by Nicole Wright | Jun 23, 2014

Data by Day; Soccer by Night

Growing up in Badsworth, West Yorkshire, UK, and Oakville, Ontario, Simon Wood dreamed of becoming a world-class soccer player. Instead, he became a world-class soccer fan. So while his playing skills may not place him among the ranks of Pele, Ronaldo or George Best, he knows soccer with the same insider’s intelligence that he brings to his role managing client relations in the data analytics world.  And as the IT-savvy manager of data installations for the Generation5 data products at Environics Analytics, Simon is now a first team player in the eyes of his clients and coworkers.

Born in Pontefact, UK, Simon spent his early years in Badsworth, a small village near Leeds. His mother, a homemaker turned pediatrician’s assistant, came from a family of coal miners, and his father’s family had a long heritage of serving in the military. Carol and Bob Wood met in Brigg, Lincolnshire in 1968 but Simon says his parents never imagined they would be living in Oakville today. “My dad worked in the retail trade for a company that had a partnership with Marks and Spencer – you know, famous for underwear,” he says. “But they wanted to expand to Canada so they transferred my dad to Ontario to help open the stores, and we ended up in Oakville in the early eighties.”

Now that his father has retired from a career as a retail executive in Canada, each week, Simon heads to his parents’ place for a meal in the original home they bought in Oakville in 1982. With thick English accents, his family is often a source of entertainment for his friends, notes Simon. They also appreciate his father’s wry and somewhat sarcastic sense of humour and the couple’s culinary preferences.  “To hang out with my family,” says Simon, “you must love mashed potatoes, roast beef and good ale.”

Growing up, Simon recalls being an average student in high school who became more focused in college. In 2004, he graduated from a four-year program at Sheridan College in Oakville as a systems analyst, but he never imagined a career in analytics. A chance opportunity with Generation5 over seven years ago landed him in the world of data-analytics . Simon’s  resume, was plucked from the sea of job seeker resumes posted on Workopolis, by a recruiter who led him to the world of analytics at Generation5. His work as a Client Relationship Manager at Environics Analytics involves managing the release of the Generation5 suite of data products and providing customer support. A seasoned veteran of his job, he says he still finds it challenging during production season – even running installations on weekend to ensure the products are ready for release. But he says he feels fulfilled from the job when customers are happy with the products.

gotw-simon-wood-1At  work , Simon comes across as one of the calmest people in the office.“I guess I’m pretty level-headed,” he concedes. “When things get busy at work, I try to calm my colleagues down when they’re freaking out.” But his colleagues know how to push his buttons, too.

Simon and his mom, Carol, Christmas 2010 .

Four years ago, when Simon took a vacation day to watch England play in the World Cup, he received an urgent request from his workmates. “They claimed something had gone wrong with one of the installs and our boss was really ticked,” he recalls. “I called them right away and they had me on speaker-phone, all laughing hysterically.”

Exactly how did Simon’s passion for all things soccer develop? “At sixteen, Dad was scouted for Manchester United,” remembers Simon. “But the pay was next to nothing for a potential soccer player, and Dad couldn’t live on it, so he decided to pursue a more secure career in business.” Simon’s dad continued to play midfield for the Grimsby Town Juniors, scoring 84 goals in three years—a lofty accomplishment in the soccer world. Simon continues to follow Grimsby Town to this day.

gotw-simon-wood-2On his own, Simon played in a Badsworth league as a tyke, joined a house league in Oakville when he was around eight years old and, by his twenties, he was playing  in a rep league for the Oakville-Trafalgar Blue Rays. A crafty centre forward and striker, he received a certificate from the mayor of Oakville for being the highest scorer in the league in 1999.  These days, he continues to play throughout the year for the Division B Oakville team. The aches and pains from the matches are worth the effort, according to Simon, especially considering the post-match get-togethers over food and drink at a sports bar that sponsors the team. “You gotta love it,” he says of the bar parties. “We’re there so frequently that they keep reserved seats for us.” 
                                                             Simon, at eight years old, posing for the                                                                    Oakville Soccer Club house league photo in                                                               1986.

And while a passion for soccer might lead one to revere a sporting star, Simon says his hero is his grandfather, who enlisted in the East Yorkshire Regiment of the British Army, served in World War II and eventually became a major. A sword his grandfather used while stationed in Normandy still holds an honoured spot in the family home in Oakville. Growing up with an awareness of the tragedies of war, Simon still expresses gratitude to his grandfather for having stormed the beaches of Normandy. “He lost part of his arm,” says Simon, “but if he had been killed, my father wouldn’t have been born.”


Simon’s grandfather, Captain Leslie James Wood, sits in the middle row, ninth from the left, with other members of the East York Regiment of the British Army.

Simon spends most of his leisure time playing soccer and hanging out with family and friends in Oakville, so it’s no surprise that downtown Oakville is where he still lives. PRIZMC2 classifies his neighbourhood Money & Brains, whose members are typically upscale, educated couples and families. “That’s me, money and brains,” he says with a tone of British sarcasm. “I guess I’m a bit of an anomaly there, but I like the people and it’s close to everything I need.” Having lived in the area for over two decades, he’s seen a shift in the demographics, too. He says older people are moving into the neighbourhood for its proximity to Lake Ontario and walking distance to restaurants and shops. Although he occasionally stays downtown in Toronto at his girlfriend’s place, Simon likes the living in Oakville—especially the many pubs. He notes his apartment is close to his favourite pub, The King’s Arm, where live soccer coverage draws him and his friends to the taps regularly. 

And as luck would have it, Simon’s girlfriend is a soccer fan, too. But it took a bit of soul-searching before Simon could bring himself to date a Bayern Munich fan. “My girlfriend is German,” he smiles. “Go figure. I can’t seem to escape from soccer rivalries.” With the month-long World Cup matches now underway in Brazil, the pair will be easy to find not far from a telly and a couple of pints. After all, all’s fair in love and soccer. 

--Nicole Wright