THE quote at the top of an Albion matchday programme feature about Paul Wood sums up his Brighton career perfectly.
“I’ve played so many positions at the Albion. I’m not sure that I consider myself a centre-forward any more.
“Actually, playing on the right as I am now takes my career virtually full circle – I always used to be a winger before I joined Portsmouth.”
Manager Barry Lloyd bought Wood from Portsmouth in the summer of 1987 to play up front alongside Kevin Bremner, with Garry Nelson wide on the left.
Nelson, of course, thought otherwise – and 32 goals in a promotion season playing down the middle rather proved him right.
Thus Wood found himself deployed in that rather dubious-sounding role of ‘utility player’.
“A couple of goals would have done me great guns when I got a chance up front,” Wood admitted. “I don’t think I let anybody down when Nelson and Bremner were injured but I wasn’t putting them away.
“It didn’t really bother me too much. I was most happy just to be getting first team football, especially as I had spent the previous year at Portsmouth, while they got promoted to Division One, watching from the stands.”
A pelvis ligament problem had sidelined Wood at Fratton Park so the new lease of life as part of a promotion-winning squad was a welcome break.
“I enjoyed last season, even though I never really settled into a position,” he said.
Born in Saltburn-by-the-Sea in the north east on 1 November 1964, at one point it was thought Wood’s football career was over almost before it had begun.
As a talented schoolboy footballer, he was spotted playing for Middlesbrough Boys as the side won the English Schools’ Trophy. His school headteacher had connections at Elland Road so he went for a trial but only 15 minutes into the game broke a leg.
It seems he had broken a knuckle at the back of his knee and the Leeds physio, Bob English, took a look at the injury and said: “Sorry son, you’ve broken your leg, ripped all the ligaments, and I think you’re finished.”
Thankfully for the budding young footballer, the dire diagnosis was wrong, but it put him off trying to make it at Leeds and instead he got picked up by Portsmouth whose scout in the north had seen him playing for Guisborough under-16s.
It was a long way from home, but he appreciated the club’s more caring nature and when a homesick Wood mentioned how he was feeling, manager Frank Burrows took £30 from his own pocket to send the youngster home for a break.
Wood’s Pompey debut eventually came, ironically at Middlesbrough, after Bobby Campbell had taken over in the manager’s chair.
Originally, he had only travelled with the squad so that he could visit friends and relatives but a couple of players fell ill and Wood got his big chance.
“Before I knew it, I was in the team,” he said. “I think that’s the best game I’ve ever played, although it flew past so fast.”
Another favourite moment came when he scored two in a 4-0 win over Shrewsbury. England World Cup winner Alan Ball had succeeded Campbell as manager and said after the 21-year-old’s performance ‘a star is born’. Wood told portsmouth.co.uk: “That will stay with me for the rest of my life. For somebody who has achieved what he has in football and the respect he commands to come out and give me that compliment was a great feeling.
“It was a game where everything seemed to go right. I scored a couple and was in confident form.”
A run in the team followed for Wood, who made 25 league appearances as Pompey fell just short of promotion.
The following season, he only played seven games at the start of the season before sustaining the pelvic injury he put down to playing three times on plastic pitches in the space of three weeks.
By the time Wood had made his recovery, Pompey were playing in the top flight and he had fallen down the pecking order. The move to Brighton came about after Wood scored a hat-trick for Portsmouth’s reserves.
He told portsmouth.co.uk: “I was disappointed to go because I never really wanted to leave but I had a mortgage to pay and no bonuses on appearance money was forthcoming.”
Ironically it was the long-term injury problems to crowd favourite Steve Penney that presented Wood with a lot of his games at Brighton and when Penney got back into the side in 1989, Wood put in a transfer request because he felt he was doing well enough to merit a place.
Penney was to move on before Wood but eventually, after two and a half seasons with the Seagulls in which he played 88 games + 17 as sub, and scored just eight goals, he was sold.
That canny transfer market operator Lloyd had acquired the services of one-time England international wideman Mark Barham, who had been written off elsewhere because of injury issues, so he dispensed with Wood’s services by selling him to promotion-chasing Sheffield United.
On 5 May 1990, Wood was on the scoresheet as Dave Bassett’s United beat Leicester City 5-2 to earn promotion to the top division. Playing alongside him were current Blades manager Chris Wilder, former Albion assistant manager Bob Booker and Mark Morris, who went on to play for Bournemouth and Brighton.
In 1991, Wood played 21 games for Bournemouth on loan from United, before making the move permanent, and in three years with the Cherries he scored 18 times in 78 appearances.
Then, in a deal that saw the Cherries acquire out-of-favour Portsmouth striker Warren Aspinall (the current BBC Radio Sussex matchday summariser) Wood returned to Fratton Park.
He said: “It was fantastic for me to get the opportunity to return to the club.”
Pompey used him as more of a utility player than ever before, Jim Smith playing him in midfield and his successor Terry Fenwick even trying him at wing-back. Sadly, though, he suffered a bad knee injury that curtailed his professional career, causing him to retire in 1996.
He managed to play 20 games and score 15 goals for a Hong Kong side, Happy Valley, in 1997-98 and back in the UK linked up with National League South side Havant & Waterlooville.
He spent five years there, retiring at the end of the 2002-03 season after playing 137 games and scoring 48 goals.
Wood now runs his own Bournemouth-based decorating business.