Result: Wycombe Wanderers 1-0 Stevenage (EFL League 2)
Venue: Adams Park (Saturday 5th May 2018, 3pm)
The EFL league season reached its climax over the early May Bank Holiday and this in turn allows for something of a football fest. Three games in three days was to come, beginning with a trip down to the Chilterns for a promotion party. Wycombe Wanderers had just secured their promotion in the previous round of fixtures and with the weather set to move into the bracket known as “warm”, the Chairboys were to be backed by a near capacity crowd in their final game of the campaign, as Gareth Ainsworth’s men looked to sign off in style.
So to Adams Park it was. Now, my journey had originally been intended to take in Bournemouth vs Swansea, and I bought a ticket early enough to make it a worthwhile risk. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, this fell through in the days leading up to the game and so I required a club to step into the breach and, luckily, both Wycombe and Swindon gave easy enough options – just hop off at Oxford and head either eastward or westward. As it was, the easterly journey was always the more attractive option, with me having wanted to visit High Wycombe for some time and so, with a match ticket safely secured a couple of days before, an early start saw me catch the 8.25 service out of Manchester and down towards the famed university city.
As chance would have it, come the train’s arrival into Stoke-on-Trent, I would be joined at “my” table by a trio of (I assume related?) Wycombe fans of varying levels! They provided great company and entertainment for the trip down, prior to them leaving at Leamington (whether or not the sentiment is returned may be questionable!!), though yet again my terrible memory when it comes to names has struck again, so apologies for that! What I do know is that the guy is an FC fan with not too much fondness when it comes to Stockport and Chorley – the former making the encounter with the Stockport supporting conductor interesting! The PAOK shirt is something that isn’t come across often either and it’s something of a shame that camera shyness put off the slightly elder pair, though young Mickie (I remember this, I just hope I’ve got the spelling right now!) was happy to display her colours, as shown below!
After passing by the grounds of Leamington and the decent-looking Banbury United on the way down, I arrived into Oxford with good time to buy a ticket for the 40 minute trip over to High Wycombe, which came in at an extra £9 or so, so not too much more out-of-pocket, especially when taking into account the very decent ticket prices offered up by Wanderers too. Anyway, the journey passed comfortably enough, though the initial quest for a drink went horrendously….
I initially took the wrong exit from the station and so was left having to navigate through a dingy underpass and back towards the far more pleasant town centre. My eyes initially set upon the Three Tuns which looked a decent enough boozer…well, that was until I was left standing at the bar for well over five minutes while all and sundry around me were getting served first, despite me having money out in full show. As such, I decided that if my money wasn’t wanted in here, then I’d happily give it to somewhere else. Sadly, this also wouldn’t be the quaint-looking Antelope down by the side of the church there, with this one being shut up. This was made all the more painful when I noticed that they were advertising Hop House for just £2 a pint. Ah.
After having a quick look in the finely named Mad Squirrel just across the church’s grounds, I instead reckoned I’d leave that one for now and head on over to the far end of town where I knew there were a few options too. These were namely the Snug and Heidrun and with the latter’s interesting grouping of ales within taking my fancy, I opted for them to end my ever-growing thirst. The prices weren’t exactly all that cheap, though this was fairly understandable given the options and strength, and given all the reasons there, along with the fact I wasn’t too sure how they’d go, I decided to just try out a half of the 6+% Nanban Kampai, a tropical fruity ale for £2.95. It was bloody good too, so no complaints here.
Having planned out something of an itinerary to follow from here, I set off for the aforementioned Mad Squirrel, another tap house bar. Having seen the wide variety on offer in here, I settled on a pint of the Hop Fest which appeared to be brewed by the bar and possibly on site. All good, as was the price tag of £3.95, with it again being a lovely tasting drink, though it was soon time to continue my travail of Wycombe, which would end at the bus stop which, as luck would have it, just happened to have a bar all but opposite it. You’d think I planned it or something, wouldn’t you?
Before I got there, though, a quick visit into the old, wooden beamed Bell Hotel was paid, with a pint of Amstel in there coming in at somewhere in the mid £3 range. Having finished up in the Bell rather swiftly and popping just around the corner and under the A road that passes by there, I arrived at the Chiltern Taps which, as I mentioned, sits just a minute or so from the bus station, where a few buses can be caught to around five or ten minutes from Adams Park. Anyway, a second Amstel in here was around the mid £3 mark once more and having arrived at the station just as the bus pulled in, I was soon en route to the ground.
