Andy Woodman, father of Newcastle United goalkeeper, Freddie, and a former goalkeeping coach at the club talked to me about his four and a half years on Tyneside. Expressing his love of the region, the club and the people.
"I worked with Alan Pardew down at Charlton, he'd moved on to Southampton but I stayed at Charlton. I got a call from the Charlton manager at the time saying that Alan Pardew had asked permission to speak to me to take me up to Newcastle with him. It was completely out the blue really, it was a great opportunity, and who wouldn't jump at the chance to go to Newcastle? You don't really think about the club size at the time, from my point of view you think about the goalkeepers you'll be working with. Obviously, I knew of Steve Harper, Fraser Forster and Tim (Krul) so it was a really exciting prospect to have one experienced goalkeeper, and two really promising young goalkeepers all fighting for the shirt. It was a really exciting time for me to go up there and work with these guys. That was my only focus at that point really, but then you walk around the stadium and you get an indication of the size of the job.
Everywhere I went people would stop me and talk about the club, so I realised very quickly how important it is to everyone there and how important it was for me to do a good job."
When Andy Woodman arrived at Newcastle United the relationship between the supporters and Mike Ashley was sour, following the dismissal of Chris Hughton. The first impressions of the club and the hierarchy though was a good one. "I'll probably disappoint a few people but they were nothing but first class. The owner was great as was Derek Llambias, who was there at the time, as was Lee Charnley. You have other people behind the scenes who deal with all the day-to-day things, there's people who have been there for a long time. The actual infrastructure had been there for a long time and they were all first class people. I still keep in contact with a lot of the staff there, from that point of view, I feel like I disappoint people as it's not what they want to hear! Honestly, I couldn't speak any higher of the people at the club. The objective and the goal was to really try and do well there and I think we did that with what we had." Andy Woodman and the rest of the staff who arrived with Alan Pardew didn't feel any added pressure after replacing Chris Hughton.
"You have your own pressure anyway, when you go to a club. You very rarely arrive at a club when things are going really well! You know that something has obviously gone on. The people upstairs had decided to make a change, but whichever club you go to whether it's Newcastle, Charlton or West Ham, you have your own personal pressure and agenda of what you want to achieve. Alan had his own agenda of what he wanted us to achieve as staff and I wanted to make sure that the goalkeepers were right. Looking back, I'm immensely proud. To pick out one 'keeper, it would be Tim Krul as I felt like I had a big impact on his career there. From my point of view, I look back on it with real fond memories and quite a successful time for me personally." When talking about Tim Krul's man of the match display against Tottenham Hotspur, having made a record fourteen saves, Andy recalls the feelings of that day. "What you have to do with a goalkeeper like Tim and all the top 'keepers, you've got to make sure that you're delivering the right sessions every day and the right support for them to make sure they flourish. On that particular day, that wasn't just because of a good week of training or something like that. It was Tim maturing as a 'keeper, me having my input into his game and then Tim delivering it on the pitch. I'd be the first to say he was awesome that day but like any top 'keeper you need a slice of luck, and there were a few occasions where he got that luck on the day. I'm not taking anything away from what Tim did, it was just one of those perfect days! We had gone to Tottenham before and had quite a few tough days so it made it a bit sweeter."
Having been involved in a scuffle on the touchline against Southampton, a few weeks prior to Alan Pardew's infamous headbutt on David Meyler, Andy spoke about the emotions of the game and recalls his incident against Southampton.
Picture Credit: The Chronicle "The melee against Southampton... A lot of people said I was involved in that when actually I was the victim. It wasn't caught on camera clearly, but the player kicked me right in the private parts! When people say there was a melee, I was just reacting like anyone else would have. I was actually sat on the bench during the headbutt incident and the bench is quite far away from the pitch at Hull. It sounds strange but I didn't really have any thoughts at the time as I didn't really realise what had happened, if that makes sense? That's all old news now though and it was dealt with. Listen, there's been a load of incidences on pitches and sidelines over the years, it happens. It's the heat of the moment and the passion of the job."
When talking about Freddie's future at Newcastle and whether he could establish himself as their number one goalkeeper, Andy stressed that Freddie would make his own path and decision. "Freddie will be a number one wherever he goes, Newcastle have riches of goalkeepers at the moment. For me to say he's going to come back and play in their first team would be crazy. Freddie understands what he has to do, the end goal for him has always been to become number one for Newcastle. That's his club and the club he's been with since he was fourteen. Freddie is no different from any young Geordie who has been a Newcastle fan since the age of five or six. Freddie has his dream of playing for Newcastle United and being their number one goalkeeper. He's had another good season at Swansea, and you would hope he is one season closer to getting a chance and then hopefully taking that chance. I go back to Martinez at Arsenal, he was there for years and waited and waited. You need an element of luck and you need it to open up at the right time. I think there's a lot of twists and turns in terms of Freddie and Newcastle, but his goal is the same, to be number one for the club that's had him since he was a boy."
