TIME FLIES when you’re having fun. That felt particularly poignant last Friday [20 January ’17], which marked six years to the day when Garry Hill was appointed Woking manager, writes David Richardson.
And while 2016 is unlikely to go down as a revelation, Hill deserves huge credit for his stewardship and longevity in the role.
“Six months is a long time for a manager to be in a job nowadays,” jested Hill after a late, heart-breaking defeat at home to Aldershot Town on New Year’s Day.
Irrespectively, his time at Woking now means he’s the third longest serving manager in the top five tiers of English football, behind Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) and Paul Tisdale (Exeter City).
The 57-year-old has been one of Woking’s most successful mangers, most certainly since Geoff Chapple’s rein in the 1990s.
From the off, Hill and assistant Steve Thompson hit the ground running, guiding Woking into the National South play-offs after been 10 points adrift in January 2011.
An astonishing 12-game unbeaten run, which included 11 wins and one draw, saw The Cards gatecrash the top-five, where they were eventually beaten 2-1 after extra time by Farnborough Town in the semi-finals.
The silver lining to that defeat was Woking had found a management team capable of getting them out of the then Football Conference South (now National League South). The following season they did just that.
The Cards romped to the title winning it by nine points to return to the National League after a three-year absence.
Hill then steered Woking to a highly respectable twelfth-place finish, before trumping that the following season in ninth. The Cards continued the upward trend the following season to finish seventh – three points short of the play-offs in 2015 – ahead of another well-earned 12th place last season.
Many Woking fans would have been happy to avoid relegation when the club returned to the top-tier of non-league, but under Hill’s managerial guidance, The Cards have over-achieved year-on-year.
And while money doesn’t necessary dictate success, Hill has achieved all of this on a playing budget reported to a third of the likes of Forest Green Rovers, Eastleigh and even Luton Town, before The Hatters gained promotion back to The Football League.
With success comes interest from other clubs, which has resulted in several former players (some on loan) now plying their trade regularly in the English Football League and Scottish Premiership. These include: Billy Knott (Gillingham), Jayden Stockley (Aberdeen), Dan Holman (Cheltenham Town) and Jack Marriott (Luton Town) – to name just a few.
While Hill is accustom to having to rebuild his team throughout his 26 years in football management, there are only so many hidden gems that the Woking supremo can pull out of a hat or from under his sleeve.
A reduced budget this season has certainly taken its toll this season too, with Hill struggling to fill the void of John Goddard (Swindon Town), Scott Rendell (Aldershot Town), Jake Cole (Aldershot Town) and Mark Ricketts (Boreham Wood).
And while he has amassed enough credit in the bank to buy patience from most fans, some of the Woking faithful are already starting to question whether the Essex salesman is the right man to keep Woking in the division. It therefore begs the question: If he isn’t, then who is?
The last four months have undoubtedly been some of the most challenging since Hill first managed Heybridge Swifts in 1991. Based on the current form-guide, it would be easy for Woking’s board of directors to pull the carpet from underneath his feet, but they deserve recognition for sticking by their man.
Remarkably, in over a quarter of a century in football management, the Woking boss has never suffered relegation and is determined not to let it happen in 2017.
Whether Hill signs a new contract this summer remains to be seen. His frustration at the lack of financial backing is clear, but the club shouldn’t put its future at risk like others have done before them.
Therefore, opting for more of the same wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing in the grand scheme of things.