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  • Writer's pictureTim Parks

New boy Woodman on his National League bow and scoring at Liverpool

Deon Woodman will be under no illusions what to expect from the National League when he pulls on the No.4 shirt for the Stones this season.

He was raised and developed in the often protected world of Academy football at Crystal Palace and then Queens Park Rangers, progressing from a centre-forward to a rangy midfielder and finally to a towering centre-half of some promise. It wasn't until he was thrown in the deep end, for the Stones against Maidenhead in February not that long out of his teens, that he got a real taste of life at this level.

On a very wet pitch, he came on as a substitute before half-time after Jack Cook was sent off. The just-turned-21-year-old, on loan at The Vale from Queens Park Rangers, hadn’t realised at first that the Stones skipper had just been shown a second yellow card.

“It was strange,” he said. “When I realised that he’d just been shown the red card I thought "sugar"! I hadn’t been involved in the game at Barnet a few days before, when I stayed on the bench, but now I had to step in for what was clearly going to be a very tough game."

Then came the rude awakening.

“I knew we were going to be under a lot of pressure and just two minutes into the second half I caught an elbow in my face!”

Ouch. Welcome to men’s football, Deon!

“Yes exactly!" said Woodman. "I knew it was going to be hard to get on and do anything, but we defended well and just that one mistake cost us a point.”

It wasn’t the 6ft 5in defender’s first taste of National League football though, as he spent March onwards of the previous season on loan at South-outfit Dulwich Hamlet.

“I loved it there,"he said. "It’s a great community club and I played in every game. We were playing Tuesday and Fridays every week at Dulwich so I’m used to lots of matches in a short space of time."

He, perhaps thankfully in hindsight, missed out on the mad cap spell that saw the Stones play 15 games in 50 days, including four in a space of one crazy April week. By then, he had joined Southend on loan.

He did get one taste of what felt like umpteen postponements when the original FA Trophy match with Hendon was called off. Instead, he had to settle for a training session at Harefield.

“It was a good session” he said. “We did exercises on playing out from the back with Coxy (Sam Cox) and the way we play the game suits me. We also trained at attacking from dead-ball situations and we talked about what went wrong, a tidy up from the Maidenhead game."

The 1-0 defeat at The Vale to Alan Devonshire's side was a far cry from the best moment of his career ... so far.

“When I was at Crystal Palace in the under-16 team and we played a pre-season match at Anfield against Liverpool," he said. "And I managed to score a goal, meeting a free kick from the right and seeing my header fly in!"

It was quite the moment for the boy who grew up in Feltham, West London, and began his youth career at Crystal Palace. He struggled to establish himself with the regimented youth system there and went out on a youth loan to QPR to continue his development.

“I signed for Palace as a scholar, but it was quite tough because I came in late, and everyone already had their scholarships, so I only had three months to perform and earn mine," he said.

“I’d gone from playing as a striker, to a No.4, and then Palace wanted to try me at centre-back. From then, I had three months to learn the position and get my scholarship. It’s crazy.”

He started off as a striker having grown massively at the age of 15 – then I was converted to a holding midfielder “until I played that one game at centre back and loved it!”

It was the move to Loftus Road that kickstarted his career and last summer he played several pre-season first team games for Rangers at Wimbledon, Reading, in Austria at a summer tournament, and at Bedford Town.

“Since then I was in and around the first team - but then I was injured in an under-23s game in August and was out for three months with ankle ligament injuries on both legs in that same game – I ruptured one ligament and had two tears in the other," he said.

“It wasn’t until November that I was fully fit again, otherwise I’d have gone out on loan much earlier."

He is, among other things, also keen to improve his record in cup competitions having twice reached the quarter-finals of the Under-23s Premier League Cup with Queens Park Rangers, only to lose to Fulham and then West Bromwich in successive years. The Stones are long overdue a cup run, too.

Deon was at the time of this interview midway through last season, living at his auntie‘s house in Brentford, very local for both The Vale and QPR. His dad Robert came to watch both the Barnet and Maidenhead matches proudly from the touchline.

You can expect to see Woodman Snr at many more games this season after Deon became the first signing of the summer, penning a one-year deal with the option of another year.

"We're delighted to get this deal done," said Stones Chairman Rory Fitzgerald. "Deon is a player of huge potential and his character means he'll fit really well into the squad. He had a few offers so we are delighted he chose us. He's a really good addition."

Pictures by Jon Taffel

*This interview was originally published in last season's matchday programme and has been adapted to reflect his permanent move to the club.


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