Dorking Wanderers manager, owner and chairman Marc White reveals how the club formed and their rapid rise up the English football pyramid.
When the Surrey based club were announced as Oldham Athletic’s first home opponents of the new National League season, it left Latics fans not knowing much about them at all.
Fans took to social media to explain their surprise at how far Oldham – inaugural members of the Premier League in 1992 – had fallen.
Both clubs are appearing in the National League for the first time this season, but Dorking are probably more excited about this more than any other in the division. forming in 1999 by Marc White and his group of friends, Dorking started playing football in a local park.
‘It started as a social thing’ – Dorking Wanderers manager, owner & chairman Marc White on rise to National League https://t.co/JqaG2C6WZb
— BBC Football News (@BBCFoot) August 8, 2022
They have gone on to earn 12 promotions in 23 years, and have settled into life in England’s fifth tier quick with a 2-2 home draw against Chesterfield on Saturday before losing 3-2 away at Oldham and head to another newly promoted side in Maidstone in midweek.
“It is really exciting – our progression has been so quick,” said White, who is Dorking’s manager, owner and chairman.
“We will be privileged to play a lot of top clubs but, at the same time, we won’t be the whipping boys – we never have been and we never will be.”
Dorking’s rise is reminiscent of White’s boyhood club Wimbledon, who also rose from non league level to reach the English top flight for the first time in 1986.
However Wanderers’ journey is possibly even more remarkable.
“The original intention was to have a kickabout and enjoy a beer after the game,” said White, 49, who also runs a marketing company.
It began as “purely a social thing” but matters moved quickly for Dorking, who first played in the Crawley and District Football League before switching to the West Sussex League, which they won at the first attempt.
Four promotions in five seasons saw them reach that league’s Premier Division and, and with White in charge, success didn’t stop there. They won promotion to the National League South in 2018, the same year they moved into the Meadowbank Stadium, which had been home to non league Dorking FC, who went on to dissolve in 2017.
Wanderers also run academy sides, a youth outreach project and a women’s team who play in the sixth tier.
“We have gone from paying a fiver on a local park to having 1,000 active members,” said 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.
“We were the beneficiaries of Dorking FC being disbanded, but Dorking is a small market town and everyone wants the best for each other. Some of the people who worked at Dorking FC are now involved with our club.
“It was, over time, an ever-expanding hobby, but it became properly serious when we reached the National League.”
Dorking aren’t jumping the gun, but instead being smart at how they go about things. They will remain a part-time side, and only brought in three new players over the summer – including Southampton academy graduate Ryan Seager, ex-Newport and Sutton midfielder Jack Jebb, and former Tranmere midfielder Adam Mekki, all of which came in on a free.
The only transfer fee the club has ever paid was £15,000 for striker Jason Prior from Havant & Waterlooville in 2018.
“We tend to stick with what we already have,” said White.
“We remain cautious when it comes to signing players, and most of our squad have been on our promotion journeys over the past couple of seasons, but we do look for players who can give us an upgrade.”
Wanderers began the season with only one senior goalkeeper in Slovakian Slavomir Huk, as fellow stopper Dan Lincoln is a first-class cricketer who played for Berkshire and Middlesex and then joined Kent.
Attacking midfielder James McShane, who is among Dorking’s longest-serving players after six years, said to BBC Sport: “There is a picture of me caked in mud from when we played at our old ground in Westhumble.
“The pitch was absolutely terrible and the changing rooms were basically two sheds next door to each other.
“We would perhaps get 40 or 50 fans, and definitely no more than 100, but now we have around 1,200 for every game at Meadowbank.”
The 32-year-old, who is also a employee for Royal Mail delivery office, thinks that White’s cautious nature has been a major factor in Dorking’s rise up the leagues.
“The nucleus of the squad has been here for five to six years,” said McShane.
“When he does bring in a few players each summer, it means the others have had to step up. The gaffer manages to keep everybody in the squad happy, although I am not sure how he does it!”
Despite the huge amount of promotions to his name, should Dorking’s next steps not go to plan, White, as chairman, would be willing to sack himself as manager, but isn;t expecting to do that just yet.
“If we weren’t doing well I would be the first to go, because I am the biggest Dorking Wanderers fan of all,” said White.
“We have an executive and a non-executive board, and they remain the driving force. If the results outweighed the budget, then I am sure they would want to talk to me about it.
“We want to consolidate and get the ground more up to spec, although I have been saying that for 20-odd years.”
As per The Athletic, for a club that used to rent pitches from the local council for £50 and once had a game called off because it was invaded by a Shetland pony, White spoke of how having the opportunity to take on Oldham at Boundary Park live on TV was a dream come true.
“I can’t wait to piss people off and for my team to go and show that underdog spirit.”
On how Dorking was formed: “Me and my friends would go clubbing on a Friday night, stay at each other’s houses, play football on Saturday and then go to the pub. It started as that and now we have got loads of different age group teams including an academy.”
“When we moved from the council pitch to play at Westhumble (in 2007), we had to find a ground to make our own. We had to put a rope around the pitch. We had to build changing rooms and the wood would come from local people. We had people who were digging for water pipes. We have done it all ourselves.
“At one point we did think we had reached a point of stunted growth. We had no facilities. I used to go to parish council meetings with local residents to explain to people what we do and the benefits to the community.”
“I’m not a mega wealthy man,” White says. “I am not some sort of benefactor, but if someone has to spend £100 it has to be me. We have just built up this big volunteer and business network over the years.
“My main aim in the last three years has been working around the clock to make the club sustainable. People wrongly attribute our success to money. People think 12 promotions in 21 completed seasons has got to be due to money — it’s not. We have just been clever on and off the field. Our playing budget this year is in the bottom four in the division, probably bottom.”
Dorking want to build an away end with the capacity of 2,000 fans by the 31st of March next year with constructors planning to put in terracing by moving the fence back by five metres on the sides of the ground which have no space for supporters.
The Bunch of Amateurs also deserve to be mentioned. They are documentary series, created by Rich Phippen, which explores the life in non league, and follows the club’s journey, proving quite a hit online.
“Marc is infectiously enthusiastic about everything and genuinely one of the funniest people I’ve met,” Phippen tells The Athletic. “He doesn’t plan anything. He is an experienced leader, does everything off the cuff and that leads to more hilarity.
“A lot of people see the tight jeans, the hat, expensive clothes and mock cockney accent and think he’s a bit of a joker. But give him a couple of episodes and they realise this is a really good, sincere guy.
“You want (White) to succeed. He is a disruptor. He has gone into a world of established football clubs and said ‘I can do that’. And he has done it.”
You can read a whole lot more on Dorking, the documentary series, the coaching set up, their star player and playoff reflection by clicking HERE.
Best FA Cup performance: Fourth qualifying round, 2021–22
Best FA Trophy performance: Third round, 2019–20
Best FA Vase performance: Second qualifying round, 2012–13, 2013–14, 2014–15
Record attendance: 3,000 vs Ebbsfleet United, National League South play-off final, 21 May 2022
✍️ 2007 – Joined Sussex Division 3
⬆️ 2010/11 – Promoted to Sussex Division 2
⬆️ 2011/12 – Promoted to Sussex Division 1
⬆️ 2014/15 – Promoted to the Isthmian League South Division
⬆️ 2016/17 – Promoted to the Isthmian League Premier Division
⬆️ 2018/19 – Promoted to the National League South
⬆️ 2021/22 – Promoted to the National League