank of Major. Although intended only as a temporary title, Buckley chose to keep it.

When he finished playing, Buckley was almost as ubiquitous as a manager. His seven clubs included Norwich City, Notts County and Wolverhampton Wanderers. But when he came to watch Wood in the banging rain at Clitheroe he was manager of Leeds United where he was the gaffer from 1948-53.

He was a great innovator credited with, among other things, introducing numbers on shirts, the first structured scouting system and developing a youth policy complete with a nursery club in Yorkshire, Wath Wanderers.

He also made shrewd signings, such as acquiring Wood for Leeds United.

His journey to Clitheroe and decision to sign Wood was based on the flimsiest of evidence that the gangling keeper could ever become what he did become, something of a Leeds legend.

And the early signs were not good that Buckley’s usually keen intuition would be rewarded as he had hoped.

In fact soon after signing Wood, Buckley quit as manager of Leeds and his successor, Raich Carter, must have wondered about this goalie he had been bequeathed. Carter gave Wood his first-team debut during the 1953-54 season when the regular goalkeeper, John Scott, was injured.

Wood played in ten games that season, letting in 20 goals, including five at Nottingham Forest on Christmas Day. Forest also won the return, two-nil, at Elland Road on Boxing Day.

As things turned out, though, Buckley’s judgment proved flawless. In the three seasons from 1955-58, which included the season, 1955-56, when Leeds gained promotion to the First Division, Wood played 125 out of 126 League games. In all he appeared in 196 League games for Leeds and seven FA Cup ties.

If Roy Wood did not always get the credit he deserved it was not his fault or Major Buckley’s – it was Ray Wood’s.

‘It was a funny thing,’ Roy Wood says, ‘that when I had a right good game the papers confused me with Ray Wood, which was the name of the old Manchester United keeper, and when I had a bad game I was always Roy Wood.’

He cites an FA Cup tie against Aston Villa in which he played a blinder even though Leeds lost. ‘Ray Wood the Leeds hero’ announced one newspaper headline.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.