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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.

A WOMAN who has spent many years volunteering in Chobham was delighted to receive an award in the Queen’s Birthday Honoursby Rob Searle.

Margaret Parry has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for her services to the community.

HONOURED: Volunteer Margaret Parry

“The news was very, very pleasing,” said Mrs Parry, who has run the St Lawrence Club for older people in the village for 13 years. “It was very unexpected.”

Mrs Parry, who lives in Castle Grove Road, Chobham, heard the good news from the Cabinet Office about two weeks ago. “They asked me if I was willing to receive the medal and I replied that I would be happy to receive it,” she added.

Mrs Parry has devoted much of her spare to volunteering since being made redundant from an HR role in BBC television in 1991.

She began by driving for Chobham Neighbourhood Care, giving lifts to local people to places such as hospitals, after being asked by the village vicar to help out.

Then she began helping run the then Chobham old Folks Club, which had been run for many years by Marian Robertson.

When Mrs Robertson died in 2004, Mrs Parry took over and has been in charge ever since. The club has since changed its name to St Lawrence Club and its members are aged from 70.

“But I couldn’t manage it without the fantastic support of the 10 or so people who help me,” said Mrs Parry, who has lived in Chobham with her husband John since 1969.

“What really interests me is how people keep going in their lives and how they relate to other people. The members are those people who have made Chobham what it is and we now have the daughters and sons of some of the original members as members.”

As well as running the club, Mrs Parry ran the box office for the annual Chobham Festival for 10 years, stepping back from that involvement when she became ill last year. John, who she married in 1964, organises the music for the festival.

When not volunteering she finds time to sing with the Guildford-based Vivace Choir and, following her illness, is returning to play full rounds of golf at the Sunningdale Ladies club.

Mrs Parry will be presented with her medal by the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Michael MoreMolyneux, during a ceremony at his Loseley House, near Guildford, later this year.

As a BEM, she will also receive an invitation for three people to one of the Queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace.

ST JOHN the Baptist School in Woking continues to go from strength to strength after its head was named in the Queen’s 2017 birthday honours list last Friday, by Andy Fitzsimons.

Ani Magill, 60, who is a national leader of education (NLE) and executive headteacher at the Catholic comprehensive school, has been recognised for her services to education.

HONOURED: Ani Magill, Executive Headteacher of SJB School.  Picture by Andy Fitzsimons

Magill was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) and joins more than 130 people across the UK honoured for making an outstanding contribution to education, children’s services or advancing equality and diversity.

Speaking to the News & Mail on Tuesday (20 June ’17), the Woking headteacher was unsurprisingly delighted to be nominated by her peers and named in this year’s honours list, which marks the official 91st birthday of the Queen.

“I am of course very grateful to be recognised for a national honour; however, it’s all thanks to the students and the great people that I work with on a daily basis,” she said.

“I’ve been at St John the Baptist School now for 22 years, and even after all those years I still genuinely love coming to work.

“For me, it’s all about people. One person doesn’t make a great school. It’s about the variety of people it employs and the students who pass through it who achieve the best outcomes.

“I am proud of the team I have around me – and what our students have achieved and continue to achieve.

“We strive to be the best school in England, which is why we’ve developed a strong set of morals and values to help everyone succeed.

“From the young people I meet and speak to on a daily basis, I wholeheartedly believe this country is in safe hands, which inspires me.  This is something to celebrate,” added Magill.

The investiture, which ceremonially honours those who have been recognised for a gong, will take place at Buckingham Palace in September (2017).

Magill will be joined by others honoured from the world of sport, politics, business, charity and entertainment, which include the likes of Beatles’ frontman Sir Paul McCartney, novelist JK Rowling, actress Julie Walters and singer Ed Sheeran.

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.

WOKING College hosted a lively Question Time Debate with students asking five of the six candidates hoping to become the town’s MP next week about their views on immigration, tuition fees, the EU, austerity and the youth vote.

The event, in the heat of last Friday afternoon, drew a sizeable audience of 16-19 year-olds from the student body of 1,300, almost half of whom are eligible to vote.

Reducing the voting age to 16 or 17 was one of the question topics and Jonathan Lord, the Conservative candidate, and Troy de Leon, of UKIP, both said they were comfortable with the current voting age of 18, while the Independent candidate Hassan Akberali, Labour’s Fiona Colley and William Forster of the Liberal Democrats all agreed that the voting age should be lower.

One student said he was turning 18 on polling day and each candidate took it in turns to wish him a happy birthday in advance, accompanied by laughter from the audience and the politicians.

The atmosphere became a little more tense when Brexit and austerity came up.

Woking College Hustlings

The college principal and event chairman, Brett Freeman, had asked that the tone be positive and for the candidates not to attack each other’s views.

This truce was broken when Ms Colley referred to the Conservatives “appearing to be delusional” over a post-Brexit Britain.

Mr Lord responded later by saying that when the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition came to power in 2010, they inherited a huge budget deficit left behind by Gordon Brown and his Labour Government.

The Green Party candidate, James Brierley, was not able to attend the debate as he is a full-time teacher and none of his campaign team was available for similar reasons.

UKIP will be represented by Mark Webber, the party’s candidate in South West Surrey, as Mr de Leon will be visiting his wife who is receiving medical treatment in Thailand, where she was born.