Sport

IN-FORM Combined Counties Football League – Division One club Sheerwater are on course for their best ever season, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

Yet, despite chasing their tenth consecutive league match unbeaten this Saturday (14 Oct), The Sheers face the absurd prospect of achieving a top-six finish, but still being relegated next April.

The Clock’s Ticking: Sheerwater FC’s Recreation Ground

Woking Borough Council’s (WBC) proposal to relocate the club from their Recreation Ground in the village to a new purpose-built facility on a green-field site behind Bishop David Brown School has not materialised.

And with no site rubbed-stamped for development any time soon, the net is closing in on Pete Ruggles’ side, whose current home does not comply with The Football Association’s new national ground grading requirements.

All clubs currently competing at step 6 of the National League System, which includes Sheerwater, will be required to have at least a G-grade ground grading by 31 March 2018 to satisfy the FA inspectorate.

But with no firm plans in place to erect floodlights at the Recreation Ground, which is also home to Woking Athletic Club; and with no viable option for Sheerwater to groundshare at Woking FC, Westfield FC or Knaphill FC this season (2017-18), the immediate future is not looking bright for The Sheers.

A spokesperson for Woking Borough Council said: “While there is no legal obligation for the Council to re-house the football club in a suitable venue, we are determined for Sheerwater to remain playing competitive football within the league structure (National League System).

“The Council has agreed that the wider Sheerwater Regeneration Project will go ahead; this includes plans for state-of-the-art leisure facilities, which includes a provision for Sheerwater FC.

“The Council is, therefore, making strong representation to The FA regarding the (end of March) cut-off date, bearing in mind the planned superior (leisure) facility.

“We are also investigating a number of options available to us (WBC) that will support Sheerwater FC.”

In response, a spokesperson from The FA said: “Every club operating at step 6 [of the National League System] needs to fully adhere to the G-grade ground criteria by 31 March 2018.

“If there are specific individual cases, then a club would have to write to the Ground Grading Technical Panel and enter as much detail as possible for them to make a decision as to whether dispensation would be permitted.

“Clubs have known about the requirements to meet the new grade for three years, so it would have to be a pretty robust case,” they added.

The FA further emphasised that floodlight pylons should be fixed, not removable fixtures to satisfy the Association’s grading requirements.

Although, close neighbours Woking proved otherwise when they used two cherry pickers to house some of their floodlights during the erection of their infamous Leslie Gosden stand in 1995.

The Woking News & Mail understands that the assigned FA panel has not received any correspondence from Sheerwater FC or Council representatives to date.

The Sheers, however, are certainly not alone. Prior to the commencement of the 2017-18 season, only 47% of all clubs competing at Step 6 leagues across the country reportedly met the Grade G requirements in full.

A PHYSIOTHERAPIST from Woking pushed herself through her first half-marathon to raise money for Unique, a charity which supports individuals and families who have a rare chromosome disorder.

Helen Alexander, 38, ran to raise awareness after her five-year-old son James was diagnosed with a chromosome disorder aged two, after doctors noticed that his development was delayed.

“He wasn’t reaching milestones that he should be at his age and his speech wasn’t progressing,” said Helen. “At the time, it was very hard to accept and it still is. We were told his difficulties would be life long and his learning difficulties and communication problems were going to make life so challenging for him.”

“We are still learning how we can best support him and help him develop his communication and learning,” she added.

Charity runner Helen Alexander with husband Ben and their son James

Helen completed the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday in two hours and 23 minutes: “The crowds were incredible. I was one of five runners who chose Unique as their charity and we were all delighted to raise money for such a worthy cause. The money will help so many families.

“I would urge other families affected by rare chromosome disorders to get in touch with Unique to help them understand and learn more about your child’s condition,” she said. “They have really helped us and it’s great to connect with others who understand”.

To donate to Helen’s cause, visit www.justgiving.com and search for Helen Alexander.

Philpot’s Goal-Hungry

Millwall loanee hopes to strike it lucky against Hartlepool

ON-LOAN Woking FC striker Jamie Philpot knows a thing or two about scoring goals. After all, he scored his first senior career goal for Millwall in the SkyBet Championship at the age of just 18.

GOAL-HUNGRY: Philpot has the potential to reach double figures before January 2018. Picture by Andy Fitzsimons

The Kent-born marksman, who is on-loan to Woking from The Lions until January 2018, opened his account on what was only his second start as a number 9 against AFC Fylde last Saturday (23 Sept. ’17).

