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Football hero who struck gold twice at Olympic Games

By Essex Chronicle  |  Posted: July 19, 2012

  • national fame: Vivian Woodward was featured on cigarette cards.

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THE controversy surrounding the British soccer squad in the London Olympics first started simmering 100 years ago, when Chelmsford FC's star forward struck gold in two Games.

Vivian Woodward captained Team GB to success in the 1908 London Games and the 1912 Stockholm Games, becoming one of football's first international superstars.

The Edwardian era's 'Captain Fantastic' – feted in his day like David Beckham – is arguably the nation's most successful, but least remembered, goalscorer.

Woodward died a lonely, broken man, having fought for his country on and off the pitch.

He was wounded in the Great War while serving in the Football Regiment and later a mortar attack wiped out many comrades.

It's been 52 years since Team GB fielded an Olympic soccer squad, largely because the football associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland feared that participation could weaken national identity.

Great Britain manager Stuart Pearce has picked a squad skippered by Manchester United and Wales legend Ryan Giggs.

The team, the majority English, also includes some other Welsh players, but no Scottish or Northern Irish players, nor, controversially, Beckham.

Back then, our British heroes wore Union Flag badges on their shirts, but they were all Englishmen, and, known as the English National Amateur Team.

Team GB walloped Sweden 12-1 and Holland 4-0 to reach the 1908 London Olympic final, when they beat Denmark 2-0, with one coming from Woodward, who scored three in the Games.

Four years later, at Stockholm, he helped them thump Hungary 7-0 and Finland 4-0 and then, again, beat Denmark in the final, this time 4-2.

Although Woodward didn't score in the final, he did manage to notch two earlier.

Despite being rated by the Football Association as one of country's all-time top 100 players, even his home side, Clacton Town, have no fitting memorial, just a portrait in the club house.

According to his biographer, Norman Jacobs, he was first spotted by Clacton, playing for his school, and played his first match for the reserves on December 14, 1895.

Mr Jacobs wrote: "His debut was so impressive that he was immediately drafted into the first XI for the following week's game.

"In 1900, he became the club's first player to be chosen for the Essex county side, where his exploits brought him to the attention of Tottenham Hotspur, making his Spurs debut in April 1901."

When the North Essex League collapsed in 1901 and Clacton Town were left league-less, Woodward went to prominent non-league side Chelmsford FC, the forerunner to Chelmsford City.

Mr Jacobs, who is pressing for a blue plaque to be placed at his home, said: "There is no doubt that Woodward is one of the greatest footballers of all time and Chelmsford are fortunate to have had this great player."

His first match for Chelmsford was in September 1901, when, unsurprisingly, he opened the scoring against Oxford.

By the end of the season, though playing for Spurs first team on a regular basis, he was still finding time to help Chelmsford.

He took his place in the Chelmsford line-up in the 1902 semi finals of the Essex Senior Cup, against Colchester.

In a previous league encounter, City lost 6-0 to Colchester, playing without Woodward.

In this clash, he netted five of seven goals in a 7-0 thrashing.

The final against Leytonstone was played on Easter Monday 1902, at Ilford with 533 Chelmsford fans travelling by special train.

Once again Woodward made his team an unbeatable combination as they ran out 5-0 winners.

Mr Jacobs added: "His days at Chelmsford were now numbered as his skill became recognised throughout the footballing world and he began to earn descriptions such as – 'the footballer with magic in his boots'.

"His performances attracted interest from Spurs and, in April 1901, ahead of the FA Cup Final, so confident in his abilities, he was invited to turn out for the first team in a league match while key players were rested.

"Woodward's key assets were his quick passing, ability to take players on with the ball, and to pick out a pass to a colleague to use the space they were in to the maximum effect."

After a match in which Woodward took a terrible physical battering, newspapers called for football authorities to do more to protect skilful players.

Woodward scored Tottenham's first goal in the Football League after helping them gain promotion from the Southern League to the Second Division.

At the end of season, Spurs were promoted to the First Division and Woodward was named the League's Player of the Year.

It was a real blow to Spurs when Woodward decided to return to Chelmsford FC full time in the summer of 1909.

Now at the height of his powers and fame, Woodward dropped a bombshell by announcing his retirement from top class football, deciding to concentrate on his architectural practice.

He continued to turn out for Chelmsford, banging in five in their 6-2 victory over the 3rd Grenadier Guards in his second match for the club.

In the middle of the season however, he agreed to turn out for injury-hit Chelsea, playing for both sides until war broke out in 1914.

After being de-mobbed, he returned to his new home at the Towers, Weeley Heath, near Clacton.

Although now over 40, he still played the occasional game while running a farm at Weeley Heath and a dairy business in Frinton.

Woodward was taken ill in 1949 and entered an Ealing nursing home, where he was visited by a journalist a year before his death in 1954.

Bruce Harris reported that Woodward was "bedridden, paralysed, infirm beyond his 74 years".

Woodward, a confirmed bachelor, never complained about his illness, only the fact that none of his old football friends had been to see him in two years, dying a year later, a forgotten hero.

Vivian Woodward – Football's Gentleman, by Norman Jacobs, is available from all good bookshops and Amazon.co.uk.

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