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Ray Wood

Wed Jan 02, 2008 11:04 am

[hr][/hr] Ray Wood [hr][/hr]
Raymond Ernest Wood was born in Hebburn-on-Tyne, County Durham on June 11th, 1931.

As a schoolboy Ray had a promising career in Athletics ahead of him. He was a sprinter of some renown and it was said he had the ability to represent Britain in the Olympic games. As a boy he would race in local pit-village games for a prize fund. He chose a career in football though and joined Newcastle United as an amateur schoolboy and then Darlington as a young professional. Matt Busby signed Ray in 1949 and at just 18 years of age made his debut in 1949 against Newcastle United in the first division match. He would have to bide his time however and was 3rd choice understudy to the great Jack Crompton and his understudies, firstly Sonny Feehan and later Reg Allen for another 3 years. During this time he also completed his apprenticeship in his "fall back" occupation as an Electrical Fitter. He kept goal for the reserves but also appeared 3 times for reserves as a center forward, scoring six goals in the process.

By 1952 the young Ray Wood was pushing for a first team place and was first understudy to Jack. He started the 1952 season but it was difficult to displace a legend even if he was past his best. A broken wrist in the 1953/54 season delayed his progress, which had been so swift and notable, Ray had been pencilled in to the England team to travel to the 1954 World Cup finals in Switzerland. The wrist injury prevented that and Ray was back in the wings but called upon over 100 times for those 4 years. With Jack ageing, Ray got his chance in December 1955 and he retained his place throughout that season. United won the league and Ray had his first League Championship winner medal. When Jack retired at the end of the 1955/56 season Ray Wood was #1.

The timing was right for United had rebuilt the championship winning side of '51/52 and Ray as impressive again through 1956/57 as United retained the League Championship to doubled his championship medal tally.

Ray Wood will probably be remembered as the keeper at the center of one of the most controversial incidents in FA Cup final history. The 1957 final played at Wembley saw United play a very good Aston Villa side. United were favourites to win and secure the first League and Cup double for Manchester United. However, after just 6 minutes of play, Villa forward Peter McParland shoulder charged Ray Wood as the keeper caught a cross and broke Ray's cheekbone. Ray lay unconscious for several minutes and had to leave the field. In the days before substitutes many commentators of the time saw it as a dirty, cheap-trick by Villa and McParland to win the FA Cup. Center back Jackie Blanchflower went into goal and United played on with 10 men. In the second half, Ray returned and played as a right winger, his swollen broken cheek protected by just cotton wool. He was a virtual passenger however and United would lose 2-1.


Ray Wood was an exceptional athletic goalkeeper. He had agility like a cat and speed off the line like a bullet to smoother many an encroaching forward. He was courageous in the tackles yet one could argue was let down in his ability to handle crosses. In December 1957 his position was threatened by the signing of a promising upstart from Doncaster Rovers called Harry Gregg. Harry was about the same age as Ray and once Harry stood between the sticks it was impossible for Ray to dislodge him.

Ray travelled to Belgrade in February 1958 as backup keeper to Harry. Ray suffered leg, hip and head injuries but would survive the tragedy at Munich, as would Harry. Ray would return to the reserve side but many noticed a hesitancy in his play and it was rumoured he suffered from the shakes; such was the toll Ray paid.


Ray would only make one appearance for the United first team, after that dreadful day, a game played the following season before he was bought by a young manager, at Huddersfield Town, by the name of William Shankley.

Ray would go onto make hundreds of appearances with Huddersfield before ending his career between 1965 and 68 with Bradford City and Barnsley.

After his playing career Ray had successful spells in coaching in Canada and Zambia and later he managed Los Angeles Wolves as well as goalkeeping coach to the Irish team. He then managed the Cypriot national team and later club management in Cyprus, Greece and Kuwait before returning to international management with Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.

After football Ray ran a sports clothing business until his retirement in 1990. Ray died, with his wife and two daughters at his side, in July 7th, 2002 at the age of 71.

