Former Wolves and West Brom striker Don Goodman: I’m still living the dream!
Don Goodman was a boyhood Leeds fan, born and brought up in the city, and had even been a ball boy at Elland Road.
And yet, so often when the striker played against Leeds, he found the net.
“All strikers have got teams that they always seem to score against, and it was against Leeds that I regularly came up trumps,” he explains.
“I scored against them for Bradford, for West Brom and for Sunderland.
“And then there was Wolves…”
Indeed there was. It is 25 years next Tuesday that Goodman enjoyed his finest hour in a Wolves shirt by grabbing the late winner in an FA Cup quarter final.
It was quite the upset at the time. And, for the hordes of travelling Wolves fans, one of the best – and most eventful – away days of recent memory.
Under George Graham, Leeds were seventh in the Premier League, only six points off eventual champions Arsenal in second. They were being touted as potential FA Cup winners with so few other top clubs remaining in the competition. In contrast, under Mark McGhee, in what would prove his last season at Molineux, Wolves were ninth in the Championship.
It was a tense afternoon amid a white-hot atmosphere in front of a frenzied Elland Road audience of 39,902.
Wolves, with thanks to a tactical masterstroke from McGhee and some solid defending at the back, were more than a match for their hosts, and, as the clock ticked into the 83rd minute, were looking good value for a replay.
Then it came. Dougie Freedman exchanged passes with Simon Osborn before finding Carl Robinson, whose pinpoint pass behind the defence left Goodman with space in the inside right channel, with England keeper Nigel Martyn to beat.
Talk about keeping your cool. Goodman delayed sufficiently for Martyn to go to ground before deliciously clipping the ball beyond him and into the net from an acute angle, in front of those delirious Wolves fans.
“I really like that sort of finish,” Goodman reflects, with modest understatement.
“Maybe it was instinct in that moment, but I always liked to try and commit the keeper and then dink it over him.
“I just had a feeling about that day even we knew they were a top Premier League team under George Graham and were looking to get into Europe.
“We were having a bang average season and not many people gave us a chance, especially at Elland Road.
“But fair play to Mark McGhee, we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things but he came up with a gameplan of having three central defenders and three forwards.
“That approach allowed us to be tight and compact and make it difficult for them and then, when we got our chance, thankfully we were able to take it.
“It was fairy-tale stuff to score a winner against my home club in such a big game, and is probably the game that most Wolves fans still talk to me about to this day.
“And of course, the piece de resistance was that Leeds got a penalty in the last minute, and Hans Segers saved it!”
It was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, felled by Wolves’ then 17-year-old substitute Robbie Keane, who picked himself up to take the spot kick, only for Segers to dive to his left to beat the ball away.
The Leeds striker was perhaps fortunate not to see red for an angry reaction to Keith Curle following the penalty, and there was still time for one more almighty goalmouth scramble before Wolves were able to savour the full time whistle and a place in the semi-finals.
Many of the fans too were unable to relax for some time afterwards, running the gauntlet of the disgruntled home support as they made their way from the exits at Elland Road.
When the dust settled however, it was another triumph for Goodman, for whom many of his big Wolves moments – good and bad – featured his native Yorkshire.
Not just that goal against Leeds, but his penalty secured the incredible comeback win in the FA Cup shootout against Sheffield Wednesday, whilst he suffered a depressed fracture of the skull against Huddersfield a couple of years before that Elland Road winner.
And Goodman certainly remains proud of those Yorkshire roots and an upbringing which played such a key part in the success of his career.
Working as an apprentice electrician for Leeds City Council whilst scouted playing non-league for Collingham, he initially turned down the offer of a full-time apprenticeship with Bradford, choosing to play on a non-contract basis while continuing to learn his trade.
When the time came to turn professional with the Bantams, this time he took the plunge, albeit whilst writing to the Council to ask if they could keep the apprenticeship open in case he needed to return. They agreed. But thankfully, he didn’t need to.
“Did staying on as an electrician help prepare me for a life in football? 100 per cent,” says Goodman.
“It gave me a work ethic and it gave me the perspective of realising how lucky I was to be a professional footballer.
“I had to get up at 5.30am and catch two buses across Leeds to get to work every day.
“And there is no question that had an impact.
“What people always saw when they watched me, even if I was having a crap game, was that I gave it everything that I had got.
“That work ethic from the start I had in life played a large part in giving me that mentality.”
So too did Goodman’s eye for a goal – he scored a hat trick in seven minutes after coming off the bench in an FA Cup tie against Tow Law Town – but the triumph of his first season as a pro as Bradford surged to the Third Division title – was to end in tragedy.
Out injured, he was watching what was supposed to be a promotion party before a devastating fire ripped through Valley Parade, with 56 fans losing their lives, including two of Goodman’s close friends.
It’s not a subject he talks about, but it is a day, and so much pain and loss, that he will never forget.
“Football had been going so well for me but it all changed dramatically that day and football didn’t matter a jot,” he reflects.