And if Philpot’s hard work and phenomenal goal scoring prowess as a Millwall academy player is anything to go by, he could well be into double figures by the turn of the year.

Speaking to the News & Mail ahead of this weekend’s fixture against Hartlepool United (30 Sept. ’17), the young striker is delighted to have broken his duck for his new club.

He said: “Scoring against Fylde felt like a massive relief. I should have scored against Wrexham last month, but it was still good to finally get off the mark.

“It was a fantastic delivery by Nathan Ralph and it was so nice to see the back of the net ripple.

“Even before the match, the players said ‘today will be your day’, and luckily it was, but the most important thing was the three points for the team.”

Praise

Philpot paid homage to Cards’ boss Anthony Limbrick, who negotiated a deal in August to bring the striker from Millwall to Woking on a five-month loan deal.

“Working under Anthony is fantastic, as he leads by example and galvanises the whole squad.

“On a training day, he’s not just there 10 minutes before the players arrive, but an hour or two before training starts to set everything up.

“It’s not simply about going through the motions, he tells the players what he’s going to do and the reason why we’re going to do it.

“Analytically, he’s very good too, because he puts things in context. He explains what we’re doing well; what we haven’t done as well, and what areas we can improve on. That’s generally something you only get at professional clubs, not in non-league, so Anthony certainly bucks the trend.

While Philpot accepts that the hustle and bustle of the National League is quite different to academy football, and that of the English Football League (EFL), he believes his loan-spell will make him a more rounded player.

“I felt that I could always score goals an academy player, but men’s football is completely different, explained Philpot. “It’s all about taking your chances.

“From what I can remember, I only had one chance against Fylde, and I managed to take it, and that’s what it’s about; hitting the target.

“I’m still at the stage where I’m learning, and I need to continue to affect the game and score goals, so it shows Millwall that I’m capable of playing in the League (EFL).

“For me, it’s now about the three points on a Saturday (or Tuesday night), whereas academy football is just about development. There’s a point where it’s not just about development anymore per se, but the three points on a match day; that’s the bit I’m learning the most.”

Conditioning

While the surroundings of non-league football will naturally differ from those competing in the upper echelons of the game, Philpot believes that everything from the playing surface (home ground) to the way Woking conditions its players is carried out with the utmost professionalism.

“Anthony’s got the academy background; he and his team know how to develop and get the best out of players in a highly competitive environment, so he has the advantage over many other non-league managers. He’s been conditioned to think and work in a certain way, which the players really buy in to,” said Philpot.

“At the start of the season, the aim was for Woking to finish in the top half of the table and within reaching distance of the play-offs, but now there’s a confidence about us.

“There’s a really good squad of players here, and if we defend from the front and take our chances, the team will continue to do well.

“We’ve won the last five out of six and, while we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground, ultimately, it’s about getting Woking promoted,” he added.

Philpot will be hoping to double his tally in as many games when Woking host Hartlepool United for the first time at The Laithwaite Community Stadium.

WHEN Jess Holmes was unveiled as Woking FC’s new commercial manager earlier this month (Sept. ’17), she was under no illusion that she was stepping foot into, predominately, a man’s cave.

AMBITIOUS: Woking’s new commercial manager, Jess Holmes. Picture by Andy Fitzsimons

For years, football has long been associated with breweries and cigarette manufacturers, but Holmes is clearly intent on bringing more lateral thinking to the table to help promote positive change and one that will influence the way people perceive Woking.

With a degree in business management, Holmes is keen to utilise her business acumen and commercial flair to not only entice more fans through the turnstiles, but to engage a wider audience, both on and off the field.

Acknowledging that football is a brand in its own right, Woking’s new commercial prodigy is determined to capitalise on the club’s good fortunes on the pitch in a bid to get people talking about it off it.

And while there’s no quick fix to Woking’s financial disadvantage when compared to many of its other National League counterparts, the club does now have a sound base for a sustainable future.

“As soon as I came to Woking, I was excited by the opportunity and potential to make a difference,” explained Holmes.

“From my perspective, I see it as a bit of blank canvass, and that’s not to undermine the great work and efforts of any of my predecessors, but merely looking at the potential here in terms of the experience and commercial proposition that Woking Football Club has to offer.

“We’ve got some great names already associated with the club, but there’s scope to really ramp things up. There’s also the match day experience, which is a revenue generator in itself, and to define what that experience actually comprises.”