Total United First Team Appearances: 208; clean sheets 54. Full England Caps: 3
Honours: First Division Championship winner: (2) 1955/1956, 1956/1957; Charity Shield Winner: (3) 1952/1953, 1956/57, 1957/58
FA Cup Runner Up: (1) 1956/57

written by Condor © UNITEDLOUNGE.COM Reproducing this material, either in whole or in part, without the permission of unitedlounge.com is strictly prohibited

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Re: Ray Wood

Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:58 pm

50 Years On – Ray Wood

Ray Wood is a name often forgotten about whenever the “Busby Babes” are mentioned. The signing of Harry Gregg in December 1957 seemed to signal the end of Ray’s career at Old Trafford, but personally, I would never have bought into that theory. At the time of the tragedy he was still too good a goalkeeper not to have bounced back. However, Harry’s heroics at Munich tend to overshadow the part that Ray Wood played in the “Busby Babes” story.

Ray began his career as an amateur with Newcastle United but after failing to make his mark at St. James’s Park, in 1949 he moved on to Darlington where he signed as a professional. His stay at Feethams was short – just three months in duration. However, during that three month period his performances for Darlington were such, that he came to the attention of Manchester United and they secured his signature for a 5,000 pounds fee. For the affable young Geordie it was a dream move. United had bought him with more of an eye on the future, but because of injuries he was immediately pitched into the fray in a First Division game against Newcastle United at St. James’s on December 3rd 1949 in a game that finished 1-1.

He went back to the Junior teams after that and began learning his trade as understudy to Jack Crompton and Reg Allen. There was not much chance for him to progress his ambitions over the next few years and it was not until the 1952/53 season that he started to see more first team opportunities due initially to Allen’s retirement through injury, and Crompton’s intermittent form. Ray was a versatile sort of player and as was the want back then, there did at times seem to be some strange selections as junior players were shuffled about in the “A” and “B” teams as the coaches worked out which position they were best suited for. He was given a run at centre forward in the “A” team for three games and raised some eyebrows when he scored six goals in those few appearances! He was extremely quick off the mark and surprised a number of defenders with his pace. What they didn’t know though was that in earlier days he’d been a professional sprinter up in Northumberland amongst the various pit villages where he “dashed for cash.” His speed was an asset with his goalkeeping and he was probably the quickest goalkeeper of his era when it came to moving off his line.

He finally cemented his place in the first team in the 1953/54 season and his performances began to make the England Selectors take note. He was certainly in line for nomination to the England World Cup squad of 1954 but sadly for him, a broken wrist towards the end of that season put paid to his international chances. England came back from that World Cup in Switzerland with their tails between their legs, but when the next season began, Ray was selected for the first home international against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast in October 1954 and ended in a 2-0 victory for the English. It was a feather in his cap really as at that time there was so many good English goalkeepers around – Merrick of Birmingham, Ditchburn of ‘Spurs, Williams of Wolves; all great goalkeepers in their own right.

Wood continued to play exceptionally well for United. He was as I said, exceptionally quick off his line and had great anticipation and a safe pair of hands. His bravery was unquestioned and was a terrific shot-stopper. If he did have a fault, it was coming for crosses and sometimes could be found hesitant. However his strengths outweighed his weakness and he was integral to the team that developed and won two consecutive championships in 1956, and 1957.

I suppose that the thing Ray will most be remembered for was the 1957 F.A. Cup Final against Aston Villa when he was on the end of the most horrific, premeditated, and violent assault, that I have ever seen perpetrated upon a football pitch. Just six minutes into the game, in a Final of which United were red hot favourites to win, McParland, the Villa left wing, headed a ball tamely into Wood’s hands. The ball was already safe in Ray’s capable hands but McParland continued to charge through, launching himself through the air and connecting with his head into Wood’s face, shattering his cheekbone. He took no real part in the game after that even though he wandered around for a while on the left wing as a little nuisance value. At half time, with the score 0-0, Sir Matt sent physio Ted Dalton outside of the stadium with Ray, the object being to throw a ball at hime a number of times to see how he reacted. They went out onto the grass verge and Dalton began throwing the ball to him – poor Ray hardly saw any of them. As they finished this little exercise, a young boy who had been playing football on the verge just a short distance away from them, meandered over and said; “Mister, you can come and join me and my mates in our game if you’d like to!” Just yards away, 100,000 spectators were all awaiting to see if Wood could rejoin the United team in goal for the second half of the F.A. Cup Final. Unbeknown to them, here he was being offered a game in kid’s football! Ray did go back out onto the field but not in goal. United fell behind by 2-0, ironically to two goals scored by McParland. However with 8 minutes to go, Taylor pulled a goal back from an Edwards corner and Wood returned back between the sticks as United went all out on the attack to try and pull back the one goal deficit. Great effort though it was, it was all to no avail and United lost that final by 2-1.

