Hornets’ clash has got Woking buzzing
We delve into both camps as Barnet and Woking prepare to fly the Non-League flag in the FA Cup
A BOTTLE of Newcastle Brown Ale chills in Alan Dowson’s office mini fridge.
The Woking boss is ready to welcome Watford manager Javi Garcia into his portacabin today where he has plotted the National League South’s side adventure to the FA Cup third round and a date with a Premier League club in front of a sellout crowd and the TV cameras.
“It’s a tradition to exchange drinks, so I’ve got that for him, or a Diet Coke,” he tells The NLP on Friday morning.
The drink is a nod towards Dowson’s Geordie roots and a reminder of his idea about involving communities in football. In just six months at the club, the 48year-old has ingrained himself in the Surrey-based town and rekindled memories of Woking’s cup glory days of the 90s.
Later this month it will have been 22 years since the Cards last reached this stage, where they became the first Non-League side to hold a top-flight club on their turf when Steve Thompson turned in a last minute equaliser at Coventry City. Of course, Tim Buzaglo’s hat-trick, that inspired the upset of West Brom in 1992, remains their most treasured moment.
“They said they’d like a cup run when I joined the club – I said you’ve got the wrong bloke!” laughs Dowson who had never previously
“WE’RE THE LOWEST RANKED CLUB LEFT IN THE AND COMPETITION IT IF WE BEAT THEM WILL BE THE BIGGEST EVER” UPSET Alan Dowson –
the first round before he arrived from Hampton in the summer.
“It’s been chaos this last month. I learnt something off Gary McCann at Hampton, who I know very well. He barred talking about playing Oldham in the first round and it went against him, he thought some players were pulling out of tackles and things leading up to it.
“I went with adding a couple of players and saying if you don’t perform, you don’t play in the game. It put massive pressure on the players.”
To say it’s had its desired effect would be an understatement. Since their 1-0 upset of Swindon, Woking have won all five of their league games to keep up with leaders Torquay while taking higher-league Maidstone United to a replay and extra time in the FA Trophy.
Dowson says his team selection today will be the toughest he’s ever had to make and expects players to leave once the fixture has been played, with a clash against promotion rivals Welling to come on Wednesday. Promotion back to the National League remains the priority.
He had inherited nothing from last season’s relegated side which made the opening months of his time at the club doubly tough.
“I remember driving to East Thurrock on the first day of the season thinking if I get time here I’ll be alright, but will I get that? We got booed off at half-time. I went into the dressing room saying we’ve got a hell of job here. We won 1-0 with a 96th minute penalty which could be the best thing that’s happened to us. “I started going to the local pubs – that’s where the shirt sponsor came from – the local schools, the sponsors to put our point across about what we’re trying to achieve and get the community behind us. “We were winning games but I knew it wasn’t quite right.” Despite switching back to a part-time schedule this season, the Woking board have backed their man for a title charge in 2019.
Dowson bolstered his squad for the Christmas period signing Aaron Eyoma and Harry Taylor on loan and this week has resigned loan stars Harvey Bradbury and Armani Little from Oxford United.
“The last time we got beat down here we lost 3-1 against Bath,” Dowson says. “We weren’t doing particularly well and I got heckled a bit when I went into the bar where I always speak to the fans afterwards.
“When I looked, Rosemary [Johnson, chairman] was stood right by my side. When I needed her she was there.
“When you’re going through a good time, it would be easy for her to come in here, but she was there when it was a bad time. My chairman at Hampton, Graham Wood, and Steve McPherson, who appointed me, would have done that as well, they were brilliant. It’s nice to have that backing.”
Dowson admits his style is from the old school of management – he threatened to sack his players at half-time last week following a lacklustre display against Eastbourne – but his techniques get the desired results and he’s prepared to make his own sacrifices for players.
In September, he ran 100 laps of the Kingfield pitch to raise money for the injured Christian Jolley and Kane Ferdinand. Jolley returned to the starting line-up at Swindon and has since been imperious in midfield. He’ll need to be again today.
“We’re the lowest-ranked club and if we beat them it’ll be the biggest upset ever,” he adds. “Lincoln did it against Burnley [in 2017] but no-one has done it from this league. Watford won’t want that tag, they’re a proper club, but we’ll have a go.
“As a manager you always want to compete against the best. Can I out think him? I doubt it but I’m going to have a go. Mind games? I’m not clever enough for that. But can I, in my way, get the players fired up and have a go.
“If you want people to come back to Woking we’ve got to give them something. I’ve always said football is about the people.”
TEAM EFFORT: Woking players and staff celebrate after beating Swindon Town in the last round
GOLDEN MOMENT: Woking's Steve Thompson fires his late equaliser past Coventry keeper Steve Ogrizovic LEGEND: Striker Tim Buzaglo famously scored a hat-trick against West Brom