The difference a year can make at Woking FC
As the Vanarama National League gears up for the final push of the season, it’s safe to say that Woking wasn’t expected to be involved right at the very top.
As of February 2023, The Cardinals find themselves with 58 points. This time last year, they had 32 points. Therefore, an extra 26 points have been achieved compared to last season. That’s astonishing!
It's clear that Darren Sarll has implemented his own style of football and that he has got the recruitment right over the summer and throughout the campaign so far. But why has it clicked so well?
I did a deep dive into why the 2022/23 season has been the club’s best in over 30 years and whether they will have enough left in the tank to finally be able to call themselves a Football League club next season.
Sarll joined the club back in April 2022 and oversaw eight professional games before the season came to an end, with the club finishing in a miserable 15th with 53 points. His first game was a 0-1 win away to Boreham Wood and it was significant due to the fact that the Hertfordshire club hadn’t lost at home all season. It was clear from the moment onwards that things were about to change and for the better.
Over the course of those eight games, he finished with three wins, one draw and four defeats. Another notable win was one at home to title fighters Wrexham in front of the Disney + cameras. It must not be forgotten that these eight games were completed with the same squad that fell below expectations over several months and so ten points from eight games was enough to avoid relegation.
Over the summer, the former Yeovil Town manager made some big decisions when deciding on who he wanted to keep and who he didn’t think would quite crack it under his influence. The most notable departures were Moussa Diarra, Inih Effiong and Max Kretzschmar. At the time it seemed daft to let these types of players leave but if anything, it was daft to doubt his know-how and ability to build a much better team.
During the next three months, he brought in ten brand-new players who had hundreds of EFL appearances between them all. This proved that not only does he have the contacts, but that the project and vision that he had was attractive enough for players to drop out of the league to come and play for Woking.
Despite it all going horribly wrong on the first day of the season, away to newly promoted York City, momentum slowly started to build and he took the cub on an eight-game unbeaten run, which included four straight wins without conceding a single goal. More recruits came in, including Wealdstone’s top goal scorer Rhys Browne, who was snatched off of them for a price tag we were willing to pay. That in itself is something never seen before, the way the club was able to buy a top player off another club mid-way through a season and be the bigger offer. Woking fans will tell you that normally January comes and someone is off. Not this time.
In football, it is said that belief can only take you so far, you can believe all you want but if the people aren’t right, then how can you play as a team? With this side, you know that every individual will give 110% and it’s clear that everyone gets along with one another. There’s no better example than when the traditional Boxing Day/New Year’s Day clash came about.
Woking had gone six years without a league win against fierce rivals Aldershot Town and seven years without doing the double. Every single year, new players/staff or not, the same old thing would happen. Despite the better form going into this edition, the same old disastrous thoughts lingered once again. That first game away at the EBB though was what every football fan could ever ask for. The passion from minute one to outperform the opposition in their own backyard was not only breathtaking but also quite frightening. I don’t know how Darren would have got the message across without ever witnessing the game in the flesh, but boy did he get it right.
He had managed to break the curse and win on his derby debut. This then set up a record league attendance for the reverse fixture at Kingfield, which saw Woking triumph in a spectacular 4-1 victory. That day will go down in history for future generations because it was some of the best football the Surrey outfit had played since the 90s. To do it all against your huge rivals, the ones that always seemed to beat you and always take your players away, was what every Woking fan had ever dreamed of.
The high performances kept coming, including beating title chasers Chesterfield away and being the first team in 305 days to strop Wrexham winning at home.
It now brings us to the present day where the club sit in 3rd place, occupying that playoff semi-final spot and have an 11-point gap inside the top seven. Unless a massive and unexpected drop-off occurred, playoffs will be heading to Surrey for the first time ever in the fifth tier and nobody outside of the club would have predicted that to happen.
It will be overshadowed by other story headlines that the National League love to cover, somewhere in the North Wales area, but this is a fairy tale story that is amazing to be a part of. The beauty of football sometimes doesn’t offer reasons as to why certain things may happen, you just have to live the moment as to how you think it’s deserved and let history pave the way for it to be taught to others in later years.
No matter what happens in these last 14 or so games, it has been a season to be proud of and Darren Sarll has changed the foundations of the club forever. Something incredible is beckoning for Woking Football Club, so tell your family, friends and even your pets to get down to support the lads in the final push to become history-makers in your own right! #COYCards