Dropped off not far from the Hourglass which is near enough at the foot of the road leading to the ground, I instead made my way over to the ground where I planned on meeting back up with the Wycombe fans from the train in the marquee bar they had informed me of. After collecting my ticket and taking a couple of exterior pics of the ground, I made my way over only to see the form of a steward standing guard right outside the doors. This didn’t look too good and, indeed, it wasn’t.
No-one was getting in and, to be fair, this was probably a wise choice as, having joined the queue for the turnstile with a good 20-25 minutes to kick-off, I only got to my seat after a minute of the game, this also taking in a visit to the food bar, with it looking unlikely to be any easier come the break. A Chicken Balti pie was the choice of the day today, and with it being a Pukka, you know what to expect.
Having reached my seat up in the towering Frank Adams Stand, the rest of the ground looks fairly miniscule in comparison, but this does allow for nice views up the hills behind the Main Stand opposite. The Frank Adams stand, as I alluded to, is by far the largest of the structures that make up Adams Park and is named in memory of the man who donated the club’s former Loakes Park to the Chairboys. It is two-tiered and houses the executive boxes, The Main Stand opposite plays host to the dugouts out front, as well as the dressing rooms and the tunnel is to the centre. It is pretty interesting though, as the seats are raised from ground level, meaning they are accessed by sets of stairs and an area to walk along the front runs along the touch-line, with people stopping to watch now and again, without being unnecessarily harassed.
Behind the goals, the two covered ends are slightly different, in that the home end is still terraced and the away end is all-seater. Between the latter and the Main Stand is a large video screen (though this was MIA today) and a smaller, more standard scoreboard. The terrace is where the main area of noise emanates from and this was my area of choice, prior to it selling out far in advance. Still, I was more than happy with my seat just about on half-way and with the action already ago, it’s probably best to delve into the history of the Wanderers right now….
Wycombe Wanderers Football Club was founded in 1887, though a team known as North Town Wanderers did exist in the town from 1884, formed by furniture trade workers. As it was, Wycombe Wanderers came about during a meeting in a local pub and likely named after Wanderers FC, the 1872 FA Cup winners and who Wycombe played in the 1877-’78 competition, losing 9-0. The club derived their colours from the blues of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and originally played friendly games through to 1896 (their first against the interestingly named Wycombe Nose Club), also competing with two sides in the 1889-’90 High Wycombe Cup (the firsts in secrecy as Wild West FC who won it), though also entered the FA’s Amateur Cup in 1894 and the FA Cup the next year, 1895 also seeing the club move into their long-term home, Loakes Park from Spring Meadow. 1896 saw the club join the Southern League and they competed in the league’s Second Division through to 1908, whereupon they declined to retain their membership and instead decided to pursue a future in the professional game, moving to the Great Western Suburban League, remaining there until the outbreak of WWI.
Other minor honours for the club saw them win another High Wycombe Challenge Cup in 1894, ’95, as well as the 1894 Maidenhead Norfolkians Cup. The Berks & Bucks Senior Cup was first lifted in 1902 (their first season back at Loakes Park after a short spell away) after a number of final losses in previous years. They have since won a further 28 of these over differing age groups.
After the Great War, Wycombe joined the Spartan League and won their first league titles in both of their seasons there prior to joining the Isthmian League in 1921, remaining as an amateur outfit. Throughout their spell in the ranks, Wanderers embarked on a quest to be known as the best amateur side in the country. They would win the FA Amateur Cup in 1931 via victory over Hayes at Highbury and the following year saw the Chairboys reach the FA Cup’s First Round for the first time, eventually losing to Gillingham in a replay. The club would remain in the Isthmian League with little success through to WWII, though the club did continue to play-on through the war years and took part in the Great Western Combination which was won in 1945. 1947 saw former skipper Frank Adams (who’d won the two Spartan League titles as captain) donate Loakes Park to the club and proved the basis for the club to begin a period of success.
Wanderers would win their first Isthmian League title in 1956 under the coaching of Sid Cann and this was defended successfully. The 1956-’57 season also saw Wycombe reach Wembley for the first time, though they would suffer disappointment, losing at the hands of Bishop Auckland in the Amateur Cup Final, the North-Eastern club having also defeated the Chairboys in the semi-finals in both 1950 & 1955. Cup runs continued to be embarked upon on a regular basis, the club reaching the FA Cup’s Second Round in 1959, when they visited Watford’s Vicarage Road, eventually going down five-one. Cann would leave the club in 1961, with on-field fortunes taking something of a turn for the worse.