Somehow Bradford – and Goodman – had to return to playing football, and, when surprisingly finding himself out of favour after a couple of decent seasons, opportunity came knocking with the chance to join West Bromwich Albion.
Although a Leeds fan growing up, Albion were what he would call his ‘second team’. And that’s because both Goodman and his father had been so impressed and inspired by the Hawthorns exploits of the Three Degrees – Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson.
“It was an exciting move for me, both because of the Three Degrees, but also the history of the club and its size,” says Goodman.
“It didn’t quite turn out as expected as I was hoping we would be challenging at the top end of the table and invariably we mainly ended up closer to the bottom.
“But at this stage I was still only 20, and the experiences I had with Albion certainly helped me for the rest of my career.”
Ron Saunders was the manager when Goodman joined, and would insist he stayed behind for ten minutes after every training session kicking the ball against a wall with his less favoured left foot.
Ultimately, he went on to score 20 to 30 goals with that left foot during his career, a lot of which he attributes to that additional practice.
But it was the arrival of Stuart Pearson as coach which Goodman really feels provided the catalyst to his spell at The Hawthorns.
“Stuart is a coach who I owe an awful lot to because he invested a lot of time in me in training,” he recalls.
“He taught me how to utilise my assets in terms of pace and power and the timing of my runs, as well as my finishing techniques.
“He moulded me as a player, and turned me from a striker who scored one in every five or six games, to a striker who scored one in every two by the time I moved on.”
Goodman had already become well versed in local derby rivalries whilst at Albion, relishing the renewal of hostilities with Wolves, albeit he was at the other end of the pitch when Steve Bull lashed home the last minute winner in October 1989.
And the law of sod dictated that Goodman’s debut after becoming Sunderland’s record signing should come at Molineux, in the game which saw the Wearsiders reduced to nine men after seven minutes, leaving him ploughing a thankless lone furrow up front before Paul Cook’s late winner.
Agonisingly for the striker, turning out for Albion in a 6-0 FA Cup win against Marlow meant he was cup-tied as Sunderland went all the way to the final and defeat by Liverpool, although his time overall was enjoyable, both for continuing to find the net at regular intervals and also discovering a liking for real ale!
By December 1994 however, a third chance to try and reach the top-flight emerged when Wolves, spending big under Graham Taylor, landed both Goodman and Dutch defender John De Wolf on the same day.
“That squad was put together to get the club to the Premier League, and I saw Wolves as my own vehicle to get there,” he admits.
“As soon as I joined Wolves, I didn’t have a shred of doubt that I wouldn’t become a Premier League player in a very short space of time.
“With Steve Froggatt on one wing, Tony Daley on the other, Bully and David Kelly as strikers, Geoff Thomas in midfield – what’s not to love?
“Graham sold the project to me very easily, and went on to become one of the best managers I ever played under.
“He had an aura about him, he motivated me, and instilled discipline in all of us.
“When I got there – and bear in mind the club had spent all this money (£1.4million) on me – the first thing that happened was that someone threw me a bag with all my training kit and said I’d have to take it home every day and wash it myself.
“That was just one of those little things Graham did to give players responsibility and discipline - he was one of those managers I would run through a brick wall for.
“That wasn’t the same for everyone, and you’d probably find one or two who got on the wrong side of him who might have a different view, but I loved playing for him, and have said many times it was such a huge mistake that Wolves got rid of him when they did.”
By the time Taylor had departed, Wolves had somehow lost out in a play-off semi-final to Bolton, and would succumb to the same fate against Crystal Palace a couple of years later.
For Goodman, there were no hard luck stories, even with the injuries and controversies that played a part in the failure to reach the Promised Land.
“Let’s have it right, as a squad we underachieved,” he insists.
“I would say we were among the best two teams in the Championship every season I was there, and we should have done it.
“Yes, we had some good cup runs along the way, I remember a League Cup quarter final against Villa as well, but the main goal was always going to be getting to the Premier League, and we never quite made it.”
It wasn’t just the FA Cup goal at Leeds but that electric FA Cup run of 1994/95 as well, when not only did Goodman notch that winning spot kick against Sheffield Wednesday but also played his part in teeing up David Kelly for a tremendous headed winner against Leicester in the last 16.
“You won’t see a better goal than that in the FA Cup unless you are very, very lucky,” was the commentary from the legendary John Motson.
Wolves lost in the quarter finals to Crystal Palace in ’95, and, even after Goodman’s exploits at Leeds three years later, Wolves couldn’t quite make it to Wembley, beaten in the semi-final by eventual double winners Arsenal when McGhee’s tactics weren’t quite as impressive as at Elland Road.
But there were a couple of tangible benefits for Goodman to take away from his memorable winner. Firstly, a nice new mountain bike, delivered from the owner of a shop in the city the day after the victory to say thank you for ‘putting a smile on the faces of people from Wolverhampton’. Goodman still has the bike.
And also, as relations between he and McGhee deteriorated, his goal at Leeds helped actually secure a move, and a completely different life experience, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan.
The game had been shown live on television in Japan and so, as he became out of contract and available, they made their move.
