Brown ale ready and town abuzz as Wok­ing savour sell-out M25 derby

Na­tional League South side are pre­par­ing to cash in on the visit of Wat­ford, writes Jeremy Wil­son

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Fa Cup -

Wok­ing’s rel­e­ga­tion to the Na­tional League South was con­firmed. The squad had dis­in­te­grated. There had been three man­agers in a year and the for­mal in­ter­view with the next prospec­tive in­cum­bent, Alan Dow­son, was tak­ing an un­usual turn.

“I told them, ‘I’ve got pro­moted at my three clubs, but count the cup out be­cause I’m c--p at it – use­less, ab­so­lutely ming­ing’,” re­calls Dow­son. “First round ev­ery sin­gle time. Hope­less. I prob­a­bly didn’t sell my­self too well.”

Fast for­ward seven months, and not only did Dow­son get the job, but Wok­ing now stand only 90 min­utes from reach­ing the FA Cup fourth round for only the sec­ond time in their 130-year his­tory.

They have also won their past seven league matches, and af­ter the sec­on­dround scalp of Swin­don Town, Pre­mier League opposition in Wat­ford await in to­day’s big “M25 derby”. All 5,700 tick­ets for Wok­ing’s Laith­waite Com­mu­nity Sta­dium tie are sold, and the £150,000 live tele­vi­sion fee will cover about half of the club’s es­ti­mated an­nual player bud­get.

The chair­man, Rose­mary John­son, a long-stand­ing share­holder and fan, whose day job is split be­tween work­ing for the tri­bunal ser­vice and Cit­i­zens’ Ad­vice Bureau, sanc­tioned the ar­rival of two new loan sign­ings on Fri­day but is adamant that the wind­fall should be held to fund the club’s bid to reach the Foot­ball League. Plan­ning for a new 10,000-ca­pac­ity sta­dium on the site of a ground first built in 1922 has be­gun.

For the Pre­mier League play­ers of Wat­ford, in­clud­ing Tom Clev­er­ley, whose great un­cle, Reg Strat­ton, is one of Wok­ing’s most iconic play­ers af­ter scor­ing at Wem­b­ley in their 1958 FA Am­a­teur Cup win, it will be a novel ex­pe­ri­ence. Only one team can fit into a tun­nel that is the width of a door, and while “ba­sic” would be a fair de­scrip­tion of the fa­cil­i­ties, it is a ground that oozes char­ac­ter. It has a ded­i­cated area called “Moaner’s Cor­ner” for any dis­grun­tled fan.

The club is run by vol­un­teers. Many, like club chap­lain, direc­tor and trust rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ian Ni­chol­son have been work­ing around the clock to en­sure to­day goes smoothly.

“The town is buzzing,” says John­son, a former Wok­ing mayor, who cred­its the charis­matic Dow­son with “putting to­gether the team from noth­ing” at the start of the sea­son. “You couldn’t have some­one bet­ter,” she says. “He is bril­liant – when you can un­der­stand him.”

Dow­son was born in Gateshead, is an avid Sunderland fan and played his one and only match for Mill­wall against Wat­ford.

The past 14 years suc­cess­fully manag­ing non-League clubs in and around Surrey have hardly blunted his ac­cent.

The sign out­side his of­fice door was only re­moved this week. “Please note, men­tion of the W word (Wat­ford) is banned,” it read. Dow­son has been de­ter­mined to main­tain the club’s fo­cus on their league matches – they are sec­ond with two games in hand – amid an FA Cup run cer­tain to go down in club folk­lore.

“I can’t wait un­til it all fin­ishes. I think it is the big­gest pain I’ve had to deal with,” he says, laugh­ing as he de­scribes the dif­fi­culty he had dur­ing Thurs­day’s tele­vised train­ing ses­sion. “It was the worst we have ever had. I was dy­ing to shout and swear but I was all miked up.”

Dow­son, who re­counts how he once avoided a touch­line ban be­cause the of­fi­cials could not un­der­stand what he was say­ing when he swore at them, says Wat­ford man­ager Javi Gra­cia can ex­pect a “nice bot­tle of brown ale” rather than fine wine. “I don’t watch Pre­mier League foot­ball,” he adds. “I watch two leagues up and two leagues down and can tell you ev­ery­thing about that.”

His cap­tain, Josh Casey, is a tax ac­coun­tant and for­ward Paul Hodges is an English teacher at a lo­cal school. They train twice a week, on Tues­day and Thurs­day nights. “This has all been down to the play­ers and their ded­i­ca­tion,” says Dow­son. “In pre­vi­ous clubs, I have had to breathal­yse them af­ter Christ­mas. One of my play­ers nearly blew the thing up. This lot are hon­est, straight and kind. Ab­so­lutely proper. They do ev­ery­thing we ask.”

That “we” in­cludes as­sis­tant man­agers Ian Dyer and Martin Tyler, the 73-year-old Sky Sports commentator, who at­tended his first Wok­ing match in 1953. They burst out laugh­ing at the mem­ory of Tyler’s first ses­sion when he had to over­see the run­ning, and some of the more sea­soned play­ers tried to con­vince him it was too hard. When Tyler po­litely re­layed their con­cerns to Dow­son, the man­ager’s re­ply was blunt. “Tell them to ---- off ”.

Dow­son says that it took sev­eral years to teach Tyler to swear and their part­ner­ship – “good cop and bad cop” – has spanned 13 years at four clubs. He adds that Tyler’s “pas­sion” and ded­i­ca­tion to be “the best commentator in the world” shine through in all he does. Tyler de­scribes his friend as some­one with “hon­esty, in­tegrity, pas­sion, en­ergy and an eye for play­ers” who shares many qual­i­ties with Pre­mier League man­agers.

Tyler was at Fri­day’s press call just hours af­ter com­men­tat­ing on Manch­ester City’s 2-1 win against Liver­pool. “I was on the phone to Dows straight af­ter to find out how train­ing went,” he says. “I was priv­i­leged to be watch­ing per­haps the game of the sea­son. Now we have got the match of a lifetime.”

Odd cou­ple: Alan Dow­son (left) with his as­sis­tant, Sky commentator Martin Tyler

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