1968 would see Brian Lee appointed as the club’s first “conventional manager” and he led Wycombe to their third Isthmian title in 1971, with the club again defending it successfully the following season, whilst again suffering Amateur Cup disappointment, bowing out in the semi-finals. The Isthmian League continued to be a happy hunting ground though and 1973-’74 yielded a fifth title before it, quite unbelievably, was defended successfully yet again, though by only a single goal. That season also saw the club reach the FA Cup Third Round for the first time, meeting First Division outfit Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park and going down to a respectable single goal in a replay.
Lee retired in 1976 and again this proved to be the catalyst for a downturn in form, allied with the abolition of “amateur football” by the FA. Wycombe rejected the chance to join the Alliance League on its formation in 1979 and again in 1981 due to concerns over travel costs. They remained in the Isthmian for the time being and reached the FA Trophy semis for the first time in 1982, losing out to Altrincham. A seventh title would eventually be won in 1983, though promotion would again be spurned in favour of remaining within the Isthmian ranks.
As a consequence of a stagnation, crowds began to drop and eventually the club decided to go for it and accept promotion in 1985, having finished third in the Isthmian Premier Division. However, they would immediately be relegated, though bounced back immediately, winning the 1987 Isthmian Premier Division title. They now consolidated their place in the re-named Conference, winning the 1987-’88 Football Conference Charity Shield and finished fourth in 1989, prior to leaving Loakes Park at the end of the 1989-’90 season.
Martin O’Neill would join the club during that year as manager and took the club on a run of success which saw the move into Adams Park undertaken in 1990 and an FA Trophy win in 1991, beating Kidderminster Harriers 2-1 under the twin towers. However, the next season would see them come agonisingly close to the title and promotion, finishing second to Colchester United in the Conference, but missing out on promotion to the Football League on goal difference alone. On a more positive note, Wycombe would only have to wait a further season for their League status to be achieved, Wanderers doing a double in taking the Conference title and the FA Trophy for a second time, overcoming Runcorn 4-1 in the final, again at Wembley, before O’Neill spurned the chance to join Nottingham Forest in favour of remaining Chairboys boss, a big boost to the club. The club also achieved a hat-trick of Conference Shields during this time, winning it in each of 1992, ’93 & ’94.
This boost was taken into the next year which saw the club’s inaugural season end with a fourth place finish in the Third Division and, thus, a play-off place. Victories over Carlisle United and Preston North End followed to ensure a second straight promotion was attained, with Wembley again proving a successful venue. League re-organisation put paid to Wycombe’s play-off hopes in their first season in Division Two despite finishing sixth and O’Neill was tempted to depart for pastures new this time around as he headed to Norwich City in 1995. He was replaced for a year-and-a-bit by Alan Smith before John Gregory guided the club to safety come the close of Season 1996-’97. Gregory left for Aston Villa early in 1998 and the managerial merry-go-round wouldn’t end there, as Wycombe would go through a further six managers over the next decade or so.
This spell encompassed Lawrie Sanchez replace Neil Smillie keeping Wanderers up in a miraculous escape, as a last day win secured safety. The next year saw this positivity continue and turn into a run to the FA Cup semi-finals, Wycombe beating Grimsby Town, Wolves and Wimbledon en route to a meeting with Leicester City in the quarter-finals, when Roy Essandoah (proper blast from the past there) netted and injury-time winner to set up a clash with Liverpool at Villa Park, a game Wycombe would go on to lose by a narrow 2-1 margin. A productive start to the nex campaign tailed off and Sanchez was replaced by Tony Adams, but he failed to arrest the slide and Wycombe would go on to suffer only their second ever relegation and the club voted to become a PLC, thus ending their spell as the final members’ club in English football.
Adams was soon out the door too, with John Gorman taking charge, but his spell was marred with tragedy; midfielder Mark Philo passing in a road accident along with a personal loss for the manager. The club slipped from the top-spot, rescuing a play-off but losing in the semis, meaning Gorman was relieved of his duties in favour of Paul Lambert who led the club to the League Cup semi-finals in a fine run – beating Fulham away, and Premier League side Charlton Athletic. Beaten in the League 2 play-offs of 2008, Lambert resigned and Peter Taylor was installed. He also oversaw a strong start to a season, but again results soon fell away, though Wanderers did rescue matters to secure the final promotion place and return to the third tier, League One.
