Wycombe Wanderers have now completed 17 seasons in the Football League, six of which have been in the fourth tier of English football.
As preparations for another campaign in the bottom tier are cranked up following last season’s relegation, an excited Benny tries to calm down a bit by taking a look back at some of the ups and downs of the Chairboys’ previous seasons in the basement division.
The first season in the Football League was a magical mystery, there was more novelty than a Black Lace record and we went into mid-September still unbeaten. Our first low came against that repulsive rabble from Essex. After a fast start the Blues had taken a deserved lead when Scotty converted from the penalty spot after Bonnie Langford had been brought down in the area. The Chairboys also saw an effort come back off the bar before it all started to go wrong. Jason Cousins slipped and instinctively stuck out his hand to stop the Col U forward from running clear on goal. He was shown a straight red and the Wanderers were down to ten men. Just as it looked like we might hold out until half-time, Kinsella crashed home an equaliser. Four minutes into the second half Langford lobbed the ball over the goalkeeper to put the Blues back in front. Sadly it was a false dawn and McGavin grabbed an equaliser which deflected in off Terry Evans. Three more goals followed to seal a horrific 5-2 defeat that I have repeatedly tried to wipe from my memory.
You were guaranteed a good time under Martin O`Neill and there weren`t too many anti-climaxes. That defeat was revenged with a 2-0 win at Layer Road the following March but it got even better at the end of May when the Wanderers made their third visit in four years to Wembley. They faced John Beck`s agricultural Preston North End and the Nobbers were soon in front through Ian Bryson`s overhead kick. Steve Thompson equalised within a minute and the match continued to see-saw. North End re-took the lead through Paul Raynor`s header and they went into half-time 2-1 in front. It didn`t take long for the Blues to level, David Titterton`s spectacular through-ball / long punt upfield* (delete as applicable) was controlled first time by Super Simon Garner who wellied the ball past Steve Woods. Wanderers took the lead for the first time with the goal of the game. A slick, touch and go, first-time pass and move between Steve Guppy, Steve Thompson and Simon Garner created a simple chance for Dave Carroll, who passed the ball into the net to make it 3-2. We got Yazz on the end of season video but this was football that deserved a soundtrack from Barry White. Carroll sealed the 4-2 win with a trademark solo effort, weaving through the helpless North End defence, which included current Everton manager David Moyes, before cutting back and crashing a right-footed shot in off the post. These were salad days, dreams being made real, promotion won in the club’s first season in the Football League and it was done in such glorious style that it makes Lady GaGa look like Olive from On the Buses.
There was then a ten-year sojourn in the third tier of English football before falling through the trapdoor in 2004. We hadn`t quite reached rock bottom and the decision by members of the club to vote in favour of the formation to a PLC was the start of a downward spiral that has still yet to be played out. On the pitch the low came in November when the pig-pokers escaped from the incest fields to steal a late 1-0 win at Adams Park. Big Tone fell on his sword and the following week the team looked like they were digging for Coalville, squeaking past Town with a 1-0 win in the FA Cup. Two and a half thousand souls turned up to witness the sight of a club unraveling yet the high point of the season was just around the corner. The legendary Keith Ryan was appointed caretaker manager for an away trip to Brisbane Road and we were treated to a wonderfully committed performance. Orient took a first half lead through Wayne Carlisle`s deflected free-kick but the Blues were level early in the second half when Nathan Tyson tucked the ball home. Roger Johnson made it 2-1 with a header from Disco Danny Senda`s free-kick on 67 minutes but that wasn`t the end of the entertainment. A trio of dreadful tackles on Tyson from Alan White, Michael Simpson and David Hunt sparked a 24-man brawl, everyone piled in for a good old fashioned free-for-all. Hunt was sent for an early bath and there was still time for a comedy moment when Matt Bloomfield accidently ran into the referee, knocking some of his teeth out.
