Sport

WHEN Woking announced the signing of Nathan Baxter last month, it was a sure sign that the tables of good fortune had finally turned, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

Baxter (pictured), 18, who is on a season-long loan at the National League club from Premier League champions Chelsea, remains one of the surprise new signings for Cards’ boss Anthony Limbrick. Yet with optimism and trepidation comes great responsibility, something that the highly-rated shot-stopper is only too willing to face head on.

Whilst a number of his young professional counterparts continue to ply their trade in the confines of the youth development leagues, Baxter’s insight and unquestionable maturity enables him to think more laterally about his career and what he needs to do, as opposed to what’s easiest.

Prior to arriving at The Laithwaite Community Stadium, The Blues’ keeper made 17 appearances for Solihull Moors, so he is certainly adept to the hustle and bustle of the National League. He also had a brief spell with the Metropolitan Police team in the Isthmian League.

Whilst being a young footballer can’t be likened to working nine to five, Baxter’s strive for sporting perfection means that he’s always one of the first at the training ground and one of the last to leave.

Speaking exclusively to the News & Mail, Baxter said: “When I went on loan to Solihull Moors in January, I went with the mind-set that, regardless of my age, I will be judged on my performances.

“Having the opportunity to play in the National League at 18 was a great learning curve; you learn a lot playing men’s football, as it’s different to youth football. Being on loan at Woking this season, therefore, means that I can show I can perform consistently well for a whole season.

“To play Saturday, Tuesday; to play real (men’s) football; and to play against the likes of Forest Green Rovers and Lincoln City for Solihull was great. It gave me a lot of confidence.

“When I went back and trained with the youth team boys at Chelsea, it made me feel like I was much more of a senior footballer,” he added.

Despite winning the FA Youth Cup – and featuring in Chelsea’s under-19s European championship winning side – Baxter believes that his time at Woking over the next nine months will help take his game to the next level.

“When Chelsea told me that Woking were interested in me; Neil Bath, the academy manager (at Chelsea); who I respect and trust implicitly, said that it would be a good place to develop,” explained Baxter.

“My ambition has always been to be the best that I can be and play at the highest level I can.  Woking is a club on the up; it’s has a great history in the FA Cup, and I knew that Anthony (Limbrick) is different to a lot of other non-league managers at this level.

“From his time working at Southampton (and latterly West Ham United), Anthony is a manager and a coach who knows what it takes to go from being a good young footballer to going onto play in the Premier League.

“His priority is obviously on Woking winning, but he’s also keen to improve me as a player, which is important and definitely a deciding factor why I chose to come to Woking.

“At this level of football (National League), I’m always going to learn a lot in the games, but Anthony also brings that technical level and high intensity into training, which is what I’ve grown up with at Chelsea.

“When you take all those factors into account; the manager, the size of the club; the opportunities to play in the National League; it’s provides a solid platform to progress,” he added.

And who could question The Blues’ man decision for wanting to serve his apprenticeship in the lower leagues. New Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford gained his experience at non-league Darlington and Alfreton Town while on-loan from his former club Sunderland.

In fact, Baxter’s aptitude to continually want to improve and not rest on his laurels is testament to his maturity and level-headedness.

“I believe that, whatever club you’re at, you should embrace it,” he said.  “Now I’m at Woking, I don’t feel like I’m a Chelsea player playing for Woking, I’m a Woking player, and I want to make sure that Woking finish as high as they can next season.

“When I was playing for the Met Police at the start of last season, I might have only been playing in front of a few hundred people; however, three of those people might be members of staff from Chelsea, so it really doesn’t matter where you play, you want to do your best.

“My ambition by the end of this coming season is to be a goalkeeper that has made the best part of 60 National League appearances by the time I’m 19. I believe it can only help me to improve as a player and make that step up,” added Baxter.

WHILE the plot surrounding a potential takeover of Woking FC thickens, a few things have emerged from behind the smokescreen, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

Despite the National League club’s radio silence on all matters relating to possible investment in the club, an adjourned meeting between two Asian businessmen and a director of another non-league club 16 miles away may hold a clue.

