“And now Biggins is away! Franks in the middle…Cowler…now Buzaglo! That’s his hat-trick! And that is brilliant stuff by Tim Buzaglo.”
Arsenal were unbeaten and top of the First Division, Iron Maiden were Top of the Pops, and Watford manager Javi Gracia was a fresh-faced youngster making his way with Athletic Bilbao’s B-Team the last time Woking FC reached the Fourth Round of the FA Cup. That stunning victory over second division West Bromwich Albion in 1991 was the first of four appearances in the third round of the competition during the nineties for the Cardinals, all of which helped to raise the funds that propelled them to the upper echelons of the non-league pyramid. Now, playing their first game at this stage since 1997, manager Alan Dowson is hoping that a reminder of the club’s famous cup history can help the spur the class of 2019 to repeat the feat of Buzaglo and co when Gracia’s side make the trip to the Kingfield Stadium on Sunday.
For Woking supporters, it provides some light relief after a difficult few years. Having seized a place in the Conference in the season following their famous cup exploits, the Cardinals had become mainstays in the top tier of non-league, even coming close to promotion to Division Three in the mid-nineties thanks to the goals of veteran Clive Walker. During the most successful period in the club’s history they won the FA Trophy three times in four seasons, and it looked a matter of time before they became a Football League side. Sadly, the departure of manager Geoff Chapple to Kingstonian in 1997 sparked a downturn in the club’s fortunes and, having slid slowly down the league table in the following decade, the club were relegated to the Conference South in 2009.
After a tumultuous season in which three managers were appointed to save the club’s Conference National status, Graham Baker was entrusted to bring the club back up the following year, eventually missing out on promotion in the Conference South play-off final to Bath City. With Baker departing the following January, former Rushden & Diamonds boss Garry Hill was brought in to salvage what looked like being a disappointing season. Having won ten and drawn one of their final eleven league games, the Cardinals finished fifth, but would suffer play-off heartbreak again, losing out to Farnborough Town in the semi-finals. That hot streak of form was, however, continued into the following season, with Woking promoted as champions.
Though fans were hopeful that success in the nineties could be replicated under Hill, five years of largely struggling in the Conference brought an acrimonious end to the manager’s tenure and, with rookie Anthony Limbrick in the dugout, they were relegated again last season. Having changed the club’s status to semi-professional after that first relegation amid financial difficulties, steps have been made to re-establish Woking FC as a fully professional football club, while new manager Dowson has transformed fortunes on the pitch, as Woking head into 2019 in a six-way race for promotion alongside Torquay United and Billericay Town.
Next weekend, though, focus is pulled from the league campaign and returns to a tournament that has provided Cardinals supporters with plenty of memories over the years. In the 1990/91 campaign, a Woking side that would fall just short of promotion to the Conference had already caused a pair of upsets by knocking out both Kidderminster Harriers and Merthyr Tydfil from the league above, before that historic win at the Hawthorns. In an interview with Surrey Advertiser reporter Chris Dyke, the man that led the Cardinals out on a chilly day in the Black Country recalls the lack of respect afforded to the Isthmian League side by their hosts. “I remember looking in the West Brom dressing room and their players were just sitting around as casual as you like, reading the newspapers. I thought to myself ‘who the hell are we’?”
Baggies manager Brian Talbot had further enraged Woking’s players by stating that he had ‘no strategy in mind’ ahead of the match, and when Buzaglo had asked one of the ballboys for his prediction before kick-off, the Woking striker was confidently told “5-0 to Albion”. Needless to say, the estate agent had the last laugh. Trailing 1-0 at half-time thanks to Colin West’s header, the non-league side flew out of the traps in the second-half, as a hat-trick in fifteen minutes rocketed Buzaglo from semi-professional footballer to household name. Indeed, ahead of their third-round clash with Derby County in 2017, the Baggies’ matchday programme featured a mock-up of that famous Sex Pistol’s album cover bearing the slogan ‘Never Mind The Buzaglos – Here’s The FA Cup’.
Defeat at home to Everton in the fourth round was no disgrace, and nor did it spell the end of the Cards’ exploits. The following season Yeovil Town were knocked out en route to a third round defeat at Hereford, while Barnet were the big victims of the 95/96 cup run. The year after, both Millwall and Cambridge United were dumped out by the giantkillers, while it took a tightly contested replay for Premier League side Coventry City to get the better of the Cardinals. Supporters will be hoping for another slice of cup history this year, with Swindon Town already added to the list of scalps for Woking after a Jake Hyde goal settled the second round tie at the County Ground.
We spoke to Woking fan and Editor of the Everything Woking FC blog, Jacob, about his FA Cup memories, the Cards’ chances of pulling off a shock, and how important this cup run has been for the financial health of the club:
“I’ve been a Woking fan for just over 20 years, but I wasn’t even born when the famous win against West Brom happened, so it’s quite strange when that gets brought up! The cup run in the mid-90s that saw us beat Millwall in the First Round and then draw away with Coventry in the next round is something I recall though. They’re probably my earliest memories of going to matches. Last year we beat Bury and also took Peterborough to a replay, so there’s some good recent memories too.
“A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have said there’s a chance of us beating Watford, but looking at what Lincoln and Sutton did last year, I can’t see why not! I just hope for the sake of the occasion we can stay in the game for at least the first half, so the fans don’t get too disheartened. At Swindon the team were so disciplined and that was great to see. We gave away nothing silly and although they had a lot of the ball, when we got our chance, we took it!
“As far as financial rewards go, they’re absolutely crucial at this level and the prize money we’ve won so far will make a real difference this season for us. The FA increased prize money in this competition for this season and that’s great for non-league sides. With this game live on BT Sport and a sell-out expected, I think we’ll take away around £250,000 from the FA Cup this season – which is not bad! We’ll need it to compete for promotion though. With Billericay and Torquay having far bigger budgets, this only really levels the playing field a tad.”
Thanks to Tim Buzaglo’s hat-trick, and his subsequent award of a place in the FA’s Team of Heroes to commemorate 125 years of the FA Cup, Woking FC already have a place in cup folklore assured. That won’t stop the likes of Max Kretzschmar and Jake Hyde wanting to earn their own slice of history against Watford next weekend. If Dowson plays his Cards right, we could be on for another almighty shock.