BY EDMUND BRACK
While Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s Wrexham will be descending on Wembley this Sunday, Andy Woodman and his Bromley side are looking to rewrite the Hollywood script planned by those outside of South London for the FA Trophy final.
Camberwell-born Woodman is leading the Ravens to their second-ever FA Trophy final in his first full season in charge at Hayes Lane. Bromley last reached this stage of the competition in 2018 under Neil Smith but lost agonisingly in a penalty shootout against Brackley Town.
But for Woodman, while he has been a part of coaching set-ups that have reached cup finals at Wembley and played at the national stadium twice as a player during his 30-year-plus senior career in the industry, there is no doubt in his mind that this trip holds more significant meaning.
Speaking to the South London Press ahead of his first trip to Wembley as a manager, Woodman said: “Everyone that supports football, and everyone involved in football from a young age, always have dreams and aspirations of walking out at Wembley.
“Your first dream and aspiration is to walk out there as a player, which I have been fortunate enough to do, but to now walk out a team that represents me, my family and my club is going to be an immensely proud time for me.
“The fact that I have been in the job just more than a year, where I managed to get us in the play-offs in the first season, and now to a Wembley final in the first full season in charge, is, in my opinion, some achievement.
“It goes to show how far we have come. To walk out at Wembley is going to be great, but from my experience, the only thing to do at Wembley is to win. It doesn’t matter who you are up against, but losing there is one of the worst feelings ever.
“Walking out and seeing the crowd and seeing the people of Bromley with all their flags, shirts and everything else waving around, will be a proud day for me.”
Woodman progressed through the Crystal Palace academy, but his goalkeeping player career never reached the illustrious heights of his coaching one.
The lion’s share of Woodman’s work in football management has been served as a goalkeeping coach in Alan Pardew’s backroom staff.
While the pair worked together at West Ham United and Charlton Athletic, Woodman was involved in Pardew’s Newcastle team that reached the Europa League quarter-finals. They also guided Crystal Palace to an FA Cup final in 2015.
But Woodman craved the pressure that comes from being the key decision-maker.
After a brief spell at National League South side Whitehawk in 2017, where he led the club to safety and parted by mutual consent at the end of the season, Woodman had to wait four years before he would once again take up a leading role in the dugout.
Leaving his role as head of goalkeeping with Arsenal, where he worked alongside Arsene Wenger, Woodman joined Bromley and gatecrashed the play-offs in his first handful of months in charge.
“Anyone in any industry, if you’re ambitious, wants to be the main man at any club,” explains Woodman.
“It has always been an ambition of mine to become a manager, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Speaking on his own management style and whether he has taken or adapted ideas from the coaches he has worked with during his career, Woodman explains: “My son [Freddie Woodman] is in the business, so I treat people how I would like my son to be treated.
“If there is one thing I would say it is that, when I was a player, I always wanted people to be honest with me, but you find that people shy away from being honest because they feel that it is going to upset your feelings.
“Actually, when people start lying to you and give you different reasons about why you’re not playing or why you have not done so well, I always felt that would upset me more.
“I can’t say that I always get it right, and if I get it wrong, I am the first person to apologise to people.
“I am a winner, and I do wear my heart on my sleeve. There is nothing wrong with that – it shows people that you are passionate about what you do.
“I treat this group of players all like they are my own sons because that is how I feel like they should be treated.
“I try to be honest with them as much as I can, and the outcome is not for me, but because I want these boys to have the best experiences they can as football players.
“I want them to get to finals, to win finals, and to have fantastic careers. Just maybe, I might meet up with them in 20 years, and they might just give me the reward that I want by saying: ‘Thanks for everything you did for me.’
“That is all I want from these guys.”
While a 3-2 loss against Hartlepool in the play-off quarter-final eliminator would be one step too far for his side last season, Woodman believes that he learned a lot from not reaching the Football League. He’s looking to draw from those experiences ahead of Sunday’s final.
“The big thing from that Hartlepool game last year was that we probably got a bit too hyped for that game,” he said.
“As staff, we really put a lot of energy into that group and probably did some things leading up to the game that we hadn’t done before in a psychological way.
“I felt that it probably weighed on the guys’ shoulders a little bit going into that match.
“We’re just going to be as normal as possible heading into this weekend. It isn’t easy to do, but that is what we’re going to focus on.”
Standing in front of Woodman and his Bromley side lifting the FA Trophy come Sunday evening are League Two promotion hopefuls Wrexham.
While Phil Parkinson’s side missed out on automatic promotion and winning the National League title on the final day of the season, forced to settle for the lottery of the play-offs, they boast a squad brimming with league football know-how.
Reynolds, famed for his roles in a plethora of blockbuster movies, and McElhenney, also an actor, bought Wrexham in February 2020. The duo were granted permission to acquire the club from the Wrexham Supporters Trust after they guaranteed that they would invest £2million.
With the luring financial pull under their new Hollywood ownership, Wrexham tempted Ollie Palmer away from League One side AFC Wimbledon and convinced Paul Mullin to turn down football in the third tier after scoring 34 goals in Cambridge’s promotion season last summer.
Wrexham spent a club-record £300,000 in January on Palmer, while Woodman has had to assemble his squad on free transfers and loan signings throughout the season.
“First thing is first, we are the underdogs against Wrexham by a million miles,” says Woodman.
“When you’re looking at the size of club, history of club, size of budget and the whole juggernaut that is Wrexham.
“We have to give Wrexham a lot of respect – where they have been, what they are doing and how they are going about it. Regardless of who is backing them, they are a juggernaut of a club.
“While we’re the underdogs by a country mile, if there is one thing that I love about my players, they thrive off being the underdogs – it’s the perfect situation for us.
“If we get our selection right, if we get our game plan right, and we stick to our game plan, it’s a one-off game, so all form goes out of the window.
“If we get our set up right and go about our business as we should do, and nobody freezes on the day, we will be fine.”
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.