Wood was back for the start of the next season, and by United’s standards, they weren’t firing on all cylinders. In December, after a couple of results that hadn’t gone their way, Busby acted by first signing Harry Gregg, and then for the game against Leicester City on December 21st, he dropped Ray together with Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, and David Pegg. Sadly for all of them, although they weren’t to know it at that time, they were never to play in the first team again.

Ray Wood was on the aircraft that fateful day in Munich and did suffer bad injuries to his head, leg and hip. He returned back to Manchester after convalescence and tried to pick up his career at United. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and he was never the goalkeeper that he had once been. In December 1958 the legendary Bill Shankly took him over the Pennines to Huddersfield Town. It seemed to me personally that it was an obscenely short time between the disaster and his release from Old Trafford and one that in later time he came to be bitter about. He was to serve Huddersfield for the next 4 years and I can recall in March 1963 seeing him return to Old Trafford to play against United in an F.A. Cup 3rd round tie. 1963 was a bad winter and the tie had been postponed since the January. Unfortunately for Ray, although it gave the United fans one last chance to see one of their former heroes, it was a bad night for him personally as United romped away with the game 5-0, Denis Law scoring a hat-trick aided by goals from Albert Quixall and Johnny Giles. It’s hard to imagine what his feelings were as he left the pitch that he had graced so well just a few short years before.

He left Huddersfield in 1965 and played for short periods with Bradford City and Barnsley before retiring from the game in 1968 – ironically the year that United lifted the European Cup. He spent most of his time abroad from then on, coaching in places like Ireland, USA, Zambia, Canada, Kenya, Greece, Kuwait and Cyprus. He went through a very bad time in his personal life and his first wife Elizabeth certainly blames the part that the tragedy played in their lives. It was Elizabeth who campaigned so vehemently on behalf of the families, and it was those efforts which finally got the Club to allow a testimonial match to be played at Old Trafford in 1998 for those families. It is sad to note that she was one of the many of the families to fall on hard times. Just prior to the staging of that benefit match in 1998 she had written to Martin Edwards because she was overdrawn at the bank and was having difficulties even meeting her train fare to attend the game. She had asked for an advance against her share of the game’s payout only to receive a reply from him being told that ; “it was against Club policy.” Hard to take when here was a woman that had witnessed the horrors of the aftermath of that tragedy; who had stayed by her husband’s side in the hospital for almost eight weeks and watched as close, personal friends fought for their lives. She pointed out that it was British European Airways that flown the families of the survivors out to Munich immediately after the disaster, and that it was they, and not the Club, who made sure that they had daily expenses. Ray was also bitter about the treatment that the families received from the club and in his own words not too long before he passed away, felt that they had all been “shafted”.

I can recall him so well. He was so soft spoken and never one for the ‘limelight”. As I said at the beginning, Ray Wood’s name is one that hardly ever gets mentioned in regards to the “Busby Babes”, but there is no doubt that as the last line of defence in over 200 games for United, the likeable young Geordie played more than a passing part. Ray passed away at Bexhill on Sea in 2002 at the age of 71 years.

Rest on in Peace Ray and thanks for all the memories.

Ray Wood played in 208 games in all competitions for Manchester United and won 3 full international caps for England.

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Re: Ray Wood

Fri Apr 24, 2009 5:59 am


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