Cray Wanderers – Club Class Interview – Sam Wood

One of the stories of the season for Cray Wanderers has been the return of Sam Wood who left the club 17 years ago but most definitely can be claimed as one of our own having come through the reserve team and on to a stellar Football League career. Here Sam looks back at what he has been up to since he left the Wands and also a look back to being a body double for a world class superstar player.


From all at Cray Wanderers a warm welcome back to the club Sam and you seem to have given the team a boost after your first couple of games.

 Before I go into your homecoming in detail I just wanted to look back on your career and your breakthrough with Cray Wanderers through the reserves team to the first team.  I believe you started out at Long Lane FC, a very well respected South East London youth team and then on to the reserve team at Cray via Sam Wright.

 Yes, I was with Long Lane from under 15s to Under 18s and then my dad suggested I try out with Cray Wanderers reserves but I was only 15 at the time and couldn’t sign.  Sam though was keen to sign me but needed league approval as I was 16 in August when the new season is in its second week but was given approval from the league I could sign and did pre-season.  I would then play for both teams playing for Cray on Saturday’s and Long Lane on Sunday’s.

You played a handful of games didn’t you in the Kent League championship winning season of 2002-03 but came more into the side the following year when we won the League and Kent Senior Trophy and a run to the last 8 of the FA Vase.  Those must have been great times to be around the club under Jenko and Joe and fine players in that team like Ricky Bennett and Ross Lover.

Sam, third from left – front  row

The first year I was more involved with the reserves and both teams did the Kent league and cup double that year.  Going into the second year I was in and out of the first team to begin with and then the second part of the season broke more into the team and became a regular.

That’s right, we had a terrific team with the likes of Ian Rawlings at the back, Jamie Kempster and Jamie Wood in midfield so we had a really super side and great to be part of that team and the success they had especially the FA Vase run and long enjoyable trips like West Allotment Celtic.

So 2004-05 we were in the Isthmian League Division One for the first time and we rather set the league by storm, finished in the playoffs and beat Bromley 5-2 at home and also AFC Wimbledon in December 2004 where you scored the goal of the season in the 2-0 victory.

Cray Wanderers 2004-05 – Sam, third from right in the front row 

The Wimbledon win was huge because we knew they were a big team in our league and hadn’t lost in seventy odd games. It was much discussed at the start of the season and we were looking forward to it and when the game came around there was a record attendance for us at Hayes Lane. We got off to a great start and James Millar scored the first goal and then for my goal, James Taylor laid the ball off to me on the half way line and I went on a little run, went past a few people and stuck the ball into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 and a fantastic day for myself and the club.

The following season 2005-06 saw you basically switch changing rooms and signed for Bromley who were now in the Isthmian Premier. Was George Wakeling the manager at that time?

Yes, George was the manager assisted by Billy Smith. That pre-season I went to Dagenham & Redbridge and did a full time pre-season which I had never done before. They offered me a contract but felt it wasn’t right for me so ended up going back to Cray Wanderers on the Saturday. Cray were playing Bromley in a pre-season friendly and I played and I was very fit at the time and George phoned me that night to ask if Cray had signed me for the 2005-06 season and I said they hadn’t. He said he wanted to sign me and they had a game on the Tuesday night and for me to come along and they offered me a decent amount of money and not something I could turn down so I ended up signing for Bromley.

Bromley were promoted from the Isthmian Premier in 2006-07 so they had a very good team at that time.

 We had a fantastic team and that season had a good mixture of experience and young players coming through. It was a fantastic achievement to be promoted and when you see where Bromley are now how the club have progressed over the years this was perhaps the starting point for their eventual progression to becoming an established National League club.

So we move to your Football League career and you went to Brentford for the 2008-09 season who were in League 2 at the time. That must have been a great experience for you as they won the League 2 title that season.

