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The Craddock Years

PUBLISHED

08:05 17th May 2013

Reflections on the career of popular defender

Any football club would be enriched by the presence of a player like Jody Craddock.

A consummate professional, always giving 100 per cent, leading by example – all well-worn footballing clichés but, in Craddock’s case, words which describe the footballer to perfection.

In each and every of one of his 581 senior appearances, from a debut for Cambridge against Stockport in December 1993, to a final outing – fittingly against Sunderland – 18 years later, it is safe to assume the Redditch-born defender never offered up anything less than his absolute all.

The same applied to any gym or training session too, leaving some strikers, even from his own team, in slight fear of the weekly practice matches that saw them ‘do battle’ with the indefatigable number six.

Someone who gave no end of sweat, and very often blood, for the cause, whether that be at Cambridge, Sunderland or Wolves or indeed during loan spells with Woking, Sheffield United and Stoke.

And all carried out in his own unassuming and yet fiercely competitive way which meant that while certainly never one of the loudest in the dressing room, he would more than hold his own amid the regular verbal sparring of such an environment and would equally command immense respect from team-mates of all age and experience levels for his conduct and approach.

Perfect ‘skipper’ material, as was proven during his ten year Molineux tenure in which he interspersed captaincy duties with Karl Henry, the pair both lifting the Championship trophy on that memorable Molineux afternoon four years ago this month.

Perfect ‘big occasion’ material as well, shown not only by his impact in the closing stages of the promotion and then first survival season - in which he was named Player of the Year - but also the recall to the ranks for the home run of 2010/11, when scoring one of the more important of his 17 Wolves goals, back on Wearside at the Stadium of Light.

It was the reception received at that same venue on his first visit back in November, 2004, that demonstrated to all how Craddock’s abilities and personality have transcended any club affiliation.

Named as a Wolves substitute for the first game following Dave Jones’s departure, Craddock never even made it onto the pitch to face the club he had graced for six years prior to arriving at Molineux.

But as he trotted up the touchline to warm up for the first time, the realisation from the home fans that one of their own had returned saw a warm ovation quickly turn into something far more spine-tingling as the entire stadium united in an applause of appreciation.

As at Molineux, football fans from the North East possess a fairly astute judgement when it comes to assessing the personalities of their players, and that night’s reception for Craddock said all that needed to be said for a player whom, while never perhaps spectacular, would rarely let anyone down.

It was also a recognition of course of the personal tragedy which Craddock and wife Shelley had gone through during his time at Sunderland with the loss of four-month-old son Jake to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and in turn a mark of the support they received from the Club at such an horrendously difficult time.

Family man to the core, Craddock is undoubtedly as far removed from what now passes for the stereotype of a modern footballer as you could ever wish to find.

If ever a man treated football as his job – albeit aware it was a privileged one – but was also left completely unmoved by its associated trappings and paraphernalia then Craddock is that man.

As mentioned, you could never cast even the slightest of doubts on his commitment and competitive nature once crossing the white line.

But once the game was over it would be back home to the family, and often up to the attic to continue to work on the artistic prowess which will now become a high quality second career.

Ask Craddock to recall a particularly impressive individual performance against an opposition striker from a couple of years earlier or what many might consider an important win for the team on a previous visit to a stadium he would simply smile and reply: “I don’t remember that one.”

He genuinely wouldn’t either.  A case of performance given.  Job done.  Off home and let’s move on to the next one.

It wasn’t all plain sailing of course.

Like anyone with a footballing career spanning almost two decades, there were sometimes dips in performance levels and when despatched on loan to Stoke in August, 2007, it appeared that Craddock’s Molineux days were nigh.

But Wolves picked up injuries, the defender was called back, and never was then manager Mick McCarthy – ultimately one of Craddock’s greatest supporters - happier to be proved wrong.

“He’s a man’s man is Jody,” McCarthy would often say thereafter.

“He’ll head it and kick it, and do exactly what it says on the tin.”

There was more to him than that of course, and McCarthy would regularly laud his exemplary work-rate and dedication to duty.

There was also something of a striker’s eye for goal which saw him once net four successive Wolves goals in the Premier League, not to forget a stunning Carling Cup volley against Bradford.

But it was in that bouncing back from nearly leaving that Craddock again showed to all and sundry what he is really made of, seemingly maturing with age in his standard of performance and winning over the Molineux faithful to such an extent that THAT song will now never be forgotten.

He’s certainly ‘alright’ is Craddock, and his influence will not be forgotten, as he moves on to his next personal chapter.

Look around Molineux and Compton and there will be many both on and off the pitch who will have learned much from his unflustered personality and steely professionalism, and will wish him well as he is able to concentrate more on his art and home life with Shelley and their three wonderful boys Joseph, Luke and Toby.

First though comes a much-deserved testimonial year, and plans for a series of events to mark ten years of Wolves’ service for which a proportion of the proceeds will head to two local charities.

It is at Birmingham Children’s Hospital where three-year-old Toby has been treated since being diagnosed with leukaemia 12 months ago, and his excellent progress thus far is testament to the level of care and expertise received.

Craddock is also patron of the Balls to Cancer charity set up by Wolves fan Mark Bates which aims to improve awareness of male cancers and help – via various fundraising events – promote education and research.

Two very worthy causes, which will hopefully receive a healthy boost thanks to the events of the forthcoming 12 months.

The last Wolves player to receive a testimonial was goalkeeper Matt Murray, a former team-mate of Craddock, most memorably during the 2006/07 season when a hastily rebuilt team so very nearly achieved the most unlikeliest of promotions.

Murray feels privileged to have played alongside a team-mate he forever refers to as ‘Skip’ and it is fitting that he should have the last word on the end of an illustrious career.

“Jody was never the loudest in the dressing room but he had a presence and led by example, and, to a man, everyone respected him,” says Murray.

“He’s a great guy off the pitch, such a brilliant family man, but when he was out there he was fiercely competitive and we always knew that he’d got all our backs.

“I used to call him ‘the Machine’, because he suffered so many scrapes and head injuries and so on – his wife Shelley is a physio and I swear she must have to put him back together every night to get him back out there!

“The one thing I will never forget is one day when I was working with him in the gym, and we started chatting about what we might do after retirement.

“He just turned to me and said, ‘you know what Matty, when I retire I will do it knowing  I’ve done the very best that I could with what I was given, and that there won’t be any regrets at all’.

“What a great thing for a professional footballer to be able to look back on – there probably aren’t many who can say they did that in every training session and every game but Jody knew he would be able to look himself in the mirror and be satisfied with what he had achieved.”

And so say all of us…….

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