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Life and times of a dying breed – In depth with Woking’s Ben Gerring

Photo: David Holmes

The realisations and harsh learning that come as standard for so many footballers seem to just apply that bit more keenly in Ben Gerring's case. Having been at the heart of Woking's immediate return to the National League in Alan Dowson's first season in charge last time around, the 28-year-old and his Cards counterparts are now firmly in the promotion mix at 2019/20's halfway point.

Defender, 'DJ Promotion', and one player who could never quite convincingly shrink into the background - figuratively or otherwise. While he won’t be diminishing his character for anyone any time soon, he is right on board at a club that is as professional as semi-pro can be in his eyes.


Tell me about the environment you’ve got in the dressing room at Woking, what Dowse has established, and how it perhaps compares to other clubs you’ve been at.

It’s an honest dressing room. What we sort of said at the start of the season was the reason this group of players was selected, what was expected from each individual, and what our goals are within our dressing room for the season. So everyone got the blueprint of what is expected from them right the way through the season - 'win, lose or draw, these are the minimum requirements.' Once the players understand that, it’s then kind of on us. Individually, you are accountable for your own performance, your work rate and what you bring to the table. I think when that’s clear, there’s no in-betweens and there’s nobody escaping with any miscommunication. It’s there in black and white - ‘this is what we expect from you, this is how you’re supposed to work.’ That shows not just on match days, but at training. Discipline is massive; the lateness, how you turn up, how you apply yourself. For a part-time club, it’s done the right way, and that’s done within Dowse’s sort of regime. He’s desperate to work with us daily, he knows he’s only got us twice a week before the performance on a Saturday. There’s no gimmes, it’s run like a professional club.

As we speak, are you the official team DJ or does it get shared around?

Absolutely I am the DJ. I was debating it today whether to just throw it out there on social media and see if anybody wants to challenge me, because I tend to believe that my playlist is up there with the best of them. I think I can cater for all sort of genres, if you like. I get the changing room bouncing. We’ve got a winning tune, which the skipper (Josh Casey) takes care of afterwards, so if we win, he’s the post-match DJ. He wins on a couple of occasions where he brings out the old-school r&b, but I’ve also heard some diabolical tunes in there. I do get a lot of good reviews for my music, so I’m quite happy to throw a playlist out there if any other DJs in any other dressing rooms wanna put theirs out there; let’s get the votes in.

Can you share what that winning tune is, or does that stay within the confines of the dressing room?

No I’m happy to reveal: it’s (Kygo and) Whitney Houston ‘Higher Love’. So that gets blared out; it’s just a real, feelgood tune, and that kind of came on the scene when the season started and we were winning all those games. That was the first track that came on – again from my playlist! That doesn’t go in our pre-match set, that is specifically when we win, so it’s good to hear Whitney back!

Were there any songs in particular that got a regular airing last season? The soundtrack to promotion, if you like...

We played a lot of, I don’t even know who sings it, that ‘hands…touching hands…’ (Neil Diamond ‘Sweet Caroline’) Neil Diamond, that’s it, that’s the ticket. That got smashed out loads. I think we went 15 games unbeaten, with 13 wins in there, FA Cup run and then obviously promotion, so we absolutely rinsed that tune. Myself and Craig Ross, we like our dance classics, bit of house, anything that you can get up and dance to, so I know I’ve got his backing. Then it’s entertaining the London crowd; you’ve got your rap music, but I’ve got to be careful because sometimes they ask to get on my set and they wanna give a tune. After 60 seconds I haven’t understood a word of what the geezer’s saying, so that gets slung out, but everyone has their opportunity to put one in. I think it’s me that’s had it for probably 16 months now.

Favourite team and player growing up

My team is predominantly Aston Villa, but I didn’t have any standouts in the Villa side that I concentrated my game on. I looked to John Terry and Gary Cahill; that combination for Chelsea. I was a little bit older then, but I always looked at Gary Cahill as being a ‘defend at all costs,’ head on a stick; alright, he can play, but that’s not his bread and butter. I loved the way he put his body on the line. John Terry’s obviously renowned for his colossal defending. Touches of Rio Ferdinand as well, but he’s on another level in terms of his distribution of a football.

Coming from Torquay, where does the Villa connection come from? Is it a family link?

My family’s actually not football-based, so there’s no sort of Birmingham link there. Basically, my best mate and his family are massive Villa fans. We were obviously born next to each other, me and my best mate, so every time Villa were on I used to go round. I ended up buying a Villa kit, going to Villa games with them, and we still go now. My mate’s dad is a season ticket holder. In all fairness, we’ve got a good little clan down here of Villa fans, there’s about ten of us. We went to the Fulham play-off final (2018) when we lost, we went to last season’s final (against Derby County), so we go to the bigger games if we can. We all meet up and it’s good craic.