Several names have already been touted in connection with The Cards takeover, including former Chelsea players John Terry and Frank Lampard; and a group of Chinese investors from Lander Holdings, who sought to buy a stakeholding in Southampton FC in January ’17.

However, when two Asian investors made an impromptu visit to Leatherhead FC’s Fetcham Grove ground back in April ’17, this conundrum began to unravel.  Their brief was reportedly crystal clear: to buy a football club on the periphery of the M25.

Since then, a number of potential UK and overseas investors are believed to have been shown around the Kingfield site in south Woking, but Terry and Lampard are not believed to be amongst them.

The News & Mail understands that the club used the former England duo as a red herring to divert attention away from what may be bubbling behind the scenes.

And then there’s the proposed development of the Kingfield site, which is owned by Kingfield Community Sports Centre Limited. Possibly a separate issue from the club, as it will require full planning approval, the current shortage of one and two-bedroom dwellings in the borough makes it an attractive business proposition in its own right.

Amid this backdrop of uncertainly, Alexander Jarvis of Blackbridge Sports, already named as being pivotal to the club investment, is now thought to be weighing up several financial offers.  It is not yet known, though, whether these options include the development, or if Jarvis’ very close Eastern connections mean the aforementioned Asian business consortium is leading the charge for the club.

Any development of the Kingfield site will need to align with Woking Borough Council’s Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan.

The fact that Woking already bucks the trend when it comes to growth over many other Surrey towns cannot be ignored.

Projections show a 13% increase in population from 99,000 in 2014 to 112,000 by 2039, which places a huge demand on housing.  Therefore, it makes the Kingfield site a prime development opportunity, without disenfranchising Surrey’s senior-most football club.

The only certainty is that whatever happens, or doesn’t, securing the long-term future of any football club always takes far longer than people expect.  In this scenario, it’s already much longer than The Cards’ fans would like.

THE News & Mail is pleased to partner with Woking FC to offer discounted tickets to all National League fixtures at The Laithwaite Community Stadium.

For still just 50p a copy, readers of News & Mail will be able to attend any of The Cards’ 2017-18 home league fixtures for just £10.

Don’t Get Shirty: Pick up a copy of the News & Mail to obtain your match day coupon. Picture by: Nick Shaw

To take advantage of this season-long offer, simply complete and cut out the relevant coupon in the paper, present it at the turnstiles on match day and redeem your concession.

There will be 23 coupons available in total throughout the season; the first of which will be printed in the next edition of the News & Mail (3 August ’17) ahead of The Cards’ opening fixture against Gateshead.

So, if you missed out on the club’s unbeatable Early Bird season ticket incentive, this is another chance for you to start saving ahead of the big kick-off on 5 August.

Coupons are applicable to those over the age of 16 or concessions.  Should you require any further information or assistance, please contact the Woking FC club shop on 01483 772470.

WOKING GC gymnast Jamie Lewis has been selected to represent Team GB at the 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival (23-29 July) in Győr, Hungary, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

The 16-year-old, three-time British champion, will travel to Hungary later this month as part of a 50-strong Great British team to compete against 3,000 athletes across 10 Olympic sports from 49 other European nations.

Having won no less than 20 medals from 13 previous team summer youth festivals, Lewis will travel to the capital of Győr-Moson-Sopron County in two weeks’ time in search of adding to Team GB’s, as well as his own, impressive tally of medals.

With many athletes already on the road to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the Festival will again play a crucial role in the multi-sport development of young British athletes en route to achieving their Olympic dreams.

It’s a competition that The Winston Churchill School student will be hoping to excel in. He has dominated junior gymnastics for the past 36 months.

During that time, Lewis has won the English Championships and the British Championships for the fourth consecutive year for his respective age group.

He also picked up a team gold at the Junior European Championships in Switzerland in May 2016.

