Stowmarket Town FC

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“I Was A Goalscoring Machine”

Alex Moss  Twitter:   @stowtownfc  Picture: Contributed

Peter Woollard was Stowmarket Football Club’s first ever Player of the Year and today celebrates his 82nd birthday…

Peter Woollard never had plans to be a striker. It was only by chance that he found himself playing up front.

While playing in goal for Orwell Works, in the Ipswich and District League, Woollard’s finger was bent back during the game and he was put up front to, as he puts in his own words: “get out of the way!”

What followed after an unexpected appearance at the other end of the pitch, though, turned out to be a playing career where he claimed plenty of plaudits.

Nowadays at Greens Meadow, it’s Josh Mayhew and Reggie Lambe regularly firing in the goals for the Old Gold and Blacks, but back in the 1960s it was Woollard who was often finding the net for Stowmarket.

In 2019, Woollard celebrated his 80th birthday and, along with several members of his family, were guests for Stow’s game against Haverhill Rovers.

Earlier that week, we visited Woollard at his home in Ipswich to take a trip down memory lane and relive all of those goalscoring exploits playing for this club.

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Before joining Stowmarket, Woollard made a name for himself playing for Orwell Works. In a league which is now known as the Suffolk and Ipswich League, Woollard often grabbed the headlines and in the 1960-61 season hit the 56-goal mark.

In that season, Orwell Works won the Ipswich and District League title, but the Suffolk Senior Cup crown just eluded them.

Playing Bungay Town in the final, held at Portman Road, Woollard scored a hat-trick, with one of the goals described as ‘the best goal of the match, a glorious header’, but the game finished 4-4. The replay, again staged at Ipswich Town’s home, finish 1-0 to Bungay.

The following season, in 1961-62, Woollard helped Orwell Works to successfully retain their league title, while in the Suffolk Senior Cup they were beaten in the semi-finals, by Stowmarket.

Woollard would eventually get his hands on the Suffolk Senior Cup, scoring the winner for Crane Sports in the 1973-74 final, as they beat Heath Row Rushmere YAC 1-0.

But before then, Woollard had a spell at Stowmarket, which began with a debut to remember away at Thetford Town.

Stowmarket centre forward Alan Byford, aged 21 at the time, was called up to play for Oxford United Reserves, meaning a space had opened up in the Stow attack for their trip to Thetford.

Byford’s place was taken up by new signing Woollard and he had a debut to remember, scoring a hat-trick in the first half in a 4-1 win.

“I went on the field and before half time I had scored a hat-trick!” Woollard recalls.

“I’ve always remembered it. It was unbelievable. There we were in the changing room at half time and I’m thinking ‘wow!’

“They wrote in the paper ‘Peter Woollard will not be going back to Orwell Works!’ (Derek) Parker (Stowmarket manager) decided to play me and Byford up front.

“I think I finished up with 41 goals in a season we got 82 in the league. I got half the total, so it shows you I was scoring a lot of goals!”

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While playing for Stowmarket, Woollard attracted attention from other clubs, including Sudbury, but the club were keen to keep hold of their star striker, who at the end of the 1967-68 season was awarded the first Player of the Year cup at Stowmarket.

The cup was given in memory of Ted Groom, a player and committee member at Stowmarket for over 40 years, by Groom’s family. Woollard was a clear-cut winner, while right back Don James was runner-up.

During his time at the old Cricket Meadow, Woollard played in some big games for the club, including an FA Amateur Cup tie away at then-holders Wealdstone.

After drawing 1-1, the two sides met again in a replay at the Cricket Meadow, where some 2,000 spectators turned up to see a last-minute equaliser from Byford earn Stowmarket a second replay. Held at Layer Road, the former home of Colchester United, Wealdstone won 5-2 in extra time, after the second replay had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Woollard’s spell at Stowmarket came during a successful time at the club, with a fourth-place finish in 1966-67 making it five top-five finishes in a row.

At the end of that season, there was another appearance for Woollard at Portman Road, in the final of the Suffolk Premier Cup, but a very strong Lowestoft side ran out 3-0 winners.

A few seasons later, in 1968-69, Stowmarket caught the eye again in the Amateur Cup, beating Whitton, Thetford and Histon to secure a trip to higher league Hitchin Town, one of the oldest clubs in the country.

Woollard scored twice in a 3-2 win over Histon, including a late winner, but in the game against Hitchin, the home side scored twice in the last 12 minutes to advance in front of a crowd of more than 1,000.

“I was a goalscoring machine!” Woollard exclaimed. “I know why I scored a lot of goals.

“We used to play football when we were really young in a side street, and it had a narrow alley between the two houses.

“We used it as a goal, no goalkeeper, dribbling and shooting at this narrow hole. I always put it down to that.

“Everybody said I had no size about me, and every time I played in the Eastern Counties League all the centre halves seemed massive. But I was low down and they couldn’t mark me.

“Football is what we lived for. I remember playing in a charity match at Copdock. Jimmy Greaves brought a team down and it was 4-4. He scored a hat-trick and I scored a hat-trick!

“When you look back at all them years ago, it was a hell of a long while ago. I had the best time of my life at Stowmarket.

“I played for a few different clubs after, but I always had a thing with Stowmarket, what a club. What a lovely feeling it was walking up to the Cricket Meadow in days gone by.”