The former head of business development at talkSPORT believes that there are a number of things that can benefit the club too, which don’t require huge investment or large-scale change. In many respects, they’re minor tweaks that can make the overall experience even more professional.

Woking already has a commercial advantage over its nearest and dearest, insofar that it can accurately promote itself as the largest or most senior football club in Surrey.

And while some would argue that Sutton United could challenge the status quo, The U’s fall under the municipality of a London borough.

Prior to taking on the commercial reigns at Woking, Holmes had spent much of her professional career working in advertising, so when The Cards’ vacancy came up, her decision was almost instantaneous.

“The Board have been great about me coming in; giving me the autonomy to look around, and to go back to them with ideas on how to improve things. There will inevitably be some financial constraints, but you would expect that in the National League.

“Woking, as a town, is a relatively affluent place, but it doesn’t mitigate the need to communicate our value proposition on a regular basis.

“When we played Sutton a couple of weeks ago (16 Sept. ’17), I thought: what a brilliant afternoon of entertainment. And to think that it only cost an adult (early bird) season ticket holder less than £5 admission.

“This is a great example of what can be achieved, but change of course won’t happen overnight.

“Without giving too much away at this stage, there are a number of things that we are doing, and will be doing, to become more effective and efficient in the way that we engage with key stakeholders.

“Everything from the provisions for home and away spectators, to looking at the commercial arrangements when fans are segregated,” she added.

It is understood that Holmes is currently in the throes of developing a CRM (customer relationship management) database, so the club can gather more granular information on its partners, but also its season ticket holders too.

Improved signage is also believed to be a key area, as is having a more formal concierge service to greet the opposition – to name just a few.

And while neither is hugely commercially driven, they all go a long way to help improve the match day experience and provide the platform for bigger and better things.

Hills Eyes Up First Round

2017-18 Emirates FA Cup Preview - Preliminary Round

KNAPHILL FC be hoping that the magic of the FA Cup doesn’t come back to bite them this season, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

After securing a hard-fought 2-0 win away to Bournemouth (Poppies) in the extra preliminary round replay last week (8 Aug ’17), The Knappers now travel to Laverstock & Ford in the preliminary round this Saturday (19 Aug. ’17).

MORE UPBEAT: Knaphill manager Keith Hills ahead of his side’s FA Cup showdown against Laverstock & Ford. Picture by Andy Fitzsimons

But the Sydenhams (Wessex) League Division One side, who play one level below Knaphill in the National League System, will be no pushover.

The Lavvy, who started their league season on 1 August ’17, have already scored 15 goals in their opening four fixtures; including a 3-0 win against Whitchurch United in the last round of the FA Cup.

By comparison, The Knappers have played two games in the FA Cup prior to the start of their Combined Counties League Premier Division season last Saturday, something that Hills believes is disorientating for some non-league clubs.

He said: “It’s ironic that The FA (Football Association) schedules some clubs to play in the FA Cup even before they commence their league season.

“Clubs should at least have one league game under their belt before they turn their attention to cup competitions, as teams are still sorting themselves out.

“It was no different last season, as we played two games in the FA Cup (versus Hanworth Villa) before the league season began several days later,” he added.

Hills were full of phrase for his side’s FA Cup triumph against Bournemouth at the Victoria Park, which he believes marks a turning point.

After an indifferent league campaign last season and a less than convincing pre-season showing, Hills feels that his side is now gelling and responding well to a new style of training.

“We didn’t have the greatest of finishes last season, but the boys showed what they are capable of after travelling to Bournemouth and beating them at their own ground,” said Hills.

“We brought in several new faces during the closed season; most of which are attacking players; so we know that we can score. The issue was the goals that we were conceding.

“Sorting the defence out and a formation that worked for everyone was phase one, which I believe we have sorted.

MOTIVATOR: Alex Lumley.

“Things are now starting to click, which I believe has a lot to do with Alex Lumley – my coach – who (among others) has changed the dynamics of how we train. The players have really taken to it.”

“When we travel to Laverstock on Saturday (19 Aug. ’17), if we pull all the factors from training together, we will be ok.

“On paper, we should win the game, but it’s the old adage of the FA Cup: anything can happen on the day, and I really believe that,” added Hills.

With £1,500 already in the bank, The Knappers will be hoping to cash in again to the tune of £1,925 if they can get past Laverstock & Ford to book their place in the first qualifying round in two weeks’ time (2 Sept ’17).

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