Cards’ director has positive attitude to new season’s challenges

WOKING director John Katz wants his club to emulate Leeds United.

The Cards are in the middle of a huge squad overhaul to prepare them for 2021-22, but their American investor is thinking about a longer-term legacy.

Woking FC director John Katz with the News & Mail’s Rob Hemingway

In an exclusive conversation with the News & Mail at The Laithwaite Community Stadium, Katz revealed: “We’d love to achieve what Leeds United have achieved this past year [finishing ninth in the Premier League after winning promotion from the Championship].

“And I’d love to say we could emulate Brentford [who have just won elevation to the Premier League] with their statistical analysis.

“[League One side] AFC Wimbledon are probably the best example. They won five promotions in eight years to get to the Football League. And we’re higher up than where they started.

“They have a crazy business model that somehow works, in the sense that very few are doing it as well as they are. You can always point at these examples, but we’re going to do it the Woking way. And we’re in the process of writing that chapter.”

That’s not to say that Katz expects the journey to be easy. Indeed, he has already experienced some negativity towards his project, not helped by the prevailing distrust of American shareholders further up the English football pyramid.

He said: “People say ‘The American way doesn’t work over here’. And I read some cheeky things written about me and think ‘That’s just a joke, right?’. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But I think once people get to know me, that will change.

“The easiest thing to see through is fake passion. But I’m so passionate about this club and this community. There’s so much we can accomplish together. It’s just going to take a little belief.

That team will continue to be led by Alan Dowson, who was awarded a two-year deal in April.It’s common for new investors in football clubs to appoint their own man, but Katz insists that was never in his thinking.

And he’s backing Dowson to bring back the good football that was sorely lacking in the second half of last season.

“Dowse was one of the big swing points for me on this club,” Katz said. “I met him early on in the process, when I first came here in 2019. I understood all along what we were up against last season. And I haven’t lost my support in him.

“We gave him his new deal in the midst of the [poor] run we were on because we believe in him.

“How we played in 2021 has taken a major toll on our supporters, particularly our performance against Hereford [a 1-0 defeat in the Buildbase FA Trophy semi-final on 27 March].

“But we had guys playing through injury for half the season, and we had to play behind the ball. There’s not a real way around it.

“I think with the additions to the midfield, we’ll be playing a lot more on the deck and not just always going for the long ball.

“I don’t think long-ball football is the style that this club is known for and it’s not one that will continue, because we’re bringing in new players to change what we’re doing.”

Katz is likely to hand Dowson a budget of around £400,000 to compile his new squad – around twice as much money as was available to the boss last season. The Cards will play their first Vanarama National League fixture on 21 August.

Katz is clear about what will represent a successful return on the investment.

He said: “Finishing in the top half of the table would be acceptable.

“Obviously we’d love to be in the top seven, but to be realistic – and as we’ve said all along – this is a three-year plan.

“So if we can go from where we finished last season [20th] to the top half of the table, I’d say that we’re going in the right direction.

“I’m still convinced we’re the biggest club in non-League football. We’ve always been sitting below the ceiling and now it’s time to crash through it. But it’ll take time.

“It would be great to get promoted in two years instead of three, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on people, especially with new players coming in.

“We want to be able to set a reasonable point of expectation for the fans. Finishing 20th wouldn’t be acceptable. We need to be in the top half of the table.

“I’m going in with a positive attitude to next season. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be exciting football. And the matchday experience will be exceptional. It’s going to be a fun place to be.”

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