On the pitch things didn’t go as well as he might have hoped due to a troublesome hamstring injury. But as a life experience, there were certainly no complaints.
“For me, it’s the best culture in the world,” Goodman enthuses.
“We went out there as a family and embraced it all, and we loved it.
“It’s so respectful and so peaceful, fantastic, such an incredible place.”
There was still time for Goodman to return for further spells in England and Scotland and including, again memorably, back in the Midlands with Walsall.
Memorably because, having been brought to the Saddlers by Ray Graydon, at the grand old age of 35 Goodman scored in the 2001 play-off final at the Millennium Stadium as a 3-2 win over Reading took Walsall into the Championship.
“I could argue that was the best day of my footballing life to be honest,” he reveals.
“It’s a hell of a way to get promoted, to win a play-off final, the best way if you can guarantee it, but the play-offs are also the most painful way not to get up as I experienced a couple of times with Wolves.
“But that was a wonderful day with Walsall coming as it did towards the end of my career.”
When that career did eventually come to a close, boasting almost 700 senior appearances and not far shy of 200 goals, coaching and management was never really in Goodman’s thoughts.
Given the precarious nature of that particular branch of football, and the less time now granted to developing and improving fortunes at clubs, Goodman was looking for a new chapter with more longevity.
And that is why, and how, he entered the world of punditry and co-commentary.
“I kind of read the way the game was going with coaching and management, and felt that if I went down that route and the first job went badly, I might not get another chance,” he explains.
“While I was playing, I was often told by reporters that I was articulate and spoke well and made good points in interviews.
“So, I remember calling the very well-known TV reporter Gary Newbon to see how best to try and build a career in the media.
“He told me to get a column in the local paper – the Express & Star – do some summarising for BBC WM, and that if I was any good BBC Five Live would come and get me, and if I was still any good then Sky Sports might come in.
“To a letter, that is exactly what happened, and I will always be very grateful to Gary for that advice.”
Goodman’s portfolio has featured the complete range of footballing fixtures from the EFL to the Premier League, and international matches to last year’s Champions League final in Paris.
He enjoys the variety and enjoys the pressures and preparation associated with it, even whilst – as we speak – sat stuck in a traffic jam enroute to Watford’s game with West Bromwich Albion.
“We spoke about the work ethic I needed for my football career, and I think the same applies with the punditry,” he says.
“We all put in a huge amount of time prepping for games and I always want to get as much info about each club as I can – there is no cutting corners.
“Having said all that, I never take anything for granted and absolutely love being in football and turning up to give my opinions on matches in a far more stress-free environment.
“If Carlsberg did jobs after playing, then this is certainly the one for me!”
Goodman also still feels fortunate he was able to bring his playing career all the way through to its conclusion, after that deeply worrying injury sustained against Huddersfield after clashing heads with Steve Jenkins in 1996.
“That was one of my nine lives for sure,” he admits, having suffered a fit on arriving at hospital before what effectively amounted to life-saving surgery.
“It was a horrible injury, thankfully one which isn’t common in football, and was a depressed fracture of the skull which was much less complicated than the one suffered by Raul Jimenez at Wolves.
“For me, once the surgeon did the operation and gave me assurances I was going to heal, I was able to get on with football again and carried on heading the ball and sticking my head in where the boots were flying.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but I got back within six months rather than the year’s prediction, and am so grateful to everyone involved – family, friends, team-mates, doctors, physicians - as it was a huge team effort to help me get back to playing football.”
Now, at the age of 56, Goodman is one of those few players who has turned out for Albion, Wolves and Walsall, but has hopefully retained popularity at all.
Apart perhaps from some fan grumbles about some of his co-commentaries, but, given he receives those from all club persuasions, that is probably a sign that, overall, he is doing a good job!
Another feature from his playing days which has endured is his close friendship with Bull, who christened him ‘Prince’ on their first meeting due to his flowing hairstyle, but built up a great rapport on and off the pitch.
“I was sat next to Bully in the dressing room for training and for matches and we just hit it off from the start,” says Goodman.
“We have the same sense of humour and always enjoyed talking about club rivalries from the time the Express & Star got us both to dress up as gangsters ahead of one of the Wolves/Albion games.
“It was a brilliant picture, which I’ve still got on my phone.
“We quickly became good pals, and still are, and that’s even though he’s a bandit at golf with what he claims to be his handicap!”
As well as sharing a dressing room, a career history including both Albion and Wolves, and indeed respective goal-laden careers, the pair also share that work ethic and determination which underpinned so many of their achievements.
For Goodman, that has always been the bare minimum, and it’s that combination of dedication and talent which has seen him become such a success both on the pitch and in the commentary box.
“I have lived the dream, that’s the only way I can put it,” he admits.
“I am so grateful for that, especially when I think back to being 14 or 15 and not really knowing if I would be good enough to have a professional career.
“Maybe that allowed me to play with a smile on my face and not to worry, perhaps in contrast to the young players today where the rewards are incredible but there can be so much pressure.
“To have a dream growing up – and think it would never come true but then it does – I don’t think it gets any better than that, does it?”