Dorking Wanderers: The epic story of the National League's ultimate underdogs

Dorking Wanderers: The epic story of the National League's ultimate underdogs

Back in 1999, Dorking Wanderers began life as the brainchild of a group of mates in a park.

On Saturday, after 12 promotions in 23 years, the upstart outfit travel to former Premier League side Oldham Athletic in their first-ever away fixture in the National League. The match will be shown on national television.

“The original intention was to have a kickabout and enjoy a beer after the game,” admitted Marc White, who co-founded the Surrey-based team with a group of pals.

Today, White serves as Dorking’s manager, owner and chairman – in addition to running a marketing company.

“It began as purely a social thing,” he told BBC Sport.

Back when Dorking were competing in the Crawley and District league, that may very well have been the case. However, with the club now just one division shy of Football League status, the stakes have become a whole lot higher.

Gone are the days of Dorking renting their pitch from the local council for £50 a match. Now, Wanderers host their games at the 3,000-capacity Meadowbank Football Ground.

Featuring three separate stands on two sides of the ground, it’s hardly a state-of-the-art facility. That said, it’s still a million miles away from Dorking’s humble beginnings.

In their entire history, the club has only ever paid a transfer fee for one player – £15,000 for striker Jason Prior from Havant & Waterlooville in 2018.

Their current squad still plays part-time. Attacking midfielder James McShane, for example, combines his exploits for Dorking with a role at their Royal Mail.

There’s been no major investment at the club, either. Their 12 promotions, which culminated in a victory over Ebbsfleet United in the National League south play-off last season to secure promotion to the National League, have been achieved through a strong team spirit and plenty of belief.

“We have gone from paying a fiver on a local park to having 1,000 active members,” said boss White.

“We never really had a plan and we just pieced things together as we went along, but perhaps 12 to 14 years in we started to have these little pipe dreams.”

Dorking’s debut season in the National League got off to a satisfying start, with White’s men coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Chesterfield. That unlikely comeback earned the Wanderers chief the National League’s Manager of the Week prize last weekend.

Having been around since the very beginning, White will be determined to extend Dorking’s Football Manager-esque fairytale as far as possible.

A positive result against founding Premier League member Oldham would be the latest in a long line of historic moments for the club.

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