Just one season was spent there prior to relegation again being suffered, with Gary Waddock being unable to save them from the drop, though he did guide the club back at the first attempt. Again, their spell in League One would only last a sole season, with Wycombe again going down to League 2 after a battle against the drop was eventually lost. The Wycombe Supporter’s Trust would take over the club in 2012, which ended a transfer embargo. Waddock would be out early in the season, with Gareth Ainsworth taking the reins before ending his playing career. He struggled early on, battling relegation in his first two seasons (the latter seeing the club overcome three-point last day deficit to still stay up). A change in playing personnel saw things turn for the better and after reaching the play-offs in 2015, the Chairboys reached the final but would lose out on penalties to Southend United. They have remained in League Two until this season, which has seen Ainsworth guide Wycombe to League One after an impressive third placed finish, somewhat against the odds.
Now, let’s not beat about the bush; this game wasn’t great. Indeed, as it wore on, it became something more akin to a testimonial, with mid-half ‘keeper subs and the cult heroes getting appearances from the bench it seemed, with Adebayo Akinfenwa’s introduction being as popular as ever, my first viewing of the “Beast” in the flesh definitely being what I expected. The guy is huge! Anyway, let’s get back onto the game and it began at a fairly serene pace, what with little on the line for either side.
What chances there were went largely Wycombe’s way, with the visiting ‘Boro’ fans being given little to excite them. The first opportunity came when Nathan Tyson’s ball in was almost turned into his own net by Jack King, before Matt Bloomfield opened the scoring after around 20 minutes when the apparent “Mr Wycombe” as he’s termed on Wycombe’s site found himself in space and he fired under Joe Fryer between the Stevenage sticks to send Adams Park into party mode, if it wasn’t already!
Paris Cowan-Hall then saw a pair of efforts fly off target, before Bloomfield forced Fryer into a low stop as the half wore on. Stevenage looked to have very little to respond with and the first half slowly fizzled out. The whistle duly arrived and the sides headed in separated by the odd-goal, but it looked as though there was far more excitement happening in the terrace than there was on the pitch. Then wrestlers Triple H & The Rock’s entrance themes played out of the PA for no apparent reason during the break. I hoped it truly was “Time to play the Game”.
The second half didn’t do much to improve on that feeling. Indeed the first real action of note was a substitute as Bloomfield departed the field to a big ovation, which was almost matched as Marcus Bean took his place, and I was reliably informed that Bean’s one and only goal for the club to date rescued what turned out to be a vital point earlier in the season, his parents having left beforehand and thus missing his barnstormer, leaving Bean to run to a pair of empty seats. But at least Bean bagged. Aah? Aah….? Moving on…
Finally, Stevenage created something of a chance on 65 minutes, Danny Newton heading wide from a corner, before the ‘keeper swap was undertaken with Yves Ma-Kalambay making a debut appearance in place of Scott Brown (whose departure was announced as I write this) who would hardly have broken sweat had it not been hovering around the 23 degree mark. Bean then fired well wide having been encouraged to shoot by many in the stands, desperate to see him double his Wycombe tally, before the “Beast” entered the fray and immediately put himself about in and around the Stevenage defence.
But it was to be Stevenage who finished the stronger, with the last couple of minutes seeing the Boro create a final chance when Ma-Kalambay marked his Wanderers bow with what proved to be a match-winning save, Matt Godden’s effort forcing the stopper into a stop with his feet before the whistle blew and prompted the easy to predict pitch invasion. Stevenage needn’t have felt too uncomfortable, with them having played a large hand in securing Wycombe’s promotion the previous weekend, former Chairboy Alex Revell’s hat-trick seeing off Exeter and ensuring his former side’s third place.
I was quickly out of the ground though and back at the bus stop in good time for the bus back to the centre. A quick transfer saw me back at the church swiftly ahead of a brief visit into the Falcon, Wycombe’s Wetherspoon’s, for a pint of Punk IPA prior to returning towards the station and the neighbouring Bootlegger’s, where I plumped for the safe option of a Greene King IPA which proved a stroke of luck, with it being one of the cheapest things on offer. A decent place though and a nice bar to end off my visit to Wycombe. The journey back was a comfortable one, arriving back into Oxford with a good 20 minutes in hand ahead of the train back to Manchester. Unfortunately, a slight delay cost me the connection, meaning a bus job was required to get home. A bus job…that doesn’t sound pleasant….Anyway…!
So, what of Wycombe then. Well I found the town to be a really nice place, even more so with the market in full flow and with the weather fine for once. Adams Park was a smart ground too, encompassing its own character and the near capacity crowd certainly added to the occasion. Beer places were on the better side as well, despite a couple being a little on the costly side and the food & programme were all good too (the pie was piping hot, the programme a good read to help pass the journey time back). So there ends another trip. Just a few hours until the next….
Value For Money: 6