With Woking entering the FA Cup 4th qualifying round this Saturday away at Hemel Hempstead Town, we decided to catch up with two players who were at the club for our run to the third round in 2018-19.
Jack Cook, now of course captaining Wealdstone, and Ben Gerring, now at step four side Bideford AFC, were both fan favourites during their time at the club, with Cook having signed in the summer of 2018, joining boss Alan Dowson from Hampton and Richmond.
“Second qualifying round seems a long way from where we managed to get to, but I can’t actually remember the early qualifying rounds, which shows you the type of opposition we were playing!” said Cook.
Woking’s first two games in that season’s FA Cup saw them enter at the second qualifying round stage as a step 2 side, beating Tooting and Mitcham United 4-0 at the Laithwaite in September before squeezing past fellow step 4 side Kempston Rovers 3-2 in another home tie, and Gerring joined just before the Cards were set to face Welling United in the fourth qualifying round, again at home.
“It was my second game, I wasn’t fit, only just met the lads, so to come in to a crucial game at home against a tough side, I think when they went down to ten men, we started to get a few bodies forward. It was the second phase, luckily Hodgey [Paul Hodges] of all people put it on the money!” said Gerring, with his header enough to beat the Wings 1-0 and get Woking through to the first round.
Gerring's first Woking goal sent the Cards to the first round
Of course, there were mixed emotions when the draw came out, with Cook admitting he wanted one of the big names in the hat such as Portsmouth or Sunderland, but Torquay resident Gerring was happy.
“Personally, I’d have taken that over a league club, the fact we were in the same division really added to it,” said Gerring. “It was a fixture that I didn’t want to lose, couldn’t lose! I was talking to Rossy [Craig Ross] saying we can’t lose this, it can’t happen! They threw everything at us, and I remember watching the ball in the box and I don’t know how it didn’t go in. We had to ride our luck at times, it was a very difficult game but a proper away performance.”
Of course, Gerring had an infamous feud with some of the Torquay fans for much of that season but managed to have a bit of banter straight after the game. “I went straight to the local Torquay bar where I knew all their fans were, went in with my tracksuit and gave it spuds, and we had a laugh about it!”
The celebrations after beating Torquay in the first round
After the Torquay game, Woking went on an excellent run in the league, with November seeing them pick up some crucial wins, and Cook sees it as an example of how league form can be boosted with a cup run. “It was a great feeling, probably built up a lot of confidence going back into the league form, it almost kickstarted our belief that we could go and get promoted and put us in the hat where there’s massive opposition, and you’re only one round away from facing a Premier League team.”
The draw against Swindon was seen by Cook as a positive one, with the Robins struggling in League Two, whilst Woking were riding a massive high and on imperious form.
“None of us could’ve expected to beat them, but we felt with the players before the game that we could actually get something from the game and again ground out a 1-0 win, probably over celebrated in that game more than Torquay but it was another fantastic occasion.
“We were defensively very strong and scored a very good goal, I can remember it in my head, Josh Casey crossing it in, Jake Hyde getting a flicked header and then running over to our fans to celebrate.”
Woking players and fans celebrate a historic day in Swindon
The draw saw Watford, who would actually make the final that season, visit the Laithwaite in early January, and Cook saw first hand the magic of the FA Cup from a part time footballer’s perspective. “I remember when the draw came out, there were mixed emotions. I’m a big Arsenal fan, there was Man United, big teams and you’re hoping to play against them, but Watford were still a Premier League team at the time, they had some good players, a manager who was fantastic on the day, it was a good tie and being on TV, sell out crowd, it was fantastic.
“We got our comp tickets through the club, so I remember only being able to get a select few. Loads of people at work [Nike] started finding out about the game and wanting to go, about 30 or 40 people requesting tickets but it had all sold out! Thankfully through Nike we managed to get tickets for the office somehow, so there was a big contingent of staff at the game supporting me and watching alongside family and friends.
“We’ve got an internal communications channel that does articles on employees around the world, I was featured on that so it broadened my horizons and helped my connections; people were reaching out from the US and Mexico wanting to talk about the game!”
For Gerring, an unexpected evening phone call saw him introduced almost instantly to a national audience as FA Cup mania gripped the town.
“I was sat at home, just on the sofa with my wife and I get this phone call from a number I didn’t know, it was BBC Radio 5 Live,” said Gerring. “They said we’ve got Troy [Deeney] in the studio, it would be great if we could get you on to have a bit of banter with him, we’ll call you back in five minutes.”
“I said, I’ve got five minutes to pull off a one liner against a Premier League centre forward without going OTT, so I said, right, I’m going to put him into Row Z! We had a good chat, they spoke about the game and the anticipation and how it is from our side, and what we were going to bring so, just chucked it in there, said this is what I’m going to do, and it went down well, had a bit of spice.
“I’ve got a great photo on the wall of how it ended, and I’m not looking too great, he was on the pitch for five minutes, stuck the ball in the back of the net and shushed me off! There are levels to the game, and I found that out on the day, but what an experience, that even went in his book, I got his shirt, it was a fantastic experience.”
Watford brought names including former England international Tom Cleverley to the Laithwaite.
Both Cook and Gerring spoke about the aftermath of a cup run, with the former scoring in the game against Welling just days after Watford and the FA Cup circus had come to town.
“That win was one for the real fans, the ones who want to see the club progress”, said Cook, “it was great that there was no hangovers and we could get straight back to league form, there wasn’t as many cameras, not as many people but the main aim was to get promoted and all eyes went back on that promotion push.”
“We were so fortunate we got over the line, mission accomplished, because it would’ve been a disaster if we didn’t get promoted”, said Gerring.
Woking’s class of 2023-24 will be hoping to write their names in FA Cup history this season, you can see them start their journey at Hemel Hempstead Town on Saturday. Ticket details are available here.