‘It’s been a bit of a journey’: Stuart Wood reflects on his time as Cambridge United chaplain
Stuart Wood has stepped down as Cambridge United chaplain after 12 years
Dressing up as Marvin the Moose? Running the club shop? Making pitch announcements?
Just some of the jobs Stuart Wood has been happy to oblige doing since becoming Cambridge United’s first club chaplain in 2005.
Now, Wood, who is the minister at Barnwell Baptist Church, is packing in the role after 12 years as a result of work and family commitments – his four sons compete at county level in cross-country running, often clashing with United matchdays, and he wants to support them more.
Not that it was an easy call for him to make due to his attachment to United.
He said: “It’s been a bit of a journey. The church is growing – in the last year we’ve set up a second service on a Sunday, so it’s not just a morning service, it’s morning and afternoon – and my capacity to keep doing more is limited.
“I’m not somebody who likes to do things by half-measures. If I’m committed, I’m committed and that makes it difficult to juggle.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought, it’s not been a snap decision. I’ve wrestled with it, but I felt now was a good time.”
Wood got involved with United after getting in touch with then fans’ director Brian Attmore, but he admitted there was scepticism in some quarters.
He said: “They left me to forage a furrow and develop it the way I felt it needed to be developed.
“In the early days there was a bit of suspicion. There was ‘what’s this all about?, why do we need a chaplain?’
“But some managers had experience of chaplains elsewhere, some you start from ground zero.
“With people like Josh (Coulson) though, you’ve got someone on your side in the dressing room.
“He gets what I’m about and you’ve got an advocate in the club environment who can say ‘he’s okay, he’s not going to Bible-bash you’.
“I’m more than happy to talk about my faith, but I’m not going to ram it down anyone’s throats.
“I’m there because I care for people, but I believe it’s my faith that’s given me that.
“I guess I’ve been the pastoral presence. The management and coaches are very focused on performance of the players and staff are very focused on delivering for the games.
“I’ve been about keeping an eye on people, and it’s not a role that fits anyone else’s job description.
“For example with Simon and Nicole Dobbin, I’ve been able to step in and see if I could be the link to them from the club because it doesn’t fit anywhere else.
“I’m a people person and that’s about being a friendly face and being available and accessible.”
As mentioned above though, Wood has taken on more than he bargained for at times.
He said: “I ran the club shop for an afternoon once before Christmas a few years ago when everyone was a bit stressed, I’ve dressed up as Marvin the Moose and I’ve sold raffle tickets to Norwich City fans.
“I didn’t expect to do the pitch announcements on the pitch, but I did that for five years and I played a couple of charity games – it was good fun playing with Jimmy Quinn. In terms of work, I never said no to anything.”
Wood said he would miss the camaraderie of the training ground, having built up strong relationships with staff and players.
He added: “With most teams, they come to Cambridge United and they’ve got an ex-player in their ranks.
“It was certainly like that in the Conference most weeks, but I’ve always made the point of going and speaking to then because it was an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves.
“Some I kept in touch with more than others, but certainly I’ll miss that connection with the wider football community.
“But I’m not leaving the area or the church, so if people need me I’m still going to be around.
“Hopefully they’ll be able to appoint another chaplain who can plough their own furrow and take it on.”