Ah, the end of the football season. A time for reflection on what could have been which will soon melt into the anticipation for it all to kick off again in August.
Ah, the end of the football season. A time for reflection on what could have been which will soon melt into the anticipation for it all to kick off again in August.
The up and down of form of Wycombe Wanderers is certainly a head scratcher this season. It was not that long ago at all when great records were falling. Best unbeaten run for over ten years, longest consecutive scoring run since the late eighties and somewhere along the line the Chairboys equalled their consecutive win tally too. Yet if the Blues succumb to a defeat against Accrington Stanley (if the weather permits the game to go ahead), it will equal the worst run of back to back defeats (six) in the Football League ever for Wycombe, a record set in April 2006.
What’s changed? This is the question that is raging around the stands and bars at Adams Park, social media and forums. Fatigue since the cup exploits against Tottenham Hotspur and Checkatrade Trophy run? A gruelling sequence of six uninterrupted Tuesday night away games? Injuries to key players? Silly mistakes and missed chances? Key decisions going against Wycombe? It may well be a combination of all of these things. Perhaps a touch of bad luck too, with defeats against Colchester and Crawley coming from two world class strikes that certainly do not happen every week in League Two.
The wretched performance at Stevenage aside, all of the games lost have been tight affairs, with the fourth goal away at Exeter coming very late on with players committing themselves forwards to force an equaliser. Looking back a bit further to the winning run, these matches were all pretty tight too in the league with a couple of 2-0 wins being the most comfortable results in the sequence. This pretty much sums up League Two for me this season. Wycombe have certainly lost the winning habit of late and Gareth will have to rediscover it without the immediate help of Pierre, Stewart, Kashket and Hayes, all potential game changers who are currently injured. Here is what Gareth had to say to me on BBC3CR after the defeat at home to Crawley Town…
Off the field, it certainly has been a successful season for the Chairboys with the lucrative cup runs. However, the fans do not want to see a repeat to the end of last season which ended with a whimper and a mid table finish. The sticky patch that Wycombe currently find themselves in has seen them drop to eleventh in the table but still only four points off the play off positions. With thirty-nine points still to play for and twenty-four of those to be contested at Adams Park, all is still to play for… COYB!
The magic moment that I’ve been patiently waiting for since the 1990s. I’d been predicting that this draw would happen to anyone who would listen to me over the last couple of months, and I admit that I’d imagined it actually taking place in the third round of the FA Cup. To see it pop out as the first two balls of the fourth round draw was surreal to say the least, and to think of some of the hugely unsavoury things that I’ve sung and shouted at Martin Keown down the years… You see, I’m one of those despicable people that support two football teams. Wycombe Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur.
I come from a long line of Tottenham fans, my Nan was born and bred a goal kick away from White Hart Lane, whilst my other Grandparents lived up the road in Edmonton. One of my early memories is playing football in the back garden there and being able to hear the crowds at Spurs, the perfect back drop to my attempts to plant the plastic football in the bottom corner of the washing line post that played the part of the goal. My Dad has told me all about his regular outings to the Lane to watch Bill Nicholson’s double winners and it was his love of the game that took me and my brother to our first ever live match in January 1987, Wycombe Wanderers v Bromley in the Isthmian League. We had moved to High Wycombe a couple of years before and I remember wandering up to Loakes Park, wondering why that part of town always smelt of chocolate. The game was a tempestuous affair which The Chairboys won easily, with Bromley having a player sent off. The sights, the smells and the swearing ensured that I was hooked, whilst watching Declan Link whip corners in was a thing of beauty to my young eyes.
The next few seasons really were a golden age for the beautiful game for me. Later that year, I got an early dose of galling disappointment when Spurs somehow lost to Coventry City in the FA Cup final, a superb diving header from Keith Houchen breaking my heart. I carried that disappointment around with me until January 1989, when I was delighted by lowly Sutton United unceremoniously dumping the Sky Blues out of the third round. This, coupled with Wimbledon winning the cup in 1988 guaranteed that I fully understood the magic of the greatest club competition in the world.
After the thrillingly brilliant Italia 90 World Cup, it was all about Gazza and I was taken to see Spurs play for the first time, an away game at Loftus Road where they drew 0-0 with QPR. On leaving High Wycombe that day, I’d been cruelly informed that Gascoigne was injured and wouldn’t be playing, so I sat in silence the whole way down the A40, already acutely aware that an afternoon of observing Steve Sedgley lumber around the midfield wasn’t going to be great. The joke was on me as Gazza shone in a tight game with the cauldron like atmosphere of Loftus Road ensuring that I’d extended my vocabulary too.