What sort of approach from a manager do you think you need, and through your time in the game, which one has seemed to understand that best?

Alan Dowson by a million, million miles. I know it pains him to give me compliments! It also pains me to give him compliments; we’ve got that connection now. It’s from 24 onwards I maybe grew up a little bit, because I probably wasn’t the easiest to manage; I’m very loud and dominant, and sometimes can maybe outstep my place. I’m the guy who has to apologise most weeks for something I’ve said, but Alan Dowson definitely, because he sees past all that, and he knows I just wanna win. I’ve got high expectations, and I travel a long way, so honesty is massive; don’t tell me I’ve been good when I know I’ve been rubbish. Some managers can just chuck you out because you’ve had a bad game; everybody has bad games. I cost us twice last season; once against Torquay United and you could arguably chuck Bath in there as well. Two massive games and I let him down, I let my teammates down, but he never just sort of left me out to dry. I had two or three red cards last season, and one being so important against Torquay, but he never did that to me. He knows the season’s a bigger picture; you look at the Team of the Year awards, the promotion. It was 40/50 games, and that trust, I could see that from him. At the same time, I didn’t ever feel I was untouchable, because if I’m crap he’d phone me up, I knew it was coming. I almost don’t like too much praise, because I’ve had it where I’m getting pampered, ‘oh you’re playing really well,’ and my form just goes out the window. I suppose the phrase is being kept on my toes, and however he works me has been tremendous, because I feel safe, but I feel like I wanna work for him, so that’s huge.

Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your time as a player (or give more than one example)

I can name two that I’ll never forget. One being Craig Ross; he’s just a double of me, I think. I fully get him, he’s wild, especially when he’s had a drink! What a guy when he’s had a drink; life and soul of the party. The other one would be Brett Williams, who’s at Weymouth now. Me and Brett were brought into the manager’s office at Torquay countless times. One particular time stood out, where I got recalled from loan, we had a big game coming up at Lincoln. I turned up at training, Brett had obviously seen me – I’d been away for four weeks – and the groundsman had left his drive-on grass-trimmer alone with the engine running. We kind of looked at each other and we had the same idea, so we ran after it, jumped on, we’ve got the groundsman chasing us whilst we’re doing doughnuts around the training pitch. Whole team’s in hysterics, and then I’d say 90 seconds after that happened, the manager called me in. I thought ‘oh my God, I’m getting sacked,’ I thought he’d seen the whole lot. He just said ‘look, I’ve brought you back for this reason, etc. etc. – I don’t want you to be messing around with Brett Williams, I want you to take it seriously.’ I went in and told Brett, ‘I just can’t be around you, I’m gonna lose my job!’ We had that camaraderie where we worked hard and we wanted to win football matches, but we just knew that whenever the team was down we’d be the ones to kind of pick everybody up.

We mentioned one there but who are some of the other big personalities at Woking? Or anyone who keeps spirits high in their own way?

Jake Hyde, he’s another one. I room with Jake Hyde, he’s got a lot to give, absolutely loves himself; he’s not a bad-looking lad, mind. He takes control of social events, he’s got a lot of contacts from all his clubs where he’s been in big cities. So I’d say Jake Hyde, when he does contribute, he gives good quality, so I’d go with him.

Is there a player you’ve played with whose ability alone - taking all the other factors out of the equation - deserved or deserves to be at a higher level?

Going off the top of my head, Brett Williams is one. He was the laziest footballer ever, but he’d do something in training where you’d literally just say ‘wow,’ and I’ve spoken to Weymouth coaches the other day and they said the exact same thing. Brett’s Brett. Another one actually was Greg Luer; he was with us last year and what a footballer he was. I know he’s gone to the Champ (with Hull City), maybe things didn’t quite fall his way, but he was just a naturally gifted footballer. The other one that would stand out would be Joe Mason, who’s at MK Dons at the minute. There’s only two people I actually remember I hated facing growing up, and that was Dan Gosling and Joe Mason, so it’s no surprise to see they’ve both gone on to earn a good living out of the game and play at a good level.

What would you say has been the happiest spell in your time in football so far? In the changing room, on the pitch, how you felt in general; the most complete picture.

Complete picture has to be Woking. The stats of my performances and our collective performances would back that, so I’d say Woking. The nearest to it was Torquay, for obvious reasons; it’s my hometown club. I’d say I loved my time there, I just didn’t have a manager that backed me as much as Alan Dowson does. I was in and out of the team; if Saturday went well you’d keep your place, if it didn’t then you’d be out. That, for me, didn’t get the best out of me. Torquay was a fantastic football club, really well run; even in the bad times, by the way. Really well-run club, good people, but I’d just say Woking has all boxes ticked; there’s nowhere I can look at Woking and say ‘oh that could be better.’ For what it is as a part-time club in this division, it’s exceptional.

