It is a big weekend for Woodley United in national FA cup competitions.
Step 6 outfit Woodley United men have already created club history, winning through two rounds of the FA Vase to make their way through to the competition proper for the first time. Prior to this campaign, the Kestrels had never won a Vase match, losing eight consecutive ties. Jordan Blake’s side however are made of sterner stuff these days and they have seen off AFC Aldermaston and Newent Town in the competition this season before Saturday’s First Round Berkshire ‘derby’ at Virginia Water at Stag Meadow.
United have won more than they have lost in the Combined Counties League Division One so far this season and although they are nine points shy of a play-off place at the time of writing the have up to three games in hand on teams ahead of them due to their extended Vase run. On paper their task against the Surrey side is a tough one. A credible seventh place finish last season has set them up for a play-off tilt this season. They have won five of their last six ‘home’ matches at Windsor and have won their last three games on the spin.
Woodley conversely are in the midst of an inconsistent patch, having won three and lost three of their six most recent league and cup matches. They are however on course to improve on last season’s thirteenth place finish under Blake, itself an improvement on sixteenth place in 2021/22. The manager is aware of the inconsistency of his side, who lost 5-3 to Eversley & California on their last outing at the Rivemoor last week. The Kestrels manager admitted: “Having watched the Veo back – as I unfortunately wasn’t at the game – it was frustrating. Absolutely we didn’t deal with the first or second ball as it came into the box from either their long throw or corners. We will be addressing this at training to ensure we improve as a team. I think in all round play from our attacking players it was good on another day I think we would have scored 1 or 2 more but we can’t be giving soft goals away and leave us a mountain to climb. I think the forward players have been lively so far this season and long may it continue into the winter months of the season. I think all in all we were frustrated about how we started that game, but we have scored in every game this season and we know if we tighten up at the back and start to keep clean sheets we have the forward players that can score goals at this level.”
Woodley then duly went to struggling Brook House last Saturday afternoon and recorded a comprehensive 4-0 victory with top-scorer Sid Gbla completing a hattrick. Blake admitted: “Yeah it was a really good and good to come away with a clean sheet as well which is important for us!” Gbla claimed the match ball with two in injury time, meaning that four of Woodley’s last seven goals scored have come in the closing stages of matches which shows their staying power. Waters beware.
Blake has done his homework on the Step 5 side: “I know they are a good side and I’m sure have ambitions this season to be in the play offs. Since the new manager has come, they’ve gone on a good run so we will need to stand up to the challenges we face on the day. They are a strong, physical side with some good technical players and a front player that scores goals we know we will need to be on it right from first whistle. We’ve spoken about doing a few things differently on Saturday and trying to impose our game on them. We know we are going to have to be fantastic in all departments to get the right result from the game, but we believe if we stick together and work hard then we can achieve it.” The manager will certainly be hoping that the defensive unit from the Brook House game rather than the which shipped five against Eversley & California is the one which turns up at Stag Meadow on Saturday.”
Vitality Women’s FA Cup
Anything the Woodley United men can do, meanwhile, the women can do just as well. Marc Surtees Tier 5 SRWFL side are in Cup action at the weekend themselves, in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup Third Qualifying Round to be precise. They will entertain Kent-based Aylesford at Bulmershe Pavilion on Sunday 22nd October looking to make history of their own.
Having defeated Buckingham 8-0 in the Second Qualifying Round, a victory against Aylesford will take United into the First Round Proper for the first time in their history. Woodley will at least be looking for a better result than their last time at this stage – a 14-1 defeat to Tier 4 AFC Wimbledon in 2017.
A repeat of that thrashing looks unlikely against Tier 5 rivals Aylesford. Not least because United have made a fine start back to life in SRWFL Premier after promotion last season. Woodley are in second place in the table behind much-fancied Ascot United and come into the Cup tie off the back of a 5-0 thrashing of Warminster Town last Sunday, thanks to braces from Sarah Lawrence and May Hamblin alongside a strike from Michelle Quinn.
Manager Surtees – speaking exclusively to FiB – reflected: “We had a nervous start, leading to the start of the season we had not managed to recruit many new players. However, just before the first game we signed a few which strengthened the squad. We started the season with low numbers due to holidays and injuries but managed to be competitive and get a win in our first game. After that we have managed to stay consistent and now have good competition in all positions. We have been pleased with the start we have had, only losing one so far against an established Oxford City side.”
It is a family affair at Bulmershe Pavilion as experienced midfielder Ellen Surtees – daughter of Marc – is club captain and she admits to being at Woodley almost longer than she can remember! Ellen admitted: “This is making me feel old. I had to ask my Dad! I started at Woodley around age 12 or 13. I came over from Reading Girls when Woodley first formed. So, I’m looking at 13 or 14 years here now.”
Ellen reflected on the remarkable progress of the team, telling us: “This is our first year back in the Premier division after being relegated two seasons ago to Division 1. We had a strong season last year, changing the way we play as a team, gaining new players and most importantly team cohesion! We’ve brought all of those things into the new season this year. We’re working hard in training trying to get all the small things right, to then transfer them into our matches. We’ve had a good start to the season. The first couple of games we were hit with illnesses and injuries and had the bare bones but came away with a win against Badshot and a draw at Bournemouth, which could have been all three points. Since then, we’ve had near enough full squads and a strong team to choose from. We hit a bump in the road against Oxford City where things just weren’t working, but without making those small mistakes, we’re not going to have things to learn from right? Those were corrected and we came out strong the following week with a 5-0 win away against Warminster. We have a very strong squad this year with every player having to fight for their spot. This again ups the work rate at training and on match days and you can see the positive change in the players and what it means to them to be a part of this team.”
Ideal conditions then for a run in the FA Cup, as Ellen – a PE teacher at Hugh Farringdon school in Reading – admits: “Who doesn’t love a cup run? I think this is something we’re all excited about this year. Our 8-0 win a few weeks ago in the FA Cup really showed how much the competition means and the buzz around the team afterwards was brilliant! We know that as we go through the competition we’ll come up against some tough opposition but it’s a good opportunity for us to showcase what we can do against teams potentially higher than us. We just take each game as it comes, play our football and go out there for the win!”
With senior men’s and women’s football thriving at Woodley United, what chance more history being written on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon this coming weekend?