Remember children’s TV quiz Runaround, with gravel-voiced late great Mike Reid asking his young contestants to ‘runaround now!’ and decide which answer’s right, then form an orderly queue?
Fast forward 35 years or so and I can see Woking FC boss Garry Hill doing the same with his squad, such is the everyday news feed from Conference HQ suggesting changes. Where the team coach will be pointed on match-days remains something of a mystery.
One day, we’re all set to play last-day survivors Hereford United again, next it’s a reprieve for Chester, and that after concerns over Salisbury City too. At this rate, even third-bottom Conference Premier finishers Dartford will be wondering if it’s their lucky summer after all.
The first bombshell came from the FA’s Ivory Towers, Greg Dyke announcing his master plan to install a new Premier League B division and give the nation’s big guns a chance to fully utilise their corpulent squads.
The aim was in some quarters seen as ‘laudable’, as it tackled concerns regarding English players making their future mark in the game.
But the bottom line would be a new tier between League Two and the Conference, a further buffer against non-league’s more progressive and accountable clubs. Yes, those who not only have ambition, but also know how to do their books properly.
A new division featuring the big clubs’ second-strings? Imagine that. It would be like having the FA privately allow another 22 Milton Keynes Dons to set up overnight and jump the queue.
And while we all felt Dyke’s plan was so ludicrous it wouldn’t be allowed to happen, the whole MK Franchise saga had left a worrying precedent.
Thankfully, Football League clubs had no stomach for his blueprint, so we’re saved -at least for now – a set-up that could have driven more non-league clubs to the wall in these uncertain times.
That’s not to say every club below League Two has the sound financial basis to climb the current structure, with a few caught short in recent years. There’s been plenty of money splashed about – from the Premier League downwards – and not always spent wisely.
A few clubs have fallen by the wayside accordingly, with many more now struggling to make ends meet for one reason or other.
Last year, Aldershot Town somehow pulled back from the financial brink, surviving a slapped wrist and points deduction to make it through … just.
And now we’ve seen Hereford blow up, their on-going financial turmoil leading to an ultimatum from the Conference to pay up or ship off … and then expulsion.
Chances are that the Bulls won’t be the last casualty, but while I’ve no appetite to see an established club struggle, from a selfish point of view it at least means one more relatively-short trip for me next term – to Chester.
Anyway, i take it that’s the final change for the 2014/15 season though, so I’ll finally complete my end of term Cards review before I’m fully distracted by the World Cup.
I know it’s late, and at one stage I was even close to a one-off celebrating our fantastic televised win over champions-elect Luton Town in mid-March.
Perhaps I should have done. I had the headline sorted for starters – Always Believe in Your Sole. But it never quite happened.
By the time I was finally ready to roll, we’d wound up an impressive season and I had plenty to say about day-trips to Grimsby, Forest Green and Tamworth too, after a positive end to another great season, home and away.
I’ll start with Luton. And what a great night that was, a perfect indication of what we’re capable of. The fact that it was capped by that memorable Giuseppe Sole winner – our super-sub’s first touch – made it all the more special.
It wasn’t so much the victory – the Hatters had plenty of time to secure the title – as the fact that we finally got nationwide coverage again, and didn’t freeze under the floodlights.
It’s too simple to say the commentary team were surprised how good Garry and Thommo’s side were. They’d done a little homework, but seemed genuinely shocked.
It wasn’t just ‘cup final’ spirit either. It was far more than that. We played a team assembled with so much more financial clout off the park, leaving it genuinely difficult for the neutrals to work out which team was heading for League Two.
Luton got there in the end of course, with Cambridge following through the play-offs, but this was our night. We may only have had a little corner among a 6,000-plus crowd, but out-sang the Hatters for much of the night. I felt right proud watching on the box.
I’d only bothered with one BT Sport match before, and then only managed 20 minutes on freeview, that Macclesfield vs Southport game in October seeming muted and lacking in atmosphere, any crowd noise there lost in the ether.
But this was something else, and the quality football brought back memories of past TV highlights like our FA Trophy finals and classic Coventry, Millwall, West Brom and Everton clashes in the FA Cup.
We had to wait a long time for BT Sport to remember we were in the Conference, and even then were just the support act as Luton looked to extend an amazing 27-match unbeaten run and score a hatful against a side guilty of the odd error at the back during an up-and-down season.
Those big nights on the BBC, Sky and Setanta were seemingly behind us, and while the Cards had been back in a national league for two seasons, the cameras had avoided us.
