I have supported United for a long time and have seen lots of good players (and lots of bad). Over the summer the TUFC programme editor asked me for my all-time United 5 a side team. It was difficult to choose but final 5, but I settled on Olejnik, Loram, Russell, Graham and Steve Woods in defence. We’ve had plenty of capable centre backs over the years – Matt Elliott, Darren Moore, Mark Ellis, Guy Branston etc. but Woodsy edged it for me.
Steve was signed by club from Chesterfield in August 2001 by Roy McFarlane. Roy didn’t make the impact on the club that we had hoped, but he did sign some excellent players and SW was one of them and showed that in 01-02. Unfortunately Steve spent plenty of 2002-03 side-lines but he was fit and ready for the 2003-04 campaign. Leroy was now in charge and he found a new partner in the form of the experienced Craig Taylor.
Rosenior preached passing football and dominating possession, and Woodsy fitted perfectly into this system. Regularly the goalkeeper would roll the ball out, and Steve could start attacks from the back. He was calm and authoritative and made the right decisions – which along with midfielders such as Fowler and Russell made us difficult to get the ball off! Very few players have been able to do this in our defence, very often preferring to hoof the ball away as soon and as far as possible (normally into touch or the opposing keeper’s hands!).
The combination of Taylor and Woods was a lovely balance of brain and brawns. Taylor was big and brave, attacking the ball and clearing the danger. Meanwhile Woodsy would communicate, read danger and nullify threats – without the need to dive in and use dirty tactics. It was a lower league version of Ferdinand and Vidic I guess and a big reason why United got promoted that year.
SW could also be threat up the other end. Unlike most players who get drawn to the near post and the middle of the goal on set pieces, Steve loved to get round the back post and cause trouble. His most memorable goal for me had to be at Southend in 2004, when he popped up in the box to volley home for 1-0. A great finish for a defender, and the start of an emotional rollercoaster of an afternoon which would lead us to League One!
Of course League One brought its own challenges (and relegation) but Woods was still a stalwart in defence, and remained a stalwart for years to come. He was generally one of the few players to show any form whilst United toiled back in League Two. One of our biggest problems was finding an able partner for him in defence, and Steve suffered with the side chopping and changing every week.
I do have a great memory from that troublesome time. It came when we played Birmingham in the FA Cup at Plainmoor. Birmingham showed very little that day and Woods helped shackle their attackers. The memory I have of him is a wonderful shot from the half way line. He showed great vision, and hit the ball amazingly well, only just failing to score and bring the house down! It could have been goal of the season and showed that Steve was much more than just a defender.
When relegation was confirmed in 2007, I saw no-one more upset at Plainmoor than Woods. He cared more deeply for United than most. Of course his calm persona didn’t show this in the same way as the likes of Mansell and Ellis – but it certainly mattered to him, and there was never any doubt he would be staying to play for United in the Conference.
After Paul Buckle arrived he brought in a number of players, but Steve still kept a regular place in the team. Buckle’s tactics did not suit him as much as Leroy’s. A more direct approach was favoured, especially with target man Sills upfront. However he did adapt and showed the heart and full commitment that Buckle demanded from his players, using his experience to work with young players such as Robertson and Ellis to help make them improve.
Towards the end of the 2008-09 season Woods was approaching the end of his contract, and Buckle informed him that it would not be renewed for 2009-10. Buckle said it was his most difficult decision, and supporters were surprised and disappointed. Woods never played for United again and was the final member of the 2003-04 team to leave the club. It was a big shame to see him go, and his career petered out in non-league at Stalybridge, Northwich and Halifax.
As a player and a person, Woodsy was a class act and I believe (much like Alex Russell) he was under-rated by the fans during his time with the Gulls. He made the game look very easy at times, was a reassuring and intelligent presence at the back, scored some great goals and after a terrible injury became one of our best ever defenders playing 276 times for us. All in all definitely a Torquay United Gullactico!
*FROM ISSUE 9 of Highway to Hele – printed 2016