Hopes of promotion were high at the start of the 2005/06 season, John Gorman had strengthened his side with a number of high profile signings and some of the football that was played made the 1970 Brazil team look like Fisher Athletic. The high point was a 21-match unbeaten run and the performance at Rochdale in August was sensational and heralded the start of “Gormania.” Wanderers passed the ball around for fun and created a whole host of chances. Mike Williamson and Matt Bloomfield both found the net with headers in the first twenty minutes. It could have been five before Willo committed a clumsy foul to concede a penalty with ten minutes left. The Blues survived a slightly nervous end to take the three points.
The lowest point came in January 2006 following a 2-0 home over Notts County. Young midfielder Mark Philo had died from his injuries following a car crash earlier that day. Less than six weeks later manager John Gorman lost his wife Myra to cancer. Coping with one tragedy is difficult enough but both were too much and the side fell apart and results followed. The season ended with defeat to Cheltenham Town in the play-off semi-finals.
The 2006-07 began well under new manager Paul Lambert and the side won eight games on the bounce in August and September, however the high points would come in the cups. A late F.A. Cup win over Oxford United in November was thoroughly enjoyable but it was the 1-0 win over Premier League Charlton Athletic at the Valley in the League Cup that left people dancing in the streets. Jermaine Easter`s winning goal was the least the Wanderers deserved after dominating the Addicks. It was a glorious evening that earned the Blues a semi-final meeting with reigning Champions Chelsea. The low point came soon afterwards. The cup run proved to be too much of a distraction and the loss of Kevin Betsy and a series of loan and short-term signings created a negative environment that led to the side finishing the season without a win in the last eleven games. A predictable 2-1 defeat on the final day at Barnet ensured that the long-suffering Chairboys were just glad the season was over.
Paul Lambert made a significant number of changes to his squad during the summer and although the side started the 2007/08 season slowly they were soon mounting a challenge for the play-offs. The high point came on Boxing Day with a 3-1 win at Brentford. Glenn Poole had given the Bees a first half lead but the Wanderers stormed back in the second half with Sergio Torres curling home a splendid equaliser. Scott McGleish tapped home after goalkeeper Scott Brown had fumbled a Craig Woodman cross to give the Blues the lead and John Sutton headed home a third goal to seal a rare win at Griffin Park and on Boxing Day too.
Whilst a play-off place was in the bag before the end of the season, the Blues were like the Titanic with the Iceberg straight ahead. They couldn`t avoid a semi-final meeting with Stockport County and having lost 6-0 at Edgeley Park earlier in the season and having never won there ever, a first leg lead was crucial. Sadly it ended all-square at 1-1 and the second leg was horror show. Half the Wanderers support were left stuck on the M6 after two mad bints decided to play Russian roulette with the traffic and they missed Liam Dickinson`s early winner. The rest of the game saw the Chairboys huff and puff like a big, bad wolf. Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin said the Hatters and they held on to the lead to leave the Chairboys pig sick.
With Paul Lambert resigning, ex-England manager ? Peter Taylor was given the task of earning promotion by any means necessary. The Wanderers embarked on an incredible 18-match unbeaten run, the last of which was an emphatic 4-0 thrashing of Macclesfield Town at Adams Park in December. A brace from Magno Silva Vieira and goals from Angelo Balanta and Leon Johnson gave the Blues a seven-point lead at the top of the table. The side had conceded just eight league goals and goalkeeper Scott Shearer had kept 11 clean sheets.
Ironically for many Wycombe fans the low point of the season came on the final day when promotion was sealed. The side produced an insipid display which seemed content to take the necessary point and failed to show anything for the record home crowd. John Thompson gave the Magpies the lead on the half-hour when he caught out goalkeeper Jamie Young from long-range but Captain David McCracken levelled five minutes into the second half. On the stroke of full-time Thompson was given time and space to curl a shot beyond Young and into the corner of the net to send the Blues to a 2-1 defeat. The crowd had to wait five minutes before news of Bury`s 1-0 win over Accrington Stanley was confirmed and promotion had been won by the narrowest margin of just one goal. What was meant to be a moment of celebration left some people angry. It was perhaps the most inglorious promotion in the clubs history.
Are you ready for 2010/11?