Article: Dave Jones
Happy birthday Ray Woods – my all-time favourite Caernarfon Town player.
Born on June 7, 1965, Ray is just two days older than me!
I’ve always admired tricky players with pace, brave battlers who take defenders on and often deliver a magical end product.
That was Ray. He was a key member of the Caernarfon side which wrote its own chapter in Welsh football history by reaching the third round proper of the 1986-87 FA Cup.
However, perhaps the best game I saw him play in the yellow and green kit was in a pre-season friendly against Liverpool Reserves at The Oval in 1987.
The late and great Anfield legend Tommy Smith was in charge of the Canaries, while the one and only Phil Thompson was player-manager for the Reds.
Other Liverpool names I can remember from the day include goalkeeper Mike Hooper, Mike Marsh, Mark Seagraves and Alan Irvine up front.
It was Irvine who was most in demand from autograph hunters after the game, yet he played very few games for the Reds after joining them from Falkirk. He did look like a superstar though.
Caernarfon won 3-2 and Woods grabbed the winner, rounding off a typically mazy run with a beautiful finish from the edge of the area. It was one of my first reporting assignments and I gave Ray man of the match – Tommy Smith agreed with me.
Birkenhead-born Ray had been a highly-rated schoolboy player before signing as an apprentice for Tranmere Rovers at 16.
He made his first team debut at 17 during a time future legendary Bangor City players and managers Nigel Adkins and Neville Powell were in the squad.
Ray appeared in 16 competitive matches for Rovers before short spells with Bangor (urged to join by Mark Palios), Runcorn and Northwich Victoria followed.
Revered Caernarfon manager John King persuaded Ray to move to The Oval in 1986-87 and the rest is history.
The winger made 57 appearances for the Cofis that season, scoring seven goals, and featuring in those amazing FA Cup wins over Stockport County and York City, as well as both games versus Barnsley, Town eventually losing 1-0 in a replay.
Ray was bought by Colne Dynamoes, but did not fit into their playing style. However, a surprise return to the professional game was in store as Woods was signed by Wigan Athletic, where Ray Mathias was in charge.
Woods made a couple of substitute appearances before Mathias was sacked and Bryan Hamilton, who Ray did not get on with when the Irishman was in charge of Tranmere, took over at Athletic.
Fearing his pro return could be over before it started because of his past relationship with the manager, Hamilton in fact put Woods in the starting line-up straight away.
Bad luck struck when a torn adductor muscle kept Ray out for a year, but a successful rehab at Lilleshall saw him return fitter than he had ever been and a series of brilliant displays for Wigan followed.
In January 1991 came a dream £200,000 move to First Division club Coventry City, where ex-England international defender Terry Butcher was in charge.
Ray made 21 league starts for the Sky Blues and Graham Taylor showed an interest in selecting him for the England B squad.
Unfortunately his groin problems returned after a game at Arsenal and this time kept the player out of action for two years.
He was released by Coventry in 1994, and signed for Shrewsbury Town, where he had been on loan the year before.
Two good seasons followed, including winning the Football League Division Three title in 1993-94, but when his contract was up Ray switched briefly to Telford before seeing out his career at Worcester City, where he became youth academy manager for nine years.
Ray has kept in contact with Caernarfon Town and in March 2017 was among the FA Cup side of 1986-87 who returned to The Oval for a special reunion.
As the years have progressed, Darren Thomas and Nathan Craig have challenged Ray for my No 1 Caernarfon player of all-time spot, but to this day, the esteemed Mr Woods remains top of my list.
Happy birthday Ray! 🍾🍾🍾🎂🎂🎂