Grassroots football fan’s Christmas Day finally arrived. Last year I made my first ever trip to Coles Park to see Haringey Borough win in the FA Trophy in what turned out to be one of my finest discoveries. Would the same happen again this year? Probably not. I decided to head out to Surrey for this most special of days to see how Woking FC were getting on in the National League South.
It’s a fairly familiar trip despite me never having set foot in the ground before. In my past life as an amateur player, I made regular trips to play Old Wokingians on the Loop Road pitches next door to the stadium. The town was also formally home to my oldest friend, and best man, who joined me for the day to sample some more non-league football.
Competition: National League South
Refreshments: £8 (two Cardinals Gold)
Dogs spotted: none
Who are ya, Woking FC?
Woking FC, also known as the Cards, are perhaps one of the more famous non-league clubs in the South of England. They began life in 1889, playing in local county leagues. The Woking FC story almost ended before it had really started as the club ran into financial difficulties in the early 20th century. Fortunately, an extraordinary run in the FA Cup preliminary rounds saw them face Bolton Wanderers in the First Round. The Cards made national news and Bolton were so impressed by Woking that they agreed to play a friendly the following year, which helped keep the Surrey club alive.
Woking joined the Isthmian League a couple of years later. They remained there for 80 years until they finally won the Championship in 1991, along with the League Cup. During the same season, they famously beat West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup to set up a Fourth Round trip to Everton, that they lost 1-0.
The Cards enjoyed continued success throughout the 1990s twice finishing as runners up in the Conference (their joint highest finishes) and winning three FA Trophies. In 2009 Woking slipped out of the National League after years of gradual decline. They spent three years in the National League South before being promoted as champions in 2012. The Cards remained at step one until last season when they were again relegated back into the National League South.
Pre-game at Woking FC
Woking had a pretty torrid time in the National League last season. I saw them lose 2-0 away at Sutton during a run of just three wins in 26 games. They fired manager Anthony Limbrick shortly after with a caretaker stepping in. When relegation was confirmed on the last day of the season they moved quickly to install a new boss. They went for Alan Dowson who, in four years, had taken Hampton & Richmond Borough from the Isthmian League to the brink of the National League. The Beavers were beaten by Braintree in last year’s playoffs and Dowson was off to Woking shortly after. He was joined there by his backroom team that includes Martin Tyler of Sky Sports commentary, and living with Bob Willis, fame.
The Cards came out of the traps quickly with seven wins in their first eight games to establish themselves as one of the title favourites. This run included a home win over fellow title challengers Billericay in the infamous ‘one defeat, your sacked’ game. Since then, however, Woking’s form has taken a bit of a slide. They’ve drawn away Concord Rangers and Torquay as well as losing at home to Dulwich Hamlet in three successive league games.
Woking’s visitors, Chelmsford City, have had a mixed start to the season so far. They’d won two, lost two and drawn one of their last five games and were occupying the midtable positions in the league. Their last outing was a 4-2 defeat at home to St Albans. The Clarets had made the promotion playoffs last year but were knocked out by Alan Dowson and his Hampton & Richmond Borough side.
The first stop of the afternoon was the Woking bar, after arriving fairly early. We sampled the club’s own beer, Cardinals Gold. It was beer, I can confirm that, but it wasn’t much to write home about. Following the beer, we headed for the main stand at the far end that towers over the rest of the ground. It’s very modern, wouldn’t be out of place in League One and gives you a good elevated view of the pitch. This is important as has been proven by Luis Enrique, the Spain manager, who reportedly constructed a temporary lookout tower so he could get a better view of his side training.
Sure enough, we could see everything. The 111 Chelmsford Fans who had a whole side of the ground to frolic in, the youthful Woking ‘firm’ at the far end, and Martin Tyler who looked every bit like a man who’d just stepped off a flight from Croatia. For the benefit of me reading this back sometime in the future, England played Croatia in an empty stadium the night before. Rashford missed two sitters and it finished 0-0. You might be able to tell I’m rambling now as back in Surrey the game wasn’t that great.
Rod Stringer’s Chelmsford side looked well organised in the first half. Their front three kept Woking pinned in their own half for much of the first period. They resorted to a series of poor long ball clearances. Whelpdale eventually gave the visitors the lead as he reacted fastest to a header from Murphy that hit the bar and poked the ball home. Amos Nasha who looked bright for the visitors had a good attempt from distance but Ross, in goal for Woking, was able to tip it round the post.
Loza had a good chance for Woking just before the break. He seemingly tipped the ball past the Chelmsford defender with his hand but his shot just missed the upright. It was a sign of things to come, however, as the forward was a lot more involved in the second half. Woking improved markedly after the break – they couldn’t really get much worse. Paul Hodges was brought on and the Cards movement in the final third improved giving the defence some more potential targets for their long balls, rather than the director’s box.
Loza was flagged offside early on but was soon through on goal again after an error from a City defender. He finished well to bring Woking level. Loza and Hodges both had chances to win the game for the hosts but couldn’t quite find the required finish. The visitors rung the changes and on came Scott Fenwick, who I’d seen score a hat-trick of penalties the last, and only previous time, I’d seen the Clarets play. No such luck for him today and the game finished all square.
It was a fourth league game without a win for Woking meaning a 1-0 win for Billericay saw the Essex side open up a two point gap on their Surrey rivals. It was a disappointing game for the long-awaited Non-League Day but Woking are well worth a visit, especially while they’re in the competitive National League South. The ground is good for the level and the home side are well supported.
The Kingfield Stadium is a 15 minute walk from Woking Station and there is also plenty of street parking available around the ground. The clubhouse is welcoming. Try the beer but leave enough time to get another drink afterwards to take the taste away.