Pic credit: Brentford FC 

That was a great experience under Andy Scott who had become the Bees new manager. I was lucky enough to have Bobby Bowry who was playing for Bromley at the time who was also a football agent and he knew Andy. I was originally going to go to Grays Athletic where Neil Smith had just taken over and Bobby got back to me to say Brentford wanted to take a look at me. I said, no problem and did a week’s training with them, and they were interested and wanted me to go back but at the time I was working and needed money to go back to Brentford. So I went back, they liked what they saw and ended up signing at their end of season party which was a nice touch with the fans and players there. So, I was lucky enough to get a trial at Brentford, and took my chance and had a great time there.

Obviously when you are young all you want to do is play professional football and in my first season we won the League 2 title and I won a few personal awards as well like the Fan’s player of the year. That was an amazing achievement for me and my family especially for my Dad and Great Uncle who love football so to win after my first season as a pro Fan’s Player of the Year was a great feeling.

Around 2011-12 you had a loan spell at Rotherham United didn’t you which seems a long way from South-East London.

Well I had done six months at Brentford and they had a change of manager and Uwe Rosler was appointed and he liked me as a player but the situation had changed in terms of substitutions that year and gone from seven down to five. I think that is what killed my time at Brentford and I knew I wasn’t always going to be a starter. I played most of the away games but for the home games I wasn’t getting a look in so I said to Uwe I need to play some football as it is the last year of my contract.  Luckily for me Andy Scott had just been appointed at Rotherham and knew I was available so took me there on loan potentially until Christmas and then extended until the end of the season. Whilst I was at Rotherham, Sam went up to the Don Valley Stadium to watch Rotherham play Torquay United in a midweek match and was able to follow my pro career by catching the occasional game at all my clubs.

The following season (2012-13) you signed for Wycombe Wanderers where I believe Grant Basey was a player at the time!

Pic:  BBC/Getty Images

Yes, Grant was there when I signed for Wycombe. I didn’t know him before I signed but when I went down there pre-season I spoke to him and mentioned he was from Chislehurst same as me but was living in Wycombe at the time. Sometimes I would drive up but often would get the train. Because he lived there he would pick me up and drive me in and on Friday’s when he would come back home I used to jump in with him and give me a lift all the way home.

Grant is a lovely fella, he would do anything for you.  At the end of that season we had an end of season tour in Marbella with all the Wycombe boys so it was a lovely little trip.

Gary Waddock was the manager who signed me at Wycombe but was sacked during the 2013-14 season and Gareth Ainsworth became manager and hasn’t looked back since. I had a fantastic time at Adams Park and played my best football if I’m honest.  The second season we nearly got relegated on the last day of the season which was at Torquay United and ended up staying up on goal difference and I scored that day which always helps. Obviously you don’t want to be celebrating staying up but it was an amazing feeling.  The following season, getting to the Playoff Final at Wembley was another great personal milestone for me. I was just a young boy from Sidcup/Foots Cray and here I am playing at Wembley.

I was fortunate in my Football League career to play at some great grounds especially when I was at Brentford when they were promoted to League One there were trips to Norwich City, Southampton, Charlton Athletic and Leeds United and at Wycombe got to play at White Hart Lane in the FA Cup, such a famous club and ground and another great moment in my career and a memory I will take away with me. Twice I won the club goal of the season at Wycombe Wanderers and thoroughly enjoyed my time there and the atmosphere and the people involved with the club made me feel so welcome.

Following Wycombe you returned to non-league in 2017-18 but now with teams playing in the National League, the higher echelon of non-league football at Eastleigh, Bromley and Dover Athletic. 

Pic credit: Bromley FC

Eastleigh at this time were managed by Ben Strevens who was a former team-mate at Brentford. He had found out I had left Wycombe as he played there before me as well. He asked what I was doing and I said I was looking for another club and he mentioned to me about coming to Eastleigh. So we had talks and I ended up going to Eastleigh and that was where I first met Andy Hessenthaler who was coach at the time. I had a two year deal there but only did one and then ended up going back to Bromley.  It was great to be back there, the team were doing well and the fans were amazing.  I had a year and a half at Bromley but then Covid-19 kicked in which wasn’t good for a lot of people and killed my hopes of staying at Bromley a little bit longer but it is what it is.

