Bromley are victorious in League Two – thanks to Gareth Southgate’s best friend

Andy Woodman has had a transformative impact at Bromley

Andy Woodman is at home preparing for Sunday’s National League play-off final at Wembley. And when the Bromley boss is asked how his nerves are ahead of the biggest game of his managerial career, he roars with laughter.

“When you have a family like mine where everything is chaos – my daughter is about to have a child – then Sunday’s match is a release. You know what, for me it’s an escape from the crazy world of the Woodman household.

Woodman, a manager whose outsized presence on the touchline exudes exuberance, may be deliberately underestimating the significance of this game. For Bromley, just like for their opponents Solihull Moors, this is a highlight in history. Unlike last year’s play-off finalists Chesterfield and Notts County, neither club has any status in the competition. The prize at stake is completely transformative.

“Oh, it’s the promised land, the Holy Grail,” says Woodman. “This club has existed for 132 years and this is the highest number ever. Solihull will have the same feelings. Of course there will be nerves everywhere, the fans will be nervous, the board will be nervous. But it’s something we don’t shy away from. From July last year we set ourselves one goal: to reach the EFL.”

Premier League exchanged for the National League

Sunday also represents the pinnacle of Woodman’s managerial career, the culmination of a remarkably diverse coaching and playing background. He started as a goalkeeper in the Crystal Palace academy. And although he never played for the first team at Selhurst Park, he made many useful contacts there.

Not least when, having played for eleven different league and non-league clubs, including Oxford United and Northampton, he received a call from his old Palace mate Alan Pardew asking if he would like to to become a goalkeeper coach at West Ham. He did. And the pair got on so well that he followed Pardew to Charlton, Newcastle and back to Palace. When Pardew left Selhurst, Woodman went to work at Arsenal. He was then asked to become manager of Whitehawk, the Isthmian League side in Brighton, in 2017.

“People thought I was crazy when I left Arsenal for non-league,” he says. “But I wanted to lead and I thought I had the qualifications. And funnily enough, my experience made it work. You’re talking to someone who played most of his career at the lower levels and then coached at the highest levels. There is a nice mix in me. I felt like I could get along with everyone and everywhere.”

Moreover, he knew where to go if he needed management advice. His oldest friend, the man who is godfather to his son Freddie, the Preston and former Newcastle goalkeeper, is Gareth Southgate. They met when they were both juniors at Palace and have spoken virtually every day since they were best man at Southgate’s wedding with Woodman.

Andy Woodman (R) Gareth Southgate (L)Andy Woodman (R) Gareth Southgate (L)

Woodman (right) came through as a schoolboy apprentice at Crystal Palace alongside Southgate

In 2004 he wrote a wonderfully warm book about their relationship, which won the autobiography section of the British Sports Books Awards. It was called Woody and Nord: A Football Friendship and tracked how they remained best friends even when one was playing for England and the other for Thurrock. Nord, incidentally, was the nickname Wally Downes first gave Southgate at Palace due to his obvious resemblance to Dennis Nordern (one for the teenagers there).

Southgate’s influence on Woodman

“We’re best friends, we talk about everything, not just football,” Woodman said. “But of course we talk about football like all best friends do. We laugh because we have such similar groans, from very different ends of the spectrum. It’s good to talk to someone who knows what it’s like. The nice thing about being a manager is that everyone thinks they can do it better than you. Gareth tells me his postman thinks he can run England.’

Will Southgate be there on Sunday to see how his best friend is faring?

“I thought he was sick of Wembley,” Woodman laughs. ‘If I were Gareth I’d be in front of the telly watching, with a glass of wine in hand. Relaxed. After all, he has some very important games coming up.”

Woodman underestimates the influence the England manager has had on his career, but he admits there is one aspect of Southgate’s approach that he is keen to embrace.

“We both know how to deal with people,” he says. “We have both played under managers where we thought: we shouldn’t do it like this. We’ve talked about this and we agree that the best way to get the best out of people is to treat them with respect. Whether they are the most gifted, as he treats, or the less gifted, you have to make them feel comfortable. That’s called managing.”

‘You put together a team not to play school football, but to win’

This is particularly important for Woodman. Bromley has a budget half the size of some in the National League. And while he can use his old contacts to bring in players (his central midfielder is Mitchel Bergkamp, ​​the son of Dennis, whom he knew from the Arsenal academy), he has never had the ability to use money as a lure .

“I have no disrespect to our owner, who is absolutely fantastic, but our budget is 16th or 17th in the league. We won’t get 9,000 people,” he says. “The budget determines which football we play. You have to bring in hungry players and build a team that doesn’t play textbook football, but wants to win.”

Winning is something he has done a lot since moving to Bromley in 2021. Since his arrival, he has taken them to the quarter- and semi-finals of the National League play-offs every year and guided his team to victory in the FA Trophy. 2022. It was a triumph that was noticed. Gillingham offered him the manager’s job that season but he turned it down.

“It was very flattering, but I didn’t feel like it was right at the time,” he says. “Besides, I know that’s not a very fashionable word in football, but I felt a sense of loyalty to the chairman, the fans and the guys at Bromley who had given me the opportunity. Now I’m in a position where I could become a league manager. With Bromley.”

And if he does win Solihull on Sunday, the first call he hopes to receive will likely be from his oldest friend Southgate.

“Are you kidding me? I hope it will be from Man City and not from that damn Gareth.”

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