I was by now a complete football obsessive, getting my fix from televised games, Sports Night and Match Of The Day, whilst tracking the Wanderers in the pages of Midweek and The Bucks Free Press. Take it away Barry Davies…
“Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is you know. OHHH I SAY…” It’s still one of my favourite commentary moments ever. Whenever I hear it, I’m transported back home dancing around the living room. Perfection.
I didn’t have to wait long to experience the FA Cup in the flesh either. Queuing up in the rain with my Dad outside the new home of The Chairboys to secure tickets for the second round clash against West Bromwich Albion. We were not to be disappointed… (WARNING – this video contains some awful ‘say what you see’ style punditry)
Next up, I got a paper round and some disposable income which was largely spent on season tickets to get me into Adams Park at every opportunity. Wycombe Wanderers became the focus for six wonderful years until I went to university in London and started to go and watch Tottenham and experience the dizzy heights of the Premier League.
2000/2001 really did set the bar high for FA Cup magic. Wycombe Wanderers and Tottenham both marching to the semi-finals, only to avoid each other and both get knocked out (yet more heartbreak!) The Chairboys run was simply magnificent though, and the fifth round replay against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park is one of the best games I have ever been to for pure drama. Over to you Alan Parry…
I wasn’t at Filbert Street as I had to work, so I listened to the game on the radio. I just couldn’t believe it when Roy Essandoh scored, mainly because I’d seen him make his debut for Wycombe the week before and I had decided that he made Trevor Aylott look like Roberto Baggio by comparison. A free agent, signed after the club put a plea out on teletext for a striker who wasn’t cup tied, he scored only one goal that season and it knocked high flying Premier League Leicester City out of the cup. Unbelievable.
Since then, there has been very little for me to speak of in terms of romance in the FA Cup. I remember getting up in the middle of the night in Beijing to watch Tottenham get beaten by Portsmouth, another semi-final defeat. Another low point was the then non league Fleetwood Town brushing Wycombe aside 2-0, despite having a man sent off in the first half. I was away in Albania and 5Live had the game as their main commentary match and I’ll never forget Mark Lawrenson summing up the performance.
“This is the worst display from a Football League side in the FA Cup that I have ever seen.”
Ouch. The magic can go both ways.
Last season, Wycombe took Aston Villa to a replay before bowing out in the third round. This was a great achievement, but with Villa going through a horrendous season it lacked the sparkle of previous cup endeavours.
Since falling into commentating a few years ago, Wycombe Wanderers have provided me with a real rollercoaster ride to describe. From survival at Torquay to losing on penalties in the play off final at Wembley, I’ve loved every single minute of it. With White Hart Lane being demolished at the end of this season, I knew that the FA Cup with Wycombe was my only realistic shot of being able to commentate on a game there. Somehow, I just knew it would happen.
Thirty years have passed since my first ever game at Loakes Park and I’m delighted that both my dad and brother will also be at White Hart Lane to see our two teams walk out side by side. I just I hope I can hold it together on the commentary…
A poor second half performance from Wycombe Wanderers saw them succumb to defeat against old rivals Colchester United. An evenly matched first period was certainly one for the defenders with both sets of centre backs dominating in a game of few chances. The best opportunity fell to Aaron Pierre, who headed wide following a peach of a cross from the impressive Danny Rowe. Shortly after this, Garry Thompson was correctly booked for simulation as he looked for a penalty and at half time the match was delicately poised.
The Chairboys continued with their game plan of getting crosses and the ball into the box as often as possible, but they were all met by the flawless centre back pairing of Luke Prosser and Tom Eastman. Just after the hour mark, Colchester displayed their clinical side with Chris Porter prodding the ball home from six yards after good work down the right and side from Sammy Szmodics. And it was Szmodics who sealed the win with a wonderful finish on 81 minutes as Wycombe committed players forward in search of an elusive goal. The first shot on target for the home side finally arrived in injury time, but Dayle Southwell’s shot on the turn drew a fantastic save from Sam Walker.
After the game, I spoke to Gareth Ainsworth for BBC Three Counties
The attack has been in need of confidence, pace and quality since February and Gareth looked to address this with the signings he made in the Summer. With the injuries coming thick and fast in the opening stages of the season, it’s the absence of pacey wide men Myles Weston and Paris Cowan-Hall that look to be hurting Wycombe the most. However, whilst their on pitch reputations had fans salivating at the prospect of exciting attacking football, their respective injury records were always a potential cloud on the horizon.
