MARTYN WOOLFORD’S last appearance in front of Sheffield United supporters ended in tears and retribution. Now the former Blade is preparing to run the gauntlet again, this time at his new club Fleetwood Town and he insists he has nothing to be sorry for.
“It will be like water off a ducks back,” said the defiant 30-year-old midfield man who allegedly made a V-sign to supporters after less than 2,000 Blades from a crowd of 21,445 remained in the stadium as former manager Nigel Adkins and his failed squad were jeered in an embarrassing end-of-season walkabout.
Woolford, signed by Adkins, was immediately jettisoned by his successor Chris Wilder. He was transfer listed but there were no takers had the club opted to pay up his contract in order to get rid of him.
POINT TO PROVE
The player who made little contribution at Bramall Lane despite making 34 appearances of which only 13 were starts even with his bosses favour, believes he was treated unfairly by Wilder.
But he insists that will only spur him on today at Highbury as he aims to prove to the United boss and fans that they have got it all wrong. “I’m man enough to take that on board, whatever is thrown my way I’m ready to just get on with things. If anything it will spur me on even more.
“One of the big things actually is I gave the fans a thumbs up on the last game of the season and for some reason some of the fans thought that I had stuck two fingers up. It was a thumb, I’ve told them that, but they don’t seem to be listening.”
For good reason. I was one of those who remained in the stadium, not to jeer but to observe and Woolford’s ‘thumb’ certainly looked like a V-sign to me. In an interview after the 2-0 defeat to Scunthorpe which ensured the Blades lowest finish for 33 years, 11th in the third tier of English football, Adkins tried to partly blame supporters for his own and his teams failings. A comment which only contributed to a rapid dismissal and further stoked the unprecedented disconnect between supporters and the club.
Woolford, who was also signed by Adkins when he was at Scunthorpe, added: “The new manager for whatever reason decided on his second day in charge that I was not going to be part of his plans so I was straight on the transfer list and never got a chance to try and turn things around there.
“From that point of view it was disappointing because on the back of a bad season I’d gone away in the summer, I’d grafted. I’d worked hard and I was ready to fight for my place and prove people wrong. But I never got given that chance.
“Pre-season from coming back really fit after the summer you kind of go backwards a little bit as the lads are getting the games, getting the football and the proper training.
“I wasn’t getting that really so it was disappointing but again it is fuel for the fire and it just makes me more hungry to do well.”
Woodford, like Dean Hammond who Adkins also signed at Southampton, was regarded by fans as one of the former manager’s pet projects. Indeed Hammond, who Adkins regularly praised even though his contribution was largely poor, initially arrived on a loan from Leicester City.
It came to light in the close season, however, that his initial deal included an option of a one-year contract. He signed it and was immediately transfer-listed. As with Woolford there were no buyers and he too had his contract paid up. Woodford, meanwhile, remains unrepentant and firmly believes Wilder made a big mistake. Now there is nothing more that would please him than putting one over the Blades at Highbury.
“I was training on my own at times,” he recalled when United’s squad returned from the summer break. “I was left behind when the lads went on pre-season tour which I can understand because he’d [Wilder] made it clear I was not part of his plans.
“On the other side of it, as I said to him it was disappointing that I never got chance to show what he had there in front of him.”
Fleetwood face United having suffered three successive defeats but their manager Uwe Rosler believes the sell-out visiting supporters will help raise his side’s game. He said: “Sheﬃeld United are still a big name with a big history and a club who should probably not be playing in this division. We relish the challenge.
“As a footballer you want to play for as many supporters as you can and I think it will be nice to fill the stadium. It will give the game a good atmosphere and I think that will inspire us. There is no fear.”