Then Andy Hessenthaler is now at Dover Athletic and I mentioned I had been released by Bromley and ended up signing for them. The club has had a lot of problems which have been well documented but they are a really good club. The job Andy is doing down there is unbelievable, obviously people don’t see what goes on but the situation they are in now is unfortunate but I have so much respect for what Andy is doing. I’m hearing the fans want him out but with the budget and being one of only two teams that are part time in the division has made it hard. We were training Monday and Thursday nights and only half a pitch on a Thursday which restricts what you can do as a team and then you come up against the likes of Stockport County, Wrexham, Chesterfield even Bromley now who are full time and plenty of money floating around for wages. At Dover there was hardly anything and Andy had to use his own van to do the kit and everyone had to muck in together including Nicky Southall with the kit and get the balls out whereas at other clubs players just have to turn up.  There were tough times on the pitch but the boys never give up and Andy is getting the most out of them and they have competed in most games each week.  Hopefully they can sort themselves out and go again to the National League in a few years.

So now you have gone full circle and back at Cray Wanderers. Was this something that was always planned or did Grant or the club contact you for a possible return?

BROMLEY, GREATER LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 05: Cray Wanderers’s Sam Wood controls a high ball during The Pitching In Isthmian Premier League match between Cray Wanderers and Merstham at Hayes Lane on February 05, 2022 in Bromley, Greater London, England . (Photo: © Jon Hilliger / HilligerPix)

 It wasn’t a plan, it was always something that was thought about and I always wanted to come back when the time was right. I have always been close with Gary Hillman’s sons and working with them and always joking around me about coming back to Cray. Things happened and it was spoken about and with Gary and Sam involved and also with Base now the manager but wasn’t initially thought possible but he was keen for me to come and play for him and managed to get the ball rolling.  What Grant is trying to implement at Cray is a different structure and way of playing and can be difficult when it is not your players. He is doing a fantastic job and it is only going to get better. I’ve come back and I’m not going to take all the plaudits but I feel with my experience and age etc it can help with the younger members of the team. To help them on and off the pitch and I think that is what they were lacking. I’ve worked with Base and Gary Alexander so when they spoke to me about what I can bring to the team hopefully that is what I have done for the games against Potters Bar and Merstham as the results have shown that and we can kick on and start to move up the league table,

At the same time what people may not be aware of is that you have been involved with the pre-development phase for Flamingo Park in preparation for the stadium to be built.

Pic credit:  Ozay Booth

At the moment I’m sorting out the existing building and getting that ready with the bar for the fans and the stadium building hopefully will be starting soon. So at the moment getting everything ready for the start of a wonderful new home for Cray Wanderers and the fans and to make the site a better experience for visitors and families.  It will be great for the club locally and to get more fans into the club and will do so with the academies and the youth teams involved. If we can do that then the future of the club is very bright.  For now we will concentrate on this season and the beginning of the building work but once completed for next season/year we will have a great new home for the club.

My final question Sam. I wasn’t sure if this was you but I knew that at one time a Wycombe Wanderers player was a Lionel Messi body double. Was this you by any chance?

Pic:  BBC images

Yes, that was me. I was with an agency and they phoned me and said they wanted a body double for Lionel Messi. Obviously I am not as good as him but they were good times. They flew me to Spain into a warehouse and put me up for a couple of nights. I just did the things he is not allowed to do contractually so did a few adverts, met Ronaldo a few times and I was also Cesc Fabregas’ body double a few years ago.  I was part time then so I haven’t done them for a little while but it was nice to meet Messi.

So you did get to meet him, did he ask for Sam Wood’s autograph?

 Yes, he came on set, on the second day of the two days and I got to meet him and it was an unbelievable experience. He never asked for an autograph but did want some tips on free kicks and corners as he must have been watching some of my videos.