The build-up saw plenty of talk about Andre Gray’s prowess and history-in-the-making for the affable John Still, set on a third Conference top-flight title. But if Woking were just meant to make up the numbers, Garry and his team were having none of it.
Luton weren’t taking us lightly, as you could tell in their pre-match huddle. Two inspirational F-words later, the sound was slightly muffled and the commentator stumbled out an apology. But we got the picture.
Pretty soon we had them rattled, Dave Farrar and Adam Virgo singing the praises of Kevin Betsy, John Goddard and Josh Payne.
Incidentally, maybe I should try the TV approach to reporting at some stage. I’ll just nip down to the bench and ask Thommo how he thinks the game’s going so far and what we should be doing. Worth a try? Not sure if I’d have the guts to ask Garry, mind.
The Woking pressure continued, the Cards also defending valiantly as Luton looked to sneak a lead. We thought they’d managed it with six minutes to go, an Alex Lawless cross almost sneaking in at the back post, before John Nutter survived calls for handball as the ball was floated back in.
But then came that memorable 87th-minute winner, Betsy’s right-wing trickery teeing up Keiran Murtagh, whose superb right-foot volley rattled the crossbar, with the keeper beaten and Sole – on less than 90 seconds – first to react, heading the rebound powerfully home. Sublime. Cue mayhem … at Kenilworth Road, in the Kingfield clubhouse, and in the front room at writewyattuk hq.
That match was always going to be a difficult one to follow, but we managed it, and while there was a marked lack of fixtures in March, we retained a 100% five-game record.
There was a comprehensive 7-1 Surrey Senior Cup semi-final win over Southern League side Egham Town, with regular texted goal updates from brother-in-law Andy on a night man of the moment Gez Sole grabbed a treble.
Then came the 2-1 home league success over Wrexham, appropriately-named young defender Joey Jones grabbing a winner against a team many of us expected to be challenging at the top. What’s more, the attendance at Kingfield crossed the 2,000 mark for the second time since Christmas.
Successive wins number six and seven followed at home to Forest Green and at Hereford, and we were definitely in nosebleed territory, banging on the door of the play-offs, despite our smaller budget and squad, something only over-achieving Braintree Town were managing to match.
It was all set up nicely for my next outing, April 8’s mid-week trip to Cleethorpes to face play-off likelies Grimsby Town.
The fact that it was loosely classed as ‘Up North’ meant the Boy Wyatt was called on to supply coverage, and seeing as I’d missed the previous trip to Grimsby, I was definitely up for it, despite the miles involved.
Add in a half-term Premier Inn stay for the family – I know how to show my girls a good time – and it could only be a winner all round. Besides, I’d never really explored that stretch of the East coast.
The weather wasn’t great at Cleethorpes, but we did our best, enjoying the beach and later fish and chips on the front, before I made my way to Blundell Park for the evening entertainment.
Again, this had the feel of a proper League match, watched by a 3,500 crowd, and up against a club with a proud history. But the home crowd soon realised we were no brush-offs, giving as good as we got and only denying us at the death a deserved three points.
After a dodgy 95th-minute penalty secured the Mariners a point, a grouchy Garry Hill remarked, “You see Paul Hurst jumping up and down as if he’s won the Champions League. It was an embarrassing decision.”
Despite all the excitement and another worthy Cards performance, this was a reporters’ nightmare, with all four goals coming late doors.
Kevin Betsy put us ahead with just six minutes to go, but twice Grimsby clawed their way back, Murtagh our second scorer on a night when it was difficult to work out what the hell was happening in those penalty areas.
But, great as that performance was, there was the feeling that a mere draw realistically ended our late promotion push, as under-lined by the following 3-0 defeat at Cambridge.
But our Garry’s not one for adhering to expectations, as proved by the following 2-1 home win over Alfreton, a side up among the play-off pack.
This time goals from Joey Jones and Jack Marriott in the last 10 minutes saw us come from behind, that spirit back to the fore and talk of the play-offs back on the agenda. And not just from the wonderfully-excitable Jon Howick on BBC Surrey, on a day when the turning point might well have been the Kingfield sprinklers going off part-way through.
Next up was a trip to Gloucestershire, which was kind of on the way home from a brief Surrey visit. Give or take a slight deviation. Glad I went though.
I hadn’t made it to the New Lawn before, and only have vague memories of our first trip to the Old Lawn, so to speak.
I can’t recall much about that first visit, but reckon it was during their first Conference season, suggesting our 2-0 Cards win in April ’99. What I do remember is having to negotiate a long dark tunnel at half time (perhaps I was losing consciousness) to swap ends – not something that would appeal if you were visiting the Old Den.
