(Woking manager Alan Dowson, left, and Martin Tyler)
By Alex Narey
From watching his first game as a wide-eyed eight-year-old, pulling on his boots to represent the club some 50 years later and now working as an assistant in the dugout, Martin Tyler has the red and white of Woking flowing through his veins.
It was December 1963 when Tyler caught the number 437 bus to make his first visit to Kingfield. Living only a short ride from the ground, he knew little of the club but after walking through the gates the atmosphere immediately resonated with him. From that moment he was hooked – a 4-1 victory over Kingstonian complemented by Tyler’s love for the Cards’ iconic half-and-half red and white shirts.
“You couldn’t get replica shirts then,” he tells The NLP. “There was a local shop that had one with red and white quarters but it just wasn’t right; the red and white halves have remained my favourite kit to this day.”
Tyler’s Woking romance is a feel-good footballing story few would believe, particularly the hordes of Premier League fans who are more accustomed to his soothing tones that seep through their television sets on a Sunday afternoon.
An impressive playing career saw him face the club he adores during his time at Corinthian Casuals, while Glenn Cockerill handed him a place as a starter in a reserve game back in 2004, a ceremonial outing, if you like, at the age of 58. But as impressive as his tale is, the legendary commentator has never been one to seek the limelight when others are far more deserving.
And according to Tyler, nobody is more deserving of praise than the club’s manager Alan Dowson, a man who Tyler has worked alongside and shared a close relationship with since 2005. From Walton & Hersham to Kingstonian and Hampton & Richmond Borough, Dowson and Tyler have formed an unlikely alliance that prospers with their deep love of the game and the way it should be played.
“I was helping out at my son’s team, Walton & Hersham, in 2005, where Dowse had just started out coaching,” says Tyler.
“I was the only dad who was available at 5.30 on a Thursday afternoon, so I put a few cones out. I was just an extra pair of hands and to be honest that is pretty much what I am now at Woking. I’m there to help Alan and I would never want to take anything away from what he does. ‘Dowse’ is the beacon and he is the man who everyone looks up to.
“I always describe Dowse as if you were in a cold room, he is the fire that you huddle round. He has that kind of warmth; he attracts people to the game and I don’t know anybody who gets put off by him. He cares, and he is a deeply thoughtful person which sometimes people might not get.
“He has a powerful voice in the dressing room, but while he is tough he is also caring, which is a wonderful combination. In a one-to-one, any player can go to him with their worst problems and they will know they will get a fair hearing and if he can do anything to help, he will move heaven on earth to do it.
“Nothing is too much trouble. If he believes in it he will fight your cause until the end.”
Dowson and Tyler joined Woking last May, two weeks after the Cards had been relegated from the National League and just three days after their own promotion dream with Hampton had gone up in smoke; a 4-3 penalty shootout defeat to Braintree Town bringing the curtain down on a season that had promised so much.
There is a strange symmetry with Tyler bound to his commentary duties that day, heading back from Anfield where he had been working on Liverpool’s 4-0 trouncing of Brighton. He would listen to that fateful shootout on the radio, and last Sunday he was in the gantry watching the Reds once again, only this time reassured by the news that Woking had earlier booked their place in the January cup showpiece courtesy of Jake Hyde’s glancing header in the 54th minute.
Hyde wasn’t in the Woking ranks last season. In fact, not one player who took to the field for Sunday’s win at the County Ground carried any of the scars of relegation. It is a clean deck that Tyler believes has worked as a positive for the Surrey side this campaign.
“From where we were when we came in, with no players, you have to give so much credit to Dowse,” Tyler says. “But immediately there were some encouraging signs; not having any players left over from the relegation gloom and within a few weeks the club had sold 1,500 season tickets, which was a wonderful endorsement for the durability of the fans – the fact they believed we could do something and that there was a new page in the history books to be written.”
While the cup run has thrown the club into the national spotlight, with the funds generated along the way – supplemented by the £150,000 Woking are guaranteed to pocket with their third round clash against Watford being shown live on BT Sport – doing so much to heal the financial wounds of relegation, the bread and butter of the league remains at the forefront of Tyler’s mind. Indeed, promotion back to Non-League’s top flight would prove something of a dream finish for a man who has become legendary for delivery the closing lines that sum up other clubs’ fairytales.
“Woking have a pretty good record in the FA Cup, and maybe some of that history has rubbed off on this new crop of players,” says Tyler.
“The cup run is wonderful, but the main aim is to get this club back into the National League. That is where we feel the club belongs.”