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Black History Month: Don Goodman

8 October 2021

There was a point in Don Goodman’s career when the former EFL footballer was torn between two career paths - and two professions that are poles apart, at that.

The West Yorkshire-born striker fully appreciates that instead of making memories for hundreds of thousands of football fans, he could have been rewiring houses, had he completed his electrician apprenticeship as a teenager.

But he wouldn’t change a thing about his career path, which paved the way to where he is today.

“Getting up at 6am and catching two buses across Leeds to get to work gave me a grounding for hard work,” he explained. “I played with freedom because I didn’t think I was good enough to be a professional footballer, so I was just enjoying it.

“That’s basically what my football career ended up being based on. I wouldn’t describe myself as being an easy-on-the-eye or technically gifted player, but the fans got behind me because I left everything out there, whether I played good, bad or indifferent.”

He was plying his trade in the Northern Counties East League for Collingham when he appeared on Bradford City’s radar. After attending a trial game, he scored all three goals in 3-2 win and was offered an apprenticeship by the club, which he turned down.

“My parents did a bit of investigating and we discovered that only 10% of 16-year-olds got taken on professionally those days and have a long career in football and make a living,” he noted. “Those odds weren’t good enough for me to give up my apprenticeship as an electrician because I had a job for life with Leeds City Council.

“I played Saturday morning for Bradford City juniors, I played Saturday afternoon for Collingham, I played for a Sunday team and then in midweek, I played for Bradford City reserves on a Tuesday or a Wednesday.”

He eventually took the plunge a few years later when he was handed his Bantams bow by the late Trevor Cherry, aged 17.

“I had to get the afternoon off work to play the midweek game against Newport County in what is now League One. That’s where you have the opportunity of a lifetime and you need to try and grab it with both hands.

“Again, the sensible part of me and the mentors around me wrote to the electrical board and explained that I had this opportunity to become a professional football and I’d been given a two-year contract. We asked, if it didn’t work out for me, if I could go back and finish my apprenticeship as an electrician. I got a lovely letter back from them saying absolutely and wishing me all the luck in the world.”

Tragedy struck at the tail end of the 1984/85 season, on the day Bradford were set to seal their promotion to the then-Second Division.

Merriment turning to mourning but from that day on, there isn’t a day that the former forward hasn’t thought of the 56 people who lost their lives in the Bradford City fire, with the events of that afternoon giving him a new drive.

“The Bradford fire tarnished everything and led to the whole community mourning for months and years, and how it all affected us in different ways. It was a traumatic ending, and it stays with you forever.

“We went and played home games the following season at Leeds United and Huddersfield Town, and we were embraced. Everybody felt our pain. Had we not been so tight-knit, I don’t know what the future would’ve held. When we went on after that, we were representing the 56 people that lost their lives and we took pride in it.”

Fast forward over 15 years and, with his career seemingly drawing to a close, Goodman was snapped up by Walsall on transfer deadline day, following spells abroad in Japan and north of the border with Motherwell.

He went on to win the second trophy of his career with the Saddlers. After tasting defeat with Wolverhampton Wanderers in Play-Off Semi-Finals, Goodman and Walsall came from behind twice in the 2000/01 Second Division Play-Off Final to defeat Reading and he even made the score-sheet.

“It was a bonus time in my career. The opportunity came up to come back to the Midlands where I’d kept a house and where my daughter was born. It was a place we wanted to settle.

“Walsall were hovering around the Play-Off places and Ray Graydon decided he wanted a bit of experience to try and get them over the line. We played Stoke in the Play-Off Semi-Finals. I remember going through one-on-one and missing a chance and we ended up drawing 0-0 so I prayed that didn’t come back to haunt me.

“We went into that Final against Reading as total underdogs and Reading had 40,000 fans in the stadium that day. It was the highlight of my career at the grand old age of 35 where I thought the best times of my career might have passed me by. The game was quite remarkable – it was open and entertaining; we were behind not once but twice and it could have gone either way.”

“It was an equalising goal at the Millennium Stadium, which was a stunning stadium. I think I lost my mind for 10 seconds and sprinted off towards the corner flag to attempt a Klinsmann dive. It wasn’t graceful! It’s an emotion that’s hard to put into words.”

With a 20-year-career in his wake and time to reflect on his accomplishments since calling time on his playing days in 2003, the now-55-year-old considers his off the pitch achievements to be greater than any goal scored or game won.

“I don’t view the achievements in my life that are known to the public as the best achievements of my life. Creating my two beautiful children, for instance, is far and away the best thing that I’ve done. Getting awarded an honorary fellowship from the University of Wolverhampton for my services to charity far outweighs anything I was able to achieve on a football pitch or in front of a television camera.

“For me, I just count myself very lucky. If over the course of that time where I’ve had the privilege of doing something that I love doing I’ve inspired one single person, then that will do for me.”

Black History Month presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on his own story and hear other people's achievements - something which Goodman is a keen advocate for.

He added: “I’ve heard things during the course of Black History Month previously that I would never have known. It’s an education and an enlightenment, and all the good things in a world where there’s so many bad things going on.

“The good things in life should be celebrated so for me, it’s a celebration and it’s black history and black culture, but it’s a celebration of success stories. Success stories span all walks of life but it’s wonderful that we can utilise the month to hear about some of these wonderful stories.”

Throughout Black History Month, the EFL is celebrating current and former players and managers that have had an impact on the game by telling their stories in a series hosted by radio and television presenter Nick Bright.

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