Has there been a toughest spell, maybe one that even made you consider your future in football?

There’s been plenty, even this season! Chorley away, got sent off, missed my train, stuck in Birmingham, and I’m sat there going ‘what am I doing? I’ve had enough of this now!’ but then that’s just me being a baby and sulking. There’s that ‘don’t get too high in football, don’t get too low,’ I suppose that springs to mind, but you just can’t help it. It’s six hours for me to get home on away days, and if I’ve had a 'mare or we’ve not won, that’s a lot of thinking. Then something like missing your train and having to fork out £130 for a crappy hotel in Birmingham! There’s been a lot more highs than there has lows. The lows are horrible, but you just can’t have a season without them. August for me personally, getting (National League) Player of the Month, which is something I’d never done before, we’re top of the league and you’re thinking ‘where can it go wrong?’ Then football says ‘hold my beer’ and you’re 13 games without a win and you’re questioning everything!

So with all those hours where you're left to think about the game, when it's not gone well, is there anything you do to actively try and switch off on those journeys home?

For the first two hours I blame absolutely everybody but myself. I’m hammering everybody and saying it’s all their fault, until I settle down and you’re a little bit honest with yourself. Then outside of football I do nothing involved with it; I don’t do coaching. I literally have a job that is the complete opposite; I’ve got my car business that takes my mind off it. I have my son who I look forward to seeing. Some people prefer to stay with football but my head would be frazzled if I had to deal with football on a Sunday or anything after not having a good weekend. So just doing things that completely don’t involve a ball. If I haven’t won then I don’t even care who’s on, on a Sunday, I won’t watch it. Just completely reset and recharge the batteries, and by Monday, I’m fine.

At this point, how is the balance for you between just wanting to enjoy football, and having a burning ambition to play in the League? What means more?

I think it’s to go and play in the League with Woking. I don’t know what the stats are in the National League, but I can’t see many part-time clubs gaining promotion from it, so we’ll be setting history. So I think those targets have got to be set, rather than just saying ‘I wanna enjoy my football’ – you’re enjoying it when you’re winning. I’m 28 years old and I’ve never made a Football League appearance, so I’d say the best opportunity I’ve got is with Woking. If we’re in and around it come February, where the business end really kicks in, we’re gonna be setting our sights on promotion, 100 percent. I think enjoyment goes out of the window; I could have the worst game in the world, we win, and I’ll be fine. If promotion comes out of me not playing so well, but the team winning, then so be it. I’ll take that all day long.

Any myths/misconceptions, or a rumour you’ve heard about yourself in your career that wasn’t true?

Oh wow. (Has a think) I don’t think I’m one to give too much of a monkey’s, in all fairness. I am face value, what you see is what you get, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people I’ve played against who’ll say ‘he’s this and he’s that.’ Even in the dressing room, I don’t go in there to make friends, I’ve got enough friends at home, but I make sure that it’s an enjoyable camp. It’s about setting your standards, so when it’s work time, it’s work time, but I love a mess about and I love being a joker, at the right times. People might have got on the wrong side of me once or twice, or I’ve come across a little bit too much, so that can make an impression on people. I’d like to say people would think ‘he is what he is, he just wants to win, he’s a bit over the top sometimes,’ but I’ve always said I’m quite happy to have a barney with someone and then go and have a beer, and just squash it. Once football’s done, it’s done, I don’t ever carry it out or go home with it, because that’s where it gets out of control.

Finally, what has this time in football so far taught you the most? About the game, yourself, other people, life even?

Even at this sort of standard, it can set you up for a long time outside of football, both financially and as a human being. Like I say, in football, fines and discipline on lateness, and how you are as a guy; if you find yourself disrupting a changing room then you’re not gonna do well in a job environment. So there’s loads of things I’ve learned about my personality, I’ve had to rein it in a little bit; when to explode and when to just shut up and let someone else kind of step in. I would almost say financially, if you play your cards right it can be massive for you when you hang your boots up, but the biggest thing you can’t change is putting a wise head on younger shoulders; I never thought at 22 that I would ever be 28, looking at my final few years of football. Whilst you’re young, just keep grinding, keep working. I think from 20 to 24, I don’t know what the hell I was doing; I think I was fat, I think I was a waste of time, so I’ve wasted four years. Just treat every year, every season, like it’s your last. Now I’m itching to play, and these are the best years of my life. I think I’ve still got two or three years left in my prime, so I’m just itching to play, I don’t ever want it to stop. It’s best to not have any regrets, so any young lads that wanna have a read, don’t ever stop the grind, I suppose. You don’t know who’s watching; it only takes one game, doesn't it?

Interview by @chris_brookes

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