Hornet Heaven Deceased Player of the Month: Harry Wood
Footballers leave the pitch, or miss games, for all kinds of reasons. Twice, Harry Wood had reasons that were somewhat unusual. Olly Wicken tells the story.
Harry Wood was a regular for Watford in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But it was his absence from the pitch on two occasions that was particularly remarkable.
One of those occasions was in 1900. After winning Southern League Division Two, Watford went into a play-off against the team that finished bottom of the First Division. It was a one-off home game against Sheppey United, scheduled for 4pm on Monday 30 April. But the visitors missed a train connection and arrived late, so the match didn’t kick off until twenty minutes before it had been due to end. Harry started the delayed game at wing-half.
Watford went 1-0 up before half-time. Victory would see them promoted and playing against West Ham and Spurs in Division One the following season. But in the second period, at about 6:45pm, Harry had to leave the field. In those days, there were no substitutes, so it took something serious for a player to go off. This was serious. Harry was called to his mother’s death-bed.
Some things are more important than football. Harry rushed away from Cassio Road with around 15 minutes of the match to play. In the end, Watford’s ten men won 2-1 and Harry missed the promotion celebrations.
The other occasion was in 1899. Harry had started all of Watford’s League games so far that season, but was missing for the home match against Chesham on 31 March. That morning, he’d been busy rescuing survivors of a shipwreck in the English Channel.
He hadn’t been due to play at Cassio Road. A squad of Watford players had gone on a club trip to the Channel Islands to play games in Jersey and Guernsey over Easter. At 7am on the 31st, their steam ship (SS Vera) came across two lifeboats from the SS Stella that had hit the rocks off Alderney the day before. Harry and the other Watford players helped the 67 survivors onto the SS Vera. Then they gave up their cabin berths and revived and comforted the freezing and exhausted victims of the shipwreck.
One of the survivors sent a letter to the Watford Observer the following week. He wrote: ‘I rejoice to bear testimony to this illustration of the fact that athletes develop not only muscle but heart and character, and in fact all that constitutes manliness. The Watford footballers — God bless them.’
Harry was a hero that day. And he would go on to be a hero again when he fought on the Western Front in the First World War. His death in 1921, at the age of 42, would be attributed to his having been gassed in the trenches.
He arrived in Hornet Heaven having made 124 competitive appearances for Watford, scoring 14 goals. When he made his final appearance, in 1901, he’d played more Southern League games for the club than anyone else. But the most remarkable thing was why, twice in just over a year, he hadn’t been playing.