Well, this time it was a glorious sunny afternoon and – despite an early scare – we almost snatched what looked like an unlikely victory at one stage.
A small section of a sizeable away following barracked home striker Lee Hughes all afternoon, something that was always likely to blow up in our face.
Disappointingly there was no Marriott, recalled by injury-hit Ipswich that week, and despite a promising start, we were behind 10 minutes before the break after James Norwood defied the law of offside while our defenders waved excitedly at the lino.
Matters took a further turn for the worse shortly after as Mark Ricketts was shown a straight red for an ‘I got there as soon as I could’ tackle, leading to much chunnering and talk of ‘that’s it then’ at half time.
Yet that old Hill-inspired spirit was evident again from there, and from a Scott Rendell cross Brett Johnson chested down and home to level. What’s more, pretty soon after it was 10-a-piece after a second yellow for Ali Bangura, the travelling fans’ belief levels raised another notch.
There was a time when I dreaded other teams having a player sent off, as it would pile too much pressure on us. Time and again we’d seem to fail to go on and win, as if mentally mocked by the fact that we couldn’t beat 10 men.
While there was parity this time, it was still a nagging doubt. That was briefly forgotten, however, as Kevin Betsy played in John Goddard for our second.
Still, the abuse rang out for Hughes, and lo and behold the ex-West Brom striker meat-headed home at the back post in stoppage time.
We were gutted. It was Grimsby all over again, our hard work on the pitch undone and another two points dropped.
Our dreaded derby with Aldershot was next, a best of season 4,728 attendance seeing battling Brett Johnson score our goal in a game in which all three finishes came in the last 25 minutes. It was never going to be pretty, and it appeared that our neighbours – desperate to avoid the drop, wanted it more than us, our play-off chance already gone.
Thankfully I missed that, but I was there for the final-day dead-rubber against relegated Tamworth, complete with stupid o’clock kick-off.
Again, I’d treated my girls to a winning weekend, this time with a canalside berth not far out of Burton-on-Trent (well, that sounds better than ‘a Travelodge just off the busy A38’), and again the Cards came up trumps.
While Giuseppe Sole and Scott Rendell’s goals put us into a commanding 2-0 lead within the first quarter-hour, with those hackneyed headlines about slaughtered Lambs looking inevitable, the hosts at least showed some spirit from there.
How they reached half-time just two goals down was a mystery, but this was just a pleasant early summer evening kickabout, and didn’t really matter.
There was something poignant about Kevin Betsy, quality on the right flank with stand-in skipper Adam Newton throughout, making sure in the closing stages, adding to Rendell’s second to secure a 4-2 victory and fire Woking up to a highly-commendable ninth-place finish.
Elsewhere, Murtagh was the midfield lynchpin, just one more player who could make the difference in 2014/15 if we got our way.
Thankfully from a spectators’ point of view, Tamworth were revitalised after the break, the home fans around me inspired by their side’s late-found spirit. And while Brett Johnson and Joe McNerney looked solid, some gangly breakaways by unlikely two-goal local hero Jessy Reindorf left us wanting.
In that sense it seemed almost cruel when Betsy started and finished a move for the killer fourth, with the help of Rendell. Jubilant scenes followed at the away end with the veteran No.11, whose future involvement at Woking remained uncertain.
There was a footnote of course, and a fitting one, a comprehensive Surrey Senior Cup Final win over Met Police back at Kingfield.
I was reduced to listening in this time, courtesy of Gary Smith and John Moore on BBC Surrey, local radio again coming to the rescue of this geographically-challenged Cards supporter for our 12th county cup win.
This time, Scott Rendell scored twice and Gez Sole added another in the first half, before Reece Beckles added a fourth. Two further goals followed in the last 20 minutes, from Brett Johnson – his last for the Cards before a summer departure – and that man Betsy again. A fitting end to a cracking season.
So now to next term, including trips to Altrincham, Bristol Rovers, Dover, Eastleigh, Telford and Torquay. But I’ll get back to that some other time.
The next date in the Cards’ diary involves Falkirk at ours on July 12. But first, I’m off to Manaus, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro …. Well, at least in spirit.
Footienote: Of course, since this piece was finished, that rumour about Salisbury City turned out to be more than just a few Chinese whispers, and they’ve also been booted out of the Conference top-flight.
As a result, the Cards are all set for a Darts reunion next term, hopefully with doo-wop legend Den Hegarty back in the line-up again.
Meanwhile, word has it that Tamworth and Hyde are waiting in the wings for the next faller …