Date: 5th May 2011 at 10:33pm
Written by:

Vital Wycombe takes one last look back to a previous meeting between Wycombe Wanderers and their next opponents – who are of course Southend United.

Some people might be surprised to discover that our first meeting with the acceptable face of Essex took place over 104 years ago. It happened three days before Christmas in 1906 in the Southern League Division Two. Roberts and Widdy Busby scored the Chairboys’ goal in a 2-2 draw at Loakes Park.

It didn`t stop us from finishing bottom of the table whilst Southend finished top. It was their first season in existence too and both sides finished in exactly the same positions the following season as well.

Wycombe, then an amateur club, chose to decline an invitation to join the now fully professional League again and joined the Great Western Suburban League.

Another reason was undoubtedly the 40 spectators who were at Loakes Park for the final game of the 1907/08 season. They witnessed a 4-1 defeat that unsurprisingly remains the record lowest attendance for a home game.

It was the proverbial fork in the road. Both clubs went their separate ways and whilst we endeavoured to be the greatest amateur side in the country, Southend joined the Southern League migration to become part of the Third Division of the Football League in 1920.

You have to hit the fast forward button to September 1998 for the next competitive meetings, because friendlies are gash, remember.

The start of the 1997/98 campaign was much like any other. Full of optimism after the great escape the season before. Manager John Gregory was popular after that feat and the players were back in the Oxford and Cambridge Quartered shirts.

Sadly reality bite hard and a 5-2 opening day thrashing at the hands of Wigan Athletic pretty much nipped any optimism in the bud.

The side had responded well to that disappointment and were unbeaten in four games going into the midweek clash with United at Adams Park. They had won the third of a trilogy of meetings with Fulham, beating them 2-0 at Adams Park courtesy of goals from John Cornforth and Mark Stallard.

Striker Keith Scott aggravated an ankle injury during the first half and missed the clash with the Shrimpers. Paul Read came in up front and Dave Carroll took his place on the bench. There was one other change to the starting line-up with Mo Harkin being chosen ahead of Steve McGavin.

The Chairboys’ line-up was: (3-5-2)

Martin Taylor

Nicky Mohan – Paul McCarthy – Michael Forsyth

Jason Kavanagh – Mo Harkin – John Cornforth – Steve Brown – Alan Beeton

Paul Read – Mark Stallard

Alvin Martin’s Southend United lined-up as follows: (4-4-2)

Simon Royce

Andy Harris – Leo Roget – Keith Dublin – Nathan Jones

Adrian Clarke – Mike Marsh – Carl Beeston – Paul Byrne

Jerome Boere – Paul Williams

There were 4,528 supporters inside Adams Park on a balmy September evening and the Blues made a great start and should have been in front in the first thirty seconds when Stallard cut in from the left wing and his shot was touched around the post by visiting goalkeeper Simon Royce. The home side were on top and broke the deadlock with ten minutes played.

Gregory had adopted a 3-5-2 formation which saw Alan Beeton playing in the role of left-wing back. Steve Brown played the ball towards him and some calamitous defending saw defender Andy Harris slip just as Paul Byrne`s attempt to control the ball set Beeton free and he took one touch before whipping in a cross to the far post which Stallard acrobatically tucked past Royce.

Harkin went close midway through the first period with a low shot that was well-held by Royce and Read curled a couple of shots just wide from outside the box. The visitors fought their way back into the game but were gifted an equaliser two minutes before half-time.

Defender Nathan Jones received his throw back from Adrian Clarke to whip in a cross which Martin Taylor made a complete hash of. He fumbled the ball and striker Jerome Boere had the simple task of tapping home from a yard out.

Wycombe responded within sixty seconds when Harkin slipped the ball out to Stallard on the left and he cut back out before clipping in a cross that Read flicked on for Cornforth who timed his run perfectly to volley home at the far post and make it 2-1 and restore the Chairboys lead before they went in for their half-time oranges.

Gregory made a change at the break with McGavin coming on for Harkin but it was Taylor who was forced into the first save of the second half when he tipped over Paul Williams’ shot. On the cusp of the hour the Blues extended their lead.

McGavin and Kavanagh combined down the right and after exchanging passes the latter crossed to the far post where Royce could only touch the ball on to Stallard. He squared the ball across goal for Read who turned to shoot and Royce could only push the ball into the top right hand corner of the net.

Michael Simpson replaced Brown with just under twenty minutes remaining and Boere was denied a second goal when Taylor blocked his shot with his legs. The visitors were then reduced to ten men with ten minutes to play.

Defender Keith Dublin, who was an ex-Wycombe schoolboy, lost his rag and threw his elbow into the face of Read. Cornforth, Forsyth and McCarthy were quick to get involved in the resulting melee which ended with Dublin being shown a straight red card.

The cherry was added to the top of the cake in injury-time when McGavin received the ball in acres of space on the right and played an inch-perfect slide-rule pass into the path of Stallard who matched it with a sublime dink over Royce and into the net to seal an emphatic 4-1 victory.

It took Wycombe`s goal tally for the season to a dozen, making them the top goalscorers in the Second Division. The win also saw the club climb up to third place in the table.

Sadly that was about as good as it got, as defeat at Watford followed amid the Nation`s grief at the loss of the Princess of Wales.

The season tailed off with an ignominious F.A. Cup exit at the hands of Basingstoke Town and Gregory whistled his way to Villa Park before the campaign was out. The Chairboys ended the season in 14th place in the table.