Ten games into a new season is a fair amount of time to provide an accurate reflection on how a squad is settling down. Wycombe are halfway through this period and have a tough run of fixtures ahead with the fans still sore after a poor finish to the last campaign. As Chairboys manager, Gareth has survived an incredibly sticky situation and also delivered the club’s record points total in the Football League, both achieved in tricky financial conditions. So far, 2016 has been a very poor year in terms of goals scored and he will need to draw on these experiences to turn this around.
Somebody once told me that reading is the best way to improve your vocabulary, so when I fell into commentating and felt the need to extend my arsenal of words to describe the beautiful game, I became a book worm. Whether the effects of this come across on any of my broadcasts, only the listeners can say, but I am constantly searching out new books to get stuck into. Imagine my joy to discover ‘Small Town Dreams’, a book about Wycombe Wanderers’ famous FA Cup run set to the backdrop of an avid fan’s once in a lifetime trip around the globe (the planet, not the pub in Baker Street). It immediately positioned itself on the top of my reading list.
Back in January 2001, the book’s author, James Cumming, bolstered by some redundancy money, took off for six months to see what lay beyond the confines of the Chair Metropolis. Thailand, China, Australia, Easter Island, Chile and New York awaited. The night before his departure, he packed his bags listening to the Wanderers on the radio as they won their FA Cup replay away at Grimsby to get past the third round for the first time. It had always been James’ dream to see his team progress in the FA Cup and on the eve of a wondrous voyage, he now felt torn with a huge fear of missing out. James just didn’t quite know the magnitude of what would actually happen back home whilst he was away…
The book is an autobiographical novel, which perfectly captures the high drama of the Wycombe games that took place whilst the author was thousands of miles away, either hovering over a squat toilet or ticking off the wonders of the world. Its hugely self-deprecating and laid back style make this an easy read and had me chuckling on my sun lounger in-between its gloriously tear inducing nostalgic moments.
Supporting Wycombe Wanderers is not a prerequisite to enjoy this book. Any football fan can tap into the raw emotion that is laid down in spades across the pages of Small Town Dreams, and that includes followers of today’s visitors Grimsby, once they get past the painful prose about the aforementioned replay. The book kicks off with memories of James’ first game – the sights, sounds and smells of dear old Loakes Park. Throughout the book, the supporting cast of the author’s match day crew underlines the important social role that football plays with lifelong friendships formed on fantastic adventures to places like Bromsgrove. As I turned the pages, these tales constantly prompted me to remember my own early football adventures. We can all relate to these experiences, however old you are or whichever football outpost first hooked you in to the cult of football fandom.
Martin O’Neill had his silly little dream, whilst Gareth Ainsworth still believes in fairy tales. To this day, J F Cumming has still never physically seen Wycombe Wanderers get past the third round of the FA Cup, his dream remains unrequited. And that is surely what football is for most of us fans too, a chance to dream and escape the day to day realities of life. Dream on dreamers.
You can buy the book from Amazon and you can also purchase a copy from the shop at Adams Park where all the proceeds will go to the club.
A possible glimpse into the future of J F Cumming
A new season. Renewed hope, fresh faces, a new kit and as always, plenty to discuss.
The end of the last campaign really felt like a hard slog with the gruelling schedule taking it’s toll on a small and injury hit squad. Walking back into Adams Park last night though, there was a real buzz of anticipation about the place. Whispers of sell on clauses, identities of trialists, sightings of The Beast and actually being able to see and purchase club merchandise before the opening day of the season. Wycombe Wanderers are getting their mojo back.
The 1-1 draw against Brentford was as entertaining as a pre season friendly could be, played out in very hot conditions with a few mystery faces on the pitch. A welcome goal from Dayle Southwell and an impressive first half from Myles Weston were big positives for the Chairboys and there is still much more to come. At least one goalkeeper will need to be secured, trialists have earned more time to impress and following guidance from the FA, Adebayo Akinfenwa’s home debut will probably be against QPR on Friday.
The new rules concerning loans this season are undoubtedly going to add to the usual madness of pre season with all business having to be concluded by the end of August. After that, it’s make do with what you have until the window is reopened once again in January. With Wycombe running a small squad, this adds another dimension to the decisions that Gareth Ainsworth must make on players and also when he does so. I caught up with him after the game for a chat about these very things…
I also took the opportunity for a chat with new striker Dayle Southwell. On first impression, he looks to be an excellent addition to the squad, both on and off the field. As I have been away for most of the Summer I had some catching up to do and Dayle very kindly entertained my lazy Jamie Vardy comparison…