Vital Wycombe is zippin’ up its boots and going back to its roots for the latest installment of Face-to-Face. We’re jumping in the DeLorean and going back to to Saturday 19th November 1955 for only the Wanderers’ second ever appearance in the first round of the F.A. Cup. It had been 23 years since our last appearance when we had been beaten 4-2 by Gillingham in a replay at Loakes Park.
The 1955-56 season was a historic one in the history of Wycombe Wanderers. It was the first of eight Isthmian League Championship winning seasons and under coach Sid Cann the side had plundered fifty goals in the opening fifteen games of the campaign. The F.A. Cup run had seen the Blues beat Witney Town 15-1 in a preliminary round replay at Loakes Park. Slough Town had also been seen off in a second round qualifying replay and the first round paired the Wanderers with Burton Albion, then playing in the Birmingham and District League.
There were two interesting debates at the time that still resonate today. The second we’ll come back to later but the first was whether the club should continue to compete in the F.A Cup. Some supporters felt the potential fixture congestion would compromise the chances of success in both the Isthmian League and F.A. Amateur Cup, which were considered more important competitions at the time.
The first ever clash between the sides attracted a crowd of 9,696 to Loakes Park (compare that with this Saturday’s attendance). Some 400 Albion fans travelled on a special train for the match. It saw record gate receipts of £1,027.
Cann had a fully-fit squad available for the game although there was some doubt over right-wing magician Len Worley, who had just been called up for National Service and was based in Oswestry. Fortunately for the Wanderers he was given permission to travel down from Shropshire to don the famous Oxford and Cambridge Blue Quarters.
The Chairboys lined-up as follows: (2-3-5)
Frank Lawson – Frank Westley
Michael Wicks – Barry Darvill – Jim Moring
Len Worley – Cliff Trott – Paul Bates – Geoff Truett – D.Way
Burton Albion lined-up as follows: (2-3-5)
Hadfield – Poppett
Barker – Weston – McAdam
Hughes – Betteridge – Bullock – Bowering – Giles
Sadly for the home fans in the huge crowd, the game failed to live up to expectations and the visitors took a two-goal lead mid-way through the first half. Albion went in front after 22 minutes when Frank Westley’s error allowed Bullock to nip in and play the ball into Hughes who fired it into the net past Chairboys’ goalkeeper Dennis Syrett. Three minutes later the Brewers had doubled their lead and it was another mistake, this time from Barry Darvill who mis-timed his tackle and allowed Bullock through with a clear run on goal to beat Syrett and make it 2-0.
Things got worse at the start of the second half when yet another error let Burton in for their third goal of the afternoon. Betteridge’s cross was fumbled by Syrett and Bowering was on hand to tap the loose ball into the net from close range. Despite trailing 3-0 the Wanderers kept going and applied constant pressure to the Albion goal and they finally found a way past visiting goalkeeper Townsend with ten minutes remaining. Worley’s right-wing cross being headed home by Paul Bates.
Burton’s cup run ended in the third round when they were beaten 7-0 by Charlton Athletic. The Wanderers meanwhile went on to win the Isthmian League title for the first time, finishing top by a massive 12 points and it was sealed with five games to go, with a 3-0 win over Dulwich Hamlet in front of 6,000 supporters at Loakes Park.
Returning to the second of the debating points mentioned earlier, in a programme earlier in the season Secretary Bill Hayter penned the following: ‘It is very distressing to our Club to hear some of the remarks made on recent matches by a minority of our supporters toward our young player Paul Bates. Before joining our Club, Paul had no experience of wing play and he is striving so hard to show our confidence in him is not wrong, and we do ask you all to encourage him, not discourage him, and we know that then he will enjoy his Soccer more and gain that natural positional play which is so essential to a winger. Please remember that Paul is a young player, and with your help he will be a great one.’
As David Byrne once sang, it seems it’s the ‘same as it ever was.’ Mr Hayter’s plea wasn’t without foundation as Paul Bates did indeed go on to become one of the greatest players ever to play for Wycombe Wanderers.