August 2012 sees the 90th anniversary of the football club’s arrival at Kingfield. After playing our first ever match on Wheatsheaf Common in November 1887 Woking FC had led a fairly nomadic existence, playing in five different locations around the town before settling at Kingfield.
As well as the Cards, the town was lacking a permanent home for its Cricket and Hockey Clubs. An eleven acre site was obtained in 1921 to provide a secure home for all three and “The Woking Football and Sports Ground Ltd” set up to manage the site. An agreement was entered into with an option to purchase Kingfield for £150 per acre plus an additional sum payable to the tenant as compensation for the loss of crops. Work started on levelling the ploughed field, constructing the new grandstand and raising banking for spectators.
On Whit Monday June 5th 1922, Woking Football and Sports Ground at Kingfield was officially opened by Mr F.H.A Booth of Hoe Place with an extravagant programme of sports and events, including a funfair, a cricket match between Woking C.C and the Cardinals, Lawn Tennis, tug-of-war, children's sport and pillow fighting! These activities were accompanied by music from the Woking Town Band, "The Palais de Danse Orchestra" and "The Versatile Four", who played to the crowd of around 4,000.
And so, on the gloriously sunny afternoon of Saturday 26th August 1922 Kingfield was ready to hold its very first competitive football match. With the splendid playing surface and the sold out new Stand, with admirable dressing room below, the scene was set to launch Isthmian League football at our new home. A crowd of 3,000 saw Mr A.P Coe bury the ball in the roof of the net in the 65th minute for the Cards first ever goal at Kingfield. This only inspired the visitors and Tufnell Park equalised with a well-placed header with only two minutes remaining. The crowds came flocking to Kingfield and the South (Directors) Stand was joined by the 350 seater North (Family) Stand in March 1928 paid for with funds provided by the Supporters Club.
Kingfield in 1931 - Woking v Portland in the FA Amateur Cup
The War finally put pay to sporting proceedings at Kingfield with the Government claiming the ground as a material store in the summer of 1942. After three years of neglect, Kingfield was in a sorry state and it took a massive effort by the community to get it fit again for football. At this time the pre-War debts of £345 were cleared and the freehold of the ground purchased at a cost of £6,500, due to the generosity of the supporters, the 1,100 members of the Supporters Club, the Chairman Leslie Gosden and a loan from James Walker and Co. Fund raising events such as Summer Carnivals were organised and greatly reduced the burden of the loan.
Kingfield in 1946
Facilities were generally improved with the addition of a refurbished clubhouse and crowds once again grew. Terracing was starting to appear with the introduction of railway sleepers and cinders and grass bank “Kops” were steadily extended over the years behind each goal. With the glory times of the Charlie Mortimore era, came more improvements. Income from winning the Amateur Cup in 1958 paid for pool bath facilities in the dressing rooms and a covered stand with sleepers and cinder terracing was erected on the bank next to the Family Stand.
During the 60s new 100ft tall floodlights were purchased from money raised by the “Progress Fund” and Chelsea, top of the Football League at the time, brought a strong team down to Kingfield in November 1964 for the big switch-on. The match, watched by a crowd of 2,688, also saw the very first occasion that Woking played in solid red shirts. The swinging 60s were to end on another promising note, when at a cost of nearly £14,000, "The Cardinal Club", was opened. The bar facilities would provide valuable income over the years. Notable high points for the Club were that it was once the venue for the Jam in May 1975. The lead singer Paul Weller also went on to film The Style Council's "Solid Bond in your Heart" video in the Club and in the car park in the summer of 1983.
Kingfield in 1987
The 70s saw the welcome appearance of concrete terracing at Kingfield and a covered “Bus Stop” at the Westfield end. The concrete’s progress increased as the team’s fortunes on the pitch turned up during the late 80s and very early 90s. The income from the cup runs of the early 90s was quickly re-invested into the ground, as Woking made strides towards the Conference. The old covered terrace was removed and a disabled stand, club shop and office were constructed in its place. Concrete terracing finally covered the old grass banks behind the goals and the full length of what is now called the Chris Lane Terrace and a new roof covering most of the KRE.
With the Isthmian title finally secured, Kingfield saw frantic activity in preparation for Conference football. Terracing and crush barriers were again increased all around the ground and additional toilets and catering facilities appeared. As crowds increased, there were rumblings of a search for a new site(s) locally with custom built commercial facilities to suit the clubs new-found status at the top level of non-league and beyond into the Football League. It became apparent that Woking Borough Council would prefer that the club stayed at Kingfield and a favourable deal struck which consisted of a four-phase plan to gradually improve the facilities at Kingfield up to Football League standard, eventually increasing the capacity to 10,000.
In September 1995 work began on “Phase 1” - the construction of the 2,016 seat Leslie Gosden Stand, financed by WBC and a £250k grant from the Football Trust. In just over three and a half months with other substantial works taking place around the ground such as new floodlights, two new entrances and turnstiles, the roof on the KRE extended and additional steps on the Chris Lane Terrace, the amazing project was complete!
With the decline in our fortunes on the pitch the next three phases of the planned re-development have so far faded into history. And although there’s been general improvement around the ground since the late 90s, consolidation now seems to be the name of the game. But, as the fortunes on the pitch change, combined with the shrewd management of our fortunes off the pitch – who knows what the future may hold for us?
Here’s to the next 90 years!
- Mark Doyle