For more information on Lewis’ progress, please go to: www.wokinggymnastics.co.uk or www.teamGB.com

WOKING FC’s new training facility at Lion Park, Bisley, heralds yet another sign of real change for the rejuvenated National League outfit, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

For the first time in over a decade, Woking returned to the borough – albeit just outside in northwest boundary, to bring football back to the town.

LIONS PARK: New training den for Woking FC from 1 July ’17.  Picture by: Andy Fitzsimons

After weighing up a few options, The Cards signed a deal last week to move their training ground from Surrey Sports Park (Tolworth), to set-up camp in Bisley village.

Once the former home of Bisley FC before their dissolution in 2010, Lion Park has since played host to Surrey Intermediate League club, Woking & Horsell FC and Woking Cougars (juniors); both of which have the option to remain.

New boss Anthony Limbrick very much welcomes the new rolling deal, as the club will eventually have more privacy to go about their business behind closed doors

And whilst Lion Park has largely been left fallow – and in need of some major renovation work following the demise of the Bisley FC – Limbrick is upbeat about securing new premises.

He said: “I wasn’t familiar with the previous training ground in Tolworth; for me, it was all about having a facility that was close to our home ground in Woking, which Lion Park provides.

“The pitches do require some work, but Colin Galliford (Woking FC groundsman) is working with the owners of the ground

Lion Park is given a new lease of life (as of 27 June ’17). Picture by: Andy Fitzsimons

to help improve the playing surface.

“The owners of the site have been really flexible. We have the option to use two pitches, the clubhouse, changing rooms, a physiotherapy room, and even a small gym, which gives us what we need,” added Limbrick.

However, for some of the Cards’ faithful, moving to Lion Park is 22 years too late. It comes after the club had the opportunity to purchase the freehold of the greenbelt site in 1994 for, reportedly, £85,000.

After rejecting the commercial land opportunity, the site was later acquired by Windlesham-based property developer, David Pearce, for an undisclosed six-figure sum.

For others, though, the past remains the past. It’s what happens today and each day thereafter that dictates the future of Woking Football Club. Having closer links to its birth-town is the cornerstone for this.

Clubhouse is being upgraded to accommodate Woking FC.  Picture by: Andy Fitzsimons

Limbrick held his first training session with his new-look squad last Saturday (1 July 17), which served as a meet and greet, as well as an opportunity to gauge players’ close-season fitness.

As they edge ever-closer to a full-time training model, The Cards will now train on Mondays, *Tuesdays and Thursdays.  It is proposed that the club will go full-time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

* Subject to Tuesday night fixtures

Woking Expelled From League

Cricket club ousted for administrative woes

WOKING XI Cricket Club has been expelled from the Surrey Cricket League just six weeks into the 2017 season, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

The club, which plays at Woking Park in Kingfield, has only played three of its seven scheduled league fixtures; conceding three, coupled with one postponement.

The News & Mail understands that the club’s expulsion is due to an unprecedented number of administrative shortcomings, which forced the League to take prompt action.

Robin Ford, secretary for the Surrey Cricket League, said: “The club did not respond to repeated emails, which included resolving an outstanding fine. As result, the club was initially suspended.

“Under league rules, though, a team conceding more than two matches in a season is automatically expelled from the League; for which Woking have been notified,” he added.

Woking XI conceded their first match [v London Gymkhana CC] on 29 April, which resulted in an initial fine.

The club then conceded two further fixtures (v Ottershaw & Hamm Moor CC and v St Luke’s CC) earlier this month, which incurred further fines and ultimately cemented their fate.

It is not yet known if previous results involving Woking X1 will be expunged to help bring about a level playing field amongst other Division One clubs.

The League will now run with a reduced division of nine teams for the remainder of the 2017 season.

No-one was from Woking XI CC was available for comment at the time of going to print.

Woking Are Pitch Perfect

Hockey club will have a new spring in its step for 2017-18 season

WOKING Hockey Club is about to lay down the foundations to bolster its future, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

The Goldsworth Park-based outfit has received the green light from Woking Borough Council to install a second state-of-the-art international playing surface at its facility off Wishbone Lane.

