Former Arsenal coach delivers brilliant Newcastle United verdict
“You’ll never want to leave this club.”
That was what Steve Harper said to Andy Woodman when he joined Newcastle United as goalkeeping coach just over a decade ago.
Woodman had been by Alan Pardew’s side throughout the manager’s rollercoaster four years on Tyneside, the highlights of which were a fifth-place finish in the Premier League and a long European campaign.
“I look at my time at Newcastle as probably the greatest time in my footballing career,” said Woodman, who was brought to Newcastle by Pardew in December 2010.
“Not just because of the size of Newcastle. It was actually the most enjoyable time, because we were very successful. I keep saying this, and it almost goes under the radar. We did get into Europe. People kind of don’t remember that. That hasn’t happened since we’ve left. I remember that really fondly.
“My lifestyle up there was the best it’s ever been for me and my family. We loved Newcastle. We loved the place, we loved the people.
“Steve Harper, when I first got there, said ‘you’ll never want to leave this club’ – and it was so true. We didn’t, but football, you have to go where the job takes you.”
The only European campaign of the Mike Ashley era at St James’s Park came under Pardew, who guided the club to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, where they met Benfica.
Woodman – who worked with goalkeepers Harper, Tim Krul and Rob Elliot at the club – will always remember the reaction of “phenomenal” Newcastle’s fans after the club’s 4-2 aggregate defeat to Jorge Jesus’s side.
Until a late goal from the visitors in the second leg at St James’s Park, the club had been just a strike away from going through on the away goals rule.
“We got clapped off the pitch against Benfica after drawing 1-1 at home,” said Woodman. “That was one of the most amazing performances without winning.
“This always sticks in my head with the Newcastle fans. If you put in a performance, and the team has a real go, that’s all they want, and if ever there was an advert to prove that, that was the game.
“They clapped us off the pitch, and we’d just gone out of Europe. The fans are phenomenal.”
Woodman left the club in 2015 and linked up with Pardew again at Crystal Palace. He went on to join Arsenal, where he headed up the goalkeeping department.
However, Woodman felt the pull of management after 15 years as a coach – and ambitious National League club Bromley offered him the perfect opportunity.
“I think anyone in football coaching-wise aspires to having a go in management at some point,” said Woodman. “I’ve always thought that would be great if the opportunity came along. It was a case of what level, what standard of club.
“This club is really one of the top set-ups. It’s really on the up.
“I’ve had a few texts from people saying ‘you must be mad (to leave Arsenal)’. I’m you’re people are thinking ‘you’ve left Arsenal to try your hand at management’, but, to me, this is a real opportunity at a club, and I genuinely mean this, that’s on the upward curve.
"It was a real no-brainer for me. It just seemed to be an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. If I’d turned it down, I’d probably have kissed goodbye to the chance of ever being a manager again.”
Woodman – whose long playing career took in spells at Northampton Town, Brentford and Oxford United – has many managerial influences.
“I’ve obviously worked with Alan Pardew for many years,” said Woodman. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a season with Arsene Wenger, which was brilliant. I had my time with Steve McClaren, who’s a good guy to learn off. They’re all very good at what they do. Sam Allardyce too. They all had their own ways.
“If I can put my style on the stuff I’ve watched them do, hopefully results will follow.”
Woodman left a legacy at Newcastle when he moved on. The 49-year-old’s son Freddie stayed on at the club – and went on to make his first-team debut.
Now 24, Freddie is on a season-long loan at Swansea City. The club is third in the Championship – and pushing for promotion to the Premier League.
“Freddie’s had a really great season,” said Woodman. “Has he exceeded my expectations? No, never. I think all of these stepping stones he’s taken are with the main goal of being Newcastle’s No.1 goalie.
“He knows where he wants to get to. Freddie, with or without my help, he’s always known exactly how he’s going to do that. That’s stood him in good stead.”
Woodman, under contract at St James’s Park until 2023, made his United debut, aged 20, in an FA Cup tie against Luton Town just over three years ago – and that was a proud moment for the family.
“I was absolutely delighted,” said Woodman. “Things like that can get underplayed in football careers, to make your debut for a massive club like Newcastle. I’ve been lucky enough for my son to make his debut, and I hope, in time, he will go on to be very successful at Newcastle – I really mean that.”