Woody gets chance to turn back the clock

The FA Cup may have been rudely downgraded in the football calendar by the all-consuming monsters of the Premier League and the Champions League - but to Colin Woodthorpe it remains a special competition.

The FA Cup may have been rudely downgraded in the football calendar by the all-consuming monsters of the Premier League and the Champions League - but to Colin Woodthorpe it remains a special competition.

Next Saturday, a week short of his 39th birthday, the evergreen left-back is expected to be in the Bury side for a third round tie at Carrow Road, more than 15 years after getting within 90 minutes of a Wembley final with Norwich City.

Woodthorpe was in his second season with the Canaries when he was in the team beaten 1-0 in the semi-final by Sunderland at Hillsborough in 1992. City had been firm favourites to reach their first final at the expense of a team struggling to stay in the second division, but they froze, sending 18,000 fans home in despair.

“We just didn't perform on the day and lost a scrappy game 1-0,” said Woodthorpe, who still recalls the painful sense of anti-climax.

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“It wasn't the greatest day. I remember we stopped on the way home at Saracen's Head on the A17 and someone had put on a spread, but there were tears shed after that game and that was the first time I'd seen that.

“It was my biggest game ever at the time. I think some people are a bit flippant about the FA Cup now, but it's the most talked-about cup competition in the world. It's still a big thing.

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“We were so close to being in the final. There was no guarantee I would have played, but we were just taking each stage at a time and we had the opportunity of playing against a team from a lower division in the semi-final. But they just seemed to want it a little bit more than us in a tight match and they had a guy in John Byrne who had scored in every round - sometimes things like that just go against you.”

Despite being limited to 53 senior appearances in four years with City, most of Woodthorpe's memories are much happier ones.

Such as his one and only goal in a 3-0 win over Liverpool in 1992: “I usually manage one goal for each of my clubs and to score against Liverpool, I was delighted, as an Everton supporter. It was tinged with worry when allegations came out later about Bruce Grobbelaar and a match against Norwich, but it turned out it was a different game they were looking at, a 2-2 draw, and nothing was ever proved. He pushed my first shot back out to me before I scored - I would have been devastated if it had been my goal they were talking about.”

Or his UEFA Cup appearance in the away leg against Inter Milan in 1993: “That was a fantastic experience even though we lost 1-0. It was only my second game that season, but I played because of injuries and suspensions. In the game before that, Mike Walker wanted to play the same formation he was going to use in Milan, so I played against Manchester United at Old Trafford and we did really well and drew 2-2.”

Or his penultimate game for City, at Anfield in 1994: “It was the last game at Liverpool before they tore down the Kop and replaced it with seats. We were expected to be lambs to the slaughter but Jeremy Goss scored another of his fantastic goals, right into the top corner, and we won 1-0.”

Woodthorpe was a £225,000 capture from Chester by former manager Dave Stringer in the summer of 1990 and left in the summer of 1994 in a £400,000 move to Aberdeen.

He said: “It was fantastic for me to come from what would now be a League One club into a club in the top tier of English football.

“It was my first time away from home and very exciting. It takes time to integrate into a bigger squad with some great players and I didn't really expect to play straightaway. I saw it as just another step in my footballing education.

“David Williams was a fantastic coach and people like Mark Bowen, Ian Culverhouse, John Polston and Ian Butterworth were so consistent, it was difficult to force your way into the team. But I wouldn't have missed my time there for anything.

“It's also fine area to live, especially in summer, and I missed that when I was in Scotland.”

Woodthorpe returned to England with Stockport in 1997 - where he played alongside former City team-mate David Smith, also his best man. He has been at Bury since 2002. In a career that began at Chester in 1986, he has played more than 650 games, and next week's tie is an unexpected bonus.

“To be honest, I was at a children's party when the draw was made so I didn't see it,” he said. “I felt it was just typical of football, coming to the end of my career and ending up playing where I played all those years ago. It's a bit ironic how things turn out.”

December has been a difficult month for Woodthorpe, whose wife and youngest son have both spent time in hospital and are still receiving treatment, while he carried on trying to fulfil his football duties.

Only yesterday, he insisted on giving a very frank interview to Bury's official website, apologising for kicking the ball into the crowd, albeit unintentionally, when he was substituted in the Boxing Day home defeat by Chesterfield.

He said: “The incident was not triggered by footballing reasons. I have had no problems with the manager, players or supporters at Bury Football Club.”

He said he was angry with his own performance and should have accepted manager Chris Casper's offer of time off, instead of trying to do too much.

Meanwhile, Bury have slipped to 16th in League Two after losing their last four games by a one-goal margin.

Said Woodthorpe: “We've got ourselves in a position where we keep losing by the odd goal. But we beat Leeds at Elland Road in the Johnston's Paint Trophy quarter-final, and we are hoping to put on a good show at Norwich.

“They seem to have got a bit of a run going, so credit where credit is due. I certainly wouldn't want to see the club near the bottom of the Championship. It is a very hard division to get out of at the top end, but it's easy to slip out of it at the bottom.”

And Bury's men to watch? Woodthorpe has a high regard for Nicky Adams - a Wales Under-21 colleague of Ched Evans and scorer of the winner in the FA Cup second round against Exeter - and striker Andy Bishop, who came close to joining Ipswich in the summer.

“Those two are capable of playing in a higher division. And we have a Northern Ireland Under-21 international called David Buchanan who deserves to play at a higher level. I've never seen a more dedicated player,” said Woodthorpe.

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