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'Sir' Vivian - a Spurs great

Tue 08 September 2015, 12:45|Tottenham Hotspur

As Wayne Rooney prepares to become England's all-time top goalscorer - he needs one more goal with England facing Switzerland this evening - a glance down the Three Lions' top 10 will see a strong Spurs influence, including the player with the best goal ratio of them all - Vivian Woodward.

One of the club's all-time greats, Vivian starred for us between 1901-1909 and scored 29 goals in 23 England caps between 1903-1911, plus another 57 in 44 amateur internationals.

But even those statistics don't tell the full story of football's pin-up boy of the early 1900s - John Fennelly took a closer look...


Such was the respect Vivian Woodward inspired, that even the match officials would address him as ‘Sir.’

He was a leader in every way, revered by his team mates and a man of true class in all aspects of his life, particularly his football.

Indeed, he was the game’s pin-up boy in the early 1900s and doing things in the ‘correct’ manner was always so important to him. That included remaining an amateur throughout a footballing career that soared to the highest levels.

Born in Kennington in June, 1879, he was an architect by profession and started out with Clacton and Harwich and Parkeston before joining Chelmsford City and then switching to Spurs in March, 1901. We were in the Southern League at the time but very much an up-and-coming club that had just won the FA Cup and was already based at White Hart Lane.

By all reports, he was an extremely skilful player, almost elegant in his application, utilising brain rather than brawn in an era when power and muscle were the overwhelming weapons generally applied by his fellows. He also played cricket and tennis to a good standard and, as a youngster, had represented Essex in football and cricket, going on to play for the county side’s second XI.

Below: Vivian during his time at Spurs, circa 1905


When we finally reached Division Two in 1908, Woodward scored our first goal in the Football League and was our leading goalscorer with 18 as we won promotion to the First Division at the first attempt.

Vivian’s historic goal came against FA Cup holders Wolverhampton Wanderers at White Hart Lane in our opening game of the 1908-09 season. The game was played on a Tuesday with a 5pm kick-off but still pulled in an estimated 20,000 crowd - with Woodward a doubt right up until the last minute as it was still the cricket season!  Maybe the fact that wind and rain swept across North London enabled or even encouraged him to switch his flannels for shorts!

Woodward scored just six minutes into the game, a close-range finish following Joe Walton’s free-kick. He scored again after the break before Tom Morris hammered in a 30-yarder to complete an impressive 3-0 win.

Vivian had a number of opportunities to make it an even more special evening but missed one good chance to complete his hat-trick while excellent goalkeeping by Tommy Lunn, who would join us in the following April, kept Woodward’s tally to a brace.

By then Woodward was not just an England international but had also been appointed to the Spurs ‘Board of Directors'!

He had made his England debut in February, 1903, when he celebrated with two goals in a 4-0 win over Ireland at Wolverhampton and was soon captaining his country for a 13-game run as he went on to score 29 goals in 23 senior appearances - 21 caps won as a Spurs player.

In so doing he set an England goalscoring record that lasted until the 1950s - all at a time when England only played three games a season, in the Home International Championship. However, two European tours in 1908 and 1909 presented Woodward with the opportunity to boost his tally and he did so by banging in 15 goals!

He also scored four goals in three unofficial international games with South Africa in 1910 and represented England Amateurs in 44 internationals between 1906-1914 with an amazing goalscoring return of 57.

Woodward even had time to captain the Great Britain side in the London Olympics on 1908 and in the Stockholm Games four years later. GB took the gold medal in each.

The England man would have played more games for Spurs than the 197 (100 goals) he managed in all competitions but was in such great demand to play in exhibition games and on tours that he was often unavailable. He also had work commitments although still managed to twice play for the Football League and won many other representative honours.

Yet he opted to retire from the top level in 1909 - and so missed the opportunity to play for us in the top flight - but was presented with a medal by his Tottenham team mates in recognition of the key role he played as we finished runners-up that season.

Woodward initially spent his days back playing for Chelmsford. But by November that year he was back - but this time with Chelsea. He was also appointed a Director at the Stamford Bridge club.

Amazingly, Vivian failed to win a major domestic honour throughout his career. And when he had the chance to do so, his powerful sense of fair play again kicked in. When Chelsea reached the 1915 FA Cup Final, Woodward was given leave from the Army to enable him to play.

Vivian travelled to Old Trafford to join the rest of the squad but then refused to play as this would have meant him replacing Bob Thomson whose six goals in eight games had helped take the Blues to the final while Woodward had not played in any of the earlier rounds.

As it turned out Chelsea were beaten 3-0 by Sheffield United in a game dubbed the ‘Khaki Cup Final’ as there were so many fellow soldiers in the 50,000 crowd. The match was played in Manchester as the usual venue, Crystal Palace, had been commandeered by the Admiralty.

Striker Thomson famously only had one eye, resulting from a childhood accident with a firework. When asked how he dealt with a ball coming in on his blind side, he replied: “I just shut my other eye and play from memory!”

At the start of World War One, Woodward had enlisted in the Army from the Territorials, joining the 17th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment; one of the ‘Pals’ units that was also known as the ‘Footballer’s Battalion.’

Other former Spurs players with him included Walter Tull and Pat Gallacher and there is no doubt that all were involved as a great deal of football was played to help entertain the troops - and the 17th rarely lost a match!

Before Woodward left for France, Spurs played Chelsea in what had become a traditional pre-season cricket match at Fulham Cricket Ground. The start was delayed due to inclement weather but once underway Vivian hammered our bowlers to every corner of the ground, bringing up his century with a glorious six that bounced off the pavilion roof.

He went on to hit 110 not out as Chelsea closed on 173 before our lads were bowled out for 90.

Vivian served on the Western Front and rose to the rank of Captain, temporarily assuming the role of second-in command on his return to the battalion after he had been wounded early in 1916 at Givenchy.  Woodward had been hit in the right thigh by grenade splinters and initial reports suggested that the injury was “so severe that his days of athletic activity are at an end.”

Below: A portrait of Vivian, circa 1906


He was such a star that the newspapers continued this speculation but were soon reporting that his wounds were not as serious as first thought. However, they were bad enough for him to be sent home for further treatment and there can be no doubt that they contributed to his decision not to return to top class football after the war.

He did play for Clacton again and once for Chelsea in a 1920 charity match against the Army to raise funds for former officers.  Despite being 41, Woodward was still good enough to score both goals in Chelsea’s 2-0 win.

Having given up his architectural practice, to become a dairy farmer at St Osyth on the Essex coast, Vivian continued as a Director at Chelsea from 1922 to 1930. He served as an ARP warden during the Second World War.

By 1949 Vivian was in poor health - and sadly forgotten by the footballing world he had served so gallantly. He was moved to a nursing home in Ealing and, although the FA oversaw his care, he was seldom visited by former team mates.

Just before he died in January, 1954, he told an ex-Army comrade: “No-one who used to be with me in football has been to see me for two years. They never come; I wish they would.”