RICHARD WOOD’S first experience of Wembley on one glorious Spring day in May, 2018 is one which he will never ever forget.
With his family swelling with pride in the stands, including his two football-mad young sons, Wood famously produced a Boy’s Own performance to score both goals as the Millers saw off Shrewsbury Town in the League One play-off final ahead of climbing the most feted steps in football to lift the trophy.
I am seen as a father figure and am one of the oldest. We only have a few over 30. But at certain times, I can act like a kid and enjoy that side of it. The banter is flying about and it keeps me young.Richard Wood
Images of that joyous occasion are likely to take pride of place in Wood’s household, alongside the photographs from his other most decorated moment, helping Sheffield Wednesday to play-off glory at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium as a 19-year-old in 2005.
There is still room for a few more prominent additions yet.
Conduct a straw poll of most professionals and going up via the play-offs represents the best way to sample promotion.
Yet for the redoubtable Rotherham captain, 35 in July, experiencing a first in his long playing career and ticking off another thing on his ‘to-do list’ in the autumn of his days as a professional is a strong driver.
In his 18th year as a professional, Wood – who will lead the Millers out at Sincil Bank on a night when a win would see Paul Warne’s side temporarily move seven points clear of third place – has never been promoted automatically, let alone win a title.
It is something that Wood is conscious of as he strives to join a select group of Millers players to take the club up via the conventional route, with the likes of Jimmy Mullen and Tony Grealish having been bestowed with the honour of lifting league silverware in 1980-81 and 1988-89, respectively.
Wood, who has signed a new deal until June, 2021, said: “That is my main aim now. Automatic promotion and going up as champions. I’ve never done that before.
“I would love to do that and I would be proud of that. We would get a longer off-season as well, which would be nice. You can enjoy your holidays and it would be a lovely summer.”
Very much the senior man in the Millers’ playing ranks on and off the pitch, Wood’s influence is two-fold – a defensive enforcer and organiser on the pitch and someone who imparts words of footballing wisdom off it.
Just as he gleaned precious insights from those older heads in his early days at Hillsborough – players and individuals who you could not fail to learn from –Wood’s career has gone full circle in that regard.
He added: “You need the older players giving words of advice. I had Graham Coughlan, Dean Smith and Bully (Lee Bullen) when I was playing and they helped me a lot. I still stay in touch with all three of them.
“People want young athletic players, but you always need the older heads. You need a blend, just a bunch of kids is not going to work.”
On signing fresh terms, he continued: “I am very happy and glad it has got sorted. I enjoy working with the manager and we have a trust with each other. He trusts me with looking after the dressing room and I think I have taken to that quite well.
“I am seen as a father figure and am one of the oldest. We only have a few over 30. But at certain times, I can act like a kid and enjoy that side of it. The banter is flying about and it keeps me young.
“I speak to the lads all the time and try and help them the best I can and that is one of my job roles and one of the things that the gaffer likes in me as well as the playing side.”
Wood has been around the game long enough to know that ‘the playing side’ he refers to is still the biggest reason why he has been handed another deal, something he has earned by way of performances and not just influence.
The ‘been-around-the-block’ defender would not have it any other way.
He still feels relatively young and fit – his manager spoke about him being in the fittest condition he has ever been at in midweek – and his sentiments convey a hunger, determination and optimism that you associate with much younger professionals.
Wood and Rotherham should have a fair bit to look forward to. But first things first as the Millers prepare for the business end of another climatic season.
“I just want to keep playing. The gaffer says it all the time ‘just live for today’ as you will miss the buzz and feeling of playing and winning games,” added Wood.
“I do not want that to go and if it means I am playing until I am 39 or 40, so be it. Happy days.
“There is a great atmosphere and we are enjoying it. But we do realise we need to keep our feet on the ground as there’s plenty of games to go and everyone is chasing us. We cannot get complacency and think it is easy. It is not.
“We have been flying since the Christmas period and need to keep the momentum up.”
Last six games: Lincoln DWWLLL; Rotherham LWWLWW.
Referee: M Coy (Durham).
Last time: Lincoln 3 Rotherham 0, November 12, 2019; Football League Trophy.