I’ve left Alex until last, and I’m sure it is no surprise to anyone to find him not only on my list, but at the very top of it. In my opinion Alex Woodyard is our Player of the Season, and he already has my vote in the bag.
I’ve already looked at the virtues of Nathan Arnold, Sam Habergham, Luke Waterfall, Sean Raggett and Matt Rhead, and also suggested maybe Paul Farman or Bradley Wood might be in the running, but if I were a betting man I’d be lumping my house on young Alex winning the award. Unlike the others he has few ‘stand out’ moments that define what he is about or what he does, but his overall contribution has been phenomenal.
Alex Woodyard is the heartbeat of this Lincoln City side. He is usually involved in anything we create from open play, one way or another. He is a creator and a tireless worker, even when we are staring defeat in the face he’ll be covering every inch of the pitch just to ensure it doesn’t get worse for us. He does that dirty work that normally fans don’t notice, but Alex is so good at it that he gets noticed time and time again.
There has been talk of a move away from the club for him, something he put to rest (temporarily) by signing a new contract earlier in the season. If I had to put a value on him right now, I’d say he is worth £500,000 of anybody’s money. You could put Alex Woodyard in any team from here to Sheffield United and he would not only add value, but he’d transform the mentality of the side. Give him another twelve months playing league football with us and I believe 100% that he could be the first £1m Lincoln City player. Bold words I know, but players like Alex come along once in a blue moon.
Off the pitch I’ve always found Alex to be a quietly spoken young man, dignified and almost unawares of the tenacious talent he has. Last I heard he was driving around in a Smart car, almost the complete opposite of what you expect a young footballer to be like. Some young players have twitter accounts where they post photos of their fashion sense and talk in youthful slang about various issues. They have these fancy hair cuts and go on about things called Skepta or Drake or Bugsy Malone all the time. I expect Alex Woodyard is too busy kicking a football about in his garden to involve himself with all of that.
He clearly loves the beautiful game, when I attended the training day he always seemed to have a ball at his feet as if it was on a string. As we queued for lunch he was the very first player in line to make conversation with us, and every time I’ve asked him for interviews or input for the Ferret since he has obliged. He even messaged me asking for a copy of the Lincoln Who’s who book I wrote, just because he was interested in the club. When he got a Saturday off to spend with his family, he chose to take in our FA Trophy game against Welling. How he resisted charging onto the pitch and launching into a tackle I’ll never know, perhaps they had to chain him to his seat. He is the typical ‘Roy of the Rovers’ humble boy who is either unawares or unfazed by the hype around his talent.
So what is his talent? He doesn’t score many goals, he isn’t one to be caught flying down the wing nor is he a particular danger from set pieces. All of those are attributes we’ve displayed this season, possibly major reasons we’ve ascended the top of the table. If Alex doesn’t do any of those, why does he get my nomination for the award?
To put it simply Alex Woodyard understands football on a level that few players do. The way he wins possession and distributes the ball is tenacious and dogged, but also measured and calculated. If you need a player to put a foot on the ball and slow play down, he does it. When you need someone to win possession and find a player in space, he does it. He can pick up the ball in the middle of the park and immediately switch play when it is needed, or he’ll turn and lay it back to alleviate pressure. He is rarely caught in possession, he has the control to retain the ball under pressure and spread it to wherever it needs to go.
You might ask me if that is all he does, and to a degree it is. When the opposition have the ball he chases it, wins it and starts a passage of play for City. When we have the ball he is available in space to receive it and move it on. He is the classic ‘pass and move’ midfielder, constantly buzzing around the pitch looking for openings for himself and for others. When Nathan and Bradley are knocking the ball between them on the right side of the pitch, Alex Woodyard is usually offering them an option on the inside. When it is Sam Habergham and Terry Hawkridge on the other side of the pitch, Alex Woodyard is there giving them choices. If the ball is long to Rheady, Alex Woodyard is usually coming up on him ready to take it from him and find another player. I could go on, but you get my drift. I expect at the end of training when the players are volleying the balls towards the bag they’re kept in, Alex Woodyard is chasing every one of them and slotting them away where they belong. I imagine as someone carries the bag back to the changing rooms, he is following closely in case one drops out and he needs to retrieve it and play it back.
I have a Samsung Galaxy S7, a phone with a good camera on it and lots of fancy apps and widgets to make my life easier. Those impressive features are like Nathan Arnold and Matt Rhead: they define the quality of the phone as those players define Lincoln City. However, my phone is basically just an expensive paperweight without the battery, and Alex Woodyard is Lincoln City’s battery. If Sean Raggett and Bradley Wood are the ingredients in a Michelin star restaurants award-winning dinners, Alex Woodyard is the hob on which it is cooked. If Lincoln City were the masterpiece painting of Van Gogh or Rembrandt, Alex Woodyard would be the paintbrush they used to create it. Is that enough analogies for one paragraph? It’s probably enough for a whole blog.
I will boldly predict that if we didn’t have him in our midfield we would be on the cusp of the play-off race, nothing more. We’re not a one-man team, far from it. All of the players have been superb and they’ve all had their chance to shine. In Alex Woodyard they have a player who helps make it possible, a player that I expect they love to play alongside. He’s a precocious and exciting talent with a big career ahead of him, and this season he has demonstrated exactly why he is so highly rated.
I planned to make the ‘key moments’ bit a short paragraph about how you couldn’t pick one moment that defined young Alex, that you’d have to watch him time and time again in order to understand and appreciate everything he adds to the team. Then I watched the Chester game on Tuesday night, and he gave us a firm example of what he does on a game by game basis. They way he chased a Chester player over half the length of the pitch, forcing him from a promising central position into the corner was enough in itself to warrant plaudits. They way he then won the ball was classic Alex Woodyard, showing the energy and resilience that he does every single game. To then not only get it away, but start a counter attack of our own underlined everything he is about. In one thirty-second passage of play he gave us perhaps not a ‘key moment’ but a master class into what his game is all about. He spoiled my planned last paragraph too, but I’ll let him off. After all I don’t want him coming around my house to have it out with me, although if he did I’d simply kick a football onto my garden because I guarantee he’d forget all about me and be off after it, and when he did get it he’d be looking for someone to pass it to.