City keeper coach on his rise from academy ranks and driving taxis, to becoming a key part of Farke’s coaching staff
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As the Championship adventure begins, David Freezer caught up with Norwich City goalkeeper coach Ed Wootten to discuss his career so far, that famous derby day scuffle, his time as a taxi driver and the key focuses for the Canaries’ keepers.
From being an academy coach and driving a taxi on the side, to becoming a key part of Daniel Farke’s coaching staff at Norwich City and working closely with Tim Krul, it’s been a rapid rise to prominence for goalkeeper coach Ed Wootten.
It was only in 2017 that the 36-year-old finally made the breakthrough into first team football, after patiently learning his trade in the lower levels of the game.
Now the Essex native is a fixture of the Canaries’ back-room team on match day, focussing on the keepers but with plenty of other duties around and during that crucial 90 minutes - with Wootten particularly recognisable after his part in the sideline scuffles which saw Paul Lambert sent to the stands as City won 3-0 at Carrow Road on derby day in February 2019.
It was actually head of performance Chris Domogalla sent off amid the melee between players and staff of both Norwich and Ipswich, and Wootten admits it’s an incident that he gets asked about a lot, as he laughs about the fuss the scuffle caused.
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“It’s not really something that we want to get involved in, truth be told. You don’t want to be on the side of the pitch and getting into disagreements,” said Wootten, who was previously at Colchester United but didn’t cross paths with Lambert when he was first team manager of the U’s.
“If you want to try and have your team in a cool and calm place, to play calm football, then you don’t want the support staff on the sidelines scrapping!
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“But obviously when there is confrontation, you’re not going to shy away from it. On the day perhaps their staff were doubly motivated and had maybe come with a plan to try and make us feel uncomfortable, to try to provoke a reaction – and you just have to stand up to the challenge.
“I think their staff were getting a little bit uncomfortable on the sideline, there was a bit of pushing and shoving, then it ends up like it did.
“But it’s not something you look back on and think it was great from my perspective. You just want to stand up to any challenges that come your way and show your teeth, but it is one that fans will remember I suppose, for obvious reasons.
“But it is what it is, the manager stayed pretty calm and it’s important to protect him because he’s the last person you want getting sent off or getting in rows with referees, so you want to make sure he doesn’t get in any trouble unnecessarily. But it was a bit of a flashpoint!”
Wootten was on the books at Crystal Palace as a youngster and joined Colchester at 15 years old but had quickly set his sights on a coaching career.
He played in non-league until he was 28, for Essex clubs including, Maldon, Halstead and Tiptree, as the demands of academy football were taking up most of his time.
While continuing to pursue the football dream, Wootten’s parents had encouraged him to add another string to his bow when he was in his early 20s, in case things didn’t work out - so he became a part-time taxi driver.
At the time he was coaching for Colchester United’s Centre of Excellence, as well as the club’s Football In The Community scheme, and had picked up qualifications along the way including A-Levels in PE and psychology.
“Fortunately it’s still there for me if there is a stage in my life where I do need to go back to it,” he jokes of his time as a taxi driver.
“It’s tough out there for them at the minute, with nobody in London, but I really enjoyed doing it, trying to balance it out. It gives you a good grounding.”
Wootten believes it was the psychological side of being a keeper that he struggled with as a player, rather than the technical side.
As part of Farke’s coaching staff that has been particularly important, with the requirement for City’s goalkeeper to be good with the ball at his feet, so he makes sure to focus on mental preparations.
“The lads are under so much pressure and the pressure has increased so much because managers and coaches, rightly so, ask a lot more of the goalkeeper now – almost asking them to be a midfielder in goal and good on the ball,” he continued, speaking via a video call after finishing his latest training session at Colney.
“So when you’re in that pressure of decision making and you misplace a pass, then ultimately your team are up against it and you’re probably going to concede at least a chance, then it adds a lot of pressure to your game without even thinking about saving shots and defending your goal.
“So it’s a really tough position at the minute and psychologically you have to be quite strong because, as we all know, when you’re trying to play out from the back – when the fans are in – then a misplaced pass causes a little bit of tension in the ground.
“So you’ve got to be confident enough and strong enough to say ‘no, this is how we want to do it’ and realise that it’s not always going to go the way you want, it’s not always going to be smoothly playing out from the back and you cut through teams.
“You get mistakes and things are going to go wrong at times, so you do need to be strong to deal with those challenges, without a doubt.”
Wootten arrived at Norwich as an academy keeper coach in 2015 and got to know players including Aston Oxborough, Todd Cantwell, Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis well in his first season, as the U18s reached the FA Youth Cup quarter-final under Graeme Murty’s stewardship.
Those relationships stood him in good stead after the arrival of Stuart Webber as sporting director, with City eventually parting ways with goalkeeper coach Dean Kiely after the arrival of Farke and his coaching staff from Germany, leading to him being asked to step up to first team level.
While that was initially on a temporary basis, Wootten is still in the position three years later, after grasping the opportunity to prove he could step up from the academy ranks - having come close to getting first team jobs at other clubs prior to his promotion.
“I was confident that I could do the job and then it was about me trying to build a relationship with the staff and showing them what I could do, leading good, professional sessions for the goalkeepers and try to develop them, work as well as I could with them,” he recalls.
“But it was very tough, when you’ve been waiting for an opportunity in the first team set-up, that’s all you’re thinking about – and I didn’t sleep properly for the first six months!
“I was thinking about sessions and making sure everything was as good as it could possibly be, I suppose that never really goes, you’re always thinking about it and trying to come up with new ideas, trying to prepare the goalkeepers as best you can.”
Eventually it took the former taxi driver to the Premier League.
Wootten added: “It’s been a great time to be involved with the club and I’ve been very fortunate in that respect – and obviously very thankful to Stuart for trusting me and the manager trusting me to do the job, so hopefully I can repay them with some good work.”
The coach was in the spotlight again in March, after writing instructions on Tim Krul’s water bottle ahead of the FA Cup fifth round penalty shoot-out at Tottenham.
While he was keen to point out it’s Krul that deserves all the credit as he was the man “in the eye of the storm and making the saves”, he admits that supporting role had come from learning a lesson during his first six months with the first team, in January 2018.
“The last penalty shoot-out I was involved with was at Chelsea in the FA Cup and I didn’t feel like, on reflection after we lost, Angus (Gunn) didn’t make any saves and I didn’t feel like I personally did enough to prepare Angus for that shoot-out,” he admitted.
“I felt my information could have been better, so I was disappointed and wanted to make sure that never happened again, so that we had the best preparation and knowledge throughout the shoot-out.”
Football fans have been eagerly consuming documentaries providing behind the scenes insight at Tottenham and Manchester City in the past year, showing the ever-growing amount of staff involved in the game.
Those supporting characters have important roles to play in getting the best out of players and, as our conversation moves to a close, Wootten stresses just how careful Canaries staff are with that influence.
“All staff have a responsibility, it’s not only the coaching staff,” he adds. “It’s the physios, the chefs, the sport science, the analysis people - I think everyone has that responsibility to conduct themselves in a way that gets the best out of the players.
“Because ultimately if one person is bringing the tone down and says ‘we’re rubbish at the moment’ or whatever, that just feeds in like a little disease and then spreads around.
“It’s important that everybody chips in and has that responsibility to ensure that morale is kept as high as it possibly can. That’s obviously not always easy when results aren’t going your way, it’s a lot easier when you’re winning of course.
“But I think everyone is fully aware that we’re in It together.”