Pauline Williams

 

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.