By David Richardson
If FA Cup heroes Woking needed to be brought back down to earth then a Wednesday night trip to Croydon in the Surrey Senior Cup last week provided the perfect tonic.
“I took the full squad to say, ‘listen, this is where your roots are, this is where you’ve come back to and this is where we first started off from’,” boss Alan Dowson explained to The NLP after their 5-0 victory. “There was only about 26 people there, that’s what it’s all about.”
It was a humbling comedown for Dowson’s side who, just 72 hours earlier, produced the club’s biggest result in years and another famous moment in their proud FA Cup history, before drawing Premier League Watford at home.
The Croydon Sports Arena was vastly different to the County Ground where over 1000 noisy Cards fans enjoyed one of their best days beating League Two Swindon Town 1-0.
The FA Cup was and is built on these results, where the plucky underdog defies the odds to beat their professional opposition.
Often careers are too and for Dowson, who has been climbing the Non-League pyramid with Walton & Hersham, Kingstonian, Hampton & Richmond and now in his biggest job with Woking, his stock is rising.
The Gateshead-born Geordie is quick to pass on the credit for the club’s progress this season to the players, where they have led National South and reached the FA Trophy first round, despite being the one responsible for signing all of them.
Dowson built this team from scratch in the summer after leaving Hampton following their play-off final defeat, and the recruitment process already delayed, to take what he calls his dream job.
Not one of Woking’s 18-man squad at Swindon played any part in their relegation last season, as the club moved back to their part-time roots for Step 2.
Dowson has been making light work of a tough job and last weekend was a landmark moment which he was at least able to enjoy for a couple of days by attending the third round draw.
“I do get myself down to earth pretty quickly. I know that as a manager you’ve got to do it again and again and again. And when you don’t that’s when you start losing jobs,” he said.
“It’s not my thing the television stuff, I don’t enjoy it, especially with my accent.
“I had about 26 pints on the Sunday night, everyone thought I was nervous in front of the cameras on the Monday, but it was also because I had the worst bloody hangover ever!
“You get dragged into it all. It was a bit surreal being there knowing the whole nation is watching the draw which is what I used to do as a kid as well. It was a special moment.”
Jake Hyde was the goalscoring hero, glancing in a header shortly into the second half to set Woking dreaming.
They defended for their lives with centre-backs Jack Cook and Ben Gerring superb to stop Swindon’s desperate efforts to equalise, who would have rued benching playmaker Matty Taylor.
“It’s my best win by a million miles,” added Dowson, who had never previously reached the first round of the competition. “From day one I’ve said it’s a job I’ve always wanted. To get it and then do something like that is an extra special moment for me.
“But I’m just delighted for everyone at the club, the volunteers and supporters.
“I’d worked all week on Matty because I thought he was their best player when I saw him against Stevenage.
“It didn’t give us a boost because the game plan stayed roughly the same. I was surprised. I thought he would play, I thought like us Swindon might need the financial gain as well.”
So, does he now fancy producing the ultimate upset?
“Absolutely no chance whatsoever,” he said honestly. “They’ll change the team against us. It’s probably a waste of time watching them to tell you the truth.
“We’re not going to get carried away and say we’ll take on Watford. Of course, you have to believe but we’re not so daft. We won’t disrespect them in any way, we know that unless there’s a miracle or people getting sent off, something like that, then we’ve got no chance.
“It will be less of a high if we don’t get results in the next few weeks, we want to be going into it in good form so when it does finish you’re still on the high.
“We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up. It’s one of them where you say to the players no one is guaranteed a place here. We are looking to strengthen the squad, we’ve been on the phone quite a lot.
“The bottom line is, I’ve said it for the last ten years as you know, I’m there to win a game of football so that starts again.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday for £1.50 in all good newsagents and supermarkets