Picture Credit: Sports Mole
When Alan Pardew left the club for Crystal Palace, John Carver took temporary charge of Newcastle. Andy couldn't believe how unlucky he was during his brief stint as manager. "John was desperately unlucky and I just wish that he could've continued with pre-season and then the start of the following season. I didn't know John before I arrived at Newcastle, so this isn't me trying to make someone that I know very well sound good, but John is a top coach and I believe if he was given the chance he would've been a top manager. The circumstances that went against John were just amazing." Andy would eventually join Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace, he left Newcastle on good terms. The club wanted to keep Andy but he feared whether the new manager would want to keep him as a part of the staff. "The club wanted me to stay, so it wasn't like I left on bad terms or anything like that. My fear was that if a new manager came in and wanted to bring his own goalkeeper coach in I would be stuck in the North East. That is not a bad thing by the way because it really is a beautiful place, but I need to work. Would I get a job going from Newcastle with the closest club being Sunderland? No chance! I had to make a really tough decision, a long term decision. Am I going to be at Newcastle long term or is Steve McClaren going to want to bring his own man in? The decision wasn't easy because Freddie was obviously at Newcastle and I had to leave him up there when he was eighteen or nineteen. You could argue if it was the right or wrong decision, but that's all irrelevant now. It was a decision I had to make for my family and we made it. If I was guaranteed to stay at Newcastle for the next fifteen or twenty years, there wouldn't have been a decision to make.
Newcastle is such a fantastic part of the world, and I feel like I'm constantly saying this but it is the nicest part of the country to live in. I sincerely mean that, the people, the area... It's fantastic. I loved it, I loved every minute of it."
When sharing his favourite memory of his time at Newcastle, Andy couldn't escape the dramatic 4-4 draw with Arsenal. "I cannot get this game out of my head because it was such a rollercoaster. I don't think me or anyone in that ground at the time will ever be involved in something like that again. The whole thing was just surreal. Cheick Tiote... God rest his soul, scoring that volley you have to think that was written in the stars. I wouldn't say that game was my best moment, but it was a moment in history that I will never forget.
It was mad, the whole thing was mad. The start of the game, half-time when the manager galvanised the team. The players reacted to Alan's team talk/dressing down. We could've won it in the end, but Arsenal also had a chance at the end as well. Imagine if we lost that game 4-5? After the game it was more of a sense of we couldn't believe what we'd been involved in. As for living in the North East, I felt a sense of freedom for me and my family. My daughter grew up there and she went from having a London accent to having a really strong North East accent! It was lovely, the people embraced us and we still go on holiday with our friends from the North East every year. It really is home to us, we love it there and have a real affection for the area and the club. Steve Harper said to me during my first week at the club, once you settle in here you won't want to move back! When I left, I told him that he had never spoken a truer word."
Andy reflected on Newcastle's European campaign after finishing fifth in the previous season. "Europe was brilliant, I had obviously heard about Champions League stories from the staff who were there at the time. They told me how great that was. We weren't that far off getting in the Champions League, I think it was only four or five points in it.
It was a whole new world for everybody, to play in those type of games. The fans were buzzing and I remember one particular game in Brugge. The town centre was awash with Geordies, it made me realise how important it was to the fans to have those European games. Even in our final game against Benfica when we lost 1-0, we got a standing ovation off the pitch. We couldn't have played any better that night. It really was a fantastic experience to be involved in, European football was completely different from the slog of the Premier League. I thought we were desperately unlucky that we didn't get any further in the competition.
The thing I find most frustrating is, I don't think Newcastle finishing fifth ever really got the credit it deserved. For me it seemed to get brushed under the carpet it a little bit. I find it bizzare. I don't think it should really be forgotten, it went very quiet and never got the credit. I've always felt that it never really got the recoginition it deserves, maybe that happens at a lot of clubs... People look back and think that was a good time!"
Picture Credit: The Mirror
Andy opened up on Cheick Tiote and what he was like to work with during his time at the club. "He was a dream, an absolute dream... Apart from being late a lot! When Tiote trained, the level went up by 25% because players knew they had to move the ball quicker, Cheick wasn't going to train any differently from how he played. He was going to go full pelt and he could only train that way. I remember Alan telling him that he needed to calm down a bit because he didn't want any injuries!
He was a fantastic human being, whenever I think of my time at Newcastle his smiling face always comes into my head. The volley against Arsenal is something I always associate with him, he was a really great guy and fantastic player. The trouble was, after he scored another cracker against Manchester City (Disallowed for offside) every time he got thirty yards from goal, the crowd would shout, shoot! He would always do it too.
I think Cheick Tiote is everything the Newcastle fans want in a player. Someone who gives their all, going for every ball even if they don't think they're going to win it, covering every blade of grass and I've always thought that's what the Newcastle fans want as a minimium requirement.
Another favourite of mine was, Yohan Cabaye. He's a fantastic person and he complimented Cheick very well. You couldn't have had more of a contrast between the two. One was elegant, silky and could spray it about... That's not to say Cheick couldn't do that but he was more at home winning the ball and having a scrap. It was a perfect mix in the middle of the park, we really had a good midfield then." Hatem Ben Arfa was known for perhaps not being the best trainer, Andy looked back on what it was like to work with the Frenchman. " Is Hatem really going to worry about what Andy Woodman says about him? No. The one thing I will say about him though, he had talent that I'd never seen before. Unfortunately, talent isn't enough... It might be occasionally but in the team we had, we couldn't afford to have anybody not running or not working hard. We couldn't carry anyone and Hatem was a victim of that. Obviously he had bad injuries as well but if I was Hatem Ben Arfa and I look back on my career, I'm sure he would look back and think he has had a successful career, which he has but he really could've been on another world. The goals he scored against Blackburn and Bolton, nobody could do that other than Maradona in my time! I don't like to speak about the negative stuff because he was a maverick, he was a hell of a player."