CHAIRMAN: John Hughes

With one premier artificial playing surface already in situ, the club confirmed to the News & Mail (1 June ’17) that it has commissioned contractors to replace the second playing surface as early as next month.

And whilst many other amateur-status clubs are reliant on local authority funding or grant aid to make improvements, Woking has managed to self-fund a second full-size, dressed artificial surface to the tune of £305,110, which includes new high-rise perimeter fencing.

With no less than 38 teams amongst its ranks, including 462 colts (boys and girls), Woking Hockey Club is fast becoming one of the largest sports entities in the borough, and looks set to keep growing incrementally, year-on-year.

In response to the improvement works, John Hughes, chairman of Woking Hockey Club, said: “We’re pleased to be one of very few clubs in the country to be able to get the funding as a result of our business strategy. We haven’t needed any loans or grants.

“The new playing surface will be virtually identical to what we have on the adjacent pitch; it will be a big improvement to the current surface, which has been down for the best part of 18 years.

“The coaching that you can do; particularly with youngsters, on a modern hockey pitch is quite different to a solid playing surface.

“With the softer-type of pitch that we’re laying, you can teach players to lift the ball over another stick, which you couldn’t do on the old style ‘Astro’-type playing surface, so it has a number of performance-related benefits.

“Importantly for us, the resurfacing work will be undertaken throughout July (2017) and handed back to us in time for the first wave of pre-season fixtures, which routinely take place in August,” he added.

The new synthetic turf pitch is being designed and delivered by England hockey’s official facility partner Notts Sport, who recently partnered with the FIH; the international hockey federation.

Cleveland Land Services sports team, meanwhile, have been commissioned to carry out the work to ensure the pitch is up to the highest FIH international standards.

The new sand-dressed surface is a high specification artificial turf surface designed for fast-paced hockey – and is popular with professional and amateur hockey clubs alike.

They’re different to third generation (3G) football pitches; the carpet pile is reduced and the surface laden with sand, as opposed to small rubber pellets. It also comes with a 15-year warranty.

Although Woking is housed on a council-owned site, it is able to benefit from renting its facilities to neighbouring local football clubs, which has provided an additional revenue stream to help the club improve its facilities.

The new synthetic surface could also entertain netball, basketball and volleyball, making it a real hub of the local community.

In addition to the resurfacing work taking place next month, the club is also seeking to erect a small spectator stand to bring it in line with more senior clubs like National League club, Surbiton.

Other pipeline provisions include new team and match officials’ dugouts, new goals, and a camera platform for filming games.

“At the level we play at now, hockey is essentially still an amateur sport,” explained Hughes.

“However, with the level investment that we’ve made into the facilities at Goldsworth Park; and are continually looking to make, we are able to attract some very good players to the club.

“Having the right facilities and infrastructure is important. It means that we can attract players; some of which have favoured us over higher clubs, but also because we are able to offer every player an opportunity to play hockey.

“We’re also fortunate to have a level 3 hockey coach assigned to each age group, from the under-8s, right up to the men’s and women’s senior squads,” he added.

With works due to take four weeks to complete, it is anticipated that the new playing surface will be handed back to the club on 11 August ’17; five weeks or so before the start of the official hockey season.

On Saturday 10th June, a team from Woking District Girls U11 football travel to Derby for the National Finals of the ESFA (English Schools FA) Premier League District competition. The District side is drawn from girls in Years 5 and 6 at primary schools across Woking, with 13 different schools being represented in their current squad of 23.

This is the first time the girls team have ever qualified for the National Finals and Woking are one of two qualifiers from the South-East region. They will be up against teams from across the country including Preston, Sunderland and Swansea in the 8-team finals that take place at the Academy facility of Championship side, Derby County.

The girls have played over 30 league and representation matches this season and have developed hugely, both as individual players and as a squad as the season has progressed. Amongst many memorable games, highlights have included coming back from 3-1 down to beat West Kent 4-3, beating Croydon and Sutton home and away in the Surrey league and making the long trip to Gloucester twice, being unbeaten in their festival on the first trip and winning a very competitive friendly 4-3 on the second visit.

