Dan Westwood is a schoolteacher from Wolverhampton. He also has a part-time job some evenings and weekends: center-forward for Wolverhampton Sporting CFC, and one of the most relentless goalscorers in non-league football.
Westwood’s record is like something from a computer game. Last Saturday he scored two in a 6-1 win over Gornal Athletic. The first, a brilliant free-kick, was his 100th goal for the club – in only his 72nd game. This season he has already scored 54 times, including five consecutive hat-tricks.
The 25-year-old plays in the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division, at the 10th tier of English football, but goalscoring of this kind is unusual at any adult level. As a result he is being monitored by clubs at every level, including the Premier League.
It is quite a rise. At the start of last season Westwood was playing Sunday league and had turned his back on the semi-professional game. Wolverhampton Sporting persuaded him to have one last try: 16 months and 101 goals later, it looks a decent decision.
A move up the league pyramid – in the summer or maybe sooner – seems inevitable. “I finished top goalscorer in the league last season and I’m en route to doing that this season,” Westwood says. “I wouldn’t say this level feels easy but I know I can do it, so now I want to test myself.”
There is clear encouragement in the success of former non-league strikers such as Jamie Vardy and particularly Burnley’s Andre Gray. Westwood played alongside him and Sam Winnall of Sheffield Wednesday, the Championship player of the month in December, for Wolverhampton Schoolboys. “They’re all inspirational stories – especially Andre,” he says. “I’m still in touch with him, and it’s amazing what he’s done.”
Westwood recently joined an agency run by the former Leicester and Aston Villa striker Julian Joachim. “It was a no-brainer really,” he says. “I thought: why not? I’m under no illusions but I’ve got nothing to lose. My contract will be up in May. At this level it’s unusual to have contracts or an agent, so it’s a bit of a grey area in terms of what I can and can’t do.”
On the field, it is clear what he can do. Westwood’s manager, Andy Paddock, says he has “never seen anyone with such natural knowhow of what positions to be in”. Westwood agrees that much of it is instinctive. “My movement’s my biggest strength,” he says. “Nobody’s ever said to me: ‘You need to be in that position at that time.’ I don’t think you can coach that side of it.” But there is one piece of coaching that has stayed with him. “The best advice I received was from my manager at West Midlands County. He told me that you should always make one run for the defender and another for yourself. That’s what I try to do all the time. That’s always stuck in my head.”
The head has been a major part of Westwood’s career, though not necessarily in the Andy Carroll sense. Confidence has been the key to his success. “It differs from player to player but for me, in that position, it’s massive. If you’re scoring regularly you can take that into the next game. Sometimes you go through one-on-one and you don’t even see the goalkeeper; you’re on such a good run that you’re not even thinking. Everything’s just natural.”
Westwood spends Monday to Friday working as a PE teacher at a primary school. “Some of the five- and six-year-olds bring in the paper cutouts and say: ‘This isn’t you! You’re a footballer, you can’t be a teacher as well.’ They think I’m too old.”
Westwood is relatively old for an up-and-coming footballer. “I spoke to the manager a couple of weeks ago and he said: ‘Where have you been for the last few years?’” Westwood was released by Port Vale as a teenager and then left a scholarship with Burton Albion to get an office job, before deciding to go to university.
“It took me a long time to adapt to men’s football. I was a good youth player – I was always top scorer – but I bounced around a lot of non-league sides until a couple of years ago. It took me a while to work out how to beat defenders who are a bit older, a bit wiser, a bit stronger, and who could smash you if they wanted. I fell out of love with football a bit and started to think it wasn’t meant to be. I decided to just play Sundays and get some love back for the game.”
It worked. He started scoring goals for fun in every sense. After a short spell with the Midland League side Sporting Khalsa in 2015, when he scored a bagful in pre-season but then lost his place because of a pre-booked holiday to Croatia, Westwood again went back to playing Sunday league. “A couple of weeks later Wolves Sporting got in touch and said: ‘Just give it one last chance, if you’re not enjoying it you can leave.’”
He did not score on his debut but made up for that 47 times before the end of last season. Wolves Sporting finished fourth and qualified for the FA Cup for the first time in their history. At the start of this season he scored those five hat-tricks; Guinness only officially records consecutive hat-tricks in the top flight – the record is four by Japan’s Masashi Nakayama for Jubilo Iwata in 1998 – but many think Westwood equaled a world record. And in his first game of 2017 he scored his first double hat-trick in an 11‑1 League Cup win over Gornal.
It will soon be time for the next step. Instinctive movement is Westwood’s biggest on-field strength, and now he has to judge how far up the leagues he should move. “I wouldn’t want to put a cap on it,” he says. “The defenders would be a lot better but then so would the service. I’d never say ‘I can’t play at that level’ until I try. If it doesn’t work, I can take that on the chin. It might be that this level is right for me, but I want to find out. I want to go as high as I can.”