2:12pm, Tue 31st Oct 2023
All eyes will be on the Southwood Stadium on Saturday, as Ramsgate play host to the Cards in the FA Cup First Round, but on Friday, ‘one of our own’ will look to help Isthmian League Horsham past League One giants Barnsley at Oakwell.
Of course, Charlie Hester-Cook has previous with this competition; he played an unexpected role in Woking’s run to the third round after coming back from a loan spell at Westfield, with an emergency call-up coming in the third qualifying round game against Kempston Rovers.
“I remember the day of the third qualifying round at home, we played a team a couple of leagues below and Dowse was struggling with injuries”, said Hester-Cook. "So that morning I was meant to be playing at Westfield, Dowse called me and said you’re gonna be starting today, we won and from then I had a little run in the team until the Torquay game when I got a yellow card and got suspended.”
With Torquay away pulled out of the hat for the first round draw, most Cards fans could’ve been forgiven for letting out a sigh; the Gulls were flying under Gary Johnson and looking to catch Woking in the table. But Hester-Cook was hungry for success in his first ever FA Cup campaign.
“When you get to the first round, you either want a big team to have a day out for the club or you want someone at home, maybe in the same division as us, but not someone like Torquay. For me it was my first year in senior football, so I was naïve to it all and thought ‘this happens, it’s a regular occurrence’. Knowing now it was a tough draw and not a draw you’d want, but at the time it was something to look forward to, it was a good day out in the end.”
The midfielder put in a very mature performance in a memorable 1-0 win but was booked with the Cards holding on near the end of the game.
“I can’t remember when I got the yellow, but it was disappointing, and I came off in the 85th minute because of the way the game was going, but in the end, we held out. Max (Kretzschmar) got the penalty, which was needed because it gave us something to hold on to, it led us to being more defensive but in the end it paid off and we won.”
Hester-Cook receiving his booking at Torquay
The second round draw presented Woking with another trip to the South West, this time it was a visit to the County Ground to take on League Two side Swindon Town.
“It was a good draw at the time for us, confidence was high, we were doing well in the league, Swindon were struggling. It was a good ground to go to against an established league side, I wasn’t involved due to the yellow card but still got to experience the whole weekend with the team, travelling up and staying in the hotel.
“Going there we were confident we could challenge them, Armani Little and Christian Jolley played in midfield, and they were superb, Jake Hyde got the winner with a well worked goal, and it was scenes at the end and on to Watford in the third round.”
Hester-Cook and Woking celebrate a cupset at Swindon
With Hester-Cook at the very beginning of his career, reaching the third round was quite something considering it was his first season in men’s football, and he reflects fondly on the whole experience.
“I’d just turned 19 and it was all a bit surreal, everything was just new and fresh. Having ITV and the cameras down at training before and the build up to the game, BT Sport cameras in the changing room before, the pre match stuff, everything was a taste of what it’s like to be at the top level. We gave a good account of ourselves in the end, they had to bring on the big guns to get the second goal, I was just happy to be in and around the squad and it was a really good experience.”
After leaving Woking in the summer of 2019, Hester-Cook would find his next FA Cup experience to come against the Cards in October 2021, as his Horsham side beat a side still full of players he’d played with at Woking.
“There was a couple of us, me and Sam Howes who were ex Woking in the squad, I hadn’t really seen Dowse since I left and there were players like Max Kretzschmar and Josh Casey who were still there and it was a good day for us. We tried to stay in the game and a bit of magic from Tom Kavanagh to see it through, Woking missed a few key chances and sometimes that’s just how football goes, our only chance of the game was that free kick, and it took us to Carlisle away, another good day out.”
Hester-Cook facing off against the Cards for Horsham
Hester-Cook and Horsham have been at it again this season, with a dominant 2-0 win at home to Dorking Wanderers confirming their place in the first round again. The Hornets have been handed a lucrative trip to League One Barnsley on Friday night.
“It was good, I know Marc [White] and quite a few of the Dorking lads, on the day we played really well, took two chances which killed them off and we saw out the game, and now we go to Barnsley on Friday, we go up on Thursday, so it should be a really good day out against a League One club.”