The girls qualified for the Finals by winning the 10 team ESFA/Premier League South-East District tournament which was hosted in Woking last month at the wonderful, new, purpose-built facility at Brookwood Farm. Having topped their group by winning 3 and drawing 1 of their 4 group matches without conceding a goal, Woking played Barking & Dagenham in the final with the place in the national finals at stake for the winners. After normal-time ended in an extremely competitive 1-1 draw, sudden-death extra time saw both sides come very close to scoring before the match had to be settled by a penalty shoot-out. The Woking girls kept their nerve scoring all their penalties and, with the help of a couple of saves by the home keeper, won the shootout 4-1.

Manager Adam Gunn said “To be in the national finals is just unbelievable, a huge testament to their hard work. When you look back on their footballing journey, it’s lovely to see reward, especially when so much hard work has gone in from everyone – players, coaches and parents. It is a fantastic achievement for the girls and we are all really looking forward to this opportunity.”

If you would like to find out more about Woking District football, which also has a thriving boys section, please visit the website www.wokingprimaryschools.co.uk

ENGLAND rugby players Jonny May and Will Collier have taken time to pay tribute to the war dead at  Brookwood Military Cemetery.

They were invited as part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s centenary,  and in recognition of the Commission being the Rugby Football Union’s nominated services charity for this season.

May is currently touring with England in Argentina where they have two matches against the Pumas. The first one is on Saturday 10 June.

The two players laid a wreath at the cemetery and visited the CWGC Centenary Exhibition, currently on display at Brookwood.

In its centenary year, the CWGC has linked up with the RFU to raise awareness of the rugby players  who died in the two world wars. The Rugby Remembers campaign encourages young people to discover these stories and visit their local war graves. May and  Collier met some of the young people involved in the campaign.

The CWGC’s Centenary Exhibition, For Then, For Now, Forever, is free to visit and is open every day from 10am to 4pm.

A SEVEN-YEAR old Knaphill boy has just set off for Athens in his first international event to represent the UK at a major international martial arts competition that finishes this weekend.

Jay Coote is competing in the 2017 Amateur Members Association World Championships organised by the International Sport Kickboxing Association. He is a pupil of The Hermitage School in St Johns, and an accomplished gymnast and martial arts athlete with an impressive string of national awards and trophies over.

Jay, who is being accompanied by his father, Dean, is taking part in two individual display categories: open-handed fighting without weapons, and with weapons using bo-staff and nunchucks. He will be competing in the 8-12 and 13-17 age brackets because no formal categories exist for a seven-year-old.

“From a very young age he always showed extreme co-ordination and concentration,” his mother, Gemma, told the News & Mail. “He loved doing anything to the extreme. He rode his bike without stabilisers before he was three, was waterboarding down the Quays in Mytchett at two and snowboarding by himself down a mountain in France at three.

“Then he joined Woking Gymnastics Club’s Kinder Gym at just nine months. He progressed through to the recreational classes where at five he was picked for the Boys Squad. This was coached by Simon Elliott who also coaches three times under 15’s gymnastic champion Jamie Lewis.

“Jay joined Hands Down Martial Arts as a ‘little dragon’ at four. At six, he was asked to join the Elite Team and started competing nationally last year when he was spotted and selected for sponsorship by leading US martial arts organisation Hyper MA who arrange events and supply martial arts weapons and clothing”.

In February this year Jay was asked to send a video of his Martial Arts forms into a panel of judges to be assessed.

“He was selected along with his friend, Isaac Shalgosky, to go to Athens to represent England for the IKSA World Championships,” Gemma said.

Jay told the News & Mail that he was prompted to take up the sport by his dad and uncle Liam who used to do kickboxing and gymnastics.

“I tried it and found that I liked it and could be good at it. I like competitions and the whole idea of competing against other people,” Jay said.

The lad said that when he leaves school he wants to be a stuntman like his Uncle Liam. “He was in a number of films, including Star Wars and Jurassic Park“.