'I wanted to be anywhere else but Ipswich... thankfully everything changed' - Woolfenden on his Town resurgence

Luke Woolfenden has been in outstanding form for Ipswich Town

Luke Woolfenden has been in outstanding form for Ipswich Town - Credit: Stephen Waller

As 2021 was coming to an end, Luke Woolfenden was desperate for a fresh start away from Ipswich Town. 

The turnaround at the start of 2022 has been spectacular. 

Paul Cook’s reign at Portman Road was difficult for a central defender who has always shown real promise. He made just one league start under his former boss once a chaotic August was over. That solitary start, at Plymouth in October, only came due to a real injury crisis. He was shoehorned in at right-back. 

Out of the team, not in the manager’s plans and even cast aside in training, the 23-year-old had reached a dead end and struggled to get himself out of bed in the morning to head to Playford Road. 

His time with his local club was coming to an end. 

“I think it would have been certain, to be fair,” Woolfenden said, when asked if he would have left Ipswich in January had Cook still been in charge. 

“It was nailed on. I wasn’t playing or making squads. I was training with the Under 23s most of the time so I was nailed on to go. 

Most Read

“I was looking forward to leaving, the way it was going. I was waking up most mornings and wanting to be anywhere else other than Ipswich. I was coming in for training in a bad mood and I’m never in a bad mood. That’s not me. 

“If it wasn’t for my girlfriend telling me to go then I wouldn’t have gone. I’d have stayed in bed. It got to a point where I was hating coming to football because it seemed no matter what I was doing or how well I did, it didn’t change anything. 

“It got to a stage where you’re thinking ‘I need to go because my head’s in the bin and nothing’s going to change’. 

“Thankfully it did change and thankfully I kept coming in.” 

Luke Woolfenden and Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna, on the pitch at the end of the 3-0 victory

Luke Woolfenden and Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna, on the pitch at the end of the 3-0 victory over Burton Albion. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Kieran McKenna’s arrival is the spark which has revived Woolfenden’s Town career, with the new boss making him a central figure in a defence which has gone on to be almost impenetrable. 

But there’s another man who deserves a slice of the credit. 

“It was John McGreal’s first day as caretaker,” Woolfenden recalls. “He walked over in training and he put his arm round me and asked me what had been going on. 

“He told me that I should at the very least be playing here and that I should be playing in a higher league. He was brilliant with me and still is now, helping me out with my game and talking to me about things. He’s been unbelievable. 

“I played in John’s last game against Sunderland and did pretty well. Then, when Kieran came in, it was the same. 

Caretaker manager John McGreal about to bring on Conor Chaplin.

Caretaker manager John McGreal about to bring on Conor Chaplin. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

“He called me into his office and told me that everything that had gone on before is done now and that there was a clean slate. It was time to just get on with it and work together.” 

Work together Woolfenden and McKenna have, with the defender enjoying the best run of form of his career to date. 

“It’s the best I’ve been, 100%,” he said. 

“When I first broke in and then now are probably the two best patches of form I’ve had for Ipswich and it’s no coincidence they’re the times I’ve been enjoying my football most. They come hand-in-hand together. 

“Everyone needs a bit of love sometimes and, even in the sessions now, if you ask the players who aren’t nailed on starters every week then they would still tell you things are good. That probably wasn’t the case under previous managers. 

Luke Woolfenden back in the team for the trip to Home Park.

Luke Woolfenden back in the team for the trip to Home Park. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

“We’re flying at the minute and have so much confidence. The passages of play which break out occasionally are top level. The mood is really high. 

“Off the pitch the improvements at the ground are great, so on the pitch and off it, it feels like a really good time to be an Ipswich fan. After the years the fans have had that’s long overdue. 

“Even if we don’t make it this season then, in the summer, the atmosphere will be buzzing for the new season because they know what we’ve done since the gaffer came in.” 

The recent draw at Oxford saw Woolfenden clock up his Ipswich Town century, becoming only the 10th academy graduate to reach three figures in Blue since the club’s finishing school opened its doors in its current form in the late 1990s. 

“It’s not bad going and something to be proud of with my local club,” he said, after joining the likes of Tommy Smith, Luke Hyam, Darren Bent and Teddy Bishop on the list. 

“These days it doesn’t happen so much, with a lot of chopping and changing, so it’s something to be proud of. It’s not something I’ve really thought but it’s great to get there. 

Luke Woolfenden, pictured on his Ipswich Town debut at Luton in 2017

Luke Woolfenden, pictured on his Ipswich Town debut at Luton in 2017 - Credit: Pagepix

“I made my debut a fair whack back but I’ve racked up a few since. 

“I still remember my debut really well, at Luton. I wasn’t expecting to play because defenders on the bench don’t often come on, but Adam Webster got injured. I didn’t really have time to be nervous. 

“Coming through the academy, you’re always looking for the debut and that’s a stage not many get to. I didn’t really dream of reaching 100. 

“Players who came through the academy before me have either not kicked on or been sold before they got to 100 so it’s not ever something I really thought of.  

“Now I need to get to 200.” 

And Woolfenden’s first goal on the road to a double century? 

“The reason I signed a new deal here (in 2020) is because I’ve always wanted to get promoted with Ipswich and get back to the Championship at least,” he said. 

“It’s a level a club this big deserves to be at at least. 

“If it’s not to be this year, we’re in a really good place to make it happen next season.” 

Only 10 Ipswich Town academy graduates have reached 100 appearances for the first-team. Woolfenden has now made 101

Only 10 Ipswich Town academy graduates have reached 100 appearances for the first-team. Woolfenden has now made 101 - Credit: Archant

The breakdown of Luke Woolfenden's first 100 Ipswich Town appearances by manager

The breakdown of Luke Woolfenden's first 100 Ipswich Town appearances by manager - Credit: Andy Warren